So when we fell in love with nut-crusted fish and toasted crumb-coated crab cakes while vacationing on the East Coast, we shouldn't have been surprised. A serving of crispy coconut mahi mahi sealed the deal. We had to alter our seafood cooking (mostly broiling and grilling) at home.
Good news: Coating fish and seafood with a crunchy exterior is a bit simpler than coating cutlets for Wiener schnitzel and milanesa. Simply dunk fish fillets in lightly beaten and seasoned egg whites, then into a crumb mixture.
For the coating, a few roasted nuts combined with ultracrisp panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs) helps ensure crunch. A little unsweetened coconut also adds texture along with just a hint of coconut flavor. (If anyone — meaning my son — objects to coconut, omit it and opt for additional panko.) If you have time, let the coated fish rest on a wire rack set over a baking sheet for a little while; this dries it out a bit so it'll crisp better.
Deep-frying, while maximizing crispness, proves too messy and fat-laden. Brief shallow-frying in a well-seasoned cast-iron pan (or nonstick skillet) skimps on the fat yet still crisps the fish nicely. Pop the pan into a very hot oven to crisp the second side.
Wild-caught mahi mahi from the U.S. works beautifully here. So do fresh Pacific halibut, tuna and U.S. farmed tilapia or catfish. Panko breadcrumbs are available in most large supermarkets and Asian markets. Look for unsweetened coconut in Asian markets and store it in the freezer.
There's a reason tartar sauce accompanies crusted or fried fish — it cuts the rich coating. So does a tangy fruit relish spiked with a little fresh lime. Here, fresh pineapple purchased from the salad bar, mixed with crunchy cucumbers and cilantro adds amazing freshness to the plate in a snap.
A simple side dish of steamed vegetables makes a great accompaniment to the crunchy fish. For dessert — guess what? Rich and creamy tangerine sorbet. Just don't forget the ginger snaps.
Macadamia and coconut crusted fish
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
6 pieces (about 6 ounces each) skinless fish fillets, such as mahi mahi, each about 3/4-inch thick
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup dry roasted macadamia nuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup flaked or shredded unsweetened coconut