Flaky white grouper, perched atop a rectangle of tender polenta was the basis for this main course at the Lidia Bastianich dinner Nov. 1 at the St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio.
2 pounds skinless grouper fillet
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt or to taste
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for finishing
Flour for dredging, ½ cup or so
1 onion thinly sliced (1 cup)
4 garlic cloves crushed and peeled
½ cup finely chopped celery heart and leaves
1 cup Sicilian or other large green brine-cured olives, pitted and cut in half
2 tablespoons small capers, drained
½ teaspoon peperoncino or to taste
2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
3 cups hot water or as needed
6 large fresh basil leaves shredded
3 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
Note: Recommended equipment: A heavy-bottomed saucepan or sauté pan, 13 inches or wider, with a cover.
Slice the grouper fillet into 6 chunks, roughly equal in size, and season with ¼ teaspoon of the salt.
Pour the ½ cup olive oil into the big saucepan and set it over medium-high heat. Dredge the fish chunks in flour, shake off any excess and lay them in the hot oil. Cook for about 1 1/2 minutes until opaque on the underside; turn the pieces and lightly color the second side. Remove the grouper chunks with a spatula to a platter.
Scatter the onion slices in the pan, stir and scrape any bits left in the pan. Toss in the garlic cloves, the chopped celery, stir well and season with the peperoncino and another ¼ teaspoon salt. Stir for a couple of minutes as the vegetables sizzle, strew olives and capers in the pan and stir until they’re sizzling, too.
Pour in the crushed tomatoes and 3 cups of hot water. Turn up the heat and stir up all the vegetables as the liquid comes to a boil. Adjust the heat to keep it bubbling, stir in the shredded basil and ½ teaspoon salt and partially cover the pan.
Simmer the sauce for 10 minutes or so, then lay the grouper chunks in the pan in one layer, and pour in any fish juices that accumulated in the platter. The chunks should be nearly covered by the sauce; add more hot water if necessary. Heat rapidly back to the boil, then simmer gently, partially covered. Shake the pan occasionally to distribute the sauce and slosh it over the fish.
When the grouper is tender and the sauce is slightly thickened and flavorful, 20 to 25 minutes, turn off the heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Just before serving, drizzle over a tablespoon or two of olive oil and sprinkle the parsley all over the top.
Makes 6 servings.
From Lidia Bastianich