Last week, I was given a bag of fragrant, native, yellow stone-ground cornmeal from Anson Mills with the request that I “please make something out of it.” Well, of course the first thing that came to mind was cornbread. But anyone who knows me knows that I like to take the road less traveled and challenge myself by trying things that are a bit more innovative than the first and/or easiest idea to pop in my head.
And it just so happened that I arrived at the store that morning right after the fishmonger had adorned his case with a shipment of some of the most pristine, fresh-looking sole fillets I’d seen in years. I didn’t even have to think about it. I made an executive decision and ran with it.
I’m quite the purist when it comes to my fish, which means I don’t like it served with a lot of “stuff,” especially heavy sauces or breading. (Okay, I do have a hard time refusing an especially well-made batch of fish and chips!) Being from the Pacific Northwest, I grew up on ocean critters that had been harvested mere hours before they reached my plate, and they seldom needed much more than a little salt, pepper, butter, and lemon.
Though this cornmeal-crusted fish may not be quite as straightforward as my butter-lemon standby, it’s still simple enough for the fish to shine. The uncomplicated spices don’t compete with the fish, and the sprinkle of Parmesan cheese in the cornmeal crust imparts a complex, savory umami flavor. Serve it on a pile of oven-baked fries to rival traditional fish and chips—without the mess and hassle of deep-frying.
Like most fish dishes, especially those that call for thin fillets like sole, it doesn’t take much time to get this from stovetop to table. Any other mild-flavored fish (halibut, grouper, cod, even salmon) would work well here too. Just keep in mind that the cook time needs to be adjusted accordingly, depending on thickness (about 10 minutes of cook time per inch of thickness).
You’ll find this dish is very kid-friendly, but the sauce might be a little spicy for some young palates.
Cornmeal-Crusted Fish with Spicy Herbed Remoulade Sauce
Hands-on time: 20–25 minutes
Cook time: 10–15 minutes
For the sauce:
¾ cup mayonnaise (homemade or good-quality store-bought)
4 teaspoons hot sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon capers, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped chives or green onion
For the fish:
5 eggs (pastured if possible)
1½ cups organic stone-ground cornmeal
⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon granulated garlic
½ teaspoon granulated onion
¾ teaspoon dried chives
¾ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1½ lb. fresh sole, or other fish of your choice
Butter, for frying
Lemon wedges, to serve
- Preheat oven to 200°F. Line a baking sheet pan with paper towels and set aside.
- Make sauce: combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Adjust seasonings to taste. Set aside in the refrigerator.
- Whisk eggs in a large, shallow bowl with a healthy pinch of salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, mix cornmeal through cayenne pepper (for the breading). Set both aside.
- Season fish fillets with a little salt and pepper. So your fish don’t stick, heat a couple teaspoons butter in a large, well-seasoned frying pan until foaming. Dip fish fillets in egg mixture, drain off excess egg, then coat in breading mixture. Bread and fry just enough fish to fit in the pan without crowding. Fry until golden and crisp on each side and fish is cooked through, about 3 minutes for sole fillets. Transfer sole to the baking sheet pan and place in heated oven to keep warm.
- Wipe pan clean with paper towel. Melt a little more butter, then fry next batch of fish. Continue this process with successive batches until all the fish has been cooked.
- Serve fish hot, with sauce and lemon wedges on the side.
To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:
- chemical- and hormone-free meat
- wild-caught fish
- pasture-raised, organic eggs
- whole, unrefined grains
- virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
- whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
- pure, clean, spring water
- sea salt
- raw and/or cultured milk and cream products
Image by Briana Goodall.