I’m here to tell you about breading your fish with cereal, cornflakes to be exact, and then panfrying it. Doesn’t that sound good? No? Well just wait until you try it. It makes for the most impossibly crispy crust you’ve ever had on a piece of fish. I guarantee it. Granted, “breaded” and fried fish is really nothing more than glorified fish stix, but glorified these indeed are. Plus, Rick Bayless is the one giving the orders this time ’round, and you’ll do quite well to listen to what he has to say. I swear, the man is a culinary genius. His recipes are exotic, creative, and traditional all at the same time.
Of course, the amazing roasted tomatillo and seared corn sauce that these fish stix are served over does quite a bit to elevate them from the realm of the ordinary fish stick. Sweet with onions and corn, tangy with tomatillo, with quite a kick from a roasted jalapeno. It’s thick and loaded with corn, almost like a succotash, sans limas, my mom thought.
The dish is relatively straightforward to make, though it does get quite a few pots and pans dirty. The reward is a restaurant quality dish with a restaurant quality presentation. My dad remarked that you could easily charge thirty bucks for this dish at a restaurant, and it’s true. It has all the hallmarks of a good restaurant dish: slightly unexpected flavor and texture combinations, pretty presentation, and good, seasonal ingredients. It’s a wonderful summer dish, with fresh sweet corn and onions adding sweetness to the lemony and smoky roasted tomatillos. I think it might even be able to convert non-fish eaters. Maybe I’ll try it out on Henning when he returns from Germany…
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
one 7 oz box corn flakes
six 5 to 6 oz skinless halibut fillets
generous 1 lb tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1 fresh jalapeño chile
2 tbs olive oil
1 medium white onion
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 cups light fish or chicken broth
2/3 cup loosely packed chopped fresh cilantro, divided
2 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 3 ears)
vegetable oil to a depth of 1/4 inch for panfrying
Bread the fish: Spread the flour on a deep plate or pie plate, then stir in 1/2 tsp salt. Break the eggs onto another deep plate and add 3 tbs water and 1/2 tsp salt. Beat with a fork until completely liquid. Spread teh corn flakes on a third plate, and use the back of a measuring cup to gently break them into 1/4 inch pieces.
Dredge all sides of one fish fillet in the flour, then the egg, then the corn flakes, making sure it is thoroughly covered with corn flakes. Transfer to another plate or baking sheet, and repeat the procedure for the remaining filets. Refrigerate uncovered for at least one and up to six hours.
The sauce: Roast the tomatillos and chile on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until very darkly roasted, and blackened in spots, about 5 minutes. Flip them over and roast on the other side for 4 to 5 minutes, until splotchy-black and blistered and thoroughly cooked through. Cool, then transfer to a food processor or blender, making sure to scrape all the juice from the pan. Process until smoothly purred.
Warm 1 tbs olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until richly golden, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute more. Now raise the heat to medium-high and add the tomatillo puree all at once. Stir until noticeably darker and very thick, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the broth and 1/3 cup of the cilantro. Stir thoroughly and simmer, stirring regularly, over medium-low heat, until the flavors mellow and the consistency thickens to just barely coat a spoon, about 30 minutes. Taste and season with salt, usually about 3/4 tsp, depending on the stock. Keep warm over low heat.
Finishing: In a medium skillet, heat the remaining 1 tbs olive oil over medium to medium-high heat. When hot, add the corn and stir frequently until nicely browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the corn to the tomatillo sauce and keep warm over low heat.
Turn on the oven to the lowest setting. Heat 1/4 inch of vegetable in a large, heavy skillet over medium to medium-high heat. When the oil is hot enough to make an edge of a breaded fillet really sizzle, fry the fillets in two batches. (If they are crowded in the pan, they will not form a nice crust.) They’ll need to cook about 2 minutes per side to brown and be done through enough to flake under firm pressure. Carefully transfer the first batch of cooked fillets to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you’re frying the second batch. If you’re using a thicker cut of fish, they might not be cooked through on the stove by the time the coating is bordering on past-golden. Just finish the cooking in the oven (300 degrees, check every minute or two for doneness).
If the sauce is very thick by now, thin it with a bit of water. Spoon 1/6 of the sauce onto each of six plates and top with the fish fillets. Sprinkle the remaining cilantro over the top and serve immediately.