Crispy-crunchy gets our vote every time. The combo beats out all other textures (yes, even rich and creamy). Perhaps that's why we can't resist a freshly picked radish, the skin off anything roasted, the jumbo deli pickle and chips of any kind.
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.
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
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, chive or parsley (or a combination)
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Crunchy pineapple relish, see recipe
1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Pat fish dry. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Mix chopped nuts, breadcrumbs, coconut, herbs, ginger, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste in a shallow dish. Put egg whites and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt into another shallow dish; beat lightly with a fork until frothy.
2. Dip fish into egg whites; let excess drip off. Coat fish on all sides in breadcrumb mixture. Put onto a wire rack set over a pan. If desired, refrigerate an hour or so.
3. Heat oil in large, well-seasoned cast-iron (or nonstick) ovenproof skillet over medium-high. Add fish in a single uncrowded layer (use two skillets if necessary). Cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Gently flip fish; put into oven. Cook until crisped and fish is nearly firm, 5 to 7 minutes.
4. Transfer to heated serving plates. Serve with lime wedges and topped with pineapple relish.
Per serving: 404 calories, 40% of calories from fat, 18 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 160 mg cholesterol, 15 g carbohydrates, 45 g protein, 731 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.
Crunchy pineapple relish
Prep: 10 minutes
Rest: 20 minutes
Makes: 1 1/2 cups
To save time, purchase prepared fresh pineapple in the salad bar or deli case.
1 cup finely diced fresh pineapple chunks
1/4 of a seedless cucumber, finely diced (peeled if desired)
2 tablespoons finely diced red onion, rinsed
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, chive or parsley (or a combination)
1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
Drizzle of sesame oil, optional
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
Mix all ingredients in small bowl. Let stand, stirring once or twice, about 20 minutes.
Per 1/4 cup: 16 calories, 3% of calories from fat, trace g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrates, 0 g protein, 97 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.
Crunch is king
Pan-fried fish delivers the best of all textures