If you want to enjoy an unadorned fish filet, it’s best to choose wild salmon or tuna — they have so much innate flavor that it would be a shame to not let it shine through. But if you’d like to dredge a fish filet in crumbs or flour and add a few spices to the mix, then light-fleshed fish like perch and pickerel is your best bet. And dredging the filet in freshly ground rolled oats is a snap because oats are naturally sticky. (Larger, less-sticky coatings like chopped nuts and cornmeal have to be encouraged to cling to the filet with raw eggs. That’s tasty, too, but sometimes it’s easier to go with the one-ingredient option. Other good instant-stickers are bean flours and potato flour.)
If you like, you can blend a few spices directly into these oats for a big flavor hit. A dash of curry powder would give your fish an instant taste of India; a dash of chili powder would create a Mexican flair. Either of those would pair beautifully with the crunchy, light-textured starfruit. Since I have some fresh chives growing right outside my door, though, I opted to garnish the filet with snipped chives before I added a few dashes of Aleppo pepper for a little heat.
Oatmeal-Dredged Perch with Starfruit
Serves 4 for a light lunch or 2 for a hearty dinner.
1/2 cup rolled oats (be sure to get gluten-free oats if you’re making a gluten-free dish!)
1 tsp. sea salt
1 lb. perch filets OR any light-fleshed fish filets
Fresh chives, minced
Dash of Aleppo pepper OR crushed red pepper flakes
Sliced starfruit, pineapple, or peaches to serve alongside the fish (optional, but adds a nice contrasting sweetness to the plate)
Run the oats and salt through a small food processor or coffee/spice grinder for about 10 seconds to create flour.(Actually, running oats through a coffee/spice grinder is a handy way to soak up any residual oils left behind by coffee or spices. You might want to occasionally run oats through as a “cleaning cycle” of sorts.) Pour oat flour into a wide, flat-bottomed bowl or onto a large plate. IF you would like to add extra spices to the mix, either blend them into the flour when processing or use your fingertips to mix the spices into the flour after it’s in the bowl/on the plate. Don’t add more than 1 tablespoon total spice, whether that’s chili powder or curry powder or Italian herbs.
Rinse filets in cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Dredge each filet in the oat flour, pressing the flour lightly into each side as you finish dredging, and lay each floured filet on a fresh plate.
Heat a pat of butter in a large skillet over medium heat until the butter melts. Add the perch, only putting in as many filets as comfortably fit into the pan. Cook for 4 minutes on the first side, then carefully flip over each filet and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, reducing heat to medium-low. The center of each filet should flake cleanly when parted with the edge of a spatula. Perch and pickerel are thin, so they don’t take long, but if you’re making cod or haddock or a similar, much-thicker filet, you’ll need to go with 5 minutes to begin with and then another 5 for second side. Just be sure to do the flake test to check for doneness and you’ll be fine. Contrary to popular belief, fish is one of the easiest things you can make.
Note: If the fish you’re using has skin on it, cook the filets with the skin side UP, then flip so that they finish cooking with the skin side DOWN. This will help in two ways: the tender skinless side is less likely to stick if it’s cooked first, and the skin will tighten and shrink as it heats, an effect that you want to minimize by cooking the skin last.
Serve each filet garnished with the minced chives and a dash of pepper. You might want to garnish the fruit, too, to better tie it into the overall dish. Leftover fish can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. (It makes a wonderful breakfast!)
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