Fish in Crazy Water
From the book Mediterranean Summer
by David Shalleck with Erol Munuz
Recipe by Chef David Shalleck, © 2007 David Shalleck

Fish in Crazy Water
Pesce in Acqua Pazza
Makes 6 main-course servings

From the region of Campania and a classic of Neapolitan cooking, this recipe is all about a great piece of fish cooked in a wonderfully simple way. Since the list is short, using great ingredients is paramount. At the beginning of the cooking, everything in the pan is fairly dry, but by the time the fish is cooked, there will be a simmering bath of acqua pazza—crazy water! This is a perfect way to cook halibut and other flaky fish like snapper, grouper, or bass. Use vine-ripened tomatoes that are not too soft. And by rinsing off the capers, you will get seasoning from the capers, not the flavor of the brine. Serve with roasted or steamed potatoes.

Six 6-ounce pieces skinless halibut fillet
Fine sea salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus a little for drizzling
About 1 3/4 pounds ripe, firm tomatoes, seeded and cut into 3/8-inch dice (3 cups)
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
1 1/2 tablespoons drained capers, rinsed and finely minced

Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Lightly crush the garlic cloves and put in a sauté pan that will be large enough to hold all the fish and some of the tomatoes in between in a single layer. Add the olive oil and heat over medium heat. When the garlic starts to sizzle, gently shake and tilt the pan so the cloves are immersed and sizzling at one side of the pan in a pool of the oil. As the cloves start to turn golden, lay the pan flat on the burner so the oil covers the entire surface. Place the fish in the pan, skin side down. Tilt the pan so you can spoon some of the garlic oil over the exposed side of the fish. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes and parsley, evenly distributing them over the entire surface of the fish and in between the fillets. Cover and lower the heat so the pan juices come to a slow, even boil. Add the capers 2 to 3 minutes later so their flavor will not overpower the rest of the dish. Continue to simmer until the fish is opaque and slightly firm 3 to 4 minutes.

Transfer the fish with a slotted spatula to warm plates or a serving platter. Using a slotted spoon, place the tomatoes over the fish, then with a regular spoon, place some of the residual “crazy water” in the pan over the fish and enough on the dish or platter to serve it in a shallow pool. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil. Serve subito (immediately)!

Entertaining Note: You can make this dish an hour ahead of serving; just don’t cook the fish all the way. The best way to do this is to stop when the top of the fish is still raw. Keep the lid off until it cools so the condensation that would occur does not make the pan sauce too watery. Reheat, covered, over medium-low heat.

Wine Recommendation: From Campania, a white Pallagrello Bianco or a red Neranico Irpinia Rosso

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