The recipe is “Grouper Matalotta Style” from Lidia’s Italy. I didn’t have grouper, but I had a bag of swai fillets that I found at Jungle Jim’s and picked up on a whim. Never seen or heard of or eaten swai before. Turns out they’re some kind of catfish. According to one website, they can’t be sold as catfish here because the US catfish farmers don’t want competition, so they’re sold as “Swai” instead. Another site says swai is often sold simply as catfish. No matter. They were inexpensive and quite tasty. I really didn’t think they were all that similar to catfish, more like a catfish-tilapia cross. I do like that they held up well in this dish.
2 pounds swai (or grouper as in the original recipe, or halibut, or other firm-fleshed fish)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup extra virgin oil, or thereabouts
all purpose flour for dredging (or a sub flour, if you’ve got allergies)
1 onion, sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
1/2 cup finely chopped celery heart + leaves
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup green olives
2 tablespoons capers (chopped if using large)
2 cups canned crushed Italian plum tomatoes
6 basil leaves
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Slice fish fillets into chunks. Season with salt.
Pour olive oil into a large skillet over medium high heat. Dredge fish pieces in flour, shake off excess, and pan-fry them, about 1 1/2 minutes on each side, in batches (don’t crowd them). Transfer with spatula to a platter.
Add onion and stir, scraping up any browned bits. Add garlic, celery and pepper flakes. Season with salt. Add olives and capers, then the tomatoes and 3 cups water. Turn up heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring. Lower heat to a bubbling simmer, and add basil and a pinch of salt. Simmer 10 minutes or so, covered partially. Return fish pieces to pan including any fish juices that may have accumulated. Bring quickly to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer and cover. Cook 20 minutes more. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Transfer to platter and drizzle with a bit more olive oil. Sprinkle parsley on top and serve hot.