Being a dessert lover, I admit I am sometimes guilty of ignoring the savory side of nuts in favor of my beloved sweets. Sure, there are a million different desserts that benefit from the taste and texture of nuts, but the same could easily be said of savory foods.
Let’s take fish, for instance. Fish is a staple of healthy diets everywhere, but let’s face it–it can be a little bland. Folks don’t often get excited about fish the way they do about a plate of fudgy brownies. But when you take that bland fish, add a nutty, spicy coating of chopped pecans, and fry it until it has a crunchy golden crust, you turn a mediocre dish into a must-have!
This pecan-crusted fish recipe is a perfect weekday dinner. With only 6 minutes of cooking time, it can be on the table in half an hour, leaving you plenty of time to steam some rice and throw together a salad to accompany it. I like to make this dish with tilapia, but any mild white fish will do nicely.
yield: 4 servings
- 1/4 cup pecans, well-toasted
- 1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 2 tsp hot sauce
- 4 tilapia fillets, about 6 oz each
Finely chop the toasted pecans until they’re in tiny pieces. You can also use a food processor for this step, but I like the irregular sizes and different textures you get with a knife. Either way: just make sure your pecans are very well chopped!
Combine the chopped pecans with the breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, and garlic powder on a plate or in a shallow bowl, and mix everything together.
Dump the flour on a separate plate or in another shallow bowl.
Combine the buttermilk and the hot sauce in a shallow bowl. I actually like to use a pie tin for this purpose, because it’s shallow but wide enough to fit the fish or whatever else I’m dunking. Whisk the buttermilk and hot sauce together. If you’re sensitive to spicy foods, you can reduce or eliminate the hot sauce and the fish will still be great.
So after your preparations, your setup should look something like this: one plate with the pecan and breadcrumb mixture, one with plain flour, and a shallow bowl or pie tin with the buttermilk/hot sauce mix. Let’s start dippin’!
First, dredge both sides of a fish fillet in the flour so that it’s covered with a thin coating of flour.
Next, dip it in the buttermilk so that both sides are covered. If you haven’t done much battering and frying before, here’s a quick tip: to keep things neat, it’s easiest to have one “dry hand” and one “wet hand.” So one hand is in charge of dipping the fish in the flour and the breadcrumbs, and the other hand is in charge of putting it in the buttermilk. This prevents both hands from getting crusted with layers and layers of flour/breadcrumbs/buttermilk mixture, which can be frustrating and messy.
Finally, press both sides of the fish in the pecan and breadcrumb mixture. Things have started getting interesting! Leaving aside the fact that the fish is raw, isn’t this looking delicious already?
Repeat until all of the fish fillets are coated with pecans and ready to go. Now you’ll see the true genius of this recipe: how quickly you can go from raw fish to cooked dinner!
Heat a large saucepan over medium heat, and add a good-sized knob of butter or glug of olive oil. I’m sorry, but this is completely necessary. Don’t think that a little spritz of cooking spray is going to help you here. The butter or oil helps give the fish an amazingly crisp crust with a lot of flavor, so please don’t skimp.
Cook the fish for about 3 minutes, until the bottom is golden brown with a nice crust. If your pan is large enough you can do all four at once, but if not–don’t crowd them. They cook fast enough that it’s not a huge deal to cook them in batches.
Flip the fish and cook for another 3 minutes, until the bottom is golden.
The exact cooking time will depend on your fish and the thickness of the fillets. One good way to tell when the fish is done, aside from visual cues, is to cook it until it flakes easily with a fork.
After your pecan-crusted fish is cooked, serve it immediately! One of the best parts of this recipe is the contrast between the crunchy, nutty crust and the moist fish inside, so don’t let the fish sit around getting soggy!
I love this pecan-crusted fish with a simple squirt of lemon, but you can add tartar sauce, or even a nice fresh homemade salsa. And if you have extra pecans left over, why not put them to good use in a giant chocolate chip cookie?
All text and images (c) Elizabeth LaBau