This simple, pan-seared fish recipe is a frequent addition to the Feast of the Seven Fishes family celebration enjoyed by chefs Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli every year on Christmas Eve. The couple behind New York’s acclaimed Don Angie restaurant and authors of recently released Italian American cookbook, the two chefs put a respectful contemporary spin on some of our beloved Italian classics. This dish, with a vibrant red pesto and bread crumb coating infused with sesame seeds, is a favorite. They write:
Here’s a versatile fish recipe that’s hearty in flavor but light on the palate. Scott likes to say it has the muscle memory of fried fish minus the actual deep frying. Pesto rosso (red pesto) is also known as pesto alla trapanese, hailing from Trapani on the west coast of Sicily. It utilizes umami-forward Sicilian ingredients (dried tomatoes, oil-cured olives, toasted almonds) to make a rich pesto with a depth of flavor. The sesame pairs well with the tomato in the pesto—think about how delicious it is to dunk sesame-crusted Italian bread into tomato sauce, and you have the right idea.
NOTE: We call for blitzing the panko in the food processor to make it smaller and more even in size, which helps make a crispier crust. Feel free to use whatever thin-cut fillets look freshest at the market (we suggest several options); just be sure the fillets are a uniform thickness so they cook evenly.
Sesame-Seared Fish with Sicilian Red Pesto
- 3 large egg whites
- 4 teaspoons cornstarch
- ½ cup toasted sesame seeds
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs, pulsed for 30 seconds in a food processor until finely ground
- 4 skin-on fillets (4 to 4½ ounces each, ½ inch thick), such as branzino, sea bass, or flounder, or other mild whitefish
- Kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons neutral oil, such as vegetable
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup Red Pesto (recipe follows)
- 10 basil leaves, large leaves roughly torn
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg whites and cornstarch until well incorporated and foamy. In a separate bowl, mix the toasted sesame seeds and processed panko crumbs.
Season each side of the fish fillets with ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Working one at a time, dip each fillet, skin-side only (if no skin, just dip one side of the fish), into the egg white mixture. Allow the excess egg to drip off, then press the eggy side of the fish into the sesame breading. Transfer to a large plate, breading side up, and repeat with the remaining fish.
Heat a large nonstick sauté pan over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the neutral oil along with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Carefully place 2 fish fillets in the pan, breading-side down, and cook until the breading is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove and place, breading-side up, in a baking dish. Repeat the process with fresh oil and the remaining fish.
Place the baking dish in the oven and roast until the fish is just cooked through and firm to the touch, 4 to 6 minutes. Serves 4.
- ½ cup roughly chopped dry-pack sun-dried tomatoes
- ¼ cup roughly chopped toasted blanched almonds
- 2 garlic cloves, grated on a Microplane
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons thinly sliced pitted oil-cured black olives
- 6 basil leaves, chopped
In a food processor, combine the sun-dried tomatoes, almonds, garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper flakes. Pulse until a paste forms, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl and whisk in the olive oil, lemon juice, black olives, and chopped basil. Pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
Reprinted with permission from Italian American. Copyright © 2021 by Angie Rito & Scott Tacinelli with Jamie Feldmar. Photography © 2021 Copyright by Christopher Testani. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House.