I love a fried fish fillet but sometimes can’t face the mess: the egg wash, the flour/cornmeal coating and the skillet of hot oil.
So, when that craving strikes, especially on a weeknight, I turn instead to the oven and rather than flour or cornmeal, I coat the fillets in finely ground nuts.
After a fishing trip, my brother Michael’s wife, Dorothy, made this dish with the trout we had just caught in Lake Pontchartrain and Louisiana pecans.
I’ve been making it that way ever since.
Most of us have heard of trout amandine, a fish topped with toasted almonds in a meunière sauce.
The idea of swapping in pecans likely was popularized at Commander’s Palace. In a 2007 article in the Times-Picayune, Alex Brennan, of the family that has long operated the restaurant, says the idea was born after an exchange between his uncle and mother: “I will never forget this great conversation I heard between mom (Ella) and Uncle Dick about trout amandine: ‘We’ve got pecans literally growing in our own backyard. Why are we putting almonds from California on our fish?’
“And thus, was born trout pecan. I was standing there when it happened.”
The dish remains a staple at the restaurant. I swap in pecans for almonds sometimes as well when making a similar dish, but that preparation, while tasty, does not satisfy my urge for a fish fillet with a crunchy crust.
When I want that, I pulse the pecans in a food processor until they are finely ground. Then, I toss those fatty nuts with a little cornstarch and dried seasonings to create the coating.
To help the nut mixture adhere to the fish — any firm-fleshed white fish from tilapia to drum will do — I brush the fillets with melted butter or a Dijon mustard. Then, I press the nuts into the fillets on both sides, lay them on a greased baking sheet and slip them into the oven.
If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll make an herby brown butter sauce to go on top. The nuts already are quite fatty, so a squeeze of fresh lemon on its own is great as well.
What I love about the recipe, besides its flavor and ease, is that it solves a few problems often cited as reasons for not cooking fish: The fatty, nut-crust keeps the fish moist, so no drying out. The fillets are cooked in the oven on a baking sheet, so there is no need to flip the delicate pieces. And, finally, oven-baked fish often is less fishy smelling than cooking on the stovetop.
You can serve the full fillets, as pictured here, but that is an indulgence because that big piece of fish is coated with almost a half-cup of nuts. For smaller appetites and less fat, consider halving the fillets and adding more green beans or a salad to the plate.
Refrigerate any leftover fillets in a parchment-lined, flat, airtight container. To reheat, place on a lightly oiled baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.
Pecan-Crusted Trout With Brown Butter Herb Sauce
Time: 45 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
Sometimes fear of flipping keeps home cooks from making fish fillets. This nut-crusted baked fish cooks on a sheet pan, no flipping required. Smaller appetites should consider cutting these fillets in half. Store any leftover fish in a parchment-lined, flat, airtight container. To reheat, place on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Any mild, white-flesh fish fillet works well here.
Storage Notes: Leftover fish may be refrigerated, tightly covered, for up to 2 days.
For the fish:
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 (6- to 8-ounce) skin-off trout fillets, or any firm, white-fleshed fish
- 2 cups (8 ounces) raw pecans
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (optional)
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)
For the beans:
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound French green beans, trimmed and patted dry (defrosted if frozen)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
For the sauce:
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs, such as parsley, sage, rosemary or thyme
1. Position the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
2. Grease a large rimmed baking sheet with oil.
3. Place the fish on a plate and pat it dry with a paper towel.
4. In a food processor, grind the pecans until finely chopped. Transfer the nuts to a shallow dish, add the cornstarch and toss to combine. Season with the pepper, garlic powder, paprika and lemon zest and stir to combine.
5. Working with one fillet at a time, brush the fish with the mustard then coat the fish on both sides with the pecan mixture, pressing the mixture in to cover. Transfer the coated fish to the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining fish and coating ingredients.
6. Bake, without flipping, for about 25 minutes, or until just golden brown. Do not overbake.
7. Make the green beans: While the fish is baking, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 teaspoons oil until shimmering. Add the green beans and cook, stirring often, until they begin to blister and brown in spots, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and toss together for about 1 minute. Transfer the beans to a platter.
8. Make the sauce: Just before serving, in a light-colored small skillet over medium heat, melt the butter, stirring constantly, until it browns and smells nutty, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, then add the lemon juice and your herb of choice, and swirl in the pan to combine.
9. Place a quarter of the green beans on each plate, top with a fish fillet and drizzle the butter sauce over. Serve immediately, with lemon wedges, if desired.
Nutrition | Calories: 836; Total Fat: 65 g; Saturated Fat: 11 g; Cholesterol: 121 mg; Sodium: 278 mg; Carbohydrates: 26 g; Dietary Fiber: 9 g; Sugars: 6 g; Protein: 44 g.
Recipe from recipes editor Ann Maloney.