Fish in Crazy Water

Pesce All’acqua Pazza

One of the most frequently recurring conversational expressions in the dialect of my native Romagna is anicreid, “I don’t believe it.” That skepticism is a characteristic I share with the people of my region. When a dish has a fanciful name, I resist trying it, feeling that it has been dressed up to cover up a lack of substance.

Had it been up to me, I never would have sampled that Neapolitan creation, fish in crazy water. “What’s crazy water got to do with cooking and anyway, who wants to eat fish in water?” Such were my thoughts, until my friend from Amalfi, Pierino Jovine, one day simply brought the dish to the table without asking or telling. Now, I am the one who goes crazy over it.

Water is what brings together all the seasoning ingredients, the tomatoes, garlic, parsley, chili pepper, salt, and olive oil. They simmer in it for a full 45 minutes, exchanging and compounding their flavors, producing a substance that is denser than a broth, looser, more vivacious, and fresher in taste than any sauce, in which you then cook the fish.

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Ingredients

  • pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced very thin
  • 2 tablespoons very finely chopped parsley
  • Chopped red chili pepper, teaspoon or to taste
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • A 1½ to 2-pound red snapper, filleted with its skin left on
  • Optional: 4 slices of day-old or grilled sourdough bread

Method

  1. Peel the tomatoes raw using a swiveling-blade vegetable peeler, and chop them roughly with all their juice and seeds. The yield should be about 2 cups.
  2. Choose a sauté pan in which the fish fillets can subsequently fit flat without overlapping. Put in the water, garlic, chopped tomatoes, parsley, chili pepper, olive oil, and salt. Cover the pan, turn the heat to medium, for 45 minutes.
  3. Uncover the pan, turn up the heat, and boil the liquid until it has been reduced to half its original volume.
  4. Add the fish, skin facing up. Cook for 2 minutes, then gently turn it over, using two spatulas. Add a little more salt and cook for another 12 minutes or so.
  5. Serve promptly over the optional bread slices.

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