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Greg Patent Fish

Crispy cod fillet served alla Milanese, with a fried coating of panko crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with lemon, green beans and baby carrots, or sautéed spinach, a green salad, or cole slaw.

Crispy, fried breaded foods are beloved worldwide. Who can resist the sound and the feel of biting down on something crunchy? I am not talking about deep-fried foods. Cooking in relatively small amounts of fat can give us the crunch and taste we crave. The term Milanese describes just that — breaded foods cooked in small amounts of olive oil and butter that deliver a crunchy payoff. Chicken, veal, fish and eggplant, in particular, taste great prepared alla Milanese.

Cod is especially terrific cooked this way. The “breading” that works really well is a combination of panko breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan cheese. Panko is a Japanese style breadcrumb — very dry and uneven looking — usually sold in the Asian foods section of supermarkets. The panko crumbs ensure a crunchy crust, and the cheese adds a depth of flavor that helps bring out the sweetness of the fish.

You can prepare just about any fish alla Milanese, but cod is particularly nice because it cooks quickly and has a pleasing flaky, moist texture. Many markets are featuring fresh cod these days. Check the date on the package that tells you when the fish was prepared for sale, and buy it as close to the date you’re shopping as possible.

Fresh fish should smell fresh — not at all briny or fishy. Pop it into the refrigerator as soon as you get home and plan on cooking it within a day or two. Rinse the fish quickly under cold running tap water, pat it dry and rub the fillets all over with drops of fresh lemon juice.

For the breading process, set the fish on a plate and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Have a sheet of wax paper with about 1 cup of flour, and next to it a pie plate with beaten eggs, and next to that another sheet of wax paper with your coating — panko crumbs mixed with grated Parmesan cheese.

The trick to not getting your hands all gooped up while breading is to use one hand for the dry part and one for the wet part. For the dry, grab a piece of seasoned fish and roll it around in the flour; shake off excess flour, and put the fish into the beaten eggs. Use your other hand to coat the fish with the egg; lift it out of the egg, allowing excess to drip back into the dish, and set the egged fish onto the breadcrumbs and cheese. Now use your dry hand again to sprinkle coating on top of the fish and pressing it in place. Turn the fish over onto the panko and cheese, and press the breading firmly onto the fish, coating it completely. Set the coated fish onto a dish. Repeat with the other pieces of fish. Refrigerate about 1 hour so that the breading sticks to the fish. (May be made to this point several hours ahead).

Breading foods this way is fast and such fun! You just might find it becomes a habit.

Crispy cod with panko and Parmesan crust

Makes 4 servings

4 fresh cod fillets, about 6 ounces each

½ lemon

Salt, about 1 teaspoon

Freshly ground black pepper, about ½ teaspoon

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1 cup all-purpose flour

2 large eggs, beaten well with 2 teaspoons water

1 cup panko crumbs

1 cup (4 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 lemon, quartered

1. Rinse fish and pat dry. Squeeze a few drops of lemon onto the fish and rub in gently. Season the fish all over with salt and pepper.

2. Spread the flour onto a sheet of wax paper. Next to it have a pie plate with the beaten eggs and water, and next to that, a sheet of wax paper with the panko and cheese mixed together. Now you’re ready to bread the fish. Remembering to keep one hand for the dry part and one for the wet, the whole process won’t take more than 5 minutes for all the fish. And it’s fun!

3. Dredge one piece of fish in the flour and shake off the excess flour. Immediately drop the fish into the egg and, with your other hand, turn the fish in the egg to coat all over. With that same hand, lift the fish out of the egg letting excess drip back into the pan, and set the fish onto the panko-cheese coating. With your dry hand, coat the fish with the breading, pressing it firmly onto the fish, and set the fish on a plate. Repeat with the remaining fish.

4. When all the fish are coated, refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

5. To cook, heat the butter and olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium heat. When the fat is bubbling hot, add the fish to the pan. Cook about 3 minutes, until golden brown, and carefully turn the fish over with a spatula. Cook another 3 minutes or so, until the fish is cooked through and golden brown on the second side.

6. Set the fish briefly onto paper towels to dab off any fat, and serve as soon as possible with your chosen side dish.

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Greg Patent is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author for “Baking in America,” a food journalist, blogger and radio co-host for “The Food Guys” on Montana Public Radio. Please visit his blog, www.thebakingwizard.com, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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