Foolproof fish isn’t a myth

A white fish is poached in sweet tomatoes and water. Tomato-poached fish can be the ultimate in easy, unfussy cooking. Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott New York Times

I think more people should be cooking fish at home, and that is a hill I am willing to die on. It cooks quickly, it takes kindly to most flavor profiles, and under the right circumstances (and with the right recipes) it can be prepared without an avalanche of anxiety. Surely you must be looking for an alternative to chicken thighs, which I know you’re cooking multiple times a week. Well, fish is here for you, and so am I.

I’m not talking about salmon, which I know you already love, and I’m not going to try and get you to cook a whole fish again (not this week, anyway). I’m talking about the options in the middle: meaty, mildly flavored, boneless, skinless fillets that even the most fish-phobic can get down with.

Especially so when gently cooked in a light, brothy base made of burst tomatoes — a one-skillet technique that is impossible to mess up — and finished with a sprinkling of chile-laced fried shallots.

To further persuade you to make this recipe, know that there’s no searing in a skillet, no uncalibrated ovens to worry about — just unfussy cooking done on the stovetop. Thanks to the brothy, thicker-than-bouillabaisse, thinner-than-sauce situation in which the fish is poached, the fillets simply cannot overcook.

And not for nothing, everything comes together in about 25 minutes.

Here, you want a decidedly unfishy fish that will complement and not compete with the assertively flavored, summery sauce. While I prefer cod or haddock for this dish, for their availability and neutral taste, most skinless, firm white fish fillets will work here. Thick, meaty halibut? Yes! Thin, delicate flounder? Oh, you bet.


Total time: 25 minutes; makes 4 servings

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 small shallot, thinly sliced into rings

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 pound small, sweet tomatoes, halved

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)

11/4 pounds fluke, halibut or cod, cut into 4 equal pieces

1 cup cilantro, tender leaves and stems

1/2 cup mint, tender leaves and stems

Limes, halved, for serving

Tortillas, toast or rice, for serving

Preparation: Heat olive oil in a large skillet (use one with a lid) over medium-high heat. Add garlic and shallots and cook, swirling the skillet constantly until they are starting to toast and turn light golden brown, two minutes or so. Add red pepper flakes and swirl to toast for a few seconds. Remove from heat and transfer all but 1 tablespoon of the chile oil to a small bowl.

Add tomatoes to the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally, until they burst and start to become saucy and jammy, five to eight minutes. Add fish sauce (if using) and 11/2 cups water, swirling to release any of the bits stuck on the bottom of the skillet.

Cook until the sauce is slightly thickened but still nice and brothy, three to five minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Season the fish with salt and pepper and gently lay the pieces in the brothy tomatoes. Cover the skillet and cook until the fish is opaque and just cooked through, four to six minutes (slightly longer for a thicker piece of fish, like halibut).

To serve, transfer fish and brothy tomatoes to a large shallow bowl (or divide among four bowls). Drizzle with reserved bowl of chile oil, more olive oil and the crispy shallots and garlic. Top with cilantro and mint, and serve with limes for squeezing over the top. Serve with tortillas, toast or rice, if you like.