Provençal walnut, herb and whole wheat crusted fish
When I was growing up in Australia, mum used to cook pan-fried, crumbed fish that dad and us kids freshly caught out fishing on our boat ‘Firefly’. After we’d get home, salty and sunburned, we’d set about scaling and filleting the fish from our haul. For dinner that night, Mum would crumb the fillets — first in flour, then beaten egg, and then in dry breadcrumbs — and then she’d pan-fry them in butter until golden brown and crispy. It was one of my favorite meals as a child, and one of the reasons I love eating fish (and seafood) regularly.
Eating crumbed fish still brings back fond memories, but these days we use a different method of crumbing and cooking fish. Over the years, we’ve found that baking fish in the oven is much less hassle than pan-frying. Firstly, you don’t have to cook the fish in butter or oil, and secondly, you don’t need to flip the fillets halfway through cooking. It’s such an easy, healthy way to cook fish.
And instead of mucking around with the messy flour-egg-breadcrumb crumbing routine, we smear each fish fillet with some dijon mustard and then press a mixture of walnuts, whole wheat bread, parsley, garlic, lemon zest, and olive oil on top. The dijon mustard not only gives the fish a great flavor but it helps the crumbs stick to the fish. And the crumb mixture doesn’t just coat the fish with a delicious crunchy crust, it also keeps the fish perfectly moist and juicy during cooking, making fillets that are light and flaky but not falling apart. The crispy topping contrasts so well with the tender fish, and the subtle nut-herb-lemon flavors really complement the fish without overpowering its natural taste.
Another key difference in our crumb is that we use fresh breadcrumbs instead of dry, and we prefer whole wheat for taste (and the extra fiber). We also add walnuts, which are a fantastic source of omega-3 fats, and impart a wonderful sweet, nutty crunch. So, together with the omega-3s in the fish, this dish is a tasty way to get more heart healthy oils in your diet.
Besides making fish more flavorful and filling, the crumb mixture is also a really easy way to transform inexpensive fish fillets into a restaurant-style meal without much time or effort. And you can prepare it ahead and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to bake the fish. We tend to make up extra crumb to use in all sorts of ways such as a crispy topping for casseroles or pasta bakes (it enlivens Mac & cheese), or toasted and tossed with pasta (sublime combined with canned tuna, peas and Parmesan). It’s also yummy used as a topping for clams and mussels, or sprinkled over portobello mushroom caps before baking or broiling.
What’s more, this is a handy recipe you can experiment with: try other fresh herbs like basil or dill; and use different nuts including hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, or pine nuts. We used firm white fish fillets in this recipe (cod or snapper work well), or you can use the crumb mixture to coat skinless chicken breast instead of fish.
In keeping with the Provencal flavor of this recipe, we like
to serve the fish with steamed potatoes and green beans, but
any steamed or boiled vegetables such as peas, broccoli, or
carrots would be ideal. Or for a lighter meal, just add a
1 cup raw unsalted walnuts
2 slices whole wheat bread — roughly torn
2 garlic cloves — finely chopped
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
4 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Variations: Try other fresh herbs like basil or dill, and use different nuts including hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, or pine nuts. We used firm white fish fillets in this recipe, or you can use the crumb mixture to coat skinless chicken breast instead of fish.