Simple Art of Cooking: Fishing for a Good Meal

Spot croaker.
Spot croaker.

“Spot,” she said, in answer to my request for a seasonally current, firm-fleshed fish. I was perplexed, but Tracy Kirst, manager of Cor-J Seafood in Hampton Bays, insisted I try it.

“Never heard of it,” I replied. She described the fish as small in size with firm white flesh and light golden scales with a black spot on each side, relatively inexpensive—and very, very sweet. “The method of cooking,” Tracy continued, “would be anything you would do with flounder or fluke.”

“Perfect I replied,” This is a no brainer!

I purchased enough fillets to try them two ways, classic pan sautéed with panko crumbs, thyme and lemon, and broiled with a dressing of chopped garlic, lime juice, parsley and olive oil. They were excellent both ways, yet the dressing for the broiled fillets seem to bring out more of the fish’s sweetness. Just delectable and so very easy!

Tracy went on to say that “Spot” is also known as Lafayette fish. She explained, “The fish is around until a cold front comes through. Some years just a few are available and other years they are plentiful; as they are this year.” As for the name, the famous general was quoted as saying, “I will return.”

Spot is a local, firm-fleshed fish that I adapted from a recipe prepared with fluke from my book, “Savoring the Hamptons: Discovering the Food and Wine of Long Island’s East End.”
Serves 4

Parsley lime dressing

  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the fish

  • 8 spot fish with skin
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Set broiler element to its highest setting.
1. Place the garlic, lime juice, salt, pepper, and parsley in a small bowl and whisk in the olive oil until mixture is homogenous.

2. Rinse fillets and pat dry with paper towels, Drizzle fillets evenly with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on an oven-going sheet pan just large enough to hold them in a single layer and broil about 3 to 4 inches from source of heat in preheated oven for 2 minutes. Pull the baking pan from the oven shelf and drizzle half the dressing over the fillets. Return to the broiler and continue cooking the fish for another 2 minutes until springy to the touch. Spoon over the remaining parsley lime
dressing and serve.

Coat the fish with panko, coarse Japanese breadcrumbs, to give the fish extra crunch.
Yield: 3 to 4 servings

  • 8 skinless spot fillets (about 1/2 pound)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
  • kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 lemon, scored and thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)

1. Rinse the fillets and pat dry with paper towels. Place the panko in a small bowl and season with salt, paprika, and thyme and stir to mix. Spread the panko mixture on a large shallow plate and dredge the fillets on both sides in the
seasoned panko.

2. Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add 2 or 3 fillets at a time, one layer deep. Cook each side until lightly golden, 2 minutes. Carefully turn with a wide spatula and cook about 2 minutes longer. Season with freshly ground pepper and keep warm. You will have to do this in two batches.

3. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the fat in the skillet. Add the lemon juice, scraping the pan with a wooden spatula to deglaze the pan juices. Pour the warm sauce over the fillets and serve immediately. Garnish with lemon slices,
if desired.

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