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Sicilian Sweet-Sour Seafood Sauté


This is so typical of the fast and piquant dishes you find all over the southern Italian seacoast regions, especially Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily. Cooks there understand the flavor mix of sweet-tart and mint as no others do. I think this goes back to the Arab occupations that began in the 800's. They left their mark in pastry traditions, couscous, and fruit and sweet flavors mixed with savories. You don't find these elements as you move north; in fact, they are often scorned as "foreign."

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  • Cook's Note: Honey can replace the sugar, and hot red pepper flakes could stand in for the fresh chile.
  • Good tasting extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 ounces firm fish fillets (see Tips below for suggested choices)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 medium red onion, sliced thin
  • 3 fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 5 fresh spearmint leaves, torn
  • 1 fresh Italian hot pepperoncino, or jalapeño chile, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar


Servings 2


Step 1

1. Heat a 10-inch sauté pan over medium high. Generously film the pan with oil. Once hot, add fish seasoned with salt and pepper. Quickly brown the fish on both sides, turning with a spatula. Remove from pan, pour off fat.

2. Add remaining ingredients to pan. Stir 2 minutes over medium-high heat. Put fish back in pan, cover and cook over medium low 5 minutes, or until firm when pressed. Serve fillets moistened with pan juices and the onion mixture.


Suggested fish for this recipe include catfish, black sea bass, farmed arctic char, opah, pollock, Pacific white sea bass, Atlantic wreckfish, striped mullet, porgy, Alaska and Washington State wild salmon, and United States farmed tilapia, rainbow trout, and yellowtail. These species are not currently threatened by overfishing or affected by health alerts.

When cooking any fish, the key is to not overcook. Fish has little connective tissue and many species have very little fat so overcooking will give you tough, dry fish. Not pretty. A quick sear over high heat to brown both sides and an additional 2 to 5 minutes (depending on thickness of the fillets) over lower heat will do the job perfectly.

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