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My youngest son, Leo, and I recently made our way down to the glorious city of New Orleans. I do recognize we live in New York City, where you can virtually get anything you'd ever crave in the world. But there's something about that slow Southern drawl and unbeatable hospitality that's almost as mind-blowing as the food in the beloved Crescent City.
For Leo and me, it doesn't get much better than shrimp and grits, oyster po'boys and a crawfish boil on the bayou of the mighty Mississippi River. I'm sure if you followed my trip down south on Instagram, you know exactly what I'm talking about. It's that same less-than-fancy comfort food I love about simple Italian fare as well. Drawing inspiration from both of my favorite places, Nawlins and Italia, this week I'm cooking my Marinated Fish with Vinegar and Mint.
This dish is typical of Roman home cooking, but it may seem a little strange to the American cook because of the order in which the fish is prepared. The rouget (or red mullet) is cooked first, then marinated. Stick with it -- the marinade changes the texture of the fish and the flavors literally meld together, forming poetry in your mind as you snack on these.
Rouget is renowned for its delicate flavor and is increasingly more available in the United States. However, if you are unable to find rouget from your local fishmonger, smelts or sardines make nice substitutes.
A warm afternoon in the shade with a delicious snack like this in one hand and a chilled glass of Frascati in the other is what the spirit of New Orleans, and Italian culture, is all about.
Marinated Fish with Vinegar and Mint
Pesciolini in Scapece
Makes 4 servings.
4 to 5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 to 2 1/2 pounds small fish such as rouget, cleaned, scaled and heads removed
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a small saucepan, combine the garlic, mint and vinegar, and bring just to boil over medium-low heat. Reduce the heat to below a simmer and leave the aromatics to steep in the vinegar.
Spread the flour on a plate and dredge the fish lightly in it. In a 10- to 12-inch sauté pan, heat 1/2 cup of the olive oil over medium high heat until smoking. Add the fish in batches and cook, turning once, until golden brown and just cooked through. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
Discard the oil and wipe out the pan. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of the olive oil over medium-high heat until smoking. Add the fish, in batches, and cook, turning once, until golden brown and just cooked through. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
Strain the vinegar into a small bowl, reserving the garlic and mint. Layer the fish on a glass or ceramic dish just large enough to hold them, distributing the reserved garlic and mint over them. Combine the warm vinegar and the warmed oil, and pour over the fish.
Cover the dish and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.
(Mario Batali is the award-winning chef behind twenty-four restaurants including Eataly, DelPosto, and his flagship Greenwich Village enoteca, Babbo. In this column, Mario answers questions submitted via social media and by people he encounters daily in Downtown Manhattan. Keep asking!)