This deliciously simple fish recipe has an unexpected secret ingredient


This recipe was given to me by my Atlanta friend, Connie.

Despite meeting and becoming friends when we were both tweens living in Mobile, Ala., Connie is my “Atlanta friend.” Even when she traveled across the globe to live in Nairobi, Kenya, I still referred to Connie as my Atlanta friend. She moved to Atlanta after college, and except for the few years she spent in Africa and a short stint later in Palm Springs, Calif., Atlanta has been her home for most of the last 30 years.

Connie is an epicure, a gourmand, a bon vivant, a lover and appreciator of fine food and drink. She’s known for going to great lengths and traveling far distances to experience the best of the best of the best. From meager backpacking in her youth to the most lavish of transport as she aged, Connie has traversed the world to beautiful, tucked-away places of unmatched beauty and amazing cuisine.

Her true passion is finding unspoiled, unpopulated spots and traveling to them with those she loves. Somehow, no matter how remote or out of the way her destination may be, Connie manages to have something special like a magnum (or two) of La Grande Dame waiting and plenty more to follow.

Nothing if not prepared, Connie is also an accomplished chef, restauranteur and sommelier. She’s a tiny little powerhouse of a person who takes no crap, tells it like it is and dares anyone to underestimate her. She may clock in at only 5 feet tall and look as though a big gust could bring her down, but make no mistake, my friend is a force.

Connie began cooking professionally in Atlanta as a personal chef under her business name, “Spoon,” but went on to co-own “Kosmos,” a restaurant for which she created the menu and served as head chef. This recipe for snapper fingers began in her home kitchen, but it became a mainstay on the menu and a customer favorite at Kosmos. You can substitute any fresh-caught, mild, wild fish, but red snapper is awfully hard to beat.

Like her fast-paced home city of Atlanta, Connie has a frenetic, exciting energy about her. If she’s not working hard, she’s playing hard with her finger always firmly on the pulse of all the current “bests.” Connie knows the current best restaurant and can get reservations; she knows the best place to go right now; and she knows several best wines to have for the current season or even for your current mood. She’s on it; she’s got it handled. Enjoy not having to make any decisions, in fact, allow her to order for you as well. Relax, you’re in good hands.

Connie introduced me to the fine art of self-indulgence and self-care in our early 20s, treating me to quite a few “firsts”: my first massage and facial, my first weekend getaway at a spa, my first bottle of Verve Clicquot, as well as my first wine-paired, multi-course, fine dining experience, to name a few.


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From her, I gained an appreciation for table setting etiquette and hosting while trying to absorb all I could about food and wine. Thanks to Connie, I can still explain to anyone willing to listen how Champagne can only be referred to as “Champagne” if it comes from the Champagne region of France, specifically from either the city of Reims or Epernay.

I could go on and on, because I’m the queen of French Champagne minutia. Though I didn’t retain as much practical kitchen knowledge as I wish I had, I’m clear on the difference between upper-case “C” Champagne and lower-case “c” champagne. And I think of Connie every time I open a nice bottle.

Connie was the first person to introduce me to sushi and white-water rafting. She was also the reason I traveled to Africa for what was literally the trip of a lifetime, where I was introduced to stunningly beautiful places I could never have dreamed existed. Connie made me my first martini and the best carrot-ginger soup I’ve ever tasted. Without a doubt, she played an integral role in my life and had a hand in shaping who I am today. She taught me how to cook with confidence, host graciously and what generosity looks like.

What a fateful day it was when we met as children some 40-plus years ago! Neither of us could have imagined the meandering paths our lives would take, or what each of our lives would look like at our ages now. I’m fortunate to call her my friend and happy beyond measure to share this recipe.

Like all of my favorite summer meals, this recipe takes very little time to prepare and bake.

Like all of my favorite summer meals, this recipe takes very little time to prepare and bake. Most days, I’m only cooking for two. So, I bake the fish in my toaster oven, which is great when we’re in the midst of another heat wave with heat indexes into the triple digits. (At this rate, I may need to leave my oven off until October!)

Because the banana salsa also comes together fast and doesn’t need to marinate for long, you can truly whip this entire thing up in no time. Snapper is abundant in the summer where I live, but choose any fresh, firm, mild fish for this recipe.

If you’re so inclined and would like to step into Connie’s world (which I highly recommend!), here’s something to try. Find the loveliest location (outside with a great view if possible), take out your fanciest champagne flutes, invite a cherished friend over and open a cold bottle of French Champagne (Verve Clicquot will do!). Toast to friendship, the beauty around you and the delicious nectar-of-the-gods you’re blessed to be drinking. Laugh together, wax poetic, share with one another the challenges you’re facing.

It’s a splurge — and a completely frivolous one — but two friends making time for one another in our now busy, busy world is itself a cause for celebration. Here’s to you! Here’s to Connie! cheers!

A note on red snapper

The accompaniment steals the show in this dish, which marks another successful red snapper season.

In Alabama, red snapper season begins the last Friday in May or the first Friday in June and stretches across consecutive four-day weekends through mid-August. In Florida, the season will feature 12 extra days this fall.

Rarely found north of the Carolinas and primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s a delicious, firm, lean, mild fish found at depths of 30 to more than 600 feet.

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Snapper Fingers (Courtesy Bibi Hutchings)Snapper FingersBanana Salsa (Courtesy Bibi Hutchings)

Connie’s Snapper Fingers with Banana Salsa

Ingredients

Snapper Fingers

  • 1 1/2 cups plain potato chips, uniformly and thoroughly crushed
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • 1 pound red snapper fillets, cut into strips
  • 1/4 cup milk

Banana Salsa

  • 2 medium-sized, ripe bananas, chopped
  • 1 cup mix of yellow, red and/or green bell peppers, chopped
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1-2 fresh limes
  • 1 tablespoon avocado or grapeseed oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional: 1 small jalapeño, de-seeded and chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

  2. First, make the salsa by combining all the salsa ingredients together in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. (See Chef’s Note)

  3. Next, combine the crushed potato chips and cheese in a shallow dish.

  4. Pour the milk into a separate shallow dish.

  5. Place the fish in the milk, then piece by piece, remove and dredge in the potato chip mixture, placing each piece on a greased baking sheet in a single layer.

  6. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the fish is to your preferred degree of doneness.

  7. Serve with the banana salsa.


Cook’s Notes

If you don’t have any avocado or grapeseed oil, reach for any neutral tasting salad oil.

I’ve made this salsa and only allowed it to marinate for as long as it took me to prepare and serve the fish. If you have time to make it early, do so, but it will still be good if you make it closer to serving time.

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