Cornflake Crusted Fish with Chili Tartare Sauce and the Town of San Felice Circeo

When I was in college,  I would take cooked food from my parents' house on Sunday nights that would see me throughout the week in my dorm.  My only relationship in cooking then was to press the button of my rice cooker and to reheat what I got from our house.  I never thought of cooking from scratch and it never bugged me that I don't have any relationship with it even if my dorm was equipped with its own kitchen.  It was spic and span when I arrived and after 4 years, it was still how I found it.  Shiny and almost unused.  

Mid-way through college, a new cafe opened right in front of where I was living. It was small with just three tables and the menu only had a few entries. One of them was  fish fillet with tartare sauce. I have always loved this combination. I am not a mayo nor yogurt person but when they are made into this sauce, nothing else matters.   I had to stop myself at times from going towards its direction. It was a plain and simple direction to addiction.  I was crazy about their fish with tartare sauce.

About 20 years later, it crossed my path again when I saw a recipe of tartare sauce at the internet. I studied how to mix it. I decided to use my new bottle of piment d'espelette (Espelette pepper, a variety of chili pepper cultivated in the French commune of Espelette, hence the name.) that my friend sent to me from France to spice up the sauce.  Being a big user of paprika, espelette is a treasure to use too being just a tad more in chili factor.  I went for a Greek yogurt base instead of mayo for a lot of reasons but mainly for its texture. 

I did two versions of cooking the fish, fried and cooked in the oven. I also had two kinds of fresh fish fillet, red mullet and plaice.  I encrusted them with hand-crushed cornflakes to give a bit of coarse texture. The kids love cornflake crusted chicken so this one was a winner too. They didn't touch the sauce because it is white. There is distrust with white food in this house.  I preferred the texture and taste of the plaice cooked in the oven. The only reason I fried the red mullet was to rekindle my food memories of college. In this sense, it's always a matter of personal taste.

College seems just yesterday but as I counted with my fingers (two rounds of them!), reality struck me.  I'm old!  And furthermore, I officially stepped inside the dreaded line of middle age.  I am 40 and I have yet to get used to saying it. I normally don't care about my age but when this year arrived and all my friends were speaking about turning 40 (we all turn 40 this year), I dreaded every single day that I would turn middle-aged myself. 

On the positive side of it, I am grateful to be enjoying the fruits of life.  Every minute matters with family, food, good health and beautiful places.  So the day I turned 40, the kids stayed in their Nonna's (grandmother's) house while my husband took me to a beautiful town called San Felice Circeo and booked our lunch at Ristorante L'Argonauta at the beach.  

Life begins at 40.  

San Felice Circeo was a splendid place to start my new life and I wouldn't celebrate it in any other way.  

Thank you everyone for all the wonderful messages you sent me.  They eased the uneasiness of stepping across the line from young adulthood to old age. 

Here are the pictures of the wonderful place I am speaking about.  I hope you enjoy them like I did.  

Have a good weekend!

UPDATE (7 Nov. 2012):  The Traveling Vineyard has suggested wine pairings of Kesari 2012 Torrontes of La Rioja, Argentina and Bright Eyed Bird 2011 Pinot Grigio of California for this recipe.  Please click on this link to go to the page.  

San Felice Circeo is a seaside town at the Tyrrhenean Sea. It's beautiful, clean and bustling with holidaymakers. Being only about 100 kilometers from Rome makes it a popular beach place to get away from the city.  There are a number of interesting caves in the area, one of them Grotta Guattari, where the skull of a Neanderthal man was found. 

Capesante (scallops) & scampi (langoustine) ravioli, tagliolini allo scorfano (scorfion fish) & seafood antipasto.
Oven-roasted turbot (rombo) with string potatoes & tomatoes, Raw & marinated seafood platter and Coca-cola & chocolate cake (Delicious, brilliant & moist!)

Cornflake Crusted Fish with Chili Tartare Sauce

Serves 4
  • 200 grams plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons capers, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (adjust according to your taste)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon Piment d'Espelette or Espelette Pepper (replace with paprika if you can't find it)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 (100-gram) pieces fish fillet (any kind of white fish like red mullet, sole, halibut)
  • 1 (or more) cup flour (for coating the fish)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4 (or more) cups cornflakes, crushed coarsely with your hands (for coating the fish)
  • Olive oil, saffron oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil or other kinds of oil for frying
    1. In a small bowl, mix the yogurt, capers, parsley, lemon juice, piment d'espelette, chives, salt and lemon zest. Adjust the amount of ingredients according to your taste. Set aside.
    2. Prepare 3 containers with the flour, eggs and cornflakes.
    3. Cover the fish fillet with the flour then shake off the excess.
    4. Dip it in the container of the egg.
    5. Cover with the cornflakes then shake off the excess.
    6. If you are baking, put them on a greased baking pan and bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees C for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
    7. If you are frying, over medium heat in a saucepan with oil, put them in a pan with enough oil, fry the fish and brown both sides. When they are cooked, put them on a plate with paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Sprinkle with some salt.
    8. Serve the fish with the sauce.

      UPDATE (7 Nov. 2012):  The Traveling Vineyard has suggested wine pairings of Kesari 2012 Torrontes of La Rioja, Argentina and Bright Eyed Bird 2011 Pinot Grigio of California for this recipe.  Please click on this link to go to the page.