Pan-Fried Opakapaka with Warm Spiced Cabbage Salad

This entire meal came together in under an hour, including the time to defrost and marinate the fish. The ingredients for the warm salad may seem exotic, but dals and brown mustard seeds can often be found in the bulk section of well-stocked health food stores so you may not have to look too far afield to find what you need for this salad. It may seem an unusual way to use lentils and beans — to dry fry them instead of boiling them — but once you get a taste for the nutty crunch and spice they lend to foods you, too, will find reasons to serve them again! The combination of cabbage and coconut is one we fell in love with when we first tried Brussels Sprouts with Coconut last fall, so this was an easy sell even if it weren’t so quick to assemble and cook.

3 TBL. mustard oil, or olive oil (not EVOO)
2 tsp. channa dal
2 tsp. urad dal
1 tsp. brown mustard seeds
20 fresh curry leaves (optional)
1-4 serrano chiles, seeded and sliced
3 cups finely shredded cabbage
1 carrot, julienned or grated
sea salt
1/2 cup grated coconut

Heat oil in wok or large skillet over medium high heat. Add dals and mustard seeds, and fry until mustard seeds start to pop (about 10 seconds). Add curry leaves, if using, and stir through. Add chiles
and stir through, then cabbage, carrots and sea salt. Cover and reduce heat to low and cook until cabbage just wilts, about 8-10 minutes. Add coconut, and stir to heat through. Turn off heat and leave covered until ready to serve.

Crimson red snapper, known locally as opakapaka, is found in Hawaiian waters but is one of several species that are still under a fishing ban in the main Islands. The local fisheries council instituted the ban in 2006 to allow the opakapaka population to recover from over-fishing. The only opakapaka available here now arrives flash-frozen from Asia and the northern Hawaiian Islands. Of course, most “fresh” fish in supermarkets and fishmongers arrives frozen, and what we are buying is actually thawed fish. As long as frozen fish is protected from freezer burn, as with these shrink-wrapped individual fillets, you can always have “fresh” fish in your freezer and available at a moment’s notice. In these photos, the frozen fillets were thawed in 15 minutes in a cool salt bath, towel-dried and produced the fillets on the right. I use about 1/3 cup coarse sea salt to 1.5 qt/L. of cold water, stirred vigorously to dissolve the salt. Frozen fillets are added to the water and left for 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. The trick is not to leave the fillets in longer than this or they can become water-logged. Pat dry the fish, and use immediately.

2 fillets opakapaka, or other snapper, fillets (with skin on)
1 tsp. ground coriander seeds
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground yellow mustard powder (e.g., Coleman’s)
4 tsp. fresh lime or lemon juice
fine sea salt
oil for cooking

Combine coriander and mustard powders. Sprinkle spices onto skinless side of fish, and gently massage. Drizzle 2 tsp. of lemon juice on each fillet. Set aside for 15 minutes.

Pre-heat skillet large enough to hold both fillets over medium-high heat. Add oil to skillet. Season fillets with sea salt, and place skinless side down on skillet. Cook for 1 minute and turn heat down to medium. Cook another 2-3 minutes, or until browned crust forms and releases from pan. Turn fish over and cook another 2-3 minutes, depending on thickness of fish. It will flake easily when cooked.

To assemble, mound cabbage onto plate and place fish on top. Serve with rice or mashed potatoes.