This red lentil-crusted fried fish is an easy, healthy, gluten-free weeknight dinner made with firm white fish, ground red lentils and spices, and a citrus sauce.
Crusting fish or other seafood in lentils is a fun and easy way to add complexity, crunch, and delicious flavor. I discovered the technique for this red lentil-crusted fried fish recipe while experimenting with making flours from different grains. This lentil crust not only adds texture but a layer of flavor, too. The curry spices seem a fitting accompaniment as does the bright citrus and saag, a traditional curried spinach.–Eric Skokan
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LC Far From Penance Note
One taste of this red lentil-crusted fried fish recipe and you’ll understand why we consider it to be far, far from penance to swap out a steak every once in a while for this fish dish.
Red Lentil-Crusted Fried Fish
For the saag or curried spinach (optional)
For the citrus sauce
- 2 tablespoons grated orange zest preferably organic
- 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest preferably organic
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- Fresh lemon juice to taste (anywhere from 3/4 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or other mild vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons cold water
- 1 cup orange supremes (this means orange segments with the membrane removed)
For the red lentil-crusted fried fish
- 1/2 cup red lentils uncooked
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoons salt plus more for the fish
- 2 pounds firm white fish, such as grouper, catfish, snapper, or Pacific cod cut into 2-ounce pieces
- 1/4 cup olive oil or other mild vegetable oil
- 1 cup cilantro leaves for garnish
Make the saag or curried spinach (optional)
- In a large sauté pan over high heat, combine the onion, garlic, ginger, curry powder, and oil. Cook until the onion begins to color, about 4 minutes. Mix in the spinach and cook just until it wilts, about 5 minutes. Drain any liquid in the pan through a colander. Return the mixture to the pan and stir in the yogurt. Season with salt and set the saag aside.
Make the citrus sauce
- Transfer the zests to a blender. Add the sugar, lemon juice to taste, and oil. Purée on high speed until very smooth, about 3 minutes. With the motor running, add the water and blend until the citrus mixture is emulsified. Taste and adjust the amounts of juice and salt accordingly.
Make the red lentil-crusted fried fish
- Combine the lentils, spices, and 2 teaspoons salt in a spice blender, coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle and process until the lentils are reduced to a powder. Transfer to a shallow dish.
- Season the fish on both sides with salt, then dredge the fish through the lentil mixture, turning to coat all sides and shaking off any excess.
- Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the fish and cook until crisp on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes total. You may need to reduce the heat to medium to prevent the outside of the fish from blackening before the inside of the fish is cooked through.
- Divvy the fish among 4 dinner plates. Place several spoonfuls citrus sauce and the curried spinach, if using, alongside. Garnish with the citrus segments and cilantro. Serve immediately.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This red lentil-crusted fried fish recipe was perfect. Everything worked like a charm and was wonderfully tasty. I made the saag as well, and it really brought the dish together. I just added some rice on the side. The saag was very easy to make. I used a somewhat spicy curry, but the heat was lovely when tamed by the yogurt (I used full-fat Greek yogurt). For the citrus sauce, I skipped the blanching of the zest. I used a microplane to zest the fruits, so not much of the bitter pith was added. I used the juice of 1/2 lemon and added just a pinch salt. I used my immersion blender for the blending, and it worked great. I used fresh rock cod and cut a 2/3 pound fillet into 4 pieces for 2 people. I fried the pieces for 8 minutes total on medium-high, and the fish turned out perfect—moist inside and crisp outside. My total time for the whole dish was 35 minutes—rather quick, which I liked. There was some leftover red lentil coating. I will try it with chicken. This recipe is a keeper, and I will make it again.
A solid supper. The unique and bright citrus sauce was a great complement to the fragrant fried fish, and the spicy saag tied it all together. I’m not convinced that the tiny mustard seeds were powdered successfully in the food processor, and next time I make this red lentil-crusted fried fish recipe, I might give them a pounding with the mortar and pestle. I was also tempted to throw in some fennel seeds. For the citrus sauce, I used 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice. We ran out of the citrus sauce before finishing the fish, so that part of the recipe could stand to be increased. (I wish we had made 1 1/2 times the sauce.) But ultimately, this seemed like a more-creative-than-usual dinner that wasn’t all that time- or energy-intensive. While pureeing the sauce, it took about 30 seconds after adding the water for the sauce to be emulsified. I used Pacific cod, which was lovely. For frying the fish, 4 minutes per side over medium-high heat was perfect. I decided to use the orange segments, which were so delicious with this dish! They should definitely be included if you’re making the saag as they nicely tempered the heavily garlicked and gingered greens.
I got very excited about making this red lentil-crusted fried fish recipe because it’s exactly the kind of thing I love to eat. Seafood, vegetables, bold spices—what’s not to like? The texture was not as crunchy as I could have gotten with, say, cornmeal. The citrus sauce and orange supremes were the highlight of the dish. I loved the contrast of this tangy dressing. I used cod for the fish. Medium-high is plenty high to cook the fish, especially if you’ve let your pan preheat and are using cast iron. For the citrus sauce, I used the juice from 1 lemon, about 3 tablespoons. I didn’t need to drain any liquid from the spinach. In fact, I thought it needed a bit more liquid, so I doubled the amount of yogurt and thinned it with about 2 tablespoons heavy cream.
Honestly, I was a bit skeptical that I could use uncooked red lentils to make the crust for fried fish, but I was definitely wrong! I will say that my blender didn’t turn the lentils into a powder, so I ended up using my spice grinder to finish the job. This red lentil-crusted fried fish recipe takes some time to complete, so set aside about an hour from start to finish. I made the saag at the same time I was putting the citrus sauce through its 3 rinses of boiling water. The saag is a great accompaniment to the fish, the curry balancing nicely with the coriander and cumin on the fish. (A word of caution: The recipe for the saag calls for 1/4 cup garlic, minced. Don’t confuse this with 1/4 cup minced garlic. There is a HUGE difference.) The citrus sauce came together just as simply as it seems in the recipe. I used 2 tablespoons lemon juice since I didn’t want it to be too tart. I only had to blend it about 30 seconds before it was nicely emulsified. For the fish, I used ono, commonly available in the Pacific, also called wahoo. The lentil mixture sticks well to the fish, and once I had a nice crust on the fish, I turned the heat down to medium to prevent it from burning as the fish finished cooking. The crust was wonderfully crisp. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to flour and/or cornmeal; it was that good. I’m going to try it on some chicken I have defrosting.
Originally published February 24, 2015