Pan-Seared Cod Puttanesca

By Lisa Schroeder
Published on: August 26, 2021

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Puttanesca sauces are bold, brash, and irresistible. Perhaps that’s where the sauce got its name, which is derived from the Italian word for – ahem – ladies of pleasure. Another theory: It’s named after these ladies because they’d often have to put dinner together quickly from what was in their kitchen cabinets.

The quality of the sauce is best with fresh, seasonal tomatoes and elegant olives such as Nicoise, oil-cured Moroccan, or Kalamata, but it’s almost as good with any kind of tomato and California black olives. You can also add red pepper flakes and anchovies for an even more robust flavor.

4 (6-ounce) red snapper or cod fillets (about 1 ½ pounds)

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt (divided)

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (divided)

¼ cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons olive oil

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped (about 3 tablespoons)

2 medium tomatoes, diced (1 ½ cups), or 1 (15-ounce) can whole tomatoes, diced

1/3 cup pitted black olives, preferably Nicoise

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

¼ cup dry white wine, such as Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio

1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Cooked orzo, for serving

Sautéed spinach, for serving


Heat the oven to 200 degrees F. Place the fish on a baking sheet and season the top of each fillet with ¼ teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper.

Place the flour in a shallow bowl or plate. Dip the fish in the flour on both sides and return it to the baking sheet until ready to cook.

Meanwhile, place a large (12- to 14-inch) sauté pan over medium-high heat for several minutes. When hot, add the oil and heat until shimmering. Add the fish, presentation side down. Cook until golden on one side, about 3 minutes. (You may have to cook the fish in two batches, adding more oil if necessary.) Flip the fillets over and continue to cook until golden, another 3 to 4 minutes. Place the fish on a heatproof serving platter and keep warm in the oven.

Return the pan to medium-high heat. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, stirring once or twice (about 1 minute). Add the tomatoes, season with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the olives, capers, white wine, and parsley. Increase the heat to high and simmer the sauce until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter. Remove the fish from the oven, pour the tomato mixture on top, and serve with buttered orzo and sautéed spinach.

Lisa Schroeder

Lisa Schroeder

Lisa is the chef/owner of Mother's Bistro & Bar in Portland, Oregon. Her award-winning restaurants have been featured in The Oregonian, Food & Wine, Cooking Light, Town & Country, USA Today, and Bon Appetit.

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