Fish in Crazy Water

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


We didn’t eat much fish at my house when I was a little girl – except on Fridays.  We always had fish on Fridays, because that was what all good Italian Catholic families in the Bronx did.   Even after Vatican II said it was okay to eat meat on Fridays, we didn’t.  My mother said it just didn’t seem right.  It was almost always the exact same kind of fish too – flounder, dipped in egg and bread crumbs and fried. 

Every Friday afternoon when I got home from school, my mother would press a ten dollar bill in my hand and send me down the block to Mario, the fish guy, for 1 1/2 pounds of “flounder fillets”.    As I moseyed on down to Mario’s, she’d invariably call after me to “Make sure you smell the fish!”, and “Don’t forget to count the change!”  And, I always did.  To this day, I never buy a piece of fish without smelling it first, although I’m not quite as religious about counting my change. 

Now, that I’m a grown up, I pretty much eat whatever I want on Fridays.  But during Lent, it’s back to fish – except for fried flounder.  Been there, done that.  Luckily, there are many other kinds of fish and seafood available to me here in sunny Florida and a gazillion different ways to prepare them.   When I saw this legendary, old Marcella Hazan recipe featured in the new issue of Food and Wine, I knew it was my destiny. 


The dish is called Pesce All’Acqua Pazza, or Fish in Crazy Water.  Crazy water?  “What the heck is crazy water?”, I asked myself.  I was intrigued.  As it turns out, “crazy water” is nothing more than a simple sauce of fresh tomatoes, garlic, parsley, olive oil and…water.  Yes, water!  The ingredients are simmered, nurtured and reduced down until a vibrant and deeply flavored poaching liquid for the fish is coaxed out of them.  That plain, old H2O has the ability to transform a few basic ingredients into such a lovely, aromatic sauce is what, I suspect, makes it crazy.   I know, I know.  Fish poached in tomato sauce doesn’t sound like such groundbreaking stuff.  But, this humble little sauce really is something special.

The original recipe calls for red snapper fillets.   Of course, on the day I’d planned to try this recipe, there was no red snapper to be found.  So, I looked for another kind of firm-textured, mild, white fish to use instead.   I chose a lovely fresh water fish called walleye, but grouper, halibut, sea bass or cod would also be great choices.  Marcella also says to leave the skin on.  I think that‘s to help the fish hold together after poaching.  Don’t sweat it if you can only find skinned fillets, though.  You’ll just have to be a little more careful when removing your fish from the pan. 

Whether or not you observe the “Fish on Fridays” rule, during Lent or otherwise, Fish in Crazy Water is wonderful dish to have in your repertoire.  It’s brilliant in its simplicity, and it’s “crazy” delicious!   And that, dear readers, is why I also believe that Marcella Hazan is some kind of “crazy” culinary genius.




16 responses to Fish in Crazy Water

  1. On February 20, 2013 at 5:20pm, Rosa said...

    That dish looks so good and I love its name!



  2. On February 20, 2013 at 5:27pm, bellini said...

    A made a version of this after my trip to the Amalfi Coast. I love that you have topped it on spaghetti with this luscious tomato sauce.

  3. On February 21, 2013 at 9:30am, Sammy said...

    Oh my, it looks so good!!!

  4. On February 21, 2013 at 11:30am, Rachel (S[d]OC) said...

    I admit once I no longer had Grandma enforcing the Lenten rules, I did away with meatless Fridays. I still do seek fish recipes for my meat-loathing husband (who is Jewish and doesn’t observe Lent). I know he would love this.

  5. On February 21, 2013 at 2:36pm, Shirley @ All Gluten-Free Desserts said...

    I adore fish and this recipe looks like a “must make” and soon. Love the name, too. :-) Thanks, Susan!


  6. On February 21, 2013 at 2:51pm, Abbe@This is How I Cook said...

    I met Marcella once and I am a big fan of her recipes. This sounds great and I’m always ready to be CRAZY!

  7. On February 21, 2013 at 3:19pm, kirsten@FarmFreshFeasts said...

    I’d totally eat that, any day of the week. Though it’s fun to say the recipe name.

    I wonder what else you could cook in crazy water?

  8. On February 21, 2013 at 5:35pm, Jennifer K said...

    Oh Yum. I’m going to make this tomorrow!

  9. On February 21, 2013 at 8:56pm, Anne said...

    180th st and Arthur Avenue! Yessss!

  10. On February 21, 2013 at 9:38pm, Jayne said...

    Love the name! haha… anything in this sort of crazy water would be good. I was so pleased to see you ate it with pasta. I would do the same whenever there’s a large amount of tomato based sauce. I need to make fish this way.

  11. On February 23, 2013 at 7:55am, Sprigs of Rosemary said...

    Walleye happens to be my favorite fish . . . mostly because every spring, Mr. Rosemary takes me on a fishing trip to Canada for walleye. My SIL pride ourselves on cooking our catch every day of the week seven different ways. Now we have another crazy good way!

  12. On February 26, 2013 at 12:32pm, Kevin @ Closet Cooking said...

    Now that is one tasty and healthy looking fish dish!

  13. On February 26, 2013 at 1:26pm, Amy said...

    I’ve been looking for easy recipes to use with halibut and I think this just moved to the top of the list. Recipes like this are so good to know. I can see using it with so many other fish or shellfish too!

    The photos are totally drool inducing!

  14. On February 26, 2013 at 5:10pm, Karen@Mignardise said...

    I wish someone would come and make me this for dinner right now. Since that’s pretty unlikely, I’ll do it tomorrow. Looks yummy, with all my favorite ingredients.

  15. On February 27, 2013 at 5:21pm, Dana said...

    Hi Susan,

    My name is Dana and I’m the Casting Associate on “The Great Food Truck Race” on the Food Network. I was reading through your blog and I was quite impressed with your recipes. If you’ve ever had a passion to operate your own food truck with your chosen menu then please contact me. We are casting season 4 of the series and we are looking for food truck “newbies” who have never owned a food truck or restaurant. Please email me for more details on the show at FOODTRUCKRACECASTING@RRSTAFF.COM. Thanks, Dana Gilbert, RelatitivyREAL

  16. On March 01, 2013 at 1:04pm, Faye said...

    This is a wonderful fish creation I would love to try.

3 pings to Fish in Crazy Water

  1. On February 24, 2013 at 11:18am, Link Love, Vol. 7 - Break the Sky pinged...

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  2. On March 01, 2013 at 1:17pm, Relish Blogs – Week 3.4 pinged...

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  3. On September 06, 2014 at 10:02pm, Link Love, Vol. 7 - musicalpoem pinged...

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Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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