Everyone has heard of fried green tomatoes, but on a visit to the Coleman farm, I had a revelation about cooking with unripe tomatoes. Bill, an excellent cook, prepared fish using tangy green tomatoes for the sauce. Brilliant! Drawing culinary inspiration from his Filipina wife, Delia, Bill uses patis (Philippine fish sauce) and tamarind sauce to flavor the dish. I experimented using Bill’s suggested seasonings with various fish available at the farmers’ market, and succulent, sweet black cod (sablefish) was the hands-down winner. Look for green tomatoes that have started to take on a little pink, or leave completely green tomatoes on your counter for a couple of days so they start ripening. Either way they will be juicier and more flavorful than if you used fully green tomatoes, but still firm enough to skin with a vegetable peeler. Bearss limes add fruity tartness. Serve the fish with steamed rice.
Makes 4 servings
1 1/2 pounds unripe green tomatoes with a blush of color
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons canola or other mild cooking oil
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 lime, preferably Bearss or kaffir, halved
1/2 cup chicken stock or water
1 pound skinned black cod fillet, 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick, cut into 4 equal pieces
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Handful of fresh whole cilantro or Thai basil leaves or finely slivered kaffir lime leaves
Peel the tomatoes with a vegetable peeler, core, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. In a wide pot, sauté the onion in the oil over medium-low heat with 2 teaspoons of the fish sauce until translucent and soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the tomatoes and the remaining 2 tablespoons fish sauce. Raise the heat to medium and cook uncovered until the tomatoes lose their bright color and start to break down, about 5 minutes. Add the juice of 1/2 lime and the stock, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes completely break down, about 15 minutes. The sauce can be made up to 6 hours ahead and reheated.
Just before serving, season the fish pieces with salt and pepper and place on top of the hot sauce in the pan. Spoon a little of the sauce over the fish, squeeze the juice of the remaining lime half over all, cover, and simmer over medium-low heat until the fish is opaque at the center when tested with a knife tip, about 5 minutes. Scatter the cilantro over the fish.