Acqua pazza, or ‘crazy water’ is the humorous term for a really easy but very tasty Neapolitan method for poaching fish. Make a garlic and oil base, throw in a few cherry tomatoes and other flavorings if you like, lay down your fish fillets, simmer for a few minutes and you’re done.
- 6 or more fillets of white-fleshed fish (see Notes)
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
- 500g (1 lb) cherry or grape tomatoes
- Olive Oil
- A few sprigs of parsley, finely chopped
- 1-2 dried chili peppers or red pepper flakes
- A handful of olives
- A few anchovy fillets
You start by sautéing a few cloves of garlic in olive oil, along with the chili pepper if you want some heat, as if you were making an ajo e ojo, in a pan wide enough to fit your fish filets in a single layer.
Then, letting the oil cool a bit, add cherry or grape tomatoes, which you can split in two, and a splash of white wine, along with any of the other optional ingredients you might be in the mood for. Let the tomatoes simmer for a minute or two, to soften.
Place filets of a white-fleshed fish into this ‘bath’ and add enough water (or fish broth) to come about halfway up the fish. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with some chopped parsley. Cover partially and allow the fish to simmer gently until it is cooked through, about 5-10 minutes, depending on the type and thickness of the fish.
Serve immediately, with a bit more parsley if you like for color.
There are more ‘refined’ versions of acqua pazza that start with a soffrito of onion instead of garlic. Other versions start with onion, carrot and celery. Some recipes also call for the addition of bay leaf and other herbs to the poaching liquid.
The type of fish is yours to choose, but firm, white-fleshed fish work best. Orata (sea bream) is probably the most typical fish used for acqua pazza, but merluzzo (fresh cod), scorfano (red fish), rombo (turbot) and spigola (bass) are also favorites—I’ve even seen recipes calling for sgombro (mackerel) although personally I’m a bit doubtful about this last option.
You can also make whole fish all’acqua pazza if you like—in fact, this was the original way to make it. If you opt for using a whole fish, you will have to turn the fish over gingerly during cooking to make sure it cooks fully on both sides. With filets, assuming that they are not too thick, this should not be necessary.