Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

Ribbonfish puttanesca is a quick, boldly-flavored dish of tomatoes, garlic, red pepper, black olives, capers, anchovies and herbs. You can substitute cod, snapper or bass for the ribbonfish.


I had never heard of ribbonfish before buying it at Locals Seafoods. It’s a popular fish in Asian markets but you don’t often see it elsewhere. It’s more likely to be found on the end of someone’s line as bait. But now that chefs are trying out more sustainable fish species, it’s only a matter of time before they discover ribbonfish.

Ribbonfish is also known as cutlassfish or hairtail. You can get a good look at this beasty-looking silvery, scaleless fish on my earlier post, Asian-Style Braised Ribbonfish. We both thought it was a great match for this bold Italian sauce—puttanesca.

If you’re an Italian food lover, you’ve probably heard the story behind puttanesca sauce, or whore’s sauce. The story goes that ladies of the evening would make puttanesca in between visits from customers. The sauce could be made quickly with ingredients that were in the cupboard—tomatoes, garlic, onion, anchovies, olives, capers and red pepper—and the aromas of the cooking sauce drew the men in. I’ve never included mint and red wine vinegar in puttanesca before but since the Fine Cooking recipe called for it, I figured I’d give it a try–I like those flavors in the sauce.

If the sight of anchovies in this recipe makes you want to hurl, I’m sorry about that. Anchovies are so misunderstood. I love them but I do love fishy fish too. They provide umami—meatiness, savoriness, oomph—to this sauce just like they do to Caesar salad dressing and all kinds of dishes where they lurk and you’d never know it. If you can’t bear them, go ahead and omit them, the other sauce ingredients are bold enough to carry on.

You may look at the photo below and wonder, where are the olives and capers? Well, I didn’t check the jars before going to the store and I had only five olives and about 1 tablespoon of capers, so they’re not easy to spot and were greatly missed. Don’t forget about puttanesca sauce when you want to make a quick pasta. It’s incredibly satisfying with a generous grating of Parmesan cheese (another umami source) and a generous pour of red wine.

If you’re in an Asian mood, check out my recipe for Asian-Style Braised Ribbonfish.

Ribbonfish Puttanesca recipe or substitute cod, bass or snapper  | Grabbing the Gusto

Ribbonfish Puttanesca | Grabbing the Gusto

Ribbonfish Puttanesca

You’ll need a large oven-safe skillet with a lid (or foil).

  • 1 pound ribbonfish fillets, cut into 3” pieces—you could substitute cod, snapper or bass
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced or chopped
  • 2 anchovy fillets, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 14.5 ounce cans petite-diced or diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup (or more) pitted Kalamata olives, halved lengthwise
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves or basil pesto
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1 tablespoon mint, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325 F. Season the fish with salt and pepper.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in the skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and anchovies, and cook until the onions are nearly softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and their juice, olives, 2 tablespoons of the basil (or 3 tablespoons of the pesto) and capers. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have melted, about 8 minutes.

Nestle the fish fillets into the sauce as best as you can, spooning some of the sauce on top of the fish to keep it moist. Drizzle the fish with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Cover the pan with a lid or foil and cook in the oven until the fish is almost cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on thickness.

When it’s done, transfer the fish to a serving plate or individual plates. If the sauce is thinner than you’d like, reduce it over medium-high heat. Stir the remaining tablespoon of basil, mint and vinegar into the sauce and spoon it over the fish.

Inspired by Braised Red Snapper Puttanesca, Fine Cooking


5 years ago on Grabbing the Gusto: Chipotle Chicken Burritos

3 thoughts on “Ribbonfish Puttanesca

  1. This looks like a great recipe. I would definitely have to substitute a different fish. I have never heard of ribbonfish. Looks great, thanks!

    1. deirdrereid says:

      It’s tasty! And would work well with pretty much any fish that wouldn’t fall apart or get mushy in the sauce. I had never heard of ribbonfish before I started buying my fish at Locals Seafoods. It’s a wild looking beast.

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