30 Jul Fish in Tomato Sauce (Pesce alla Marinara)


Fish in Tomato Sauce (Pesce alla Marinara)

30 July 2020

PREP. TIME: 10 MIN   -   COOK TIME: 15 MIN   -   SERVES: 4

Fish in Tomato Sauce (Pesce alla Marinara) gives an exquisitely simple approach to poaching fish in a light tomato sauce. The recipe comes from Ristorante da Tomamaso in Bari, in Southern Italy where they use whole, small sea bream. That being said, Claudia Roden, in her book Mediterranean Cookery, recommends the use any of the other delicately fleshed white fish such as monkfish, hake, halibut, skate and cod.  I use Harpuka or Blue Eye cod fillets. They are bright white and keep their shape and texture beautifully when cooked.  You can cut the fillets into large pieces or keep them whole. 

Recipe Template

Be sure to consider the variation below from Don Salvatore Ristorante in Naples.  The fish cooks gently in the sauce while you cook a pot of spaghetti or linguine.  Most of this delicious tomato sauce is used to dress the pasta which is served as a first course.  The fish is reserved for the second course, drizzled with the remaining tomato sauce and extra virgin olive oil.  I do not bother to change the plates between these courses as there is nothing so foreign in the pasta dish that does not belong also with the fish.  So long as your serving plates and dinner plates are well warmed, you could even place the platter of fish on the table to immediately follow the pasta without a pause. Alternatively, keep the fish warm, covered in the pan while you enjoy the pasta and serve it as soon as you are ready.

ingredients for 4 - 6 people

2     Cloves                 Garlic             

1/2   Cup                     Olive Oil

1       Teaspoon          Dried oregano

4     Medium             Tomatoes               

                                     Salt and Pepper

1       KG                       White fish

                                      Small bunch of parsley

4      Slices                  Bread or bread rolls to serve


A chopping board and paring knife

Kitchen knife

A large fry pan with a fitted lid - big enough to hold all of the ingredients

Serving platter, a large serving spoon and spatula to serve


Step 1

Prepare the ingredients:

Peel  the garlic

Skin, de-seed and chop the tomatoes

Rinse and chop the parsley

Unwrap the fish, rinse in cold running water and pat dry if necessary.

Heat a serving dish and dinner plates in a warm oven or in a sink filled with hot water.

Step 2

Place the pan over moderate heat and add about 4 tablespoons of olive oil and the clove of garlic.  Cook gently until golden.

Add the tomatoes, and oregano, season with salt and pepper.  Cook the tomatoes for about 3 - 5 minutes or until they have softened and begun to break down.

Gently place the fish into the pan with the tomatoes.  Sprinkle with half of the parsley and moisten with a few tablespoons of water.  

Season again with salt and pepper, place the lid on the pan and simmer gently until the fish is done - from 4 minutes for a fish steak to about 15 minutes for monkfish tails or whole fish.  The fillets are cooked once they are opaque.  The whole fish is cooked when the flesh flakes easily from the bone.

Step 3

To serve:

Toast a slice of bread for each person and cut into triangles if using.

Taste and season the sauce if necessary with salt and pepper.

Spoon a little of the sauce onto the serving plate.  Arrange the fish on this and gently ladle the remaining sauce over the fish.  Garnish with the remaining parsley.


At Don Salvatore Ristorante in Naples, they stew the fish in much the same way but use the sauce to dress spaghetti or linguine, adding a touch of grated Parmesan cheese.  The fish is served afterwards as the main course.

          If you are planning to do this - pre-heat a dish to serve the pasta in and a dish to serve the fish on.  Bring a large pot of water to the boil while you prepare your ingredients. Add the pasta to the boiling, salted water while the fish is cooking.  Transfer the fish and some of the tomato sauce to a heated serving dish.  Toss the cooked pasta with a pair of tongs with the remaining tomato sauce in the pan, taking care to impregnate each strand of pasta with the sauce.  Add a little pasta water to the sauce to loosen and extend it if necessary. Pour the remaining sauce and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil over the fish.  Garnish with remaining parsley and sprigs of fresh oregano.

La Lucerna restaurant at Bocca di Magra near La Spezia on the Italian Riviera serves a variety of whole fish cooked together with the addition of a few green grapes, fresh herbs - bay leaf, thyme, fennel, rosemary, oregano, marjoram could be used - and a sprinkle of vinegar.


Recipe by Claudia Roden, Mediterranean Cookery

Adapted by Elizabeth Peddey

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