The Rusty Jobfish (Aphareus rutilans), which is also known in some countries as the Ironjaw Snapper, is a common reef fish that grows up to 10kg and can be found throughout the tropics. It’s not as popular for eating as some other reef species, but with this recipe you’ll be seeking out more at your local fishmonger or fish market.
I like to cook this lesser-known gem with garlic, rice paddy herb and coriander as shown in the above photograph. It cooks up beautifully in the pan as a cutlet, matching well with the strong herbaceous flavors of the rice paddy herb and long leaf (sawtooth, Mexican or Thai) coriander. The cutlet in the photo was cooked with one clove of garlic, fried to golden prior to adding fish to the pan, and brown rice with another 1/4 cup of finely chopped mixed rice paddy herb and long leaf coriander. The herbed rice was a great mix, and the garlic was good, but I actually prefer another version of the recipe with slightly sweeter red shallots, and the inclusion of pineapple.
These proportions are for one serve, so expand accordingly for the number of people you are serving. I use freshly cut pineapple pieces, but you could replace with unsweetened canned pineapple pieces if you don’t have access to good quality fresh pineapples:
1 jobfish cutlet
1 – 2 teaspoons peanut oil
1 red shallot bulb, peeled and finely sliced
2/3 cup pineapple pieces
1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, plus more to taste if needed (equal to around 1-3 limes depending on juiciness)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped rice paddy herb
1/4 cup finely chopped long leaf coriander
Serve with wide rice noodles, or well-cooked brown rice with some extra herbs mixed through
1. Warm a cast iron or other heavy-based frypan over a gentle to medium heat then add the butter and enough peanut oil to prevent the butter burning (between 1-2 teaspoons).
2. When the butter is melted add the shallots and fry gently until just softened, then push away to the edges of the pan, swirl the butter so that the middle of the pan is well covered, and add the fish cutlet. Adjust the heat if needed so that the fish is cooking at a gentle sizzle and add the pineapple pieces around the edge of the fish.
3. Cook the cutlet on one side for about 3-6 minutes or so, long enough to develop a golden-brown glaze as in the image above. Flip the cutlet over and cook for a few minutes longer – the second side won’t need as long as the first. Add the fish sauce, lime juice and pepper. Just before you plate up, taste the sauce to check for flavor and if needed add a tiny bit more fish sauce or a squeeze of extra lime juice. Scatter the herbs over the fish, and/or through the rice noodles if you are serving the fish on rice noodles.
4. The cutlet can be served next to rice noodles or rice, or on top. As the cutlet is so easy to debone, when plating up served on the noodles, I just peel the skin away, and pull each quarter of the cutlet away from the central bone and outward bone-spikes, and serve the boneless chunks mixed with the noodles in a noodle bowl.
Rice noodles absorb the sauce and balance the strong herb flavors, as does well cooked brown rice with some extra herbs tossed through. It would also go well with a crispy salad such as a green papaya salad or a banana bud salad.
This recipe is also great with other oilier fish – so think mackerel or sea mullet as well. If you don’t have access to rice paddy herb, I’d suggest using a mixture of fresh tarragon and fresh curry leaves – one small sprig of tarragon torn up, and the same of curry leaf.
Rice paddy herb may not be easy to find everywhere, so if you can’t find it in your local market, try growing it yourself. It needs lots of water and very little sun. As its name suggests, it naturally lives in sheltered, watery places. If you keep the water regularly topped up it will grow in a jar of water on the kitchen windowsill, and if you have the right spot in the garden, plant it there too. I hedge my bets and do both.