Macadamia nut crusted fish

Ten years ago (!), my friend Rachel found this amazing sounding recipe in the newspaper (yes, we used to still read those back then).  It was for macadamia nut crusted grouper with a papaya salsa written by the executive chef at this fancy hotel in Tampa called The Vinoy.  We went grocery shopping and pulled off an amazing meal!  Ever since then, every time I want to make this meal, I hunt all over the internet to find the newspaper article with the recipe.  It’s getting harder and harder to find in the clutter of the interwebs, so I’ve decided to blog my version of the recipe here.  If you want the original, you can find that here.

The original recipe calls for grouper, but neither in Colorado nor in Alabama have I been able to find grouper.*  It’s harder to find now in Florida too…ever since they passed a law that grouper being sold in restaurants and elsewhere had to actually be–oh, you know–grouper.  In Colorado, I found swai at the store.  It’s a slightly sweet, firm white fish…and usually sold rather inexpensively. I like it a lot better than tilapia for both taste and the cut of the fish–usually the fillets are much larger than tilapia.  They also sell it individually frozen in a large bag at the grocery store–perfect for keeping some in the freezer for a quick dinner.

{4/5/2015-See edit at the bottom of the page.  Grouper is so much better!!}

photo 5

The fillets in this particular bag were really big!

I also really dislike papaya.  So, I substituted the papaya salsa with pineapple salsa.

Macadamia nut crusted swai

4 fish fillets
3/4 cup macadamia nuts
1/4 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1/4 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste

4 cups spinach
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/4 cup cooked rice

Pineapple salsa

16 oz can diced pineapple
1/2 tomato
1/4 red onion
1/2 tablespoon chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar (I hate vinegar…I threw in a little white wine instead)
1 teaspoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

I made the salsa first, that way the flavors can marinate together while I make the rest of the meal.  That and once the fish is done you don’t want to let it get cold while you chop up vegetables.  Basically, chop up the tomato and onion and throw it all together.  We happened to have an avocado in the fridge and were going out of town, so I threw that in there too so it wouldn’t go to waste.

photo 2Yum!

I really enjoy jasmine rice with this meal.  Its cool, aromatic nature is a nice enhancement to the fish and the salsa.

Now, for the fish:

In a food processor (I love my Magic Bullet for this kind of thing!!), grind the macadamia nuts and panko bread crumbs together.  I like to get it a little smoother than in the original recipe, it sticks better to the fish.  Season as desired.

photo 1I found that the chopped macadamia nuts worked better than whole ones.  When they’re whole, they are little hard balls and just get spun around by the blades of the food processor.  When they’re pre-chopped, they have a flat surface that allows the blades to chop it further.

photo 3The finished panko/macadamia nut breading.  The nuts make it rather moist.

Instead of adding salt and pepper to each fillet like the original recipe, I put salt and pepper in the egg wash.  I like to do it this way to ensure that the fish doesn’t get over seasoned, but still tastes delicious. Lightly dredge fillets through flour. Shake off excess flour and dredge in eggs. Press the nut and bread crumb mixture onto the fillets.

photo 4The start of deliciousness…

When cooking sensitive foods like fish, shrimp, or scallops, I like to get the oil hot and then turn down the heat.  The hot oil sears the outside so the meat stays moist, and turning down the heat ensures that the food cooks all the way through without burning.  I set the saute pan on medium high heat, then turned it down to medium when I was ready for the fish.  Cook on each side 2-3 minutes, or until cooked through.

photo 2

Ready to be flipped!

In another saute pan, melt butter over medium heat.  I added garlic to mine, because I love garlic.  Toss in spinach (the original calls for pea shoots–but I’ve never seen those in my grocery store!) and cook just until it starts to wilt.

photo 1photo 3

We had mushrooms that we needed to use before we went out of town, so I threw them in too.  I should have cooked them first and added the spinach after…lesson learned!

My favorite part of this meal has to be plating it!  The fluffy rice, the colorful salsa, the hint of green from the spinach and then the golden fish…it’s truly a feast for the eyes!

photo 4

I put the rice in a measuring cup…

photo 5

…and flip it over onto the plate.  This makes a nice little cylinder of rice.

photo 1

Spoon the spinach (and mushrooms in this case) on top of the rice.

photo 2

Serve the salsa around the rice. 

The recipe makes enough for four, but since we were going out of town, we needed to eat it all….so we got double portions.  But it’s all healthy, so it’s okay! 😉

photo 3Lay the fish over top. 

You could also cut the fillet in half, but at this point I was hungry and ready to eat!

This dish is really delicious.  It’s light and a great mix of slightly sweet, slightly salty, slightly tart.  Cook it up for a dinner party and impress your friends!




So, I finally found grouper at Publix!  They carry it in the frozen food section.  It’s more expensive than either swai or tilapia, but it is totally, absolutely, WAY better than either in this recipe.


This bag generally retails for about $14.99…but with some frequency they mark it down to $10.99 or so. I grab it when it’s on sale and stick it in the freezer to have on hand.


The fillets from that bag. There’s only two, but they’re thicker than the swai or tilapia.

Oh, and my Magic Bullet bit the dust.  6 years of hard use will do that to a $100 appliance.  I haven’t gotten around to replacing it, so I just used a mortar and pestle to smash the macadamia nuts.

This works best if the nuts are cut so that there is a flat side.  The perfectly round nuts just bounce around everywhere!

This works best if the nuts are cut so that there is a flat side. The perfectly round nuts just bounce around everywhere!

Other than using grouper and the mortar and pestle, I followed the above recipe exactly.  It came out super, duper delicious!  Now that I know where to find the grouper, there’s no going back!

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