~ This Broiled Fish Matecumbe recipe is so easy and can be mostly made ahead and cooked at the last moment. Inspired by a favorite dish at The Fish House in Key Largo, Florida (and even featured on Food Network!), it’s loaded with vibrant flavors that are surprisingly, satisfyingly delicious together. Beautiful tomatoes, kicky shallots and onions, briny capers, bright lemon, and fresh basil. A quick dinner for busy weeknights, yet impressive enough for entertaining – definitely give this one a try! ~
This Recipe Is: • Ready in 30 Minutes or Less (plus hands-off resting time) • Includes Make-Ahead Steps • Gluten Free (see note on recipe card) • Paleo •
I’ve never been much of a souvenir shopper. Are you?
Honestly, it stresses me out. The pressure of taking time away from other vacation-y things – just to go souvenir shopping – hangs over my head like a to-do list item (which is one of the things I’m most trying to escape when I’m on vacation)!
Plus, so many t-shirts and tchotchkes seem like brilliant ideas at the moment, in the glow of a special place and a unique experience … and then they sort of loose their twinkle and seem irrelevant in day-to-day life, once they make it home.
Over the years, I’ve learned that my very favorite souvenirs aren’t things I buy – they’re the memories. And specifically, the pictures I take and the recipes I’ll always remember.
Flavors that evoke memories. Recipes that come to symbolize the places and people and experiences that brought them into my life.
The Perfect Souvenir … From the Vacation That Was Perfectly Less-Than-Perfect
This broiled fish recipe will live on in my memories as the iconic food from our Key Largo spring break this year.
We specifically chose the Florida Keys for their excellent scuba diving, so Scott and I could get recertified along with the kiddos, as they earned their first Open Water Diver certifications … all in a gorgeous, sun-drenched, coral-reef-filled destination that has pretty much everything an Ohio winter doesn’t (yay, sunshine)!
But I’ll tell ya … this vacation was as challenge-filled as it was rewarding.
And So It Began (with a Mysterious Dent) …
For starters, we missed our connection in Newark, thanks to a large and mysterious dent in the side of our airplane (which the United folks assured us was no worry, although they needed an hour or two to measure it and touch it and document it). So, the first day of our beach vacay was actually spent touring chilly NYC in the clothes we’d been wearing the day before. *SIGH*
Honestly, it actually was fun (we made sure of that). And a good adventure. But still … *SIGH*
When we finally rolled into Key Largo (more than 24 hours after our journey had begun), it was dark, way past dinnertime, and we were HUNGRY!
Driving past restaurants, we obviously wanted to find something that was beach-vacation-perfect. We desperately needed to kick the Florida part of our getaway into high gear! And yet, we also just really needed to find something … anything! Must.Find.FOOD.
Good News! We Found This!
Then we saw it: a giant sign for The Fish House.
And it looked fun. A bit like a sprawling sea shack, with just enough tacky, ocean-themed statues to seem quirky but still respectable.
And looky there. It’d been featured on Food Network. Okey-doke. Vote of confidence in that.
But as we pulled the front door handle, we realized it was locked. We were just a very few minutes past closing time (yes, it was that late). Again … *SIGH*
In absolute keeping with how our entire vacation would go, that moment of disappointment turned into something wonderful. As we walked away, the manager hurried to open the door behind us, assuring us that if we could order quickly, they’d love to welcome us. Oh, yes please!
And seated at our table, surrounded by wonky beach signs, mismatched ocean art, and the warm glow from strings of plastic party lights … we truly did feel welcomed. Happy.
But we had to choose dinner quickly, we knew. Luckily, that was easy. One glance at the menu, and it was obvious that the Matecumbe Fish was a headliner. Ty, Scott and I all ordered it.
And it was perfect. Shockingly delicious, satisfying, fresh. An unexpected combination that was exceptionally gorgeous together.
With each bite, we were more and more on vacation. We sunk into the beachy Key Largo vibe. Finally.
The Twists … the Turns
That late-night dinner is really the quintessential summary of our entire week. Unexpected twists and turns. Challenges that turned into triumphs.
Scuba was nothing like we’d planned. Thanks to chilly water temps and wind, our diving happened in cold pools and an even colder, cloudy quarry – instead of in the shimmering aquamarine of Florida’s coral reefs. So many things about that process were harder than expected, and it was pretty much sheer willpower that got us through. That, and our amazing instructor, who tenaciously made sure we persevered. (Huge shout-out to Rex at Rainbow Reef … if you want to learn to dive, he’s your man!)
Several days of dedicated efforts (and a lot of stress, anxiety and doubt) … and we triumphed! Yep – four Open Water certified divers! We did it!
But, due to those chilly water temps and wind-whipped waves, we never did make it out to the beautiful reef for the REAL diving we’d come to do.
More change of plans. Make the best of it. And ya know what? It turned out awesome! We skipped the victory dives, and did a whole bunch of other wonderful things instead …
A day’s drive down through the Keys to nab a selfie at the southernmost point in the Continental US (complete with a stop at Buffett’s original Margaritaville, of course!).
Painting with the dolphins.
Possibly the most amazing cup of coffee I’ve ever had.
An Everglades tour through the mangroves, looking for manatees.
And some of the very best family bonding. Few things create stronger bonds than persevering together through challenges, and bolstering each other’s spirits when things aren’t working out at all.
It wasn’t the vacation we’d expected. And honestly, parts of it were hard. But it truly may go down in the books as one of our all-time best vacays ever.
We’ve poured through our photos. And we’ve already made this Matecumbe Fish twice. They’re our trophies. Our treasured souvenirs.
I won’t make you look at every.single.picture. Just a few. (You’re welcome.)
But I know you’ll be happy I shared this recipe! Seriously – my family gets so excited when I announce we’re having it for dinner again. It’s truly a favorite.
Since this Matecumbe Fish was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, it was easy to track down a base recipe. The measurements were a bit vague, and the yield was way more than a family of four needed. But with just a little tinkering, I easily worked it into something that tasted just right, just like we remembered – our adaptation of a restaurant recipe for our own family kitchen.
And of course, I also rewrote the ingredient list and method so they’re specific enough that I felt like I could also share this recipe with you, confident that you could reproduce it in your home kitchen, without guesswork or your own tinkering.
Why We Love This Broiled Fish Recipe
(Besides the fact that it reminds us of Key Largo):
• It’s seriously soooooo delicious. A little spiciness from the shallots and onions. Fresh, acid-sweetness from all those beautiful tomatoes. A touch of briny saltiness from the capers. And bright top notes from the lemon juice and basil. It melds together and … just works.
• It’s so healthy, too! You know we love healthy fish recipes, and this broiled fish pretty much has it all goin’ on! Quality lean protein from the fish, loads of antioxidant-rich veggies and herbs. A bit of olive oil (which actually enhances your body’s ability to utilize the tomatoes’ lycopene). You won’t eat this because it’s healthy, though. (You’ll eat it because it’s so darn good.) But then you’ll pat yourself on the back for the big nutritional win, too!
• It’s easy-peasy!
• And, you can make practically the entire recipe ahead, since the topping is actually best prepared at least an hour (and up to a day) in advance. So perfect to toss quickly in the oven … a brilliant meal in just moments on busy nights, or a no-stress recipe for casual summer entertaining.
Choosing Your Fish
This recipe is really more of a preparation method. You can apply it to a wide variety of fish. At The Fish House, some standard options include snapper, mahi mahi or grouper.
But, if you aren’t sitting at a beachy restaurant in the Keys, you can still make do with what you find at the grocery store. Perfect test – both times I’ve made this at home, I selected humble, moderately priced cod, and the recipe was still fantastic.
Basically, I’d suggest looking for a mild, white fish.
And, I always recommend that you check out the sustainability of your seafood via the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.
You know we’re alllll about recipes that include make-ahead steps!
Prep the recipe when you’ve got time … and pull off a terrific meal at the last moment, making it all look easy-breezy-effortless. Yay – no stress!
This broiled fish recipe is absolutely perfect for that type of prep-ahead victory. Great for busy weeknights when dinner has to happen fast, or even for entertaining, when you need to look like the hostess-with-the-mostess but don’t have much time to work your magic.
Relax – you’ve got this!
The scrumptious, showstopper tomato topping is actually at its best made in advance, at least an hour ahead. You can even make it the day before.
Just pop it in the fridge until you’re ready, and let those gorgeous flavors mix and mingle!
Then, all you need to do is broil the fish and serve. A restaurant-quality meal (that was even featured on Food Network!) in a flash!
Just a couple of tips, so you can serve this up just the way your family likes …
Tinker with the Amount of Topping – My family likes a lot of that yummy topping piled on the fish, and I specifically adjusted the proportions of this recipe to make sure there’s plenty of tomato-y goodness to go around. But if you’re more into enjoying the flavor of the broiled fish itself, you can always scale back the topping amount a bit to let the fish really shine through.
Easily Adjust the Yield – At a little over 1 pound of fish, this recipe is designed to feed a family of four, but it’s easy to add more fish to your baking pan for a larger group, and to scale up the topping amount accordingly. If you’re feeding a really big crowd (like at a dinner party), though, I recommend that you don’t overcrowd your baking sheet – instead, simply rotate a second baking sheet through.
Choose a Perfect Side Dish – At The Fish House, one of the side dish choices is black beans and rice, which is fantastic with the Matecumbe topping. It’s great to have a bed of rice to help soak up the flavorful, juicy tomato mixture cascading off the broiled fish. I definitely recommend going that route!
At home, we also like to serve this broiled fish with a simple green vegetable alongside, like roasted asparagus or our easy Blistered Green Beans. Perfect (healthy!) counterpoint to the other flavors and textures … and beautifully colorful on your plate, too!
In the end, all I can say is that it was all a wonderful triumph: both our adventure-filled vacation … and this Matecumbe Fish. Even if scuba diving’s not your thing, I absolutely think that this fish will be!
Try it this week, and I’ll just bet it goes into regular rotation at your house, too!
- 2 cups seeded, diced tomatoes (from about 2 large tomatoes)
- 1/3 cup finely chopped Spanish onion (from about 1/4 of a medium onion)
- 1/4 cup capers
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice + additional lemon wedges for serving, if desired
- 2 tablespoons minced shallots (from about 2 medium shallots)
- 1 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 1/2 + 1/16 teaspoon black pepper, divided
- 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless white fish fillets (such as cod, snapper, grouper, mahi mahi, or tilapia – see note)
- In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, capers, olive oil, basil, lemon juice, shallots, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, stirring gently. Cover and refrigerate to allow flavors to meld, preferably at least an hour or up to 1 day.
- When ready to finish the recipe, position oven rack about 5 inches from broiler, and preheat broiler.
- Meanwhile, place fish fillets on a rimmed baking sheet. Season both sides of the fish evenly with the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/16 teaspoon pepper.
- Broil fish on first side for about 4 minutes. (I prefer to put the side that used to have the skin upwards for this first broiling step, just so you finish the recipe with the more attractive side up and the skin-side down.)
- Remove the fish from the oven, flip the fish over, and top the fish evenly with the tomato topping mixture.
- Continue broiling until the fish is done (about 8 minutes depending on your broiler and the exact thickness of your fish.) The fish should be opaque and flake easily with a fork in the thickest part of the fillet.
- Serve immediately, with lemon wedges, if desired.
Choosing your fish: As noted in the post above, we recommend a mild white fish for this recipe. At The Fish House, options include mahi mahi, grouper and snapper. At home, we tested the recipe using inexpensive and readily available cod, which was also delicious. (Update July 2020: in the years since we first posted this recipe, we've also made it with tilapia with great success, as well.)
Make-ahead steps: Because the tomato topping is best if made ahead and refrigerated for at least an hour (or up to a day ahead), almost all of the work in this recipe can be completed ahead of time.
Gluten-free note: This recipe is gluten free, as long as the vinegar in the jarred capers you use is gluten free. Most vinegars are gluten free, but if you have any doubts, look for a jar of capers that's specifically denoted as being gluten free. (If you're interested, here's a great post on What Vinegars Are Gluten-Free.)
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 servings Serving Size: 3 ounces cooked fish + topping
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 314
Nutrition information should be considered an estimate only, and may vary depending on your choice of ingredients or preparation. No guarantees are made regarding allergies or dietary needs. Always consult a physician or dietician for specific advice and questions.