Fish puttanesca (pesce alla puttanesca) is an easy skillet dish of mild white fish fillets simmered in a rustic Italian tomato sauce.

Top view of frying pan containing four fish fillets in puttanesca sauce topped with black olives, capers, and chopped parsley.

Our fish puttanesca is a revised take on Pasta alla Puttanesca, a much-loved Italian dish that pairs pasta with a unique, robustly flavored tomato sauce.

Our recipe for the puttanesca sauce itself is classic, but instead of serving it over pasta, we use it to simmer mild white fish fillets and serve them up with buttery garlic bread.

Key ingredients in this recipe

A traditional puttanesca sauce is made with generous amounts of garlic and diced onion sautéed in olive oil, dry white wine, Italian plum tomatoes, anchovies, black olives, capers, and parsley.

Just about any mild white fish that flakes easily will work for this dish. Barramundi is the fish pictured in our photos, but we’ve made fish puttanesca with cod on many occasions.

Tilapia, snapper, and haddock are good choices as well. You’ll just need to adjust the cooking time a bit for thicker fish fillets.

A single serving of fish puttanesca and toasted garlic bread in a shallow white bowl.

How did puttanesca sauce get its name?

Translated from Italian, the word puttanesca means “in the style of a prostitute.”

Puttanesca sauce originated in Italy around the time of World War II. As a result of the war, jobs for women were scarce in those days, and many turned to “alternative options” in order to support themselves.

According to La Cucina, a definitive guide to authentic Italian food compiled by the Italian Academy of Cuisine, the dish is typical of Rome.

It’s speculated that the sauce got its name because of the bold and pungent flavors of its ingredients.

Regardless of the name, puttanesca sauce is exceptionally flavorful, easy to make, delicious on spaghetti, and perfect for a simple dish like Fish Puttanesca.

Fish Puttanesca

Fish Puttanesca

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Fish puttanesca (pesce alla puttanesca) is an easy skillet dish of mild white fish fillets simmered in a rustic Italian tomato sauce.


  • 1 lb mild, white fish fillets (tilapia, cod, barramundi)
  • Garlic bread for serving, 8 slices

For the Puttanesca Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 6 to 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 ounces flat anchovies, see notes
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 can, 28-ounces Italian plum tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 cup pitted black olives, halved lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped


  • If necessary, cut the fish into equal-sized portions. Season lightly with salt and pepper and set aside.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, 5 to 6 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute longer.
  • Add the anchovies, break up with a wooden spoon, and continue cooking until they “melt” and blend into the onions and garlic.
  • Stir in the white wine, cook for 2 minutes, then add the tomatoes, oregano and crushed red pepper flakes.
  • Bring the sauce to a slow simmer and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the black olives and capers, cook for another 2 minutes, then season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Stir about 3 tablespoons of the parsley into the sauce, then lay the fish fillets on top.
  • Spoon some sauce over each fillet, cover the pan and continue cooking until the fish flakes easily.
  • Thinner fillets like tilapia and barramundi will take 6 to 8 minutes, thicker fillets like cod or haddock will take a few minutes longer.
  • To serve, spoon a portion of the sauce into shallow serving bowls, top with a portion of fish and garnish with the remaining parsley.
  • Add a couple of slices of garlic bread and serve immediately.

Tips for Making This Recipe

About the anchovies:

You may want to taste your anchovies before adding them to the sauce and if they are too salty, give them a quick rinse in cold water before adding them to the sauce.
For a dish like this, we generally buy a slightly more expensive brand of anchovies packed in a glass jar. We find that they’re less salty and we’re able to use the olive oil they come packed in for sautéing the onion and garlic. This puts the oil to good use and adds extra flavor in the process.
Jarred anchovies can be kept in the refrigerator for about a week after opening.
Calories: 335kcal, Carbohydrates: 22g, Protein: 29g, Fat: 16g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 13g, Cholesterol: 61mg, Sodium: 1000mg, Fiber: 6g, Sugar: 10g
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