A Popular Italian Dish — Fish in Crazy Water

Have you ever heard of the Italian dish called Acqua Pazza or Fish in Crazy Water?

While the dish originated from fishermen of the Neapolitan area, who sautéed the catch of the day in seawater together with tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil, The term itself most likely originated from Tuscany; where the local peasants would make wine, but had to give most to the landlord, leaving little left for them to drink.

fish in crazy water

The peasants were resourceful, however, and mixed the stems, seeds, and pomace leftover from the wine production with large quantities of water brought it to a boil, then sealed the mixture in a terracotta vase and let it ferment for several days. Called l’acquarello or l’acqua pazza, the result was a watery liquid barely colored with wine, which the fisherman may have been reminded of when seeing the broth of the dish, colored slightly red by the tomatoes and oil.

Acqua Pazza became a very popular dish with tourists on the Isle of Capri in the 1960s. Capri’s traditional cuisine is prepared using the produce grown on the island and the fish caught in the surrounding sea. The pezzogna fish (also known as “occhione” or “big eye” because of the size of its eyes) is caught in the Bay of Naples and is highly prized for its delicious taste. This is the fish usually used in the preparation of this dish today.

Here is my version of “Fish in Crazy Water” that uses locally caught fish.

Jovina's fish in crazy water 1

Pesce All’Acqua Pazza

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Jovina Coughlin's version of a dish that originated from fishermen of the Neapolitan area.


  • 1 lb fish fillets (red snapper, flounder) cut into serving portions
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 small plum tomatoes (Marzano) or 6 cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (peperoncino)
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup sliced red onion
  • 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley


  1. Dry the fish fillets on paper towels and season them with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat the oil and lightly fry the garlic, onion, and peperoncino in a skillet with a cover that is large enough to fit the fish. Cook until the onion softens. Add the tomatoes, white wine, and water. Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat to low and add the fish. Cook, covered, 10 minutes for thin fillets or 15 minutes for thicker ones.
  3. Serve immediately, dressed with the cooking liquid and topped with the parsley.



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