Friday, 24 February 2012

Cookbook: Fresh fish with a grain of salt

Last Monday was February 20, which means that Pisces swung around on the zodiac belt! What better excuse to take a short break from the Saga of Mayonnaise, dear reader, and give you a recipe for Fish? Fish, that marvellous manna from the ocean, that bounty from the brine, that savoury sustenance from the wine-dark sea?

That said, don’t you just bloody hate fish as much as I do? I’m sure you do. Fish is an impossible dish. Fish is clumsy and slippery and sticky. Fish is impossible to fry or grill unless you are a licenced Chinese torture master. A fish is always just a little too big for the frying pan, so that the tail fin reclines gently against the red-hot rim, and cements itself there as if it had been marinated in superglue. You try to turn it: half the skin sticks to the tefal! You try to broil it on the barbecue, and the outcome looks worse than Savonarola after his final Florentine performance! In a word: Fish Stinks!

But do not despair!!! Alfred B. Mittington is here! And he has the solution for all those who like to eat fish, but loathe cooking it. A foolproof recipe, which will first revolt you, then surprise you and finally delight you. And it is so very easy, so very simple, that you can entrust it to a talented ape. Which means you too can do it! This miraculous recipe I picked up back in ’39, while we were waiting for evacuation with the last of the Republican rear guard in the Valencian Albufeiras. Where we had no kitchen utensils, barely a place to cook, and more pressing matters on our minds than nouvelle cuisine! And it still worked! Goes to show!

Here is what you need:

A fish
2 kilos of rough sea salt

Furthermore you will want

One large ceramic casserole
A working oven
10 minutes quality time
A dish partner with whom to share your rapture (optional)

A small Dorada

What fish should I use? you ask. Well, any kind will do really, as long as it is whole, with head and fins and skin. No steaks or fillets need apply; eels and flat fish like sole are too thin and flimsy. The thicker the better as long as it fits your casserole. Bass, carp, cod, perch, whatever. They all do the job. When we were battling the Italians with Wingate in Ethiopia, we used this method to cook huge Tilapias, which at the time were only just beginning to exterminate all other aquatic life forms in the African Lakes. Nowadays, I favour light white meat with a little more taste, like that beautiful species the Spaniards call Dorada (Gilt-head Bream in English) but only if I can get them out of the sea, not out of them revolting fish factories.

(Me, spearing two at one go, by a native artist)

So, to work! First set the oven to 185º C. As it is preheating, take the casserole, and lovingly lay a bed of sea salt of about 1 cm thick on the bottom. Place the fish on top of it. Fill the empty spaces between rim and fish with salt. Then add a top layer, also of about 1 cm, until the fish is perfectly hidden from view under an arctic salt-scape. Done! Put the casserole in the oven. Pour yourself a generous glass of white wine and grab a good book (Alfred B. Mittington’s À la recherche du temps prévu is not the worst choice you could make…). Let it cook for some 45 minutes.

On a bed of salt

And covered all the way

Once ready, put the casserole on a stable surface. Get your ice pick – or some such tool - and start hacking away the salt (it gets mighty hard in the oven!) Spoon the chunks of salt into the waste bin. Little by little, liberate that beautiful steaming fish from its saline mould, the way Michelangelo freed his statues from their marble prison! When sufficiently advanced, move the fish carefully to a large plate. Sweep off as much of the salt as you can. Bring to the table. There, open the fish in the middle with a spatula, cut in two halves, lift each of these up with the skin beneath, and serve to a guest. You will notice, with surprise, that it is nowhere too salty, but that the meat remained remarkably juicy. Add salt and pe--- I mean: add pepper to taste!

Breaking the crust


Incidentally, talking about Nouvelle Cuisine… If you’re curious to see how some of the greatest blessings of mankind were discovered by pure chance - like mayonnaise or gunpowder or LSD -  take a quick look at the last paragraph of good old Colin Davies’s blog for today Feb 24… Can we expect a patent and a sales line soon, I wonder?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link, Alfie. Have you never tried a bamboo steamer?

    BTW - I can hardly make out the 'words' I have to type to prove, as you say, that I'm not a robot.