Sea Bream with Mediterranean Sauce
I have to admit I don’t do heat very well. I absolutely love the fact that we’re having a proper summer – the kind I remember as a child when it seemed we were outside for the whole of the school holidays. I wouldn’t swap this one for the English norm, but it’s been hard work keeping cool, particularly in the kitchen where a huge powerful fan follows my every move! My own school holidays were mostly spent with my grandparents in Wales, and after long sunny days on the beach my grandfather and uncles would don waders, walk into the sea up to their waists, cast their rods (not that far out) and catch enormous sea bass, which I was thankful I was unaware of when swimming in the same spot earlier in the day. In the evening my grandmother, who cooked on a large black solid-fuel range, would fry the fish which she first dipped in seasoned flour so it was crisp round the edges, and the whole family would have such a fresh-from-the-sea feast.
This week at our Wine and Food Workshop at the football club our guest expert was a lovely, rather hunky young man whom we affectionately call John the Fish. He has a shop in Holt called the North Norfolk Fish Company, which has the greatest feasts from the sea imaginable – quite the best and freshest fish I’ve ever had. After he had given the adoring workshop audience the complete low-down on how to buy and prepare fish, he presented me with a very beautiful gilthead sea bream, a fish I’m particularly fond of and one which tastes equally good served cold. No prizes for guessing what this week’s recipe includes. We ate it al fresco under the leafy shade of our apple trees, and it would be hard to find a more perfect summer lunch on a blisteringly hot day. We also made a potato salad with fresh-dug potatoes and our own shallots and chives, a sauce from our very own peppers and tomatoes, and of course a very well-chilled rosé. Two things to note: you can use any fish for this – whole sea bass or even a thick fillet of cod or haddock of the same weight. It’s also excellent served hot if the weather changes.
|1 whole sea bream, weighing 1¼-1½ lbs (570-700 g), de-scaled and gutted|
|1 tablespoon olive oil|
|2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped|
|1 medium yellow pepper, de-seeded and sliced into 2-inch (5cm) strips|
|2 cloves garlic, finely chopped|
|8 oz (225 g) tomatoes, skinned and chopped|
|1 tablespoon tomato purée|
|½ oz (10g) pitted black olives|
|1 heaped tablespoon capers|
|1 rounded tablespoon fresh chopped oregano (or basil would be OK)|
|2 oz (50 g) cherry tomatoes, left whole and unpeeled|
|salt and freshly milled black pepper|
|Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5, 375F, 190C|
|Need help with conversions?|
First of all wipe the fish with some kitchen paper, then make three diagonal cuts across it (on both sides) and brush lightly with a little oil. Season well with salt and freshly-milled black pepper, then place it in a shallow roasting tin and transfer it to the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes.
Meanwhile heat the oil in a medium-sized frying-pan, then add the shallots and pepper and soften then over a medium heat for 5 minutes before adding the garlic and cooking for another couple of minutes.
Next add the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, olives and capers, and sprinkle in the oregano and a seasoning of salt and pepper.
Simmer gently for 10 minutes or so – giving it all a stir now and then – and after that add the whole cherry tomatoes, and continue cooking until the cherry tomatoes have softened but not lost their shape.
After 20 minutes check to see if the fish is cooked – the flesh should be opaque and firm – or give it a further five minutes if necessary.
To serve, divide the fish slices, the top fillet for one person, then remove the backbone and serve the bottom fillet for the other.
Spoon the sauce over and serve with new potatoes.
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This recipe can be served warm, as an accompanying vegetable, or cold as part of a group of salads – in which case you still need to pour on the dressing while the potatoes are warm.
Sea bass fillets are readily available and the simple salsa verde gives them a touch of luxury. This wonderful summery recipe serves two but can easily be doubled for easy entertaining.
Tapenade, that strong gutsy pâté of minced olives, is converted into something more elegant and aristocratic if you replace half the amount of olives with sun-dried tomatoes. Serve it with ciabatta warm from the oven, or baked croutons brushed with o
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