I know that this isn’t particularly creative, but I really want to share it with you anyway. Whole grilled fish is just about my favourite kind of meal. For me it tastes like summer holidays and also gives a great sense of occasion. Its not that it is difficult to make, in fact it is super easy, but it is still a treat. By the way, this blog post is completely full of links – sorry if that gets annoying.
You can buy sea bream in all good fishmongers, and some good fish counters at supermarkets if you cannot get to a fishmonger. It is a perfect size for a really good meal (1 each) and tastes really delicious. As with all fish, they are much tastier when cooked whole. This is what cookipedia has to say about it: Breams have a sweet and distinctive taste and are best served with contrasting flavours that are not too overpowering. This makes them best suited to grilling or baking whole, but they can also be cooked in fillet form and fried (either shallow or deep), poached. When preparing bream, consider the flavours of capers, citrus, garlic, parsley and ginger, which marry well with these species. Chefs preparing Asian-style cuisine can improve the slightly coarser taste of estuarine bream with strong soy sauce and Chinese black rice vinegar.
One of the problems that many people have with eating fish cooked like this is the reality of it all. When no-longer hidden in crumbs, sauce or mayonnaise you are acutely aware that you are eating something that was once living, now gazing up at you with a vacant expression. Please please don’t let this put you off. I’m not here to preach ethics or values, but I will tell you what works for me. I decided many years ago that vegetarianism wasn’t for me. Moderation, buying local, from independent suppliers (where possible), and sustainable seems to be enough to assuage any guilt I may feel, and I try and remind myself on a regular basis where meat and fish comes from. I recently met someone who has held down a lamb that was being slaughtered. I would like to think that it something I would be able to see, but in truth I really don’t know, as with so many things I suppose you don’t know how you will react to a situation until you are in it.
I really recommend that you go and investigate your local fishmongers (support your local independent shops!!). The fish in the supermarket always looks so dreary and depressing, a bit flabby and with that horrible sheen to it that just tells you that it isn’t fresh. The fish at the fishmongers is better quality, they have a better variety and on top of it all you get the brilliant banter that always seems to go alongside buying from someone who really knows their stuff. They will clean the fish for you, tell you how to cook it and even give you some recipes (whether you want them or not sometimes). And if you have a local fishmonger, the more that you go and buy fish from them, the more that you build a relationship, creating a little touch of ‘village’ in the big, anonymous city. Having recently moved into a new part of London (from 1 side of Brent to another, oh haven’t I travelled far) I really wanted to feel like the neighbourhood was my neighbourhood, and supporting independent retailers is the way to do it). A thing about fishmongers which I find really interesting and funny, is the enthusiasm they have for what they do. They will thrust different fish at you for you to touch, and then there is this slightly awkward moment when you realise that you do not know how to react to someone enthusiastically waving fish at you, responding possibly with a cautious prod of firm flesh, a mumbled ‘lovely’ or some such. It is surprising how firm fish actually is, don’t worry it will be perfectly tender when cooked though. In terms of smell, fresh fish should smell of the sea, if it smells fishy, put it back.
This is not a dish for making earlier and keeping warm – you do not want to cook the fish for any longer than it needs, so make sure that everything else you are planning on making for the meal is ready when the fish is done.
Time: 40 mins, with more time to marinade if you have it. Difficulty: 2/5 Taste: 5/5
1 sea bream per person, cleaned by your local fishmonger
For the marinade:*
Finely chopped fresh ginger, making up about 2 tsp
Zest of 1 lime
Approx. 1 ½ tbsp soy sauce
½ tbsp cooking oil
For the dressing (an accompaniment for the fish once its cooked, and to add continuity with the rest of the meal – you will see what I mean)
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
Juice of 1 lime
Bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 180-200. Combine the ingredients for the marinade. Give the fish a rinse under the tap and check that the middle section has been properly cleaned through – you may have to full out a few little veiny things. Using a sharp knife, make 3 slashes on both sides of the fish, being careful not to cut through the bone. Put a spoonful of the marinade on both sides in the fish, using your hands to get some if the bits inside the slashes in the fish. When done, also put a spoonful of the marinade in the cavity of the fish. If you have time, leave the fish to soak up the flavours for an hour or so – don’t worry if you have not got enough time for that.
Put the fish on an oven tray, under enough foil to move or less cover them, and stop the juices from running all over the tray. Wrap the foil over the fish so that it is loosely covered and bake for about 15 minutes. Then uncover the fish, turn it over and bake it uncovered for another 10-15 minutes.
While the fish is cooking, add the dressing ingredients to the same dish you made the marinade in (hopefully there will be a tiny bit left) so create a light sauce to serve with the fish. I served the fish with warm sushi-seasoned sticky rice, and the dressing created a lovely bridge between the fish and the rice. Coriander and limejuice loses its edge when cooked and keeping it fresh keeps the whole dish light and ‘zingy’.
Whatever you do, (and sorry to be getting a bit bossy re: grilled fish etiquette) please don’t cut the head off the fish before serving – its just not right.
*Advice for marinades for fish – essentially, less is more. Whatever you do, do not use any lemon/lime juice. Acid cooks the fish, and so it works if you are planning on serving the fish without further cooking in the style of a ceviche (also yum, see here) but not if you are planning on grilling it. Get your fruity kick with the zest, and serve with wedges to squeeze over the top, or in a simple vinaigrette. The following sauces all go very well with grilled fish: Salsa verde, sauce vierge, caper vinaigrette.