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Thursday, 18 April 2013

Roasted Sea Bass with sumac and za’atar

Hi everyone sorry I haven’t posted anything in a while. This is a slightly different take on my last whole roasted fish recipe but the basic principles and sentiments about eating whole fish and buying it remain the same.Whole roasted or grilled fish is just about my favourite kind of meal. For me it tastes like summer holidays. Its not that it is difficult to make, in fact it is super easy, but it is still a treat. This can be made with sea bass or bream. Versions of this recipe can be seen in most Middle-Eastern cookbooks, and it really is brilliant. Tahini and pomegranate may seem like odd accompaniments if you haven’t tried it before – but believe me, once you try it you will never want to eat fish any other way again. 
Buying fish has become a lot harder lately, but there are some handy websites that you can use to ensure that the fish you are buying has been sustainably sourced. This heightened need for sustainability has led to better labelling of fish and seafood which is a good thing, and most fishmongers should be able to answer all of your questions about where the fish is from – if they can’t, don’t buy from them. Sea bass farmed in the UK is rated ‘1’ according to the Good Fish Guide, associated with the most sustainably produced seafood. Sea bream, which is a good alternative for this dish, can also be bought from sustainable sources. 
In my last post I wrote some advice about buying whole fish, and that advice still stands, I just need to add a little specific to sea bass. Sea Bass have a series of very sharp spikes along their dorsal fins. These spikes will contain anaerobic bacteria – bacteria that doesn’t need oxygen to breathe – and will therefore be much more likely to cause a nasty infection if you stab yourself with one of these spikes. This happened to my mum once – her hand pretty much turned green and she had to get antibiotics from the doctor. So when you are buying them, make sure to ask the fishmonger to cut all of the spikes off for you. Even if buying from a wet fish counter in a supermarket from the confused teenager behind the counter – you have to insist on this. This happened to me once and they called their supervisor over who said ‘of course we should do this’ and then taught said confused young person how to properly trim the fish. If buying the fish pre-packaged (ie from Costco) put some rubber gloves on when you take the fish out of the packet and cut them off yourself before you cook it.
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.
Whole Seas bass – some are small and so 1 per person, others are larger and can feed more. Sometimes I roast a whole load and put them on a platter for a larger group of people. In those kind of situations, people tend to take a little less and so it can stretch further. You can also use Sea Bream.
1 tsp. Sumac
1 tsp. Za’atar

1 tbsp. Olive oil
Pinch salt – Maldon sea salt if you have it.
 To serve:
Tahini sauce (made with olive oil and lemon juice, see recipe here)
Fresh parsley, well washed and finely chopped
Pomegranate molasses
Pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan until golden brown and fragrant
Fresh pomegranate seeds (if you have them)
Use an oven tray with risen edges, so that the juices don’t spill out into the oven – I tend to put foil on the tray too.
Preheat the oven to 200 if using smaller fish, 180 is using larger fish.
Give the fish a rinse under the tap and check that the middle section has been properly cleaned through – you may have to pull out a few little veiny things. Using a sharp knife, carefully make 3 -4 slashes on both sides of the fish, being careful not to cut through the bone (or slice off a finger).
In a bowl, mix the olive oil with the sumac and za’atar. Put the fish on the tray, coat generously with the spiced oil and sprinkle with salt. Make sure that a little goes into the cuts you have made in the sides of the fish. When using small fish I tend not to flip them during cooking and so only put the seasonings on the top. If using a bigger fish, put the seasonings on both sides. If using a small fish roast for 15 minutes – bigger ones will need around 25, flipping halfway during cooking. Don’t overcook!
Toast the pine nuts and make up the tahini sauce while the fish is cooking, and mix in the chopped parsley. Pour the parsley tahini sauce into a serving dish and top with a little pomegranate molasses and the pine nuts.
Many recipes recommend dressing the whole fish with the tahini and pomegranate seeds, but this doesn’t really work for me. The tahini sauce can cancel out the crispness of the skin on the fish, and the coverings make it much harder to identify any stray bones. I would recommend serving the tahini sauce on the side, with the pomegranate seeds in another bowl for people to help themselves to. Whatever you do, please don’t cut the head off the fish before serving – its just not right.

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