Fishing for compliments

Ok, so I’m not actually ready to submit to the rice and water diet I mentioned yesterday. But this is surely the next best thing – fish, rice, greens and just a bit of butter to boost calcium levels. Even better, you can make this for one person or a crowd (in case you happen upon a lot of people who look like they need a week of what Nigella calls ‘temple food’).

Fish with coriander and lime butter
This is a super-simplified version of something I saw in Bill Granger’s Everyday Asian, which is a really beautiful book full of practical ‘I can make this for dinner after work’ sorts of ideas. Bill’s way is easy enough, but this is even simpler.

Per person:
1 good piece of fish – I like baking monkfish this way, but choose your favourite
2Tbsp butter, softened
zest and juice of half a good, juicy lime
a handful of fresh coriander
salt and pepper

Bok choy

Get the rice underway first, then preheat the oven to 200C.
Mix the lime juice, zest and butter together. Take a large piece of baking paper and lay the coriander on it. Put the fish on next, then top with the butter and season. Fold the baking paper into a parcel around the fish, so it’s secure but not too tight.
Bake for 10-15 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fish – thinner fish will obviously cook faster).
Steam the bok choy until just tender.
To serve, spoon the rice and bok choy into a bowl. Place the fish on top and pour the buttery juices over everything. Sprinkle with a little more chopped coriander if you like.

Random Recipe #9: Fear of frying

Oy vey, this months’ Random Recipes challenge really pushed me out of my comfort zone. Not only did I have to let some strange man rifle through my cookbooks, but then I had to confront a life-long fear of deep-frying.

Let me explain. The strange man was Gary from Exploits of a Food Nut. I met him on the internet – you know how it is these days. Anyway, as per Dom’s instructions, I had to choose a recipe at random from Gary’s cookbook collection, and he got to do the same with mine, even though we live some 12,000 miles apart. Thanks to Twitter, that part was easy – Gary got James Martin’s My Kitchen and I got New Pleasures of the Jewish Table by Denise Phillips.
The hard part was realising I was going to have to heat a litre of oil to 200C on my stove top. I’m not sure why I’ve got such a deep-seated fear of frying. I think it might have something to do with being at primary school, when one of my classmates, who was pretty and clever and fantastic at athletics, came back from a long absence with a protective bandage covering her lower leg. She never talked about it and we weren’t supposed to either, but it had something to do with boiling oil and a fire. She later went well off the rails and last I heard she was in jail for GBH after beating up an old lady for her handbag, but that’s another story. This one has a much happier ending, even though I was so overcome with the process that I forgot to photograph the end result.

Egyptian Fish Balls with Tomato Sauce
I can’t recall how I came to have a copy of New Pleasures of the Jewish Table, nor do I remember ever making anything out of it. It’s a great little book though, full of socio-cultural food history (and good recipes). It’s a bit short on deep-frying advice, but I rolled my sleeves down, banished the Small Girl to watch rugby with her father and got on with proceedings. Fear factor (and a few dishes) aside, this is a great, family-friendly dinner. Make the tomato sauce first so you’ve got one less thing to worry about.

The fish balls:
700g white fish (I used alfonsino, Denise suggests bream, haddock or cod)
2 onions, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic
zest of one lemon
handful of fresh parsley
2tsp ground cumin
2tsp salt
3Tbsp matzo meal (I whizzed up a few crackers in the processor instead)
1 egg, lightly beaten
plain flour, for dusting

The tomato sauce:
2Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
2Tbsp tomato puree
120ml red wine
450ml vegetable stock (or water)

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large pot and saute the onion and garlic for a few minutes over medium heat. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 30 minutes. Set aside while you get on with the fish balls.

For the fish balls: Put the onions, garlic, lemon zest and parsley in the processor and whizz until finely chopped. Add the salt, cumin and fish and whizz again to form a smooth mixture. Tip into a bowl and mix through the matzoh crumbs and beaten egg. Dust a couple of plates with flour. With wet hands, take tablespoon-sized amounts of the fish and roll into balls, then place on the floured plates.

To deep-fry, heat one litre of vegetable oil in a deepfryer or in a deep, heavy bottomed pot. Heat to about 200C and fry the balls in batches (about five at a time should do it) until golden brown. When they’re cooked, add to the tomato sauce and heat through gently for about 10 minutes.
Serves 4-6 with rice, couscous or bread and salad.

Now, can anyone tell me what to do with the used oil? Can I pour it down the sink?

Nose to scale

On Sunday morning I escaped my chores and fled to the City Market to watch Martin Bosley deal to a practically still-flapping snapper (a kind of bream, to Northern Hemisphere readers). It was 90 minutes of brilliance.
I don’t do this sort of thing very often, in fact the last time I went to any kind of cooking demo was to a risotto masterclass at Carluccio’s in Covent Garden. I was massively pregnant, ravenous, and unable to drink any of the chianti my fellow classmates were knocking back. This was a rather different kettle of, err, fish.
Martin, who is a bit of a megastar among New Zealand chefs, turned this 3kg beast into tartare and carpaccio, then baked the fillets in a soy-mirin glaze before serving up the head with a lemony beurre blanc. The assembled group looked on admiringly, sipping glasses of Gisborne chardonnay (“It has to be past noon somewhere in the world,” the man sitting next to me said cheerily.)
It was an incredible, inspiring class. I admit, I don’t have the knife skills to make carpaccio at home, but I feel confident enough to tackle the head. Now it’s just a matter of catching one…

Martin Bosley, left, and his lovely assistant, Seamus

If you are in Wellington over the next few months you should definitely check out the other classes on offer. Martin Bosley will be back again the weekend before Christmas, but there are lots of other great people scheduled in before then. Go on, you know you want to…

Little fried fish

It’s whitebait season again, but we’ve yet to hear any reports from the Coast as to how its going. This isn’t unusual – whitebaiters are notoriously secretive, especially those who sell their catch without the knowledge of Mr IRD. Last year the Boy Wonder experimented with frying the tiny fish in a pan, Spanish-style, rather than binding them in traditional egg fritters. It was a great success, if labour-intensive. But last week he stumbled on an even better way – a sort of oven-fried version, made with a recent newspaper-wrapped delivery from Westport. The other thing that’s changed from last year is that a pound of whitebait (they only come in Imperial measures) used to be enough for two of us – now we have to share it with our smallest dining companion. That’s not a bad thing.

West Coast Whitebait Oven-Fried

Oven-fried whitebait
Excuse the Coaster-style description, but there’s no point giving this a fancier name (except ‘bloody good oven-fried whitebait’ perhaps). All you need with this is a crunchy green salad and a bit of baguette. Oh, and lots of lemon halves.

1 lb (about 500g) whitebait
salt and pepper
olive oil – about 1/2 cup

Defrost the whitebait and rinse under the tap to get rid of any grit. Drain well.
Preheat the oven to 200C and pour about 1/2 cup of olive oil in a roasting dish. (You may need more – the BW is a bit vague on exact measurements). Heat the oil in the oven for about five minutes. While it’s heating up, dredge the whitebait at a time in seasoned flour (shake off the excess in a coarse sieve.) Carefully tip into the hot oil and return the roasting dish to the oven. Cook for about 20 minutes, until the little fish are golden brown and crunchy. Serves two greedy adults and one voracious toddler for dinner – so at least four adults for lunch.

Do you have a favourite way to cook – or eat – whitebait?