Well, the heady excitement of Is My Blog Burning 5 is now, sadly, a thing of the past. But with my recent visit home to South Africa and all the fish I saw on the menu there (post still to follow, I promise), I can’t seem to get the fishy theme out of my head.
When I was growing up, fish was really simple. When I was a toddler, fish came in 2 types: fingers or cakes, both liberally doused with tomato sauce and possibly mayonnaise. Then as I graduated to “adult” food, the fish we ate at home was either kingklip or, if we were being fancy or having company, sole. So if it was firm, white and filleted, it was kingklip & if it was flat & usually crumbed, it was sole. Easy peasy. But sometime in the 1980s/1990s, the prices of both these fish went through the roof and my mother quite smartly switched to hake as our family’s fish of choice. I was never that mad about hake. I mean, it’s OK – like cod (to which it is related), it’s very flaky when cooked so pan-frying is tricky unless you batter it to death first (and I don’t mean batter as in assault…) and then deep-fry it. Or you can oven-bake it, but generally it is not the world’s most exciting fish. Once I had moved out of home and had to learn to forage for myself in the supermarket, I decided that even hake at ZAR 15/kg sounded expensive, so I asked the fishmonger for a substitute and thus stumbled on butter bream (well that’s what the fishmonger’s pimply assistant called it…). What a lovely fish! The fillets are about the size of kingklip fillets but have a lovely pinkish tinge to the flesh when raw. When cooked, it’s a firm fish, not as flaky as hake and (I think) tastier, and if you get small fillets you can dip them in seasoned flour and pan-fry them – yum!
But then in about 2001, South Africa decided that it was much more profitable (what with our lousy exchange rate) to sell the hake (and, apparently, butter bream) we caught off our coast to other countries, and consequently the price of hake shot up to almost ZAR 30/kg, and butter bream which was ZAR12/kg shot up to about ZAR 25/kg. At this time I decided that if I was going to have to pay this much for fish which weren’t exactly the height of culinary excitement, I may as well start buying more expensive “premium” fish and at least get some bang for my buck, so to speak…
And so began my foray into the world of poached salmon fillets, seared tuna steaks, grilled butterfish (this is the closest I could get to what this actually is – apparently this is what the Namibians call butterfish which is my best guess I’m afraid. I know it isn’t the dollarfish that Americans refer to as butterfish as I have had salmon-sized butterfish steaks…) and my favourite fishy dinner party standby, gurnard – not gorgeous to look at but delicious to eat. Of course, now that I am in London, I have had to learn a whole new fishy lexicon – cod, haddock, mackerel, plaice, sea bass, bream… the list goes on. And I am learning that there is no greater naming confusion as when one tries to talk about fish in different countries – what you regard as Cape Salmon may be called something entirely different in another country – and of course, what was local and/or sustainable in South Africa is very different in the UK.
So slowly I am building up a new supply of recipes to suit new fish species. But I still hanker after my beloved butter bream and gurnard. Gurnard, in particular, is perfect for dinner parties – not too expensive, delicious, and fillets of a size that lend themselves to a good portion for one person. The recipe below was always one of my dinner party standbys in South Africa and is specifically written for gurnard fillets, but seeing as they are not often available in the UK, outside of specialist fishmongers, I have discovered that you can make this with other small, white fish fillets as well. Ideally, the fish should be skinless but if, like me, you don’t mind fish skin, you can also cook them skin-on. The main criterion is that they have to be fillets (not loins or steaks) and have to be thin enough that you can roll them up. Other than that, the recipe is simplicity itself, but looks pleasingly cheffy. Enjoy!
If you enjoyed this fish recipe, you will also like:
- pan-fried salmon on kale with sweet potato and pomegranate
- easy mustard-crusted fish fillets
- pan-fried fish fillets with capers on pesto mash
- pizza fish
OVEN-BAKED ROLLED FISH FILLETS WITH MUSTARD CREAM SAUCE (serves 4)
4 gurnard/haddock fillets (about 1kg) – preferably skinless
whole chives (for securing)
4 heaped tsp chopped chives (plus extra for garnish)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup fish or vegetable stock
1/2 cup cream
4 tsp wholegrain mustard
salt and milled black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 190C.
Rinse and pat dry the fish fillets. Season and moisten with lemon juice. Roll up and tie up with chives (leave some for garnishing). You may have to tie 2 chives together to get them long enough.
Arrange the tied fish in a single layer in an oiled baking dish. Pour over the wine and stock and cover with a sheet of oiled greaseproof paper or aluminium foil. Bake for 15 minutes or until the flesh is opaque and just cooked. Remove the fish from the baking dish and keep warm.
Pour the cream into a saucepan over low heat and whisk in the mustard and chopped chives, then the cooking liquid from the fish – do this slowly, spoonful by spoonful so the cream doesn’t separate. Once all incorporated, turn the heat up to high to reduce and thicken the sauce.
Pour the sauce over the fish and sprinkle with the reserved chives before serving.