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Saturday, 19 September 2009

Fish: how to ruin it and how to save it

Fate would have it that as soon as I start a blog designed to inspire me (and you) to create delicious suppers I end up cooking one of the worst dinners I've ever made.  Or tasted.

To be fair to myself, it wasn't entirely my fault, but it was a disaster that I could have averted.

Last Saturday Mr. F went to Broadway market and bought a really lovely piece of cod.  We didn't eat it that day, or the day after, but I thought it would last until Monday.  Our fridge is pretty cold.  So, come Monday I had hatched a plan to cook roasted cod with roasted squash and chargrilled sweetcorn. 

I had three types of squash to hand, one turban, one butternut, and chunk of another with a really thick green skin.  I peeled them all (quite an undertaking) and cut them into cubes.  Whilst doing this, I melted butter and oil together, added an indecent quantity of salt, two cloves of garlic that I had minced, dried chilli flakes and pepper.  When that mixture started smelling wonderfully fragrant, I poured it over the squash chunks, tossed squash and butter together, and put the whole lot in the oven (at about 180 degrees, for forty minutes).

Then I pulled the fish out of the fridge and unwrapped it.  It smelt really fishy.  I called Mr. F into the kitchen.  He took a lungful, thought for a moment, and pronounced it fine.  I smelled it again. Whilst I was also able to convince myself that it was fine, a top note in the odour tickled some basic, primeval area of my brain which urged me not to eat it (it must be the same part of the brain which predisposes us not to like blue food).

Carrying on gamely I contrived to think of something that would mask the flavour.  I made a classic pesto (in the pestle and mortar to boot), and added breadcrumbs.  That mixture was packed on to the fish, which was then put in the oven for about seven minutes. 

Fish and squash emerged from the oven, both looking and smelling deceptively appetizing: the breadcrumbs had toasted up nicely, and the squash was burnished and bubbling.  I dished up.  We sat down.

My first mouthful of fish was bitter and mushy and completely inedible.  It went into the bin.  The next few minutes of my life were going to be spent in an almost-vegan suppertime hell.  I suddenly felt glad that I had used butter to roast the squash.  I speared a couple of chunks of it with my fork and made a start.

The squash was soggy, and one sort, the green one with the thick skin, had become so mealy that I had trouble swallowing it.  I ploughed on regardless.  The chargrilled sweetcorn saved the day.

So, the moral of this particular story is: eat fish on the day you buy it if you're not going to freeze it.  Not exactly rocket science.  I am filled with self-loathing.

If you do have a nice piece of fish and you're not sure what to do with it you could do worse than roasting or frying it and serving it with a buerre noisette and boiled potatoes.  My mother taught me a really good cheat version:
For two

Half a pack of butter (so, about 125g)
Soy sauce (1-3 teaspoons)
Decent balsamic vinegar (1-3 teaspoons)
Curly parsley (about 4 big sprigs)
Capers (1-2 packed teaspoons)

Melt the butter in a heavy-ish pan.  Let it cook until it turns deep golden brown (if it goes too dark and starts to smell burned then you'll probably have to start again).  Let it cool for a moment and then strain through a very fine seive (I have used kitchen towel for this procedure) to remove the milk solids.  Add a teaspoon of soy sauce and the same of balsamic.  Taste and adjust accordingly: you might prefer a sauce that is more piquantly tart.  Roughly chop the capers, and finely chop the parsley.  Add to the butter mixture.  Serve with roasted fish (skate is especially good in this context) and boiled new potatoes.

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