Well, my Dad always says, every day’s a school day…

Last night, I decided to cook myself a healthy Whole Fish Salad for my dinner. I’m still in London for the next couple of weeks and I’m exhausted with all the packing! I decided I needed something both to pick me up and to reward me for the hard work so far.

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Now, if you’re going to make this, please first learn from my mistake. I forgot to say one essential thing to the fishmonger I bought this from, and when I got my lovely piece of fish from the fridge to cook later that evening I learned, to my horror, that it wasn’t already gutted for me!

Luckily, my lovely chum Stephen Swinnerton previously worked as a fishmonger at the supermarket Waitrose. With his teasing and guidance via telephone, I managed to achieve a thorough gutting.

FISH GUTTING- NOT FOR THE FAINT HEARTED

Swinnerton Instructs

If the fish is slimy, give it a quick rinse under the tap. Otherwise, you risk slipping and cutting yourself.
Find its butt-hole (I’m not kidding). Insert the knife, and cut all the way along to the head
Open it, and remove the… Well, the guts.
Along the spine, you will see a long dark vein. Cut all the way along it to break it, then remove the blood.
Finally, the gills. Hidden under the flaps at the back of the head. Lift the flap and slice the fleshy gill, then remove it using your fingers. Watch out! They will be spiky!

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MASSACRE

Yikes. Clean it up a bit.

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As gross as it was, I’m frankly please this happened. I learned a new skill, and as I’m planning on a trip to Thailand next year where catching you own fish for dinner is part of the package, I’m glad I learned this skill in good time, rather than exposing myself as a sissy mid-adventure. However, until then, I think I will definitely remember to ask the fishmonger to do the dirty work for me!

SO! Now we’re past that little massacre, on with the recipe!

Ingredients

  • A tasty piece of fish (I actually wanted Sea Bass, which is perfect with this recipe, but they didn’t have it so I’m using Rainbow Trout. It cost about £2.10 and was delicious!)
  • Sundried tomato paste
  • Red onion
  • Plenty of garlic
  • Smoked bacon lardons (feeling fancy? Use pancetta instead)
  • Two lemons
  • Fresh red chillies (medium heat)
  • Butter
  • Salad (your choice!)

Recovered from gutting? Now do this…

1. Pre-heat oven to 190

2. First, prep your fish. I try to debone it as much as possible, as this makes for a far more enjoyable dining experience. In my heavy-handed gutting, I managed to remove the spine on top of everything else! If you can do this without tearing the fish, I suggest you do. Again, easy eating.
To debone it, simply run your finger along the flesh inside. You will start to raise small hair-thin bones. Now pluck these out with your fingers! Repeat this process for about 10 minutes, until you’re sure you have got near enough all the bones.

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4. Take a very big piece of greaseproof/baking paper and lay your fish on it.

5. Now, with a teaspoon take a big scoop of your sundried tomato paste (I had about half a jar of this leftover from the Pinwheels I’d made for me and Colin a few weeks ago) and spread it inside your fish. Make sure you get plenty on both sides!

6. Take your chillies and top and half them. Peel a few cloves of garlic. Put these in and around the fish.
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7. Now take a few more cloves of garlic and chuck them in a frying pan with a healthy handful of your smoked bacon lardons. I do this because I love the smoky flavour and chewy texture of garlic that has been browned in this way, and it is particularly delicious with the fish. Equally, I like the bacon lardons a little crispy, so starting them off like this ensures they’ll caramelise when they cook with the fish later. Splash a little lemon juice on them while they cook.

8. While you’re waiting for those guys, take another handful of RAW bacon lardons and stick them inside your fish. Finely slice a red onion and put this in and around the fish.

9. Take your cooked garlic/lardons and sprinkle over the fish.

10. Quarter a lemon, then lay over the fish. Finally, take a few lumps of butter and place a small amount on top of each lemon. This will help it cook and prevent sticking, but you won’t need too much as the sundried tomato paste is already pretty oily. Squeeze some more lemon juice over the top.
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11. Now wrap it up like you’re going to post it somewhere

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12. Deliver to the oven and baked for 20 minutes.

13. While that’s cooking, prepare your salad. I went with mixed leaves, slices of raw red onion, shavings of raw carrot, a sprinkle of lemon juice and a dash of balsamic vinegar. All these flavours complement those already with the fish greatly!

14. Open your fish packet carefully, so as to not lose any of the juices. Place the fish on your salad mix, then pour the juices and other ingredients left in the packet over.

15. Serve and enjoy! Your fish will be tender, juicy and screaming with flavour, plus come apart very easily. The garlic brings sweetness, the chilli brings a kick, and the lardons keep it naughty. Delicious!!

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A whole fish might freak you out a bit (personally it makes me feel like an old English warrior or a Viking or something). You should be able to do this with two fillets, so long as they’re still attached at the top. I’m sure your fishmonger can help you with this. Or, cook as shown here, but remove they head/tail before serving.

I would normally HEAVILY recommend this with a sweet Temperanillo Rosé! However, I’m avoiding the booze at the minute, so I made a selection from my highly exciting alcohol free collection.

I went with the blood orange Sanpellegrino!
I went with the blood orange Sanpellegrino!

Try your own version! The great thing about cooking it like this is you can use whatever flavours and ingredients you desire depending on your mood! Olives? Capers? Apricot? I would love to hear what you include in your parcel.

2 thoughts on “Well, my Dad always says, every day’s a school day…

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