Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Aarti Cooks: New Love, Old Love Fish

Green garlic. The name alone is onamatopeic, isn't it? You have to say it slowly, savoring every syllable, the long "eeeee", the long "aaaaaah" ending in a playful "lick", a lazy, warm, gently spicy companion to the gorgeous days and delightful spring vegetables at the market. This is a garlic only spring could bring, with its delicate, lapping sunshine, the cool breezes and the youthful, almost naive promise that everything's going to be alright because winter is over.

I'm in love! Can you tell? Green garlic is what happens when you pluck garlic out of the ground before it forms a bulb. It looks very much like a scallion, except that the white bulb looks like it's been splattered with purple paint. You can find them at the farmers market. I also found it at the Persian/Jewish store, Elat Market.

So why do I love green garlic? Well, I love garlic. But this is a milder, sweeter, greener version of its older brother, which is often marked by that distinctive sharp spicyness. It doesn't make your hands stink for days. It probably can't stand up in a curry, but sauteed with some delicate fresh peas, it's bliss. And, unlike regular garlic, you can't use too much of it! I literally put about 1/2 cup of green garlic in a gratin last week, and once I tasted it, I realised I still could have used more.

I'll tell you what I have not been in love with in the past: fish!

Every Friday, like the good Catholic family that we were, we had fish. Dad would go to the outdoor fish market in Dubai, where fishmongers displayed every fish and shellfish imagineable, fish that just been plucked out of the Indian ocean or the Arabian Gulf. After you'd bought your fish, you could get it cleaned, de-veined, de-scaled, de-whatever you like, for just a few fils more.

From someone's Picasa page.

I dreaded Fridays. It was our day off, when you would normally look forward to eating your most favorite thing. Alas, we had fish, in a yellow curry my Nanny would make with green mangos. I hated the texture, the flavour, the way it looked and smelled...

But for some reason, as I got older, I started to love fish. I couldn't tell you when or why. Maybe it was sushi that did it. Whatever it was, I am now hooked. In fact, thinking back on Nanny's curry right now is making both my eyes and my mouth water. What is it about "maturing" tastebuds? I hate that phenomenon! I hate thinking about all those wasted years not enjoying fish! (Imagine me shaking my fists at the heavens here). Bren used to hate mushrooms. Now he loves them. What? WHY?! Isn't that so weird?

Anyway, today's recipe is a combination of an old love and a new love: whole fish and green garlic.

If you can't get your hands on a whole fish, or you don't want one, I think this would work with fillets too. This is a very flexible recipe, so you don't even have to use the same kind of fish I used, which was Branzino. Just make sure your fish is fresh: clear, glassy eyes (not opaque, smoky ones), red gills, and a lack of odour. If it smells fishy, then something is, um, fishy about it. So don't buy it. It should smell like the ocean. Go ahead and get a 2lb fish though, even if you're not going to eat it all for dinner. It's easier to flavour the fish when there's more flesh to play with.

Since we're on that topic, I wonder whether one of the reasons I didn't like fish was that, of all the animal proteins available, it is the only one you buy in its original form. You can see its face, its tail, its insides. Today, when I was massaging oil and salt into its skin, I found myself whispering to the fish under my breath: "thankyou sweet fishy for giving up your life for me."

I know, it's silly. The fish didn't give up its life, so much as it was taken from him. But there's something very intimate about rubbing salt and marinade into a fish's inner cavity, slicing into its body, rubbing salt into those new wounds... all while its glassy eye stares up at you.

It's enough to make this carnivorous zealot pause for a second. Would my passion for beef be any different if I had to buy a whole cow at the store, peer into its gorgeous dark eyes and then skin it, slice it and bbq it?

Probably not now I think about it. Beef trumps fish any day of the week, hahahahahaahaha!

Anyway, back to the recipe. If you don't have green garlic, go ahead and use a couple of cloves of its older brother, the regular kind. And hey, if you happen to have a bulb of fennel in the fridge, or a few potatoes lying around, throw those in the bottom of the roasting pan too. This is a flexible recipe. This was also a great opportunity to finally use the wonderful gift Sara and Alex got me! Thanks again you guys! I love this thing!

This recipe makes a ton of marinade. I've been using the rest of in a ton of ways; diluted with a little oil and vinegar, it makes a stellar dressing. You can also toss it on freshly steamed vegetables, or grilled meat.

So without further ado:

New Love, Old Love Fish

Roasted whole fish, with green garlic and tamarind, with roasted vegetables.

You'll need this stuff:

1 2lb whole fish, such as branzino, scaled and gutted
1/2 cup green garlic, white and tender green stems, chopped roughly
1 spring onion, white and green parts, chopped
3/4 cup cilantro, chopped roughly
1tsp tamarind concentrate
1/8 cup grapeseed or canola oil
1 large onion, peeled and sliced into 1/4" rounds
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/2" rounds
Salt and pepper
Wedges of lime, to finish

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit/220 degrees celsius

2) Wash your fish and dry with paper towels. Make sure all the scales have been removed. Slice 5 3" into each flank (side) of the fish. Don't slice all the way down to the bone. Stop just before it. Rub oil and and a sprinkle of salt all over the fish.

2) Grab your food processor. Throw in green garlic, spring onion, cilantro, tamarind paste, oil, salt and pepper. Process until it's a smooth-ish paste. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.

3) Rub the marinade into the slices you made in the fish's body. Rub a little over the skin too. You'll have a ton of marinade left. No worries. Allow to marinate for 30 minutes.

4) Meanwhile, throw onions and carrots in a roasting pan big enough for your fish. Toss with a little oil, salt, pepper and a dollop of the green garlic marinade. Throw into the oven for 30 minutes, until starting to brown around the edges.

5) Pull pan out of the oven. Turn it up to 450 degrees f/230 degrees c. Stir veggies, and shape into a narrow enough bed, in which to lay the fish, belly-side down. Prop the tail on the edge of the roasting pan, or make a small bowl out of aluminium foil and rest the tail on it. It should look as if the fish is about to swim through your kitchen! If you like the skin crispy, turn your oven up to 500 degrees f/240 degrees c, remove the veggies from the pan so that they don't burn and put the fish back in the oven for 10 minutes.

6) Roast it for another 30 minutes, until the flesh is flaky and cooked. Pull fillets off the bone and serve over a mound of veggies. Smear a little leftover marinade on the fish's skin, and finish with a squeeze of lime. Serve immediately!


1 comment:

Merlin said...

That fish market picture brought back memories, lots of them but very good memories. Thank you Lord.

All our(mum's,nanny's and mine)efforts DID NOT GO IN VAIN. You are now blessed with love for seafood and we are alive to see the day!!!

Not to mention the beneficial effect of sardines, mackerel, hammour, surmai, crabs etc etc on " the grey matter"

all text and photographs on aartilla the fun © 2005-2009 Aarti Sequeira unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.