I wanted a really nice meal tonight. I’ve had fun the last couple of evenings but no ‘proper’ meal. And that’s a very unusual thing for The Single Gourmet Traveller. I was brought up to believe that if I didn’t have my ‘meat and two veg’ every day then something dire would happen to me; I had to eat a proper meal. It must be some kind of atavistic reaction that makes it, even to this day, hard for me to not ‘eat properly’ at some point in the day and a slight feeling of panic creeps in. And as I generally snack at lunchtime, evening is my time for serious eating. OK, I can hear you laughing, but this is a food-loving woman speaking here. I met a friend in the pub on Thursday evening and although two glasses of Merlot passed my lips, no food did, and by the time I got home it was so late I just ate a banana before bed. Last night I had a great time meeting Italian friends in a pub in South Kensington – another glass of Merlot – and then we went to the Royal Albert Hall for a concert starring Mario Biondi, whom I’d not heard of but they were excited by. And as he filled the Albert Hall, I guess he really is famous. And I did enjoy the concert a lot. But by the time I got home it was midnight … another banana and bed …
So when I walked into my local fishmonger, Sandy’s in Twickenham, this morning, having decided to buy sea bream, and the smallest they had was pretty large, I just went with it. Even though it cost me over £8. I got them to fillet the fish; one fillet for tonight and the other to freeze for another time. Sea bream is one of my favourite fish; I just love it. I wanted to have it with a salmorejo sauce, as I’d had that as a dish at Balthazar a few weeks’ ago and had liked it a lot. I’ve heard some mixed reports of Balthazar but certainly my fish that night was superb.
Salmorejo is a kind of gazpacho served in Andalucia. It’s made from ripe tomatoes, bread, garlic and olive oil. It can be served as a soup or, as I did tonight, a sauce to go with either fish or chicken. A small dish of it is often served as part of a selection of tapas.
I found a recipe in my trusty Moro East book, which suggested making the sauce in advance and putting it to chill in the fridge for a while. That was great as with my fish already filleted, once I decided to cook it was all going to be a quick affair. I planned to serve it with just a green salad on the side – green leaves, some finely chopped chicory and chopped fresh herbs from the selection growing on my kitchen window sill.
Making the salmorejo is very easy. I halved the Moro recipe for 4 – sometimes it’s just too difficult to quarter recipes! Everything went into the food processor: 250g ripe, halved sweet tomatoes, 1/2 clove garlic crushed to a paste with some salt, 25g crustless bread, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar.
Process until you have a smooth sauce. Check the seasoning, adding more salt if necessary and some pepper and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon sugar, depending on the sweetness of your tomatoes. If the sauce isn’t very smooth, then, as I did, pass it through a sieve. Then put in a bowl (I used a lovely small Spanish bowl I bought in Valencia last September when staying with Linda and George) and chill until needed.
When you’re ready to eat, prepare the fish. Cut 3 slashes – not too deep – in the skin side of the fish and season with salt and pepper. Pour a little oil in the bottom of a frying pan and heat until smoking slightly and then gently lay the fish, skin side down, in the pan. Cook over a medium heat until you can see the outside edge of the fish turning white, indicating it’s cooked, and the middle part starting to change colour.
You want most of the cooking to be done with the skin down. When you then turn it over – very carefully with a slice – the skin should be nice and crisp and the fish need just a little more cooking with the flesh side down. I spooned some of the sauce on to a plate and cut a wedge from a lemon. Then when the fish was ready, I carefully transferred it, skin side up, to the plate.
This is such a simple meal made from the best ingredients. The fish was superb: the fish from Sandy’s always is and it was cooked so still moist and soft and tender; it was delicious. The sauce needs good quality tomatoes – buy the best you can because cheap, unripe ones won’t work; they have no taste. I have to say at this point – because it is quite funny – that at my first taste of the salmorejo, I thought, It tastes a bit like Heinz tomato soup. And I guess it does look a bit like that! And then after, looking through the Moro book and at the Sams’ recipe for the sauce with prawns, they joke that they refer to it as the ‘prawn cocktail of Andalucia’. So I guess their reference to that slightly acidic rose marie sauce with Heinz tomato soup isn’t so off the mark. But however one describes it, it’s great with the fish and made a lovely meal. And I guess with my other half of sauce I could try it with some chicken.