Often a meal is the final part of a journey. Or it is for someone like me whose mind is often taken up by thoughts of food. Tonight’s supper was the last stage of a journey that began in Barrafina yesterday lunchtime, after I’d been to see the new ‘Vogue 100: A Century of Style’ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. I just love Barrafina and it’s become one of my favourite places to eat in London and their Spanish style small plate dishes, sat eating at a bar overlooking the kitchen area, is perfect for the solo diner and when you want just a small meal at lunchtime or pre-theatre. Yesterday I wanted just a very light lunch so ordered their wonderful crab croquettes, a tostada of tomato on toast (really, that description just doesn’t do it justice!) and a green salad. The green salad when it came was a slight surprise – wedges of little baby gem lettuce with a dressing of finely chopped shallots and some chives. I just had to make a salad like that at home …
Back at home I wondered what would go well with the salad. Yes I know, it’s a weird place to start the meal plan but it just says a lot about how good the salad was. In Rick Stein’s From Venice to Istanbul I found a lovely recipe for red mullet (which Rick often says is one of his favourite fish) with oranges and capers. It might be winter here but the sun has been shining and this bright and colourful dish sounded the perfect accompaniment to my salad. In Sandys fishmonger in Twickenham this morning, red mullet wasn’t to be seen, so instead I bought a gilt-head bream (one of my favourite fish), asked them to fillet it for me, and thought that would be great with the recipe.
The recipe is very simple but it’s one of those kind that requires you to get very organised and prepare everything before you start cooking. This is what I did for one portion:
- 1 fillet of sea bream
- salt & pepper
- fine polenta or semolina
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 mandarins: zest and juice of one; the other one in slices
- 1 heaped teaspoon capers
- 1 heaped teaspoon toasted pine nuts
- pinch chilli flakes
- small handful of flat-leaf parsley chopped
Rick coats his fish in semolina before frying but I didn’t have semolina and used fine polenta instead. Neither is absolutely necessary but it gives the fish a nice crusty coating. I did this first, also seasoning the fish with salt and pepper.
Then I prepared everything else: I toasted the pine nuts; prepared the mandarins – putting zest and juice in one dish and the slices in another (Rick uses oranges but again, I didn’t have oranges so used mandarins). I chopped the parsley. I had dried chilli flakes and capers to hand.
For the salad I cut a little gem lettuce in half lengthwise and then into three wedges. I made a simple dressing from extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, 1 finely chopped small shallot, salt and pepper. Just before I cooked the fish I poured the dressing over the lettuce so the salad was ready. I also cooked some baby new potatoes and tossed them in butter and chopped fresh mint.
When everything was ready, I cooked the fish. This is only going to take about 5 minutes in total. I heated the olive oil in a small frying pan and then put in the coated sea bream fillet, skin side down. I cooked it until I could see the edges starting to colour and look cooked; I checked by lifting the edge gently that the underside was nicely brown and crisp. Then I turned it over and cooked the other side for just a couple of minutes till cooked through.
I transferred the cooked fish to a warm plate, lined with a piece of kitchen towel to catch any excess oil. Then I deglazed the pan with the mandarin juice. It will bubble up and you need to just stir round for a few seconds. Then add the mandarin pieces, capers, pine nuts, a pinch of chilli flakes and finally the parsley. Add a little salt and pepper and check seasoning.
Now transfer the fish to a warm serving plate and spoon the orange sauce over it a little and to the side. I don’t like to smother the fish with sauce when it has crisp skin on it.
The final preparation was very quick and of course it needs to be eaten straight away. It was a fabulous supper. The orange sauce was delicious: a gorgeous fresh, fruity sweetness with the fish. And of course the simple new potatoes and lovely green salad were perfect accompaniments. A journey that began with a brilliant salad led to a fantastic meal.