SURPRISINGLY, there are still people for whom fish presents a problem, as to how to best cook it. I receive queries regularly when meeting people at demonstrations. So let me try to encourage you by saying that fish is convenience cooking.
Often fish can be cooked with its vegetable accompaniment, or if not, steam-baked and served on top of or beside its vegetables. Which fish to choose? I’d say any firm-fleshed white fish. I prefer cod, haddock, or hake. But there are others to choose from and I always suggest asking your fishmonger what he recommends.
What all firm-fleshed white fish have in common is their speed of cooking. They can be prepared ahead, but they take 5-7 minutes’ cooking time on average. I suggest you feel the filleted fish – your fingertips will discover any bones which are tricky to see.
Be careful of cooking fish at too high a temperature to avoid a rubbery texture
Lemon steam-baked white fish with crushed cauli-flower, capers and lemon
• 6 pieces of filleted firm-fleshed white fish, weighing about 6oz/170g
• 2 lemons
• Salt and black pepper
• 6 teaspoons olive oil
For the cauliflower
• 2 small or 1 large cauliflowers, trimmed of tough stalk and broken into small florets
• 4 teaspoons fat capers, drained of their white wine vinegar brine
• 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• Finely grated rind of 1 lemon and its juice
• ½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes – optional
• 1 teaspoon salt, about 10 grinds of black pepper
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
To cook the fish, lay a sheet of baking parchment on a baking tray and put the pieces of fish on top.
Wash and dry the lemons, then slice them thinly – easiest done using a sharp serrated knife. Season each piece of fish with salt and black pepper. Trickle a teaspoon of olive oil over each, then lay the lemon slices over the fish. Cover all with a second sheet of baking parchment and tuck it under the base sheet of parchment. Bake in a moderate heat, 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4 for 15 minutes, or in a hotter oven, 450F/220C/Gas Mark 7 for 5-7 minutes. The fish is cooked when you remove the top sheet of paper, lift off the lemon slices and part the thickest section of fish with 2 forks, and find that it is opaque.
Meanwhile, steam the cauliflower florets until when you stick a fork into a piece of stalk it feels just tender.
In a bowl mix together the capers with the olive oil, finely grated lemon rind and juice, chilli flakes – if you are including them – salt and pepper and finely chopped parsley.
As soon as the cauliflower is tender, tip it from the steamer onto a warmed serving plate.
With a potato masher, crush the cauliflower and then mix in the dressing thoroughly – as the cauliflower cools down a bit, so it absorbs the flavours of the dressing, the oil, lemon, capers and parsley.
Serve a piece of steam-baked fish beside or on top of a serving of crushed cauliflower – the cauli is best served warm, rather than hot straight from the steamer.
Fish with spinach, anchovies, chilli and garlic
• 6 pieces of filleted firm-fleshed white fish weighing about 6oz/170g
• 1lb/450g young spinach leaves – this sounds and looks an enormous amount raw, but it wilts right down when cooked.
• 2 fat cloves of garlic, skinned and sliced finely
• 2 anchovies, drained of their • Preserving oil
• Finely grated rind of 1 lemon and juice of ½ lemon
• No need for salt, the anchovies provide sufficient saltiness for most people, but about 10 grinds of black pepper
• ½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes
• 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Cram the young spinach leaves with the sliced garlic into a large saucepan containing about 1in/2.5cm salted boiling water.
Clamp the lid on top and cook for a count of 30. Drain, and when cool enough to handle, squeeze all liquid from the spinach.
Put the spinach and sliced garlic into a food processor and add the anchovies, grated lemon rind, black pepper, dried chilli flakes and whiz, adding the olive oil and lemon juice.
Rub a wide ovenproof dish with olive oil. Tip the spinach mixture into this and spread it evenly.
Put the pieces of filleted fish into the spinach, cover the dish with baking parchment and bake in a moderate heat, 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4 for 15-20 minutes. This is very good served with a tomato salad.
Fish baked with potatoes, cherry tomatoes and black olives
• 6 pieces of filleted white fish weighing about 6oz/170g, the fish cut into chunks about 2cm in size
• 1½ lb/675g new potatoes, scrubbed, steamed till just tender, then sliced about ½ cm thick
• 3 fat cloves of garlic, skinned and sliced finely – if you dislike garlic, just leave it out
• 18 best black olives, for me this means Kalamata olives, their flesh cut from the stones and stones discarded
• 8oz/225g cherry tomatoes, washed, dried, cut in half and the seeds squeezed out
• 4 tablespoons olive oil mixed with
• 1 level teaspoon salt and about 15 grinds of black pepper
Rub an ovenproof dish with olive oil. Put the potato slices into the dish with the finely sliced garlic, the pieces of black olive, and the seedless tomato halves.
Add the olive oil, salt and black pepper, and, with your hands, mix the oil through the other ingredients so that everything is coated with olive oil.
Then push the pieces of fish in amongst the contents of the dish. Bake in a moderate heat, 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4, for 25-30 minutes.
Serve with a mixed leaf salad.
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