I have been wanting to incorporate more fish in my diet for quite some time. So for the past few weeks I have been having fish for dinner on quite a regular basis. I have forgotten how much I love fish. I was never a very fussy eater, even as a child, or so my family tells me. I did not have a taste for vegetables and goodness knows how my mum managed to give me those, but I do think that on the whole I was good. I remember my grandma cooking lunch for us one day. On the menu: lampuki. (Maltese people are crazy about fish and I am one of them!) So my nan gave me a lampuka, gently fried in some oil and butter. I ate it with my hands to make sure I didn’t swallow any bones. (Xewk in Maltese – nice word! Though that happens to me every time…ugh.) The fish tasted of the sea. She was so impressed (my nan that is, not the fish) that she turned to my mum and said: “look at the skill!” I felt so proud. Sounds silly I know, but it’s the honest truth. I must have been around six years old at the time. Now I’m in my thirties and that memory has stuck with me. Food is almost always associated with memories, whatever our age. Lately I heard that many people in Malta have been having trouble finding lampuki this summer. Which brings me to ask are we just selling quality food to restaurants and leaving households without decent fresh local fare? (Also gone are the days when we could get those lovely, juicy, crinkly, beautiful tomatoes which we simply ate with good crusty Maltese sourdough bread and plenty of olive oil, salt and pepper. Such a shame.)
The taste of the Mediterranean is easily replicated at home, not to worry. You need the freshest fish you can get hold of: I used rainbow trout and last week I bought sea bass. Also the lovely James Tanner recommends sea bream because it’s in season at this time of year. I asked him how to cook the trout. In a tweet he suggested pan frying it and finish with capers, lemon, parsley and butter. Then I had a little setback – I had some capers preserved in salt from Malta but as in some things in life realised at the last minute that I had finished them. So instead I placed the fish on some roughly chopped onions in kitchen foil and cooked everything al cartoccio. To shop for fresh fish, look for nice clear eyes. The recipe (for 2) goes something like this:
- 2 sea bass, trout or any fish you might like (gutted and cleaned by your lovely fishmonger)
- 1 big onion, roughly chopped
- 4 lemon slices
- salt and pepper
- 4 tablespoons white vermouth (not dry, or white wine)
- 2 tablespoons butter (one on each fish; not margarine please)
- 2 tablespoons cream (optional, but makes for a better sauce)
- a scattering of olive oil on each fish
- This is easy. Preheat the oven to 175ºC/350ºF/Gas mark 4. Get two big pieces of kitchen foil cut into two big squares and place them on a large baking dish.
- In each of piece of foil put: half the chopped onion, 2 lemon slices, salt and pepper, 2 tablespoons on vermouth or wine, 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon cream (you can leave this out) and some olive oil. You could also scatter some herbs. I love mine with fresh parsley, but other herbs such as tarragon, marjoram or dill are all good.
- Different fish require different cooking times. For the first time in years I have decided to switch off the fan in my convection oven. The sea bass took around 25 minutes to cook and the rainbow trout took 20 minutes; it is smaller in size.
I was a very happy lady when it was ready, and just in case you’re asking – yes, I did eat this with my hands! Enjoy!