I used to hate fish. Quite fervently. Apart from tinned sardines which, in hindsight, is bizarre because sardines are bloody fishy. I don’t know when I stopped being so uptight about food and started actually tasting things and realising they were amazing, but I’m glad I did. When I was little I was a painfully fussy eater, much to my parents’ dismay. They liked to experiment with healthy dinners that, at the time, made me wish I didn’t have taste buds. If they fed it to me now, with my oh so sophisticated palate, I’d be over the moon, but my sister and I accidentally (drunkenly) admitted that we hated the food they gave us when we were little, so I think they’ve been put off cooking the childhood “favourites”.
Fish (sardines notwithstanding) was at the top of the hate list and, boy, I am glad this changed. I have to admit you probably won’t see me posting anything positive about shellfish any time soon but apart from those slimy little demons, fish is a new found love. I’m still learning how to cook with it. Fish is such a delicate, perfect simple thing. There’s a reason people eat it raw- the flavour’s all there already. I have a propensity to aggrandizing in the kitchen; I can’t seem to help myself. So in this recipe I have bastardised a very beautiful pure piece of sea bass with a brash and swaggering salsa verde and a very flamboyant salad. I’m not being self-critical here, I think contrast and clashing in cooking is exciting and sometimes essential. I’m curious about how the palate works, and how flavours compliment or obstruct one another. I like to play around.
To me, this worked: tangy, self-assured sauce sitting on top of creamy, modest fish with a crispy grilled skin, and a salad that welcomes any eater to pick and choose their faves (hello, avocado) and bring the plate to life. I dug it. The beauty of salsa verde is its editability… you think capers are devil beads, leave ‘em out; avoiding vampires, throw in more garlic. It only translates as “green sauce” so, really, make of it what you will. I’ve written it down here how I like it. It’s the Italian take because it suited the meal better, but the Mexican version that includes coriander and hot peppers makes me all giddy and weak at the knees….
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp. capers, drained
1 small handful gherkins
6 anchovy fillets
Big bunch o’ parsley, fresh basil and fresh mint
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
8 tablespoons oil (whichever oil you like but olive is probably the best)
Nice salt and pepper (none of that dusty stuff)
Method for this is pretty straightforward- chop everything up teeny tiny and mix! It’s nicer to chop by hand because if you blend it becomes too paste-like, this is meant to be chunky. Having said that, the herbs really should be as small as possible, and the garlic should definitely be crushed so it distributes evenly. This quantity will serve about eight people.
The humble salad is a very improvisational beast. Like pick & mix for bunnies. My salads almost always start with a base of spinach, because it tastes better and because Popeye was definitely on to something. It’s loaded with protein, iron, vitamins and minerals- dark, leafy green goodness that makes your insides feel smug. This is what I threw on top of said super leaves:
Very lightly steamed green beans (about 100g and make sure they’re still al dente)
2 avocados, cut into chunks
200g mixed colour cherry tomatoes
Lightly fried- 1 red onion, 1 red pepper and balsamic vinegar
Sun dried tomatoes
Now it might seem a bit silly that I made a dressing as well as the salsa verde, but I was trying to please a tough crowd with unpredictable tastes, some of whom I know aren’t crazy about “tang”. So the dressing was an alternative- kinda creamy and cheesy and gentle.
Big chunk of ricotta cheese, crumbled
Sun dried tomato oil
Salt and pepper
A dash of red wine vinegar
So if this is serving eight, I guess that means we need eight pieces of fish! I’m not going to put a gram limit on this because it depends on the individual’s lust for bass. Go to the shop, look at the fishy, if he looks about the size you’d want to eat, buy him. That’s my methodology.
Turn the grill up to the highest it will go. Line your grill pan with foil and lightly brush with butter (not oil). Lightly brush and season Mr Bass. Lay it down, skin side up and grill for 5 minutes until the sin starts browning (to your preference again). So simple!
Dollop salsa on fish, plate up, throw on some greens, and go! Crusty bread would probably be ace with this too. Mopping up juicy goodness until the button on your jeans pop.