All my blog posts seem to be about baked and sweet items. It's not that I don't know how to cook savoury dishes, it's not that I don't like savoury dishes, I'm just better at baking and making sweet items. It's also a bit of a pain to keep stopping and starting during cooking to take photographs and I just want to dig in to my food straight after because I am just absolutely starving. When I am that hungry I don't really have the time or patience to take that 'perfect' photo, one that actually looks appealing for the blog. I'm also not into setting up my food with props and having extra washing up to do on top of the mess I make cooking and serving my food, maybe one day in the future I will, but for now I like the enjoyment of eating what I cook while it's still nice and hot and freshly made, straight from whatever container that I have decided to serve it in. I do have a backlog of photos of dishes that I've cooked, but I guess none of them have looked so appealing to me that I don't think anyone else would want to look at them either.
There was a whole heap of frozen fish in the freezer, courtesy of my trip up to Queensland with my brother and cousin to visit my relatives after the floods. We caught over 100 fish from a lake which my aunty froze and put in a styrofoam box for us to bring home (not all 100 of them though). I have no idea what species they are (Vietnamese to English translations wern't quite working for me whenever I tried to ask someone what the fish were). I just know that because they were frozen almost straight after they were caught, the flesh remained nice and firm and still tasted quite fresh. I decided that I wanted to cook something with the fish since we had so much of it. Ryan also requested no meat on Fridays during Lent so fish it was going to be for dinner.
This dish is actually my own creation, though inspired by a dish I had at a restaurant a couple of weeks before (and bits and pieces I picked up reading cookbooks/foodblogs, watching cooking shows) but adding my own twist to it. When I cook like this I don't really measure out all my ingredients and just cook by vision and taste. It's how my mum cooks and that's how I learnt to cook.
I start with the tomato salsa, I had some cherry tomatoes left in the fridge from the weekend before that needed to be used and thought they would work perfectly as a salsa. I quartered them, added some capers, chopped basil (Thai basil because that's what we had at home), minced garlic, salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar, a couple of teaspoons of olive oil and mixed it all up. Salsas (and tomatoes) seem to be a popular as an accompaniment for fish. Mum makes a dish where she pan fries a whole fish until crispy and then sautees a chopped tomato which just gets placed on top of the fish which is then dressed with a home made fish sauce dressing and then served with rice.
Next I make the pea puree. I just used frozen peas (a freezer staple item) and cooked them in some chicken stock and then blitzed it all in a blender.
Such a vibrant green! I actually end up with a much thinner puree than I had anticipated (almost like a soup it was) so I'd suggest using only a small amount of stock to blitz the peas with. I ended up using a whole 500gr bag of frozen peas and about 2/3 cup of stock. The puree was to also act as a bit of a sauce for the fish.
I wanted another element to go with the salsa and puree and decided to make some tempura kumara slices. I sliced them a little too thick, and my tempura batter didn't quite give me the consistency I wanted. They were more like battered sweet potato chips, which was fine, but not obviously not quite the 'tempura' I wanted.
Lucky for us my aunty and cousin gutted and cleaned the fish before freezing which meant less messy work for me - yay! I can't say I've ever attempted to gut and clean a fish myself, but I don't think I could bring myself to do it, I get really squirmish about things like that. I'll buy my fish readily cleaned from the fishmongers thanks. I did have trouble filleting the fish though as I've never done that before either! Mum came to the rescue though and helped me get my fillets. I get people telling me I should try out for Masterchef, if I can't even clean and fillet a fish I'd be kicked out of the competition when it comes to those kind of challenges.
I was under the impression that the seemingly fat fish I chose would give me some nice sized fillets. When mum gave me my fillets she pointed out that there was probably only enough to feed one so I quickly go and defrost another fish in the microwave. I overlooked the fact that there was a big stomach cavity and a spine going through the fish, lucky there was backup in the freezer.
Apart from grilling and pan frying salmon fillets, battering fish fillets and deep frying them I have never actually cooked with other fish before. Paying attention to cooking shows helps here ;) I season the fish with salt and pepper and rub some salt onto the skin. A pan is heated to high and I make sure that my oil is very hot before adding the fish, skin side down. The fish does look a little burnt around the edges here but it actually is not. I should have pressed down the middle of the fillets more while cooking as the middle of the skin doesn't crisp up as much as the edges do. I got a little overzealous with one of the fillets and flipped it over a couple of minutes before the skin was crispy and browned so flipped it over again to get the skin as crispy as I could.
Ryan was actually stuck at work doing the afternoon shift on Friday (not his usual work day). I spent most of the evening in the kitchen prepping and doing all the elements myself so that as soon as he came over after work, all I had to do was heat the puree, fry the fish and kumara chips and assemble the dish.
I wouldn't suggest making the puree too far in advance though as it starts to seperate a little sitting there. I probably could have strained it to refine it a bit more but it seemed fine after I blitzed it. I'm too hungry to wait for Ryan so make my own dinner and eat it without him.
Presenting a dish nicely has never really been my strong point. It's usually all about the eating. But I'm quite happy with this attempt of mine. And I absolutely love all the vibrant colours in it, and the flavours are as vibrant as the dish itself. I am one who loves her strong bold flavours, it's something I have been brought up on. Was probably a little heavy handed on the pea puree but I had heaps of it and I do love my sauce in dishes. When you think about it, it's pretty much fish and chips with a salad that I've cooked up ;) But it sure was hard sitting there looking through the lens of my camera thinking how delicious it all looked! It sure was a great reward to be able to eat it once I was done photographing it.
Ryan's verdict: It's really good. Really strong flavours, all the elements work well and complement each other. Sweetness of the tomatoes works well with the saltiness of the puree and the tartness of the capers gives it another dimension. The sweet potato could have been sliced a bit thinner and the batter could have been thinner too. But what's with the bones?
There was a small sliver of bones still stuck in one of his fillets. The semi defrosted fish was a little trickier to fillet and when I attempted to cut this piece out I saw that it would have made the fillet really small and I wanted to maximise whatever we could get out of the fish so I left it in, and forgot to warn him beforehand. Oops.
I had also bought some plump figs for dessert. The figs have been absolutely gorgeous the past few weeks and I have been totally obsessed with them, eating a couple almost every day of the (working) week. I wanted to try and cook with them this time around so decided to stuff them with some ricotta cheese, drizzle them with some honey and then grill them. I initially was thinking some Manuka honey but remembered that I had some Lavendar honey I had bought from NZ in the pantry and thought it would be a better pairing with the figs.
I was too eager to eat them (and impatient) and pulled them out of the grill a little too soon so they don't get the caramelised finish I was looking for. Ryan and I both agreed that they needed a bit more honey so I drizzle over another few spoonfuls and quickly zap them in the microwave. It was just heavenly to eat. The lavender honey complimented the figs really well, drawing out the floral tones and enhancing their sweetness. I think this is where my fig obsession ended, I saw them at the fruit shop on my lunch break this week and actually didn't buy any (unlike my other recent visits). It was a perfect way to eat the figs though and a nice sweet end to the meal.