The career of Richard Curtis has covered writing Blackadder, Mr Bean and any unfunny "rom-com" starring Hugh Grant made over what seems like the last couple of hundred pissing years. He has truly covered the gamut from the the sublime to the ridiculous followed by the bag of utter shite. In addition to this, or perhaps as a result of it, a few years ago he decided he'd not made quite enough money, so was taken on by the new owners of the Oxo brand (at that time, Campbell's) to write their adverts. One of the TV ads he was supposedly involved in the writing of had the mother of the now postmodern (and post-Lynda Bellingham "classic") Oxo family telling her soon-to-be wedded daughter to crumble a chicken Oxo cube over a chicken before putting it in the oven because "it makes it taste really chickeny". Now, forgive me if I'm wrong, but doesn't something become chickeny when it tastes of chicken? I mean, a chicken can't actually taste any more "chickeny" than it already is since it is literally already as chickeny as anything can be, given the fact that it's actually made of fucking chicken. Frigging genius! Until a few years ago I would have said it was a more ridiculous premise than upper class twit, Hugh fucking Grant, being the British PM. This was before 2010, though, when David cunting Cameron managed to scrape his way into power showing truth is in fact just as fucked up as fiction.
Anyway, there is relevance to this preamble. The point is that, although "chickeny" is a good thing if it's describing how your chicken tastes, "fishy" is not necessarily a good thing to describe the taste and smell of fish. Fishiness in fish generally means it's not fresh and that you're fishmonger is taking the piss. Actually, taking the piss is quite appropriate because fishiness in fish arises through degradation of urea, the major nitrogenous component of urine in mammals, which is taste- and odourless until it's acted upon by bacteria when fish goes off.
Of course, being an island nation with our proud maritime history, we Brits love our fish. As long as the fucker is cod or haddock, comes coated in fucking batter and is served with fucking chips. In fairness, fish and chips is a wonderful dish, especially with curry sauce, mushy peas and plenty of salt, vinegar and ketchup, but then we're back to the British obsession with fucking chips (see previous blog entry on potato wedges).
The thing is, despite being surrounded by water, it seems like we can't get decent fish easily. That, and the fact that again, a lot of people say they don't like fish ("eurrgh, it's fishy!"). But, a trip to any decent sized supermarket will reveal a fish counter with some decent offerings. Just make sure they're fresh. Not wanting to sound like regular blog guest star, Rick fucking Stein, but they should have clear eyes and smell of the sea, not of "fish".
This way of cooking fish is easy and tastes great. It keeps the subtle flavour and ensures the fish stays moist. It's based on south east Asian recipes from places like Indonesia, Malaysia and Hunan in S China. The sambal goes really well with it (riding rough-shod over my previous rant about how fruit doesn't belong in savoury dishes).
For the fish
1 decent-sized, whole sea bream (about 300-400g was enough for two)
Splash of olive or other vegetable oil
1 bunch of spring onions, chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 piece of fresh ginger, about 2cm cubed in size, chopped into fine matchstick-sized pieces
Zest of 1 lime plus half of its juice
For the sambal
1/2 medium sized onion, coarsely chopped
2 cm piece of ginger, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
The other half of the juice of the lime
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp sugar
flesh of half a pineapple chopped into smallish chunks
1 spring onion, coarsely chopped
Makes enough for two people. Serve it with rice, especially my recipe for pineapple rice which is the next entry of this blog, which it goes with especially well.
For the fish
Pre-heat the oven to 180. Take a piece of foil about three times the length of the fish (enough to put the fish on and fold over to make a cavity with plenty of space for the flavours to mingle). Smear the area you're going to put the fish on with oil. Dry the fish with kitchen roll, inside and out, and place it on the oiled part. Make three deep cuts into the body of the fish. Mix the other ingredients for the fish in a bowl and scatter them over the top and into the cavity.
Ready to go in the oven
For the sambal
Put the onion, ginger and garlic into a mortar and pound it to a fine paste with the pestle. Heat the oil in a pan and add the paste. Fry it until it's cooked and add the chilli, lime juice, sugar and fish sauce. Once it's bubbling, add the pineapple and the spring onion and allow it to warm through.
Serve the fish whole so people can get freaked out by their dinner looking at them.
A sambal is the Indonesian equivalent of a salsa.
The fish ought to come prepared (ie be gutted and cleaned). If it isn't, you could do it yourself, but that is a bit of a pain in the arse. so ask the person behind the counter what the fuck they think they are doing for a living and get them to do it for you. Following that, feel free to walk away from the fish counter mumbling how you can't get the fucking staff these days and how they will be bally well horsewhipped when you become prime minister
I did this with sea bream, which is a fantastic fish, but sea bass would also work as would snapper or tilapia. One of the best things about a whole fish is the fun in dissecting it to get every last morsel of flesh, including around the head where some of the sweetest meat actually is. It also really grosses out some people. Fish head curry is actually a well known (and fucking delicious) dish in Singapore.