During the long, hot summer months, I love to marinate and cure beautifully fresh fish as I believe it make’s the perfect cold appetiser for any occasion on a sunny afternoon in the Mediterranean, and, when it’s served with a chilled crisp, dry white wine or a glass of fizzy, pink champagne and maybe a spoonful of caviar…it’s very difficult to beat!
The art of curing fish is an ancient technique, born of necessity and found the world over. I guess the most famous cured fish recipe is probably the Scandinavian Gravlax. The origins can be traced all the way back to 14th-century. In those days the filleted salmon was placed in a hole in the earth, covered with birch bark and laid in a bath of water, the fish’s own blood and various spices and herbs. The result was a rather strong-smelling product that would be closer to today’s infamous stinky surströmming (fermented herring) than the gravlax that is eaten nowadays. Over time, gravlax-making techniques evolved, and the introduction of salt and dill, among other things, lead to the development of the dish we know today. The process of curing fish is so simple and requires no special equipment; it’s just as easily done at home as it is in a restaurant.
The science behind curing fish is also a simple one. You basically combine salt and sugar to gently draw out the moisture while transforming the texture to preserve the fish over a period of time depending on the thickness. Although fatty salmon works perfectly well, the possibilities are endless from halibut, monkfish, and sea bass to mackerel, sardines and scorpion fish. You can also add lots of different flavourings to liven things up a little. Citrus flavours work well so you could add lemon, orange or lime zest to the curing mixture. Spices such as fennel seeds, coriander or anise can also be crushed and added to the rub along with spirits like gin, vodka and grappa. Beetroot juice also adds a wonderful earthy sweetness and vibrant pink colour to the finished dish. Though almost any fish can be cured, make sure the fish is fresh and of the best quality. Keep the fish refrigerated at all times, even after it is cured. Home curing is a fun and delicious way to enjoy fresh fish everyday. This week’s recipes are from my cookery book - Modern Mediterranean: sun-drenched recipes from Mallorca & beyond.
Marinated Sea Bass with roasted pepper and preserved lemon salad
I absolutely adore the combination of roasted peppers and preserved lemons with capers and argan oil. There’s something very special about argan oil. It comes from the nuts of the argan tree (argania spinosa), which grows only in the south-western part of Morocco. It’s unusual in cooking, but can be drizzled over food before serving or stirred into soups, couscous and tagines, adding a unique, nutty flavour.
· 1 x 400g/14oz fillet sea bass, skinned and deboned
· 20g/3⁄4oz/4 tsp sea salt
· 20g/3⁄4oz/5 tsp granulated sugar grated zest of 1⁄2 lemon
· 4 peppercorns, crushed
· Few basil or mint leaves, to garnish olive oil, for drizzling
For the roasted pepper and preserved lemon salad
· 2 red peppers
· 2 yellow peppers
· 2 tbsp culinary argan oil
· 1 tbsp chopped Preserved Lemons
· 2 tbsp capers
· 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
· 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
· Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the sea bass in a shallow non-reactive dish. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, sugar, lemon zest and crushed peppercorns, then sprinkle the mixture over the sea bass, pressing down lightly. Cover with cling lm (plastic wrap) and marinate in the refrigerator for 3 hours.
Meanwhile, make the salad. Preheat the oven to 200°c/400°F/gas mark 6 or heat the grill to hot. Place the peppers on a baking sheet and roast in the oven or grill until the skin starts to blacken and blister, about 15–20 minutes. Transfer the peppers to a bowl and cover with cling lm (plastic wrap). When cool enough to handle, peel the skin o the peppers, remove the seeds and cut them into thick strips.
Place the peppers in a large bowl, add the remaining salad ingredients and mix to combine. Season to taste, and then chill until required.
When ready to serve, rinse the marinade from the sea bass under cold running water, dry well and cut into thin slices. Divide the salad among 4 serving plates and cover with slices of marinated sea bass. Garnish with a few basil or mint leaves, drizzle with olive oil and serve.
Esqueixada (Marinated salt cod and black olive salad)
Esqueixada is occasionally described as the ‘Catalan ceviche’. You can buy ready-to- cook salt cod that has already been soaked and de-salted – alternatively, soak it overnight before cooking. If salt cod is unavailable you could substitute with smoked cod or smoked salmon.
Preparation time: 40 minutes, plus 24 hours for soaking the salt cod
· 400g/14oz salt cod (bacalao)
· 1 small red pepper, finely diced
· 1 small green pepper, finely diced 2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, quartered and deseeded
· 15 black olives, pitted
· 1 tbsp chopped chives
· 80ml/21⁄2 oz/1/3 cup olive oil
· 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
· Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Unless you are using ready-to- cook salt cod, soak the salt cod in a large bowl of cold water for 24 hours, changing the water 2 or 3 times. Drain the salt cod in a colander and give it a final rinse under running water, then pat dry with paper towels.
Break the salt cod into small pieces and put them into a large serving bowl. Add the diced peppers, tomatoes, black olives, and chopped chives. Pour over the olive oil and vinegar and season to taste. Gently toss, and then place in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 30 minutes before serving.