We eat a lot of sea creatures in Spain. Yes I said “creatures” and not seafood because we eat almost everything that comes from the ocean. Maybe only Asians beat us in terms of culinary adventurers.
So this weekend when we visited the Asian food market Loon Fung, I couldn’t resist buying a lot of seafood, including these gorgeous red snappers. And I just knew I had to make them soon…
(Poaching the potatoes and onions)
My first intention was to bake them inside banana leaves. But both snappers would not fit properly in my oven dish with the banana leaf wrappings. Therefore, I had to resort to the unplanned Plan B, and baked them the regular, traditional Spanish way.
Baking fish with a bottom layer of vegetables, especially white potatoes, onions and tomatoes is very typical in most homes and restaurants in Spain. The flavours of the fish are soaked up by the vegetables and hardly any spices or herbs are necessary to make this dish taste wonderful.
I did, however, add some choi sum leaves to get some greens into the dish. You can omit these if you like of course. And I also added some Vietnamese basil, which I also had purchased at the Asian market. I just couldn’t resist to use it. But regular basil also works well to add a nice aroma.
As for poaching the potatoes and onions: the reason for this is that they take a lot longer to bake than the fish does. If you put everything in the oven at the same time, you’ll end up with raw potatoes. However, if instead of poaching you prefer to simply roast it all, place the potatoes and onions with some olive oil in the oven proof dish and bake about 30-35 minutes before adding the fish on top. Most fish are done very quickly, in about 20-25 minutes at the most, so be careful not to overcook it or it will turn out dry.
PS: For those of you who cannot deal with fish eyes starring out at you or looking at the head, simply ask your fish monger to cut the heads off or cut them off yourself at home. Fish heads can make great fish broth, so don’t throw them away and use them for this!
- 2 red snappers, about 500g/1 pound each
- some sprigs of Vietnamese basil (optional)
- lemons slices, halved
- 4-5 medium white potatoes, thinly sliced (about 2mm thick)
- 2 small red onions (or equivalent), sliced
- 8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 3-4 cloves garlic, sliced
- choi sum leaves, from about about 4 choi sum stalks (optional)
- 1 cup olive oil
- additional olive oil
- 1-2 tablespoons white wine
- coarse sea salt
- Rinse and cut off the fins of the fish. (I purchased my fish scaled and gutted.)
- Make two or three diagonal cuts on each side of the fish. Set aside.
- In a large, shallow pan, add the 1/2 cup of olive oil, the sliced potatoes and sliced onions.
- Over low heat, poach the vegetables for about 12-15 minutes, until softened.
- Every few minutes, carefully flip over with a spatula, so they cook evenly. Be careful not to mash the potatoes as they cook.
- While the potatoes and onions cook, preheat the oven to 180C (350F).
- In an oven proof dish, large enough for the vegetables and the fish, layer the choi sum leaves, the poached potatoes and onions, and the tomatoes, starting with the choi sum leaves.
- Don’t pour the potatoes and onions into the dish, but instead scoop them out with some of the olive oil, but not all of it.
- Sprinkle the garlic and some sea salt over top the layered vegetables. (I didn’t measure the salt, but used about two pinches.)
- Place the fish on top.
- Place the halved lemon slices inside the cuts in the side of the fish.
- And stuff the basil leaves/sprigs into the gut of the fish.
- Drizzle with some olive oil and the white wine.
- Sprinkle some additional coarse sea salt over top (about another two pinches).
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the fish are done.