Sea food, eat it

Sea food, eat it

What is it about warm weather that makes us crave fish and seafood? Perhaps it's the association of the flavours with seaside towns, ocean terraces and beach bars; maybe it's the ease with which it can be cooked, limiting the time you need to spend toasting yourself by

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Thu 24 Jul 2008 12:00 AM

What is it about warm weather that makes us crave fish
and seafood? Perhaps it’s the association of
the flavours with seaside towns, ocean terraces and beach bars; maybe it’s the
ease with which it can be cooked, limiting the time you need to spend toasting
yourself by a hot grill. Whatever the reason, summertime brings the desire to
chow down on the finest foods that the sea can offer; and it’s easy to make the
most of this with limited expense and effort.

 

The enormous variety of fish and other sea-dwelling
edibles available in Italian supermarkets means that you’re spoilt for choice;
pick something that takes your fancy and suits the method of cooking best. For
example, if you’re going to be barbecuing fillets of fish directly on the
grill, choose something fairly robust, like tuna. Oil the fillet before you put
it on the grill. However, if you’re marinating it first, avoid acidic
ingredients like lime juice, which will partially ‘cook’ the fish and make it
difficult to turn and keep in one piece.

 

Alternatively, try a fish that
can be cooked and served whole, like mackerel or snapper. Mackerel is a
particularly good choice, as its oily flesh remains soft and juicy when it’s
been cooked over a fairly fierce heat. Season the body cavity and stuff it with
lemon, herbs and garlic before cooking.

 

If your barbecue has a hotplate, you can cook more
tender fish-catfish, cod and rehydrated baccalà, salmon fillets-directly on it.
Again, oil and season the fish and put a little oil on the plate before you
cook. If you don’t have a hotplate, put fragile fish in foil parcels where they
will steam. Because with this method the fish will take on the flavours of everything
in the parcel with them, it is a good choice for mildly aromatic white fish.

 

 The tentacled
and shelled denizens of rockpools and crevices also lend themselves perfectly
to summer eating. Try barbecuing king prawns on a skewer and serve them with a
lime and chili dressing, or poach them in coconut milk with plenty of fresh
basil, garlic, ginger, chili, and black pepper. Cut squid or cuttlefish into
pieces and grill it lightly (not too long, otherwise it will become rubbery),
then grill a couple of slices of salami or other spiced, cured sausage, and serve
both in a salad of mixed peppery or bitter leaves (rocket, chicory, watercress)
with a poached egg. These ingredients might sound like unlikely bedfellows, but
they work well together.

 

Cook a pan of linguine, and in a separate pan heat
fresh baby clams (vongole) with white wine, chili flakes, crushed garlic and
lemon juice: cook the garlic and chili first in olive oil until the garlic is
soft, then add the clams, a glass of dry white wine, the juice of a lemon and
seasoning, and cover. When the clams are cooked (after 7 minutes or so, they’ll
open wide) mix this sauce with the pasta, discarding any closed shells, and
stir in a couple of tablespoons of fresh, chopped parsley. This dish-a light,
tangy sauce dressing the shellfish yawning in their nest of supple pasta and
bright herbs-is an all-time classic.

 

Garlic, ginger, parsley, white wine and coconut milk
make interesting sauces and marinades for light fish. Coriander, strawberries,
grapefruit, mint and soy sauce individually complement the flavours of pink and
oily fish. Spicy sauces and coconut milk work wonders with shellfish and squid.
Cod and baccalà are great with bacon, ham and other types of cured pork. Or try
a mix of flavours-and let us know how you get on.

 

 

Recipe: Barbecued fish & vegetable parcels (Serves 4)

For this recipe, you will need a roll of sturdy
aluminium foil. You may also need a mandoline, vegetable slicer or other apparatus
that can help you slice the ingredients thinly, to a width of 3-4mm.

 

800g soaked baccalà

1 large red onion

1 baking potato

Half a lemon

1 large red pepper

1 aubergine

1 tbsp salt

3 tbsp olive oil

Pepper to taste

 

Slice the topped-and-tailed aubergine thinly (4-5 mm) from top to bottom
and place in a dish. Sprinkle lightly with the salt, cover and refrigerate.
After half an hour or so, drain off the liquid, rinse the aubergine slices
thoroughly and then squeeze them out well.

 

Cut the baccalà into four equal pieces. Peel and trim the onion. Scrub
the potato. Trim and de-seed the pepper.

 

On a mandoline, slice the onion and potato lengthways at a thickness of
about 3mm. Cut the pepper into squares.

 

Rip off eight pieces of foil-roughly square-and place them, two layers
thick, on the counter. Brush with oil. Now, layer your vegetables (starting
with potato at the bottom) and fish until you’ve used everything up. Keep the
fish in the middle of the stacks. Top with a slice of lemon, drizzle a couple
of drops of oil on top, season with pepper, and bring the foil up over the top,
crimping it to seal.

 

Cook on a hot barbecue for 10-15 mins (or longer, if your coals are not
too hot), until the potato nearest the top of the parcel is cooked. Serve with
salad.

 

Ingredient
of the fortnight: Mussels

 

This is the section of the column where an ingredient’s versatility is
normally praised. Not today, though. Mussels are pretty straightforward
creatures; you steam them in a pan of liquid until they open, then you eat
them, then you soak up the broth with fresh bread. You can grill them, of
course, or make sauces and soup out of them, but it’s a pain, and why would you
bother at this time of year?

 

Variety comes when you consider which liquid to serve the glossy little
bivalves in. White wine, butter, fish stock, chopped shallots and parsley make
an all-time classic, although you can cook them in tomato sauces, cream sauces,
brandy and stock, and very herby green sauces. Test a couple liquids and just
remember to make sure that, when you serve them, the shells should have opened;
any that are still closed are no good and should be discarded. When you’re
eating, use an empty shell as a piece of cutlery to pluck the creatures out;
and make sure that you do have a lot of white bread, with salted butter to
spread on it, for the broth.

 

Normally, mussels are found de-bearded and grit-free in supermarkets,
but if you pick your own, do the following: clean out the salad crisper in your
fridge, tip the live mussels into it, and cover with water with a couple of
cups of cornflour mixed into it, to get rid of the grit. Remember: before you
cook the mussels, tap any open ones firmly; if they stay open, throw them
away-they’re dead and no good to eat.

 

 

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