After all the over indulgence of the Christmas and New Year celebrations to come, it’s a good idea to return to some simply prepared food that is also light and healthy at the same.
For me, choosing good ingredients is the key to a good meal and the success or failure of most meals begins at the marketplace. The ingredients definitely don’t have to be the most expensive in the market, just look for quality and freshness. As Hippocrates said “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food”.
When people ask me what I most like to cook and eat, my answer is always the same: fish. I never fail to be inspired by the sight and feel of fresh fish on the slab. Fish is an extremely versatile food, lending itself to a number of cooking techniques, either embracing the essence of other flavours or just as content to stand on its own merits.
Recently, I bought a beautiful wild sea bream in the market. When filleted, it took me just 4 minutes to cook and serve it with a really simple vinaigrette…now that’s real fast food! Start with the freshest fish possible. Head to the local fishmonger and ask him to fillet it for you if you find this task a little daunting. The fish should have clear eyes, firm flesh, healthy gills and absolutely no fishy smell.
With fish in hand it is time to achieve perfection…a crisp-skin with a flaky-moist interior. The first thing to remember is that fish needs to be cooked gently whether you are poaching it or grilling it. It is all about retaining the moisture in the fish. If you are pan-frying, make sure the skin is clean and dry. Heat a tiny amount of olive oil in a non-stick pan and place the fish skin side down. Leave the fish to caramelize and turn over only when you have a beautiful golden brown colour and a crisp skin. Then you can finish cooking in a medium-hot oven.
“En Papillote” is also a very easy way to cook fish. You can, if you wish wrap fish in foil and then cook it in a steamer, under the grill, on the barbeque or in the oven. The advantage is that all the essential flavours and juices are retained inside a sealed parcel. I have found that foil-wrapping is the very best way to cook either a whole or a large piece of salmon, turning something that can very often be dry and uninspiring into something very moist and juicy. I like the slow method, which gently cooks the fish to absolute perfection.
There is no doubting the nutritional qualities of fresh fish, which contain important protein, vitamins and minerals. Fish is also easy to digest, has relatively few calories and thus fulfils today’s need for light, healthy food. In his famous work, Physiologie du goût (The Physiology of Taste); Brillat-savarin wrote “In the hands of a clever cook, fish is an inexhaustible source of enjoyment and taste”. Every time I walk around the local fish markets, I know exactly what he means. A very happy and healthy 2014 to everyone!