Some time ago I was thinking about the number of cookbooks that food fans and keen cooks often accumulate. I’m sure I’m not alone in sticking to one or two favourites from each book and I often cook them from memory, tweaking them along the way to suit personal preferences and the ingredients to hand. Other everyday and special occasion cookery comes from my own invention, the internet, newspapers and magazines, plus Mum’s good old shepherd’s pie, more or less as she made it!
This lead me to conceive the idea of setting myself an exercise: to cook a new recipe from each of my existing books, and blog about it. A caveat: I invariably tweak a recipe, as mentioned above. And if nothing appeals from a book it’s probably time we parted company!
For my first post I cooked Rick Stein’s Baked sea bass with roasted red peppers, tomatoes, anchovies and potatoes, on page 148 of his Seafood book from the 2001 BBC TV series. I chose this for a variety of reasons:
- I had a beautiful sea bass from Catchbox, a new scheme being trialled here in Chichester and in Brighton (more details below).
- Rick Stein is one of my food heroes, and appropriately he coined or at least popularised that term in another BBC TV series, during the filming of which I spotted him at the West Dean Chilli Fiesta. Or rather I spotted his dog Chalky and then RS himself at the other end of the lead – RIP Chalky, a great character! I’ve also been lucky enough to eat at RS’s St. Petroc’s Bistro in Padstow. I love his easy presentational style and the way he can deliver what seems like a 5-minute rant about food issues to screen, but in a nice way. And I love fish and his style of food!
- I neaded a reasonably straightforward recipe as I was getting over a bad chest infection and was tiring easily!
The recipe involved parboiling sliced potatoes and then placing them down the centre of a roasting tin to form a bed for the fish. Plum tomatoes were cut up and placed over the spuds, but reader, I did not peel them for I was unwell, and anyway, life’s too short! And I could have sworn I had some anchovies but apparently not, so I used capers instead for the necessary salty bite to the flavour. Then I added red peppers from a jar – I said I was ill! In my defence, all my shortcuts remained in the spirit of the recipe. I then added previously soaked saffron, home-made chicken stock, home-grown garlic and oregano, salt and pepper and a fair glug of olive oil. It went into the oven to start cooking and I set about the seabass to gut, descale, and attempt that pretty criss-cross pattern along the side of the fish. Things didn’t turn out so pretty as the photo shows!
Finally the fish was placed over the potatoes, seasoned and applied with more oil, and returned to the oven, with timings adjusted using the time-honoured mental arithmetic and finger-in-the-air method because Rick’s fish was far bigger than mine! It was clearly cooked in that time but failed to brown much even after being flashed under the grill.
Never mind, it tasted GOOD! The fish was delicious and the other ingreadients melted together beautifully. I also roasted some cauliflower to make extra use of the oven, which made a good accompaniment.
Footnote about Catchbox: I’m a big fan of local food and sustainability and have been following the development of Catchbox for some time. We all know about local vegetable box schemes; well this is the same concept but with fish. I was pleased when Jack from Catchbox visited the local Transition Chichester group, to which I belong, then held a launch party (with fish nibbles!) a few weeks later, and I was delighted to sign up for a regular box myself. The Chichester fish is caught by “Pete the Fish” who fishes from a day boat and also supplies my social media client Stansted Park Farm Shop. He had a slow start to the year because of adverse weather conditions, but the fish is coming in thick and fast now, with the bass and scallops two weeks ago, and red mullet and mackerel this week. This is a trial scheme but I hope and expect it to continue!