Picassos Bream

I enjoy cooking fish. It makes me feel like I’m a competent cook if I can remove fish from the oven, with a flourish, and reveal a moist, flaky, flavoursome dish. I haven’t cooked fish all that often, short of fish fingers or prawns because I’ve always found it to be daunting. Silly really, because if you take the proper precautions – keeping the fish moist during cooking, not overcooking and using the right flavours for the type of fish – you will always have a successful meal.
As you gain experience in the kitchen, you also gain confidence and, more importantly, knowledge of the food you are cooking.
The daily chronicling of my cooking endeavours has also helped me to become more diligent in the kitchen, more adventurous and more conscientious. For someone who has been hitherto unable to keep a journal for more than a week, to keep posting at least five times a week is remarkable. I have previously flirted with all sorts of interests hoping to find something to keep me stimulated for longer than a month: aromatherapy (really!), starting a degree in English, photography, learning foreign languages. All have fallen by the wayside usually because I’m no good or I’m too impatience to learn the basics.
Cooking is different. The results are instantaneous, you get to benefit from those results and you can see improvement on a daily basis.
Don’t misunderstand me. I would loath to be chef or work in a professional kitchen. The pace is too rigid, too hectic. This is why I prefer food writing. I can please only myself, no screaming customers and just the occasional disgruntled family member who might have gotten a hair in their soup. I admire the food that chefs create, tiny, intricate works of edible art that look that they might have been fashioned by Faberge but it’s not food from the real world. It is fairy tale food that only a select few get to eat but that everyone has the accessibility to make. The reason most people choose not to cook in this way is simple – hunger! We want to eat big so we cook for ourselves! I resent paying for a restaurant meal and leaving hungry. Just because something is arranged like a Joan Miro on a plate doesn’t mean it tastes better than a big steaming simple bowl of chilli.

This is what happens when I try to be dainty and intricate---------->
The ramshackle stack that you see before you is my attempt at making a potato, turnip and carrot gratin, using one of those metal cooking rings to mould it. I only made one, my patience rapidly wearing thin. The rest of the vegetables were slung into an overproof dish with the flavoured cream poured over them. I vowed there and then never to produce something so fiddly, so small and so measly ever again. Obviously I did not learn from the Sologa debacle.

As a child I would prepare salads for me and my mum. I would spend ages arranging the food on a plate, sometimes in concentric circles with reds at the top and greens at the bottom. Other times I would produce sunburst effects. Finally, bored with this tinkering of her lettuce, my mother told me to not ‘play’ with the food anymore. If I wanted to arrange my own plateful, fine, but not hers. At the time I was quite hurt because I just wanted the food to look pretty but I learnt a valuable lesson. Salad tastes the same whether it is arranged into a sunburst or not.
Where is this preamble leading, you ask? Well, last night, still on our healthy food regime, I decided to cook the second fish in our freezer (the first being the Bass) – the curvaceous Bream.
I had planned on doing another Asian style dish, using coconut milk, wrapping the fish in some spinach leaves and scenting the whole thing with chili and lemongrass.
By the afternoon, I had revised the whole dish. As usual I wanted potatoes, and I fancied a Mediterranean theme. From here onwards the dish almost made itself.
I prepared a simple tomato sauce, flavoured with a fresh red pepper, some chilli flakes and a pinch of Mexican Oregano. The fish was laid on this gloriously red bed after being stuffed with sliced shallots and some fresh Thyme. On top of that I laid 'scales' of parboiled potatoes and baked the whole thing in the oven. Simple. After half an hour, this one pot dish is ready to serve. Conveniently, as Paul removed the fish, it filleted itself, which was very thoughtful of it, making two nice, meaty (or rather fishy) pieces for us. Each of the three elements infused the dish with their own unique flavours making a meal that we will be repeating again. Soon.
P.S. This constitutes my entry for Waiter There's Something In My...Pie entry, held this month by Jeanne over at Cook Sister. Hopefully the fact that the tail is poking out won't invalidate my entry but aesthetics won out I'm afraid.
1 Bream, gutted, descaled and sprinkled internally with a little salt.
2 Shallots, peeled and finely sliced
Spring Fresh Thyme
Olive Oil
1 Can Tomatoes
1 Red Pepper, sliced thinly
1 Onion, peeled and cut into thin rings
1 Clove Garlic, finely chopped
Pinch Oregano
Pinch Chili Flakes
Salt, Pepper
Pinch of Sugar
Splash of Vinegar
3 Red Skinned Potatoes, peeled, cut into large chunks and parboiled
A little butter
Preheat oven to 180c.
Make the sauce. Gently heat some olive oil in a frying pan or saucepan and lightly saute the onions and garlic until soft.
Add the sliced red pepper and cook until softened.
Pour over the tomatoes, chilli flakes, oregano, sugar, vinegar and season. Cook over medium high heat for 20-25 minutes or until reduced and thickened. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
Whilst the sauce is simmering, peel and parboil the potatoes. Plunge them into cold water once parboiled to avoid them discolouring.
Prepare the Fish: Season the cavity and fill with the spring of Thyme and sliced Shallots.
Once the sauce is reduced and thickened, spread out in the bottom of an oval ovenproof baking dish. Leave to cool for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, slice the potatoes, into crescents to resemble scales or just circles if you're not feeling artistic.
Lay the stuffed fish on top of the tomato sauce, season lightly and layer up the potatoes. Sprinkle a little more salt, a good grind of pepper and dot with butter.
Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes or until a knife point penetrates through the potatoes easily.
After 20 minutes, turn the oven up to 200c and remove the foil to allow the top to brown.
Leave to stand at room temperature for about 5 minutes then serve.


Shaun said...

Freya, love - Your flirting with the sea world is inspirational. I now find myself reading recipes with fish, which is surprising because I don't eat a lot of fish (or any seafood for that matter, which is ironic given that I'm from a country of islands). Sadly there isn't time for me to test any of these recipes before leaving the U.S. (on Monday!). I will endeavour to rectify my lack of blogging upon return to New Zealand.

Brilynn said...

I like to make my food look pretty when I'm presenting it to other people and sometimes get frustrated when it doesn't look the way I want. But in the end I have to remember that it tastes just as good.

sher said...

Ahh, what a great dish. I love fish and that looks like a wonderful recipe. Pretty food is all well and good--but it's the taste of it that counts. And that looks like it tastes fabulous, so it has hooked me! :):)

Lea said...

Wonderful post. And I could relate completely to your short lived obsessions. It is so true that cooking gives an instant sense of accomplishment. Not like that painting thats been sitting in the corner for 3 years... unfinished... imagine if I left that chicken in the oven forgotten!! You ALWAYS have to finish what you started... so there is always that wonderful feeling you get when youve created something.. and actually finish it!

I too have dabled and lost interest in waaaay too many things... languages, gardening (I had a blog even! I deleted it due to the guilt I was feeling over neglect! lol)

wheresmymind said...

Admit it, you really want to fry it and make chips! ;)

Kathryn said...

Yay! I love such primary coloured food. I love red food, full stop. And I love potatoes like that! It does look like art, but not silly towery art, I mean something strikingly visual that makes us want to eat it as well as look at it. Yum.

Joyce said...

One of the things we food freaks forget is that what we do is called home cooking. . . fresh whole foods,simply yet creatively prepared. That's why we don't work in a commercial kitchen. Your Picasso Bream is a dream - no apologies needed!

Vanessa said...

Freya, this is gorgeous and so is the earlier sea bass...I admire someone who has the finesse to cook fish well. I always panic and do something silly usually resulting in either over or under cooked fish. Also good job staying away from the goodies...I didn't succeed there either!

Anonymous said...

It can be a bit frustrating when you put effort into presentng something and it doesn't quite work, or it goes unappreciated. But like everyone says, it is the eating that is important in the end.

Anyway, things can still look delicious without bing too fiddly to prepare, as your picasso's bream clearly shows.

Anonymous said...

Freya, I'm with you on the patience thing with impecable stacks and tiny perfect bites.

I just don't have much patience. At least you have patience with typing. I don't even have much patience with that.

Your food looks great here.

Anonymous said...

I think the potatoes baked over the fish looks just as pretty as stacked up :) This looks really good! I wonder if I can find a local fish here to approximate bream...

Jeanne said...

Yet another great recipe for cookign fish whole - thanks! And for me, the great thing of cooking as a hoppy is that at the end of it, you eat what you've made whereas with every other hobby you are left with an ever-increasing mountain of your handiwork - be it photgraphs, pottery or macrame! Yuo can't throw it out and at the same time you can't use all of it so it becomes one of those Catch-22 situations. I am also with you with losing patience when it comes to gorgous presentation and fiddly little towers of things. Yes, I want my guests to be impressed whent he food comes to the table but I also think it's more important that they swoon over the taste than the looks. Good looking food is an unexpected bonus!

Linda said...

that stack is beautiful! nice work :)

Katie said...

This looks sooo good! I need to learn more about cooking fish - to start, I need to learn their French names....
Growing up in the middle of the U.S. we didn't eat a lot of fish...

Anonymous said...

My fish comes boneless, skinless, headless! I don't know if I could stomach doing it all from the beginning!

Alpineberry Mary said...

I admire your creativity with the potato "scales". I love preparing fish whole too. Have you ever tried roasting fish in a salt crust? It's divine.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Kristen~ I'll leave the scales and the head to the deck hands. I like mine a la fillet!

Toni said...

I had to laugh when I read your comments about "Just because something is arranged like a Joan Miro on a plate doesn’t mean it tastes better than a big steaming simple bowl of chilli. " I remember clearly when I reached the end of my rope with "Food as Art", in a local restaurant - all the little blips and dabs of this and that, and swirly things sprouting out of the top....I almost shouted "Can't I just get some FOOD???!!"

Your fish looks divine, and I suspect it tastes at least as good as it looks. And I LOVE the tail coming out of the pie!!!

And I love the name of your blog!

Anonymous said...

For me, a big reason to not be a professional chef--besides the rigor and talent, I mean--is that your job depends largely on repeating various dishes exactly dozens or hundreds of times. I thrive on making various dishes and tweaking dishes even when I do repeat them.

The fish sounds fabulous. I must admit, though, I'm more comfortable cooking fillets or steaks rather than whole fish.

Gemma said...

That looks and sounds delicious. I am a big baby when it comes to fish and am scared of heads and tails and bones! I need to dust off my Rick Stein and get cooking.