Tonight I fired up our little BBQ to cook some fresh fish. Of course fresh fish is the only kind worth dealing with. You either have to catch it yourself or be sure someone else has caught it very recently. Same day is the best, but that's not always possible.
That said, there's nothing that wrong with frozen fish. In fact flash-freezing on the boat immediately after a catch is one way to ensure it stays decent until it reaches your table. Many fishmongers thaw out their fish for display, so if you buy it from them it's less fresh than buying it still frozen -- sometimes nowhere near fresh at all.
I am lucky that we have a few Chinese grocers who sell fish. At one I can get a sea bass whole for 3.50 Euro. By whole I mean just that -- guts and scales still in place. But as soon as it's purchased they clean it up ready for cooking. All the benefits of fresh fish with none of the muss! Because as soon as you clean a fish it starts losing flavour.
While I'm on the topic, you should never remove the head of a fish before cooking. Leave the entire thing intact. First, it adds to the flavour. And secondly it is considered disrespectful to the animal to do otherwise... at least in Thailand this is the case.
Cooking fish on the BBQ is so easy, using one of four methods. You can use one of those fish holder metal grill things with any but the softest species. Cook about six minutes, flip and do the same again -- done! (Use your discretion with timings depending on the vagaries of your BBQ.)
In the plank method, favoured on the west coast of North America, you begin by soaking a solid piece of flavoursome wood in water overnight (or at least for a couple of hours). This is so that it won't burn. Place the fish on this slab and put that entire assembly on the BBQ. The aroma of the wood permeates the meat.
The third method is suitable for shark, tuna and other very meaty fish -- skewers! As always with shish-kebab, marinating ahead of time makes all the difference; these fish can easily dry out.
The final method is the one I used tonight: wrapping in tin foil. This essentially steams the fish in its own juices. Steaming is a typically Chinese way of cooking whole fish so I invented a recipe off the top of my head that was a riff on Chinese and Thai cuisine. I mixed the following ingredients together for the dressing/sauce:
* thin slices of ginger (lots)
* thin garlic slices (a moderate amount)
* a couple tablespoons of dark soy sauce
* chilli flakes
* vegetable oil
* Szechuan peppercorns
* dash of sugar
* fistful of cilantro leaves
Laying the bass on a piece of tin foil I poured the sauce mixture on top, laying in long thin slices of scallion. Then I finished wrapping it into a pouch. This was placed on a medium-hot BBQ -- because I couldn't get the coals blazing in the on-again off-again rain.
When done I served this with plain white rice and some green and yellow peppers I had grilled. Perhaps I should have done some other veggies but instead I cooked a second fish!
This one had the same sliced scallion and cilantro, with lemon juice, salt and pepper. With cooking the onions became sweet and accentuated the flavour of the bass itself, but none of the ingredients overwhelmed the delicious fish.
This fed only two of us because we were both starving. Yes, we had a fish each! If I was cooking other courses, then half a fish per person might do it.
Let me tell you there are few dishes more wonderful! The spicy recipe is lip-smacking good and the other version is a subtle delight.