Fish in aromatic spices
The spices here are mellow to give an overall flavour to the dish and be very much in the background. If you’re thinking of this as a curry-type thing, it’s not, I wanted the flavour of the fish especially blander fish to be allowed through. I first made this a few months ago when a friend was visiting for the weekend but I wasn’t sure what time she was arriving. I wanted a one-pot dish which I could prepare ahead that upon her arrival all I needed to do was to put the rice on and add the fish to the pot. Simples.
Freshly Ground Black Peppercorns
I would like to stress the importance of using black peppercorns freshly crushed here, and preferably not to use a pepper mill and most definitely not to use ready ground pepper. I know I sound terribly harsh with instruction on this but I do have some logic behind it. I gave up on pepper mills a while back, I’ve tried all shapes, sizes, manual, electric but eventually they clog up. I have a pepper mill for the table for guests but otherwise for cooking I have the pestle and mortar near the stove.
What I dislike about the pepper mill apart from the eventual lack of good mechanics with them is how there are always half crushed peppercorns around the grinding part of the mill. These half crushed peppercorns sit there broken and expose to oxygen losing their volatile aromas and diminishing in their essential oils until the next time you pick up the mill, essentially I’m always grinding some ‘old’ peppercorns into the pot. Freshly ground black peppercorns give more to a dish than peppery spice, they give a fullness to the dish which may be hard to pinpoint but it’s there, there’s a roundness to the flavour.
If you have McGee’s book he has reference to the aromatic components in black peppercorn and you can also read useful details on the link I have on my front page to Gernot Katzers Spice Site. Black pepper is more aromatic than white pepper because it still has its outer layer intact, on crushing it you’re exposing the aromatic components.
The other two aromatics I use are green cardamons and a pinch of saffron.
I’ve known for a long time that adding saffron straight to the pot without soaking it first is to miss out on its full potential, it will lack in flavour.
In the photo below I did just that to prove the point with this dish one time I was making it. I could have saved my saffron money for all the impact it had. The pinch I have here is small but when left to pre-soak releases it’s aroma to blend nicely with the cardamon and pepper. If like me you have a problem with too much saffron giving a metallic taste don’t worry as this amount is very small.
Soak saffron strands in hot water.
Soften the onion in oil adding the sprig of thyme. Once the onion is soft add the pepper and cardamon stir it for 30 seconds. You can add the saffron now or later.
Add the chosen vegetables, stir to cover them with the oil and put lid on. On low heat let the vegetables sweat and soften for 5-10mins.
Add the tomato paste and stir it for a minute, add small amount of water and salt.
The two photos below was of another time I made this, changing the vegetables and swapping the tomato puree for some tin tomatoes.
The easiest fish to use for a dish like this is monkfish because it stays intact once cooked. I will show further down how to cook more delicate fish in this recipe.
If using monkfish make certain the film-like skin on the fillet is removed otherwise it will tighten on cooking making the flesh curl up tight.
In one version of this dish I added fresh mussels to the fish. Cook them separately ahead of time and use the mussel liquid instead of the water in which case you need to cut down on the salt. To make eating easier remove nearly all of the shells apart from a few for decoration, and don’t forget you’re merely heating them through it takes a matter of seconds.
I’ve used quite a few different types of white fish in this, sometimes frozen fillets. Whatever you use the principal is the same, white fish flakes once cooked, some quicker than others, and for this reason you can not stir the fish nor the dish once it has been submerged in the liquid. Tare care not to over cook it, it takes a couple of minutes or less at simmering stage for the fish to cook.
Fish in aromatic spices
- 1 onion, chopped finely
- 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 large sprig of fresh thyme
- 10-12 green cardamon pods, seeds removed and crushed into powder
- 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed into powder (read note at top of post).
- pinch of saffron, roughly 8-12 stigmas, soaked in little hot water
- 1 leek, 2 carrots, 1 fennel chopped finely. Swap for whatever vegetables you have, bell pepper and courgettes are always good
- 1 tablespoon tomato puree (or half can of tin tomatoes)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (if needed add more later)
- 1-2 tablespoon fresh coriander or fresh parsley or mix of both
- 500-700g fish, filleted
Soften the onion in the oil with the sprig of thyme. When the onion is soften and slightly golden in colour add the ground peppercorns, cardamon and stir for 30 seconds. Add the chopped vegetables stir them to coat in the oil and cover the pan with lid tightly, let the vegetables sweat and soften for 5-10mins. Add the tomato puree and stir it in for 1 minute. Add saffron and a cup/mug (250ml) of water, salt, and let it boil slowly for a minute or two.
At this point the dish should be ready for the fish. Can be prepared ahead to this stage and re-heated when ready to add fish. Serve with something starchy like mash potato or rice or couscous.
Notes on the sauce: The vegetables should be done to your liking, if you like them on the crunchier side then sweat them for the briefer time and adjust time once water is added. The liquid should taste on the ‘just slightly’ side of salty, that’s because it needs to season the fish, by the time the fish is cooked it should be perfectly seasoned. You may need to add a touch more water it depends on the size of pan and amount of fish using. Try not to add too much water, the more you add the more you’re diluting spices and salt.
When you’re ready to cook the fish: if it’s monkfish add the pieces, stir them to cover with sauce, and depending on the size of the pieces you’ve cut they should cook between 30 seconds and a minute, they’ll change from translucent to solid white colour.
If using white fish fillets like a cod, haddock or similar then cut them on the larger size pieces. Place them in the pot, cover with the sauce, nestling them deep within the vegetables and then do not stir or touch them further. Cover them and simmer for a minute possibly two. On serving use a large flat serving spoon or fish slice to lift the fish up in large pieces.