25 July 2010

Cooking Fish

Well, I promised you a main course after all those starters, didn't I? Now, I absolutely adore fish but the more I cook it, the more critical I become and the harder it seems to achieve perfection. Good results by all means, but not that 'wow, it doesn't come better than this' feeling. Ideally, one should always take notes when reaching the desired goal, however, there's not always time.
I know that's a big mistake, as the next time I cook the same dish, I won't always remember the exact details. Thus the following report is as much for my own benefit as for yours. Because I cooked a beautiful salmon filet to perfection today. I am especially pleased as this dish is my very own brainchild, although I am sure it won't be as novel an approach as it feels to me, today.

I had a piece of salmon weighing some 800 g, deboned but with its skin still on. I had thought long and hard about how to cook it, and decided I would try to cook it in the oven but at a considerably lower temperature than normally, at 160 C. I rinsed the filet very quickly, just to get rid of loose scales and bones, patted it dry, placed it in an oven-proof dish and covered it lightly from both sides with olive oil.

I also prepared a moist vegetable topping. Think of this not as a crust - it won't brown or get crusty - rather as a filling placed on top instead of inside. I blitzed the white part of a few spring onions, shallots, a clove of garlic and about half a bulb of fennel. I sweated these vegetables off in a pan with a little olive oil, then added maybe a glass full of pernot and left it to bubble away furiously. When the vegetables had soaked up all the liquid, I added a similar amount of white wine, and again waited for this to be soaked up. Season this mixture to taste with salt and pepper, keeping in mind that the fish itself will not be seasoned. Spread on top of the fish, top with a few sprigs of fresh thyme. That's all. You could, of course, experiment with different herbs and vegetables, however, I do think shallots and garlic are a must.

Bake at 160 C for about 20 minutes. Timing can only be approximate, you will need to check the progress at some point by inserting a knife. My filet was still opaque but no longer raw at 20 minutes, so I figured it would be perfect in another minute or two. I served the accompanying dishes - French beans and carrots - first, and by the time I had put these on the table, the fish was done; I don't think this took longer than a few minutes.

I hope the picture does it justice. I have to admit that I was to greedy to photograph it as it was served, so what you see here is only the remainder of my first portion:

and close up:

See that colour (click on the picture to enlarge it)? The flesh had reached exactly that point, where you can detect only an ever so slight opaqueness, and the fish is beautifully cooked while still incredibly moist. I am convinced that cooking the fish with its skin and a moist topping has helped as much as the comparatively low temperature. Don't get me wrong, I love raw salmon in tartare or sushi but I feel cooked fish - unless we're talking tuna - should be cooked. And not overcooked, either. Just cooked to perfection!

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