12 November, 2008

make do and fend

I often have the best of intentions.

As in, to pick up a recipe, follow the directions, behave myself in the kitchen.

And then real life takes over. Such was my experience today. I found myself inspired by my friend Edward's most recent blog post to try a recipe by his beloved Australian transplant chef Skye (seriously) Gyngell. She is serious, by the way, very much so, in fact in a way that normally irritates me a tiny bit, so perfect is she. I confess that as a non-chef but pretty devoted home cook, I am attracted to very tolerant, relaxed cooks and really read serious chefs only for fun. But because I respect Edward I decided to give it a try. And, hand over heart, I really did. Try.

It was so simple! Grilled sea bass with a sauce called salmoriglio, which for some reason all day long I could not spell properly for more than ninety seconds at a time. Normally I am quite a natural speller, but this one stymied me. At any rate, recipe in hand, there I was at my supermarket looking for the simplest of things: fresh oregano. Or even marjoram, the recipe assured me. Well. No go.

I contemplated a wild run to Waitrose in Westfield and then checked myself: no time. So I turned off my recipe button and turned on the common sense one, and it was but the work of a moment to think, salsa verde. As in, quite simply, green sauce: skip the possible capers, no vinegar, but GREEN SAUCE. There was a pathetic bush of basil. No thank you. What there WAS, in luscious green profusion, were flat-leaf parsley and coriander. That would work for me, especially with sea bass. So off I went.

And it was marvellous. The older I get and the more evenings my family troop hopefully into the kitchen at 7:30 sharp expecting something to get them through the night and the following day, the less I follow the rules. Needs must, in wartime.

Skye Gyngell's Grilled Sea Bass (yes, but a la my instructions),with Samoriglio (well...)
(serves 4)

2 sea bass, filleted and cleaned by someone other than me, into 4 fillets
1 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and pepper
4 small cloves garlic, peeled
pinch dried chilli flakes
1/2 large bunch each (perhaps 12 stems each, but only LEAVES) flat leaf parsley, coriander (cilantro in America)
220g olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon

Please don't subject your fish fillets to a grill at fridge temp. It's shocking. Let it rest for a bit on a clean plate as you do everything else. Paint it with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper and leave it.

In a mortar and pestle or frankly a food processor, mash up the garlic, chilli flakes, then the parsley and coriander. Blend in the olive oil, and leave the lemon juice until you are JUST ready to serve, then blend it in.

Under a hot oven grill, just two inches or so below the elements, grill the sea bass fillets skin side up for 5 minutes. Put on your exhaust fan so your cats and neighbors are not unduly upset by the smoke alarm in your kitchen (I speak from experience, about three hours ago). Watch the fish closely and take out just as it is browned.

Serve with the sauce drizzled over top. We found that a side salad of tomatoes and mozzarella with chilli oil and chives sat right, plus sauteed tenderstem broccoli. Lovely.


My point is, don't be discouraged if your purist intentions are thwarted. The point is to feed the people around you something mind-bendingly tasty, nutritious, a little luxurious, a little rebellious if you can't get exactly what you thought you needed. Give yourself a break and enjoy your job: providing sustenance day in and day out.


A Work in Progress said...

This whole distinction between chef and cook seems mighty pretentious to me. Is it simply because you do it at home and feed your family with it, that it is not considered at the same level? Smacks to me of sexism, classism, and some other ism I can't think of. I couldn't make your sauce though because I hate both parsley and cilantro!

Kristen In London said...

hmm, good question. I guess I think of "chef" as professional, makes money with it, considers it her/his job. Also I think it implies a certain predictable skill. Whereas I merely cook, not for money, and often not perfectly skillfully. No one can really expect my cooking to be perfect (it certainly isn't) because I'm just trying it on. Does that makes sense? I think as much as classism or sexism, it's laziness on my part, not taking on the mantle of chef, because the expectations would be too high. This is food for thought for the rest of the day, though. Thanks.