This is a nice, and flexible, dish. You have only to remember that the fish needs to sit in its spicy coating for an hour or so if it’s going to be really flavourful. Should you not have one of the seasonings, it won’t be a disaster.
In the original recipe (from Meera Taneja’s The Indian Epicure), the fish is fried, but, in my experience, baking gives very tasty and also more presentable results, as the fish doesn’t stick to the pan.
You can use any firm white fillets, fresh or frozen: coley, haddock, hake, ling, pollack, sea bass, or cod, are some of the possibilities.
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 med onion
- 1.5 cm piece of fresh ginger
- 1 green chilli
- 1 tbsp fresh coriander
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 750 g fish fillets
- olive oil
- garam masala
- 1–2 lemons
The easiest way to make the coating is to whizz the following ingredients to a paste in a food processor: the coriander seeds, the cumin seeds, the roughly chopped garlic, onion, ginger, green chilli, and coriander leaves, the turmeric, and salt to taste. Add a drop of water only if necessary.
If however you are working by hand, heat the seeds to make them easier to pound, and grind them in a pestle and mortar, along with the garlic; grate the onion and ginger; and chop the chilli and coriander leaves finely. Mix all these ingredients together, adding the turmeric and salt.
Rinse and dry the fillets. Arrange them flat in a single layer in a baking dish greased with olive oil. Make two or three diagonal slashes in each fillet and spread the spice mixture all over, pushing it down into the slits. Leave in a cool place for at least an hour.
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5/190°C, and sprinkle the fillets with olive oil before placing them in the centre of the oven for 20–25 min.
When the fish is ready, it can be served directly from the baking dish, lightly peppered with garam masala, and with quarters of lemon and accompanying dishes on the side.
Fish in the Mediterranean is not plentiful, lots of minnows and small fry, respectable-sized grey mullet at some times of year, and notoriously over-fished tuna. However, you can almost always buy, and apparently without a guilty conscience, coley (lieu noir) or pollack (lieu jaune). When British fishmongers’ slabs buckled under the weight of catches, coley and pollack were somewhat despised, the former being known as cat fish. Nowadays they are still around but better appreciated: supermarkets promote them, and they are used for fish & chips in place of cod.
Both have an agreeable texture and taste and provide steaks and fillets of useful proportions, hence great versatility. Fish and potatoes have no need to prove themselves as a winning combination but this recipe for the two baked together has several virtues: it is easy, quick to prepare (though needs a bit of time in the oven), delicious while not demanding many ingredients, and can provide left-overs (they sound more elegant in French – les restes) that make for delightful fishcakes.
The main recipe is as follows:
Baked fish and (new) potatoes
- 400–500 g (new) potatoes
- 2–3 cloves of garlic
- 1–2 sprigs of rosemary
- 1 tsp fennel seeds (optional)
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 400 g fish fillets (e.g. coley or pollack or other white fish)
- ½–1 preserved lemon (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 7/220°C.
Scrape or peel the potatoes and cut them into small wedges. Spread these over an oiled ovenproof dish and lightly coat with further olive oil. Add the garlic cloves, peeled but whole, half the rosemary, the fennel seeds, if included, and salt and pepper.
Bake, uncovered, in the centre of the hot oven for 25–30 min, turning the potato over a few times. Now turn the oven down to gas mark 5/190°C and place the fish on top of the potato. Season it with the remaining rosemary, more salt and pepper, and, highly recommended if you can get it, preserved lemon, chopped small. Splash a little oil over the fish, and the potato if necessary. Cook for about 20 min, depending on the thickness of the fish. Serve from the dish. Baked tomatoes go well and can be cooked at the same time as the fish (see Olive Oil, Garlic & Parsley – the book).
For fishcakes next day:
Mash whatever is left over and, if there is not quite enough, boil and add some potatoes. Optionally, half to a whole chopped onion can be worked in as a further binder and enlivener of flavour.
Flouring your hands liberally, press two to three tablespoons’ worth of the mixture into a round flat firm evenly dusted cake, flour your hands again and repeat. Alternatively you can work them together with spatulas.
Brown the fishcakes in hot olive oil, making sure they don’t stick to the pan or you’ll lose the crispy coating that will form.
Serve straightaway, possibly with a sauce rouille and a crunchy salad, green beans with bacon, say, or vegetable, such as carrots with capers (see Olive Oil, Garlic & Parsley – the book).