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Thursday
Sep232010

Zapecena Riba, hrvatski for baked fish

I had originally intended to spend this week celebrating the last of the summer sun by recreating all my favourite seafood dishes from my week in Croatia. However, there was a slight flaw in this plan: seafood, or lack thereof.  

I work 9 to 5 and the only decent fishmonger in my corner of London is open 8.30 to 5, which doesn’t leave a very large window. So I have had to make do with Sainsbury’s, which means sacrificing not only on flavour and freshness, but also on range. I didn’t really expect to find octopus or scampi on the Sainsbury’s fish counter, but I thought mussels would at least be a safe bet. Well, apparently they are out of season at the moment, although I have read other sources that suggest otherwise. I hope to make it to the fishmongers this weekend, but in the meantime, rather than substitute ingredients for the dishes I had planned, I have decided instead to find some alternative Dalmatian recipes to suit what was on offer.

Of the various recipes I found online, this one was the most reminiscent of the food I experienced on the Dalmatian coast; fresh produce cooked simply with minimal seasoning so that the flavours speak for themselves.

The ingredients were also typical; tomatoes, garlic and olive oil were ubiquitous and we saw monkfish (or ‘sea devil’) on several menus too. I also liked the addition of fennel, shallots, which fit with the Mediterranean style.  However, what is meant by a ‘yellow potato’ remains a mystery to me and I am still not sure whether ‘a pinch of red pepper’ actually refers to paprika, an assumption I made based on its use in a number of other Croatian recipes ; red peppercorns are not often specified as an ingredient alone and you cannot really add a pinch of the vegetable.

These were not the only things about the recipe that gave cause for confusion. Recipe writing 101:

  • All ingredients should be listed in the order in which they are used
  • The quantities given in the ingredients section should be equal to those in the method
  • If  the method for preparing an ingredient is given in the ingredients section, it does not need to be explained in the method, particularly if that method contradicts the original instruction

Nonetheless, I gave them the benefit of the doubt on account of the fact that the recipe may have lost something in translation. And the result, although I did have to do some guessing and make adjustments as I went along was very good; had the vegetables been fresh from the garden and the fish fresh from the sea, it would have been excellent.

Here is my version of the recipe. I have stayed true to the original ingredients and preparation, but have modified some of the quantities and rewritten the method for the sake of clarity. In keeping with the Croatian theme, I served the meal with a simple mixed salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and red onion, dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar and lots of crusty bread. Serves 3 to 4 people with side dishes or 2 to 3 without. 

Ingredients

450g monkfish (or other white, firm fleshed fish)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Pinch paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
125 ml olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
2 roma tomatoes
1 fennel bulb
350g potatoes, peeled and sliced into thin disks
1 lemon, cut into wedges

 

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C. You will also need a baking dish (approximately 27x18x6cm).

Cut the fish into medallions approximately 2-3 cm thick. Place in a mixing bowl and add the garlic, paprika, a large pinch of salt, a few grinds of pepper and a tablespoon of the olive oil. Mix so that the fish is evenly coated, cover and reserve in the fridge.

Put the shallots and thyme in a large mixing bowl. Slice the tomatoes in half, remove the seeds, slice into thin strips and add to the mix. Remove any bits of stalk from the fennel bulb, cut in half and slice into thin strips. Add the fennel to the mixing bowl along with 50mls of the olive oil. Season with more salt and pepper and toss the mixture.

Pour a further 50mls of the olive oil into the baking dish and make a single layer of potatoes on the bottom of the dish. Spread the fish evenly on top of the potatoes to ensure it cooks evenly, followed by the vegetable mix. Finally layer the rest of the potatoes across the top and drizzle with the remaining olive oil (use a little extra if you fancy). Season again with a little salt and pepper, this time as much for looks as for taste.

Bake for approximately 30-40 minutes.

Garnish each portion with a wedge of lemon.

 I imagine if this dish were made on the island of Sipan where we stayed, it would have been screaming with flavour. Given the fact that I have to make do with inferior produce, I might be heavier handed with seasoning if I made the dish again; more thyme certainly and perhaps some fresh parsley. I might also coat the fish in some white wine in the first stage for a more dynamic and rounded flavour. It would also be nice to have a crisp top, which could either be achieved by parboiling and drying out half the potatoes (those destined for the top) or adding a layer of fried garlic and herb breadcrumbs.

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Reader Comments (3)

Your recipes are so inspiring I shall try them out - I can feel a trip to Sydney food market coming on

October 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMa

Let me solve mysterious "yellow potato" and "pinch of paprika". Yellow potato refers to a potato with yellow skin, and is quite distinctive from red ones. The difference is in age - yellow potatoes are "young" and dug out early.
"Pinch of paprika" is dry ground sweet pepper. It is very common ingredient in Croatian cuisine.

Hi Tomislav, thanks for solving the yellow potato mystery. The issue with the paprika was that it said 'a pinch of red pepper' rather than paprika, which can be read several ways in English. However, as you too have pointed out, paprika is very common in Croatian cuisine, so that was the most obvious guess.

March 3, 2011 | Registered CommenterVix

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