Off to Greece in a few days’ time and apart from the beaches, Ouzo and general conviviality, food is high on the agenda. After a hectic few weeks at work getting the students ready for their final exams, I can’t wait to experience Greece for the first time. My linguaphone CD has armed me with such essentials as “how much”, “I would like” and “Good day i would like some oil for my squeaking shock absorbers” and I’m good to go. After several years in Oz, where I made many dear friends who were first-, second- and third-generation Greek, this feels like a form of homecoming. I hope I shan’t be disappointed; I’m pretty sure I won’t be. I’m thinking: fresh, fresh and fresh….barbecued just-caught fish, fruit galore. Living in Melbourne gave me a fine appreciation of Greek food, and should you ever find yourself there, you must find the deli at South Melbourne Market run by the Gelagotis family – I think it’s called Steve’s Deli. That said – I still make my spanakopita with a bit of fresh chilli and I reckon it’s better for it!
I’ve always been a stickler for authenticity in cooking; if you put mushrooms in a ratatouille, it ain’t a ratatouille. Similarly, superfluous adjectives on menus get my goat – for instance “garlic aioli” – as opposed to that other version made with marmalade.
But then again, dishes can morph into new dishes; my Kiwi pal Erinna makes a wonderful creme caramel with Baileys. Anyway – one sometimes sees that classic of the Marseille quayside, bouillabaisse, on menus with local fish. If you’re not familiar with it, the dish is essentially a seafood soup, but made with whole pieces of fish and shellfish. Strictly, bouillabaisse is made with a selection of the following: rascasse (scorpion fish), gurnard, conger eel, monkfish, grondin, hake, dorade (john dory) and maybe spider crabs.
Availability of fish can make it difficult to create outside of Provence. The French recognise this; I was in a lovely little restaurant in Royan, near La Rochelle, where they billed it as “bouillabaisse atlantique”, which seems fair enough.
So, what should go into a “bouillabaisse britannique”? Remember, the fish are poached in the stock, so they can’t be too delicate in taste or texture. Firm-fleshed species such as monkfish are ideal, but using, say, dover sole is daft – it’ll fall apart, be swamped by the other flavours, and cost you a packet.
Here’s my suggestion: three from monkfish, hake, gurnard, mussels, pollack, whiting fillets. Maybe conger eel, but as it’s not overly popular it’s difficult to source really decent fresh stuff, and eels eat such a lot of old crud they can be a bit on the nose if not perfectly fresh.
Gurnard is cheap but highly rated by chefs such as Rick Stein. Also known as the sea robin, it looks about as much like a robin as a spiny, stripy fish can, and (if you can find it) it’s a steal because it’s not as trendy as other species.
… put that piano in batter! This is my first foray into the blogging world, so don’t expect anything too cohesive just yet! But I aim to make this a very foodie-centric blog, featuring my own recipes for anyone to try, links to sites I enjoy, etc. Bear with me!