I’m funny when it comes to fish. I don’t tend to cook very much during winter months, and when I do, it is often a far-eastern style braise, a fish pie or a spicy Creole stew. But when the sun comes out to play it’s like a switch has been flipped.
The strutting little tyrant in my head orders my appetite to about turn. Don’t focus on those oxtail stews, lamb tagines or slow cooked pork bellies! It’s time to turn back to fish. My appetite is almost as good a predictor of the seasons as the calendar.
I like my fish to have a bit of zing, a bit of excitement. And this dish has plenty of both. It’s easy to boot. Unless you’re really ham-fisted or forgetful, you won’t over cook it, and it’ll taste fab. It’s not one of those fishy dishes where seconds in the oven make all the difference.
I use one of my favourite easy to find white fish, line caught wild sea bass, but you could do with mackerel, snapper, mullet, whatever you have to hand (or hook). But please please please make sure it’s sustainably caught.
The excitement is provided by the fragrantly rich saffron and the viscous sweetness of the honey. With some lemon to cut it, and the fish juices to give it a hint of the sea. It’s heavenly, a dish fit for princes.
The fish itself comes out all smooth and flaky, moistened by the onions and because it’s cooked on the bone. Not the most attractive to look at but very very tasty.
It goes well with all manner of vegetables, but I like something fresh and herby to balance the sweet onion and gentle fish.
Sea bass on a honey and saffron onion marmalade
Serves 2-4 depending on what else you have with it
I go this recipe originally from Claudia Rodin’s Arabesque and it’s now one of my favourites. It’s both easy and very adaptable.
I’ve done it with both bass and mackerel and enjoyed both. The principle of soft sweet onions and fish can work well with all sorts of different combos. If you do anything different (orange instead of lemon and other fish) do let me know.
I served it with ribbons of blanched courgettes tossed in parmesan, mint, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil and stir fried spring greens with garlic, mustard and cumin seeds. Perfect, summery, healthy and above all, very tasty indeed.
1 sea bass, cleaned – approx 1-15kg
1 (approx) tblsp runny honey
1 pinch saffron threads
Extra virgin olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic
A handfull of flat leaf parsley
Sea salt and black pepper
Heat the oven up to 190oC.
Put a wide-based pan with a lid on the lowest heat possible. Peel and finely slice the onions. There will be large pile, this is good. Add a couple of glugs of oil to the pan and drop in the onion. Stir well and put the lid on.
Keep on the heat until the onions are soft and sweet, but not burned. This will take a good 30 minutes or so. Give then a good stir every 10 minutes or so, being careful to replace the lid.
Rub the sides and interior of the sea bass with some olive oil and a small amount of sea salt. Crush the cloves of garlic and roughly chop the parsley and stuff it all inside the bass. Squeeze a little lemon juice into and over the fish. Set aside.
Take the lid off the onions, add the honey and saffron and squeeze the rest of the lemon juice in. Leaving the lid off, stir gently and cook for another 10 minutes until most of the liquid has gone. Add a good grinding of black pepper to temper the rich saffrony sweetness.
Spoon the mush into a baking tin and place the fish on top. Put it into the oven and heat up for 25 minutes which should leave the fish moist but cooked through.