Friday, February 18, 2011

Last night's Monkfish with a Capsicum jam

Yesterday’s Monkfish

 Don't know about you, but I  often get to the end of the day with a longer list of things to do then when I began. So the hour (or three) after I’ve shut the doors are gorgeous and quiet - no traffic noise for starters - and often the most productive of all.
If you’re lucky I’ll even let you in, which sometimes makes me lucky too – I love after hours sales. Perhaps I should just open when I’m supposed to be closed (and close when I’m supposed to be open.)  Especially since I’ve always thought that working during the day is a bit of a bore – all those marvellous, sunshiny daylight hours going to waste, all that time we could be chit chatting away, tinkering about the place, frolicking on the beach…... See it’s 9.15 and I’m only just getting going. Everyone’s watching the telly and I’ve got hours left in me.
Which is just as well because I want to write up yesterday’s supper and do my art history homework and answer my emails and even procrastinate on Facebook for a bit. 
So going back to dinner, it’s late enough for me to have to use the back door entrance into the officially shut fish shop, the tiled floor of which is being washed with buckets of hot soapy water.
I walk in gingerly, hoisting up my too long white trousers. I’m looking for Mahi Mahi because I ate it deliciously at a friend’s house last week – none left. I am not going to buy salmon, not this time anyway. The tuna is eye wateringly expensive and there’s every argument why I shouldn’t buy that either. To cut a long moment of prevarication short, I settle for New Zealand Monkfish. It looks plump and pink and fresh (though how fresh is a little debatable –  it wasn’t caught this morning,  that’s for sure, which seems a little ironic, seeing as I’m buying this not ten metres away from the Brunswick Heads Marina, but such is the weird (I’m being polite) state of our food production and food buying habits these days.
Anyway, within minutes, I’m home, “hello darling” (and a kiss and a hug – first things first after all) and I’ve got my little pinnie on and without thinking I gather ingredients for a meal. It’s completely unplanned and I hardly know where it’s going till I’m right into it.
I’ve taken out my beautiful old sauteuse pan – it does me for absolutely everything - seriously get one of these and you can get rid of a whole battery of kitchen utensils – it’s the best thing.
So here I go. 
In no particular order, I add a tablespoon of  Tamari, a tablespoon of maple syrup, a tablespoon of water, a tablespoon of  Brandy (or rather that's what I'd have used if I'd had it. I didn’t, so I used Vodka instead, at a pinch white wine would do, but not red) and a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. I throw in a fat clove of garlic or two, very finely minced, a chunk of chilli, very finely chopped. I happen to have some Kaffir lime leaves lying around that were beautifully, proudly fresh when I bought them but it’s taken me over a month to get round to using them, ergo they are shrivelled up and dried. No matter, I pound them to a powder and chuck ‘em in.
It’s looking good, it’s smelling good. I put the two pieces of fish in there and tilt the pan at an angle, so the fish is sitting in the marinade and getting all soaked up in it.
Then I go to the fridge. Oh yes, I’ve still got some of those baby peppers(capsicum) from Friday, two little red ones, two little orange ones and lots of red onions, unusually small, more the size of ping - pong balls than tennis balls. I grab one of those too, peel and slice it thin, clean up the peppers, which also means removing the white pith – I have an abhorrence for it - and cut up the bright flesh, all nice and neat.

I heat a tablespoon of olive oil, maybe a little more, in a small pan, throw in the onion and when it’s just beginning to soften, chuck in the peppers – the sunshine brightness of it all.
And then I fry it all to high heaven - literally - adjusting the heat just so, up a bit, down a bit, so it goes all soft and jammy and the red onion starts to brown and to caramelise and you can practically see the sugars coming out of the onion and the peppers and when you taste it (which you must), it’s sweet, sweet, sweet, even though you havn’t added a grain of sugar to the pan (whether your boyfriend believes you or not).
And then when it’s been going for about 10 minutes, you put your pan with the fish in it on top of a high heat, till it’s come to the boil and then turn it down a bit.
So now you’ve got the fish on and the peppers are turning to jam (you might want to fish out the little filaments of skin that are peeling off by now – I do. I’m a perfectionist like that) and you put another little pan of water on the stove, drop a fat pinch of salt into it and bring it to the boil. You quickly wash (goes without saying) a good fat handful of green beans, top and tail them and cook them till they’re tender. I won’t hear about them being al dente, or worse crunchy. Load of BS. Sorry but I really believe that. I know we’ve all been brainwashed, but honest to God, green beans are better TENDER. I don’t know whether to shout it, or to whisper it. They are better tender.
Anyway, I’m just telling you what’s in my fridge and there’s also some spinach I picked up from the little supermarket on my way home. Today must be delivery day because it’s super fresh. Praise be.
And we’re nearly there. The beans are done. Drain ‘em. Add the spinach in and spoon in a bit of sauce from the fish pan, so it’s all wilted and soft. Won’t take a minute, so switch off the heat – you’ll be plating up in a tick.
The fish is done - I’ve been turning it over carefully a couple of times, so it’s nice and brown on top, but it’s soft as soft can be inside and all those yummy things in the pan are coming together just so, into a rich, sticky, caramelised (that’s one of my favourite words in the kitchen – you’ll see) sauce in the pan. It’s helped that I’ve kept adding spoonfuls of the boiling water, both to the pan with the fish in it and to the pan with the peppers in it. I tell you what, since I thought I might end up writing this one up, I counted: 6 tablespoons of water in with the peppers, and about the same with the fish, added one at a time mind and only when the one before is all nicely evaporated and you can see everything getting richer and rounder by the second. You see when you add that water in, not only do you loosen the whole thing up and keep it moving, you create a whole load of steam and that means extra heat, which raises the temperature and makes everything come all together into this lovely, rich, unctuous concoction and you know without even tasting it, how good it’s going to be because it smells so damn wonderful. Especially after you’ve squeezed in that half a lime that’s been sitting on a saucer in the fridge since yesterday and thrown in a small handful of coriander.
Well then, now you can plate it all up. First a little pile of the greens, then a piece of fish, then half  the “jam” on each, then the sauce poured all around, then a sprig of coriander if you’ve got some to spare. And to wash it down, a glass of  Cape Mentelle, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, which is clean and crisp and palate cleansing.
(except that’s me being poetic, because I can’t handle more than a sip out of his glass, or I’m done for).
And I should say that it helps if you throw in a little bit of a dance, a little bit of a kiss, a little bit of a giggle. Always does.
And then we eat it and it’s so good that by the first mouthful, we’ve both burst out laughing and he says he can’t imagine how it could be any better and neither can I.
So I tell him that there’s only one word for those people who call monkfish “the poor man’s lobster” and that’s spoilt, because I’m feeling like a queen.

PS You may have noticed that there’s no carb with this meal. That’s because I’ve had chocolate for lunch, so enough’s enough.
But if I’d been a sensible soul and eaten salad instead, then I’d choose the smallest, newest potatoes I could find which isn’t an easy ask around these sub tropical parts. People will argue with me about this one, but that’s because they just don’t know. I wish I could show them some of the marble size French potatoes, yellow and waxy as a candle.
Anyway, I’d peel them and slice them to the thickness of a two dollar coin and I’d braise them with some thinly sliced garlic in a little olive oil and a stock made with boiling water and saffron, till they’d turned pale amber and gold and soft to the edge of collapse and I’d spike them with a little very finely chopped parsley or small chives, chopped to a confetti.
Or else I’d have served some warmed bread to mop up the sauce.

And now it’s past midnight, and my eyes are streaming, so goodnight.

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