Friday, March 30, 2012
Vijay: "I miss your cooking."
Me: ... ... "Oh..."
Me: ... ... ... "What do you want to eat?"
Vijay: "Nothing sweet, no baking la..."
Me: ... ... ... ...
... and that's how I ended up spending almost 5 minutes turning two kitchen drawers upside down looking for a zester. Because when the man starts telling you he missed your cooking, he's sending a clear cut message. That means you haven't been cooking for quite some time and shown him enough love through the stomach. Obviously, some half-arsed effort would not do. So it had to be a great recipe, preferably one that would make him silent throughout the meal, busy making obscene expressions of pleasure rather than talking.
So the lemon peel had better look beautifully curled and not just absent-mindedly scraped off with my questionable knife skills. Despite my running the kitchen with near military precision and discipline of a respectable line cook, my organization of stuff and utensils is crap. Nothing like this woman. I have two drawers filled with all kitchen utensils, one for cooking, the other for baking, well, sort of. I thought hard and long before buying that zester. I knew I'd have trouble looking for it when needed. Once, I tried to look for a cake slicer in a hurry and couldn't locate one under my mountains of stainless steel and anodized aluminum. And I have two cake slicers, exactly the same ones, because I forgot I already have one while going though another shopping spree at Tang's I-must-have-all-of-those-things kitchen department.
I first learned about Aegean food from a Turk colleague. Shared by the Greek and Turks, Aegean cuisine is quite different from Turkish food elsewhere in the country. The climate and soil of the Aegean islands and coastal lands surrounding the Aegean Sea render them suitable for growing a wide range of vegetables. That, and the abundance of olive trees that feeds its olive-oil production have shaped Aegean food to be minimalistic and quite healthy. This fish stew, first made by Sherie is the quintessential heart and soul of Aegean food - its main players being olive oil and fish. We couldn't stop going on about how great it was, all the while trying not to swallow any fish bones. I flipped through Pei Lin's copy of Turquoise and knew that this would be the one Turkish food book I need to own.
While I'll not be fortunate enough to dine at Greg Malouf's Momo before it closes tomorrow while he up and run to London to replace Skye Gyngell, at the very least I have this dish. Unassuming, beautifully simple, ridiculously easy to prepare and yet, fed us heartily over two meals with one and a half loaf of warm, crusty baguette. As for the zester, I've upgraded it to the top drawer along with the chopsticks and cutlery where there's less mess. Chances are though, the next time I need this I'd probably forget about the move and end up buying a new one.
Greg Malouf's Aegean Fish Doctor's Stew
Original recipe from Greg and Lucy Malouf's Turquoise: A Chef's Travels in Turkey, first seen at Maameemoomoo's Fabulous Aegean Turkish Theme Dinner
Note: The addition of goose fat is entirely optional, I have a jar lying around close to its use-by date so I put it into every roasted/grilled protein that goes into the oven. Dried mint still eludes me so I used some fresh dill. I believe some shaved fennel would be great too, though I'm not sure these substitutes are entirely Aegean.
- 2 large sea bass, cleaned, each about 600-800 grams whole weight
- salt and pepper
- 50 milliliters extra virgin olive oil
- 30 milliliters goose fat (optional)
- 1 large onion, very finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, very finely diced
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- 3 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- peel of 1 large lemon
- few sprigs of fresh thyme
- few sprigs of fresh dill
Preheat your oven to its very highest temperature - I set mine to 200°C, convection fan on. If you wish, prepare the fish by trimming away the fins and removing the head (I love to present fish whole, so this part was skipped). Cut each fish in half, crosswise through the bone. Season all over with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil (and goose fat, if using) gently in a heavy-based, oven-proof pan - I used a cast iron skillet. Add the onion and garlic and sweat over medium low heat very gently for a few minutes until they start to soften. Add the oregano, bay leaves, pepper and lemon peel. Continue to cook over a low heat for another 5 minutes. Lie the pieces of fish on top of the mixture, sprinkle on the sprigs of thyme and dill (if using) and transfer pan to the very hot oven.
Cook for another 8 minutes, which should be long enough to color the fish and just cook it through. Remove from the oven and take the pan to the table to serve.
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“Just like becoming an expert in wine–you learn by drinking it, the best you can afford–you learn about great food by finding the best there is, whether simply or luxurious. The you savor it, analyze it, and discuss it with your companions, and you compare it with other experiences.”
Julia Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
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