Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Fishies

I wonder sometimes what it would like to be a fishmonger. Spending your days in the pungent world of fish, crustaceans and mollusks. Gutting. Scaling. Filleting. Removing ink sacks. Slicing and dicing. And god knows what other manner of deft knife work. It's a trip to see it all live at a Barcelona market, where fish and their cousins are available at their freshest and only the unworthy open on Mondays. (Everybody knows that there's no Sunday catch to sell so whatever shows up at the market (or on most restaurant menus) on Monday is usually already past its prime.)

I use a two pronged method to choose market seafood: price and lack of overall scariness. Lobster (bogavante) and crayfish (cigalas) generally fall off the list based on the first criterion. Eels (anguilas) and their fanged friends based on the second.

Doradas (gilthead breams) have been reflecting the light off their pale silver scales with an intensity that can only be termed provocative of late. They're a firm fleshed white fish from Atlantic waters and popular choice with Catalans...and, what, they're just 9 euros a kilo (and half that price at the Boqueria market)? A veritable bargain. A healthier, better value lunch or dinner one could not find. (Should you wish further information about this or any other fish (including species vulnerability), check out

The other day, I asked my fishmonger to clean a couple of doradas inside and out and took the little beasts of the ocean home to stuff and roast. Felipe eats the insides of their heads--it's a little Hannibal Lector, I know, but, to amuse us both, I asked that the heads be kept intact. It's not a popular choice, I'm afraid. I personally relish the drama of the intact noggin for presentation purposes (as do most Spaniards), but I have friends who would run screaming after one look at those blank fish eyes. So, follow my example at your own risk.

I turned the oven on to about 200C and made a little stuffing. I grated a carrot and about half a medium onion. I chopped a handful of parsley and another handful of hazelnuts. I mixed it all together with the juice of half a lemon (plus a little of its rind), a tablespoon and a half of olive oil, and pepper and salt to taste. Then after greasing the doradas inside and out with oil and sprinkling them with salt, I stuffed them with my carrot mixture, hollowing them out a little more than the fishmonger had in the process. I baked them in the preheated oven on olive oil greased aluminium foil for about 20 minutes and served with mashed potatoes and tomatoes sprinkled with sugar that I had roasted along with the doradas and dressed with basil, black olives, olive oil, pepper and salt.

My little dorada friends were a smashing success. And I scored a few points when I let Felipe have my dorada's head. I must say, it was no skin off my dorada.

(For a variation on the stuffing, try a handful of chopped pineapple, a handful of chopped cilantro, a handful of chopped tomato and some chopped peanuts mixed with lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper (in the quantities suggested above).)

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