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FOOD Three simple white fish dishes

White fish in a butter, lemon and white-wine sauce.
White fish in a butter, lemon and white-wine sauce.

Fish – what’s your style?

Redmond Cabot

When does it make sense to freeze foods, and for how long? This question arose when I offered a charity event half a box of frozen hand-made gourmet lamb burgers that I had in a box in the freezer. When I told the recipient they had been in the freezer for over a year he said ‘No thanks!’ and reminded me that even in a freezer some bacteria can survive for long periods – a really good reason to practise good housekeeping and de-clutter, de-frost, and bleach-clean your freezer once a year.
From my point of view, I find that the process of freezing food often breaks down its structure. The water and moisture content freezes and expands, and then, when it defrosts, it shrinks. All this expansion and contraction breaks up the structure of the food.
Now, this is okay for some meats; it may even tenderise them, excellent prior to smoking. However, in the case of lighter meats and white fish, the food will just defrost to tasteless mush!
When cooking defrosted lighter meat or fish, you’ll find you can no longer rely on the inherent taste of the flesh for flavour. Instead, you’ll have to try and gain flavour by surrounding it with a tasty sauce.
If you have good fresh fish to hand, you need to do very little to really enjoy it. Simple recipes will bring out the flavours and not overpower the fish. With that in mind, here are three simple, fail-safe dishes that allow the fish to sing. They will work for any white fish, and each also says a little something about the cook.

Butter, lemon and white-wine sauce
This is as classic as you can get! The three angels of butter, lemon and white wine combine to give any fresh white fish a smooth ride to perfection. It is the perfect backdrop – if the fish fails to shine then you had better check your supply.
On a heavy frying pan, melt one big knob of butter for each piece of fish, place skin-down in butter, cooking for maybe four or five minutes. Pour in a quarter glass of white wine for each piece for a big sizzle and steam. Cover the pan and broil away for another four to five minutes. Lastly, squeeze fresh lemon over the fish, season + serve.
Alternatively cook in oven with tin foil over the tray, in a tin-foil envelope. Add all the ingredients at the start and cook for 15 minutes at 190 degrees.
Verdict: You know your food! You can identify and trust fresh ingredients and have the confidence to let good produce speak for itself.

Italian ‘Crazy Water’ style

This fancy Italian name comes from the way cooking water is transformed into a flavoursome sauce. You can use whole fish or big pieces.
In a heavy skillet of pan fry two big garlic cloves in six tablespoons of olive oil. Before they go brown, add your fish along with two cups of water, one glass of white wine, and 12 cherry tomatoes, chopped.
Cook at a simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, until the fish is cooked. You can add black olives or capers for flavour and effect if you like.
Verdict: You have a more spicy character and you are willing to experiment a bit. You like classics but are willing to push the boundaries.

Simply Poached
Whatever size fish you are cooking, place it in a pot and fill with water to halfway up the fish. Throw in some whole black peppercorns and a small amount of any herbs you fancy.
Bring to boil at medium-high heat. After boiling for a minute, turn the heat right down to low and barely simmer another six minutes. Serve with a simple butter-lemon dressing, a spiced-up mayonnaise or a home-made Hollandaise.
Verdict: You are either a Steady Eddy who likes to keep it simple or you are a master who has moved through all cooking styles and returned to the fundamental basics of integrity and simplicity. Either way, you know what you like.

Red Cabot is interested in food, nature and small things. He sells his food at Westport Country Markets in St Ann’s Boxing Club, James’s Street car park, Westport, every Thursday, from 8am to 1pm, and Newport Street Market on Fridays, 11am to 4pm.