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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Raw Fish 6: Italian (maybe) Carpaccio

This dish, because it involves "painting the plate" with thinly sliced raw fish, is supposedly named after the eponymous Italian painter.

In the Pacific, the fish can be tuna (yellowfin or bigeye) but something a little lighter, like Spanish mackerel, is sometimes preferable. It depends how you feel. In more temperate climes, salmon is the fish of choice for Carpaccio. Its distinctive colour lends itself well to "painting the plate", although its distinctive flavour is a matter of individual taste. Me, I've found I've actively disliked the taste of many salmon recently, on my rare trips to Europe, but there was an occasional fish that tasted good. I put this down to the crankiness of ageing tastebuds, but I later realised that the salmon I didn't like tended to be aquacultured, rather than wild. I don't think farmed salmon get the same opportunities to exercise as wild salmon, and I'm sure that the taste of whatever they're fed on comes through. A problem that battery eggs used to suffer from when chickens were fed a high proportion of fishmeal. Fishy eggs (now there's a marketing idea)

If you are fortunate enough to have just returned from a fishing trip, or have a friend called Trevor the Tuna Scientist, then a truer Carpaccio is obtained using a mixture of fish to "paint the plate". It's also a good conversation piece to challenge your guests to identify each different fish. Sorts out the true aficionados from the mere dabblers.


(Very) fresh fish (tuna or salmon, or a mixture of various fishes). 1 kilogramme should feed at least 5 people or provide a starter for 10

  • Salt, pepper
  • Crushed or chopped garlic
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Capers
  • Olive oil (extra virgin)
  • Green garnish (parsley and/or coriander and chopped chives)

The fish needs to be sliced very thinly, with a very sharp, thin, knife. It goes without saying, of course, that it is very fresh fish that you are using. There's nowt worse than spongy fish in a raw dish like this, and there aren't any domestic fridges that will freeze fish quickly enough to avoid the formation of those large, cell-disrupting ice crystals. Paradoxically, it actually helps to half-freeze steak if you want to slice it thinly, but it's death to the texture of fish flesh.

As you shave the fish, lay each slice on a plate, with minimal overlap, until the plate is more or less covered. If this is for a starter, don't make the plate too big. Carpaccio, despite the thinness of the fish, is deceptively filling.

Then it is just a matter of laying on some flavouring. A dash of extra virgin olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar should be sprinkled aboard. A grinding of salt and pepper and some finely chopped or crushed garlic should do it. An extra touch, although it requires a bit of effort, is to lightly fry some capers until they "bloom", but you can of course just put pickled capers on top. Some may also prefer a dash of soy sauce and the odd hint of chillie, or lime juice.

The next step is optional. You can either (preferably) serve carpaccio raw, or you can lay the plate briefly on the burner to partly cook the fish. If you favour the latter course, the plate should be removed from the heat as the fish starts to "turn". Remember that the plate will retain the heat and continue the cooking, and the character of the dish will be lost if the fish becomes too firm.

Finally, a sprinkling of green garnish. I favour finely sliced chives and green coriander (you can use the stems as well as the leaves), but parsley can be substituted for coriander.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Raw Fish 5: European Escabeche

This is not strictly raw fish. It's first lightly fried. I include it here because it is citrus-marinated.

The English obtained this method of treating fish from the Spanish, via the West Indies. It can be used for keeping fish for a length of time, but is most commonly eaten immediately. Dishes almost identical to escabeche have found their way into many European cuisines. They are all based on fish that is first fried, and then marinated in vinegar and oil, with whatever pungent or aromatic additions are most favoured locally. In this recipe the vinegar is replaced by citrus juice...

Ingredients to serve 4

  • 1kg fish fillets (mackerel will do nicely)
  • 150-200ml lemon juice
  • 150-200ml (preferably Seville, or bitter) orange juice
  • 150-200ml olive oil (for marinade, plus extra oil for frying)
  • 1 sliced mango or avocado
  • 1 small chopped pepper (green or red)
  • 1 small sliced onion (preferably one of the brightly coloured varieties)
  • 1 sliced orange
  • Angostura bitters, to taste
  • Salt, pepper

Put a bit of salt and pepper on the fish before frying fillets in olive oil until browned. Heat all the other ingredients together, except for the bitters, by boiling for five minutes. Add the Angostura and pour over the fish. Refrigerate, and garnish before serving cold.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Raw Fish 4: Philippines Kilaw

This is the Philippines version of marinated, raw, fish, adapted from Charmaine Solomon's remarkable Complete Asian Cookbook.


  • 1kg firm white fish fillets, diced into bite-sized pieces
  • lemon juice, enough to cover fish
  • 2 medium onions, very thinly sliced
  • 1 each large red and green capsicum pepper, diced
  • 6 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 3-4 firm red tomatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 large lettuce
  • 200ml coconut cream
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1tsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • ¼tsp ground turmeric
  • ½tsp ground black pepper
  • finely chopped parsley or fresh coriander leaves
Add onions and 1 teaspoon salt to lemon juice and marinate fish at least 8 hours. Do not use metal utensils.

Prepare vegetables and chill. Mix garlic, ginger, pepper and turmeric with coconut cream and chill. Drain lemon juice from fish, add coconut dressing and toss together with vegetables. Serve on a dish lined with lettuce leaves, sprinkled with coriander or parsley.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Raw Fish 3: Cambodian koy pa

This version of citrus-marinated raw fish is eaten in Cambodia and Laos. The fish sauce, or nuoc mam is an essential ingredient, but can be substituted with more commonly-imported fermented fish sauces from other South-east Asian countries.

Ingredients to serve 4-6

  • 500g white fish fillet
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 6 tender raw green beans, thinly sliced
  • 4 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 fresh red chilli, seeded and sliced
  • 1 tbs fish sauce
  • lettuce, mint and coriander leaves for serving

Remove all skin and bones from the fish and chop finely. Put it into a glass or earthenware bowl and pour lemon juice over. Mix and leave for 3 hours or overnight in the refrigerator, then combine with the other ingredients.

To serve, put some of the fish mixture in the the centre of a lettuce leaf, add a sprig of mint or a few leaves of coriander. Fold and eat.

Note: for those who own a microwave oven, microwaving a lemon for 30 seconds persuades it to yield a lot more juice.

Adapted from Charmaine Solomon's Complete Asian Cookbook.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Raw Fish 2: Ecuadorian Seviche

Many Latin-American countries, especially Mexico and Peru, have very good seviches - fish and shellfish "cooked" in lime or lemon juice. It is generally acknowledged that the seviches of Ecuador, like the following recipe, are the best...

Ingredients to serve 4

  • 1kg white fish fillets, cut into 1" pieces
  • 300ml lime or lemon juice
  • 200ml Seville (bitter) orange juice, or other orange juice
  • 200ml salad oil
  • 1 hot chilli, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • pinch salt, freshly-ground pepper

Place the fish in a bowl and pour on the lime or lemon juice. If there is not enough juice to cover the fish, add a little more. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 3-4 hours, turning the fish once or twice. At the end of the time the fish will be opaque. Drain the fish, discarding the juice. Combine the remaining ingredients (orange juice, oil, chilli, onion, garlic, salt and pepper) and toss the fish gently in the mixture.

Adapted from The World Atlas of Food: A gourmet's guide to the great regional dishes of the world, compiled by Jane Grigson and published by Mitchell Beazley in 1974.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Raw Fish 1: Fijian kokoda

"Cooking" raw fish by marinading it in lemon juice is a technique used by people in many lands (see for example the Ecuadorian recipe in the next posting). Different Pacific Islands have different styles, but they all generally involve sharp citrus juice, coconut cream, and chunks of a white-fleshed fish.

The following recipe for Fijian Kokoda is adapted from A Fiji Table - a cook book of the Fiji Islands, compiled by Gaƫtane Austin for the Holy Eucharist Church and published by Islands Business International in 1989. This is one of the best Pacific Island cook books I have seen - it contains many authentic local recipes as well as the usual expatriate favourites - and is well worth getting hold of.

Ingredients to serve 6-8

  • 500g white fish fillets (walu - Scomberomorus commerson, mahimahi - Coryphaena hippurus, or even albacore or yellowfin tuna)

  • 3 large limes (or lemons)

  • 1 cup fresh coconut cream

  • 1 large onion, minced or chopped fine

  • 1 potent chilli (or teaspoon Tabasco)

  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced

  • 1 large capsicum (green pepper), diced

  • pinch salt

Cut fish into bite-sized pieces. Marinate overnight in juice of limes and salt. Add coconut cream, chopped onion and chilli just before serving. Decorate with tomato and capsicum. Serve in a large bowl, or as individual servings on a bed of lettuce in a coconut half-shell (bilo). Note: if you refrigerate the kokoda for too long after combining the ingredients, the coconut cream will solidify.

Different parts of the Pacific have different methods of preparation: some drain off the marinade before mixing the fish into the coconut cream, others marinate for a shorter time. French Polynesian fish salad, or poisson cru, can be marinaded as little as 10 minutes.

By the way, kokoda is pronounced "ko-konda", with the accent on the second "ko". The written form of Fijian is fairly new (the language was first written down in the missionary era of the 1800s) and as a consequence the spelling of Fijian is very regular. Most Polynesian languages consist of a sequence of vowel and consonant sounds and when Fijians (or so the story goes) first started trying to read their language as transcribed by missionaries, they automatically inserted a vowel if two consonants appeared together. Thus, if kokoda had been spelled "kokonda", it might have been pronounced "kokonanda" when it was read out. Whatever the story, the language compilers were able to take advantage of the fact that the "d" sound is always preceded by the "n" sound in Fijian, to simplify the spelling. Other unusual (to English eyes) pronunciations in Fijian include "g" (pronounced "ng" as in "singer"), "q" (pronounced "n-g" as in "finger"); "b" (pronounced "mb" as in "lumber"); and most unusual of all "c" (pronounced "th" as in "rather").

That's nothing compared to Kiribati though, where "ti" is pronounced "s". The word "Kiribati" itself, when spoken aloud, sounds almost like "Gilberts" - the former colonial name for this island group.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Fish Food

I've decided to revive this blog.

I dropped it for a while because I was putting my energies into an email newsletter for Pacific Island fisheries departments instead. However, no reason why I shouldn't keep up the personal musings as well.

Just to get back into the swing of things I'll re-post some of the raw fish recipes that I put up on the SPC website a few years ago. I had to take these down when the website became heavily institutionalised, striving towards a common "look and feel" for every page.

In the early days, when we started it off, it depended on personal commitment and input, but my early pages were deemed too unprofessional to be kept on the corporate site. Some of them even contained humour - extremely unprofessional! So, even though it was garnering more hits that anything else, I took a lot of this non-corporate stuff off and put it on a personal site.

After a long lay-off I looked at this again recently and found that it wasn't getting any hits at all. Google had stopped cataloguing it (those of you with free (Yahoo) Geocities sites might want to check this out). But in searching for certain of my phrases I found that some other sites had copied my text, with the addition of one or two words. How dare they plagiarise what I had so carefully plagiarised myself from cookbooks and old papers!

Anyway, over the next few blogs I'll repost all these recipes.

The theme is RAW FISH. With the rise in popularity of sushi and sashimi, the phrase "raw fish" is no longer as worrying to western palates as once it was. But it may still be difficult to find out much about how to prepare it, particularly the many variations of citrus-marinated fish that grace tables in Pacific and Caribbean Island countries.

One final note:- when choosing fish to be presented raw, or "semi-cooked", it is usually safest to choose pelagic or midwater fish. It's not a hard and fast rule, but fish that live on the seafloor are more likely to harbour parasites than fish that spend most of their time nearer the surface.