It is so easy as the main cook for the family to get stuck in a rut and only cook the same few easy and familiar recipes over and over. So when Scott suggested that we do a whole fish baked recipe, I initially thought that it sounded a bit hard. But then that’s also the joy of working with a trained chef on a project like this. His suggestion pushes me to improve and gets me out of that same old, same old dinner pattern.
Yes, a whole fish recipe is going to show off Scott’s talent but this is going to really stretch my ability as a cook. Not just that, but I’m expected to pull it off and come up with a simple version for all the other normal hard-working people out there who need to eat. And want to eat good food that is fast to make.
It’s not the fish itself that scares me, but the ‘whole’ fish and the ‘baked’ part. The issue is really one of timing – when you cook a fillet of fish on the stovetop, you can see when it is ready. But when you cook a whole fish in an oven, it feels like there is an amount of guess work involved. And of course, I did some research and got a handle on the timing, but asked Scott as well and his message included a typo, which threw a spanner in the works. I was starting to feel a little apprehensive.
But then, I was given a confidence boost in the funniest way. I’m not sure I want to know what my husband does to his pants at work, but the other day he presented me with a pair that had a split in the seam. Hmm, that sentence brings to mind a split down the back caused the pants being too small for the person. Sorry to disappoint, but the split was down the outside of his thigh. Perhaps he hooked it on the side of a table while pacing about the office, talking on the phone. Who knows.
Luckily there is a drycleaner in town that does repairs and they are happily situated on our walk to school and daycare. I dropped by one morning to get the pants fixed and cleaned. The lovely lady at the drycleaners asked after all the kids and we chatted for a while. “Are you off to work today?” she said. “Yes.” And then, the confidence boost. “I wish my daughter would work. She has a boy at school and a 3 year old at home and her house is always messy. I say to her, I have a client who has four kids and works.”
I interrupted her rant; “Yeah, but my house is usually messy too.”
Because good food is made easier by using good ingredients, I took No4 to the Sydney Fish Markets on our day off work to source the core ingredient for this recipe.
We arrived there at lunch time and No4 was “so so so hungry and thirsty”, so we ate first. Just the usual fish and chips, with a small side of salt and pepper calamari. After eating, we wandered off to look at the boats, and No4 took her last few chips stuffed in big handfuls to eat as we went. Disaster struck. Her thong hit a rough patch of concrete and she stumbled down with chips flying everywhere. Instantly and from nowhere we were beset upon by seagulls. A little part of me thought “should I be that mother that takes a photo of this?” but of course, sense reigned and I picked her up and kissed her knees. Luckily a kiss fixed it and no band-aid hunt was required, and we managed to go and look at the boats and purchase our fish with no more dramas. The employees at the Markets even gutted and scaled it for us. Super.
And now for the cooking.
6.20pm – This is one of those recipes where the order and the timing matter, so that it all ends up on the table at the same time.
Whole Barramundi with vegetables
- One ‘plate sized’ whole barramundi (1kg)
- Sesame oil
- Udon Noodles
- 1 spring onion
- 1 onion
- 50c coin sized ginger, grated
- Soy sauce
- Fish sauce
- Bok Choy
- Oyster Sauce
- Soy Sauce
- XO Sauce
How to prepare
For the sauce, first grate the ginger and put into a smallish pan on a medium heat with a dash of oil. As this heats up, finely slice the onion, garlic and spring onion and add it to the pan. While that reduces down, you can add coriander roots and stems finely sliced, and a dash of fish sauce and soy sauce. Let this all cook together on a low heat for about 15 minutes until it’s all soft and mushy.
Take the fish (gutted and scaled by the Fish Markets!), and score it on both sides. This means that you get your big knife and make big slices into the fish about 5cm apart. These help the thicker parts of the fish cook through evenly.
How to cook
Cooking the fish is a bit of an art, because it depends on the thickness of the fish and the thickness of the pan you use. If you have a really heavy based pan, then it will hold its heat longer and better and you’ll need less time. If, like me, you are cooking for lots of people and the fish doesn’t fit into a frying pan, use a roasting dish, but add extra time for the thinner base.
To get the fish started, put some sesame oil in the roasting dish and heat it on an element (like you would a frying pan. When the oil is really hot, all the fish and fry each side for 2 minutes (each). Once that is done, put the whole pan/dish into the oven at 250oC. A 1kg fish that is about 5cm thick at the thickest part in a roasting dish with a thin metal base takes about 20 minutes. A smaller fish in a thicker pan might only take 5 or 10 minutes.
Once the fish is in the oven and the sauce is cooking slowly, put a pot of water on an element and boil with a pinch of salt. Once boiling add the noodles until they are soft (should be only a few minutes).
While you are waiting for the pot to boil, get a large frying pan and put in a dash of sesame oil. Add the chinese vegetables (I used Bok Choy) and cook until they are soft. Throw in about 60ml of oyster sauce and a splash of soy sauce and mix through.
7.00pm – The preparation takes a bit of time with this recipe, but it’s worth it. Once the fish is cooked through (all the meat should be bright white and flaky, but not dry), remove from the oven and put onto a serving dish. Spoon over the sauce and add a few splashes of XO sauce on
top of that. Arrange the chinese vegetables around the outside of the fish, and the whole thing is ready to eat. I served the noodles separately, but you could mix them through the chinese vegetables if you want.
7.05pm – This was a bit more fuss than I’d usually do for a week night meal, but it was really yum. The combination of the fresh fish with the Asian flavours of the sauce were divine. Worth the effort, and in retrospect, really cost effective. The fish cost $15, and the various vegetables were quite cheap at our local fruit and vegetable shop. It really is worth venturing outside your comfort zone. While eating, I started telling the rest of the family the story about going to the Fish Markets, and the three year old No4 said “We did a adventure”. When asked about her adventure, she said “We bought that fish. But the birds ate ALL my lunch.”