Earlier this year I spent four weeks in Auckland performing at the New Zealand Comedy Festival. I’d not ventured over the equator before so I was expecting it all to be rather strange. What proved more strange though was to travel so absurdly far over parts of the world that could hardly be more different to the UK to eventually, after some 24 hours flying or waiting, to land at an airport which felt like I was on one of the Channel Islands. A bit different from the UK. But not very different.
Being there to perform my cooking-in-hotel-rooms show ‘George Egg: Anarchist Cook’ I was tasked with the job of finding a suitable fish to match the Sea Bream or Bass that I use when I do the show in the UK, so a few days after landing I visited the outstanding Auckland Fish Market down on the harbour and bought a selection of fish to try filleting and poaching to find the best match. The market had such a wonderful array of seafood, so much bigger (certainly) and more impressive than ours (though perhaps the impressiveness was just because they were new to me), but without a doubt there were some incredibly photogenic specimens. After trialling a few I settled on snapper, which really was almost identical to bream both in shape, texture, how it cooked and how it filleted, and I celebrated the find by cooking myself fried snapper fillets with a salsa verde and oven-baked chips.
The fish in the cooking show is filleted on an ironing board before being put into a little cage made of bent coat hangers (sort-of like the opposite of a shark cage, the fish being inside with us humans outside) which is then lowered into the recently boiled kettle (just for the sake of detail should you wish to recreate, the water has a pinch each of fennel seeds and peppercorns added). And it’s a travel kettle so there’s not a huge amount of room. When I do the show in the UK the bream (or bass) are small enough to be just the right size, but in Auckland I had to search for the smaller specimens since most of the snappers they were selling were, for want of a better word, whoppers. This proved to create a bit of controversy in the theatre and on a number of occasions when I got the fish out on stage it was met with a cry of ‘undersized!’ or ‘throw it back!’ and I was forced to protest that I’d bought it from the fish market and so while it was small it must have been at the bottom end of the legal limit AND that I wouldn’t have been able to get it in a travel kettle if I’d bought a bigger one. But the exchange was amusing enough to add something to the show anyway.
With reference to that first paragraph by the way – of course there ended up being a lot of differences and some amazing sights like nothing over here (I climbed a two volcanos for example) but equally a lot was very familiar too.
Snapper with Salsa Verde and Chips
1 snapper, filleted (or a bream, or a bass)
EV rapeseed oil
Waxy potatoes (cut into thick chips)
salt, pepper, paprika
For the Salsa Verde
3 or 4 cornichons
1 large spoonful of capers
2 anchovy fillets
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
EV Olive Oil
a bunch of mixed fresh soft herbs (I’d go for dill, mint, parsley, and basil, but any will be nice)
Make the chips first. Put the oven on at about 200 degrees and stick a heavy pan in with a generous slug of EV Rapeseed Oil in it. Cut up the potatoes and par boil them until slightly done. Let them steam in a colander or on a tea towel for about 10 mins. Toss them in a bit of oil and seasoning (salt, pepper and paprika) and then into the hot oil. They’ll take about 25 minutes but give them a jiggle every 10 mins or so.
Next the salsa verde. Just chop all the things that want chopping and mix with lemon juice, mustard and olive oil until you have a nice sloppy consistency.
Finally the fish. When everything else is ready cook the fish. Not before. It won’t take long and you don’t want it hanging around getting cold. Get a good frying pan (by which I mean something heavy and non-stick either through natural seasoning or teflon) and get it hot (though not stupidly hot). Don’t oil the pan, but oil the fish, and not too generously – just pour a bit of oil into your palm and then give the fillet a bit of a massage – and then gently place it skin-side down in the pan. It’ll curl up a bit, but be patient and it’ll fall back. Don’t move it! Keep an eye on the heat and make sure it doesn’t burn but watch the flesh start to go opaque from the bottom up as it cooks through. Season the exposed flesh side and when the opaqueness has just got over halfway carefully flip the fillets over. The skin should be nice a crispy. Season the skin a bit too and turn off the heat. The remaining heat in the pan will finish the fish perfectly while you put the chips onto your plate. Next put the fillets on and finally spoon over the salsa.