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  • Bute St Seafoodie

Besugo a la Espalda

"Bream on its back"? Well, yes, if you translate the title of this recipe from the Asturias region (though possibly also the Basque country) of Spain literally. Digging a little deeper (and with the help of a very good friend and amazing home cook in Spain), the background of the name perhaps makes more sense. If you consult the two linked articles below, the common theme is that the fish is cut lengthwise along the spine and opened out either before cooking skin-side-down, or being presented likewise, or both, thereby portraying the image of the fish lying on its back.

That deals with the "a la espalda" part. The "Besugo" part refers to the type of fish, seemingly a bream, most likely a red species, or a snapper. Since breams and snappers of all kinds are largely interchangeable in a dish, and with our native black bream now back on the market stall, I have taken the essence of the recipe and applied it to black bream, filleted to make the preparation a little easier.

This is an incredibly simple recipe with very few ingredients so do try to use best quality oil, vinegar and sea salt to get the best results. If the bream has come from the stall, no problem there!

I chose to serve the dish with a salad dressed with a vinaigrette containing cider vinegar (in a nod to the region of Asturias), and some boiled new potatoes which I sliced and shallow-fried. I can't help thinking that a glass of cider would accompany this well. ¡Que aproveche!

Besugo a la Espalda

Ingredients (serves 1)

Fillet of bream, ideally pin-boned

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra

1 tsp cider (or wine) vinegar, plus a little extra

Coarse sea salt, to taste

1 fat garlic clove, peeled and finely sliced

1 dried red chilli, seeds removed and broken into small pieces

1 tsp finely chopped parsley


  1. Lightly coat a shallow roasting tray with a little olive oil, place in it the fish fillet skin-side-down, season well with sea salt and drizzle over a splash of vinegar and a generous quantity of olive oil.

  2. Put the tray in an oven (ideally without fan), preheated to 200°C, for 8 minutes or until the fish is just cooked.

  3. Meanwhile, after 5 minutes in the oven, heat the 1 tbsp of olive oil in a small saucepan and add the sliced garlic. Cook over a medium heat until the garlic just starts to turn golden, then add the dried chilli and remove from the heat. It is important that the garlic and chilli do not burn or they will taste bitter.

  4. When the fish is cooked, transfer to a plate, then add the 1 tsp vinegar to the oil and garlic (careful, it is likely to spit), stir well and add the parsley.

  5. Spoon the sauce over the fish and serve immediately with your choice of accompaniments: potatoes and salad work very well.



  1. "The Best 100 Spanish Recipes", Esperanza Luca de Tena (2005), pp. 100:

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