• Bute St Seafoodie

Fillet of Sea Bass with Chargrilled Spring Onions and Romesco Sauce



Much as I had heard of Romesco sauce, it wasn't until I attended a "calçotada" (in London as it happens) with the amazing Spanish school, Battersea Spanish (they also do cooking classes!), I was attending at the time, that I came to appreciate this vibrant-red, sweet, sour, nutty and spicy sauce.


A Calçotada is a Spanish, but notably Catalan, gastronomic celebration at which the culinary centrepiece is, might you guess, the "calçot". This an allium that is most easily described as being somewhere between a leek and a spring onion, and with a flavour that very much befits that description. The whole calçots are charred until blackened, wrapped in newspaper or foil and served to the diners with Romesco sauce to dip their calçots in, once the outermost, blackest layer has been peeled away. It's a messy, finger-licking, sauce-flicking affair and it is quite typical for diners to be offered a bib to protect their clothes from the inevitable projectiles of staining red sauce.


Recently Ted's Veg were selling some very fat spring onions on their stall in the farmers' market and it was that which prompted me to recall the calçotada. And these blanched then chargrilled big boys were superb eating with a freshly made Romesco sauce. I would happily enjoy baby leeks treated the same way.


Romesco, however, is not reserved solely for calçots. In fact it is a popular accompaniment to fish so I was compelled to put together a recipe for grilled fish with Romesco sauce along with the calçot-substitutes. My thoughts were directed toward fish varieties that might rightly be associated with the Mediterranean, and with the bass fishery newly reopened after the annual two months of respite, it seemed a gastronomic celebration of sea bass was timely.


In fact it has reminded me how much I love sea bass. And I don't eat it often enough, probably because I haven't been prioritising it as a fish to write about given it hardly needs any contribution from me to be popular. It should be said, though, the difference in quality between a recently line-caught bass and the farmed stuff imported from hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away into UK supermarkets is overwhelming. And the price between the two isn't much!


For a fuller meal this would be nice served with some rice, perhaps one of those mixtures of rice that includes wild rice. Add to that some steamed green veg like, at this time of year, purple sprouting broccoli. But even on its own, this is a simple but seriously tasty plate of food! And would be brilliant cooked on the barbeque.

You could use any of the fish varieties that might be associated with Mediterranean cooking for this dish. For example bream, gurnard, hake, mackerel, monkfish, red mullet and sardines. Frankly, much like the salsa verde in Chargrilled Cuttlefish with Salsa Verde, this sauce will work with any fish you wish to grill. And that includes the likes of prawns, lobster, squid and cuttlefish. In fact, I'm sure a seafood mixed-grill with Romesco sauce would be something quite memorable.


I doubt it's impossible to buy calçots in the UK - almost nothing is (for a price!) - but fat spring onions and baby leeks are perfectly acceptable substitutes in this case. What you're after is an allium that is about 1-1½ cm in diameter.


The Romesco can (and indeed, ideally should) be made in advance as it will keep for several days in the fridge stored in an airtight jar and, in fact, it improves with age. The texture you're looking for is something resembling the familiar hummus. As the recipe for the Romesco sauce makes enough for 4 servings, this is an easy recipe to adapt to serve 4 - just double the quantity of your chosen fish and spring onions or leeks.


Do make sure the fish is patted dry and at room temperature before cooking, and do get yoru grill blisteringly hot. The coarse sea salt on the skin side helps to ensure the fish does not stick to the grill.




Fillet of Sea Bass with Chargrilled Spring Onions and Romesco Sauce



Ingredients (Serves 2 for a light meal)

2 x 125-150g sea bass fillets

6-8 fat spring onions, or baby leeks (see recipe intro)

Sunflower or vegetable oil, for coating

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lemon wedges, to serve

Chopped flat leaf parsley, plus a couple of sprigs, to garnish


For the Romesco sauce (makes enough for 4 servings):

1 red pepper, ideally of the Romano variety

Sunflower or vegetable oil, for coating

2 garlic cloves, unpeeled

1 large sundried tomato, from a jar, drained

½-1 tsp dried chili flakes, or quantity to taste

30g flaked almonds

½ tsp smoked paprika

1½ - 2 tsp sherry vinegar

20-30ml extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt



Method

  1. For the Romesco sauce, brush the red pepper with the oil, place on a baking sheet along with the garlic cloves and put under a very hot grill for about 20 mins, turning several times during the cooking time. However, as soon as the garlic cloves show signs of burning, remove them and keep aside. When the pepper is black and blistered all over, transfer to a bowl and cover the bowl with cling film until cool enough to handle. Remove the skin and seeds from the pepper but reserve the juice. Put the flesh of the pepper in a blender, peel the garlic cloves and add the flesh to the blender as well, along with the sundried tomato, chilli flakes, almonds, paprika and some of the sherry vinegar. Blitz to a coarse paste then incorporate as much olive oil and remaining vinegar to create a thick sauce. Loosen the sauce with the reserved juice from the peppers (to the texture resembling hummus) then season with salt.

  2. Remove the tops and tails from the spring onions leaving a length of about 6", and discard the roughest outer leaf of each if necessary. Bring a wide pan of salted water to the boil then add the spring onions and boil for 1 min. Transfer the onions to a large bowl of very cold water to arrest the cooking, then drain, pat dry and set aside.

  3. Heat a griddle pan until smoking hot. Coat the spring onions with a very thin film of oil, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and grill for about 3 mins, turning regularly until charred on the outside. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.

  4. Lightly oil the fish fillets and sprinkle the skin side generously with the coarse sea salt. Place skin side down on the griddle pan (don't move it) and leave until it looks cooked about two-thirds of the way up. Season the flesh side with both sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, then flip the fish onto the flesh side. Turn out the heat and allow to cook for a further minute. Transfer to a warm plate and allow to rest for a few minutes.

  5. Meanwhile, quickly warm the Romesco sauce in a saucepan over a medium flame, or in the microwave, adding a splash of water to loosen if necessary. Put a dollop of Romesco sauce on each of two plates, place the chargrilled spring onions on the sauce and the fish fillets alongside. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over the top, garnish with chopped parsley and serve with lemon wedges.


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