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Ottolenghi fish - a lucky dip

"One of my favourite recipes. Serve at room temperature with a chunk of bread." Yotam Ottolenghi

Well possibly - here are a couple of verdicts from bloggers who tried it:

"Regardless of when or how you serve this fish, I beg you to give it a try. The simple ingredients result in a truly unique flavor profile and the truth of the matter is that it really tastes best after resting in the fridge" Sly Rooster

"compared to other dishes I've made from the book; this was pretty bland. The batter from the fish had become mushy....really not a great texture. The flavor of the vegetables was all over the map....a combo sour-curry-coriander, not bad, but just kind of weak." mmm-yoso!!!

Which just goes to show you can't please all of the people all of the time. Probably not even everyone in one household. And I have to say that several of those who tried it adapted it, even The New York Times.

But it looks good doesn't it? The recipe is for Marinaded sweet and sour fish and when I opened Jerusalem at this page I was quite tempted to have a go. I'm not sure now, although I don't think it's because of adverse press, it's more that it's to be served warm even cool and that's not a winter thing is it?

Jerusalem was the book that Ottolenghi (Jewish/Italian) wrote with his business partner Sami Tamimi (Palestinian). At the time that I bought it I was marginally disappointed with it, but I think I probably need to go back and have another look. It featured, after all, in that Best of the Best book as one of the 25 best cookbooks of the year. 2013 I think.

The recipe I picked with my eyes closed as it were, however, is definitely an Ottolenghi recipe because it is proceeded by a longish preamble about gefilte fish - a Jewish dish - and in the piece, Ottolenghi talks about how he gained favour with his schoolmates, when they had a culinary exchange dinner and he brought in pizza made by his Italian father. Most of the rest brought gefilte fish which:

"In our childhoods, gefilte fish, a poached mix of ground fish shaped into flat cakes, was plainly abhorred by almost everyone. Sweet, grey and smeared with gelatinous gunk, it was perceived as a typical remnant of the old Ashkenazi world that was best left behind in Eastern Europe." Ottolenghi

Obviously, as the picture above shows you can make even gefilte fish tempting.

Anyway Ottolenghi's recipe really has nothing to do with gefilte fish other than to remind us that cold fish can be delicious. In fact his marinated sweet and sour fish is nearer in genre to escabèche a dish that is served all around the Mediterranean in some form or another, but is basically a cold pickled fish.

Being Ottolenghi he had to put a twist to the concept and the twist is two-fold, a flavour hit from curry powder and frying the fish which have been dipped in flour and egg, and then left to marinade in the sauce - made from onions, peppers, garlic, tomatoes, etc. A touch of sugar, a touch of bay and coriander seeds plus the sweet and sour - sugar and cider vinegar.

The main problem - if it is a problem - seems to be that frying of the fish. The New York Times opted to steam the fish instead, as did a few others and the critic from mmm-yoso!!! certainly didn't like the fact that it was fried in the flour and egg, and then cooked more in the sauce in the oven. I have to say, that I wonder about that. If you are frying something whether it be fish or chicken to make it crisp, why would you then put it in a sauce to make it soggy?

The other day I watched James Martin make goujons, which are simply fried crumbed pieces of fish served with a home-made sauce tartare. Now admittedly it's not at all the same thing - the fish is served hot for a start, but they are crispy and they keep their crispiness so that you can then dunk them in the sauce tartare.

Now if you crispy fry your fish and then put it in the sauce it doesn't stay crisp. Now to be fair Ottolenghi uses a frying pan which is wide and shallow and then finishes it off in the oven, so maybe at least the top of the fish remains crisp. But then again you are going to eat this warm, maybe even cold, so does crisp remain crisp when cold anyway? Would the goujons stay crisp? No I don't think so. Anyway that seems to be really the only problem that people have with this dish, and actually I only saw the one outright criticism.

And here's another small coincidence. This week I'm going to cook something from a 'guru' - in this case from Charmaine Solomon's Indian Cooking for Pleasure. This is not a lucky dip exercise but I thought I would try that approach and lo and behold I came up with Masaladar Machchi - a fish that is marinated for a while; then dipped in egg and flour, fried, and then cooked in the sauce. Same process as with Ottolenghi. And when I think about it, we often sear meat before adding to a sauce do we not, so why not fish? I suspect that the sauce actually does not have a lot of liquid in it and so the fish would remain crisp. When the weather warms up I should give it a go. I definitely need to increase my fish repertoire.

And what would it be like if you ate it hot?


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