I can’t stand cookery myths. People love to shroud cooking in a cloak of difficulty and secrecy and dare you not to expose the myth. If, however, it is a myth, it won’t care. Zeus never came down from Olympus to complain about the new one-god religion taking over from the twelve gods….even though the “poor” farmers at Tembi tried their best to rile them!
So it is with these current mythical Greek problems in mind that I decided to tackle the supposedly difficult subject of how to bake fish. The (generally accepted) truth has, as usual, two conflicting opinions: for some (the few) it’s as easy as anything, for others (the majority) it’s a hurdle. Here I will allow myself a Mona Lisa-like smile…this is one case where the idea that the truth lies somewhere in the middle doesn’t apply. Let’s put the record straight…
For any large fish (like fagri – common sea bream, sargos – white sea bream, tsipoura – gilthead sea bream, lithrini – common Pandora, kefalos – grey mullet, lavraki – bass, sfirida – white grouper, pigga – mottled grouper, rofos – dusky grouper, stira – gold blotch grouper ,etc) which are ideal for the oven, you need to keep two things in mind. First is freshness. Second is price. We will tell you about how to test the freshness of a fish soon. As far as the price is concerned, it generally depends on how charmingly you greet your fishmonger. Once these two considerations have been made, I assure you that there are no other hurdles in your path. The preparation and cooking make up the simplest procedure you can imagine and adhere to just two rules: 1. Lots of salt and pepper all over. 2. A pre-heated oven. 3. Inertia (don’t touch it, don’t fiddle with it, don’t you dare turn it over).
Don’t worry about it; it always works. Full stop.
Preparation: If it is to be served hot (not for a salad or as a cold buffet dish), factor the baking time into your cooking plan and remove it from the oven before serving time.
Ingredients (serve 4)
1 fish 1.2 – 1.4kg
½ bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
100ml white wine (optional)
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.
Preparation: Wash the fish and then drain and dry it. Put it in an oven dish (a presentable one if you will be serving it straight from the dish) to fit (try placing the fish diagonally or trim the tail a little) and season well inside and out with salt and pepper (head, insides, skin). Put the garlic cloves and most of the parsley lengthways inside the fish and on the head, leaving a little parsley to put under and on top of the fish and in the gaps between the sides of the oven dish. Pour the oil over it (unless on a diet, in which case, leave it out) and add the wine, if used, to the dish. Place in the pre-heated oven for 20 – 25 minutes.
Note: Baking time is 15 – 20 minutes per kilo of fish, depending on the oven. This applies to all large fish, apart from rofos, sfirida, pigga and stira (our favourite, which you can see in the photos), which are meatier and need a little more – 25 – 30 minutes per kilo (again depending on the oven).
If including wine, you can baste the fish with the liquid once while cooking (optional). This is the most you can do while the fish is baking. Don’t bother it, don’t turn it over, don’t leave the oven door open too long, as the temperature will drop, and above all – don’t worry!
Serving: If you are not serving it straight from the oven dish, the fish will have to be transferred very carefully onto a warmed platter. There is a very wide oblong spatula that is ideal for helping achieve this. The plates must be hot (especially in winter). Accompany the fish with a lemon-oil mix or homemade mayonnaise, or both. If wine was included, you’ll also already have a delicious sauce.
Note: Dimitri Greekadman, who relishes making successful variations to recipes, adds carrots and courgettes (sliced lengthways) or onion rings to the wine. The vegetables absorb all the flavours during cooking and are served alongside the fish.
Translated by Sophie Athanassiadis