Saturday, May 1, 2021


Sometimes, the easiest way is the best. That’s certainly the case with fish. Why bother with fiddly filleting when it’s easier to cook the fish whole? Fish cooked on the bone stays moister and tastier than cut-up fish. And, once cooked, it’s a whole lot easier to separate the flesh from the bones.

I´ve got a whole bonito (Sarda sarda), a blue fish related to mackerel and tuna (not the same as bonito del norte, which is albacore tuna). The fish weighs about 2 ½ pounds (gutted, with head). The recipe would work with any whole fish of similar weight—bluefish, salmon, sea bass, grouper, snapper, bream—although roasting time will vary with the thickness of the fish. Single-serving-sized fish such as trout, mackerel or bass can also be roasted whole. In this case, there’s no need to fillet them after cooking—let each person de-bone the fish once served.

Whole fish is roasted on a bed of sliced onions, lemons and tomatoes. 

This is a two-step procedure. The onions, sliced lemons and tomatoes get 30 minutes of oven time before the fish is added. Their juices with the olive oil and wine make a delicious sauce for the cooked fish.

“Carving” a whole fish is easy, but messy, so do it in the kitchen and serve the fish plated. While filleting the fish, keep the onions, tomatoes and pan juices warm in the oven. Have ready a heated platter to put the fish on. 

Here´s how: If you’ve roasted the fish with head on, remove and discard the head. Scrape the skin from the top fillet. (Discard the lemon slices in the slits.) Use a knife tip to pull away the dorsal fins (all down the back). Slide the knife blade flat along the spine to loosen the top fillet. Divide it lengthwise. Use a spatula or large spoon to lift off the top fillets. (It’s fine to remove them in several pieces.) Place them on the heated platter. With the knife tip, lift the spine in one piece and remove it. 

For the bottom half of the fish, remove any obvious fins and bones (fingers are useful for this) and divide it lengthwise. Gently ease each half off the bottom skin and place the pieces of the bottom fillet on the heated platter. With bonito and similar fish, you may wish to cut away the narrow strip of much darker flesh, the “bloodline.” It is edible, but has a stronger flavor than the rest of the flesh.

Divide the onions, lemons and tomatoes between four dinner plates (preferably heated). Place the fillets on top. Spoon the juices from the baking dish over the fish. 

If you plan to serve the fish cold, de-bone it while still warm. Store the fillets covered and refrigerated.

Serve filleted fish on top of the roasted vegetables. Pour pan juices over the serving.

Roasted fish stays moist.

Roasted Whole Fish
Bonito al Horno

Serves 4.

2 onions
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, slivered
1 lemon
1 large tomato, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 whole fish, gutted and scaled (about 2 ½ pounds)
½ cup white wine
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Roast layer of onions first.

Cut the onions in half and slice them lengthwise. Put 1 tablespoon of oil in the bottom of a baking dish or roasting pan big enough to hold the fish. Spread the sliced onions in the pan. Add slivers of garlic. Cut the lemon in half and slice it thinly. Add half of the slices to the onions. Sprinkle with salt. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of oil over the onions. Place in the oven for 20 minutes.

Place sliced tomato on top of the onions and tuck in a bay leaf. Return to the oven for 10 minutes longer.

Place fish, with or without the head, on top of roasted tomatoes and onions. The slits in the flesh help the fish cook thoroughly.
While onions are roasting, cut deep slits in the skin and flesh of the fish. Sprinkle inside and out with salt. Insert lemon slices in the slits on one side of the fish. Place the fish on top of the onions and tomatoes in the baking dish. Pour the wine over the fish. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over the fish. Sprinkle with the parsley.

Roast the fish until the flesh easily separates from the spine, 25 to 30 minutes. (Use a thin skewer to test it.) Remove the fish from the oven and place it on a heated platter. Turn off the oven and leave the baking dish with the onions in the oven to keep warm.

Fish is easy to fillet once cooked. A messy job, so do it in the kitchen and plate the fish.

Remove skin and bones from the fish. Separate the flesh into fillets. Divide the onions, lemons and tomatoes between four plates. Place fillets on top, spoon pan juices over the fish and serve immediately.

Filleted bonito, enough to serve four.

Onions, tomatoes and wine make the "sauce" for the fish.

More recipes for cooking whole fish:

Another recipe with bonito:

Saturday, April 24, 2021


The last of the fava beans.

Only a handful of fava beans remains to be picked in my garden patch. I’m usually inundated with them, but this year I only planted a few. There’s never enough maturing at the same time to make a satisfying serving. 

On a TV food show I watched a segment filmed in a tapas bar in Jamilena, a town in Jaén province (Andalusia). The cook was making a variation of pipirrana, a chopped “salad,” called “machacao,” that was finished with a scattering of raw fava beans. Machacao is Andaluz for “machacado,” meaning "crushed." The dressing is prepared by crushing egg yolks, garlic, green pepper, bread and olive oil in a mortar or in a wooden bowl called a dornillo.

The pipirrana of Jaén is more of a mojete or remojón—what I call “dunking salad,” meant to be served with lots of bread for sopping up the juices. Pipirrana is usually a summer dish, a relative of gazpacho, served chilled for a light supper. In the springtime, before tomatoes are in season, some of the tomatoes are replaced with oranges. The favas are another springtime touch.

Chopped salad is topped with chunks of tuna and fava beans. 

A "dunking salad," meant to be served with chunks of bread for soaking up the garlicky dressing and tomato juices.

With tuna and egg as well as bread, the salad makes a complete meal.

Blanch and peel favas.
Freshly-picked fava beans can be eaten raw with just a sprinkling of salt. However, they’re best if, after shelling, they are briefly blanched in boiling water and the outer skins of the beans are removed. No favas? Use fresh peas instead, raw, if they are freshly picked, or blanched if they’ve been waiting in a grocery store bin. 

Add the juices from chopping tomatoes and oranges to the salad. Allow the salad to stand 30 minutes to further draw out the juices. If desired, add a little cold water to make it even soupier. Serve the salad with a spoon and chunks of bread for dunking. 

The “mashed” dressing is really garlicky! You could decrease the quantity of garlic or blanch several cloves of garlic to make them less intrusive.

Use as much canned tuna as you like to top the salad. For this quantity of tomatoes and mashed dressing I used two 70-gram cans. 

For an authentic Jaén pipirrana, you would use a good Picual extra virgin olive oil, a fruity oil with a piquant finish.

Chopped Salad with Fava Beans
Machacao con Habas

Orange as well as tomatoes in this springtime salad.

1 cup shelled fava beans
1 slice bread
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon coarse salt 
2 hard-boiled eggs
1 green pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes
1 cup chopped orange (optional)
½ cup diced cucumber (optional)
3 tablespoons chopped scallions 
Salt to taste
Water (optional)
Canned tuna
Bread, to serve

Blanch the fava beans in boiling water for 15 seconds. Drain them and refresh under cold water. Slit the outer skins and gently squeeze out the beans. Discard skins. Reserve the beans.

Soak the bread in water to cover until it is softened. Squeeze out the water and discard the crusts. Reserve ¼ cup of mashed bread pulp. 

Mash garlic, bread and egg yolks in mortar. 

Place the garlic in a mortar or wooden bowl with the coarse salt. Grind and crush the garlic until smooth. Peel the eggs and separate the yolks and whites. Add the yolks to the mortar and reserve the whites. 

Use a vegetable peeler to peel some of the green pepper. Cut a 2-inch piece of pepper, chop it, and add to the mortar. Reserve the remaining pepper. Add the pulped bread to the mortar. 

Mash the bread, egg yolks and green pepper with the garlic to make a paste. Using the pestle, stir a spoonful of oil into the paste until it is absorbed. Add another spoonful. Continue adding oil and stirring until the sauce is thickened and emulsified. 

Chopped tomato, orange, pepper and egg whites.

Chop the reserved egg whites. Chop enough reserved green pepper to make 2/3 cup. Place whites and pepper in a bowl. Add the tomatoes, orange and cucumber, if using. Add the scallions. Gently stir in the garlic sauce. Taste and add salt if needed.

Chill the salad, if desired. Otherwise, allow to stand 30 minutes. To serve, place the salad in a bowl and top with chunks of drained tuna. Scatter reserved fava beans on top. Serve the salad accompanied by bread. 

More recipes with fava beans here.

More versions of pipirrana:

More "dunking" salads (mojeteshere.

Saturday, April 17, 2021


Cauliflower in the garden.

Look what’s peeking out from floppy leaves in my garden! The first cauliflower. I’m always surprised how rapidly they develop. I poke around every few days and find nothing—except, maybe some caterpillars—then, suddenly, there’s a cauliflower almost ready to pick. 

Cauliflower fritters and dip.

My favorite ways with cauliflower are roasted (on a sheet pan with olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme) and Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian-spiced cauliflower (with lots of garlic, fennel and mustard seeds). But there are plenty cauliflower recipes to love in Spanish cuisine, too. Today, it’s buñuelos de coliflor, cauliflower fritters. 

Buñuelos are puffy balls of fried batter. Some versions start with a sort of choux paste, with olive oil instead of butter. But this batter with mashed cauliflower gets its puffiness from baking powder. The buñuelos should be golden-brown on the outside and, unlike croquettes, spongy on the inside. 

The batter can be prepared in advance, but the buñuelos are best consumed freshly made, although not necessarily hot. 

The buñuelos are good as an aperitivo with drinks, with or without a dipping sauce (see below for a yogurt dipping sauce). They’re terrific as part of a vegetarian meal. They make a fine side with simple roast meat or grilled foods.

These puffy fritters and a tangy dipping sauce are terrific for aperitivos with drinks.

Buñuelos make a good side dish for a vegetarian meal.

Instead of traditional alioli garlic sauce, these buñuelos are served with yogurt sauce.

Fritters have a light, spongy texture.

Puffy Cauliflower Fritters
Buñuelos de Coliflor

Makes about 3 dozen fritters.

1 pound cauliflower (approx. ½  medium cauliflower)
1 egg
2 ounces cheese, grated (½ cup)
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions or grated onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Pinch of cumin
Pinch of hot (picante) pimentón (paprika)
5 tablespoons milk
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Olive oil for frying

Separate the cauliflower into florettes, discarding thick stems. Cook in simmering, salted water until very tender, 10 minutes. Drain well. Coarsely chop the cauliflower in a food processor or mash it with a potato-masher. Don’t puree the cauliflower.

Beat the egg in a bowl. Add the grated cheese, scallions, parsley, cumin, pimentón and ½ teaspoon salt. Beat in the milk. Combine the flour and baking powder. Stir the mixture into the egg and milk until fairly smooth. Fold in the mashed cauliflower. The batter should be the consistency of very creamy mashed potatoes. If too stiff, stir in additional milk.

Drop spoonfuls of batter into hot olive oil. Turn the fritters and fry until golden.

Place oil in a skillet to a depth of 1 ½ inches. Heat the oil on moderately-high heat. Dip two teaspoons into the oil. Use one spoon to scoop up batter and the second to push the batter into the hot oil. Fry the balls of batter, turning once, until they are slightly puffed and golden-brown, about 3 minutes. Don’t let them brown too fast or the flour won’t cook in the center. 

Drain the fritters on absorbent paper. Serve immediately. To reheat the fritters, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and heat in 400ºF oven until hot, 8-10 minutes.

Yogurt Dipping Sauce
Salsa de Yogur

½ cup plain Greek yogurt
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon smoked pimentón (paprika)
Chopped chives

Stir together the yogurt, salt, pimentón and chives. Serve room temperature. 

More versions of buñuelos:

More recipes with cauliflower:

About frying with olive oil here.