I got a recipe book for Christmas! It’s called “Go fish” by Al Brown. The blurb describes Al as a “veritable colossus of seafood cookery”. He is co-owner of a top Wellington restaurant and presenter of an award-winning TV show. I had never heard of him (which says something about my interest in food).
I think there were several reasons for the gift. Now that I have retired from full-time employment as a CEO and my wife is the breadwinner in the family, I am expected to cook. That’s something I’ve managed to avoid doing much of since my student days, so it’s proving to be quite a learning curve. I’m a very keen fisherman (and we are lucky in Nelson, we can buy a tremendous range and the quality is superb). So most of the time I cook fish. I interpreted the gift as an indication that a slight increase in variety of my meals would be greatly appreciated.
A second reason for the choice of this particular book? Well, it’s not just a recipe book: it has quite a lot of fishing stories too. What’s more, Al Brown seems to be on a campaign to teach people to value the fish they catch and look after them. He tells horror stories about “fishermen” throwing their flapping catch into a fish bin, where the fish sit for the rest of the day. No ice on the boat and, what’s worse, no real appreciation that the soft, gaping, yellowing fillets produced at the end of the day are just rubbish, barely edible. He explains the importance of killing the fish quickly and icing them down. Fantastic! I’ve been on that same campaign for years.
But back to my cooking. For my first attempt to use one of his recipes I picked out three, covering three different species. When I walked down to the fish shop, only one of these was available. No problem, I would cook “Pan Roasted Groper with Sautéed Gnocchi, Fresh Herbs, Capers & Preserved Lemon”. The picture looked very nice. I checked the ingredients list. We had most of them, I just needed to buy some fancy potatoes, some fresh garlic and some basil.
About 3pm I read the recipe again. I had to bake the potatoes for an hour before I even got started on the serious cooking! No time to waste. Once the potatoes were done I had to scoop out the soft centre of the potatoes into a bowl, then push that stuff through a sieve. I’m not sure I left the potatoes baking for long enough because it was really hard work, almost broke the sieve. Then came the messy stuff involving flour and egg yolks. I was supposed to roll the dough into ” rounded lengths of about 5mm in diameter”. Impossible. It just fell apart when I tried to roll it. I ended up squeezing the dough into roughly triangular shapes about 10 mm. These were cut into short lengths, about 40mm. They were all shapes and sizes.
The next step was even trickier. I was to ” bring a large saucepan of salted water to a rolling boil”. What’s that? Oh well, at least I knew how to boil water. The book said to gently drop the gnocchi into the boiling water, about a dozen at a time. When they floated up to the surface they could be removed with a sieve. No they couldn’t – the sieve wouldn’t fit. Start again, this time with the largest saucepan I could find. Eventually I started to get the hang of it. If the boiling was too vigorous, the bits just disintegrated. I had to be really gentle with the sieve, otherwise the bits all merged into a gelatinous glob. And it took ages! All these bits then had to be sauteed.
My wife, who had come home from work quite a while ago and was watching the tennis, was starting to get quite hungry. She took pity on me and volunteered to make the sauce. That didn’t take her long at all, just five minutes or so. The fish didn’t take me long either. So at 7.30pm, well over four hours after I started, dinner was served.
I have to say it was delicious. She thought so too, but warned me that this was restaurant food and totally off-limits for me: it had butter and lots of oil. No vegetables either – I guess I should have done a salad.
Here’s what the dish looked like in the book (note the beautifully formed gnocchi pieces):
And here’s what my gnocchi looked like:
I called my son after dinner, to thank him for his Christmas present. He was highly amused at my choice of first recipe and pointed out very kindly that it’s possible to buy pre-made gnocchi these days. Now I know to ask the expert (my wife) to check out a recipe before I attempt it.