I was given a wonderfully fresh gilt head bream by our local and excellent fishmonger Mat of The Chelsea Fishmonger and was asked to come up with a recipe to offer his customers.
Well a little bit of research led to me to this interesting dish, which I discovered is served on Christmas Eve in Spain, as the main dish of the Christmas celebrations, so in effect it is the "Spanish turkey". Lo and behold, it turned out an excellent dish, and what is more wouldn't require getting up at 6am on a Christmas morning should you consider swapping the turkey for this!
1 sea bream weighing 1.8 kg, or more likely 2 weighing in at a kg each (gutted and scaled)
juice of 1 lemon
800 g potatoes (I used King Edwards) peeled and thinly sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped, not too finely
pinch of saffron strands
5 tablespoons chopped parsley
extra virgin olive oil
a little water
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Start by pre-heating your oven to 190 C. Take your bream, or breams and with a sharp knife slash each side a couple of times across the thickest part of the flank. Season the fish well with the sea salt and black pepper inside and out. Now squeeze over the lemon juice and rub well into the fish, again inside and out. Set aside.
Take a pestle and mortar and create a paste with the garlic, saffron, parsley and a teaspoon of sea salt. Slowly work in 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and 4 tablespoons of water. Now take a greased oven-proof baking dish (not too deep) and carefully layer the sliced potatoes and onions. Spoon over the mixture from the mortar, ensuring an even covering. Place in the oven and bake at 190 C for 40 minutes, by which time the potatoes and onions will be nearly cooked.
Remove the dish from the oven and place the fish on top of the potatoes and onions. Spoon over a little more olive oil and bake in the oven for another 20 to 25 minutes until the bream is just cooked through.
Sprinkle with a little parsley and the lemon zest and serve at the table immediately.
I always get a great deal of pleasure when simple dishes, look and taste so much greater than the effort involved in making them, and this is one of those dishes. Of course, the freshest fish are required to maximise the taste experience - but it's a dish that's worthy of the centre piece of any celebratory meal!