I was born eating seafood.
Which translates into – I was born on an island nation, Singapore, and we grew up feasting on seafood, and every type of fish, from the tiny ikan bilis to large garoupa fish. We Singaporeans eat Nasi Lemak, deep fried fish with eggs, peanuts and coconut rice, for a hearty breakfast, or boiled fish fillet in rice porridge when we feel under the weather.
We cross the Singapore-Malaysia border to gorge on cheap seafood, stuffing ourselves silly with chilli crabs and sambal stingray. We eat abalone, geoduck and sea urchin at expensive Chinese restaurants to celebrate the Chinese New Year, and start the meal with a steaming hot bowl of shark’s fin soup.
When I was still living in Singapore, seafood coursed through my blood.
I could lunch on fried calamari and raw oysters with nothing more than just tabasco sauce and a slice of fresh lemon. We would eat steamed fish, cooked in soya sauce and thin ginger slices, followed by prawns coated in a layer of fried oats, and then finish up with lobster fried rice. Seafood and fish is what we rely on for simple fare, or elaborate festive meals.
The first time Juan visited Singapore, we took him to Seafood International, a nice restaurant by the sea which had tanks full of live fish and seafood, and where the menu was not a small booklet but an entire aquarium.
The look on Juan’s face was priceless – he was more used to seeing his food already cooked, instead of being alive and swimming.
I had to make a huge change in my food choices when I crossed half the world to settle down in Buenos Aires in 2010.
Being far away from the sea, the Argentine capital’s seafood options are neither cheap nor aplenty. Portenos love their beef, and they’d be contented dining on beef the entire year, so very few restaurants serve seafood. Even if they do, few restaurants provide a wide-ranging variety of seafood and fish dishes.
My palatte took a hit, and my stomach grew used to eating meat instead of fish and seafood, but once in a while, my Singaporean cravings hit me hard and wild, and I grow restless, and head off in search of good fish and seafood. But still, these dishes are not the norm here, and prices sometimes go exhorbitantly high, so suffice to say, I don’t get a very large dose of my seafood diet anytime.
Recently I decided that I’ve had enough.
If fish and seafood were going to be that expensive to eat in restaurants, I was just going to have to cook them in the confines of my kitchen, and make the best out of it. The problem was that I had never cooked fish in my life before, and the thought of cooking fish sort of deterred me.
Thankfully I go to cooking class with Pelusa Molina, and two weeks ago, she introduced to us a fish recipe which was completely orgasmic. I remember sitting in class, savoring the tiny morsel of fish I had just sampled, my eyes closed and my tastebuds alive with the taste of fish, desperately trying to commit it to memory. I couldn’t wait much longer to eat fish again, and caved in yesterday, heading to the fish shop to get my supply.
According to Juan, this is the finest and most gourmet dish I have ever cooked.
He gave me 9.5/10, which I suppose is pretty close to perfection. I can hardly disagree. The fish was marinated in salt and pepper, then pan-seared and set aside. The sauce was a compote of diced tomatoes and onions, simmering in the remains of the fish juices, mixed with cream, white wine, vegetable stock and spicy paprika powder. Once the sauce was reduced to a rich, thick liquid, it was poured over the fish fillets, a pretty sight with a small sprinkling of chopped parsley. It was heaven on earth, a meal worth remembering and paying homage to.
PAN-SEARED FISH FILLETS IN TOMATO CREAM SAUCE (Serves 2)
1) 2 fish fillets (I used Pollack, but any fish with firm flesh will do)
2) 4 tomatoes, peeled and diced
3) 1 onion, peeled and diced
4) 1 small bowl of chopped parsley
5) 4 tablespoons of milk cream
6) 100ml of vegetable stock
7) 150ml of white wine
8) 1 teaspoon of paprika powder
9) Salt & pepper to taste
1) Peel and dice the tomatoes and onions
2) Chop parsley
3) Marinate the fish fillets with salt and pepper on each side
4) Sear the fish fillets in a non-stick pan, turning the fillets over so both sides are cooked
5) Reserve the cooked fish fillets
6) In the same pan, saute onions until onions are transparent
7) Add in tomatoes and mix well
8) Add in milk cream, vegetable stock, white wine and paprika powder and stir well
9) Add in salt & pepper to taste
10) Once sauce is reduced to a third of its volume, remove from fire, and pour over warm fish fillets
Marinate fish fillets with salt and pepper:
Sear fish fillets in a non-stick pan:
Until fillets are cooked, then reserve:
In the same pan, saute onions until onions are transparent:
Add in tomatoes & paprika:
Add in milk cream, vegetable stock, white wine and 1 teaspoon of chopped parsley and stir well, and salt & pepper to taste:
Once sauce is reduced to a third of its volume, remove from fire:
Pour tomato-cream sauce over warm fish fillets:
I could eat it all over again: