The deep


My friend Marmoset hates fish. Not eating fish you understand, just looking at them, or swimming in any waters with positive sightings of them or in fact any evidence of their existence.

If ever she is naughty, the threat “Marmoset sleeps with the fishes” has been used…

Having holidayed together over many years, it is  such a shame when on sweltering beach days Marmoset is confined to a sun-bed unable to take advantage of a  refreshing dip.

This dislike extends to the plate, where by she is very happy to eat fish, but they must be entirely headless, no beady fish eyes fixing her with their gaze. If you happen to be seated beside her when enjoying your fish in a non de-capitated state, you will find a napkin is laid across the head of your fish to protect both you and Marmoset from it’s stare.

Once on holiday in Turkey, we found a fabulous little ‘beach’ perfect for us both, as there were sunbathing platforms built into the rocks (i.e. no sand to get all over me) and metal steps that led down the rocks into a crystal clear sea. There was nothing there but a little restaurant of the fantastic type, right on the edge of the water, covered with vines and with some seriously lovely options for our lunch.

Ensconced on our secluded outcrop, I clambered down the ladder and plopped into the cool clear sea….it was heavenly, I am a bit of a water baby and so I bobbed about happily but it wasn’t ideal without the company of my mate.

I negotiated the stairs and announced that I hadn’t seen a single fish. I was not, you understand, trying to deny the existence of fish in the Mediterranean (had to study a map earlier to determine whether this was in fact the Med or the Aegean, I’ve concluded it was the Med, but it was a close thing) but I did explain that you could see right to the bottom and I hadn’t seen so much as a guppy.

Marmoset, who loves a dip, was cautiously convinced it would, be ok. In we went.  “Lovely!” she said “oh this is beautiful and the sea is so clear.”

A few dips later with growing confidence we swam out a bit further still checking for offending fishes as we went. A young girl started shouting from the shore, she was leaning over the balustrade beside the restaurant, shouting and waving arms but we couldn’t quite work out what she was saying, we smiled and waved back. The young girl would not be silenced, as we drew closer we realised she was shouting and quite agitated. Ladies! Ladies! Quickly! Ladies look behind you….Bad Fish! Bad Fish ladies!….We didn’t hang around but in panic and horror, we suddenly held each others hand and started swimming furiously, after a moment realising one handed swimming meant that we went round and round in circles.

Nearly hysterical now we let go and started swimming like fury toward the shore, gulping sea water in horror at the imagined ‘Jaws’ snapping at our heals. We got to the ladder at the same time, nearly wedging our bums side by side in the steps in our haste to get the hell out of there. Safely out of the water but panting with exhaustion and adrenalin we peered into the sea, “I can’t see see anything” said Marmoset… we looked some more wandering closer to the spot where the young girl stood.

We stared as a dead, headless, filleted sardine bobbed in the sea beside the restaurant – glancing over at our young saviour who was smiling now and pointing at the sardine…”see ladies, bad fish!”. The sardine presumably discarded by a satisfied or dissatisfied diner floated out to sea…

Notwithstanding our brush with death, Marmoset is a great cook and foodie, who does enjoy fish dishes.

Recently we came by some very decent line caught sea bass. I was thinking of Marmoset and we practiced a dish that may be suitable when next cooking for her. Ironically, the formation of the platter ended with the bass being beautifully tucked up in it’s bed of juicy aromatics, but with it’s head poking out. When I make it for Marmoset, I shall shroud it in a hood of herbs…

Although I see the charm of fillets of nice white fish, I really am convinced that the flavour, texture and moisture is never so good as when cooked on the bone. I’m not usually a lover of many additional ingredients when cooking bass, but we really love the aromatic flavours in this one.

Asian flavours work really well with whole white fish and this one is simple and quick to prepare, it’s a sort of mixture of those we’ve had in a local Chinese restaurant called Dragon Castle and some others we have enjoyed elsewhere. The finishing touch with the hot oil is borrowed from Ching He Huang and I gather is quite commonly used for this sort of dish. Everything sizzles as you pour the hot oil over at the end. We had made the dish previously and then saw this method of adding hot oil which made a big difference to the flavour.

Steamed Ginger and Chilli Sea Bass with Pak Choi.

Serves 2. Place a wok ¾ filled with water over the heat and sit a bamboo steamer on top.


1 Medium farmed sea bass, cleaned and scaled

2 table spoons of light soy sauce

2 inches of peeled ginger cut into match sticks

2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced lengthways

1 large or 2 medium red chillies, de-seeded and sliced on the diagonal.

1 tbspn picked fresh coriander leaves

A small handful of fresh coriander on the stem.

3 thin slices of lime.

3 tbsp ground nut oil

A little salt and white pepper

1 dessert spoon of Chinese cooking wine (shaoxing wine).

A few shreds of spring onions to garnish

Rinse the fish, season inside with a little salt and white pepper.

Slash the fish a few times diagonally across the fillets.

Place 1/3 of the ginger inside the bass and add a slice of lime, and the coriander on the stem.

Next, place the fish onto a plate that will fit inside your steamer but which is slightly smaller than the steamer to allow the steam to circulate.

Sprinkle the rest of the ginger, chilli and lime slices on top of the fish, and spoon over the light soy and chinese cooking wine.

Quarter the pak choi, and lay it cut side up on the plate around the fish, once the fish has been steaming for 5/6 minutes. You could add a couple of teaspoons to the of oyster sauce to the Pak Choi at this point, if you like. (I’m allergic to oysters much to my chagrin, so much so that I don’t even indulge in the supposedly veggie variety oyster sauce for fear…).

Place the plate into the steamer and steam the fish for around 10 to 12 minutes – check the fish by pushing the flesh and if the skin comes away, the fish is translucent and the fish gives to soft, then it is done.

Heat the ground nut oil in a separate plan, until very hot.

Lift the steamer off the wok. Carefully remove the plate with the fish on, (you can take the steamer to the table and serve from it if you prefer).

With a spoon pull out the herbs, limes etc. from the cavity of the fish, scatter the top with the remaining fresh coriander leaves, ginger batons, and a little shredded spring onion.

Gently pour the hot oil over the top of the fish, it will sizzle the garnish and create a delicious flavour with the juices on the plate.

Add some plain boiled or steamed rice to complete the dish.



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