How many of you really consider the process that goes on before the food you eat reaches the shops you buy it from? Do any of you grow your own? Raise your own meat, collect eggs from chickens? Fish, hunt or gather from the wild? As I have said before, the satisfaction we glean from a good meal is more than just the physical satiation of hunger, it is the mental satisfaction that comes with preparing the food as well. And this can begin right from the start. Nothing has ever tasted better than the first radish I picked from my allotment a few years ago. It was the first thing I had eaten that I had grown from scratch. I prepared the soil it grew in, planted the seeds, watered and weeded the earth. And then I ate it straight from the ground. I have been foraging for wild food for several years too and there is a real rush when you stumble upon a patch of golden chanterels or a penny bun. Freshly caught fish has the same allure, the mackerel I caught from Devil’s Point in Plymouth was sweeter than any you can buy in the supermarket, mere hours between hook and plate. But best of all was the tuna we caught on the crossing from Antibes to Ibiza a few weeks ago.
There has been no new posts for a few weeks as I have been without reliable internet, anchored off Ibiza or Formentera, cooking up a storm for the owner and his guests everyday. There will be more about the recipes I have honed over the last few weeks later, but first I want to share the wonders of tuna fishing.
The rods were set from 4am as we left the Pocorols, heading out over the drop off into deeper waters. At half past seven the klaxon sounded and shouts of fish let us know that despite the general alarm being sounded we weren’t sinking. It was the Captain who had the rod in the special codpiece to reel the catch in. To begin with we were unsure of what we had on the end of the line but it fought hard until eventually it was within sight beneath the aft deck. It’s school were all around, flashes of silver metres beneath the surface, and suddenly the line began to run. It was diving, trying to escape, fighting for its life. And what a fight. After almost an hour it was finally at the surface and the time had come for others to join the fight. With gaff poles in hand, the captain’s friend and I leant over the rails, striking quick and clean to hall the big fish onto the deck. Twenty kilos of pure muscle pinned beneath a towel we sloshed vodka into its gills for a quick death. As with all fish, it looked us in the eye as it died, and I felt a great respect for the wolf of the sea as it finally passed.
As the cook on board it was my job to butcher the fish, something not for the feint hearted. There is a lot of meat and it took another hour before the tuna steaks were cleaned and ready for the freezer. A little sashimi was an excellent treat for breakfast, thin strips sliced from the thick fillets, sweet and juicy, easily the best sashimi I will probably ever eat.
Lunch came around and Tuna Nicoise was the first recipe. Simple; celebrating the succulent fish as centre piece, I seared it in a hot pan for just a few moments on each side to leave it pink in the middle. For the salad itself you’ll need cooked new potatoes, green beans, mixed lettuce, rocket, cherry tomatoes cut into halves, thinly slice red onion, a hard boiled egg cut into quarters per person and some black olives. Place the tuna steak on top of this yummy salad and dress with a mix of olive oil, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, flat leaf parsley, garlic, salt and pepper.
For days the response to “What would you like for dinner?” the captain responded with, “Tuna.” as if eating the same thing every day was perfectly acceptable. This is where I had to get a little inventive and start thinking up different ways to serve the same fish and the options really are fairly broad! A favourite that really stood out for me was Sesame Tuna with Spicey Noodles. I used quick cook noodles, boiled for just a few minutes in stock. I then pour a sauce made from thinly sliced ginger that has been steeping in boiling water, soy and honey for a half hour before hand. Chuck in some stir fried veg, cabbage, peppers and the like and then top with chopped peanuts and a hearty drizzle of sesame oil. Then for the tuna. Coat in sesame oil and then roll in sesame seeds so they stick. Fry in a hot pan quickly so the steak stays pink in the middle. Serve with a scattering of thinly sliced red chilli for an extra kick.
So next time you go to the fish counter and look at the ready filleted rows of fresh fish, have a think about where it came from, how it was caught, and most importantly, how you’re going to cook it once you get home.