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Tue Jul 26 14:14:11 CAT 2016

No need to scale that fish

Andrea Burgener | 14 January, 2016 00:10
Andrea Burgener. File photo
Image by: Supplied / Times Media Group

When you get hold of incredibly fresh fish, you don't want to do very much to it.

Holiday cooking out

I was in this lucky state of just-from-the-sea fish abundance last week, when staying in a house upon a creamy, duned beach in the Eastern Cape.

There was only one downer: the thing I hate doing with fish is getting the scales off. Gutting I don't mind, but the way those transparent little discs, like so many ghosts' fingernails, go flying about the room, is just too irritating for me. Some posh chefs say, ''Oh, no problem, simply work the scales off while your fish, along with your hands and a knife, is inside a plastic packet." Well perhaps they're more nimble than I am, because I find this almost impossible. Others do it underwater, but my comment is as per plastic bag.

With a small sink, crazy heat and laziness as our limitations, we decided to follow a more he-man outdoorsy method and just bake the creatures with scales on. This delivered some of the juiciest fish I've ever encountered, and I can't recommend it too highly. Unless you're deep-frying fish to get the skin really bacon-crisp, nobody actually likes the skin anyway, so making it edible is a waste of time. Leaving fish whole is almost always the best plan: the gelatine in the bones dissolves easily and gives the flesh extra juiciness, plus the meat in the cheeks is incredible.

Cannon Rocks Fish: Place rinsed and gutted fish in oven-proof dish. The fish should be intact (head and tail on). Sprinkle salt into the body cavity and shove in half a lemon. This will keep it smelling good while cooking. Baking time depends on the fish, obviously. You need about 20 minutes at 200°C for a 30-40cm fish, but it's better to go the empirical route here rather than just looking at the clock. Peel back the skin carefully when you suspect time is right: as soon as the flesh at the thickest part of the body comes away from the bones easily, whip the fish out of the oven. While it rests for a few minutes, melt butter in a small pot and add slivered garlic and salt. A little ginger is great too. Simmer for two minutes max. Now peel the top skin off the fish from head to back. It should come off in one piece, but if not, never fear, just go carefully so that the scales stay firmly on the skin. Discard skin. Leave the underneath skin as is, and just lift the succulent flesh away from it as you serve. Eat immediately, anointed with the butter and coarse salt and lemon wedges for each diner to add.

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