Tag Archives: fish

Two Fish recipes from Sicily

Two interesting recipes courtesy of Salvatore Barbara, chef of the fab Dubbesi restaurant at the Kempinski Hotel Giardino di Costanza, in Mazara del Vallo, Sicily. A large part of the menu is devoted to fish dishes including local specialities such as fish couscous, slightly seared fresh tuna, swordfish
Messina-style, mixed grill of fish with rosemary and also dishes in which
Sicily becomes an international crossroads, such as the trilogy of tuna
consisting of three tuna tartares, in Sicilian, French and Japanese styles, all
in a single dish.

Fillet of sea bass with aubergine caviar and thick fish stock with field balm

Ingredients and method:
Aubergine caviar: Cut three large
aubergines in half, prick them with a fork and bake them in the oven until soft.
Remove the peel, drain off the excess liquid and add extra virgin olive oil, a
little sweet paprika, a very small amount of crushed garlic, a teaspoonful of fresh lemon juice, and a leaf of fresh mint. Chop finely with a knife or mash
with a fork.

Thick fish stock with field balm and cinnamon
Lightly fry half an onion, a clove of garlic, and a bay leaf together, then add the carefully washed sea bass carcases, and cover with white wine. Allow the wine to evaporate, add a stick of cinnamon cut in half, two mint leaves, very lightly dusted with flour, a stick of celery and half a carrot. Cover with water and reduce by 50%. Season to taste and strain.

Sea bass fillets
Place the fillets in a pan with a clove
of garlic, still in its skin, and a sprig of thyme. Fry lightly on both sides,
then remove from the heat, spread with a little of the aubergine caviar and
finish off the cooking in the oven.
Arrange on the dish, accompanied by the cinnamon sauce that has been heated up in the pan the fish was cooked in and blended with a little olive oil; arrange two potatoes “ad oliva” (olive-style) and decorate with fried mint leaves and a stick of cinnamon.

Three-sesame-seed tuna with baby spinach and brunoise of crunchy vegetables with 25-year-aged balsamic vinegar

Ingredients and method
Take 200 g. of tuna; 100 g. brunoise made from a mixture of carrots, celery, courgettes and peppers; a suitable quantity of baby spinach and the zest of a Sicilian lemon; black, golden and white sesame seeds to coat the fish; and traditional Modena 25-year-aged balsamic vinegar.

Coat the fish with the three sesame seeds and sear it lightly in a grill pan.
Boil the diced crunchy vegetables in water with bay leaves for about two
minutes, and dress with extra virgin oil flavoured with red garlic. Wash the baby spinach well, squeeze dry, and add a little oil and some strips of lemon zest. Arrange the dish on a plate and finish with a trail of 25-year-aged balsamic vinegar and a few flakes of coarse sea salt.

The island of Sicily is intimately bound up with the world of fishing, an activity that has, over the centuries, become a culture and tradition, extending its influence to poetry, sculpture, painting and literature. Good cooking, too, is fundamentally linked to the world of fishing, and conceals a poetic and mysterious quality: every dish has its own history and tradition and derives from the centuries of dominations and influences that the island has been subjected to, from the Arabs to the Normans, and from the Byzantines to the Aragonese.
The Kempinski Hotel Giardino di Costanza is in the province of Trapani, a short distance from Mazara del Vallo, easily reached from Palermo airport in less than an hour by motorway.


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Caviston’s, that Sandycove institution, has now expanded its sphere of influence to Monkstown. To be pinpoint precise, to a location on the venerable dining strip alongside the funeral parlour. Maybe this influenced the new restaurant’s architect to shroud the interior in unremitting black, relieved only by large silver fish emblems hanging trophy-like on the walls . Modern, stark and somewhat sombre or retro in the style of a 60’s Soho whiff-of-brimstone coffee house, I couldn’t quite decide. Tables are packed quite tightly together and the high buzz of conversation renders the background music unnecessary. Our waitress, or at least our first waitress for we were served by no less than three during dinner, had only joined the staff that day and it was from her that we learned of the demise of Vico at Dalkey, her previous place of work. Sad.
As might be expected, Caviston, as the new restaurant is named, plays to its strength by majoring on fish; varying the menu on a day-to-day basis to serve only what’s available and fresh, a noble aim. Confidence in the product on your plate is a great thing and I didn’t feel a qualm about ordering the chilli and thyme-dressed grilled squid knowing, as I did, that it would not be a breadcrumbed inner tube. Lady Cassils chose a Caesar salad, which surprised me no end. It proved substantial and was properly prepared with tasty London (cos or romaine or what you will) lettuce, not cosmetic iceberg. So far so good.
From a compact wine list I chose a bottle of Albarino, not the ubiquitous Martin Codax but a ????
which came with an endorsment from Robert Parker. At the first mouthful I could see why, it big, upfront and vibrant with a rounded and weighty mouthfeel, four-square in the Parker tradition. A bit brash maybe but a good foil for the squid and lobster, my main course choice, and better than drinking good Chablis too young, the list’s other main temptation, one to which I often succumb.
Before I chose the (half) lobster I asked about it’s antecedents. It came from Drogheda, came the message from the chef. Good. Recently in a Cape Town restaurant I swore, for the umpteenth time, never again to eat lobster, crayfish or prawns trawled up in tepid waters. Down The Cape they make great play of their crustaceans – “Caught in Mozambique and blast frozen immediately” the waiter boasts. Amazing for these shellfish have neither charm nor grace, taste nor texture. Unlike cold water crustaceans, which develop muscle tone by keeping moving in order to keep warm these denizens of the soft South laze around in the shallows reading pulp novels, all Ray Bans, factor 40 and flab. Caviston’s lobster, simply baked in garlic butter, was a worthy son of the Boyne, meaty, muscular and tasty. Only trouble was it was a wee lobster from The Wee County and I could have wolfed down two of them. Milady’s John Dory, offered up in sympatico fashion with ailoli and roasted garlic, was likewise a bit of a pygmy, though again, sweet and flavoursome. We gazed longingly, in unison, at a monster of a black sole on an adjoining table.
At some point I dropped a knife and it might have lain there for ever. Tired of waiting for a replacement I robbed one from the next table. The main courses came with boiled baby potatoes, probably Charlotte, generously anointed with butter and the only beg on offer, a green salad which herself found hard to swallow in the wake of the ginormous Caesar. I was tempted to say “Ate two?” but refrained. Anyhow, a little more effort needed here, we felt.
Desserts proved something of a yawn, a playsafe collection of everyone’s favourites – here a pot au chocolat, there a creme brulee. We ordered one of these, it was fine, plus an almond frangipane tart, another cliche. How this was garnished depended on which waitress you got. Ours had grapefruit but no cream, the pie not the waitress.
Towards the end of the meal live music kicked in – a gypsy jazz duo with a fiddler that managed to remind me of the worst aspects of Stephane Grappeli’s playing – aimless noodling around taking the place of improvisation on a theme. These were followed by a quartet of young folk-ish maidens, a sort of Irish Petra, Paula and Mary. Almost the best entertainment of the night was to be had from taking a trip to the bogs. The architect had cleverly managed to locate two urinals within a tight space. The guy in station two drew the short straw, any movement serving to switch on the more than averagely powerful hand-drier, very disconcerting this. He also had to wait until his partner in station one had finished before he could exit and even this involved a certain amount of intricate sideways shuffling. If a third guy had walked in we’d all still be in there!
The espresso was decent enough. All-in-all the meal as described cost e115, fair value. The quality of the fish was indisputable, which is why most people will go there. The service was friendly, if a little erratic. The decor was certainly arresting – her ladyship loved it. The atmosphere was pretty electric and many will enjoy the music, performed apparently on Fridays and Saturdays. Delft was good and modern, but the cutlery, a little rickety,did not add to the occasion. Minor quibbles apart, Caviston’s is unpretentious, honest and enjoyable, serves good fresh fish and it would not take much to lift it into the next echelon A sensible choice of vegetables and a little more imagination with the desserts would do the trick. Good start, Stephen and Mary, keep it up.
Caviston Restaurant Monkstown, 17 Monkstown Crescent, Monkstown, Co Dublin Tel: (01) 284 6012

The Mermaid Café

“We’ll go down to the Mermaid Café and I will buy you a bottle of wine. And we’ll laugh and toast to nothing and smash our empty glasses down.” I sang over the phone.
“That’s great. Did you write that?” said Lefty, my fellow guitar-playing conspirator.
“No, Joni Mitchell did, but I was probably her inspiration.” (I met her once, in 1968).
I go down to the Mermaid Café quite a lot. I’d love to smash their empty coarse- rimmed glasses down. And not being overly padded in the old gluteus maximus and having a slightly dodgy back, I’d like to smash the ‘Shaker-meets -repentance stool’ chairs too. Also maybe chuck out a few tables and push the rest father apart. Where’s the joy in dining out if you can’t impart scurrilous rumour to your best mate without the world sharing the secret? Why should you have to save the scandal for the taxi ride home?
This said, the Mermaid Café is without doubt Dublin’s most enjoyable dining experience. No, it’s not a Thorntons or Guilbaud’s, nor yet a Chapter One or L’Ecrivain. ‘Fine dining’ is not where it’s at. But I love the hi-decibel conversation generated by the ponytail-to-pinstripe clientele. And while, to a pro’s eye the place seems understaffed, service never gets ragged – a little frayed around the edges maybe; still, they always find time to debate key topics like whether you’ll get more pleasure from the loin of lamb than the confit pork. House wines are well chosen and fairly priced – we liked the e20 Penedes Reserva. If you want to go upmarket, there are some nifty New World beauties you won’t find elsewhere. The food is modern in concept but tilted towards satisfying keen appetites rather than gaining the chef membership of the Royal Hibernian Academy. No pointillist paintings with jus or coulis, no LeCorbusier towers, no spun sugar abstracts.
The art on the other walls is modern, too, and maritime-flavoured. Picture windows on two sides lend, Lefty observed, an air of dining on a ship while gazing out at those on deck. I imagined Captain Ahab as a man with a beard and a peaked cap hove into view, though he was probably only parking cars. After a glass of Italian Chardonnay, which was, I’m pleased to say, light on boring old melons and peaches, our starters arrived. My confit of duck salad was succulent and stylish, but not a patch on Lefty’s New England crab cakes which, untypically, contained more crab than crumb. If these are what they eat in New England I now know why people try and row the Atlantic east to west.
When it came to the main course I had my revenge. He got a fillet steak, of good size and excellent quality. I got a whole aquarium! The giant fish casserole came piled high above a soup bowl. So high I had visions of the contents unbalancing and shoaling into my lap. The crown of this king size treat consisted of seven or eight fat-bellied langoustines. I devoured these, then attacked the stack of mussels. In the basement was an assortment of fish: hake, cod, salmon, ray and more, all enveloped in a delicious Thai-flavoured soup that I slurped up with a spoon before ignorantly and joyfully mopping the bowl with the Mermaid’s good bread. Which is why I could only manage half a dessert. Pity, their pecan pie, a benchmark by which to judge its kind. “I can feel my arteries shrinking,” said Lefty, climbing in regardless. We finished with good espressi then went out on deck looking for the great white whale. We didn’t find him – maybe he was in the casserole!

The Mermaid Café 69-70 Dame Street, Dublin 2 Tel: (01) 670 8205