Friday, October 15, 2010

This week I got lucky.

I found a fish monger at my neighborhood store that spoke a little English. I was able to tell him that I wanted to cook the fish whole in the oven so he wouldn’t cut off its little head. Perfect!

I selected an average size “levrek” – Turkish for sea bass. My fish weighed about 750 grams or 26 ounces, so a little over 1 ½ pounds. You can find this popular fish on nearly every menu here.

After a little research online, I found one reason why sea bass is so popular. According to the Istanbul Exporter's Association, Turkey’s annual fishery production is approximately 800,000 tons, including fresh water production. Since 1990 to 2007, the farming-based production of seafood increased from 1 percent to 18 percent. The country’s fish farms specialize in cultivating sea bass, gilt head bream and rainbow trout.

The sea bream, known locally as “sinarit,” is almost as popular as the sea bass. Both are reasonably priced so they are widely available at the markets.

Often, fish is served simply with lemon wedges, olive oil and maybe some greens or a few potatoes. There’s no reason to make it complicated.

I thought roasting a whole fish would be difficult, but it wasn’t. Rub the fish down with good extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper and liberally fill the baking tray and the fish with Meyer lemon slices and herbs.

Exactly what kind of herbs you want to use are up to you. Normally, I have a ton of parsley on hand so I decided to use that. But thyme, tarragon, rosemary, dill or mint would be excellent additions. Just remember the phrase - Keep It Simple (Stupid) - an acronym we used when we were teenagers.

Meyer lemons are a bit sweeter and less acidic than that of regular lemons. Also, the skin tends to be smoother than common commercial lemons. To me, Meyer lemons have an amazing floral-like essence. I love them. I love to use them in desserts such as a Meyer lemon curd tart too. My husband sometimes uses them in my weekend martinis.

Meyer lemons usually appear in higher-end U.S. grocery stores, such as Whole Foods, during the winter months. If they aren’t available yet, regular lemons will work as well.

Afiyet Olsun!

 Whole Roasted Fish with Meyer Lemons and Herbs
Whole fish such as sea bass or sea bream, scaled and gutted (plan on about 1 ½ lbs. per 2 people)
2-3       lemons, preferably Meyer lemons if available, sliced thinly
Herbs of your choice: parsley, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, dill and mint.
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Place several lemon slices in the middle of an aluminum foil- lined sheet tray. Lay the fish on top of the lemons.
2. Season the inside of the fish with salt, pepper and olive oil. Then, place a few lemon slices and a little of the herbs inside.
3. Scatter the remaining lemon slices and herbs over the fish. Drizzle with olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Place tray inside the preheated oven, and roast until the fish is cooked through, about 20-30 minutes. (One of my cookbooks recommended 10 minutes per inch thickness of fish. Just test the fish carefully with a fork to see if it is cooked through.)
5. Remove the tray from the oven. Allow the fish to rest for a few minutes. Then, try your best to filet the fish and remove the bones. (This step apparently is going to take me some practice.)
6. If you’d like, serve the fish with lightly sautéed mushrooms - cooked in a little butter, salt and pepper.

Local sea bass served with mushrooms, chopped parsley and lemons.

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