I remember it clearly. It was dark, quiet and no-one spoke. Six tourists had finally arrived at Kosta – a tiny village on the Greek mainland on our way to the sun-kissed island of Spetses, one of the Greek Saronic Islands. Holiday excitement had long faded into resigned obedience. Our travel rep instructed us all to take a seat, but really we were lucky to find some space amongst the luggage in the water taxi rowing boat. Loaded to the gills we set off across the sea. I was afraid of us sinking under the weight of holiday ‘must takes’ but we finally arrived safely. In the package holiday tradition we were all sent off to get our bags and load them onto a 3-wheeled moped van to take us to the place which would be home for two weeks. We were in the middle of nowhere, and all I wanted to do after our tiring journey of train, plane, coach, boat and finally van, was sleep.
Have you ever had that feeling of having arrived at an unknown place late at night and next morning opening the curtains to be greeted by the deepest blue sky, warm sunshine and a view of the glistening sea? These breath-taking moments are what makes a holiday special and gives me something to remember in the dark winter months.
Memories of this holiday came flooding back when I started to prepare a dish that I first had in Greece. Fish a la Spetsiota is a very simple dish, easy to make but looks impressive and tastes fresh and full of sunshine. It is a good dish to serve friends for dinner or makes a lovely summer lunch. I used to make this fish dish often but haven’t tried it now for a few years.
On Saturday I got up in the dark at 4.30am to visit Billingsgate Fish Market in the East End of London. It has the largest selection of fish in the UK and after I staggered home with tons of fish I returned to this recipe – it felt like calling an old friend. I had to find the recipe, I could have just created it from memory but wanted to be faithful to the dish so started to hunt for the cookbook which I bought in Greece so many years ago. This recipe has been adapted from the traditional Greek Cookery Book, (Michalis Toubis).
I used a large sea bass as my friend gave me two that she bought when we went to Billingsgate. I try to only buy sustainable fish such as Gurnard, Sprats, Horse Mackerel, Pollack and Grey Mullet. For more information on sustainable fish I found The River Cottage Fish Book (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher) is very helpful. As sea bass is endangered I bought a box of 12 gurnards for £12 which works out at £1 per 500g fish – a bargain and at the moment as we don’t eat very much of this fish it is sustainable too. I actually prefer them to sea bass or bream. It also makes great stock.
Fish (psari) a la Spetsiota – serves 2
1 large whole fresh fish (such as gurnard, sea bass, sea bream)
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 medium sized red or white onion, finely sliced
2-3 large vine tomatoes, sliced
1 green, yellow or red pepper, sliced
a handful of breadcrumbs
Juice of 1 lemon
2-3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste
parsley finely chopped
Wash the fish thoroughly, make sure it has been cleanly gutted, and drain it. Put a piece of baking foil under the fish big enough to make into a parcel around the fish.
In a large bowl add all the ingredients. Mix well and then arrange over the fish ensuring it coats the underneath as well. Seal up the parcel. This will steam the fish in all the delicious tomato and lemon juices.
Bake in the oven on Gas mark 5 or 200C for 45 minutes.
Serve on a big plate to share – all that was left was the bones!
Is there a particular food or recipe that brings back happy holiday memories for you?