One of the great things about food shopping in Puglia is that you never know what you will come home with; it is fun wandering round the bakery, fish shop, butchers and market and buying whatever looks best that day and there are always bargains to be had..The market square is still referred to as ‘piazza del pesce’ even though recent EU legislation has driven the fish sellers indoors to neighbouring shops, where climate control is easier to achieve.. You often get bargains in the fish shop on a Sunday morning even if the selection is reduced – the restaurants have already collected their weekend orders and no one will buy fish on a Monday morning before the fishermen come back in as it will be Saturday’s catch.
Last week was no exception and I managed to buy two superb Orata or Sea Bream, weighing around 800 grams each when cleaned, for 16 euros. One went straight into the freezer and I deliberated how to cook the other. The most typical, local way would be in the oven with tomatoes, onion and olives and maybe sliced potato on top to keep the moisture in… Instead I decided on the easiest, quickest, and to my mind the most delicious option ‘in acqua pazza’ or cooked in water made ‘mad’ by the addition of peperoncino and garlic…
It couldn’t be simpler:
You will need:
white fish such as sea bream or sea bass
A couple of cloves of garlic and a whole dried chili pepper, or to taste
A little olive oil
A handful of small red tomatoes
Scale and clean the fish, if this hasn’t been done for you.
Put a little olive oil in a shallow pan, large enough to take your fish, and add the chopped garlic and peperoncino.
Holding the fish by the tail, wipe both sides through the oil then add the fish to the pan.
Add a little water, to cover the bottom of the pan but not to cover the fish.
Add the tomatoes after cutting a cross at one end of them – the juices will combine with the oil and water to make a fragrant, golden liquid.
Cover the pan (with tin foil if you don’t have a tight fitting lid) and cook for about 10 minutes (15 in my case as the fish was large)
Uncover, remove the fish carefully, remove the head and tail with a spoon and divide the fish into four fillets. If you see that it is not quite cooked towards the bone you can easily return it to the pan and cook a little longer.
If necessary reduce the liquid in the pan a little by stirring over a high heat for a couple of minutes – but you do want a liquid rather than a sauce. Add freshly chopped parsley.
Pour a little liquid over the fillets and spoon out the tomatoes…
Serve with crusty bread for mopping up the sauce…
The fish is moist and succulent, the tomatoes sweet and the flavours of garlic and chili add oomph without being overpowering. Absolutely sublime…