I dialed home today. Comfort food is all about that. Going home. In one bite, you are hurled down the spiraling tunnel and going home. When it tastes and smells just like you remembered, my god what wonders your brain does… Am I the only one sensitive like this? I smell a perfume I have used a long time ago or I smell something distinct and it is an instant time travel. Close your eyes, inhale and swooooosh you are right there… Therefore, it makes me very happy to be able to replicate the things of home…. When I achieve those things, then is when I think my cooking is a success….
I was sitting watching some cooking show (what else would I be watching on tv!) and, on a completely unrelated note, this just popped back in my head! Of course! Why haven’t I thought of this in a while and why haven’t I been making it more often? More importantly, why and how have I forgotten about it? I remember we got this recipe from my aunt and it was an instant hit. It is very simple, but I just wanted to make sure, so I did dial home. I didn’t have to. I had remembered it exactly.
I have always had it with mackerel and I don’t know what you can substitute for it. I mean, you can use any fish, but flavour-wise, I don’t know what comes closest. I always buy a whole fish, head, tail and all. You can toss that or pick at it at the end, but it adds flavour if you keep it whole, or I like to believe so. You can ask for your fish to be cleaned and gutted or you can have fun yourselves. I actually enjoy it! This time my fish monger cleaned it for me, without me asking, so I was kind of bummed that I was deprived of my fun… 😦 haha
This I would say serves 2, if you divide the fish in 2. But the mackerel is I find a good size enough for 1. As much as I love leeks, I love fish more, so I’d eat less of the filling and more fish (seriously, I love fish and it’s sometimes hard to stop, but this is a good thing, right?) But you can share the filling and the fish and this is plenty for 2 people.
One thing I didn’t do here, is to flash sauté the leeks a bit before putting them in the oven with the fish. I stirred the casserole once or twice this time, and I found that the fish was done before all the leeks had cooked down as much as I wanted them to. It was not a problem in the end, but if you want them to be more “confiture” like, then sauté them a bit beforehand.
As for the bread, I love the mix of little bread toasts and soaked bread pieces. You can use potatoes if you like as a substitute, but parboil them beforehand, because they might not be done at the end. I am really put off by an uncooked, crunchy potato! I think preferably you should use a day old bread, not fresh. I didn’t have a day old, so I sacrificed the worst and cheapest baguette I could find. It was fine. But you can’t use toast bread, you know that sliced bread sold in plastic bags where flour is among the last ingredients, unless replaced with some chemical… that bread would dissolve in here and you are not supposed to have mush.
This is really adaptable. You can use more or less leeks or bread. Replace the majority of leek with fresh parsley. Use any herbs you have on hand, dry or fresh or combination. It won’t hurt. Probably none won’t hurt either.
1 mackerel, whole, clean and gutted
3 medium leeks, white & light green parts, cleaned and sliced
1 lemon, cut in circles and seeded
1/2 baguette, torn in bite sized pieces
splash of olive oil
salt and pepper
sprinkling of thyme
sprinkling of Herbes de Provence
sprinkling of fresh/frozen parsley
sprinkling of fresh/frozen dill
splash of water/white wine or both
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.
2. Toss together the everything but the fish, lemon and liquids.
3. Place the fish on top of the leek and bread mix. Season it inside and out with some salt, pepper and some of the herbs. Place the lemon slices inside the fish.
4. Pour in the liquids gently at one side of the dish. The water is suposed to go on the bottom and not through the vegetable mix. It will wash off the herbs. You want it at the bottom to prevent sticking and to kind of steam up the vegetables.
5. Bake on the middle rack for 55 minutes. Stir once or twice. If you’ve sautéed the leeks, it will cook faster, because the fish doesn’t take that long. If the bread pieces on top are starting to brown and you don’t want to stir, cover with aluminium foil.
6. When done, take out the fish, remove the head and tail. Discard lemon slices; cut lengthwise, remove the spine and major bones and serve!
You do minimal work for maximum gain! Win!