Catch of the day

Winter is the best season for cooking fish.

By NERIA BARR
March 11, 2015 13:10
Food

Seared fillet of mullet on cream of spinach. (photo credit: BOAZ LAVI)

Contrary to popular belief, winter is the best season for fish. Chef Amos Sion, whose fish restaurant Helena in the Port is located in the picturesque harbor of old Caesarea, says that the storms and high waves that prevent fishermen from going out daily produce great catches, allowing fishermen to choose only the large fish and leave the small ones to grow.

Sion loves preparing fish during the winter.

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He says that during the winter months he takes advantage of the abundance of small fish such as sardines, which are cheaper now and so delicious.

“You’d be surprised at how different the flavor is to what you’re used to eating from a can,” he says.

During the winter months, he serves his patrons dishes prepared with traditional artisanal techniques, using his stone oven that he heats with local oak and olive wood, as well as curing and smoking techniques and fresh produce from local growers. The diners are invited to sit by the windows, watching the stormy sea while enjoying his delicacies.

If you want to try your hand at preparing fish, the chef suggests that you find a good fishmonger that you can trust, and always check the fish for freshness before you let him scale it. How do you know if a fish is fresh? Sion says the eyes should be clear, the flesh firm and the skin shiny.

The smell should not be “fishy” but should have the scent of the sea.

FISH SOUP WITH ARAK, ORANGE AND SAFFRON
✔ ½ butternut squash, peeled and sliced
✔ 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
✔ 1 potato, peeled and sliced
✔ 2 leeks, washed, sliced, white part only
✔ 1 cup white wine
✔ 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
✔ 3 cloves garlic, sliced
✔ 1 celeriac root, peeled and sliced
✔ 2 parsley roots, peeled and sliced
✔ 1 cup chickpeas, soaked in water overnight (or pre-cooked frozen)
✔ 1 sea fish, filleted (set aside the head and bones)
✔ ½ cup arak or other anise drink
✔ 1 Tbsp. flour
✔ 2 Tbsp. olive oil
✔ 2 liters water
✔ Zest of 1 orange
✔ 3 bay leaves
✔ 6 saffron threads (the soup is also good without the saffron but much better with it)

Sauté the sliced vegetables and garlic in the olive oil. Add the tomato paste and mix, then add the flour and stir fry. Be careful not to let it burn. Add the arak and, using a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the skillet.

Add the white wine and saffron. Add the fish bones and head, the bay leaves and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the bones and bay leaves, add the fish and the orange zest and cook for 10 more minutes.

Serve in bowls with a few drops of olive oil and garnish with parsley.

FILLET OF BASS WITH BEAN PASTE AND FENNEL SALAD
Serves 2
✔ 400 gr. fillet of bass (2 fillets per portion)
✔ Olive oil

For the bean paste
✔ 300 gr. lima beans, soaked overnight, cooked and peeled
✔ ½ cup raw tehina
✔ 2 cloves garlic, minced
✔ 1 bunch parsley, chopped
✔ 1 tsp. salt
✔ Juice of 1 lemon
✔ ¾ cup cold water

For the salad
✔ 1 fennel, very thinly sliced
✔ 1 lemon, filleted
✔ 3 Tbsp. pitted olives
✔ ½ cup parsley leaves
✔ 2 Tbsp. olive oil
✔ Salt

To prepare the bean paste: Using a mortar and pestle (or a food processor), pulverize all the ingredients, gradually adding water.

If you are using a food processor, work it in pulses so as not to overwork it. The spread should not be too smooth.

In a skillet with very little oil, sear the fish fillets on the skin side for 2 minutes. Turn over and cook for 2 more minutes.

Spread the bean paste on each plate and arrange the fish fillets on top.

Toss together all the salad ingredients and place a small mound of salad on the fish.

SEARED FILLET OF MULLET ON CREAM OF SPINACH
Serves 4
✔ 1 bunch spinach
✔ 1 onion, thinly sliced
✔ 1 garlic clove, sliced
✔ 2 dried juniper seeds (available in spice shops)
✔ Salt
✔ Nutmeg
✔ ½ cup cream
✔ 2 Tbsp. olive oil
✔ 4 fillets of white fish such as mullet (buri in Hebrew)
✔ 2 sprigs fresh thyme or 2 tsp. dry thyme
✔ Olive oil for frying

To prepare the cream:
Sauté onion in 2 Tbsp. olive oil until transparent. Add the garlic and juniper, and then add the washed spinach and cook until spinach leaves wilt, about 6 minutes. Add the cream and cook for 4 more minutes.

Season the cream with salt and nutmeg to taste. Transfer to the food processor and grind until smooth.

When cream is ready, season fish with kosher salt and thyme and heat a little olive oil in a skillet. Sear the fish, skin side down, for 3 minutes. Carefully turn over and cook for 3 more minutes on the other side.

To serve: Pour the cream on the serving plates and place the fish on top.

FISH FILLETS WITH CARROT AND ZUCCHINI “PASTA”
Serves 4

For the sauce
✔ 1 cup white wine
✔ A few saffron threads
✔ 1 Tbsp. butter
✔ 1 garlic clove, sliced
✔ 2 zucchini (or squash)
✔ 2 large carrots, peeled
✔ 4 tsp. fresh or dried rosemary
✔ 4 fillets of barramundi or other white fish
✔ 4 slices of goat’s cheese (optional)

To prepare the sauce: In a pot, cook saffron and garlic in the wine until it is reduced to half of the quantity. Add butter, stir and remove from heat.

Using a peeler, prepare wide “pasta” from the carrots and zucchini. When ready to serve, heat the sauce and very briefly cook the faux pasta in the sauce, only until coated with the sauce.

Season the fish with salt and rosemary.

Heat a little oil in a skillet and sear the fish 3 minutes on the skin side; turn over and cook the other side 3 minutes.

Place the vegetable strips on the plate, add 1 fillet of fish per person. If you desire, place 1 slice of goat’s cheese on each fillet.

Recipes and photos courtesy of Helena in the Port and chef Amos Sion, Caesarea, (04) 610- 1018. Open daily from noon. Not kosher.


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