Culinary innovation has been in short supply in our kitchen during the last couple of weeks. However, there have been mitigating circumstances for our apparent indolence.
We had a housepainter in for just over a week, with all the associated moving of furniture, and some consequential, long-overdue decluttering. We spent three days in the fortnight being active grandparents to Iris, while Julian and Sara managed the challenges of the 2016 wine vintage. And we are having an atypically dry and very warm tail-end to summer, sucking time and energy out of our days as we work to maintain an adequate level of moisture in the kitchen and ornamental gardens.
So, cooking-wise, we have resorted to a rolling program of familiar favourites, predominantly proteins grilled on the Weber, and various salads.
We did manage to try another recipe from Mastering the art of French cooking – tomato sauce – to take advantage of the late-summer supply of inexpensive, ripe tomatoes. In its complexity and cooking time, it was not unlike the preparation of a master stock, and about as remote you could get from an Italian community ‘tomato sauce’ fiesta.
The effort to strain the cooked pan of ingredients was out of all proportion to the volume of sauce but we think we know how to expedite that part of the process next time. For now, we have several half-cup containers in our freezer of a rich sauce that is unlike anything we could purchase, even at a gourmet deli, and it will add a special touch to some of our winter dishes. Think beef goulash, chicken cacciatore.
We also had a breakthrough experience in cooking a substantial whole fish in our Weber Q. We first attempted to do this a couple of years ago, not long after we had purchased the Weber. On that occasion, we filled the cavity of the fish with a combination of cooked rice, braised tomatoes and herbs, wrapped the fish in foil and cooked it as for a roast. The end result was quite soggy, with a texture that detracted from its flavours.
It wasn’t until we returned from our travels on the Adriatic Coast of Croatia last September/October that I could bring myself to make a further attempt at cooking fish outdoors. We began with a meal inspired by our fresh-in-the-palate-memory experiences of char-grilled seafood. In that case, the items of seafood were placed directly on the grill plate. The flavours were very good but most of the skin of the small fish stuck to the grill, depriving us of one of the pleasures of this rustic cooking method. (I have just acquired a well-designed device that should resolve this issue. Can’t wait to put it to the test!)
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, still feeling anxious about technique, I bought a fresh, cleaned, whole snapper, weighing about 1.2kg. We placed some herbs in its cavity, cut two slits into the flesh on both sides and rubbed a paste of mashed preserved lemon, baharat and olive oil into the slits and the skin. We cooked it as for roasting but without any foil wrapping; the result was moist, flavoursome flesh within a just-beginning-to-crisp skin. It looks a bit prehistoric on the platter but, hey, looks aren’t everything! Can’t wait to do that again, either.