food to glow

feel good food that's good for you

Fish. Love or hate kind of food. Like mushrooms or liver, fish will either elicit an “ooh, love fish,” or an “Ugh, smelly, horrible. Can’t stand the stuff”. Well, maybe not that black and white, but nearly.

Despite growing up in Florida I didn’t eat that much fish, unless it came with a side of coleslaw and hush puppies (the cornmeal-based fritter, not the soft shoe beloved of jazz musicians and math teachers). It’s not that I didn’t like it, rather that I wasn’t exposed to good fish dishes.

By the time I started cooking properly for myself I was married and living in the UK. Shortly after moving to the UK I found that eating meat didn’t agree with me at all. At home in Florida I could polish off White Castle burgers and steak tacos with the best of them, but post-move even the plainest of meats made me feel quite unwell. The only thing I could put it down to was the fact that the beef cattle in the UK were at the time raised on a different diet to their US brethern, especially in the winter when they would get a lot of root crops (another thing I couldn’t digest well, not having eaten many before. Florida doesn’t have the weather for many root veg). It got me thinking about the fact that we eat what the animals we eat, eats. Does that make sense?

Anyway, I quickly became a vegetarian, even flirting with veganism – but I liked cheese too much. Supportive Mr A, a rugby playing, meat and potatoes kind of guy through and through, joined me and together we explored the delights of 1980s-stylee vegetarian cuisine: lots of beany shepherd pies, flans and vegetable gratins. What does this have to do with fish? Well, after so many years of exclusively vegetarian eating I found myself in Portugal for a week-long conference and then staying on for a holiday with Mr A. By the time he met me I was ravenously hungry and bored out of my tree with what was ‘on offer’ – a term I use loosely. At that time in mid-90s Porto there were no vegetarian restaurants, and the only concession to vegetarians that my hotel could/would make was either a tortilla or a tortuously samey salad topped with an extremely hard-boiled egg. Every single day. Eggs at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I kid you not. By all rights I should run screaming when I even see a carton of the things, never mind be an urban chicken keeper.

So, Mr A and I made the momentous and life-altering decision, eat fish. As fish aren’t raised on root crops (although farmed fish can have a weird cereal based diet), I suspected all would be well. If I could get past the ‘it has a face’ thing.

Oh. My. Giddy. Aunt. Our first experience of fish was laughably awful. Not the taste, but the presentation. I might have coped okay with a fillet of something anonymous, but unbelievably it came as two whole fish,  deep-fried, with  their razor-sharp teeth rictusly clamped around each others’ tail. A gruesome zodiac symbol on a plate. Served me right, pardon the pun. Come back to me egg salad, all is forgiven.

I excused myself while Mr A gallantly and without fuss filleted the little fellows. We did end up nearly enjoying this most bizarre of meals, if only for the ‘I can’t believe we are doing this’ factor. The rest of the week wasn’t much better, but we obviously survived. Upon our return we occasionally had fish but not until I became pregnant with Miss R did it became a regular feature in our diet. And has been ever since. Over the years I have become much more adventurous not only with the fish choice but also the cooking method. Into this very blog I have sneaked in salmon and smoked mackerel recipes, but this one is my personal favourite. It also happens to be incredibly simple and amazingly family-friendly, give or take a jalapeno. The twist is the lime leaf, and it is incredible. If you like fish that is. If not, thank you for reading thus far, and I invite you to stay on so I can convince you of what you are missing. Vegans and vegetarians, congratulations for stomaching the gruesome fish tale (another unnecessary pun. Sorry). You are excused now. See you next time.

Nutrition and Cooking notes: Fish gets rather short shrift in the UK, although I believe things are getting better. Despite being surrounded by water and filled with lakes and lochs most of us fall short of the two servings a week that is generally recommended. Fear of cooking with fish – bones, scales, smell, time it takes – are the reasons most often given for shunning all but chip shop fish. Must fishmonger or supermarket fish counter will deal with any bones and cleaning, as well as offer tips on cooking. Some even sell sauces and flavoured butters to go with the fish – bung in some foil, scrunch and bake briefly. As for smell, most fresh fish shouldn’t smell of very much. Fishmongers are always your best bet for spanking fresh fish – filleted or whole and cleaned. And as for time, don’t get me started: fish is the original fast food. Fish is always best briefly cooked. Depending on thickness, you can have dinner on the table in around fifteen minutes. Generally bank on giving it 10 minutes per inch/2.5 cm, at 400F/200C. Here is a link to some straightforward cooking advice.

Nutritionally, protein is the main nutrient along with B12 and iron. White fish are all low in fat and easily digested – a huge bonus during cancer treatment and after any surgery. Oily fish offer even more: valuable, anti-inflammatory Omega 3 (white fish is anti-inflammatory too, just not as much) and vitamins A and D. Small fish with soft edible bones, such as whitebait and anchovies, or tinned salmon, are extremely useful for their calcium too. I would urge you to give fish more room in your diet, especially as a replacement for some meat dishes. Quick, low fat, delicious, varied and nutritious – need I say more? Oh, one more thing, it doesn’t even have to be fresh-fresh, frozen is just as nutritious. Lots of great ideas on the internet but hopefully you will try this one.

Please forgive the messy plates – we were hungry!

Veracruz Fish with a Twist

If you are having a hard time getting your taste buds going give this simple Caribbean-style dish a go. Don’t be afraid of the jalapenos – the kind we get in this country (mainly Old El Paso or Discovery brands) are not scary-hot. Leave them out if you or your family are wary of spicy heat. By the way, the twist is the lime leaves. These really taste terrific here, but leave them out for a just-as-delicious traditional Veracruz-style dish.

4 firm white fish fillets (approximately 150 g each; I used sustainable haddock), skin removed
juice of ½ a lime 
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely sliced  OR 6 spring onions/scallions, sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
400 g tin best quality chopped tomatoes
1 red pepper, cut in half and into strips
8-10 ‘Peppadew’ jarred peppers (sweet, not hot), halved – optional, but great for a sweet contrast
150 ml water OR tomato juice
10 green olives, pitted and halved
1 tbsp capers, rinsed
1 tbsp jalapeno peppers (from a jar), chopped
2 bay leaves OR 4 dried lime leaves (or a good pinch of frozen minced lime leaves)
fresh coriander for serving
Lime halves for serving

Heat the oven to 200C/400F. Rub the lime juice into the fish and set aside for no more than 15 minutes. Heat the oil in a frying pan and slowly cook the onion for 10 minutes, until soft and pale. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add tomatoes, red pepper, water or tomato juice, olives, capers, jalapenos, and lime or bay leaves.

Simmer the sauce for 10-15 minutes, or until the pepper is just tender. Place the fish in a baking dish and spoon the sauce on top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Scatter with coriander and serve with brown rice or crushed skin-on new potatoes, plus a green vegetable or two and extra lime.    Serves 4

vintage 1960s Denby

9 thoughts on “Baked Veracruz Fish with a Twist

  1. karensbooth says:

    LOVE Denby, LOVE Fish and LOVE this post Kellie ~ taste with interesting facts; I had grilled Chinese 5 Spice Salmon for lunch with noodles, and lapped it up!
    That is just the sort of recipe that appeals to me.
    BTW ~ is salmon good for you on the omega oil front?
    Karen

    1. Hi Karen, oh yeah salmon’s got loads of Omega 3, about the same as white lake fish, albacore tuna and tinned mackerel. The most Omega 3 – nearly double that of salmon – is fresh mackerel, followed by lake trout and herring. I’ve only recently learned to like fresh mackerel, having had a slightly ‘off’ one that put me off for years. I absolutely love fresh mackerel now, the more simply prepared the better. Your salmon and noodle lunch sounds scrummy. I had a big breakfast at a friends and am only just now getting peckish at 5 pm!

  2. karensbooth says:

    Thanks Kellie ~ I am a BIG fresh mackerel lover ~ love it with gooseberry sauce which is very British!

  3. You are so right. Folks either like fish, or can’t stand the thought of it. I’m on the side of loving it, and this dish is so colorful it should convince even the biggest fish hater to give it a try!

    1. Thanks Kristi 😀 Glad you like the colours AND the fish.

  4. I love all three things you mention at the beginning, and as a child, growing up in Poland, we would have smoked mackerel or eel at least twice a week.
    Interesting note on UK beef, my Mum became a fish and seafood only ‘vegetarian’ about 12 years ago now because she didn’t feel great after eating meat and risk eating hormone chicken. Something in tha water…

    1. I know! I have spoken of this and it is astounding how many immigrants have a similar experience. We eat what the animals we eat, eats. We are more connected to our food than many of us care to recognise.

  5. Cabot says:

    We will definately try this Veracruz. What a fabulicious combination of ingredients and colors! Thanks! Cabot

    1. Great to hear from you Kim. I just got back from holiday and am SO jet-lagged but am planning on having some salmon with a quick watercress sauce (blitz watercress, creme fraiche & lemon). Even a little light chopping for the veracruz is a bit beyond me today! Hope you enjoy the recipe.

If you have time, I would love to hear from you. Thanks so much!

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