All-seafood Carpetbagger

Ingredients

  • Small tub of Salsa Verde
  • Approx. 11 lbs cob or any other firm white fish
  • 12-16 fresh medium oysters
  • Butter
  • Chopped garlic
  • 2 heaped handfuls scrubbed mussels
  • Dry white wine
  • Handful of flat-leafed parsley
  • Punnet (small container) of button mushrooms
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • About 6 1/2 feet butcher’s string
  • Olive oil

Preparation

First off you need to remove the head and debone the fish. In the end you want to be left with two fillets that have skin on one side and flesh on the other. Don’t discard the skeleton, especially if you’ve left a little of the flesh attached. Remember "the nearer the bone the sweeter the meat," so after deboning, chuck the skeleton on to the grid for a couple of minutes and when the meat's cooked, suck the bones. It’s a great little starter for anyone who’s peckish.

Right. Moving on. In the case of cob, there are fine little bones in the fleshy side that need to be removed with a pair of tweezers (or, if you are me, pliers), so run your fingers down the flesh side of the fillets to make sure that you have them all. If you feel a prick, pull the bone out with the pliers. Put the two fillets to one side and shuck the oysters. Pour their juices off into a bowl and poach the oysters in a little butter and chopped garlic. Once they’re cooked (about two minutes), put them to one side. Steam the scrubbed mussels in their shells in a little wine and parsley until they open. Discard those that don’t open. Remove the mussels from their shells, pull out the beards, and discard everything except the flesh, which you place in a separate bowl.

Clean both pans and use one to fry a punnet of grated button mushrooms. As Julia Child said, "Don’t crowd your mushrooms." This is because these tasty morsels are predominantly water, and if they don’t have enough space they will stew in their own juices, rather than brown. Next, cut a horizontal groove across the middle of both fillets, making sure not to pierce the skin. Season with salt and pepper and then stuff the groove of one fillet with all the molluscs and the mushrooms. Place the other fillet on top and tie together using the butcher’s string. Loop one end of the string around the tail end of the fillets and knot it. Then continue to loop the string around the fish at 1-inch intervals or less, pulling the string tight as you make each loop. When you reach the other end, pass the string under the cob and tie it to the first knot (just think of a roast pork belly).

Next, rub your stuffed cob with olive oil (I like to use the locally produced Vesuvio) and sprinkle with salt. Cook over a medium heat on the braai. Don’t leave it on for too long, as the filling doesn’t need any further cooking, and never use a pair of tongs to turn; just roll the fish over gently with your hands. What you want is for the skin to crisp up like the crackling on the Porchetta and for the flesh to be firm. It’ll take about 15-20 minutes in all. When you think that the fish is cooked, take it off the coals and cut through the thickest part; if it is still a little raw in the middle, no worries, you can always put it back on for a moment longer or leave it to stand for a couple of minutes, it might cook through – your choice. Then serve with Salsa Verde, a green salad and the potatoes below.

This is just one of the many ideas that come up as I think of how I can adapt what I’ve learned at Magica Roma to the local ingredients, and as this recipe takes shape, my brain works overtime while I visualise a smorgasbord of variations that would probably be just as good. But, simply put, I’m glad I settled on this one – it’s worked out exceptionally well.

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Cooked in Africa

Based in Cape Town, South Africa, Cooked in Africa producer and host Justin Bonello describes himself as a “cook, traveler, father, husband, filmmaker, gardener... and not particularly in that order.” Bonello works on projects that bridge his love of travel and food. The self-taught bush cook is a fan of the slow food movement, and in his work on the show has covered over 5,000 miles. As Bonello himself puts it, “Cooking, travelling and filming is all in a day’s work.


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