Saturday, December 4, 2010

Take Away - Good Cheap Fish

Possibly the most memorable thing I ate during a recent trip to Spain was a plate of fresh sardines at La Boqueria. There wasn't much to it. Fresh sardines cooked on a flat top with olive oil and a little salt. The fish was cooked perfectly and served with lemon and a slice of bread slathered with tomato water and olive oil. It wasn't fancy or expensive. It was simple and perfect. I wanted to make it at home.

So a week or two later and back in Cleveland I took a trip to Kate's. No fresh sardines to be found, but a box of whiting (hake) had just come in. I got them gutted and took them home.

Once home I just snipped the fins with a pair of scissors, rinsed and dried the fish, lubed them with olive oil, and placed them in a hot, oiled pan. Some salt was added as they cooked and a little more after they were flipped.

I didn't much know what to expect, but I just did what I thought I saw done with the sardines, which is to say not much. Just left them to cook and flipped them once after the first side seemed done.

After they looked just cooked though I put them on a plate, squeezed some lemon juice over them, added a bit of parsley, and poured some Spanish olive oil on a piece of toast.

The fish was great. The top fillet just slid right off the bones, and bones came off the bottom fillet in one solid piece. Super easy to eat compared to larger fish cooked bone in (here there weren't any little bones to contend with). It was almost elegant.

Look at the fresh little guys below.

It's good stuff. $4 a pound fish that I couldn't imagine besting even with something significantly more expensive. It's too bad I didn't see how more of the food out there was prepared.


Russ said...

We had a vacation (honeymoon) to Seville and Porto (amongst others), and my favorite part of Iberian eating was the simple preparation of amazing ingredients. I was amazed at the buttery flavor of basic boiled potatoes.

I later stumbled on Tyler Cowen's guide (, which has this assertion:

"Avoid dishes that are "ingredients-intensive." Raw ingredients in America - vegetables, butter, bread, meats, etc. - are below world standards. Even most underdeveloped countries have better raw ingredients than we do, at least if you have a U.S. income to spend there, and often even if one doesn't. Ordering the plain steak in Latin America may be a great idea, but it is usually a mistake in Northern Virginia. Opt for dishes with sauces and complex mixes of ingredients. Go for dishes that are "composition-intensive."

Any thoughts?

The CFT said...

Interesting. I can say that with the food we had in Spain (and France) there was generally a negative correlation between the number of ingredients in a dish and how good it tasted, so that's kind of backwards from the quote you found.

But I think we're doing okay in the US, you just have to look around a bit. Most of the best things I've had in Cleveland are things like simply prepared meat,veg, and fish. And I like complicated food, so I don't think I'm predisposed to simple things. At the average or random place, sure, I think we have some bad generic ingredients kicking around. But at some of the truly small farm driven places I think we can hold our own. Maybe not in beef, but otherwise in my experience you can do okay here with ingredient-intensive dishes if you pick the right place. Granted, in Spain it seemed like you wouldn't have to shop around nearly as much as you would here to get served food from good ingredients, but with some research and for a price I'm sure a good plain steak can be had in Northern VA.

Clevelandkat said...

I think this looks fabulous, but I'm completely intimidated by cooking whole fish. Though the fact that Kate's will gut it for me definitely helps. Any tips for someone who has never eaten, let alone cooked, whole fish? I'm ready to try.

By the way...I love your blog. I'm new to the Cleveland area, and spent an entire afternoon a few days ago compiling a spreadsheet of local food sources, largely based on information from your site. Very handy!

The CFT said...

CleCat, Kate's is very helpful with cooking instructions. All I'd say is that with cooking whole fish just be sure to cook it through. With the bones the fish is less likely to dry out, and when it's fully cooked the bones lift right out. That's not to say cook it to death.

Glad you found the blog helpful.