I have been feeling unwell for a few days and have been fancying something light and fresh and uplifting – soul food really. One of my absolute favourite places to eat in Sheffield is the Vietnamese restaurant ‘Pho 68’ because they do an incredible clay pot sea bass dish which never fails to uplift so it was with this in mind that I dreamt up this evening’s supper which is not only incredibly delicious (honestly, even if I say so myself!) but is also remarkably healthy for something so tasty.
Ingredients (serves 3/ 4)
2 Whole sea bass, gutted and with heads removed
A great big thumb of fresh root ginger
Several spring onions
2 stalks of fresh lemon grass
4 tablespoons of light soy sauce
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
Juice of 4 limes
400 mls of stock (preferably chicken stock. Vegetable stock is okay but try to use a reduced salt version as the soy sauce is salty enough!)
A pinch of sugar
Half a cucumber
Bunch of coriander
You will also need either a clay pot or some kind of oven suitable dish with a lid (I am using a creuset dish).
Heat the oven to 220 degrees and if you are using a genuine clay pot, put it to soak in cold water for 20 minutes.
Top and tail the lemon grass stalks and bruise them with something like a rolling pin to bring out the wonderful heady scent. Finely slice the lemon grass, spring onions and ginger in thin strips of about an inch or two in length. Lay half of this in the bottom of the dish you will be using. Wash the fish under a tap, checking the scales have all been removed. Score the fish deeply along its width on both sides several times and rub them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Then place the fish on top of the finely sliced ingredients in the dish. Place the rest of the sliced ingredients on top of the fish and turn to preparing the sauce.
In a separate bowl combine the soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, stock and sugar and pour this over the fish and chopped vegetables. Put a lid on and place this in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the sea bass is white and falling away from the bone in moist flakes. Chop the cucumber in the same way that you chopped the rest of the vegetables but slightly thicker and place this in with the sea bass for the last 5 minutes of the cooking time. Coarsely chop the coriander and sprinkle this across the dish to serve. Serve with rice, preferably fluffy steamed jasmine rice (just watch out for bones! If you are not a fan of filleting your fish as you eat it or serve it, I’m sure this recipe would work fine with fillets too – just watch you don’t overcook them!)
Enjoy! For quantities and particularly for the sauce, I based this recipe on one from Nigel Slater’s ‘the kitchen diaries’ – a version in which he steams the sea bass Nigel Slater calls this a ‘soothing supper’ which I can certainly attest to. The wonderful intensity of flavours in this dish is remarkable and incredibly rewarding given the relatively short amount of kitchen time needed – it has certainly served its function as soul food.