" To get the best from this recipe, your wood-fired oven needs to have good ventilation and high heat. ‘This is fast-cooked fish,’ explains Russell. ‘We want to attack it [the fish] with a high heat on both sides [hence the ‘standing up’] … A high heat allows everything to be cooked but remain fresh … The idea with this dish is to retain fresh colours and lots of flavour and have fish, vegetables and sauce in one pan.’” Maeve O'Meara, Food Safari Fire
This recipe is the essence of simplicity, freshness and purity. The fast cooking seems to intensify the natural flavours of the food.
- 1 whole baby snapper, gutted
- sea salt
- 1 zucchini (courgette), roughly chopped
- 1 small eggplant (aubergine), roughly chopped
- 4 French shallots, roughly chopped
- 2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes
- 2 mild red chillies, roughly chopped
- 2 tsp salted capers, rinsed and squeezed dry
- pinch of saffron threads
- splash of white wine
- splash of olive oil
- freshly cracked black pepper
- watercress, to garnish
- squeeze of lime juice, to taste
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
You will need to begin this recipe 3 hours ahead.
Three hours before cooking, light the fire to one side of your oven.
Two hours before cooking, using a sharp knife make 3 shallow cuts through the flesh on both sides of the fish to help it cook evenly. Rub in sea salt (using the same amount that you’d normally season with).
Stand the fish up in a heavy cast-iron pan.
Add the chopped vegetables to the pan with some chillies, capers, saffron, white wine, olive oil and freshly cracked black pepper.
In your already hot wood-fired oven, throw in some kindling to flare the fire.
Bake the fish and vegetables in the hot oven for about 5 minutes, checking that the fish is crisping up and the vegetables are sizzling.
Once the fish is cooked through and out of the oven, garnish with watercress and a squeeze of lime to taste, and serve in the pan.
Recipe from Food Safari Fire by Maeve O'Meara (Hardie Grant, hbk, $55). Photography by Toufic Charabati.