As I'm writing this, the snow is falling, not just in little sugary sprinkles, but big white dollops. (Sorry my vocabulary is limited to the edible.) It's April i.e. the 6th month of a painfully long winter. I call this the awkward month. It's when you can't wear five layers without looking idiotic, but can't quite put away your woolly jumpers; when the winter cabbages and roots are getting tired, but the new spring salads are not quite here yet. I wish I had something more green and fresh and exciting to cook with but there's not much that's new on the veg front.
There are, however, some different creatures lying on the fish lady's icy counter at the farmer's market. My latest favourite is herring. It's much like the mackerel and sardine which will only be here in summer (if summer does come) - deliciously oily, healthy, and cheap as chips compared to the more popular, expensive and over-fished cod or salmon. It's great just baked with spices and something sour, but there is something about crispy skin and soft flaky flesh that feels almost essential for an oily fish.
The simplest way to do it is to rub little oily fishes with turmeric and salt and fry them in oil till golden and crispy (see ikan kuning). But the herrings I got were a bit larger and hence trickier to fry whole; also, I had borrowed a pan that looked completely gorgeous and could go into the oven, so it would be a crime not to use it in photos. I roasted them with kaffir lime leaves and bird's eye chillies.
HERRINGS ROASTED WITH KAFFIR LIME LEAVES AND CHILLI
serves 1-2 (depends on how large your appetite/herrings are)
2 fresh herrings
6-8 sprigs of kaffir lime leaves
6 bird's eye chillies (less if you're chicken)
big pinch of sea salt
small pinch of turmeric
coconut oil/ groundnut oil
1. To prepare herrings, snip along belly and scrape the guts out. I don't snip the head off because I relish seeing the head on my fish. Run the dull edge of the knife against the skin to remove scales. Wash and pat dry.
2. Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius.
2. Season with salt and turmeric, rub especially generously inside the belly.Slice half the lime into thin slices and place inside the belly. I use string to tie the fish up so the lime slices don't fall out but if you can't be bothered, leave it.
3. Add enough oil to cover the base of your gorgeous oven-proof frying pan*. When oil is hot, add the kaffir lime leaves and whole bird's eye chillies to fry. This releases their fragrance/flavour without it being very spicy because the seeds and pith are still contained.
4. Pat fishes fry again (I am terrified of sputtering oil). Slip them into the oil and let it fry till crisp and golden on one side. Chuck the whole pan into the oven to finish it off and get it golden all over, about 5 min, depending on size.
5. Squeeze the juice from the remaining half of the lime over. Eat, straight from pan.
*If you don't have a gorgeous oven-proof frying pan, you can use an ugly oven-proof frying pan.
Or, you can roast this in a roasting tray at 200 degrees celsius for 15 min, plus minus, from start to finish.
Or, you can roast-fry this in a normal frying pan, flipping over after it gets golden on one side, like this. Requires a bit of skill with larger fishes and may result in 6 pieces of herring rather than 2 though.