After over 10 years missing-in-action one of my favorite cookbooks, Classic Sicilian Cooking, has returned! If I really love a book…any book…my usual policy is to buy two: one for lending and one to keep. But I didn’t this time. You’d think I could just order a new one, right? But you know how cookbooks are. You have all your secret thoughts, hints and ideas pen scratched next to your favorite recipes. You won’t find that on Amazon. So when I opened the book it naturally fell to Pesce Alla Saccense with a little note: makes a great presentation. Tastes great too. no need for bread crumbs.
First stop, Annapolis Seafood. We picked out a great looking rockfish to have cleaned. I normally leave the head and tail on the fish as recommended by cookbook author Mimmetta Lo Montes, but looking at the size of this beauty I knew it wouldn’t fit in my galley oven. So…off with his head!
Rockfish Baked in Fennel and Leeks
One 6-7 lb rockfish, cleaned, scaled, head and tail intact
3-4 lbs of new red potatoes
2-3 large leeks, cleaned
Fresh fennel fronds, as much as you can get
1/2 cup capers
1/2 cup EVOO
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 lemons, one for rind and one for slicing
Sea salt and pepper
When I look at my recipe versus the recipe in my favorite Sicilian cookbook I realize there really aren’t many similarities other than a rockfish, leeks, capers and potatoes. But I do love my version of this recipe; it’s a little lighter with that nose clearing aroma of fresh summer fennel.
Preheat your galley oven to HOT, about 375º. Boil the potatoes in a large pot until they can be poked with a fork (al dente), about 20 minutes depending on the size of your potatoes. Pull them out of the hot water with a slotted spoon, reserving the hot water. Place your leeks in the hot water and turn off your stove. This will start the leek “wilting” process, just taking the edge off them, but not cooking them through.
A little fresh basil with the fennel for the accompanying tomato salad is always a plus. Keep it fresh in a cup of water.
Mince the garlic cloves and grate the rind of one lemon.
Pause to watch the storm coming through. Hope it brings some colder temperatures with it.
Slice the leeks lengthwise. You can do an extra rinsing of the leeks as they are sliced. They can be gritty little things.
Begin assembling your fish bake. In a cake pan-sized baking dish, or any high-side large pan that will fit your galley oven, spread a quarter cup of olive oil. Place the leeks in the pan. Lay most of the fennel fronds on top (reserving the rest for the fish cavity) then place the rockfish with potatoes around the fish. Make 3 to 4 diagonal gashes in the side of the fish. This helps the meat absorb the flavors. Stuff the fish cavity with the remaining fennel, some of the garlic, capers and lemon slices. Drizzle the remaining olive oil on top and sprinkle with the rest of the minced garlic and lemon rind. Grind on some sea salt and pepper.
Place in the 375º galley oven and roast for 45 minutes. Your cabin will begin to smell molto buona! Meanwhile make a side salad. Today we’re having a fresh tomato and basil salad. Very simple; not to overpower the entree.
Take the fish out of the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before filleting and deboning. And then starts the “skin on or skin off” discussion. I’ve always been a “skin off” fish consumer, but many like it on. We were lucky to have Alex on board to show us the real way to skin and debone the whole fish. Someday soon on Galley Pirates we will have Alex do a step-by-step instructional video. We were just too hungry tonight.
I usually like to end with a pretty picture but this is the reality of our baked rockfish. Not a pretty sight, but heaven to any Sicilian alley cat.