food with sam mannering
Adding raisins to dinner may sound like a scary 1970s flashback, but this is different. You’ll take fish to the next level with this Italian favourite.
I’ve been meaning to write about this kind of thing for some time now. It sounds a little retro, I know. I think these days we all tend to shy away from using raisins in a savoury context, a knee-jerk reaction to what was fashionable in the 70s and 80s: celery sticks filled with cottage cheese and studded with raisins, garish rice salads and so on. I understand the trepidation.
This, I can assure you, is quite different. The Italians know what’s what. Recently I was back up in the Veneto region of Italy where I enjoyed perhaps half a dozen variations of this recipe; some made with cinnamon, mace and nutmeg – a reminder of the Byzantine origins of the dish.
Often smoked trout or salt cod is used – if you can get your hands on some, use it. Sean Connolly does a mind-blowing salt cod version at Gusto in Auckland and I can’t recommend it enough.
I will often follow the simple formula of fried fish and rich, soft polenta and swap and change flavours as I see fit; a simple mix of chopped tomatoes, capers and basil, perhaps, or a sage butter. Bello.
FISH WITH RED ONION, PARSLEY, RAISINS, PINE NUTS AND SOFT POLENTA
Prep time: 10 mins Cook time: 25 mins Serves: 4
FOR THE POLENTA
5 cups of good chicken or vegetable stock 1 cup of instant polenta 60g butter 50g parmesan 500g firm white fish – such as snapper, terakihi,
gurnard or bluenose – sliced in 3-4cm chunks butter olive oil 2 medium red onions, peeled and thinly sliced 2 tbsp raisins 1½ tbsp pine nuts sea salt and black pepper zest and juice from 1 lemon a generous handful of flat leaf parsley, roughly
chopped For the polenta, bring the stock up to a simmer in a saucepan, then pour in the polenta, whisking as you do. Continue to cook, stirring vigorously for 1-2 minutes so that it thickens. Add the butter and parmesan, remove from the heat, and continue to stir for another minute or so. Add a little more stock or hot water if you think it is too thick, or alternatively if it is too runny, let it cook down for a little longer. It should be thick, but still of pouring consistency. Season well with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside and keep the mixture warm as you do the rest.
In a large frying pan over a medium heat, add about a tablespoon of butter and a little oil, and let it melt and bubble up before adding the sliced red onions. Allow to fry gently for 2-3 minutes, and then add the raisins. Continue to fry for several more minutes until the onions are soft and translucent and the raisins have softened. Add the pine nuts and fry for another 3 or 4 minutes, until they start to brown nicely, then remove from the heat and transfer the mixture to a small bowl. Reheat the polenta. Wipe the frying pan down and, over a medium-high heat, add another tablespoon of butter, a little olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. Gently fry the fish in batches, until it is golden brown on both sides. Pour the hot polenta onto a warm platter, and arrange the fish over the top. Combine the lemon zest, chopped parsley, and enough lemon juice to taste, with the red onion mixture, and spoon over the top of the fish. Serve immediately.