Saturday, July 16, 2011

Equatorial Guinean Grilled Fish with Three Sauces

When I started this cooking adventure, I wanted to cook food from some of my favourite cuisines, especially Asian and Italian, but as the adventure has progressed I’ve become even more curious about international cuisine and what it says about different cultures all throughout this world. So, through this blog, I plan to cook recipes from every country in the world, while continuing to return often to my favourite cuisines. After all, I really don’t think I can go three meals in a row without one of them being Asian! I now have a list of recipes to cook from every country in the world, and when possible, I’m going to cook what is considered to be the national dish of each country. For instance, I have recipes for Bulgogi from Korea, Bobotie from South Africa, Kormeh Sabzi from Iran and Bacon and Egg Pie from New Zealand. It’s an exciting thought of everything that I have ahead of me, and I really think it lives up to the title of this blog – Dishing Up The World.

This recipe, Equatorial Guinean Grilled Fish with Three sauces, is one of the traditional and staple recipes of that country. As I’ve researched recipes from all around the world, I’ve come to notice many patterns and tastes in various regions. In this case, the importance of peanut butter in Central African cooking has stood out to me. I’d already cooked a dish from Benin that also uses large quantities of peanut butter (Lamb and Peanut Stew), and this dish is yet another example of how common peanut butter, or what Africans often call groundnut, is in their cooking. I’m assuming it’s because it’s quite easy to obtain, it’s native and it’s cheap, as we all know that African cuisine is quite earthy and “of the land”. One of the things that I loved about this dish is that, on one hand it has that very simple, earthy element to it, and yet the three sauces provide such an interesting dimension to the fish and provide so many flavours of Africa.

The fish itself in this recipe is the easy part. The marinade doesn’t take long to prepare. The important thing is to try to achieve the colour that is produced by Palm Oil. I say this because many people refuse to use palm oil for conscientious reasons (deforestation of palm trees) or health reasons (it’s very high in cholesterol, accounting for the wonderful taste of Thai street food!), and it’s extremely difficult to find. I looked in my local Asian and Indian food stores, and they didn’t have any. The reason why you need to think about how to substitute palm oil effectively rather than with just a random oil is that it has a very unique, rich red colour, and this provides a wonderful red/orange sheen to the food. There are two options for substituting palm oil. You could make a simple swap with coconut oil, which I found in my local Indian spice shop, which is rather close to palm oil in terms of flavour, but not colour. Or, and this is the option that I chose, you can use the equivalent amount of peanut oil but stir in some turmeric and paprika to the oil in order to achieve the colour. As you can see from the photo, this did provide the fish with a crisp, orange skin that looked, in my opinion at least, rather appetising.

The fish aside, the real ‘cooking’ involved with this dish is preparing the three sauces, all of which provide a distinct and appetising accompaniment for the fish. Something that has come to annoy me is the lack of availability of scotch bonnet chillies in Australia. This recipe calls for lots of scotch bonnet chillies and habanero chillies, which are much spicier than regular red or green chillies or even bird’s eye chillies. Scotch bonnet chillies seem to be easily available in Europe and North America, but not in Australia. To substitute scotch bonnets, you should use double the amount of green chillies with the seeds in. I still think this doesn’t provide the heat factor that scotch bonnets and habaneros would, as this recipe was surprisingly not spicy, although very delicious. Prior to making the recipe, I anticipated that I would enjoy the peanut sauce the most, followed by the avocado sauce and the spinach sauce coming in last. As it turned out, the spinach sauce was my favourite by quite a clear margin, I think because of the beautiful smoky flavour provided by the smoked salmon. The peanut sauce was also nice, and was much thicker and drier than I thought it would be. While the avocado sauce provided a relatively flavoursome alternative to the other sauces, I did find it rather bland compared to the other two. So it was wonderful to enjoy the tastes of Equatorial Guinea and many elements of their daily cuisine, and recipes such as this that provide a genuine insight into traditional food and preparation are extremely enjoyable to make.

Recipe (serves 4):

4 firm fish steaks, about 200g each (eg kingfish, swordfish, mackerel, barramundi or tuna)
2 garlic cloves, crushed & finely diced
1 scotch bonnet, minced or pounded to a paste (or 2 green chillies)
125ml lime juice
3 tbs coconut oil or palm oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Guinean Peanut Sauce (see below)
Guinean Spinach Sauce (see below)
Guinean Avocado Sauce (see below)

Guinean Peanut Sauce
500ml chicken stock
½ onion, diced
Pinch of oregano
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbs tomato paste
Pinch of cayenne pepper
200ml peanut butter
½ habanero chilli, pounded to a paste (or 1 green chilli)
2 bay leaves
Salt & pepper to taste
3 tbs oil

Guinean Spinach Sauce
300g spinach, de-stemmed and finely chopped
100g smoked fish, flaked
½ large onion, chopped
30ml peanut butter
350ml warm water
180ml palm oil (or peanut oil with some turmeric and paprika for colour)
1 scotch bonnet chilli, left whole but scored (or 2 green chillies)

Guinean Avocado Sauce
200ml beef stock
200ml water
½ chilli, pounded to a paste
½ tomato, chopped
1 tbs lemon juice
1 large avocado, thinly sliced
2 tbs peanut butter

Rinse the fish then drain and pat dry with paper towels. Season the fish liberally with salt & pepper then place in a glass or ceramic baling dish. Add the garlic and chillies, then pour the lime juice over the top. Turn a few times to ensure they’re evenly coated, cover with foil, then place in the fridge to marinate for 1½ hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauces. To prepare the peanut sauce, fry the onion and garlic in the oil until soft. Pound the tomato and chilli together into a paste and add to the pan. Fry for a few minutes then add all the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 30 mins or until desired consistency is reached.

To prepare the spinach sauce, fry the onion in a little of the palm oil until softened. Mix the peanut butter with the water and add to the pot along with the other ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 mins or until well thickened. Add the palm oil, remove the chillies and cook for a further 10 mins.

To prepare the avocado sauce, bring the stock to a boil and add all the ingredients except the peanut butter. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 mins. Extract 6 tbs of the broth, mix with the peanut butter and return to the pot. Cook for a further 10 mins, and serve warm.

When ready to cook the fish, heat a grill or barbecue. Drain the fish, pat dry and then brush with the palm oil and season with salt & pepper. Cook for about 4 mins per side, arrange on a plate and serve with the sauces.

Cuisine: Equatorial Guinean
Rating: Four stars

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