It’s almost 4 years now that I filleted a whole fish for the first time in my life. Since then I stopped counting the number of fish I’ve filleted and really gained routine in getting clean and beautiful cuts as result. Nowadays I prefer to buy whole fish at the local market, because this way I can use the bones, head, tail and fins as well to cook a flavorful fish stock, which really enhances sauces, risottos and soups. I prefer to buy local and traditional fish such as trout, char or carp. Sea fish are no options for me, because I don’t have any reliable source for buying fresh seafood, and my hometown Erlangen is simply too far away from the sea.
Regarding the connection between seafood consumption and the distance to the sea, I had a surprising experience a few years ago in Italy, which I like to bring up every time I’m asked about seafood. I was lucky to get a publication accepted at a major conference in computer science, which was held in the beautiful city of Florence. Of course, I used the lunch breaks and the evenings to explore the local restaurant scene. I was even more fortunate having a receptionist at my hotel who was actually a native Florentine citizen. As almost everybody in Italy, he loved to eat, and especially to eat well. So from the first day on I consulted him which restaurant he recommends me to visit. I wasn’t a regular tourist, I really wanted to get to know the real local cuisine. He always told me only the next location I should go to and based on my report the next day he recommended me the next place to visit. This tactic was quite comprehensible, because I could have been a usual tourist, who actually might have been afraid of tripe, wild boar or other local specialties. But he pretty soon learned, that I was after the real local cuisine.
One evening I turned left a little bit too early and landed in the wrong restaurant – at least it wasn’t the one that my receptionist recommended me for that night. Although I had a pleasant evening, the place was very different from my previous experiences – less Italians, more tourists and somehow the food didn’t match the standard I got used to very quickly in Florence. I mean the food was quite decent, but for example the main course featuring a slice of octopus terrine on some salad lacked acidity. No vinaigrette, no lemon, no vinegar. Octopus is actually sweet and to my opinion always needs to be balanced by some acid. Next day, as every day, I told my receptionist about my experiences from the previous evening and also mentioned my problem with the octopus dish. My native Florentine concierge explained to me, that – except for 2 or 3 special and expensive restaurants – it is not advised to eat any seafood in Florence, because the city is simply too far away from the seashore. I looked it up on Google Maps: Florence is actually about 80kms away from the Mediterranean Sea, by car this distance might grow up to 110kms. In Italian or Florentine terms 100kms is already too far away for eating any seafood in Florence. Well, after this experience of regional cuisine I focus even more on locally sourced fish and try to avoid seafood when not being next to a seashore.
For this dish I used the trout from my fishmonger at the local market. The preparation is very simple: I simply sprinkled the fillets with oil, covered it with clingfilm and cooked them just barely through in the oven. I chose coconut oil, because its fresh taste makes the fish even lighter. On the side, I served some buckwheat cooked in vegetable stock and garnished with fresh dill. Next to the buckwheat I used chioggia beets, which I baked, cut into cylinders, roasted on both sides and cooked with stock and butter into a kind of beet fondant. Inspired by the beet affinity of my friend Noémi, I paired the beets with poppy seeds. In this case I used white poppy seeds, which have a slightly more nutty flavor compared to the common black ones. I worked the white poppy seeds into a smooth paste using a puree made of blanched lemons. The paste had a strong flavor when used pure, but accompanied by the fish, the beet and the buckwheat the lemony paste worked great and really enhanced all flavors on the plate.