Cooking whole fish over a fire, especially by the beach, is an exquisite moment. Chef Lennox Hastie treats the fire as an ingredient itself – it's important to get the coals to ember stage for optimum cooking. Once you've cooked a whole fish over fire, it's a ritual you will follow for as long as you live ... Lennox's pil-pil sauce, using the cooking juices, olive oil and vinegar, comes from his time in Spain's Basque country.
Born in the UK, Lennox was an ambitious young chef working at Michelin-star level when he visited a small restaurant in the Basque country that cooked only over charcoal. Lennox was ready for a change from overwrought/over-thought food and found what he was looking for at Asador Etxebarri. ‘I was spellbound by this form of cooking. It was so completely novel, so beautifully complex and yet so simple.' Lennox now has his own restaurant in Australia and cooks everything over fire ... and his favourite protein? Seafood!
Seasoned hardwood, preferably apple, burnt slowly down to embers
1 flathead (800 g–1 kg)
Bunch of broccolini
150 mL robust, zesty extra-virgin olive oil such as picual
1 red chilli, finely sliced
40 mL cava vinegar
Handful of parsley, julienned
Prepare the embers.
Prepare the fish, carefully scaling and gutting it. Remove the dorsal and anal fins while retaining both the pectoral and pelvic fins, which are the gelatinous wings. Rinse quickly and dry well.
Season the cavity well and grill in a rack over evenly distributed embers for 15–18 minutes, turning halfway through cooking. The eyes should begin to pop.
Remove to a clean tray, season well with sea salt and leave in a warm place to rest and finish cooking. You should find it easy to insert the blunt end of a spoon in the spine.
Meanwhile, toss the broccolini lightly in a little of the olive oil and grill for 2 minutes until slightly charred. Season.
In a small pan, gently fry the chilli the remaining oil until lightly golden and pour over the flathead. Add the vinegar to the pan and strain all the gelatinous juices and the oil from the fish back into the pan. Put back on the heat while whisking continuously, allowing an emulsion to form before adding the parsley.
Place the flathead on the grilled broccolini, pour the emulsion over and serve immediately garnished with the seablite and the brassica flowers.
Credits: This is an edited extract from Food Safari: Earth Fire Water by Maeve O’Meara published by Hardie Grant Books RRP $60 and is available in stores nationally.