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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Raw Fish 6: Italian (maybe) Carpaccio

This dish, because it involves "painting the plate" with thinly sliced raw fish, is supposedly named after the eponymous Italian painter.

In the Pacific, the fish can be tuna (yellowfin or bigeye) but something a little lighter, like Spanish mackerel, is sometimes preferable. It depends how you feel. In more temperate climes, salmon is the fish of choice for Carpaccio. Its distinctive colour lends itself well to "painting the plate", although its distinctive flavour is a matter of individual taste. Me, I've found I've actively disliked the taste of many salmon recently, on my rare trips to Europe, but there was an occasional fish that tasted good. I put this down to the crankiness of ageing tastebuds, but I later realised that the salmon I didn't like tended to be aquacultured, rather than wild. I don't think farmed salmon get the same opportunities to exercise as wild salmon, and I'm sure that the taste of whatever they're fed on comes through. A problem that battery eggs used to suffer from when chickens were fed a high proportion of fishmeal. Fishy eggs (now there's a marketing idea)

If you are fortunate enough to have just returned from a fishing trip, or have a friend called Trevor the Tuna Scientist, then a truer Carpaccio is obtained using a mixture of fish to "paint the plate". It's also a good conversation piece to challenge your guests to identify each different fish. Sorts out the true aficionados from the mere dabblers.


(Very) fresh fish (tuna or salmon, or a mixture of various fishes). 1 kilogramme should feed at least 5 people or provide a starter for 10

  • Salt, pepper
  • Crushed or chopped garlic
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Capers
  • Olive oil (extra virgin)
  • Green garnish (parsley and/or coriander and chopped chives)

The fish needs to be sliced very thinly, with a very sharp, thin, knife. It goes without saying, of course, that it is very fresh fish that you are using. There's nowt worse than spongy fish in a raw dish like this, and there aren't any domestic fridges that will freeze fish quickly enough to avoid the formation of those large, cell-disrupting ice crystals. Paradoxically, it actually helps to half-freeze steak if you want to slice it thinly, but it's death to the texture of fish flesh.

As you shave the fish, lay each slice on a plate, with minimal overlap, until the plate is more or less covered. If this is for a starter, don't make the plate too big. Carpaccio, despite the thinness of the fish, is deceptively filling.

Then it is just a matter of laying on some flavouring. A dash of extra virgin olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar should be sprinkled aboard. A grinding of salt and pepper and some finely chopped or crushed garlic should do it. An extra touch, although it requires a bit of effort, is to lightly fry some capers until they "bloom", but you can of course just put pickled capers on top. Some may also prefer a dash of soy sauce and the odd hint of chillie, or lime juice.

The next step is optional. You can either (preferably) serve carpaccio raw, or you can lay the plate briefly on the burner to partly cook the fish. If you favour the latter course, the plate should be removed from the heat as the fish starts to "turn". Remember that the plate will retain the heat and continue the cooking, and the character of the dish will be lost if the fish becomes too firm.

Finally, a sprinkling of green garnish. I favour finely sliced chives and green coriander (you can use the stems as well as the leaves), but parsley can be substituted for coriander.

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