This dish has a gorgeous contrast in flavours and textures, yet is incredibly simple to prepare. Baking whole fish always looks impressive, so serve your guests one of these whole aromatic fish in its sweet, creamy sauce, and prepare to be a dinner party hero.
For my twenty-first birthday, many moons ago, I went out to an Italian restaurant with some friends. I ate baked peppers smothered in goats cheese, followed by a huge pizza, followed by cake and ice cream, all washed down with liberal amounts of wine. The next day I found myself in the kitchen (clad in my dressing gown and in no mood to face the world) vigorously preparing a stir-fry that featured more chilli than I’d ever dared to put in my mouth before.
What is it about chilli that somehow seems to rectify all gastronomic over-indulgence? Its acerbic heat seems to blast through all that cheese/cake/chocolate/[insert personal food vice here] that feels like it’s weighing you down, livening up the tastebuds and making you feel healthier at the same time. Combine this with the punch of fresh ginger and the tang of a just-squeezed lime, and it’s no wonder so many people (including myself) crave south east Asian food after a period of heavy eating.
Yet this type of food can still taste deliciously luxurious, a firm contender for a dinner party in its exotic excitement but still healthy enough to feel virtuous: all that rousing ginger, lime and chilli and vibrant masses of fresh herbs can’t help but make you feel like you’re nourishing your body in the tastiest way possible. Add a little thick, creamy coconut milk and a dash of caramel-scented brown sugar, and you have the cornerstone of a truly fabulous treat dish that will please even the most jaded dieter.
Here, sea bass are baked in a gorgeous mixture of coconut, brown sugar and aromatics (garlic, chilli and ginger), perfumed with star anise and finished with the delicious tang of fresh basil and a squeeze of lime. It’s based on a recipe from my favourite Vietnamese cookbook, tweaked a little to make it sweeter and more aromatic, a perfect contrast to the moist, juicy flesh of sea bass. The coconut milk makes the most incredible sauce, sweet and creamy yet spicy and zingy at the same time. Spooned over rice, it is indulgent but light, healthy and fabulously tasty.
Finished off with a sprinkling of toasted cashews, this dish has a gorgeous contrast in flavours and textures, yet is incredibly simple to prepare. Baking whole fish always looks impressive, so serve your guests one of these whole aromatic fish in its sweet, creamy sauce, and prepare to be a January dinner party hero.
here's what you need...
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
- 1 large red chilli, deseeded
- 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
- 300ml coconut milk (full-fat is best)
- 3 tsp brown sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 4 sea bass, gutted and scaled
- 4 star anise, broken into pieces
- A large bunch of fresh basil
- 60g cashew nuts
- 2 limes