I was recently a swashbuckling pirate.
Truth be told, while I did not board enemy ships and plunder their hold, I did spend 2 weeks on the Mediterranean aboard the Sea Cloud II. It has 23 sails in total and each day we were at sail, the crew climbed the rigging to unfurl said sails with the captain directing it all like a well choreographed ballet.
It was an incredible experience standing on deck and staring out to sea while at sail, but the highlight was definitely the food. Every day for lunch we would eat fish from whichever port we were just in. It would be cut directly from the fish and grilled for us to order. This got me thinking that I rarely cook whole fish at home and that I needed to rectify this when I got back.
Prior to my sailing adventure, I was contacted by Villa Maria wines to create a spring recipe to pair with their stand out Sauvignon Blanc as fresh spring produce works so well with the flabour of the new release Sauvignon Blanc. The Villa Maria brand was founded in New Zealand by Sir George Fistonich (New Zealand’s recipient of its first knighthood for wine) and has over 50 years of wine making heritage. It is still a family owned business, is New Zealand’s most awarded winery and has a commitment to being environmentally responsible and sustainable – just the kind of company I like to work with.
Food and wine matching is a key focus for Villa Maria and so armed with a few bottles to trial and tasked with creating a recipe to pair with their Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, I got to work.
A note from the wine maker about the Sauvignon Blanc:
Sourced from vineyards across the Marlborough region, this intense Sauvignon Blanc is alive with a myriad of flavours dominated by gooseberry, passionfruit, fresh citrus and herbaceous aromas. The wine has an enticing palate with a juicy flavour profile, purity and concentration, finishing crisp and clean with an interwoven thread of acidity.
After first taste, it was very clear that seafood was in order, and with my desire to cook whole baked fish, I was in luck. My first thought was to include blood orange (the queen of the citrus family in my opinion) but upon tasting the wine it wouldn’t be the right fit. So I opted for stuffing the fish cavity with lemon and my favourite all time vegetable (slash) herb – fennel.
I created a flavoured salt using dried lemon zest, fennel fronds and chilli and after filling the cavity and drizzling the fish with olive oil, I liberally seasoned the fish with the salt. I then served it all with a simple herb and olive oil potato salad (bonus recipe friends!).
The fish proved to be the perfect accompaniment with the Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc (read: we ended up drinking a bottle each with the meal – hic!).
Whole Baked Snapper with Fennel and Lemon
- 2 whole snapper fish, scaled and gutted (both mine came to a total of 1 1/2 kg)
- 2 lemons, sliced
- 1/2 small fennel, shaved
- 2 handfuls fennel fronds
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup white wine
- Zest 1/2 lemon
- 3 packed tablespoons fennel fronds
- 3 tablespoons rock salt
- 1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
Firstly, ask your fishmonger to scale and gut your snapper so that you don't have to.
Prepare the salt by preheating your oven to its lowest temperature. Spread the fennel fronds and lemon zest on a tray lined with baking paper and place in the oven until they are both dried (about 10-15 mins). Transfer to a spice grinder with the rock salt and chilli and grind until your salt is fine and the ingredients well incorporated. Set aside and increase the temperature of your oven to 190 degrees Celsius (375 degrees Fahrenheit).
Score each side of the snapper three times. Place half the lemon slices on the base of your baking dish in two lines and divide the remaining lemon slices between the two snappers placing them in each cavity. Add the shaved fennel and fennel fronds to each fish cavity and then oil the skin of the fish on both sides with the olive oil and season with the flavoured salt.
Place each fish onto the baking dish on top of a row of lemon slices, add the wine to the base of the dish and bake for 25 minutes or until the fish is cooked to your liking. Serve with herbed potato salad and Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
Herbed Potato Salad
- 1kg baby potatoes
- 2 spring onions, finely sliced
- 1/4 bunch continental parsley, finely chopped
- 1/4 bunch mint leaves, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard
- Juice 1/2 lemon
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Par boil the potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain and set aside until cool to the touch. Quarter the potatoes and place in a large bowl. Add spring onions, parsley and mint.
In a small bowl, combine olive oil, mustard and lemon juice, then pour over the potatoes and toss well to coat. Season with salt and pepper and toss again, then set aside in the fridge until ready to serve. The longer you leave the potatoes, the more the flavour will be enhanced.
Chew Town would like to acknowledge its partnership with Villa Maria for this post. You can read Chew Town’s disclosure statement here for more information on brands that Chew Town chooses to work with and why. The recipe above was created, developed and photographed by Chew Town using inspiration from Villa Maria’s Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
To celebrate the release of the 2015 vintage Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc Villa Maria is giving away 6 bottles of the Sav. Enter at www.firsttotry.com.au for your chance to win.Competition closes 31st December 2015.