Fish is to Kuwait as sheep are to New Zealand. We’ve got numerous kinds of fish. Big ones, small ones, white ones, black ones. (Reminiscing Dr. Seuss back there.) When it comes to traditional Kuwaiti cooking, fish are usually cooked in whole. Degutted and cleaned first, obviously. Then it can be broiled, grilled, fried, steamed, or cooked within rice. Now, in fancy shmancy Michelin-starred restaurants, you’ll never get served a fish in whole, no, you’d get the most sought after piece of meat, the filet. Besides a fatty salmon filet, the only other type of filet you’re most probably going to get is a white meat filet. In Kuwait, your first choice for a nice thick filet would be hamour. Second? I honestly have no idea. You can get a filet of dover sole, but it’s relatively thinner. You can either purchase a whole hamour, which will set you back no less than 20-40KD depending on it’s size, and filet it yourself. (Remember to make use of the head, tail and bones.) Or you can go to TSC/Lulu/Geant and get pre-cut filets – which is what i did.
Now ever since i made the potato and celery root puree a couple of months ago, i just had to make it again for this dish. In general, potatoes go quite well with fish. However, this time I felt like being adventurous so I decided to throw in some parsnips to the mix, what cani say, i live my life on the edge.
O riginally, i had pla nned to make a second puree – carrot and rutabega. I actually made the puree, but when i came to taste it, it tasted beyond horrid. I was never a fan of rutabega, so that explains it. My sister had a spoonful and thought it was delicious. I, on the contrary, didn’t think it was edible. So I binned it. I couldn’t stand seeing it. So now, i had to think of something else to replace the carrot and rutabega puree. I was facing a culinary conundrum. Or was i? I improvised and decided to make mini pan-fried fondant potatoes, instead. Last minute change of plans are always challenging and fun. That wasn’t the only thing i had to improvise on. I had prepared a simple thinly sliced carrot and cucumber salad for garnish, but since the carrot and rutabega puree was a no go, i didn’t feel it was suitable. I took a look at the fridge and found these beautiful cherry tomatoes, so i went with them instead. At the end, the dish, albeit being heavily altered, turned out to be a success. The potato, celery root and parsnip puree was a success, the fish was nicely cooked, and the mini pan-fried fondant potatoes were nothing out of the ordinary- come to think of it, the whole dish wasn’t. Sometimes cooking is all about the simple stuff. The dawn of modern, high-end cooking took years to evolve, and it’ll one day reach it’s peak. Will it take a tumble? Who knows. On the other end, simple food has always flourished in every century since the beginning of time… and it will till the very end.
1 hamour filet
3 medium-sized potatoes
1 celery root
1 large parsnip
3-4 cherry tomatoes
70ml chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
sprig of fresh, or dried, thyme
salt & pepper
Start with the puree first, since you’ll need to boil the vegetables and they take a while to cook. Peel the celery root and dice into small cubes. Peel the parsnip and roughly chop into medium-sized chunks. Don’t peel the potatoes, cut in half. Get a pot, fill with water and throw in the celery root, potatoes, and the parsnip. Throw in four or five peppercorns and season with salt. Let it boil. Drain when the potatoes are soft in the center. Remember to drain well. Use a potato masher for a textured puree, or use a blender for a smoother one. Puree all the vegetables together with the cream and butter, season with salt. Don’t go crazy with the blending, you don’t want the puree to have the same consistency as that of baby food. You can heat the puree it by placing it over a hot-water bath, or just stirring it over low heat and adding several tablespoons of cream as to not let it dry out.
In a separate pot, boil one potato until it’s 75% cooked. You’re going to finish cooking it on the pan. After you’ve boiled it, keep the skin on and slice into 1cm slices, not too thin not too thick. Heat some butter and olive oil in the pan and when the oil’s piping hot, throw in the potatoes slices. Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle the fresh/dried thyme leaves. Brown the potatoes well on one side then flip and add the chicken stock, lower the heat to low and let potatoes soak up all the stock. It should take 5-10 minutes.
The filet needs ten minutes to cook, so if you time everything right, you can have the puree, fondant potatoes and fish all done at the same time. For the fish, season well with salt and pepper on both sides, drizzle some olive oil in the pan, wait till it’s hot then cook the fish skin side first. Cook on skin side for no less than three minutes, then flip and cook for another 3 minutes. Finish it off in the oven (set on 180C) for 7-8 minutes.