As the berry season is coming to an end in our corner of the world, there’s a rare type of late strawberries popping up all over the farmer’s market – deep red and very intense „Blood Strawberries“ as the vendors call them. They have a flavor to them that immediately made me think about using them in a savory dish when I first tried them – something with a little bit of a zing to it, something not quite meaty… Before I could even finish wrapping my head around the idea of combining fish and berries – really good or ridiculously bad idea? – I found myself making a beeline for the Fishmonger’s stall, not really sure what I was actually looking for.
The vendor, knowing his regulars, informed me without further ado, and without me asking for something in particular for that matter, that he, for once, didn’t have monkfish with him, but he’d recommend the stargazer as a very good, maybe even better and somewhat more wallet-friendly alternative. He then continued to rattle off a list of the pro’s and con’s, the method of fishing monkfish and stargazers and so on until hubby cleared his throat. Loudly.. Slightly dazed by the unexpected barrage of info and the sudden silence, I took a mental step back. Hang on a sec… Stargazer? That odd-looking, flat fellow with the protruding eyes on top of his head, which, most of the time, make him look like a random pair of really large eyeballs lying on the bottom of the briny deeps thanks to his habit of burrowing into the sand…? Another freak of the sea I wasn’t aware of being edible. Well, when it comes to fish, I’ve come to appreciate the freaky, scary or downright ugly ones of the bunch. I just couldn’t resist the urge to try out something possibly insane, so I had our inspriringly enthusiastic fishmonger wrap up two pieces and went to work on my impromptu Strawberry & Fish experiment. An experiment with a delicious outcome, I might add~!
Before I move on to the recipe, here’s a little do-as-I-say,-not-as-I-do speech. To doll the skewers up in a potentially visually appealing finger-foody manner, I had the bright idea of using rosemary sprigs instead of the usual oh-so-mundane wooden skewers. While that idea sounded quite ingenious to me, given the rosemary in the marinade, and while the outcome of it may have ended up looking pretty in the pictures, this was one of the most impractical things I’ve done in a long while. First off, threading delicate fish or juicy berries onto somewhat rough-surfaced twigs without shredding them to bits in the process is a really fiddly exercise in patience. Secondly, the strawberries and the stargazer pieces, as they softened in the pan, naturally started sliding up, down and around on the round rosemary twigs whenever I tried to pick them up and turn them in the pan, so attempting to hit them with some heat on all sides without making a mess or throwing the pan out the window was basically impossible, I ended up torching the sides that didn’t make it onto the pans surface for some color with a crème brûle torch. This method clearly doesn’t work as well as the many variations of something-on-a-rosemary-sprig you can see in food magazines all the time might suggest, at least not in a fishy or fruity context… unless you use really thick and gnarly sprigs – which again would keep you from getting anything on them. So, lesson learned, at least when it comes to soft and/or juicy things, rosemary skewers do not work well. The best skewers for this one are short, flat, wooden yakitori skewers – they come in really fancy and pretty variations too, for those of you gunning to visually wow your guests – check out stores or webbys specializing in Bento supplies if you can’t find them at a „normal“ Asian food store.
The Stargazer & Strawberry Skewers
10 broad wooden skewers – have a look-see on their length and use that to guesstimate how big or small you’ll have to cut your fish and, if necessary, strawberries. 2 pieces of each should fit onto every skewer
1 Tsp Rosemary Needles, chopped – If you’re picking them off of fresh sprigs, store the remaining needles in a jar of salt for later use. This is also a good way to infuse salt with a hint of rosemary
400g Stargazer Fillets, cut into 20 similar sized cubes, preferably matching the size of the strawberries
20 average sized Strawberries
1 Red Onion, cut into 30 slices roughly matching the width of the berries and stargazer cubes
1 Lemon, Juice
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tsp Olive Oil – for the pan
½ Tsp hot Chilli Flakes
1) Soak the skewers in a bowl of lukewarm water for about 15-20 mins. This will make it easier to thread the goodies onto them and keep them from burning in the pan.
2) Set up a construction line and start threading said goodies alternating onion, fish and berries, onto the skewers, starting and ending with a slice of onion.
3) Going with the order onion – fish – strawberry – omion – fish – strawberry – onion worked best for me on a do-over a couple of days later, using yakitori skewers after the rosemary fiasko. The onions did a grand job of keeping everything in place, making turning the skewers over in the pan a breeze.
4) Place the finished skewers on a large plate or tray.
5) Add the oil, lemon juice, chopped rosemary, chilli flakes and salt to a small mixing bowl and whisk the mixture until the ingredients are well combined.
6) Drizzle the skewers with the marinade, tightly cover them with clingfilm and place them in the fridge for about an hour while the marinade works its magic. Don’t let the skewers marinade for much longer, the lemon juice would cure the fish to a point where it would just fall apart and off the skewer. I think there are better ways to prepare a decent Ceviche~
If you’re planning to prep this in advance, keep both the marinade and the skewers in the fridge seperately until bringing them together an hour before it’s time for them to hit the pan.
7) Set a heavy-based non-stick pan with a fitting lid onto medium heat and brush it with 1 tbsp of olive oil.
8) Add the skewers, 2-3 at a time, depending on the size of your pan, pop the lid on and gently fry/steam them for 2 mins.
9) Take the lid off, give them ½ a turn and commence frying them for ½ – 1 min on each side. The fish should have taken on some color without drying out by that time.
10) Serve while they’re still hot.
11) A simple garden salad with a mustard viaigrette has proven to be the perfect match for the skewers so far, so when I made these for a fingerfood platter, while skipping the leaves, I added a bowl of a simple, mild mustard vinaigrette to the platter to go with the skewers. The zing of the mustard lifts the strawberries up to another level entirely. Just make sure to use a mild mustard if you’re going with this idea, otherwise the vinaigrette would overwhelm the fish.
I really hope I could pique your interest with this somewhat unusual, yet yumtastic twist on the Surf & Turf concept. On that note, tipping my hat to today’s delicious winner of the „Weirdo of the Sea Award“, the Stargazer…