Un bar entier is exactly what we asked for on one of our most recent trips to the fish monger.
Until then, I had steered clear of anything waiting on ice with eyes and a tail. Being surrounded by the waves and the sea and all during vacation, it just made sense to dive in and face our sheepish “fear” of buying and cooking a whole fish. Now bar, European sea bass, is officially one of my favorite fish- especially when cooked in a brick barbecue.
Hesitation number one came when we walked into the poissonier and gave up our place in line because we had no idea what to get. All we knew was that we wanted a whole fish. First we sniffed- my rule of thumb is, if it smells like fish, don’t buy it. This particular poissonier smelled like the sea more than the fish- a very good sign. Then, we eyed the rows of fish piled on top of each other, as well as the miniature signs designating the type of fish, the price and where it came from. I’d already read up on buying fresh fish, so I knew what we needed to look for:
Eyes: They should be light and clear; the film that covers them should be transparent, not opaque.
Gills: Should be red or pink.
Scales: Should be shiny.
Body: Should be firm when pressed with the tip of a finger. (I have a thing about touching raw fish, so I put my faith in the other signs.)
We figured it’d be best to chose a fish we’d already heard of and that came from the most immediate water source. Finally, we opted for a beautiful bar de ligne (which means it was caught with a fishing line, not a net) from the Atlantic. Our big mistake came when we actually ordered the fish. The young woman helping us asked if we wanted it écaillé et vidé, which means the scales are scraped off and the insides are taken out. Of course, we each gave an enthusiastic nod and oui- we felt saved since neither of us wanted to deal with guts. While getting our fish vidé was an excellent idea, getting the scales removed wasn’t- simply because we were making a barbecue and the scales would have helped protect the fish meat and keep the whole thing from sticking.
What happened next was not our fault. Normally, when you buy an entire fish, you pay for the entire fish- which means, the fish monger weighs it before preparing it for you. In our particular case, the fish was weighed, yes, but by the time the young woman gutted our fish and went back to the scale to get the ticket, she realized the machine wasn’t working properly and the ticket had gotten stuck somewhere. To make ten minutes short, our “empty” fish was weighed again (a whopping kilo!) and we only paid this amount. This decision came only after a lot of discussion between the young woman and her teenage colleague- who, by the way, proposed simply increasing the price of the fish to make up for what was left in the trash bin!
Back at the barbecue, we wrapped up the fish in some tin foil after sprinkling it with a bit of olive oil. Once again, Sébastien was making our fish into a papillote, though unlike the shrimp and salmon, we didn’t use vine-stocks, but good old fashioned charcoal. We thought this would be better given that the fish was so big and needed a longer cooking time. Twenty minutes later dinner was ready. Sébastien, being very gallant, cut open the fish (from the belly), slid out the central bone and dished fresh, moist pieces of white fish onto our plates. Served with his special sauce (secret for the time being), it was delicious- and raised our confidence in buying and cooking a whole fish about ten notches.