Pez Ballesta

Another trip out this week was along the coast in the other direction to the town of Almuñécar. Some friends were particularly keen to visit the covered market, which boasts a large selection of fish, greengrocery, bakery and meat stalls, but they weren’t sure where it was so we took them along. It was a good opportunity to buy some bread from a wood-fired oven, and two large pork chops, which we shall eat this evening. If the weather holds, I will celebrate the clock change by firing up the barbecue; fingers crossed! The highlight of the shopping though was to see an unfamiliar but interesting looking fish on one of the stalls, so I asked the stallholder what it was and how it should be cooked. In Spanish its name is pez ballesta, but in Britain (where it is rarely seen) it goes by the name of trigger fish. I was told it could be grilled, roasted in the oven or even cut up and used with other fish in a zarzuela, or soupy fish stew. The fish weighed just under three pounds and put up a real fight. The main problem was the skin, or perhaps that should be ‘hide’. None of my sharpest knives would do more than make a feeble line across the base of the tail where I hoped to loosen the skin and then tear it off. Finally, I found a weak spot down on the belly and worked methodically along each side in turn until I had two skinless fillets. The other major feature was the size of the skeleton; to some extent the fish resembles a John Dory, so that the bone to flesh ratio is high. Even so, it produced two generous portions of fine, firm, white fish, which we enjoyed with a beurre noisette sauce, a few capers and some plain boiled potatoes. If you have a fishmonger nearby and you ever see a fish like the one in the photo, I can thoroughly recommend giving it a try - and if you’re careful removing the skin, you might get someone to make a lady’s evening bag out of it!

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