Thursday, July 12, 2012

A good man

Back at the kitchen....Well actually, not back at the kitchen. I haven't worked a shift in the community kitchen for over two months. But I have been back. A few weeks ago, Chef Rami Suissa, who teaches at the Dan Gourmet culinary school, came to the kitchen to give a workshop as he sometimes does . I always enjoy Chef Suissa's workshops, not only because it is a chance for me to hang out with the lovely ladies I worked with, but also because it is a pleasure to learn from the Chef. Simply put, Chef Suissa is a good man. He drives 2 hours down from Haifa and then two hours back just to spend a chunk of time teaching us. He is always patient and always helpful and will explain anything from breaking down a chicken to pricing your food. I am always astounded at how invested he is in helping us succeed. He willing gives out his phone number and has no qualms about taking a call from a woman he has met only once and walking her through the process of making gyoza. (And  yes, he's married, jeez, Mom!*)
During the course of the workshop, Chef Suissa pretty much cooks a whole meal. His food is always good, but during this past workshop, one dish in particular stood out for me. The Chef took some fresh white fish fillets (he used Nile perch, I used tilapia), slathered it in a mixture of olive oil, garlic and smoked paprika. Then, before putting it in the oven, he gave it a quick sprinkle with some chopped rosemary and lemon zest. While it was baking, he made a quick sauce of tomatoes cooked down in olive oil and a bit red wine vinegar. When I tasted the fish, the first thing I thought was that I had no idea that smoked paprika and rosemary went so well together. It was flavor pairing I had never thought of before- and yet, now that I have experienced it seems so obvious. The fish was just sort of perfumed with a hint of pine, playing off the bolder smokiness of the paprika. Eating it, I could imagine that flavors like these would make a really nice paella. But back to the fish, it was good. It was really good. And it was a dish I could see making on a weeknight at home. So the next time the urge for fish for dinner hit me, I made it and I wasn't disappointed. It was still good. Now I just gotta work on that paella.

White Fish in the Balkan Style
Adapted from Chef Rami Suissa

Notes: Chef Suissa's recipe serves 10, so scale down (unless, of course, you are serving 10, in which case carry on).

For the fish:
14 fillets of firm, mild white fish (Nile perch, or tilapia will work nicely)
10 cloves of garlic, sliced
3 sprigs of rosemary, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
salt and pepper
zest of a lemon

For the sauce:
5 tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil

1. If you have time, marinate the fish in a mixture of water and lemon (or vinegar) for 15 minutes. Rinse and pat dry. If you don't have time, skip this step.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 f. Lay the fish in one layer on a baking sheet or pan.  In a small bowl mix together the garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika. Spread over the fish.  Sprinkle with the rosemary and lemon zest.

3. Bake for 15-25 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillets.

4. While the fish is baking, warm the tomatoes and vinegar in the olive oil, moving them around a bit until they tomatoes get all fall-aparty.

5. Serve with the sauce on top or on the side.

*My mom is actually very good about not bugging me re: my current single status. For this I am grateful. Thanks, Mom!


  1. That sounds great! A few questions -
    What's tilapia in Hebrew?
    Where do you buy your fish? I buy them frozen in the supermarket because I'm creeped out by buying them in the shuk, but I know they taste so much better when fresh...

  2. Hi! tilapia is אמנון in Hebrew. Usually I buy my fish at my fish guy at the shuk. But if I can't get to the shuk, my supermarket (mr. zol-which is in no way zol) sometimes carries fresh fish at the meat counter.

    1. Thanks! I'm slowly learning how to translate between Hebrew and English fish...
      How much does it cost per kilo at the shuk? I'm still trying to work out if it's worth getting fresh or not and how often. The frozen is cheaper usually but it contains at least 20% water.
      Do you have to point at the fish in the tank and have the guy whack it on the head and hack it up like in the days of yore? Do you have to tell the specifically to cut and debone them, or do you just say that you want פילה אמנון?
      How do you choose which fish place to go to?
      Yes, I'm a bit fish-buying-o-phobic, and very much appreciate your calm supportive attitude :)

  3. Yes! I have the same problem, except the other way. It took me years to figure out how to say trout in Hebrew.
    I am no sure how much it costs per kilo at the shuk-it's one of those middle-of-the-road fishes though. Less expensive than something like salmon, but more expensive than say, carp. If you find it too expensive, I think that this recipe will work on any sort of firm, mild white fish.
    You don't have to point at the tank. All the fish are already dead. You can just say fillet of amnon and the fishmonger will know what you are talking about.
    I chose my fish monger because his stall looked clean and the fish looked fresh.
    I'm happy to help you get over your fish-buying phobia!

    1. Ok, one last question, I promise. Do you know what else is in the low-medium price range? I think another reason I never buy there is because they don't have prices and feel bad asking what the prices of a bajilion different things are. In the supermarket סול/פוטית(sole), זהבון (sunfish? pollock?) and בקלה/מרלוזה(cod??) are the cheapest, then come נסיכת הנילוס(nile perch?) and אמנון(tilapia!). Is it the same in the shuk? I didn't even know carp was availible year round. It isn't in the supermarket, only around Rosh Hashana and Pesach.
      Ooh! You should do a post with Hebrew-English translations of fish names. It doesn't help the confusion that half the fish have at least 2 Hebrew names.

    2. In general, the shuk follows the supermarket (or maybe it's the other way around, I have no idea of the economics of it) in terms of pricing. So something that's middle of the range in the supermarket will be middle of the range in the shuk, it's just that the range is a little bit more expensive. Don't feel stupid asking, but maybe try to go at a time when the fish guy is not very busy so that he'll be more inclined to answer your questions.
      I still don't actually know all the English equivalents of Hebrew fish and vice versa, but you're right, I should do some research and write up a guide.

  4. The first time I had tilapia was in 1999 by the Sea of Galilee. The servers were calling it "St. John's Fish." Years later I learned from one of my Catholic brothers-in-law that St. John is the saint of fishermen.

    1. Yes, as mentioned above, tilapia has like ten million names in Hebrew. I think St. John's fish is my favorite. It's so evocative.

    2. St Johns? I just bought what I was sure was tilapia yesterday at the Fish market in Venice, and they called it pesce s pietro (st Peter fish). maybe it's a multiple saint fish...