May It Please the Palate ...

Turning grilled fish into an omelette

By Nick Roumel

I wanted to try a Greek-style grilled whole fish. As luck would have it, Monahan’s (my fishmonger) had a bronzini. Also known as Mediterranean seabass, it is a delicate, sweet flavored fish similar to red snapper. In Greece, the fish is called lavraki, and Greek journalists refer to an exclusive news story by the same name, because it is a good “catch.”

A couple of my cookbooks suggest grilling whole fish wrapped in grape leaves. If you’ve had only stuffed grape leaves, grilling them gives them a whole new texture, not unlike baked kale chips. So the contrast between the crunchy grape leaves and the moist fish inside can be pleasing – but messy.

Yes, true. As much as I liked the taste, I’m not sure I would serve this to anyone unless I worked it out better artistically. This was one of those dishes that made me wish I worked in a test kitchen instead of a law office. These days, I’m lucky to test the recipe I am featuring even once. If it works, you get the recipe. If not, you get the lesson learned.

Here’s what I did with my bronzini. I had my fishmonger clean and scale it for me. I liberally sprinkled lemon, salt and pepper on the insides. I wrapped that puppy in grape leaves until it resembled the iconic babe in swaddling clothes. Laid it on aluminum foil,  on my Jenn-Air grill burners at medium heat.

And while the fish was grillin’, I fried some potatoes. For the record, I have yet to encounter a case of blues so bad that it cannot be cured with fried potatoes. As is my wont, I made this batch “Greek style.” That is, I sliced a russet into French-fry-like shapes, rinsed them in my all-purpose salad spinner, and tossed them liberally with sea salt. Then I heated up some vegetable oil, medium hot, about ?” deep, and sizzled those starchy sticks until they were the color of fine cognac.

I then turned my fish. The grape leaves were … black. But the potatoes? Now there was a story with a happy ending. I drained them on paper towels, kissed them with sea salt, and started munching away. I managed to reserve a few for the Greek potato omelette I schemed to make next.

I poured the excess oil out of the pan, returned it to the heat, and whipped a couple of eggs with a few tablespoons of warm water. I layered the bottom of the pan with the fried potatoes and poured the eggs over it, tilting the pan to allow the eggs to cook evenly. Then I folded it over, traditional omelette-style.

Perfection. I didn’t even need cheese, not even sheep’s milk feta; although I did consider that artichoke hearts might have been a good addition. Made me think about the Giant Artichoke restaurant in Castroville, California. Mmm, memories.

Oh, time to check on that fish. I took it off the grill, sliced it open, pulled off the spine, and served myself a fillet, topped with more olive oil, lemon, and some fresh dill. Yummy, but you really don’t want to see my photos. Sometimes I think that the way food looks is more important than the taste. This belief violates the truism that you can’t judge a book by its cover. But in this case, the cover was blackened grape leaves, and I was unimpressed.

Back to my fried potato omelette. Now there’s a lavraki I would definitely recommend.