Easter means fish and head chef, Francesco Castellana, from South Yarra’s Vesper Bistro & Bar knows how to master it. Paying homage to his beloved Italy, Castellana’s crispy snapper is guaranteed to grab the hungry hands away from the chocolate eggs to focus instead on a main that will have you and your guests thinking they’re seaside by the aquamarine Mediterranean with the smell of salt and juniper abounding.
“This dish really reminds me of home in southern Italy. The aromas and flavours are like those in the house when I was growing up,” he said.
And now you can achieve the same at home this Easter, too.
Vesper’s Crispy Snapper
For the fish
4 fillets of baby snapper pin-boned (around 180g size)
5g of Murray River salt
25ml cooking olive oil
80ml dry white wine
Freshly cracked black peppercorn to taste.
For the Potato Puree
250g of Dutch cream potatoes (washed, peeled and diced)
50g of unsalted butter
15g of finely grated Grana Padano cheese
25g of Lilliput capers in vinegar (strained and dried)
40ml of warm full cream milk (if needed).
For the salmoriglio dressing
60ml of Extra virgin olive oil
1 large fresh lemon
50g preserved lemon skin (no seed)
1 garlic clove (peeled)
10g parsley leaves
10g basil leaves
10g mint leaves
2g dry oregano
1 small red chilli (washed, cut and deseeded)
Murray River salt to taste.
Sliced shallot and mixed herb leaves.
To prepare the salmoriglio, wash well and chop the herb leaves and finely slice the red chilli.
Using a micro plane grater, zest the fresh lemon skin and juice the pulp.
Dice the preserved lemon skin and paste the garlic clove. Combine with the extra virgin olive oil and progressively add: dry oregano, the chopped herbs with chilli, fresh lemon juice and zest. Stir well and taste to balance the salt level. Transfer the dressing into a container with lid and let macerate in the fridge for at least one hour to allow the flavours to develop. Remove from the fridge 20 minutes before serving.
In a large pot boil the Dutch cream potatoes in salty water until soft and fully cooked (it should take approximately 20 minutes). Once cooked, remove the water and press them twice through a drum sieve to obtain a silky texture. While the potatoes are still warm, gently stir in the unsalted butter and the grated cheese a little bit until complete. Lastly fold the Lilliput capers into the potato puree to achieve a smooth and firm consistency. If you’d like a softer version, simply add the optional warm milk to achieve your desired consistency. Ensure you taste the result for accurate seasoning. Keep the potato and caper puree warm until needed.
To cook the baby snapper, heat a non-stick pan over a gentle flame on the stove for five minutes.
Dry well the baby snapper skin with some paper towel and season the flesh with salt and pepper. Once the pan is hot enough, drizzle cooking olive oil and start searing the snapper fillets from the skin side down. While cooking, keep the fillets under light pressure from a flat spatula to prevent skin cracks. After three minutes check for a golden colour and then carefully flip the fillets over in the pan on to the flesh side. Remove away from the stove flame for a few seconds and gently deglaze with white wine (this will avoid a risky flambe’!). Return to heat until the fish is cooked through or, slightly under (Francos’s preferred way).
Present the dish over a large warm plate, placing the potato and caper puree in the centre and then drizzling about two full tablespoons of the preserved lemon salmoriglio. Arrange the seared snapper fillet over the puree, using some whole fresh assorted herb leaves and shallot slices to garnish.