My earliest memory of piri piri was of a jar of the things my mother had in her kitchen. For some reason completely unknown to me she had a huge quantity of dried bird’s eye chillies – I think perhaps someone had given them to her as a gift – and as far I know, we never actually ate them. Such an ingredient wasn’t common in the dishes of my childhood, and since I didn’t really know the flavour I decided that the best thing to do would be to just try one. Except I wasn’t stupid.
No, actually I decided the best course of action would be to offer one to a friend of mine (who luckily had even less of an idea than I did about such things). He was dubious but I told him that it was “really good” and he just “has to try it”. His reaction after he’d taken a dozen chews told me pretty much everything I needed to know about piri piri back then, and it wasn’t until much more recently, now that my tastes have developed, and my chilli-tolerance has improved as an adult that I’ve tried to incorporate them into more dishes.
I love cooking whole fish – I haven’t quite plucked up the courage yet to get one which hasn’t been gutted and cleaned (though judging by the guides I’ve seen online it’s pretty easy) so will always get prepared fish, or – failing that – have the guy manning the fish stall at the local market do it for me with a few deft motions. Cooking fish like this is enormously satisfying. I don’t know whether it’s a throwback to a recessed caveman gene or something but preparing a whole trout for cooking feels so wholesome, so good, so… primal almost.
I was delighted to see five small trout available nearby for €7.50 for the lot. Each one is enough for one person when served with accompanying side dishes, though those with big appetites would probably want to go for two each. There are the purists, who believe that the absolute best way of serving good, fresh fish is simply pan-fried with a little butter. That’s fine – I completely get the attraction of this, but sometimes I like to switch things up a bit, and anything that helps me use my enormous tub of turmeric is fine by me (seriously, I have no reason why I bought so much!).
The good thing about roasting them like this is that the delicate flavour of the fish still comes through. It doesn’t get overwhelmed by the rub. You can of course vary the rub to suit your preferences, but I find this particular mix works well and sure makes for good eating!
A simple method of preparing fresh whole fish
- 5 small whole Trout, gutted and cleaned
- 1 Lemon
- 2 tbsps Olive Oil
- 1tbsp dried Piri Piri Chillies
- 2tsps Turmeric
- 2tsps ground Cumin
- Freshly ground Salt and Pepper
- Start off by preheating your oven to 200 degrees Celsius and then run the fishes under cold water, rubbing all over to remove any slime.
- Place all the ingredients for the rub, including a few good twists of salt and pepper, into a pestle and mortar and pound everything together well until the mustard seeds and chillies have broken down.
- Using a sharp knife, make three or four cuts along each side of the fishes. The cut should be deep enough to pierce both the skin and penetrate into the flesh below.
- Work the rub into each side of the fishes and into the cavity where it was gutted. Cut the lemon into thin slices and stuff the cavities with lemon slices before arranging the fishes on a baking tray.
- Drizzle with a little olive oil and place into the preheated oven. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, turning once during cooking and draining off liquid which has accumulated in the pan; this will help the skin stay crisp.
- Serve with accompaniments of your choosing - potatoes, salad, steamed vegetables etc.