A hot and spicy dish from the end of the world
At the end of the world, at the bottom of South America, just short of Antarctica, is Isla Navarino. This remote island looks south to Cape Horn and its fearsome sea. To the north it looks over the Beagle Channel, named after the boat Charles Darwin sailed on the voyage that led to the theory of evolution.
Navarino is now a paradise for hikers and fly-fishers. Pristine rivers can still be found if you hike for a few days and spend a week in nature. My wife and I recently spent five days in the raw beauty of its mountains and forests.
When we headed back to Puerto Williams, the only village on the island, we were happy about the experience, but hungry. Our host, Patty Ureta, prepared the famous king crab soup of Fireland for us.
Most people know the healthy advantages of fish: it is a high-quality protein, full of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. It helps lower blood pressure and reduces the risk of a heart attack.
Different fish carry different nutrients and qualities, hence variation is important. While most types of fish can be eaten up to four times per week, some precautions are imperative.
Mercury (methylmercury), which is contained in some fish, could harm the nervous system as well as slow down cell development in fetuses. Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety suggests a moderate consumption of a variety of fish, and warns that predatory fish species such as shark, swordfish, marlin and tuna can have high mercury levels.
Whether fish caught in Hong Kong waters have a higher level of mercury than their counterparts around the world is open to debate. However, the risk exists worldwide, and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should be vigilant. Those who love raw fish also need to be careful.
Selecting fish and other seafood
A fresh fish has bright eyes and its flesh is firm. Its skin looks metallic, the colour vivid. It has a slight smell of the sea. The gills should be a rich red. Any fish that smells strongly, or is opaque and has dull eyes, is past its prime.
When you buy a fish fillet in the supermarket, check for a milky liquid in the package, as this is the first stage of decay.
For live lobsters and crabs choose the liveliest ones, not those sitting motionless in the tank.
For clams and oysters, choose those that react: if you touch them they should close tighter.
But the opposite is true after cooking. Dead clams do not open after being cooked. For shrimps, bright eyes and brilliant coloured shell are what to look for.
The best rule is to always eat the fish immediately after buying it. The whole fish should be gutted at once, cleaned under running water, dried, covered in aluminium foil and kept in the lower part of the fridge. Eat it within a couple of days.
If the fish is fresh and was not previously frozen, like many of the fish sold in local supermarkets, it can also be frozen at home, following the procedure outlined above. It will last for 10 days in a home freezer.
Fish fillets swimming in butter will always taste good. But they are not healthy, and you are essentially paying the price of fish for the taste of burned butter.
Fish meat is delicate, and harsh cooking will kill it. More gentle cooking methods like steaming and cartoccio (cooking in parchment) retain all the nutrients and bring out the beautiful flavours.
Personally, I believe marinade is used in cooking to hide bad flavours and tenderise the fibres of low quality, hard meat. If you have a high-quality fish, my advice is not to marinate it. Just add few drops of olive oil and you will have the most succulent dish.
If the recipe calls for marinating, remember that the process should be brief. Otherwise, the acid in the marinade will begin to denature the delicate protein.
Parchment cooking is my favourite method as it holds in the moisture, concentrates the flavour and protects the delicate flesh.
Make the parchment bag by folding a sheet of parchment paper in half and folding two of the loose edges to make a tight seam.
Cooked this way, the fish only needs to bake for about 10 minutes, depending on the size, at 200 degrees Celsius.
Alternatively, use a bamboo steamer. Place water or stock in a large saucepan and add seasoning ingredients. Place the bamboo steamer with the fish over the simmering water, making sure the water never boils.
Depending on the size, the fish should cook for between eight and 10 minutes.
King Crab Soup of Fireland
500 grams bread
1 litre of milk or water
1 tbsp of olive oil
Salt, pepper and chilli powder
1kg cooked king crab
1 tbsp of fresh coriander
100 grams grated parmesan (optional)
- Mix the bread with milk (or water for a lighter soup) and leave for 1 hour.
- Sweat the onion with the olive oil on a low heat until translucent.
- Add the bread mix. Season with salt, pepper and chilli powder.
- Cook on a low heat until most of the water is absorbed.
- Add the crab and mix well.
- Pour the soup into the serving bowl and sprinkle with coriander. Add cheese.
- Place the bowls in a 200 degrees Celsius oven for 10 minutes to brown.
Healthy Gourmet is a weekly column by private chef Andrea Oschetti