A couple of weeks ago I had Sea Bass in Saor at The Market restaurant in Gloucester.
“You know – Saor,” Oliver said to me, “that sauce with the sweet, red onions?”
I didn’t know what Saor was, but I vaguely thought it was something Indian.
Feeling challenged, I googled it when I got home, and learned it wasn’t Indian but Venetian, which I should have guessed becauses the Venetians are famous for doing interesting, unexpected things to fish, particularly recipes that “keep.” I’d had dishes like this in Italy: delicate fried filets marinated in white wine and vinegar, like the method “in Carpione,” which The Lake Como way of preserving a large catch of lavarelli – Italian trout.
I’m always looking for a fish dish that is more a recipe, something that can be made ahead, particularly in the summer time when being outside feels more important than cooking, and it doesn’t feel right to rush home from a day at the beach and start throwing pans around. Most “make-ahead” recipes are dreary pasta, meat, cheese assemblages that substitute distinct flavor for shelf-life.
This recipe, which may seem odd, not what we usually do with fish, is brilliant because it is made 48 hours in advance, but loses none of its delicacy or freshness for its hours in a “marinade.” I tinkered with the Market’s version, but decided the Venetians knew what they were doing; the real virtue of the dish is in its original form.
Here are the basics: Dust fresh flounder/sole fillets in flour and quickly fry in shallow oil. Cook a batch of red onions at a low heat for a long time so they are never rushed, and become “dolce.” Add some wine to that, and then the vinegar and raisins. Layer fish fillets with the onions and toasted pinenuts.
The magic of it all is that after two days the fish is cool, light, still completely delicate. There is no puddled marinade anywhere, just a vapor of wine and vinegar. The onions and raisins are plump, and the toasted pinenuts a last crunchy, earthy note.
It takes a little time to assemble; I made mine on a recent long, rainy day, but today is gorgeous – we’re headed for the beach, and dinner is made. The rose – the last required ingredient to this meal – is chilled.
Pesce in Saor (Venetian marinated fish) – adapted from the New York Times
- 2 pounds fish fillets, preferably flounder, sole or whitefish
- 1/3 cup flour
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- Salt to taste
- 4 medium onions, very thinly sliced (about 4 cups, loosely packed)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 1/2 cups white-wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons golden raisins
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
Rinse fish fillets quickly under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels. If very large, cut into pieces no more than 5 inches long.
Dredge fillets in flour and shake off excess.
In a heavy skillet over medium heat, heat 1/4 cup olive oil with the vegetable oil. When the surface of the oil begins to crackle, add fish pieces in one layer, and saute until golden brown, turning once. Drain fillets on absorbent paper, sprinkle with salt to taste if desired and set aside.
Discard the oil in the skillet and wipe clean. Add remaining 1/2 cup olive oil, and place over medium heat. When the surface of the oil begins to crackle, add the sliced onions. Let sizzle for 1 minute, then reduce heat to low, and cook onions slowly, stirring frequently, until golden brown and very soft, about 45 minutes.
Add wine to the onions, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Then add the vinegar, and simmer 15 minutes longer. Stir in the raisins, and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes more, or until the raisins are plump. Remove from the heat.
Arrange a layer of fish pieces in the bottom a glass dish. Cover with some of the onion-raisin mixture, and sprinkle a few pine nuts over the onions. Continue layering fish, onions and pine nuts, ending with the onion-raisin mixture. Pour the remaining liquid in the skillet over the fish. Cover the dish with saran wrap and refrigerate at least 48 hours. Bring to room temperature before serving. Can be served as an hors d’oeuvre or as a cold main course.
6 to 8 servings