Bingo! The Food Sage’s Sustainable Seafood Challenge has got off to a cracking start. I was browsing the latest issue of Delicious when i spotted a recipe for Leatherjacket Oven-Roasted with Lemongrass & Garlic, by head chef at Sydney’s Red Lantern restaurant, Mark Jensen. It’s from his new cookbook The Urban Cook: Cooking and Eating for a Sustainable Future (published by Murdoch Books).
The photograph (above) looked amazing, the ingredients were relatively few and some of my favourites (lemongrass, garlic, bird’s-eye chillies) and i knew my local fishmonger sold leatherjacket – in all their shimmering, silvery, yellow-tipped splendour. I’d admired, but never dared purchase, them in the past. I decided to take the plunge.
Leatherjacket oven-roasted with Lemongrass & garlic
By Mark Jensen
4 lemongrass stems
8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
juice of 1 lemon
4 x 350 g (12 oz) leatherjackets (these are usually sold with the heads and skin removed)
2 lemons, halved
1 handful of coriander (cilantro) sprigs
Spring onion oil
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 spring onions (scallions), green part only, finely sliced
What you do.
To make the spring onion oil, place the vegetable oil and spring onion greens in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook the spring onions until they just start to simmer in the oil, then remove the pan from the heat. Allow the spring onions to cool in the oil.
Peel the tough outer leaves off the lemongrass. Finely slice the bottom white 6–8 cm (21/2–31/4 inch) section, then chop very finely. To make the marinade, combine the chopped lemongrass, garlic, chilli, fish sauce, sugar, lemon juice and spring onion oil in a bowl, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Lay the fish on a chopping board and make four diagonal cuts along the flesh, not quite through to the bone. Repeat the process on the other side. Once you have prepared all of the leatherjackets, place them in a large non-reactive dish. Rub the marinade evenly into all the fish and place in the fridge to marinate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4). Remove the fish from the fridge and allow it to come back to room temperature. Place the fish on a baking tray with the lemon halves and cook for 20 minutes, or until the flesh is opaque to the bone. Serve garnished with the coriander sprigs.
I embarked on cooking this dish with some trepidation. Fish is a hard sell in my household. Unfamiliar fish was likely to be even tougher to get over the line.
My first mistake? Not asking the fishmonger to skin the fish. Jensen’s recipe says leatherjackets are usually sold with the heads and skin removed. My purchases were headless, but not skinless. I figured i could do it myself. It was a fiddly 15 minutes of my life that i’ll never get back. I either need to learn how to do it properly, or get the man who does it for a living to do it for me. I’ll cross that bridge the next time i get to it.
After my hatchet job of skinning the fish, the recipe was quick and easy to follow. A minor flaw is that Jensen doesn’t explain whether to strain the spring onion from the oil for the – you guessed it – spring onion oil. I did. I figured it wouldn’t make too much difference either way.
The leatherjackets were perfectly cooked after 15 minutes in the oven. The firm white flesh was subtly infused with the Vietnamese flavours that were a big drawcard when deciding whether or not to cook this dish. We enjoyed it so much we could have sucked the bones (which we picked bare). Which brings me to my second mistake: not buying the extra leatherjacket i had my eye on!
One of the best things about this dish – besides the easy recipe, wonderful flavours, and the satisfaction that followed stepping beyond a comfort zone – was the price. The leatherjackets cost $3.95! Although they were smaller in size than Jensen suggested. All up, the dish cost about $7 (the lemongrass came free from the garden). We hit the leatherjacket jackpot. Love your work, Jensen!
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