Sauce vierge – perfect in its simplicity

You’ve all heard the term “less is more”. When it comes to food and cooking it’s a motto to live by. That’s not to say complex and creative dishes don’t have their place. But there are times when paring it back is essential and the key to being a good cook is knowing when to do this.

I’ve mentioned previously that when I travel to Italy the first thing I eat is a Caprese salad. Mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and olive oil. That’s it. Of course you could try and be creative and add other things. But why would you? It’s perfect just as it is.

This week I’m sticking with the combination of tomatoes and basil (an outstanding combination of the food world) but move from Italian to French cuisine to bring you sauce vierge. This sauce is another example of less is more – keep it simple and let the quality of the ingredients and their flavour carry the dish.

The ingredients in question for this classic sauce are tomatoes, basil, lemon juice and olive oil. What could be more perfect? Speaking of perfection, it is absolutely delicious served with fish. And since I’m keeping the flavours simple and clean in the sauce it seems appropriate that cooking of the fish is also kept simple – a fresh fillet, seasoned, with a dash of olive oil and then pan-fried. It needs only a squeeze of lemon juice before serving.

My fish of choice here is hapuku. It’s a favourite of mine and a fantastic fish to cook with. Found in New Zealand waters and also those of South Australia and Chile, it has great flavour with a firm texture – the fish breaks into thick flakes once cooked. It also holds its moisture well, which makes the cooking process a little less stressful. When dealing with more delicate white fish there is often a line so thin between moist and dry that you have to hit it just right.

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But perhaps one of hapuku’s most outstanding qualities for me (apart from the wonderful flavour) is its versatility. Cooked simply and served with sauce vierge – beautiful. But you could use it in a rich fish stew and it would also do the job admirably.

Obviously you can use any white fish of your choice here but I would suggest sea bass as a good alternative to the hapuku. And although the sauce vierge is more than enough to give you an outstanding meal I like to also serve it with sautéed potatoes.

This dish has everything going for it but let’s not forget the small matter (or not so small matter) of the fact that it looks stunning on the plate. The colours of the tomatoes and basil, the glistening olive oil, the freshest of fish pan-fried until lightly golden. It’s a truly beautiful thing to both look at and eat.

Are you ready now to go racing down to your fish market?

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Sauce Vierge with Pan-Fried Hapuku

Serves 2

 

Sauce vierge

Ingredients

  • 3 roma or plum tomatoes
  • 6 yellow cherry tomatoes
  • Small handful of fresh basil
  • Juice of half a lemon (approx.)
  • 50-60ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt, to taste

 

Method

  1. Blanch the roma/plum tomatoes. To do this remove the core of the tomato with the sharp tip of a knife and then make a small cross at the base of the tomato. Place the tomatoes in boiling water for 10 seconds (or until you see the skin tear) then remove and place immediately in a bowl of cold water. Once cooled slightly, remove the skin and pat dry with kitchen paper.
  2. Quarter the tomatoes lengthways and remove the seeds. Then chop into small cubes.
  3. I don’t bother to skin the cherry tomatoes but I do remove the seeds; otherwise the sauce can become too wet. Halve or quarter the cherry tomatoes (depending on their size) so they are about the same size as the other tomato cubes.
  4. Transfer the prepared tomatoes to a bowl.
  5. Finely slice the basil leaves and add to the tomatoes.
  6. Season with salt, add a squeeze of lemon juice and give it a good stir. This is where you will need to taste. You want to taste the lemon but it shouldn’t overpower. The same with the seasoning. I choose to season only with salt but add freshly ground pepper if you’d prefer.
  7. Slowly add the olive oil, stir well and then taste again to make sure the seasoning and lemon juice is to your taste.

 

Fish

Ingredients

  • 2 fresh white fish fillets of your choice
  • Salt
  • Olive oil

 

Method

  1. Season your fish with salt, rub olive oil all over and then place in a hot pan.
  2. It’s difficult to give exact instructions for cooking the fish because it depends on the type of fillet you’ve chosen. A thin, delicate fillet will take only a short time and need only be pan-fried. The hapuku is thicker and firmer so I pan-fry to get a lovely golden colour (skin side first) and then finish cooking in the oven (set at 190°C) for a few minutes. I choose to remove the skin before serving for this particular dish, but the crispy skin is delicious. Your choice.
  3. Normally I would finish off by adding a knob of butter when it comes out of the oven but not for this dish. With sauce vierge I feel it’s all about the olive oil.

 

Sautéed potatoes

Ingredients

  • 2 Agria potatoes
  • Salt
  • Olive oil

 

Method

  1. Peel the potatoes and slice into rounds approximately ½cm thick.
  2. Par-boil for a few minutes until they are almost cooked (they shouldn’t feel hard when you put a knife through).
  3. Drain and then rinse in cold water to stop them cooking. Lay out on kitchen towel and pat dry. Season with salt.
  4. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to a hot pan and place the potato slices in a single layer.
  5. Fry on both sides until lightly golden.
  6. Transfer to a plate lined with kitchen towel before serving.

 

To garnish

  • Micro herbs
  • 1 teaspoon capers

P1000822Putting this dish together is such a treat. The flavours and colours are incredible. Your mouth will be watering by the time you get to the table. A truly special dish.

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24 Comments

  1. Rini says:

    You’re right Tracey. The sauce is simple, but it looks delicious and healthy. I have never heard of hapuku, but it looks like something I’ll have to try if I go to New Zealand or the lower parts of South America one day.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yum Tracey and it’s so good to hear the less is more message – it’s so easy to get caught up, esp when blogging, trying to be super creative and also trying to use all manner of superfoods ingredients! I’ll take basil, tomato and olive oil any day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Annika. I can tell you my husband almost did lose patience. But his wait was rewarded – he loved it. I have to say that when I finished plating it was even more beautiful than I’d imagined. And the flavours – as you say, perfect!

      Like

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