Mediterranean cuisine has many fish recipes but using the grape vine leaves to wrap the delicate meat is creating one of the most simple but scrumptious dishes. Just like baking a fish in salt or papillote, this method keeps all the juices of the fish and creates a natural barrier between the grill fire and the meat. Plus it adds an amazing aroma of smoked vine leaves to the tender fish.
For creating a fresh and light sauce that goes great with the fish I like to use a local drink that many people are surprised to cook with. Anise aroma of the Rakı or Ouzo adds a bit of creamy Aegean spirit to the dish especially when it is balanced with a little acidic garnish of fresh tomatoes, lemon juice and olives.
1 Mackerel (Filleted)
~15 Vine Leaves
1 Fennel Bulb
3tbsp Olive Oil
4tbsp Rakı(or Ouzo)
4tbsp Heavy Cream
Dill (Few Sprigs)
2 Tomatoes (Concasse)
5 Black Kalamata Olives
1- First we should blanch the vine leaves in salt water to soften them up a bit. Dry and arrange them like a rectangular paper. Put the filet in the middle, add some olive oil, half the lemon zest and seasoning. Wrap it tight so there are no holes for juices to escape.
2- We could prepare the garnish beforehand. Cube the tomatoes and pitted olives. Mix with crushed walnuts, lemon juice and olive oil. Season to the taste.
3- For the sauce fine chop the fennel and cook it on a pan slowly with olive oil. We want them soft but no color on them, so go with low heat.
4- Put the fish on your grill or your cast iron pan when it is really hot. You don’t have to add oil to pan. The rubbed olive oil to the vines will suffice. It will be cooked 3-4 mins each side depending on the thickness of your fillet. Do not dry them out!
5- While the fish is cooking let’s finish the sauce. Add the Rakı to fennels and evaporate the alcohol for a bit. Pour in the cream, keep mixing it thoroughly without boiling it. After thickened take it from the fire. Add seasoning, chopped dill and lemon zest.
Finish by plating all according to your taste. You could cut open the vines a little for the view but do not remove them. Their texture and smell adds a great amount of character to this dish!