It is New Year's Eve - the end of another calendar year, which as usual means little to me because I've always lived by the academic year rather than the calendar year, so that the year seems to end in July rather than December. Last year we spent a few days over the New Year period with my parents-in-law in Devon and saw the new year in with champagne and a trio of fish that apparently constitute Prince Charles's breakfast; what I remember most is that on New Year's morning, foggy from the late night and still tasting mackerel, I was absorbed in a gripping thriller and found it almost impossible to wrench myself away and make polite conversation. Memo to self: do not go to visit relatives with a good book - always take a boring, worthy tome that will a) make me look erudite and b) not distract me from the duty of socializing. Ulysses is clearly next time's book of choice, since I have never managed to get past page one. This year, though, we are at home over the New Year period and I have a reassuring stack of novels to usher me into 2007, not to mention the pile of cookbooks I've already mentioned.
A hideous cliche, but New Year's Eve is a time to remember as well as to anticipate and it is only too fitting that I should find myself blogging this particular dish (which we ate yesterday) at this moment in time. Jamie calls it Granddad Ken's crispy grilled trout with parsley and lemon and affectionately recalls going fishing with his granddad as a small child. I associate whole fish with my grandma, who died a few years ago and who was an inspiration in many ways. Grandma had eclectic tastes; she liked Chinese takeaway and lasagne as well as roast dinners and fish. When my brother and I were little, we used to go on holiday to France every summer with our parents and grandparents; after my grandpa died when I was nine, Grandma kept coming, even when confined to a wheelchair, and even though she couldn't speak French. For reasons I can't recall, my parents always seemed to befriend people who went fishing and would bring live fish to our caravan for our dinner. Stuart and I naturally behaved the way two picky English children would when faced with live fish as a prospect for dinner: we squeaked and squawked and refused to go near it, and exclaimed in disgust when the others tried to. Grandma was the only one who wasn't honestly freaked out by the fish and so she was in charge of gutting them and preparing them to be eaten, which she did stoically, ignoring the high-pitched protests coming from the direction of my brother and me and the more muted but equally intense revulsion coming from my parents, who didn't really want the fish either. Once, my parents put a fish back in the water; we never knew if it survived. I tell all this because whole fish still makes me think of Grandma, who, before she died, suffered a lot of pain and never, ever complained; the stoic expression she wore as she gutted fish was emblematic of her attitude to life. It wasn't just that she never complained: she was a naturally optimistic and happy person who saw the best in everything, not in an infuriating Pollyanna way, but in a funny way. I wish she was still here and I could have given her some of Granddad Ken's crispy grilled trout: my parents wouldn't thank you for it, but Grandma would have loved seeing me eat it.
Anyway, back to Jamie's recipe: first, you slash each trout about ten times on each side with a sharp knife, which should be simple but in fact wasn't, for me. My knife skills are on a par with those of a clumsy ten year old; either that or we have blunt knives, which seemed to be confirmed by the fact that the sous-chef also struggled when drafted in to help. That done, I rubbed the fish in olive oil, seasoned them, and stuffed them with chopped parsley and lemon slices, before placing them on a baking tray and scattering lemon zest over. I halved another lemon and put the two halves on the baking tray, dabbed the fish with butter, and then grilled, 6 minutes each side, until crispy and golden.
It was okay. I don't hate whole fish anymore, in fact I'd love a nice seabass, but I remain unconvinced by the merits of trout, which seems to me to be a pretty boring fish. The lemon and parsley gave it a good flavour, but it just didn't blow me away. I suppose it is a decent midweek meal, a nice midweek meal even, but nothing special. I ate it with Jamie's simple crunchy side salad which was, however, absolutely fantastic. It doesn't need its own post, I don't think: it is just torn little gem and cos lettuce, with thinly sliced carrot and cucumber, celery heart, and a handful of blanched fine green beans, plus flat leaf parsley and a choice of dressing (balsamic, lemon or creamy French). I went for balsamic, which is simply balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil in a ratio of 1:3. It was delicious.
Finally, I was given a silicone loaf tin for Christmas, cunningly in the same pale blue as all my Nigella Living Kitchen accessories, and I made Bill Granger's coconut bread for breakfast today. It was very good and incredibly easy for something so lovely - you slice and toast it with icing sugar drizzled over, and slices will freeze easily too - definitely worth a try.
Anyway the Old Year is drawing to a close, and I need to get on with preparing dinner (and my last 'Jamie project' recipe for 2006!). I'll be back next year.