Each time I go to Greece I have to stop by the “Kourdisto Gouroni” (Wind-up Pig) in the Agia Sophia neighborhood of central Thessaloniki. This eatery has been in operation since the early 1990’s and the feel of the place and the food could be best described as “Greek Bistro”. Lots of beers on tap with an array of sausages, a mix of suits, tradesmen, civil servants and families can all be found eating at the Kourdisto Gourouni.
I always go for the specials…an array of Greek and Mediterranean classics. On my last full day in Greece last year, my friend Yianni and I had a long drawn out lunch there, reflecting on the wonderful summer we had and we were already contemplating what to do for the upcoming summer (this year).
Having had a meat feast the previous evening, we opted for lighter fare – both of us choosing fish. I ordered one of favourite fish, the lavraki or European sea bass. Most of what you will find when you visit your fish monger will be of the farmed variety but the fish is still flavourful and versatile. I enjoy lavraki baked, ceviche-style and of course my favourite, grilled.
When I ordered the lavraki off of the day’s specials…I expected the usual grilled whole fish. When my platter arrived on the table, I was wowed by the presentation and the moxy the chef displayed in grilling a whole fish boned and butterflied. I first started grilling boned fish last year, with another favourite fish of mine, sardines.
Upon seeing that larger fish could also be grilled the same way, I waited patiently to be able to try this method at home and ultimately, share it with you. You are going to need a whole fish: inspection that your fish is fresh and also to help hold your fish together while grilling.
The method is quite simple: lay the whole fish belly-side down on your work surface and gently but surely push down on the spinal column to flatten the fish. After you’ve heard the slight crack of the bone, turn the fish over and snip the spine from the head and carefully pull out the spine and snip off near the tail.
All that’s left to do is remove some of the pin bones near where the gills were and your fish is ready to grill, butterflied style. I like this preparation of fish because it looks fab on the plate and it’s a great way to present fish if you have guests over for dinner. No weird moments with your guest fumbling or wondering how to eat a whole grilled fish.
This butterflied lavraki tells you, “eat me, I’ve been butterflied, boned and dressed. I’m ready to eat and all you have to do is pick up this flaky white fish meat and slip it in your mouth”. As always, I prefer buying whole with the head-on and as a Greek, we prefer the head on the fish when presenting it. You’re telling your guests the fish was carefully chosen, it’s fresh and some fishmonger didn’t try and pull a fast one with a fillet of fish.
Almost as important as picking a fresh fish and grilling it properly is dressing the fish. Again, an olive oil and lemon dressing (latholemono) is all the adornment this fish needs. I replicated the the dressing I was served at the Kourdisto Gourouni with an accent on anise flavours, courtesy of the chopped fennel fronds.
Grilled (butterflied) Lavraki (Î›Î±Î²ÏÎ¬ÎºÎ¹ ÏƒÏ„Î· ÏƒÏ‡Î¬ÏÎ± “Î ÎµÏ„Î±Î»Î¿ÏÎ´Î±”)
4 whole European sea bass (lavraki, loup de mer, branzino)
coarse sea salt
fresh ground pepper
extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp. of Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives (or scallions)
1 tsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp. of chopped fennel fronds (or tarragon)
salt and pepper to taste
- Ask your fish monger to scale and gut your fish (they may even butterfly and bone the fish as I described above). When you get home, rinse the fish and pat-dry. Using a sharp boning knife, slice open the fish on the underside from where the fish was gutted to near the tail. Place the fish on your work surface (belly side down) and press down slowly but surely on the spine with the palm of your hand until you’ve flattened the fish (it’s okay if you hear the spine crack).
- Turn the fish over. Snip/cut the spine away from the head and the tail and now gently pull out the spinal column and discard. Run your fingers over the flesh inside the fish to detect any pin-bones. Carefully pull them out with some tweezers. Rinse your fish and pat-dry and place in the fridge until you’re ready to grill.
- When you’re ready to grill your fish, take them out of the fridge and allow them to come to room temperature before grilling. Pre-heat your gas or charcoal grill. Brush your grill surface well to remove any residue from your last grilling session (this is especially important when grilling fish – a clean grill will almost ensure the fish will not stick).
- Drizzle your fish with extra-virgin olive oil and season with coarse sea salt and fresh ground pepper and set aside. In the meantime, make your Latholemono. Add all your dressing ingredients into a jar and place the lid on. Shake the contents well and then taste. Adjust seasoning according to your tastes. Set aside.
- Your gas grill should be hot by now. Lower the heat to a medium-high (you should be able to count to four when you place your hand over the grill). Wet some paper towel with some vegetable and wipe/lubricate the grill with the oiled towel.
- Now place your fish skin-side down on the grill. Leave it alone – don’t touch it. Grill for 5-6 minutes or until the fish doesn’t stick anymore to the grill. Carefully flip the fish (grill tongs) and grill the inside part ofÂ the fish for another 5-minutes or until the fish no longer sticks to the grill.
- Remove from the grill and plate. ShakeÂ the Latholemono once again and spoon over each fish. Serve with a wedge of lemon, extra-virgin olive oil (upon request) and a warm potato salad and some braised greens or steamed vegetables.
- Serve with a Biblia Hora Rose, made with 100% Syrah.
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