Fresh sea bass fillets baked under the blanket of creamy, cheesy spinach. Cooked this way, the fish is divinely succulent.
Spinach mon amour
I have always loved spinach. I loved it even back in the day I had to cook it constantly for my daughter, a non-eater. Spinach was the only way to ensure she got her half-a-day of fruit and veg - it was pointless to hope for more.
Spinach was about the only vegetable that actually went down as opposed to being played with and pushed around the plate. I might have easily started to wholeheartedly detest it after that era but thankfully, the fondness endured.
I like to cook fresh spinach when it's in season. The best is the one in bunches picked up from the fruit and veg market: grown in soil and showing it by being covered in mud or sand. You have to wash it forever and spend half an hour picking it, but it’s so much tastier than the weirdly clean, anaemic leaves sold in supermarkets that also shrink from a pound to a spoonful when cooked.
Apart from being rich in iron it also has lots of vitamins C and K and some scientific soundings nutrients called ‘glycoglycerolipids’ which help protect the lining of the digestive system from inflammation. In essence: great stuff as Popeye knew.
Fish cooked in spinach sauce
The multitude of uses spinach can have in cooking is too overwhelming but this is perhaps one benefit of spinach not widely known of. If prepared as below, it keeps the fish succulent and moist even if you use previously frozen fillets.
That's the only danger of buying frozen fish, otherwise cost effective and sustainable. If only slightly overcooked, it gets dry and stringy, and generally not very nice. If you pan fry your defrosted fillets, it's easier to watch like a hawk for that moment when it just turns opaque. When you want to bake the bass or bream, it's more difficult.
Spinach can fix it and it has another advantage of being a one-pan fish and vegetable dish.
How to prepare creamy spinach
I like to start with the creamy sauce: double cream seasoned with nutmeg, salt and pepper, thickened with cornflour and further boosted with a little Parmesan, for thickness, and a bit more blue cheese, for flavour. This scant base cooks quickly and it's happy to receive either fresh, blanched spinach or frozen and thawed.
By all means start with spinach if you prefer and cook it till tender. Then season, add cream and cheeses but make sure to cook it long enough so the moisture is largely cooked off - it's not fish in spinach broth you want to be baking.
The preparation after that is minimal: lightly butter a dish, arrange the fillets skin down and copiously bury them under the spinach blanket. Baking time is 10-12 minutes for thin fillets and up to 20 for thicker ones.
What fish can be cooked like this?
Pretty much any fish you like can be cooked like this. Sea bass or sea bream has nice thickness, the ten-minute kind, but you can use haddock, cod, hake or similar white fish as long as the fillets are not enormously thick. Salmon or halibut will be very tasty too, if, again, the fillet is reasonably thin.
Skin on or skin off?
Entirely up to you. Bass and bream are usually cooked with the skin on but if you prefer skinless fillets, by all means do so. They might cook marginally shorter, of course, and make sure you don't lose the fish under the spinach blanket when you come to serve it! Skin holds it together and makes it easier to scoop the whole fillet with a fish slice.