A few weeks ago my friend Soso Braide sent me a message on Instagram saying he wanted me to come have a meeting with a restaurant in Cotonou, Benin Republic. Without too much thought I jumped at it. Soso personally came to pick and drive me all the way back to Cotonou. The road trip was great but what was even greater was the amazing fish that awaited me I had no clue about.
I had been to Cotonou before but that was 6 years ago and I couldn’t remember too much about the food. I remember eating with my Aunt Toyin at a Fish restaurant called Pili Pili. But the Tilapia was way too bony so I didn’t care too much for it. Fast forward 6 years after – my taste buds are more mature and hold more memory so I was expectant.
My first mouthgasm was at the hotel. We stayed at a quaint hotel called the Gbsion I was more than excited to order my food in French been such a longr time. I ordered the whole sea bass with a salad. When it arrived it looked good then jabbed at the flesh and transported it to my mouth – My My My! I couldn’t stop my fork. The balance of garlic, ginger and whatever spice they used was perfectly balanced and the green chilli relish we were served was just the perfect amount of heat to give the fish a lift without it being an inferno in your mouth.
Then the real experience happened when I went to the L’Impala. That’s the restaurant I came to have a meeting with. Being the great hosts that they were Yonan, Yenan and Ritchie the group of two cousins and a friend who co-own and run the place offered me lunch. With thanks to my low carb diet I opted for the fish with haricot vert. When my plate arrived, it was this simple plate of steaming hot fish and some juicy looking green beans nestled by its side and finished with what I felt was a huge unnecessary scatter shower of finely chopped parsley.
The first fork in my mouth of the fish confused me. I was not sure if I had just eaten room temperature compound butter or had a really tender marshmallow. My second fork convinced me I tasted the freshness of the sea tinted with a touch of roasted garlic. The fish in the center was just opaque. Perfect just the way fish is meant to be. The fish didn’t have that heavy fishy smell. It tasted so good.
Then I approached the haricot vert with no caution just with a nonchalant attitude of “alright time for the veg accompaniment” to my pleasant surprise for the first time a vegetable was actually giving the protein so much competition! The beans felt like they were braised in some kind of light chicken stock. They still had so much green bean flavour but were soft but not mushy at the same time. Just a simple but extra stunning dish!
I couldn’t wait to get back to try my hands at it. so after ordering it 2 more times I visited the restaurant and was so close to asking the chef how he made it I was slightly confident so after a trip to Shoprite and my local vegetable market I set out to recreate simple magic!
Here’s the ingredient list
3 Fillets of Kingklip or any firm, fresh white fish.
1 tsp crushed garlic
½ tsp white pepper
½ tbsp butter
2 tbsp finely sliced spring onions (green parts)
2tbsp finely chopped coriander
Some foil paper or a lid to cover
200g Haricot Vert a.k.a Green Beans end trimmed off and if you have the patience trim of the stringy bit off.
2 tsp garlic
2 tsp butter
200g tomatoes finely chopped
½ tsp dried mixed herb seasoning
½ tsp crushed garlic
6 small green chillies
1 small onion finely chopped
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
Here’s how I Made It
Start by prepping the fish. Trim the excess edges if you want to make it look more e if you’re serving it at a dinner party. Season and place in the fridge for at least 10mins. If you don’t have time just add half teaspoons of the seasonings for assurance.
Place one small saucepan or pot in the stove top with enough water to blanche (cooking without colour) salt it to taste and add the garlic. When it reaches a boil add the beans and cook for a minute and drain most of the water leaving about 3 tablespoons left and put to one side. I didn’t place it in a ice bath because I want the beans to soft and not so al dente.
In another saucepan, place the oil. When it gets hot, sauteé the onions with the salt for about 60seconds then add the rest of the ingredients. Turn the heat to the lowest and allow cook gently for 10mins. Check for seasoning. Adjust seasoning if need be.
In a pan (preferably non-stick) place the butter and when it starts to sizzle place the fish presentation side down and allow sear for a minute. Flip the fillets and add the water and cover immediately with the lid or foil.
Make sure its loose so some steam can escape. Cook for another 90seconds and take the foil off. Allow the
left over water evaporate on a high heat and turn off the flame after 40 seconds. The residual heat would cook the fish to that opaque perfection!
Take the fish out of the pan and place somewhere warm or wrap loosely in the foil.
In the same pan add the butter or olive oil if you’re keeping it lean, add the garlic and the blanched green beans and cooking liquid. Stir them around and cook them down on a medium heat for about 3 minutes till it’s tender.
Place the fish in the pan to give a final warm through and press the presentation side on the herbs to form the herb crust or you can sprinkle it on top. Whichever you prefer.
Serve this dish with a crisp cold glass of white wine. Something like with lemony sun kissed white grape taste. I recommend a mild Chablis or a you could go with a Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio these are classic white fish wines. Just ask your wine store for the best stuff they have.
Feel free to spritz some lemon over the fish before you tuck in.
Make sure you use the freshest fish you can find. The Kingklip fillets I used are pricey fish I buy in the frozen department a Shoprite. However, they are frozen more or less at sea and the quality is still awesome.
Go ahead and try it this weekend.
Photo Credit: Adebayo Rotilu for Twelve 05 Foodography
Gbubemi Fregene for Chef Fregz
Chef Fregz is really a humble lad, Gbubemi Fregene who has a near excessive passion for cooking. He likes to push what are boundaries and norms when it comes to food. Adventures do not happen only at the Amazon but in our kitchens and mouths. For Corporate lunches, Canapés, Dinner Parties and all bookings and orders kindly email firstname.lastname@example.org If your social network friendly please follow @Chef_Fregz on Instagram and Twitter. You can check out the Chef Fregz Page on Facebook.
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