Gilt-head sea bream, known as orata in Italy and dorade royale in France, is a very popular and highly prized fish in those and other Mediterranean cuisines.
"This recipe can accommodate several kinds of fish," he writes, "but will work well with what is known as a bass in the U.S. (I have never seen a true U.S. bass -- only striped bass, and what Harrod's fish shop in London said was bass imported from the U.S.).
"In France we make this with daurade or dorade; there are four varieties: the Gray Dorade, the Pink Dorade, the Marble Dorade, and the Royal Dorade, which is the best because of its firm and tasty flesh.
The four kinds of Dorade are shaped alike and range in size up to 3 to 4 kg [6-9 pounds]. They are all easy to identify; the Royal Dorade has silver sides, a red spot on each cheek, and a yellow to gold swollen bump between the eyes, almost on the forehead, which with imagination, looks like a crown. It is an expensive fish in France, but well worth it, almost better than very good caviar!"
- 1 whole fish (bass or gilt-head sea bream)
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 3 to 5 bay leaves
- 2 to 3 potatoes
- 6 to 8 ripe tomatoes
- 4 to 5 cloves garlic (unpeeled)
- 2 to 3 cups dry white wine
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil
- Dash sea salt (or to taste)
- Dash freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
- 3 to 5 slices lemon
Preheat oven to 450 F / 235 C.
Clean and scale the fish, but don't wash it. This is a must for all fish however you cook them; simply wipe them with an old cloth, or better yet, tissue paper.
Stuff the fish with herbs: thyme or bay leaves.
Select a heatproof baking dish about the same size as the fish and 5 to 8 cm (2 to 3 inches) deep.
Peel 2 to 3 potatoes, slice them, and line the bottom of the dish with them.
Follow the potatoes with a layer of well-ripened tomatoes cut into halves, quarters, or eighths, depending upon their size.
Place the fish on top of the tomatoes, and surround the fish with more tomatoes.
Slip 4 or 5 cloves of garlic (with the peels still on) between the tomatoes.
Depending upon the size and depth of the dish, pour 1 to 2 glasses of a dry white wine and 1/2 cup or more of good olive oil over the fish.
Lightly season the fish with sea salt and pepper and, depending upon its length, lay 3 to 5 slices of lemon, each on a bay leaf, on it.
Set the fish in the oven and reduce the heat immediately to moderate (350 F / 180 C).
A thick fish such as a dorade should be baked 40 to 50 minutes, but watch it carefully, because an overcooked fish is wasted. To test for doneness, check it with a knife to see if the flesh is loose on the bones. Another sign that the fish is cooked is when the slices of lemon start to brown and the bay leaves start to curl.
Don't turn the fish over; serve it in its dish.
When the fish is gone, save the juices left in the dish for tomorrow's fish soup.