What other than childhood flavors can dent our memories so deeply?
Growing up in Alexandria, the second-largest city in Egypt, I was lucky to watch the pleasant traces of what is now a bygone cosmopolitan era.
In the first half of the twentieth century, Alexandria (also nicknamed “The Mediterranean Bride”) served as a safe haven for multiple thriving Western communities such as Greek, Italian, and Armenian, just to name a few.
The Alexandrian cuisine graciously embraced the influence of the city’s vibrant cultural mosaic and consequently offered to the culinary world, an array of unique dishes that are yet to be as celebrated as they should be.
Grilled Bran Fish is one of those distinct dishes. Other than its delectable taste, it conjures up a vivid childhood scene— an unmistakable wafting smell of the charred bran skin mixed with the sea fresh breeze in a late afternoon while my family and I sat at a rustic table at Kadoura, the legendary fish restaurant in Alexandria.
Bran Fish is typically grilled, yet given the scorching temperature in Singapore, where I currently live, I instead use a kitchen torch to burn the bran coating until it is charred, and then I roast the fish in a preheated oven at 450°F.
The bran cloak in this recipe is both a protector and a flavoring. It protects the delicate fish flesh from drying while it roasts, giving the right amount of time for the marinade to amply infuse the fish.
Beneath the smoky flavor of the charred bran, the fork-tender fish flesh is spiced up by the astringent spices, and enlivened by the fresh notes of lime, carrots, celery, onions, and garlic.
This recipe is foolproof and approved by my picky family. This photo says it all.
Bran Sea Bass
Serves 4 people
- 1 whole sea bass, cleaned
- 1 medium carrot, diced
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 whole cloves of garlic
- 1 rib of celery including leaves, chopped
- ¼ cup cilantro including leaves and stalks, chopped
- ¼ cup parsley including leaves and stalks, chopped
- The juice of one lime for the marinade and some extra to serve with the fish
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ginger powder
- ½ teaspoon coriander powder
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
The Bran Coat
- 3/4 to 1 cup whole wheat bran (depends on the size of the fish)
- One big or two medium russet potatoes for the garnish
- Baking sheet
- Sharp knife
- Kitchen torch
- Preheat the oven to 450°F.
- Make the Marinade: Add to the container of a food processor the carrots, celery, onions, garlic, spices, and olive oil and pulse until the mix resembles a chunky stuffing.
- Marinate the fish: With a sharp knife make three diagonal slits on each side of the fish. Stuff the slits with spoonfuls of the marinade and rub the fish surface and fill the cavity with the rest of the marinade.
- Coat the fish with the bran: Carefully sprinkle the bran over the fish trying to leave the head and tail intact. With gloved hands press the bran onto the surface of the fish. The oily marinade will help the bran stick to the fish skin.
- Broil the bran: With the help of a kitchen torch, burn the bran coating until it turns black.
- Arrange a layer of russet potato slices on the sheet pan, brush it with olive oil, and scatter any remaining bran and the marinade on top of the potatoes slices.
- Roast the fish: In a preheated oven, roast the fish for 20 to 30 minutes or until it is fork-tender and the translucent flesh has turned right.
- Serve the fish: It is best served hot with lemon wedges, traditional Egyptian yellow traditional rice, and salad.