Orata in Puglia

Orata in Puglia

Apparently 80% of Italy’s fish is caught off the 800km coastline of Puglia and judging by the local fish markets and restaurants I would say one of the most popular would be Orata, or as we know them better the gilt head sea-bream.

This box of Orata arrived onto the ice at a very hectic but fantastic little fish market in Otranto just as I stepped through the door. The fish is so fresh it is curved like a banana with rigor mortice – literally just off the boats less than 100 yards away.

I bought six whole fish for around €5 per kg and they even gutted them for me at that price.

The wonderful speciality dish prepared with Orata in the Salento region of Puglia is “Orata alla Pugliese” where the fish is marinated in olive oil, parsely and garlic and then placed in a shallow dish on a bed of thinly sliced potatoes and grated pecorino cheese. Sometimes another thin layer of potatoes and cheese tops the dish too before baking in a wood oven for half an hour or so.

Orata is also often found in local restaurants baked in a salt crust that keeps the fish deliciously moist, succulent and perfectly seasoned. It’s unclear where this popular cooking method originates but it is popular across most southern European countries with Italy, Spain and Portugal all having their own versions.

I decided to treat the fish a little differently, but still keeping the flavours close to the region with a salmoriglio inspired mix. Before being grilled, the fish is covered in a simple marinade made from plenty of (very) local olive oil, generous amounts of chopped garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice and fresh herbs.

To serve 6, you will need:

  • 6 Orata or similar fish
  • 100ml olive oil
  • juice & zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • handful of chopped fresh herbs – parsley & oregano work well together here
  • pinch sea-salt

Here’s what to do:

  1. The fish must be gutted, with the scales, spines and fins removed. You can ask your fishmonger to do this.
  2. Score each fish to the bone about 3 times on each side
  3. Whisk together the marinade ingredients
  4. In a large dish, use about half the marinade to coat the fish, inside and out.
  5. Cover for half an hour
  6. In the meantime, light your grill ensuring the bars are clean and well oiled.
  7. Cook the fish for about 5-6 mins on each side whilst spooning or brushing the remainder of the marinate over both sides of each fish at the end.