Pargo (red porgy or red bream)


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This is one of the more expensive fish to be found at markets here in Portugal, usually costing upwards of €20 per kilo, but it is also one of the tastiest. It’s a very meaty fish and if grilled it tends to dry out unless great care is taken. Hence it is most often roasted in a white wine and tomato based juice or simply boiled then dressed with good olive oil.

Pargo has a very distinct flavour and both the roasting juices and stock are quite delicious. The head of larger fish especially is a delicacy, with the meat from the cheeks and top of the head being the choicest morsels.

The quality of this fish was placed firmly in perspective for me a few years ago during the Vila Joya International Gourmet Festival, when a team of chefs arrived from the famous Kyoto Tsuruya three-star Michelin restaurant in Japan.

The chefs were here on the ground for a full week ahead of the day they would cook, and visited the fish auction in Sagres day after day to sample the different fish to be found off our shores in a quest to serve the best possible sashimi.

Pargo was the clear winner and they proceeded to create the masterpiece shown in this photo, the fish meticulously filleted and artfully reassembled in exactingly cut sashimi slices. It had been caught the same morning and the flavour and texture of this raw fish, served simply with a dash of Japanese soy and freshly ground wasabi root, is one of my fondest gastronomic memories.

When cooking Pargo at home, I like to buy a large fish, too big to fit into a domestic oven whole. The larger fish develop a much greater depth of flavour and I usually make a soup from the head (or a fish head curry) and roast the body.

The traditional Portuguese recipe for oven roast fish is quite simple, starting with a refogado base. There is no fixed recipe for a refogado but the general idea is to soften sliced onion and garlic in olive oil with tomato and other flavourings, such as red peppers, and your desired herbs and spices; thyme, bay leaf and paprika work very well with roast fish. Cook this up in a pan, adding some white wine ready to pour the sauce over the fish before it goes in the oven.

Parboiled potatoes added to the roasting tray, along with the refogado and wine, will soak up the flavours of the fish juices and the sauce combining to make the most delectable of roast spuds.