Toes in sand, I first ate this on the Pacific side of Mexico. After endless glasses of cold beer mixed with lime juice and salt, and under scant protection from the sun, I had lost most of my pocket dollars at backgammon to a German tourist. Tipsy and secretly annoyed, this dish cheered me up no end. It is easy to prepare and also a good treatment for bass, huss and conger eel.
750g sea bream, scaled, gutted and degilled
1 large Spanish onion, peeled
a bunch of coriander, not too large
2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 large, ripe vine tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the fish and to finish
1 fresh jalapeño chilli or 2 tablespoons jarred jalapeños
10 green olives, pitted
juice of 1⁄2 lime
1 teaspoon capers, drained
flaked sea salt
20g flaked almonds
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Halve the onion lengthways and slice it into thin slivers. Cut the obvious stalk parts from the coriander and chop them very finely; put aside a good handful of the leaves to finish the dish.
In a large saucepan sweat the onion with the garlic, chopped coriander stalks and olive oil over a low heat for 10 minutes. The onion should not colour. While all this is going on, cut the stalks out of the tomatoes and crisscross their bums. Put in a deep bowl and submerge in just-boiled water for 30 seconds. Skin and roughly chop them. Add them – flesh, seeds, juice and all – to the cooking onions. Without deseeding, thinly slice the jalapeño from nose to stalk and add to the pot. Slice the olives into little rounds and in they go. Squeeze in the lime juice and stir in the capers. Simmer with the lid off for 15 minutes. Season well with salt. Tip the almonds on to a baking tray and toast in the oven for 4–5 minutes until golden. Transfer to a plate and allow to cool.
Rinse the fish and pat it dry. Lay it on a board and give it 3 shallow slashes from head to tail on both sides, using a sharp knife angled away from its head. Rub all over with a bit of olive oil and salt both sides lightly. Transfer to a shallow ovenproof dish that accommodates head and tail. Spoon the sauce around it and cover the top tightly with foil. Bake in the preheated oven for 30–40 minutes. To check it is cooked, push the blade of a knife into the flesh just behind the top of the head. It should slide in easily with only the faintest resistance from the meat near the bone. Unwrap the foil. Dribble over a little olive oil, scatter with almonds and coriander leaves, and serve.