Snapper in a tomato sauce

My past has come back to haunt me. As I read my cholesterol level on the lab sheet at 20 per cent higher than the optimum, my mind raced back through all those throwaway lines from food columns of the past: ‘drown the lot in butter’; ’serve with cream or ice cream, or better both’; ‘cholesterol scholesterol’; and worse.

Now I have to decide (again) whether to join the rest of the world and become an obsessive bore about health and fat levels in the blood, and find out what ‘lipid’ really means; and whether polyunsaturated is a dry parrot, or is to become an important part of my vocabulary; and whether there is a
decent full-flavoured margarine anywhere to be found; and how to make a souffle without egg yolks. I have to think of life after apple pie and ice cream, and say farewell to chocolate mousse and Lord knows what else.

My first response was to adopt a facade of being reformed while sneaking into the cupboard when nobody was looking, but then I rang Wendy Morgan, a food and nutrition consultant with the National Heart Foundation. We were talking about not much at all, when I thought I’d mention my cholesterol level.

‘6.6,’ I said, expecting her to say something like: ‘Aaah, that’s not too bad. I’ve heard of much worse.’

She didn’t.

‘That’s too high,’ she said, and I went white. She went on to tell me I must make changes in my diet. And I found myself nodding, looking on the one hand at my note-pad, and on the other at my Maker.

‘Look at what you eat,’ she was saying, ‘from the very beginning of the day and work through all the things you like. Especially note all the hidden sources, like biscuits and pastries, and sausage rolls.’

On and on she went, listing with unerring accuracy all those things I love.

‘Give me a break,’ I said. ‘Isn’t there anything I like, that I’m allowed to like?’

‘That’s better,’ she said. ‘I’d much prefer to talk about the positive things.’ She wasn’t talking long.

‘All fruit and vegetables,’ she said, which would put you into the Robinson Crusoe class. ‘Bread is an excellent food, and polyunsaturated margarine is okay. Definitely not coconut oil, or coconut milk.’

‘Coconut milk,’ I said. ‘What about all those Thai dishes?’

Then the pressure started to ease. The Thais, said Ms Morgan, obviously have a well-balanced diet, which allows them to hop into such things occasionally. Suddenly there was light at the end of the tunnel. The message was one of common sense and balance. If you have loads of butter for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and wash it down with cream at the end of the night, then you are crazy. Use your scone and go for balance, and, to make it interesting, look at twists to the old ways. You won’t miss it, I consoled myself, just like you never missed sugar in your coffee. The upside is worth it. The old cholesterol counter will stop ticking, and the heart will beat regularly again.

I went straight into attack.

We had been to the market, and spied some fantastic snapper at a fantastic price. Only one problem. They were two kilos each. I couldn’t resist the wonderful shining eye of the fish. It had come straight out of the water. But none of our pans were big enough, and I didn’t want to fillet it. What to do?

1 medium snapper or similar fish of about 2kg

1 onion, sliced

1 clove garlic, sliced finely

4–5 tomatoes, skinned and cored, or a small tin of tomatoes with no added sugar or salt

1 chilli, chopped roughly



black pepper

the best virgin olive oil (gets the thumbs up from nutritionists)

a stack of broad beans, removed from outer and inner pods


Scale and clean the fish in the back yard. One of the hazards of buying late at a busy market is they won’t do any extra business for you. With fish, I’m not sure the savings you make are worth the trouble at the other end. One thing is for certain. Don’t attempt to scale fish indoors. Until next Christmas twelve months, you’ll be finding scales in places you didn’t even know there were places. Do it outside under a running tap.


Back indoors. Cook the onions and garlic gently in a high-sided pot which can go to the oven. A heavy-bottomed stew pot is best. The onion slices need to be cooked slowly for about 10 minutes, until they have softened and changed colour and texture. Add the tomatoes, chilli, salt and rosemary, and keep cooking on a low flame for another 10 minutes. Season with black pepper. Set aside.


Now for the fish. Splay the underside of the fish, so the chest cavity is wide open, and sit it on top of a pile of onions and tomatoes. You might have to twist it about so it follows the turn of the pot. Rub some of the oil on the fish, put the lot into a 230°C oven, and cook for 30 minutes. You should baste the fish with some of the sauce and a littie oil every now and then. With a few minutes to go, cook the broad beans in boiling salted water. They need only a minute.


Serve on a platter in the centre of the table, with the sauce on the side. Allow each and every diner to ease his/her required amount of fish from the bone and pour some of the sauce around. Make sure there are plenty of broad beans and piles of other appropriate vegetables about: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and pumpkin.

WINE: Marsanne is one of those white wines that no one seems to drink when it’s ready. I remember savouring a ‘53 Tahbilk Marsanne as a Roseworthy student : with Mr Eric Purbrick. It was beyond limited abilities to describe. I had half a glass left and was making little groaning noises when Mr P. topped me up… with a ‘63 cabernet! ‘Rose, boy,’ he said, quick as a flash. Try a Tahbilk or Mitchelton marsanne, 5–6 years old.