While we were on holiday in Tonga, one of the ladies in our group was a marine biologist, who spends a good deal of her time in Africa. In an idle moment when we were bobbing about in the Pacific, waiting for whales to come and join us, she filled us in on some of the less attractive features of the prawn fishing industry, which made me never want to eat them again.
We got back home to find that Eliza, who had been looking after our kitty cats while we were away, had left the remains of a box of delicious-looking tiger prawns in our freezer. I felt guilty every time I opened the door – in the end last night, we decided to eat them. After all, nothing was going to bring the poor things back, nor was the area of the Indian sea bed from which they had been dredged going to miraculously recover if we put them in the bin (seeing that they had come all the way here from India made me feel even worse – think of the food miles that little trip involved). Needless to say, they were delicious, and I am sure any latent guilt feelings will pass within a few years or so…
Probably I shouldn’t even be encouraging you to eat them by giving you the recipe. However, you could make this with other fish – squid or monkfish would work really well, as would tuna or sword fish.
The dish is named after the small two-handled frying pan – a sagani or saganaki – in which the Greeks both cook and serve this dish. I don’t have one of those, so had to manage with a normal large frying pan before transferring the prawns to a serving dish of a more appropriate size to finish cooking in the oven.
I looked at several different recipes before cobbling this one together. I happened to have half of a fennel bulb lurking in my fridge, and fennel goes so well with fish and with raki, so it seemed a shame not to include it. I realise it is not authentic, so there’s no need to write in. If you are not keen on fennel, of course you can leave it out. I also added a little extra wine, as my sauce cooked down a bit too much, probably owing to the large size of the pan.
The entire dish only takes about 15 minutes from start to finish, and only has a few ingredients, so it is perfect for a work night. I served it with Greek-style lemon potatoes and a green salad, but just a salad and some crusty bread would be perfect if you were in a hurry. This recipe is for two, but you can double it if there are more of you.
If you haven’t already got the oven on for something else, you can finish this under the grill (broiler) instead of in the oven.
Prawns (we had 8 large tiger prawns between us), shelled and veins removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red onion, halved then thinly sliced
Half of a small fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced (retain fronds if there are any)
1 fresh red chilli, finely sliced or a generous pinch of red chilli flakes
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
A good dash of raki, ouzo or other aniseed flavoured spirit (1 – 2 tablespoons)
100ml white or rose wine (optional)
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon oregano
Approx 200g chopped tinned tomatoes (about half of a standard can – freeze the rest)
70g beyaz peynir or other feta-type cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Pre-heat the oven to 190C or pre-heat the grill (broiler)
Heat the olive oil in a saute pan and add the sliced onion and fennel. Cook over a medium heat until softened and just starting to turn golden brown. Add the garlic and chilli, and cook for a little longer until the garlic has softened. Stir in the fennel fronds if you have any.
Add the raki (or whichever spirit you are using), and give everything a good stir with a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan (ie to scrape all the yummy brown bits into the sauce). Add the wine (if using), tomato paste, oregano and tinned tomatoes. If you are not using wine, you may need to add a little water.
Bring everything to a simmer, and allow to cook over a very gentle heat for about five minutes. Stir in the prawns and cook until they have turned opaque – this will only take a minute or two, then stir in half of the chopped parsley.
Transfer to a serving dish (or just leave in the pan if you prefer) and crumble the cheese over the top. Bake for about five minutes (or broil) until the cheese is just starting to melt into the sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining parsley and serve immediately.