One day when I was a kid, my father came home very late saying my stepmother was in hospital with food poisoning, because ‘she ate yoğurt and fish together’. That started my fascination with combining seafood and dairy.
It’s a common myth in Turkey that milk and fish don’t mix, but if it were true, there’d be nobody left alive in the west coast town of İzmir (formerly known as Smyrna and very close to Troy). All along the promenade there, restaurants compete to offer the best version of sütlü balık (literally ‘fish in milk’). Normally it’s done with fillets, but I always prefer to use whole fish if I can. I’ve included celeriac here, because it adds a great flavour to the milk.
Peel the celeriac and cut it into rounds about
Slice the onion. Pick the celery leaves and tarragon leaves. Chop the stalks off the caperberries and slice in half.
Clean and scale the fish, if necessary. Place the fish on a board and slice through the belly to open a pocket for the stuffing. Stuff with celery and tarragon leaves, onion and caperberries.
Place the celeriac rounds on the bottom of a baking tray. Place the snapper on top. Mix the soaking milk with the cream and white wine, and pour over the fish. Add the lemon juice and chives on top of the fish. Cover with silverbeet leaves, then cover the baking tray tightly with foil.
Serve the mercan buğulama on a serving platter, pouring any remaining juice over the fish, for people to help themselves.
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