Similar dishes, in which whole fish are cooked on a bed of potato and vegetables, can be found all over Spain. The bed of potato and vegetables is called fondo, meaning foundation.
Pargo al fondo typifies the pragmatic nature of the Spanish cook — cooking with one cooking vessel, thus using less fuel. Also using the fondo to absorb the cooking juices makes the potatoes tastier and leaves nothing to waste. In fact, the potatoes are my favourite part of the dish, as they take on every part of the intense flavour of the stock, wine and the richness of the fish. We use snapper but you can use any other whole fish of a similar size. Whole fish is tastier and better for you. When you cook whole fish the skin and bones break down to form gelatine, which is a very nourishing protein.
Remove the fins, and the spines along the back of the fish with a pair of kitchen scissors and discard. Rinse the fish under cold running water and pat dry with paper towel.
To make the fondo, heat 80 ml (2½ fl oz/½ cup) of the extra virgin olive oil in a large frying pan over low–medium heat. Cook the onion, capsicum, garlic, three of the bay leaves and a pinch of salt for 15–20 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally.
Put the fish in a large bowl with several pinches of sea salt and the ajo y perejil and rub all over the fish. Season the cavity of each fish with a little salt, a few slices of lemon and a bay leaf.
Drizzle a little olive oil over the base of a large baking tray. Lay about a quarter of the fondo in the tray. Pour the fish stock over the fondo, lay the potato on top then season. Lay the remaining fondo over the potato, sprinkle with the tomato and almost all the remaining lemon slices — reserve some to dress the fish — and season once more. Place the fish on top of the lemon slices and dress the fish with the reserved lemon slices. Drizzle the white wine and the remaining olive oil over the fish.
Remove the fish, cover with foil and place near the oven or stovetop to keep warm. Cover the fondo with foil and return to the oven for 15 minutes, or until the potato is soft. Make a bed of fondo on four warm plates and place a snapper on top of each. Sprinkle with a small pinch of sea salt flakes and serve.
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