For this, use a mixture of fish, choosing from sea bass, sea bream, sole, snook, gray mullet, turbot, red mullet, red grouper, dog fish, and sardines. You can replace any of these fish, as long as none of the substitutes have soft flesh. The sardines are indispensable.
Trim and clean the fish, and salt lightly. Set aside.
Pour the olive oil into a large flameproof casserole (preferably earthenware, although this is not essential). Heat, then add the onions and brown them. Add the garlic, parsley, chilies, and bay leaves, then add the tomatoes and vinegar. Stew for a while, stirring occasionally. Do not allow the ingredients to burn and stick. Pour a little water over and add the peppercorns, piri piri sauce, and salt and nutmeg to taste. Bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, rinse the fish to remove the excess salt, but do not skin or bone. Cut into slices, except the sardines, which should be left whole but decapitated. Add the fish to the stew in layers, with the tougher fish at the bottom. Layer the strips of green pepper between each layer of fish. Put the sardines on the top so that they don’t break up.
Spread the butter over the bread. Place the bread over the top of the sardines, butter side down. Cover and cook over a low heat, shaking the casserole from time to time to prevent sticking; do not uncover. When the contents begin to boil, and the liquid has soaked and covered the bread completely, the dish is ready to serve. Place a slice of bread and a sardine on each plate, and ladle over the rest of the stew.
© 1999 Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright estate. All rights reserved.