Poppy’s kitchen: Snap to it!

Most of us tend to overcook it — the trick is to use a halfway mark technique when searing fish in a pan. Most of us tend to overcook it — the trick is to use a halfway mark technique when searing fish in a pan. Pakistan’s very own celebrity chef, Poppy Agha, is currently battling it out for culinary supremacy against no fewer than eight indian chefs on the internationally televised reality show, “Foodistan”. This week she shows us how to do a superlative pan seared snapper with sautéed mushrooms and a duxelles cream.

There’s nothing like a perfectly cooked piece of snapper! I agree that there are a multitude of fish that beat the snapper in flavour: tuna, monkfish and swordfish but you get the snapper easily from any fishmonger — who probably calls it ‘hira’ — in Pakistan and it is just delicious!

Cooking fish, however, can be a tad bit difficult. Most of us tend to overcook it — the trick is to use a halfway mark technique when searing fish in a pan.

Keep checking the progress of the fish as it cooks. When the colour changes half way up the side of the meat, flip it over and repeat the process on the other side. Once this is done, cook the fish for another minute and then turn the heat off. Put a lid on the pan and let the fish sit in the steam for a couple of minutes. It’s as easy as that.

Another common mistake people make is that they tend to overuse spices, in general. It can’t be helped because of our years of cooking with heavy masalas but, when cooking fish, try not to smother the meat’s own flavour. What would a fabulous black pepper seared tuna steak taste like if it were doused with chilli and overcooked? Terrible!

Concentrate on sauces that accompany the fish fillet rather than rubbing too much spice on the fish itself. If you want to hide the flavour, use something citrus based, or a tangy tomato sauce. Alternatively, if you want to enhance the flavour, make a simple beurre blanc.

For the fish:

Snapper — 1 fillet, halved

Rock Salt — 1 tsp

Freshly crushed Black pepper — 1 tsp

Olive oil — 1 tbsp

For the mushrooms:

sliced — 1/2 punnett mushrooms

rock salt — 1/2 tsp

butter — 1 tsp

For the sauce:

minced — 1 pod garlic

chopped finely — 2 mushrooms

olive oil — 1 tsp

cream — 1 tsp

light chicken stock/water — 4 tbsps

A pinch of salt

A pinch of black pepper


Heat olive oil in a pan and place the snapper fillet in it. Let the snapper cook on one side and flip. Then sprinkle on some salt and black pepper, about a pinch. Flip the snapper back and sprinkle salt and pepper on the other side. Cook till the fish is done and turn the heat off.

In a smaller pan, heat one tsp of butter and then add the sliced mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms till they are darkened on each side, but do not overcook them so that they shrivel. They must retain their shape. Sprinkle a large pinch of salt. After the mushrooms are done, wait 2-3 minutes and remove them from the pan. Do not discard the juices in the pan.

In the same pan, heat another tsp of olive oil and add the minced garlic and minced mushrooms. Sauté on a high flame and as soon as the garlic starts turning light golden, add in 1 tsp cream and 2 tbsps of stock (you can add water instead of stock). Reduce the heat and cook till the sauce thickens, add in the remaining stock and cook for about thirty seconds. For best results sieve the sauce. (You can skip this step if you want, but it makes for better results). Check the salt and add more in case it is lacking, as well as a pinch of freshly ground pepper.

Layer with fish and mushrooms and serve with a salad, warmed baguette or even a smooth basil potato mash. Enjoy!

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 19th, 2012.