from "Living Within", June 2014
Parting ways with tradition and its sometime religious and other norms, Saturday night is when we most often eat fish in my house. Saturday morning shopping at Claygate Parade has become the family habit - we are blessed to have a full complement of almost everything that a shopper might need represented there, and in amongst the rest, one of the best fishmongers in the country. I have no official confirmation to support this contention (although I know they do not lack awards) but I am pretty sure it must be true. There may well be others as good, but I am not convinced that any could better the picture perfect marble slabs of fresh fish at Williams and Bunkell or the expertise that lies behind their presentation.
Our practice is to choose from what is available in the morning and then to work with it to make a Saturday night supper. Whatever that turns out to be, fish needing no long slow cooking or fancy extras as a general rule, it tends to be pretty simple. Much can be poached, baked, grilled or fried with a fair amount of flexibility and speed, and the flavours that seem to complement are not normally biased toward the over complex or powerful.
Gurnard was on the slab this weekend - no, not a fish I am too familiar with either, for those of you who are wondering, and not really a looker, but it does have a history of being relatively good value to recommend it as starting point. The fish crew selected and filleted a large specimen - not an easy task with a gurnard so I am told, but carried out, as always, with great skill - to provide two large fillets (enough for four if stretched); firm-fleshed, not quite a monkfish in texture, not quite a bream or a bass in delicacy of flavour, but delicious nonetheless and as easy to cook as any. Next door, FruitWorld had Cyprus potatoes and some fulsome green and white chard, and a menu was in the making.
Wash the potatoes well and slice as thinly as you can manage (a properly sharp knife is essential); toss in a bowl with some olive oil, salt and pepper, a finely sliced onion, and fresh oregano leaves (in full leaf in my garden pots right now, and so I used plenty) and a sprinkling of saffron if you have some - not too much, but saffron adds beauty to the colour and a subtle depth to the flavour when used in small quantities. Add in a small glass full of water (you could soften up the saffron in a little of it first to help it blend more easily), then mix together well and place in a gratin or roasting dish just big enough to hold everything comfortably. Roast, uncovered, in a hot oven for between about 30 - 40 minutes - until the top layer is nicely golden and a sharp knife poked through the centre finds little resistance.
While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the fish fillets by seasoning well on both sides with salt and pepper. About 10 minutes before the potatoes are expected to be finished, heat up a large frying pan, and fry the fillets in a little oil and butter over a medium heat (“presentation” side down first) until the fish is “just” cooked - be careful not to dry it out by frying for too long, the fillets are quite thick in the centre and need to be cooked through but gurnard has a reputation for being a little dry, possibly in part accounted for by overthinking how much time to allow for this. They will only take a few minutes on each side even watching the middle carefully. Once the fish is cooked and has a nice outside “crust” of golden brown, remove from the pan carefully and keep warm.
The fillets can be served with a little melted butter cooked with a squeeze of a lemon in the wiped down pan to pour over for serving, but on Saturday I let the chard do the work of balancing out flavour. Blanched in boiling salted water - thick white stalks cut into appropriately thick slices for about 3 minutes first, followed by the leaves (washed and needing only a minute or two in the boiling water) - drained and served dressed with salt, a dribble of olive oil and a generous squeeze of lemon juice (cut lemons handed round separately for the fish if still needed) all was harmonious, and gurnard now added to our Saturday night favourites.