River Cottage guru, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall loves fish. As a celebrity chef, people listen to Hugh. He's someone who knows a thing or two when it comes to what we put on our plates. And if Hugh's worried, we all should be. Right now, Hugh is concerned that over-fishing could seriously threaten the future of our fish supper. He says we should try something different and stop having a blinkered snobbery when it comes to fish by just asking for the traditional favourites.
MCS couldn't agree more! So cook up Hugh's fish suppers using gurnard, black bream and red mullet:
Like poultry and meat, whole fish work well in a one-pot casserole brimming with winter veg. If the vegetables are sweated for a while first, they can finish cooking in the time it takes a couple of nice whole fish to cook through, and lend their delicious juices to the dish. Pat Carlin, our regular River Cottage skipper, reckons this is the best way he’s ever tasted gurnard – and it’s one of his favourite fish.
A large knob of unsalted butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium leeks, white part only, cut into2cm thick slices
300g celeriac, peeled and cut into 2cm
chunks 2 onions, thickly sliced 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
2 large carrots, cut into 2cm chunks
1 large (about 1.5kg) or 2 medium (about750g) or 4 small (about 400g) gurnard (or other whole fish), descaled and gutted
A glass of white wine 2 bay leaves Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the butter and olive oil in a large flameproof casserole over a medium-low heat. Add all the vegetables, season well and toss them in the fat, then sweat gently for about 10 minutes, until they begin to soften. Don’t let them colour.
Season the gurnard with salt and pepper, then add it to the pan, pushing it down so it is snuggled in among the aromatic vegetables. Sprinkle over the wine and a glass of water, tuck in the bay leaves and cover the dish. Bring to a gentle simmer on the hob.
Now transfer the casserole to an oven preheated to 180°C/Gas Mark 4 and bake for 30–40 minutes, depending on the size of fish. To check that the fish is ready, insert the tip of a knife at the thickest part to pull the flesh away from the bone. It should be opaque all the way through.
If you have one or two larger fish, take the flesh off the bones in big chunks. Otherwise, simply serve one fish per person, with plenty of the vegetables and juices alongside.
Black bream with herbs
This dish is really about the preparation of a whole fish of a certain size (a one- portion fish), especially for the frying pan. It’s descaled, beheaded, de-spined and trimmed, so it’s easy to cook, easy to get a nice crisp skin and deliciously easy to eat. The removal of the fin line along the spine and tail allows the oil, butter and herbs to penetrate deep into the centre of the flesh. It works best with bream and their near relatives.
2 black bream, weighing 500–750g each
A small bunch of thyme sprigs
2 small, tender sprigs of rosemary
25g unsalted butter
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil 2 garlic cloves, skin left on, bruised with a knife
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
First you need to descale your fish and then remove the bream’s spiny fins. Use sharp kitchen scissors to snip off the small pectoral fins on the underbelly and gut the fish. Decapitation is optional, but it will give you more room in the pan. If you’re going to do it, cut the head off just behind the pectoral fin. Trim the tail, too, if you think you’re tight for space.
Slash the fish two or three times on each side. Stuff a little thyme and rosemary into the slashes and cavity of each fish, along with the butter. Put a bay leaf into each cavity. Season the fish all over with salt and pepper.
Heat the olive oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, then add the other bay leaf and garlic so they can gently release their flavour as the fish cooks. Lay the fish in the pan and fry for 5–6 minutes on each side, until cooked through to the bone. You can turn the heat up towards the end of cooking, if necessary, to help crisp the skin. Serve at once, with a leafy salad and sautéed or boiled new potatoes.
Also works with: •red mullet •Sea bass
Red mullet, woodcock-style
This recipe is loosely based on a traditional preparation for woodcock, where the bird is left ungutted during cooking, then the innards are removed and spread on a piece of toast, on which the bird is served. The flavour of the guts is creamy and mildly liverish, making it an excellent dish. Since the liver of the red mullet is also highly prized, it makes perfect sense to use the same approach. It works a treat. Indeed, it is a treat.
2 very fresh red mullet (350–500g), descaled and gutted, livers reserved
1 tablespoon olive oil
25g unsalted butter
1 small garlic clove, unpeeled
1 bay leaf
2 green olives, finely chopped
1 anchovy fillet, finely chopped
1 tablespoon white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Remove the livers from the fish and set aside. Season the fish. Place a large non- stick frying pan over a medium-low heat. Add the oil and butter, the garlic clove and the bay leaf, then add the whole fish. Sizzle gently for about 8–10 minutes, then turn them over and continue cooking for 6–7 minutes or so, until cooked right through).
Remove from the pan and keep warm.
Keeping the pan on the heat, remove the cooked garlic clove, then peel and chop it – it shouldn’t be too burnt if you have cooked the fish gently. Combine it with the chopped olives and anchovy. Add this mixture to the hot pan, along with the fish livers and wine. Sauté for just half a minute to reduce the wine a little, then remove the pan from the heat and mash everything together with a fork.
Smear this paste over the skin of the mullet, and serve, accompanied by plain mash or sautéed potatoes and a tomato and chive salad.