Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Roasted monkfish with cauliflower, chicken skin, Jerusalem artichoke crisps and cider vinegar dressing

After posting a lot of simple, quick recipes recently, it’s been nice to finally get around to cooking something with a few more processes. I really love having an occasion to cook for and devoting a proper chunk of time to come up with something a little more special. 

Over the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time down in Brighton with my family. Although I love the bustle of London, a few days by the sea does the world of good, and I certainly appreciate it so much more than I did when I lived there. Dad is usually in full command of the cooking and we all get spoilt rotten by the amazing hearty dishes that he effortlessly rustles up for every meal. We also benefit from all of the fresh produce that my parents bring back from their allotment. Chard risottos and squash soups have been a plenty, and I think that they are secretly relieved that they have finally worked their way through the glut of tomatoes that have been piled high in their kitchen over the past few months. I am so lucky that my family have always been interested in food, and sharing it with everyone around. 

With dad strictly territorial over his kitchen I don’t get to cook at home very often. Having all of the family about also makes it very dangerous to leave any bowls of prep lying around. But it was really nice to give something back over the weekend and make lunch for everyone. It also gave me the chance to make the most of the amazing produce that Brighton has to offer. In London you can buy absolutely any ingredients and the city is awash with farmers markets and specialist producers. You can come across multi-coloured carrots, purple cauliflowers, micro leaves, anything. But this comes at a hefty price. By the coast there simply isn’t the choice, however more reasonable rents and direct sourcing mean that prices can be staggeringly less. A walk up to the fishmongers at Shoreham harbour was a revelation. I was like a kid in a sweet shop. Huge wild bass, stacks of amazing brill and turbot and massive tanks of crabs and lobster. Everything was near enough half the price of the capital too. But what I was there for was the monkfish. I left with hefty bag of fish and a paranoid stance; there was no way I was going to let one of those thieving seagulls fly away with my loot.

Monkfish is a strictly special occasion fish for me. Its price and conservation status mean that it should be eaten sparingly, despite the fact that it is damn tasty. I first had it years ago, served up crisply battered and hot enough to steam up my glasses on that freezing Cornish afternoon. Every time I have eaten it since I have treasured it. That meaty yet succulent texture and robust taste really sets it apart from other fish. And on this rare occasion that I found myself in possession of a whole tail I was determined not to mess it up. 

Roasting fish whole seems so underrated these days. I am a big fan of pan frying individual fillets, but for flavour and moisture retention baking fish on the bone wins hands down. The minimal bone structure of monkfish makes it perfect for cooking in this way; they are easier to carve than a chicken when ready. The combination of fish, cauliflower and something salty and tangy is a classic. The cider vinegar dressing contains many of the flavours of tartar sauce, but lightened using just oil instead of a mayonnaise to carry it. The artichoke crisps, roasted vegetables and chicken skin add a much needed crunch to the dish. 

Serves 4 


For the monkfish:

1 x monkish tail, approx. 1kg, skinned but kept on the bone 
70g butter 
Olive oil 
Salt and pepper 
½ lemon, juice only

For the roasted cauliflower:

12 large cauliflower florets 
Olive oil 
Salt and pepper

For the cauliflower puree:

½ a small cauliflower, cut into even sized chunks 
30g butter 
A splash of milk 
¼ lemon, juice only 
Salt and pepper

For the Jerusalem artichoke crisps:

2 jerusalem artichokes 
Vegetable oil for frying, approx 500ml

For the crispy chicken skin:

The skin from 2 chicken thighs 

For the cider vinegar dressing:

½ a shallot, very finely chopped 
½ a clove of garlic, very finely chopped 
½ tsp Dijon mustard 
½ tsp capers, very finely chopped 
¼ lemon, juice only 
1 large pinch of chives, finely chopped 
1 large pinch of parsley, finely chopped 
Splash of cider vinegar 
Approx. 3tbsp extra virgin olive oil

To finish:

A few rocket leaves 
A twist of cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200⁰C.

To make the crispy chicken skin, line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper and spread on the chicken skin in a thin, even layer. Place another piece of greaseproof paper on top and then another baking sheet. Put into the hot oven for about 10 minutes, until brown and crispy. Transfer to a piece of kitchen paper to drain. Once cool, shred up into small pieces and set aside. 

Heat the frying oil in a medium-sized, heavy saucepan until it reaches about 170⁰C. Using a vegetable peeler, create long, thin strips of the Jerusalem artichoke, then fry in batches in the hot oil. When they turn a light golden colour, transfer carefully to some kitchen paper to drain. Sprinkle with salt and allow to cool.

To make the puree, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add the cauliflower florets and a good pinch of salt and boil for about 5 minutes, or until very tender. Drain well and tip the cauliflower into a food processor along with the butter, milk, lemon juice and some salt and pepper. Blitz well, adding a little more milk if necessary to achieve a smooth, light texture. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve into a small saucepan then cover and set aside to be gently reheated later.

Preheat the oven to 200⁰C. Remove the monkfish from the fridge about half an hour before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature.

Put the cauliflower florets onto a baking tray and coat with olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast in the hot oven for about 20 minutes, tossing occasionally.

For the monkfish, line a large roasting dish with greaseproof paper and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle over a good amount of seasoning. Roll the monkfish in the tray so that all sides are covered. Dot over knobs of the butter and roast in the hot oven for approx. 15 minutes, basting frequently. 

While the fish and cauliflower are roasting make the dressing. Add the garlic, shallot, mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, capers and herbs to a bowl and mix well with a whisk. Slowly drizzle in the oil whilst still whisking until the oil has been emulsified. Taste and season if needed, you want the dressing to be quite sharp.

When the monkfish is cooked remove from the oven, squeeze over the lemon and allow to rest for 5 minutes. While it does, gently reheat the cauliflower puree.

To plate up, carve the monkfish into two fillets then cut into chunky medallions. Spoon three blobs of the puree onto each plate. Top with a piece of the fish and a little of the dressing. Arrange three of the cauliflower florets around the plate, then scatter the artichoke crisps, chicken skin, rocket and pepper on top.

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