Friday, 23 May 2014

Roasted dab with shellfish, samphire and brown butter

With my last blog post taking the best part of a week to make, it’s a refreshing change that this recipe is one of the simplest that I have ever written. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending hours in the kitchen making something complicated, but I only get the chance to do that every so often and most of the time I’ll get back from work and just chuck something in the oven. And this was exactly what happened here. 

I’ve recently started a new job working with Jonathan Norris in Victoria Park. As a business that I have championed loads as a customer previously, I’m loving being involved on a more hands on level; for someone like me it’s just fantastic to be surrounded by such top quality produce. As I’m new to trade though I’ve had a lot of quick learning to do, and I can tell you that it’s a totally different thing to gently fillet a fish in the calm of your own kitchen than when there’s a paying customer peeping over your shoulder! I’ll also be expanding my recipe writing, and in the near future we are launching a blog with fish dishes throughout the seasons. Even just a few weeks in, my whole perception of shopping for fish has been turned upside down. I often agonised for weeks thinking up dishes designed for specific fish and always visited the fishmonger with a preconceived idea. I now know to be much more open-minded. That much lauded phrase ‘catch of the day’ really does exist, and sometimes we have been able to buy a certain species of fish that is extra-special. 

And yesterday at the market stall, the humble dab was one of those fish. As I had never cooked or even tried one before, Jon suggested that I took one home for dinner. To say my mind was blown would be an understatement. When the slab is full of glistening seabass, turbot and red mullet these dull-looking, wallet friendly flat fish are easily overlooked, but the quality of eating was just sensational. When produce is that fresh creating a recipe is a doddle; cook simply with a few well-matched ingredients. 

White fish with brown-butter, shellfish and loads of lemon is an all-time classic, and it is often difficult to want anything else. So nothing new here, just a deeply, deeply satisfying meal. I have talked up the simplicity, and the only thing that slows the preparation is the purging of those inconvenient clams. To create a lovely mixture of seafood (we cringed when I sarcastically described this as a fricassee…) I would promote their inclusion and attempting this timely process. Ideally you would soak them slowly whilst at work, but alternatively leave them out and bulk up with the other shellfish. Either way, once that hurdle is climbed this meal is ready to stuff in your face within a matter of minutes. 

Serves 2 


For the dab:

2 whole dab, gutted and trimmed if required 

40g butter, cut into small cubes 
3 lemons, two sliced into thin rounds 
Olive oil 

For the shellfish:

4 live razor clams 

1 handful live cockles, plus a little flour for purging 
1 handful live clams 
1 handful live whelks 

For the brown butter sauce:

100g butter 

½ a lemon, juice only 
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped 

For the samphire:

2 handfuls of samphire 
1 garlic clove, finely chopped 
20g butter 
½ a lemon, juice only 

Prepare the shellfish first. Purge the cockles for at least a few hours in plenty of water combined with a small amount of flour. Change the water a few times during this process to try and get rid of as much grit as possible. Rinse the other shellfish lightly to clean. 

When ready to start cooking, heat a medium-sized saucepan to a high heat and when hot, add the razor clams and a splash of water. Cover, give the pan a good shake and steam for a minute or two until the shells open. Pour the clams into a bowl topped with a sieve to collect the cooking liquid and allow to cool. Repeat this process with the clams and cockles. When you just have the whelks left, add 500ml of water to the pan and salt well. Bring to the boil, then simmer the whelks for 3-4 minutes. Drain the whelks but this time do not reserve the cooking liquid. Trim the hard feet from the whelks and razor clams, separating the firm edible tube of flesh from the latter and cutting into thin strips. Leave some of the other shellfish in their shells and pick the rest, then set aside. 

Preheat the oven to 180⁰C. 

Line an oven dish big enough for both fish with greaseproof paper and arrange on the lemon slices. Season all sides of the dab well and rub with olive oil then place side-by-side, dark side up on top of the lemons. Bake for 10 minutes, then rub the butter lightly onto the tops and return to the oven for another 2-4 minutes. When cooked, squeeze over the remaining lemon. 

When the fish has a few minutes of cooking to go, melt the butter for the sauce in a medium saucepan over a moderate heat until it starts to turn a nutty brown colour. When very close to serving, squeeze in the lemon, season and add the cooked seafood and parsley, stirring lightly to combine and heat through. 

At the same time as making the butter sauce, melt the butter for the samphire in another pan. Soften the garlic over a medium heat for a minute, then add the samphire and a good splash of the reserved shellfish cooking liquid. Cook for a further minute, then squeeze over the lemon and taste for seasoning.

To serve, spoon some of the samphire onto each plate and top with the cooked fish. Surround with the cooked shellfish and pour a generous amount of the brown butter over the top.

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