Monday, 23 February 2015

Poached brill with smoked oysters and clams, monk’s beard, burnt kale and caramelised shallot

Working in the line of work that I do, I’m very lucky to have access to some really fantastic produce. For my dad’s birthday last year, my present to him was a large turbot. He has always loved eating fish, and the times when I was a child and he’d constantly encourage me to eat ‘disgusting’ mussels, get stuck in peeling prawns or cooking things like skate from an early age helped form the foundations for my own passion for food. That night we roasted the whole fish simply, sat on a bed of roasted lemons and fennel and surrounded by clams and mussels. A wonderful and memorable evening. Since then I’ve always wanted to have another go at cooking with a large flat fish, but have never had the occasion. Last week I ended up thinking ‘sod it’, and phoned up our lovely Cornish suppliers at Newlyn. A couple of minutes later I had a sizable brill ordered to wing its way up to me for later in the week. 

With the larger flat fish such as turbot and brill there are two real choices to go for. The smaller fish between 1-2 kilogrammes are lovely cooked whole on the bone and make a cracking meal shared with a few people. But the bigger ones are something else, true dustbin lids that you can fillet or steak and still get a proper chunk of flesh from. Certainly something for a special occasion, or in this case, a blog challenge. When it arrived, I was taken aback at quite how big it was. At 2.7kg there was no chance of it fitting into my small fridge at home. So I got to work with it straight away, taking off all four fillets and making sure the bones and roe were kept so that I could use every single bit possible. Ideally I would have cut the fish into steaks, or tranches, on bone to maximise flavour. Unfortunately though my knives just weren’t heavy enough, and I had to make do with fillets. The plan was to cook them very gently in a strong fishy and buttery poaching liquid, allowing no chance of them going dry.
When using fish of such freshness and quality I didn’t really want to confuse it with a pile of other flavourings. So for this recipe I stuck along with tradition and nature, pairing simply with some sea vegetables and shellfish. The smokey flavour in the sauce and the burnt kale was inspired by my recent visit to The Manor in Clapham, and in this dish it adds a subtle contrast to the buttery flavours that I have also used.
Monk’s beard has long been on my list of ingredients to use, but in previous years I’ve found it tricky to get hold of during its swift season. This time around I luckily managed to order some from the wonderful Quality Chop Shop. If anyone hasn’t been, make sure to pop in when you’re next around Farringdon/Exmouth Market; it’s an absolute trove of great produce and gorgeous cooking paraphernalia.
Serves 2
For the brill:
2 fillets of brill, taken from the thickest part of a 2.5kg fish, skinned 
2 good knobs of butter
For the fish stock:
The bones from the brill 
1 glass of dry white wine 
1 carrot, chopped 
1 leek, chopped 
2 cloves of garlic, crushed 
2 shallots, sliced 
1 fennel, sliced 
1 bay leaf 
1.5 ltrs of water
For the burnt kale:
2 handfuls of curly kale 
50g almonds 
½ a garlic clove, grated 
1 lemon, zest and juice 
Extra virgin olive oil
For the kale and monk’s beard:
1 handful of monk’s beard, washed and trimmed 
1 handful of kale 
1 good knob of butter 
A squeeze of lemon juice 
2 tbsp of the fish stock
For the caramelised shallot: 

3 shallots, thinly sliced 
A good knob of butter 
1 tsp of sugar
For the smoked clams, oysters and sauce:
20 clams 
4 oysters 
2 ladles of the fish stock 
1 handful of straw 
2 knobs of butter 

Preheat the oven to 190⁰C.
First make the fish stock. Drizzle a little olive oil over the brill bones, season well and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until lightly caramelised and golden. Meanwhile, heat some oil in a large saucepan and lightly brown the root vegetables. When the bones are roasted, transfer to the saucepan with the bay leaf and add the wine. Bring to the boil, then cover the ingredients with the water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, then remove from the heat and strain into a clean saucepan.

Turn the oven up to 200⁰C.
Scatter the kale for the burnt kale on a roasting tray and toss in a little oil and seasoning. Put in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until dark and charred. While the kale is roasting, set a dry frying pan on a medium-high heat and toast the almonds until golden on both sides. Transfer both into a food processor with the garlic and lemon and blitz until finely chopped. Trickle in a little extra virgin olive oil (about 2-3 tbsp) to bind everything together into a pesto-type consistency. Taste and season, it should be bitter and citrusy.
For the caramelised shallot, melt the butter in a saucepan and add the sliced shallots. Season well and add the sugar, then cook gently for about 20 minutes, or until golden and sticky. Keep warm. 

Put a small saucepan on a medium-high heat. When hot, add the clams and a good ladle of the fish stock. Put the lid on and shake gently once or twice, then allow the shellfish to steam for 3-4 minutes, or until they are all open. Use a fork to remove the clams to a bowl and add another ladle of fish stock to the saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Open the oysters, draining their juices into the saucepan as well. Take the pan off the heat and poach the oysters for about 2 minutes, or until just cooked. Remove from the pan and add to the clams. Pour the clam and oyster liquid into a bowl. Put the straw into the bottom of your smoker and light well. When the flames have gone out and the straw is smouldering, put the clams, oysters and the bowl of liquid onto the shelf above and smoke for 5 minutes. Remove the smoked shellfish and sauce and set aside until needed.
Heat up the large saucepan of fish stock and bring to a simmer. Stir in the butter for the brill, then remove from the heat. Season the brill fillets, then lower into the liquid and poach, using the residual heat to cook the fish. After 5-6 minutes it should just be cooked through. 

While the fish is cooking, melt the butter for the monk’s beard and kale in a saucepan. Add the kale and monk’s beard and a couple of tablespoons of fish stock. Cook on a medium heat for a couple of minutes until the greens are cooked but still al dente. Squeeze in the lemon juice.
Reheat the smoked sauce and whisk in the butter until thickened and emulsified. Add the clams and oysters and gently warm through.
To serve, spoon a bit of the burnt kale and almond onto each plate and top with some of the kale and monk’s beard. Add a good tablespoon of the caramelised shallot and scatter over the clams and oysters. Position a piece of the brill on top and finish with a good amount of the sauce.

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