Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Cured gurnard with chick peas, blood orange, fennel and oregano

I was recently reading through my Twitter timeline, and a few people were writing about how uninspired they were and how they just couldn’t decide what to cook. This was something that I really related to. It’s similar to writer’s block I guess, sometimes my head ties itself in knots trying to find some creativity, whereas other times it’s almost as if the creativity finds me, and recipes effortlessly churn themselves out. Luckily the latter has been the case recently, my head has been awash with cooking ideas and I’ve got a long list of potential recipes to test and write about in the future. Spring is on the way, and it’s exciting that before long we’ll be seeing wild garlic and early asparagus coming through. The way I eat will also change, those bold, heavy winter flavours shifted for something a little lighter. 

It was brilliant to cook with the brill that I have written about for the last few posts. It was a big old fish and I was determined to make it go as far as possible. This also allowed me to experiment a little. Having poached a lovely thick bit of fillet and even eaten the roes, I wanted to try something a bit different with what remained. For this I turned to my bookcase for inspiration. I really enjoy Nathan Outlaw’s cook books; his recipes always put flavour first and I’ve picked up so many little tips from cooking his dishes. I had previously noticed that he recommended curing brill, and with a fair bit of fish left I thought I’d give that a go. It worked a treat, and was much quicker than I anticipated. Not only was it an interesting new way of preparing the brill, it also made it last a few days longer; providing a few handsome snacks after some long and tiring days at work.
I digress, and after a few weeks of blabbering on I promise that that is the last time I’ll mention that brill for a while. But the idea for this recipe derived from that experimentation. Recently we’ve had some astonishingly good gurnard at work, big, triangular-shaped fish all big heads and spikes. Customers are often a little wary of this species as it looks nothing like the salmon or seabass that they are used to, but for value and taste they are up there with the best. Having cooked with gurnard around Christmastime, I wanted to try something a little different, and because of just how fresh the fish were I thought they would also be ideal to cure. Happily they turned out much like the brill; the thick, firm fillets yealding a fresh, sweet taste.
Blood oranges are just coming to the end of their season, and here they provided the perfect sidekick to the gurnard. Combined into almost like a dressing with the fennel and the rapeseed oil, the flavour remained delicate and allowed everything to remain balanced. At this point I felt like the dish needed just one more thing, another texture to round everything off. Here I gained inspiration from another direction. One of the wonderful dishes that I ate recently at CafĂ© Murano was a carpaccio, which interestingly came flecked with tiny cannellini beans. This is something that I would never have thought of, but it added another dimension that made the eating all the better. The chickpeas worked in the same way in this dish, and the cooking process was a total revelation. It’s true, anything cooked slowly in good oil with rosemary and garlic is bound to be good, but these were something else. The gentle, lengthy cooking softened the pulses whilst absorbing some of the oil and flavourings. Once allowed to cool and marinate further they really were addictive. I might have eaten another bowl just of them…
Serves 4
For the fish and cure:
1 very fresh gurnard (about 1kg in size), filleted, skinned and pin-boned 
250g salt 
250g sugar 
2 sprigs of rosemary 
The tops of the fennel bulbs 
2 blood oranges, zest only
For the fennel and orange:
2 fennel bulbs, sliced 
1 tsp fennel seeds 
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tbsp caster sugar 
1 garlic clove 
2 blood oranges, juice only 
4 sprigs of fresh oregano 
4 tbsp rapeseed oil
For the chickpeas:
400g soaked, cooked chickpeas 
2 garlic cloves, crushed slightly 
3 rosemary sprigs 
Extra virgin olive oil
To finish:
Fresh oregano leaves 
Any fronds from the fennel 

For the cure, put the salt, sugar, fennel stalks, orange zest and rosemary into a food processor and combine until everything is finely chopped. Pour half onto the bottom of a deep dish that is big enough to hold the gurnard fillets. Top with the fish and then cover with the remaining mixture. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 2.5 hours. Once cured, rinse the fillets clean of the cure and pat dry. 

Drain the chickpeas and rinse before pouring into a saucepan. Add the garlic cloves, rosemary and a good amount of seasoning. Pour in enough extra virgin olive oil to nearly cover, then cook on a very low heat for about an hour. Do not let the oil get too hot and start bubbling and frying, you just want a gentle, warm heat. Once cooked, remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
For the fennel, heat a frying pan to a high temperature and add a little of the rapeseed oil. Fry the fennel, fennel seeds, dried chilli and garlic for about 5 minutes, until starting to caramelise on both sides. Add the sugar, orange juice and oregano and reduce until thick and syrupy. Stir in the rest of the rapeseed oil. Taste and season, then allow to cool. 

To plate up, slice the cured gurnard into slithers a couple of millimetres thick. Arrange on the bottom of each plate, then dress with the fennel and oil. Sprinkle over a few drained chickpeas and scatter on more of the fresh oregano leaves and any fennel fronds. Finish with a slight crack of pepper.

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