Thursday, 26 May 2016

Black bream with Jersey Royals, purple sprouting broccoli, samphire and mussels

This is a true late spring dish that these warm, sunny evenings have been screaming out for. After many months of waiting, I was excited to see the first of the newly picked samphire arrive at the shop, but I certainly wasn’t the only one. This marsh grass has a crazy effect on people, and soon I was scraping the bottom of the box, desperate to salvage just one last handful. Samphire, samphierre, sampher, salicorne, seaweed, that green stuff, the names are endless, and I hear new ones every summer. But call it what you will, it does magical things when cooked with fish. And lamb for that matter. 

Following the seasons makes dreaming up new ideas a total doddle, and this recipe is a prime example. In the same few weeks that the samphire emerged, we also started receiving the first of the wild black bream that visit Cornwall and the south coast every spring. These deep, darkly-scaled fish are true beauties, with flesh firm with freshness flashing blue and silver in the light. Closely related to seabass, they cook in a similar way, and are best filleted and pan-fried until crisp, or roasted whole in a hot oven. Even if you do decide to go with fillets, make sure that you take the bones as well. It’s always nice to use the whole of an ingredient, and the carcass of the bream will provide a lovely stock.
Unlike the samphire and the black bream, the mussel season only has a few weeks remaining. As the weather and seas warm for the summer, their quality really does decline, and it’s best to hold on until September before you plan your next mariniere. But if you’re quick, you will still be able to sneak a bowl or two before this exodus. Although clams tend to get all of the glory with their pretty shells and classy spaghetti alle vongole, I adore the rich flavour of the humble, cheap mussel. In this dish they are cooked and then blitzed into a silky, buttery sauce, that really brings the fish and greens and potatoes together as one. But made in a larger quantity, the same method would make a fantastic soup. Just add a wedge of bread.
Serves 2
1 black bream, approx. 1kg in weight. Scaled, filleted and pin-boned 
1 large knob of butter
For the fish stock:
The cleaned bones from the black bream 
1 carrot, roughly chopped 
2 shallots, halved with the skins left on 
The trimmings from the fennel bulb 
1 clove of garlic, crushed 
A handful of fresh parsley 
1 tsp fennel seeds 
1 bay leaf
For the mussel sauce:
500g mussels, cleaned and de-bearded 
1 fennel bulb, finely chopped 
1 clove of garlic, grated 
½ tsp chilli flakes 
1 large glass of white wine 
A squeeze of lemon juice 
The reduced fish stock 
1 large knob of butter
For the Jersey Royals:
6-8 small Jersey Royal potatoes, washed
To finish:
6 stems of purple sprouting broccoli 
A generous handful of samphire

To begin with make the stock. Place all of the ingredients and a good pinch of seasoning into a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the liquid through a sieve into a smaller saucepan, then set on a high heat and return to the boil. Reduce the liquid by three quarters.
Put the washed Jersey Royals into a small saucepan and cover with well-salted, cold water. Bring to the boil, then simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and rinse well with cold water to halt the cooking process. Using a butter knife, scrape off the skins and discard. Set the potatoes aside to reheat later. 

Fill a saucepan with water and stir in a good pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then blanch the trimmed broccoli stems for 2-3 minutes, or until just tender. While the broccoli is cooking, fill a large bowl up with very cold water. Transfer the al-dente broccoli to the cold water to shock. Repeat this process with the samphire, boiling for 30 seconds to soften slightly.
Bring a large saucepan to a medium-low heat. Add a good glug of olive oil and add the fennel, garlic and chilli flakes, and sweat until soft. Turn the heat of the pan up and tip in the mussels and the wine. Cover with a lid and allow the mussels to steamfor 3-4 minutes, or until all of the mussels have opened. Allow to cool slightly, the remove the meat from the shells with a spoon, discarding the shells. Reserve 6-8 mussels aside to decorate the dish when plating. Transfer the remaining mussels and vegetables to a food processor and blend well. While the motor is still running, pour in enough of the stock reduction to loosen into a smooth sauce. Squeeze in the lemon juice and season to taste. Strain the sauce through a sieve into a small saucepan. 

Set a non-stick frying pan to a high heat. Pour in a generous amount of olive oil and season the bream fillets all over with salt and pepper. When the pan is hot, place them skin-side down into the pan and fry for 3 minutes. As the fish is cooking, carefully use a spoon to baste the flesh side of the fish with the hot oil. Add a knob of butter to the pan fry for a further minute, continuing the basting process. Remove the fish from the pan to a warm side plate.
Turn the heat of the pan down slightly and add the potatoes, samphire, broccoli and reserved mussels. Cook for 1-2 minutes to warm through, adding seasoning to taste.
Reheat the mussel sauce, then finish by beating in the knob of butter until fully emulsified.
Lay half of the sprouting broccoli onto each plate and top with a piece of fish. Arrange the potatoes, samphire and mussels around the sides. Finish with a generous amount of the mussel sauce.

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