Turbot, lemon sole, plaice or halibut would all work perfectly with this recipe, but in this instance I opted for brill. Poor brill. Brill is like a child named Butch who turned out to be a bit of a weed. Nobody seems to want to hang out with brill. Its dull brown appearance and large size don’t do it any favours. It gets enough attention mind; “OH that’s a brill” they say, pointing, before finishing with “I’ll have two slices of salmon please”. Brill needs a break. Because underneath that dull exterior is beautifully textured, pure white flesh that on its day gives the prized turbot a run for its money.
Last year I splashed out and bought a whopper. I poached chunky fillets in butter and they were to die for. I fried the roes with anchovies and chanterelles. I even cured a bit. This time I wanted to go back to basics and simply fry a tranche with a few tried and tested companions. Cooking flat fish on the bone results in extra succulence and flavour, and it’s really not that fiddly at all when it comes to eating. A few technicoloured, ripe tomatoes, some wonderful baby fennel and a pile of finely grated bottarga and you’re pretty much there.
For the brill:
2 tranches of brill, about 200g each
1 large knob of butter
For the tomatoes:
4-5 assorted ripe heritage tomatoes
1 small clove of garlic, grated
A pinch of dried chillies
6 baby fennel and fronds
A generous grating of bottarga
A few fresh oregano leaves
Slice the tomatoes into randomly-shaped pieces and slide into a bowl. Grate over the garlic and sprinkle over the chilli flakes to taste. Season generously and combine with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Leave to sit while the rest of the preparation is completed.
Fill a small saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Cut the fronds from the fennel and blanche in the hot water for about 30 seconds, then immediately drain and shock in cold water. Set aside.
Set the grill to medium-high. Place the baby fennel bulbs onto an oven tray and toss with a little olive oil and seasoning. Slide under the heat and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, until lightly caramelised and al dente.
Pour a glug of olive oil into a non-stick frying pan and bring to a medium-high heat. Season the tranches of brill all over. When the pan is hot, add the brill and fry for three minutes on each side. For the final 2 minutes, add the knob of butter to the pan and baste the fish continuously.
Remove the fish from the pan and set aside briefly. Pour in the tomatoes and add the fennel and fronds. Warm through for about a minute, tossing in the oil and butter.
To serve, add a piece of brill to each plate and surround with the tomatoes, fennel and fronds. Spoon over some of the buttery pan sauce, and grate a generous amount of bottarga on top. Finish with a few fresh oregano leaves.