Monday, 7 November 2016
Cured red mullet with marinated pumpkin, crème fraiche and mint
As with every October and November, gourds slowly begin to invade every meal. At the weekend there was roast chicken with crispy potatoes and a few slices of orange butternut sitting gingerly on the side. Then there was the post-bonfire night pumpkin soup, the roasted squash, steak and feta salad and there are still bulbous orange orbs sat atop most of the kitchen surfaces. If I’m really lucky, Katie will hopefully make her extra special pumpkin pies around Thanksgiving time. Don’t get me wrong, I really like it all, but sometimes you can definitely have too much of a good thing. So it was really good to recently stumble across a new (to me) preparation technique, something much more vibrant and fresher than the standard roasting, mashing or gratinating. The Duck Soup cookbook is definitely one of my favourite sources of cooking inspiration of late, and I was intrigued to see them treating butternut squash much like a summer courgette; peeling it thinly and tossing it raw into a salad. I’ve always been nervous about the taste of uncooked ‘green’ gourds, but after marinating briefly with a few trusty flavourings, I was dead happy with the results. The thin ribbons still retain a slight bite, but are reduced to a beautiful delicateness which marries perfectly with the other components on the dish.
The concept of this recipe began way before the detail, to the point where I still didn’t know what fish to use on the day that I was due to start cooking. Luckily, with a large slab of glistening fish at my disposal, I had plenty of options to pick from. The old curing or raw favourites were all there; bright pink tuna, beautifully fatty salmon and wild seabass like cricket bats. But keeping with the autumnal spirit, it seemed more appropriate to take advantage of the tide of wonderful red mullet that have come into season lately. Although not traditionally served in an uncooked state, they carry a lovely sweet flavour and slightly oily texture which I thought would work well. They only require a swift dip into the salty cure, just enough to add a touch of firmness, before they are all set for the plate.
When serving cured fish, subtlety is king, and care must be taken not to interrupt the flavour of the main event. Although I have used garlic and dried chilli, only a slight touch is needed. The soured crème fraiche and picked mint leaves tie everything together, adding a final refreshing hit.
For the red mullet:
2 red mullet, about 300g each, scaled, filleted and pin boned
For the marinated pumpkin:
2 1” wedges of pumpkin or squash, such as butternut, Italian stripe or delicate
1 lemon, zest finely grated and half of the juice
1/3 clove of garlic, finely grated
A small pinch of dried chilli flakes
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
For the crème fraiche:
3 tbsp crème fraiche
A squeeze of lemon juice
A few fresh mint leaves
Pour the salt and sugar into a bowl and mix together. Spread a quarter of the mixture evenly onto the bottom of a dish that is large enough to hold the mullet fillets in one layer. Place the fillets on top of the salt and sugar, then fully cover with the rest of the mixture. Use cling film to seal the dish, then refrigerate and allow to cure for about an hour. Once the fillets are cured, remove them from the dish and rinse clean, then pat dry with kitchen paper. Set aside.
Use a vegetable peeler to strip the pumpkin flesh into thin, long ribbons and place in a bowl. Squeeze over the lemon juice along with the zest, chilli flakes, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and a good pinch of seasoning. Combine well until each strand is well coated, then set aside to marinate for about an hour.
Spoon the crème fraiche into a bowl and season well. Squeeze in a small amount of lemon juice, about a teaspoon, then mix together with a spoon. Transfer into a plastic bottle.
Carefully skin the red mullet with a sharp filleting knife. Slice each fillet into three or four pieces.
To plate up, arrange the cured chunks of fish onto each plate, and generously squeeze on a few blobs of lemony crème fraiche. Top with strands of the marinated pumpkin and some fresh mint leaves. Spoon a little of the marinade over the top and serve.