Some­thing fishy’s go­ing on

Si­mon Hop­kin­son re­vis­its one of his favourite fish recipes

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Si­mon Hop­kin­son

ACOOKY friend, in con­ver­sa­tion re­cently, re­minded me of a fish dish that I had in­cluded in my first cook­ery book, Roast Chicken and Other Sto­ries (1994, Ebury Press)—how easy it is to for­get some of one’s most favourite recipes from the past. Warm hake with thinned may­on­naise and ca­pers is not, shall we say, a recipe title that might thrill in th­ese days of ev­ery­thing seem­ingly bur­nished and smoked, but you would be wrong. It is del­i­cately de­li­cious.

The word ‘warm’, when at­tached to any kind of food, en­gen­ders all sorts of tem­per­a­ture wor­ries: ‘What kind of warm does one mean? And, any­way, why? Surely food should ei­ther be served hot with a nice sauce or cooked and served cold with a lit­tle sliced­cu­cum­ber salad.’ Such a query sounds as if it may have been voiced by a So­ci­ety host­ess from a 1960s edi­tion of Queen mag­a­zine—or Woman and Home, at least. The very idea of cooked food served hov­er­ing some­where be­tween hot and cold re­mains some­what queer, even to­day.

Tur­bot à la Moné­gasque, a supremely splen­did dish, used to be served ev­ery sin­gle day at the leg­endary L’etoile res­tau­rant on Char­lotte Street, just off Tot­ten­ham Court Road. I’d al­ready read of this place be­fore I first ar­rived in Lon­don in the late 1970s, then as an ea­ger Egon Ronay in­spec­tor, and was there­fore thrilled to know that a visit to this ‘note­wor­thy es­tab­lish­ment’ was to be one of my ear­li­est in­spec­tions.

And so it fi­nally ap­peared be­fore me, the large glass dish set among other favourites on the fa­mous trol­ley of hors d’oeu­vres that would be qui­etly wheeled around the din­ing room by a waiter of a cer­tain age, who might have been work­ing up to his present role since a teenage com­mis waiter.

Barely poached, al­most translu­cent flakes of warm tur­bot were buried among wob­bling lay­ers of a slack­ened aïoli (gar­lic may­on­naise), ever-so-thinly sliced raw white onion and chopped pars­ley. The top layer of the dish was gar­nished with black olives, wa­ter­cress and a fi­nal gloss of olive oil as a fin­ish­ing shine.

I shall never for­get see­ing the waiter’s big sil­ver spoon delv­ing into that fine mass, lift­ing the most per­fect scoop onto my plate in as non­cha­lant a way as he might deftly wipe his nose with a fine li­nen hand­ker­chief— el­e­gant, as­sured, ha­bit­ual, ev­ery day. Rare, th­ese days, such stylish in­sou­ciance.

Salmon with sor­rel sauce Serves 2

In the mid 1980s, there was an ob­ses­sion among some high­pro­file chefs in Lon­don that ‘pretty and novel’—nou­velle cui­sine at its most ab­surd, shall we say—was the way for­ward. A young chef who worked with me at the time—he’d come from a pretty and novel kitchen— be­came quite ex­as­per­ated by the fact that, when the bright­green sor­rel leaf wilts into a hot sauce, it quickly dulls to a shade of olive.

‘Why won’t it stay nice and green?’ wailed Terry. ‘Well,’ said I, ‘that is what sor­rel does when you cook it.’ He at­tempted ev­ery trick in the book to keep it green and, of course, failed. ‘You do the salmon,’ he said with frus­tra­tion. ‘I’ll do the hake with pars­ley and clams—at least pars­ley be­haves it­self.’

This iconic dish was cre­ated by the Trois­gros broth­ers at their im­mac­u­late res­tau­rant in Roanne, France, in the 1970s or there­abouts. Here is my in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

In­gre­di­ents

1 small, finely chopped ba­nana

shal­lot 200ml dry white wine 100ml dry ver­mouth 1tb­spn white-wine vine­gar A grind or two of white pep­per­corns Tiny pinch of salt 4tb­spn dou­ble cream 40g un­salted but­ter, cold, in

small chunks 4 slices salmon (about 400g in all), cut from a fil­let on a slight bias 1 large bunch sor­rel, stripped from its stems and roughly chopped A squeeze of le­mon juice

Method

Place the first six in­gre­di­ents in a stain­less-steel saucepan and re­duce, over a low heat, un­til only about two ta­ble­spoons of liq­uid re­main. Pour in the dou­ble cream and whisk to­gether. Bring back to the mer­est sim­mer and then, off the heat, whisk in the but­ter, bit by bit, un­til the sauce is glossy and the tex­ture of pour­ing cream. Strain through a fine sieve into a clean pan and put to one side.

Heat a tea­spoon of oil in a large, non-stick fry­ing pan, swirl it around and quickly fry the salmon slices for no more than a minute or two on each side; they should be pink in the mid­dle.

Trans­fer the fish to hot plates and gen­tly re­heat the sauce, adding the sor­rel. Stir un­til it wilts and the sauce is hot (do not boil) be­fore adding the le­mon juice. Pour around the fish and serve at once.

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