I’ve already told you about the lovely chaps at Seafish – they work really hard promoting great quality, sustainable seafood, and their campaign, Fish is the Dish, is all about encouraging us all to eat more fish and the website is a fabulous resource for recipes, cooking tips and advice about choosing and cooking fish.
They’d noticed the Sea Bass debacle, and invited me up to Billingsgate Seafood School at the famous fish market, to teach me some fishy skillz. The course was a special one as we were being taught by none other than Allan Pickett, Head Chef of the beautiful Plateau Restaurant in Canada Place, in the very heart of the Docklands.
Allan was a brilliant teacher. We warmed to him straight away as he abandoned the teaching ‘stage’ at the front of the kitchen to come and work next to us at the workstations. First of all we were presented with a whole Sea Bass and a scary scraper-contraption and had a good old go at descaling. This was hilarious as scales were flying everywhere. I found several scales down my cleavage that night, alarmingly…
Next, Allan took us through filleting the Sea Bass. It really is all about technique (as the actress said to the bishop), pressing down firmly on the flesh ‘opens up’ the fillet as you gently cut the flesh away from the bones. It’s a bit gruesome when you have to break the heads off after you’ve cut round them, yes, but it’s also fascinating, and there’s a real sense of satisfaction when you’re left with two neat fillets at the end of the process.
After we’d finished the Sea Bass, we moved onto the Plaice. These ugly mothers have two larger fillets on the top side, and two smaller on the underside. I found this a bit more tricky, as the fillets are thin anyway – a bit too much enthusiasm while you’re cutting and you can find that there’s hardly anything left!
After the filleting, we got down to the cooking. Here are the very simple, and very delicious, recipes we used:
Shallow fried Plaice fillets with French beans and almonds, with nut brown butter sauce
1 Plaice (per person)
Flour, for dusting
Salt and pepper
60g French beans, blanched in boiling salted water
10g almonds (toasted then chopped)
Fillet the Plaice (or ask your fishmonger to do it), then skin as well. Season the flour well then dust each fillet, tapping away the excess.
Heat a little vegetable oil in a pan, then shallow fry the Plaice fillets (we were taught to fry them on the presentation side until golden and NOT to mess with them). Flip over briefly to make sure the other side is just cooked through.
Put the fillets on a warm plate then add in the butter to the pan, swirling around until it’s bubbling and beginning to brown. Pop in the beans and almonds, just to warm them through, then spoon the whole lot over the cooked Plaice fillets.
Roast fillet of Sea Bass with a sauce vierge
1 whole Sea Bass, well scaled and filleted
300g new potatoes, cooked then peeled
1 punnet red or yellow cherry tomatoes
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 bunch chives
1/2 bunch chervil or parsley
125ml good quality olive oil
30g pitted black olives, sliced lengthways
Salt and pepper
Heat a pan then add a little vegetable oil. Once hot, add in the Sea Bass fillets carefully and cook slowly on the skin side until crisp and nearly cooked through.
Meanwhile, slice the cooked potatoes and sauté in butter in another pan until brown.
Cut the tomatoes in half and grill until just warmed through and starting to soften.
Spoon the potatoes onto the middle of a warmed plate. Quickly flip the fish over in the pan just to make sure the other side is cooked through, then put the hot fish on top of the potatoes, and arrange the cherry tomatoes around the plate.
Mix the olive oil with a little lemon juice, pour into the hot pan. Add in the chopped herbs and olives. Warm through and pour over the dish.
And that’s it! The evening went so quickly I was actually really disappointed when it ended. We had a chance to sit and chat while we ate our dishes with a glass of wine, which was really nice.
The dishes were both delicious and I really feel ready to buy a whole fish and have a go myself at home. Remember, though, your fishmonger will always fillet any fish for you, so don’t feel you can’t ask.
Massive thanks to Jo at Seafish for arranging my fab day out, and to the lovely staff at Billingsgate, and the ever-patient Chef Allan Pickett,