This week, we take a dip in the cool waters of the Atlantic, and have a go
at a rather fancy little fish dish.
It’s the perfect dinner party starter
for these early summer days.
I’m writing this beneath a clear blue warm sunny sky, and I hope it’s a portent of a good summer to come. We can only hope.
This is yet another recipe inspired by the terrific meal we enjoyed at Le Lièvre Gourmand, the charming riverside restaurant we found recently in Orléans, France.
As the chilled part of a two-part presentation, I was served with a little pot of creamy fish mousse with a sea urchin foam, a little crisped seaweed and a dab of rich, spicy tomato sauce, and it was quite the most refreshing thing I’ve eaten in ages. It was definitely one for my notebook, and I jotted down some ideas before retiring that night.
Cold fish things aren’t to everybody’s taste, I’ll admit, and I’m really not much of a fish cook at home, finding it all a bit messy and unfulfilling domestically, but this recipe is relatively easy, and can all be prepared ahead of time. It’s also a lovely way of serving the very freshest fish and seafood, with that beautiful clean, iodine sea-fresh flavour they possess.
A simple mousseline of white fish, for which you can choose what to try yourself - I suggested haddock here for cost reasons, but you can go with any good white fish such as sea bass, coley, plaice or even the big-hitters like sole and turbot.
As we’re making a chilled mousseline, a fish with good depth of flavour is required, so ask your fishmonger what’s ideal at the time. As for the sea urchins, I thought immediately of trying an alternative. Not only are sea urchins quite expensive, they are very hard to source, and the devil’s own job to prepare and clean. Instead, I thought we could use the wonderful orange roes of king scallops, which have the same intense and creamy seafood flavour, with nowhere near as much fuss.
Alongside this, I thought we’d need something a little more substantial, texture-wise, so I thought back to a recipe I’d seen for squid-ink crackers recently, and thought that would complement the dish perfectly.
Any decent fishmonger will sell squid ink in handy sachets, which are really easy to use and the thick ink imparts everything with a deep, obsidian hue. That includes hands, faces, clothing, work surfaces and family pets, so be careful!
The crackers are salty-sweet and crunchy, with a wonderful nuttiness from the sesame seeds. Finally, we need to make a little rich tomato sauce, and I thought, as we’re presenting the whole thing like a martini cocktail, that we’d make a sort of reduced Bloody Mary cocktail. The flavours, rich with celery and a hint of chili, would work well with the paler flavours of the major ingredients. It’s also a nice ‘hidden’ treat beneath the scallop cream.
For the scallop cream I used a fancy cream-whipper, but you can always make the scallop purée separately and fold it into the whipped cream. Just remember to buy the best, freshest fish you can and enjoy this refreshing dip in the briny.
FOR THE FISH MOUSSELINE:
225g firm white fish, skinned and boned
110g softened unsalted butter
2 free-range egg whites
1 egg yolk
Maldon salt & Cayenne pepper
A little milk for poaching
FOR THE SCALLOP CREAM:
180g scallop corals
360ml whipping cream
1 tsp icing sugar
1 medium piece of ginger, peeled and chopped very finely
2 sheets leaf gelatine (depending on method)
FOR THE SQUID-INK WAFERS:
50g plain flour
1 tbsp unrefined golden caster sugar
1 tsp squid ink
100g unsalted butter, softened
2 large free-range egg whites
50g black sesame seeds
FOR THE BLOODY MARY SAUCE:
250ml Tomato juice (I used Big Tom juice)
1 stick celery, finely minced
A splash of Vodka
A pinch of unrefined golden caster sugar
A splash of Worcestershire sauce
A splash of Tabasco sauce
Martini glasses or similar
Cream whipper (optional)
Herbs for garnish
First, let’s get the sauce going; in a pan, combine the ingredients and bring to a simmer, then reduce, stirring frequently until you have a nice thick sauce. Strain through a fine sieve and chill until required.
Next, let’s make the wafers; preheat the oven to 200°C / Gas 6. Mix the flour and sugar in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the squid ink into the butter until it is completely uniform. Add the egg whites to the flour mixture and whisk until incorporated.
Add the inky butter to the flour mixture in small amounts until the two are fully combined into a smooth batter. Stir in the sesame seeds.
Once the batter is fully mixed, line a baking tray with a silicone baking sheet or baking parchment. Using a spatula, spread the batter into rough circles or any shape you fancy in a thin even layer a couple of millimetres thick. Bake the wafers for 6 minutes then cool for a few seconds before loosening them and placing on a cooling rack.
If you wish to make cornets or tubes, bake the wafers for a couple of minutes, then remove from the oven and roll them, before returning to bake for a further few minutes to set fully. Keep the wafers in a warm dry place until required.
To make the scallop cream, rinse the scallop roes thoroughly and drain well. Chop them roughly. Bring the cream, sugar and ginger to a simmer, cover, remove from the heat and steep for five minutes. Remove the ginger, add the coral, and remove from the heat. Meanwhile, soak the gelatine in a cup of cold water until soft, and when it’s fully soft, stir into the coral cream. Whizz in a blender and strain into the cream whipper. Charge with two cartridges and chill. Alternatively, simmer the corals in a little ginger-laced cream and purée in a blender, and then chill. Omit the gelatine and simply fold this rich coral paste into firm-peak whipped cream and chill until required.
Now for the fish mousseline. Bring a small shallow pan of milk to a gentle simmer, and carefully poach the fish for a few minutes until barely cooked. Strain and place the fish into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz gently, adding the egg yolk, and then the butter in small amounts, until you have a smooth purée.
Whisk the egg whites to a firm peak, and fold gently into the fish mixture. Season with lemon juice, salt and Cayenne, and spoon or pipe into your serving glasses.
To assemble the dish, spoon a small dollop of tomato reduction into the centre of each mousse, then spoon or squirt the scallop cream over the top of this. Garnish with fresh herbs and serve immediately.
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