Best Freshwater Fish
When sea fish were difficult to come by and Friday came along, poor Christians-if they ate fish at all- might have chewed on a piece of salt fish, while the rich leaned corpulently over the fish pond to haul out a bream or two. Kings and queens and many of their richer subjects regularly feasted on sturgeon and salmon, as well as some of the smaller freshwater fish, but by looking at the remains of fishbones, historians think that by the thirteenth century the aristocracy was beginning to eat sea fish more often, and freshwater fish began its long slide into obscurity.
Except, that is, for three key species-salmon and eel, both of which are migratory fish, spending only part of their lives in freshwater, and that good old standby, the trout.
Freshwater fish have a salt level greater than that of the surrounding water so they have to deal with the constant inward osmotic pressure; this they do by having a thick layer of slime, particularly noticeable on the mirror carp (which has few scales), and bypassing out great quantities of dilute urine.
The state of most inland waters in Europe is poor, so it’s not surprising that suppliers are largely dependent on farmed fish. See details history of fishing
Bream Fish Tips
- Abramis brama
- French: Breme
- Italian: Brama
- Portuguese: Brema
- German: Brachse
The bream’s natural habitat is muddy water, which has never made it a popular fish. In the Middle Ages, before the carp appeared in Europe in the fifteenth century, it was better known and was often the most important fish to be found in the fish-ponds that were scattered around the century.
The bream has quite bony flesh. Whole fish are difficult to fillet when fresh and need to be scaled before cooking.
- Season: Summer.
- Yield: 35%
- Fishing method: Farmed.
- Cyprinus carpio
- French: Carpe
- Italian: Carpa
- Spanish: Carpa
- Portuguese: Carpa
- German: Weissfische, Karpfen
We have had marine sheep; now meet the aquatic rabbit. Prodigious, hardly and fast-growing, the carp family is giant minnows that have moved far and wide from their original home waters in China.
Carp were once food fit for Chinese emperors, and so impressed early travelers by their fortitude that they were brought back to Europe by the traders who used the Silk Road. Many of them were Jewish, and the carp became and has remained one of their favorite fish.
Jewish communities often lived far away from the sea, and the carp could easily be stored and farmed in freshwater, which in those days was relatively unpolluted.
Carp have an amazing ability to stay alive out of water. I used to load them (alive) in France, spend hours on a ferry, spend even more hours dealing with Customs (remember those days?) and then sleep briefly. Most of the carp would still be gently opening and closing their mouths, with infinite patience, by the time I offloaded them the following day.
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The species you are most likely to come across are the grass carp and the mirror carp. The former is longer and more classically fish-shaped than its slightly hump-backed relation, with a regular network of scales. The mirror carp, on the other hand, is remarkable for its irregular pattern of large scales. The key to good carp is to rear them in clear, rather than muddy, water.
Farmed carp are often sold alive and kicking, and are highly rated in Chinese cooking. Fillets can occasionally be bought and are a good bet since the carp is a difficult fish to fillet when very fresh. Carp are also good in a freshwater fish soup, particularly the Burgundian Pothouse.
- Season: All year-round.
- Yield: 35%
- Fishing method: Farmed, pond reared.
Cooking Catfish Healthy
- French: Wels, Silure
- German: Welse, Katfisch
- Danube catfish
- Sliurus glanis
- American catfish
- Ictalurus spp.
- African catfish
- Clarias gariepinus
I predict a bright future for the catfish. it is a solid chunky fish, well suited to strong Southern American cooking, and since it is being farmed it is likely to become more widely available soon.
Catfish can be monstrous and are distinguished, as one would suspect, by fishy whiskers that serve as feelers in muddy water. Most species have four two up, two down-and almost all are carnivorous.
Recently a species of blind, cave-dwelling catfish has been discovered. It appears to live off baboon droppings, which gives you some idea of how tough these fish can be.
In the 1980s some Danube catfish escaped into the River Loire, and there are tales of French codgers, berets askew, tackling enormous catfish in the quiet backwaters of the region. They have no natural predator apart from man, so life is relatively easy.
Fish weighing 50kg (111 lb) or more are now routinely seen, but seldom caught to eat, since the flesh of these larger fish is notoriously coarse, as is that of the fast-growing African catfish which has red flesh but is even coarser.
The best of all the species are considered to be the various American catfish, but whichever you see they are bet bought in fillet form-around 175g (6 oz) per person.
- Season: All year-round.
- Yield: 40%
- Fishing method: Farmed, net.
Char, Arctic Char, Char*
- Salvelinus alpinus
- French: Omble chevalier
- Italian: Salmerino
- Spanish: Salvelino
- Portuguese: Salvelino-artico
- German: Saiblinge
Char are attractive, delicate fish, troutlike but more colorful, most closely resembling the brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis, or salmon de Fontaine in French.
Char was once found quite widely in Britain, and there are some excellent recipes for potted char from Lake Windermere. The char is now farmed, and Arctic char from Iceland seems to have cornered the market.
Any variation on the trout is a welcome relief, and these fish can be steamed, baked or fried, combining well with a rich or robust sauce, say a beurre blanc or hollandaise. They are mostly sold portion-sized or filleted, which is convenient.
- Season: Farmed fish. All-year-round.
- wild fish available early summer.
- Yield: 65%
- Fishing method: Farmed, net for wild fish.
Lamprey, Sea Lamprey**
- Petromyzon marinus
- French: Lamproie
- Italian: Lampreda
- Spanish: Lamprea
- Portuguese: Lampreia
- German: Neunauge, Flussneunauge
Of all the creatures that live in the water, surely the lamprey must be among the most repulsive. It is a parasitical fish and its mouth consists of a round set of sucking barbs rather than jaws.
Early accounts suggest that it always a popular food; the Romans were known to have treated lampreys to an elaborate death, suffocating them with cloves in their breathing holes and nutmeg in their mouth.
It is an eel-like fish, mottled green to brown, but is possibly outgunned in the repulsiveness stakes by its cousin the hagfish, Myxine glutinosa, which burrows into the gut cavity of larger fish and eats them from the inside out. Charming!
Unhappily for the lamprey, one should always cook and prepare them alive, being careful to retain the blood which is an integral part of the classic Bordelaise lamprey stew.
There are sea lampreys and river lampreys. The marine species are still fished in the mouth of the Gironde and some are caught along the northern Portuguese coast, where a great Christmas favorite is a sweet version, Lampreia DeVos, a cake made in the shape of a lamprey which, of course, contains no lamprey at all but an enormous amount of sugar.
- Season: Spring.
- Yield: 60%
- Fishing method: Net, trap.
- Latus niloticus
- French: Perche du Nil
- Italian: Persico di Nil
- Spanish: Perca del Nilo
- Portuguese: Perca
- German: Victoriabarsch
No one knows quite how it happened but in the 1950s a large fish called the Nile perch somehow appeared in Lake Victoria, in Africa, and began to gobble up vast quantities of the local fish ecosystem. It spread so rapidly that the countries bordering the lakes-Kenya.
Tanzania and Uganda-decided to start exploiting the fishery, and small quantities of fillets began appearing in Europe. Meanwhile, the Cichlid population of the local people rapidly declined; in Lake Malawi alone, where the Nile perch also appeared, 200 Cichlid species have been pushed to extinction. It is with some relish that I encourage everyone to go and eat a Nile perch fillet or two.
However, a recent salmonella outbreak has been traced to Nile perch, and all shipments from Africa now have to be rigorously inspected.
These enormous fish grow rapidly. Specimens between 20 and 30 kg (44-66 lb) are often landed but the fillets are coarse, so it’s a fish gaining in popularity, especially in Germany where cheap, bland freshwater fish are very popular.
- Season: All year-round.
- Yield: Sold as fillets, 50%
- Fishing method: Net.
- Perca fluviatilis
- French: Perche
- Italian: percha, Pesce persico
- Spanish: Perca
- Portuguese: Perca
- German: Barsch, Flussbarsch
‘Tis a pretty fish, orange-finned, green-skinned and good to eat, but seen rarely in Britain. Although they can weigh about 3kg (7 lb) or so, they are more usually found at about 400-500g (about 1 lb), a size that will feed two at a pinch.
Perch eat insects and fish larvae, so aren’t among the muddier-tasting freshwater fish. They keep well, and their colors don’t fade when they die, so all in all, they are one of the better freshwater fish.
Perch fillets are good, firm and don’t fall apart when cooked, and go well with a beurre blanc sauce
- Season: All year-round.
- Yield: 40%
- Fishing method: Net.
- Esox lucius
- French: Brochet
- Italian: Luccio
- Spanish: Lucio
- Portuguese: Lucio
- German: Hecht, Flusshecht
The brooding pike brings drama to nay stream or pond where it lurks, for it is, as Isaac Walton once told us, the ‘tyrant’ of freshwater.
Ducklings beware, this carnivore has razor-sharp teeth, a hearty appetite, and is a skillful hunter. It has a strange appearance, being unusually long and thin, and has a soft flesh too full of bones to appeal to many.
Smaller fish are finer eating and go well with a simple sorrel sauce; larger fish can get quite weighty and their drier flesh is often made into quenelles.
These delicate forcemeat lozenges were once very popular and can be a ravishing and extravagant dish if accompanied by a Sauce Nantua made from the finest freshwater crayfish and loads of cream. A dish for the jaded or toothless.
- Season: Autumn.
- Yield: 50%
- Fishing method: Net, line.
- Rutilus rutilus
- French: Gardon
- Italian: Triotto
- Spanish: Bermejuela
- Portuguese: Ruivaca
- German: Plotze
You occasionally see small roach available in the late summer in England but their boniness may be off-putting. I once used to buy a wonderful mix of tiny and totally ecologically unsound roach from Burgundy that was quickly fried to make a future, and frying seems to be the best option.
- Season: Summer.
- Yield: Eaten whole, 40%
- Fishing method: Net.
- Osmerus eperlanus
- French: Eperlan
- Italian: Eperlano
- Spanish: Eperlanos
- Portuguese: Eperlano
- German: Stint
Smelt are supposed to small of cucumber, and it has always intrigued me quite why some do and others don’t. It’s not just a matter of freshness-some perfectly fresh fish just don’t have that smell- but still, the essence of smell is smallness, winter, and cucumbers.
In 1630 the Mayor of London ruled, in an unusually sensible way, that during the spawning season the smelt fishery must stop to the west of London from 10th March to 14th September to protect the stock.
Later accounts tell of barrels of fresh smelt being sold for prices as low as sprats, so it must have worked. Frying small fish, be they sprats, whitebait or smell, was a very London thing in those days, but when the old London Bridge was built across the Thames many species- smelt included-could never pass the shallow water underneath.
Smelts were still found in the Medway right up to the 1950s, but these days they are fished mainly in Holland and tend to be too big, smelling only vaguely of cucumbers.
- Season: Traditionally winter.
- Yield: Eaten whole.
- Fishing method: Net.
- French: Esturgeon
- Italian: Storeone
- Spanish: Esturion
- Portuguese: Esturjao
- German: Stor, Sterlet
- Acipenser sturio
- Huso huso
- Acipenser stellatus
- Acipenser gueldanstaedtii
Long gone are the days when the European sturgeon, Acipenser sturio, swam freely up our rivers. They are solid, meaty fish and were deemed to be good food for the medieval stomach. Sturgeon is better known for its roe, caviar, a far tastier option than the meat.
For some years now sturgeon have been farmed quite successfully in south-west Franc, producing both meat and caviar. The flesh has always proved more difficult to sell than the roe-surprise, surprise! The flesh tends towards dryness so avoid overcooking it. It can be barded with anchovy fillets and garlic then roasted but is perhaps at its best smoked.
- Season: Farmed all year round.
- Yield: 50%
- Fishing method: Net, farmed.
Tilapia, St Peter’s Fish
Tilapia is a venerable species of freshwater cichlids native to the Nile, which grow rapidly but are not among the classiest fish to eat. They look after their young in an odd way- by keeping them in the female’s mouths, with the result that females tend to be smaller and leaner than the males, presumably because having a mouth full of babies doesn’t improve your ability to eat.
Scientists have now engineered an almost entirely male range of fish. It is sometimes sold as St Peter’s fish, which is farmed in some quantity in Israel.
They are very adaptable fish and are widely available. I recently ate a cherry tilapia, a brilliant red fish farmed in Jamaica, and was pleasantly surprised by its taste. Size-wise, a 600-800g (1 ¼ -1 ¾ lb) fish will feed two, and smaller 300-400g (11-14 oz) fish can be eaten whole or filleted to serve one.
- Season: All year-round.
- Yield: 40%
- Fishing, method: Farmed.
Trout, Rainbow Trout****
- Salmo gairdnerii
- French: Truite
- Italian: Trota
- Spanish: Truta
- Portuguese: Truta
- German: Forelle
I have a terrible admission to make. When I wrote the first of many drafts of this book I forgot to mention the trout. It’s not that I dislike it but it’s just too obvious. Long gone are the days when trout were fished from rippling brooks countrywide. Today they are farmed to such an extent that almost everyone could buy one with ease from any town in the land.
This rural fish has become deeply urbanized but, since cheap, easy fish are rare, hats off to the trout for being so omnipresent. Trout is an excellent everyday fish-affordable and adaptable if perhaps a little unexciting. On the plus side, you seldom see trout that are anything but fresh.
Often smothered in almost, the trout is, I think, best eaten whole, freshly killed and au bleu, but being grilled or baked in foil suits it equally well. I like the idea although I have never tasted it-of the northern Italian dish of trata al Tartufo, trout stuffed with white truffles.
- Season: All year-round.
- Yield: 55%
- Fishing method: Farmed.
Zander, Pike-Perch ***
- Stizostedion lucioperca
- French: Sandre
- Italian: Lucioperca
- Portuguese: Lucioperca
- German: Zander
Last year a little birdy (or should it have been fishy?) told me that the British Waterways Board had a zander problem. it seemed that zander was beginning to overrun several midland canals. This was an opportunity not to miss, for this wonderful fish is rarely caught domestically.
The problem for British Waterways was clear- the canals needed to be rid of the carnivorous zander, which was eating all the other species and overwhelming the ecosystem – but different. It was all so unpredictable.
A cull was announced but no one quite knew when it was taking place; the quantity and size of the fish could only be guessed at.
Zander is not, in fact, native to this country but since their introduction in the 1950s, they have spread throughout much of Britain’s waterways, although they are not systematically fished. In the end, I opted out of the bidding, but if you ever come across this fish, definitely try it.
Zander can become quite large, weighing over 5kg (11 lb) at times, and are more popular abroad than in the UK. The fillet is, for a freshwater fish, exceptionally firm and fine tasting. The best fish are caught in Holland, where there is a strictly controlled closed season.
When they’re not available, fish are often bought in from Poland or Hungary and even Canada, although the quality of some of the Great Lakes fish is inevitably poor to toxic, given the state of the water.
The Hungarians cannot restrain themselves from plastering the Zander, or fo gas, with paprika and frying it to a crisp, but it has a chameleon-like ability to taste delicate when required and withstand powerful flavors. The Swedes have an excellent way of cooking it, with beetroot, horseradish, and capers, which has an earthiness that well suits this wonderful fish.
Supplies are not as easy as they were a few years back when there was a vogue for serving zander in restaurants, for surprisingly it’s a difficult fish to sell.
- Season: Winter/summer.
- Yield: 50%
- Fishing method: Net, line.
Carp with Black Sauce
This is one of the classic ways of cooking carp, much favored in Eastern Europe and Germany, where it is often served at the festive Christmas Eve meal. The carp is cooked in a sweet, sharp, slightly bitter sauce, flavored-curiously enough-with honey cake ( the French pain devices are ideal but our own gingerbread works well, too).
I’ve adapted the recipe for fillets of carp, which makes it slightly easier to handle, but do take care not to overcook the fillets or they will collapse as you lift them out of the pan.
It this all sounds just too strange to work, let me tell you that my two-year-old thought that the sauce was quite divine, eating it with carrots as well as fish, and the rest of the family was more than inclined to agree with him. See details dessert sauce
- 1.5-1.8kg (3 ¼ -4 lb) carp, scaled and filleted
- For the Cooking Broth:
- 1 onion, sliced
- ½ celeriac, sliced (optional)
- 1 large carrot, sliced
- 2 celery sticks, sliced
- ¼ lemon, sliced bouquet garni of 1 bay leaf, 2 fresh thyme sprigs, 2 fresh parsley stalks, tied together with string 2 cloves
- 5 black peppercorns
- 300ml ( ½ pint) water
- 750ml (1 ¼ pint) brown ale salt
To Finish the Sauce:
- 60g (2 oz) pain devices, spiced honey cake or gingerbread, crumbled
- 60g (2 oz) blanched almonds, cut into strips
- 60g (2 oz) raisins
- 30g (1 oz) butter, chilled and cubed salt and pepper
Put all the cooking broth ingredients into a pan large enough to hold the carp fillets. Bring up to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes.
Now lower the fillets gently into the liquid, making sure that they are completely covered ( add a little extra water if needed). Simmer gently for about 5-10 minutes, until just cooked. Lift the fish out carefully and keep warm on a serving dish while you finish the sauce.
Pass the broth through a sieve, rubbing through as much of the vegetables as will pass through easily. Return to the pan and add the cake crumbs, almonds, and raisins. Simmer until reduced by half. Taste-it should be intensely flavored. If it seems at all watery, boil it down a little more.
Whisk in the butter, bit by bit, to thicken and give the sauce a good gloss. Season to taste with salt and plenty of pepper. Pour over the carp and serve immediately, with boiled potatoes.
Ken Hom’s red-cooked Carp with Tangerine Peel
This is a wonderful recipe for carp, dressed with an intense, sweetish sauce, distinguished with the aromatic scent of dried tangerine ( or orange) zest. Don’t be tempted to replace it with fresh orange zest, which doesn’t have quite the same magic.
I reckon you need the zest of about 3 or 4 tangerines or 2 large oranges. Either thread the pieces of zest on to a length of cotton with a needle and hang up to dry, or leave it on a rack in a warm kitchen, or very low oven, until completely dried out and brittle.
I’ve made a few very small alterations to this recipe, which comes originally from one of Ken Hom’s best cookery books. The Taste of China (Pavilion)
- 5g ( 1/5 oz) dried tangerine or orange zest
- 1.1-1.35kg (2 ½ -3 lb) whole carp, cleaned and scaled
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 3-4 tablespoons cornflour
- 450ml ( ¾ pint) groundnut or sunflower oil
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh root ginger
- 4 tablespoons finely chopped the spring onion
- 3 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 6 tablespoons chicken stock or water
Soak the tangerine or orange zest in warm water for 20 minutes or until it is soft. Rinse under running water, squeeze out any excess liquid, then chop it finely and reserve.
Cut three or four diagonal slashes across the fattest part on each side of the fish to help it cook more evenly. Rub the fish on both sides with the salt. Coat the fish thickly and evenly with the cornflour on both sides, spreading it down into the cuts and over the head. Shake off any excess.
Heat the oil in a wok or deep frying pan until hot. Test with a cube of bread-the oil should start fizzing as soon as it is drooped in. Deep-fry the fish for about 3-4 minutes on each side, turning it carefully once, until it is brown and crisp. Lift carefully out of the oil and drain on kitchen paper.
Taking great care, pour most of the oil out of the wok or frying pan into a heatproof bowl (you can strain it for re-use, when cool, but use only for cooking other fish). Leave just 2 tablespoons behind in the wok.
Re-heat over high heat. Add the tangerine zest, garlic, ginger and spring onion and stir-fry for 30 seconds.
Add the rest of the ingredients and then return the fish to the pan. Spoon the contents of the pan over the fish. Cover and cook over low heat for 8 minutes. As soon as the fish is cooked, carefully transfer it to a serving plate and serve immediately.
Southern Fried Catfish with Hush Puppies
Fried catfish, coated in a crisp layer of cornmeal, is one of the great down-home dishes of the Middle West and Southern states of America. Hush puppies-cornmeal fritters—are the essential accompaniment, no doubt about that; after that, individual family preference rule.
The cookery writer James Beard suggested serving them with tartare sauce, while another book points you towards a Creole mayonnaise (flavored with mustard, cayenne, white pepper, and ground coriander).
In her fascinating book Soul Food (Weidenfeld paperbacks), Sheila Ferguson, best known as the former lead singer of the Three Degrees but obviously a fine cook too, writes that her family make a gigantic meal of the fried catfish, eating it with hush puppies, coleslaw, mustard greens, ham hocks and fried apples (particularly good) or onion rings. See details coral reefs fish
- 1kg (2 ¼ lb) skinned catfish fillets
- 300ml ( ½ pint) buttermilk
- 150g (5 oz) cornmeal
- 85g (3 oz) plain flour dripping or equal quantities of butter and salt and pepper
- To Serve:
- lemon wedges
- Hush Puppies (see opposite )
- Tartare Sauce
Soak the catfish fillets in the buttermilk, turning them to coat well and, if necessary, adding a little more buttermilk or a dash of milk. Leave for 15 minutes or so.
Mix the cornmeal with the flour and some salt and pepper and spread out on a wide plate. In a wide frying pan, melt enough dripping, or equal quantities of butter and oil, to give a depth of about 2cm ( ¾ inch).
When the fat is good and hot, take the fillets out of the buttermilk one, sloughing off the excess with your fingers, and then roll in the cornmeal mixture to coat evenly.
Lay the fillet in the hot fat and then repeat with the other pieces, taking care not to overcrowd the pan, which would lower the heat of the fat; two to three pieces at a time is quite enough.
Fry each fillet for about 3 minutes on each side until browned and crisp, then drain on kitchen paper and keep warm while you fry the rest. Serve steaming hot, with lemon wedges, Hush Puppies, coleslaw and tartare sauce.
Hushpuppies are crisp little puffs of cornmeal batter: they make a great alternative to chips with all kinds of fried foods but especially with fried fish. Eat them warm from the pan, sprinkled with salt. See details flaky fish
There are, incidentally, several explanations for the name, all based on similar stories peopled with different characters.
The one I like best is that these scraps of corn batter were thrown to the digs by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War-‘Hush, puppies’ –to keep the dogs quiet when they suspected that Yankee soldiers were creping around nearby.
- 175g (6 oz) cornmeal, preferably white but yellow will do fine
- 60g (2 oz) plain flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
- 4 spring onions, very finely chopped
- 1 egg
- Tabasco sauce (optional)
- 200-250ml (7-9 fl oz) buttermilk or ordinary milk dripping, lard or sunflower oil, for deep-frying
Mix the cornmeal with the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder and then stir in the garlic and spring onions. Make a well in the center and add the egg and a shake or two of Tabasco, if using.
Gradually mix the egg into the dry ingredients, adding enough buttermilk or milk to make a mixture that will drop slow but easy from a spoon.
Heat the fat about 185C/370F (when a cube of bread fizzes mightily as it is dropped in, and quickly starts to brown). Drop teaspoonfuls of the hush-puppy mixture into the hot oil and deep-fry until golden brown.
Don’t overcrowd the pan or the temperature of the fat will drop too low. Lift out the hush puppies as they are cooked and drain them briefly on kitchen paper. Keep warm while you cook the rest. Season with salt and serve with fried catfish (or other fried fish).
Char with Kohlrabi and Cider
This is a simple dish that works surprisingly well, Kohlrabi, now fairly widely available in good supermarkets has a sweet crispness offset with a hint of the characteristic sulfur of the cabbage family, of which it is a member. If you can’t get kohlrabi, substitute their cousins, turnips, as long as they are young and still sweet. See details salad recipes vegetarian
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 kohlrabi, peeled and cut into 5mm ( ¼ -inch) cubes
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, chopped bouquet garni of 1 fresh thyme sprig, 2 fresh parsley sprigs and 1 bay leaf, tied together with string
- 350ml (12 fl oz) dry cider
- 2 Arctic char or trout, filleted
- 300g (11 oz) tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped
- 1 tablespoon each of finely chopped fresh parsley and marjoram
- 1 tablespoon plain flour lemon juice salt and pepper
Put 1 tablespoon of the oil in a heavy frying pan and add the kohlrabi, onion, garlic and some salt and pepper. Turn to coat lightly in oil. Add the bouquet garni and one-third of the cider.
Cover with foil and cook over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until the kohlrabi is tender and the liquid has been absorbed, 20-30minutes.
Lay the fish fillets on top of the kohlrabi and scatter with the tomatoes and chopped herbs. Pour over the remaining cider, cover again with foil, and continue cooking over low heat for 8-10 minutes, until the fillets are just cooked. Carefully pour off the liquid. Keep the fish and vegetables warm.
Quickly make the sauce. Heat the remaining oil gently in a small pan and stir in the flour. Off the heat, add the liquid from the fish, a little at a time, to make a sauce. Bring back to the boil, stirring, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding a dash of lemon juice. Serve with the fish and vegetables.
Pike with a Sorrel Sauce
The easiest way to cook and eat pike has to be in fillets, making away with the worst of those little bones and savoring the fine flavor of the flesh, untrammeled. I love it with a sharp but creamy sorrel sauce. See details eat fish bones
- 4 pieces of pike fillet, weighing about 110-175g (4-6 oz) each
- court-bouillon, for poaching salt and pepper
- For the Sorrel Sauce:
- 2 good handfuls of sorrel leaves
- 30g ( 1 oz) butter
- 150ml ( ¼ pint) double cream
- 4 tablespoons well-flavored fish stock salt and pepper
Make the sauce first. Snip the stems off the sorrel leaves and discard. Make little piles of leaves, roll them up like cigars, and then slice thinly, to make fine shreds or, in more technical terms, a chiffonade.
Reserve a few shreds to use as a garnish. Heat the butter in a small pan and add the sorrel. Stir over moderate heat until the sorrel dissolves to a rough puree. Stir in the cream and stock. Simmer for a few minutes, then a season to taste. Re-heat when needed.
Put the fillets into a pan and add just enough court-bouillon to cover. Bring gently up to a simmer, then reduce the heat until the surface of the water just trembles. Poach for 2-3 minutes, until the fillets are barely cooked through.
Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain thoroughly. Lay the fillets on warm serving plates and spoon the sauce around them, drizzling a little decoratively over the fillets. Scatter over the reserved raw sorrel and serve.
Quenelles de Brochet
William loves quenelles de Brochet, or at least he loves to eat them with Sauce Nantua, the marvelous coral-colored crayfish sauce. Brochet, the pike, is the classic fish to use for these pale, delicate poached fish mousses but since the flavor of the fish is fleeting, comparatively speaking, by the time they are made, much other fish with the right kind of texture can be substituted, with only minimal difference in flavor.
Quenelles de Brochet is an essential part of the classic French restaurant repertoire, and it has to be said that there are good reasons for this. The main ones are that pin-boning the pike fillet and then sieving the pureed pike are both tedious jobs.
You can just about get away with skipping one or the other but, either way, you are likely to end up with bones in your trembling pale quenelles. In a restaurant, of course, this would be a heinous crime.
At home, I don’t think it matters enormously, as long as everyone eating them is aware that they may come across a bone or two here and there.
Don’t attempt to make quenelles on a boiling hot day- the mixture is more likely to curdle. I like to cook them in a court-bouillon, which gives a mite more flavor, but if you don’t have time to make one use plain salted water with a branch or two of dill or fennel in it.
If you can get the crayfish, then serve the quenelles with Sauce Nantua, made in advance, for a regal feast; otherwise, choose the Anchovy Tomato and Red Pepper Sauce. See details best flatfish
- 500g (1 lb 2 oz) pike, skinned and filleted 2 eggs
- 325ml (11 fl oz) double cream court-bouillon, for poaching salt, pepper, and fresh nutmeg
After skinning and filleting you should be lifted with about 250g ( 9 oz) of pike flesh. Pin-bone the fillets, then put the flesh into a food processor and process to a paste. Season well with salt, pepper and plenty of grated nutmeg (the cream will soften the flavor considerably).
Rub the puree through a fine sieve into a bowl in a bowl of iced water and gradually whisk in the cream. Don’t take it too slowly or you risk overbeating the mixture and making it curdle (remember, butter is made by beating double cream).
Pour the court-bouillon into a shallow pan and heat to just below simmering points. Have a mug of iced water standing by, with two tablespoons in it. Before you get going properly, make a quick test run to see whether the texture of the mixture and the temperature of the water are about right.
Use one cold, wet tablespoon to take a scoop of the quenelle mixture and then shape the upper part neatly with the bowl of the second damp spoon (you are aiming for something that looks vaguely rugby-ball-shaped).
Slide the second spoon under the quenelle as it sits in the first spoon, to loosen it, and slide the quenelle gently into the barely simmering liquid. Poach for about 4-5 minutes, until it bobs up to the surface and feels fairly firm.
Lift out with a slotted spoon, drain briefly and give it a try. If it is deemed heavy, beat a little more cream into the mixture. If it is still undercooked in the center, maybe your court-bouillon could be a little hotter.
Sort yourself out and then poach the rest of the mixture in the same way. As you poach the quenelles, keep them warm while the rest are cooking.
Grilled Tilapia with Tomato and Cucumber Relish
Leaving the scale on a fish as it is grilled is rather like protecting it in its own, perfectly fitting suit of armor. The heat penetrates, fusing the scales together as it blasts in and cooks the flesh, but no moisture is lost in the process: the fish’s own natural jacket keeps it all locked in, including every last drop of flavor.
Pure and remarkable, the fish needs only a simple, fresh accompaniment, such as this finely diced relish-cum-salsa. See details best fish and seafood
- 4 tilapia fish, gutted, not scaled oil
- For the Relish:
- ½ cucumber, peeled and finely diced
- 350g (12 oz) tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded and finely diced
- 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
- 4-5 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
- ½ tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint salt and pepper
To make the relish, spread the cucumber out in a sieve, sprinkle lightly with salt and leave to drain over a bowl for a good half hour.
Rinse the cucumber, pat dry and mix with the remaining relish ingredients. Leave in the fridge for an hour or two so that the flavors can develop and the relish is chilled. Just before grilling the fish, taste and adjust the seasonings.
Preheat the grill thoroughly. Brush both sides of the fish with oil and place in a foil-lined grill pan so that the upper side is about 7.5cm ( 3 inches) away from the grill. Grill until both sides are well browned about 10 minutes on each side.
Test one fish only with a skewer. Bring the almost charred fish to the table. Cut along the central line and lift off the skin, with its jacket of fused scales, to reveal moist, firm flesh. Serve the hot fish with the chilled relish.
Trout en Escabeche
Summertime and the cooking are easy… Or at least it should be, and the lunches and supper parties undemanding and enjoyable, almost as relaxing for the hosts as for the guests. Here’s one dish that can be, needs to be, prepared in advance, and that is served cold with little need for fiddling or flapping. See details dinner menu ideas
Offer good bread, with a chewy crust and soft crumbs, and a few leaves of watercress or rocket, if it is to be the first course; for the main course, serve some boiled new potatoes and a more substantial salad. Then sit back and bask in the warmth.
- 4 trout, cleaned juice of 1 lemon olive oil. for frying salt and pepper
- For the Marinade:
- ½ cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 red or ordinary onion, sliced paper-thin
- 1 red or yellow pepper, de-seeded and sliced into rings
- 1 green or red chili, de-seeded and sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon allspice berries, crushed
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 150ml ( ¼ pint) white wine vinegar
- 85ml (3 fl oz) olive oil
Rub the lemon juice on the outside and inside of the fish. Season and leave for half an hour. Pat dry and fry in very hot oil until browned on both sides. Place in a shallow dish.
Place the marinade ingredients in a pan and bring up to the boil. Summer for 3 minutes, then pour over the fish. Cool, cover and leave in the fridge overnight.
Fried Trout with Tomato and Black Bean Sauce
A quickly made, ’East meets the Middle East’, vibrant dish of fried trout dressed with a little tomato sauce and kicked into high gear by the addition of Chinese fermented black beans ( the whole beans, mind, not the ready-made sauce-any you don’t use for this recipe will keep for months in a screw-top jar in the fridge) and a gasp of chili-hot harissa.
These days, you can find this Moroccan chili and spice paste in good supermarkets but, failing that, you will have to search out a Middle Eastern delicatessen.
It’s well worth laying in a small supply of harissa (it lasts for ages, too) and, more often than not, it comes in particularly decorative cans. What you don’t use of the harissa can also be stored in a small screw-top jar in the fridge; cover with a layer of olive oil before screwing on the lid.
- 2 trout, cleaned
- 30g ( 1 oz) clarified butter or 15g ( ½ oz) butter and 1 tablespoon sunflower oil
- 2 teaspoon fermented black beans, rinsed and chopped
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 225g (8 oz) tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded and chopped
- ½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- ¼ teaspoon harissa or chili sauce, or a few drops of Tabasco sauce
Slash the trout twice diagonally across the thickest part on each side so that the heat and the sauce can penetrate through to the bone.
Melt the butter or butter and oil in a pan large enough to hold fish. When it starts to sizzle, add the fish. Fry over moderate heat until the skin is browned on both sides and the fish is just cooked.
Transfer the fish to a warmed serving plate and keep warm. Add the beans and garlic to the pan and fry for about a minute.
Add the remaining ingredients and cook hard for a further 5 minutes or so, until the tomatoes have collapsed and all the wateriness has evaporated to leave a thick sauce. Spoon the sauce over the trout and serve.
Trout Facon William
Or in other words, with butter, tomato and chive sauce, and very delicious it is too. The sauce also goes extremely well with salmon (fry the salmon in the pan before making the sauce and then deglaze with the Noilly Prat), and chunks of fillet from most firm-fleshed white fish. See details spicy sauce recipes
This sauce is one of William’s signature dishes and the one he brings out regularly when he is doing fish demonstrations. Funnily enough, he doesn’t cook it that often- or at least not often enough-for us at home. Now that I’ve wheedled the recipe, with quantities, out of him, I might get a chance to cook it, too.
- 4 trout, cleaned fresh chives butter salt and pepper
- For the Sauce:
- 110ml (4 fl oz) Noilly Prat
- 500g (1 lb 2 oz) ripe, full-flavored tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded and finely chopped
- 125g ( 4 ½ oz) butter, cubed and chilled
- 4 tablespoons snipped fresh chives lemon juice salt and pepper
Preheat the over to 220C/425F/Gas Mark 7. Season the trout inside and out with salt and pepper. Stuff a few stems of chives into the stomach cavity of each fish. Lay in a buttered dish and cover with foil. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until just cooked through.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Pour the Noilly Prat into a frying pan and bring to the boil. Boil hard until reduced by about two-thirds.
Tip in the tomatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes. Now whisk in the butter in two batches, until fully incorporated. Stir in the chives and lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Draw off the heat and keep warm.
When the trout is cooked, uncover and pour the sauce over them. Serve immediately.
Around the little part of France that I know best, in the valley of Le Loir ( without an’s’-it’s a tributary of the great Loire river of chateaux fame), they like to serve zander with a lemony beurre blanc sauce.
In our own village, the little cafe serves a dish of zander with beurre citronella that is as many I’ve eaten in far smarter restaurants. Maryvonne steams the zander, naps it in the butter golden sauce and serve it sprinkled with chives, with a lettuce leaf for garnish and a few boiled potatoes for substance. I love it.
- 4 portions of zander fillet, weighing about 110-175g (4-6 oz) each
- salt and pepper
- 4 lettuce leaves. o serve
- 1 heaped tablespoon chopped fresh chive, to garnish
- For the Lemon Butter Sauce:
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 160g ( 5 ½ oz) butter, diced
- 60ml (2 fl oz) dry white wine
- 150ml ( ¼ pint) Fish Stock juice of 1 lemon
- finely grated zest of ½ lemon
- pinch or two of sugar
- 4-5 tablespoons double cream salt season the zander fillets with salt and pepper and set aside.
For the lemon butter sauce, soften the shallot in 15g ( ½ oz) of the butter over a gentle heat, without browning. Put the remaining butter back in the fridge to chill.
Add the wine, fish stock and lemon juice to the pan. Boil gently, until reduced to about 3 tablespoons, with a sticky, syrupy consistency. Set aside if not serving the sauce immediately.
When you are ready to complete the sauce, re-heat the reduction. Reduce the heat to a thread (or if it won’t turn down sufficiently low, pull the pan back from the heat every now and then so that the sauce doesn’t overheat).
A few cubes at a time, whisk the butter into the sauce until all is incorporated. Add the lemon zest, sugar, and cream; 4 tablespoons at first, adding the last one only if the sauce seems a little on the tart side.
A little more sugar can go some way towards rectifying this, too, as long as the sauce doesn’t start to enter the realms of sweet custard, but keep it fairly lemony to balance the soft, subtle flavor of the steamed fish.
Season with salt to taste and keep warm over very low heat while the fillets finish cooking.
Should your sauce dare to teeter on the edge of curdling, you are probably overheating it. Plunge the pan into a bowl of very cold water and keep whisking. Wine any luck, and fast action, it will be saved.
Meanwhile, steam the zander fillets for about 5-7 minutes, depending on thickness, until just cooked through. Lay on serving plates, with a lettuce leaf nestled on one side. Spoon over a generous helping of the sauce, sprinkle with the chives and serve at once.
Zander with Beetroot, Capers, and Horseradish
William found this recipe for zander in a Swedish cookery book and asked me to try it. the rub was that the book had not been translated and neither of us understands anything but the odd word of Swedish. Luckily, our minimal combined tally of the language is almost entirely food-orientated and, with a large degree of hilarity and guesswork, we came up with a working version in English.
Even if we have missed the finer detail’s we still finished up with a marvelous dish, bringing together delicate zander fillets with sweet roast beetroot, sharp, salty capers and a sting of horseradish.
- 2 raw beetroot, weighing about 110g ( 4 oz) each 75g ( 2 ½ oz) unsalted butter 4 zander fillets, skinned plain flour, seasoned
- 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed ( soaked if salted)
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- ½ – 1 tablespoon creamed horseradish salt and pepper
- lemon wedges, to serve
Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3. Wash the beetroot but leave the root and about 2.5 cm ( 1 inch) of stalks in place. Wrap each one in foil and bake for about 1 ½ -2 hours, until the skin scrapes away easily.
If you want to speed things up, boil them instead until tender, but you lose some of the flavors to the cooking water. When cooked, leave until cool enough to handle and then pull off the skin and cut the beetroot into 1cm ( ½ -inch) cubes.
Melt 30g ( 1oz) of the butter in a wide frying pan. When it’s foaming, coat the zander fillets one by one in the seasoned flour and lay them in the pan. Cook for about 1 minute on each side and then transfer to a warm serving dish and keep warm in the oven.
Melt the remaining butter in a second pan and add the capers and beetroot. Fry for about 2 minutes to heat through, then stir in the parsley and horseradish, adding only ½ tablespoon of horseradish for a subtle hint of it, the full tablespoon for a stronger presence.
Season to taste. Spoon over the fish and serve immediately, with lemon wedges.