Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A simple fish supper brings with it a taste of summer

The past few weeks have been volatilte ones here in the southwest of Ireland. There have been days of bright (and warm) sunshine followed by days of heavy rain, dense fog and piercingly cold winds.

Can you imagine a day like this:

Being followed by a day like this?

Such is the unpredictability of spring time in Ireland.

Yesterday, with rain rattling at the windows, I decided it was time for a taste of summer. I associate fresh fish with long summer evenings and so I decided it was time to cook my first dish from Madame Prunier's Fish Cookery Book. Having written about Madame Prunier in my previous blog post, I had been waiting for an opportunity to put her recipes to the test.

My first task was to purchase some fish. It may surprise some of you but before our local fish shop opened in Dingle a few years ago, it was hard to find fresh fish in the town. Although it is a fishing port, most of the best quality fish used to be immediately shipped abroad. Even today, we locals hardly catch a glimpse of it before it's packed in ice and transported to Europe.

Fortunately, we now have Kane's Fish Shop to intercept some of that fish for us. It's been a great addition to the town since it opened and it means that I can now have fresh fish for supper whenever I feel like it - just as I did last night.

Here's David with some of his fresh fish:

I had chosen a simple recipe from the hundreds in Madame Prunier's repertoire: whiting cooked in shallots, parsley and white wine.

Because this is such a simple dish, it's vital that you have the freshest and best quality ingredients. This is particularly true of the fish. I wouldn't even bother making this dish if you are at all unsure of your whiting being as fresh as can be.

What I realised when cooking from Madame Prunier's book is that her recipes require a certain amount of confidence from cooks.
For example, here's her recipe for my whiting:

Butter a dish and sprinkle it with chopped shallots and parsley. Lay the fish on this and season them with salt and pepper. Moisten with white wine and cook in the oven with frequent bastings. Dish the whiting and reduce the cooking liquor by half, thickening it with butter. Pour it over the fish and eat.
There are no measurements given. No temperatures or cooking times. In order to use this cookbook, you need to have a little bit of experience with cooking fish and/or you need to trust your judgement.

Relying on what experience and judgement I have, here is what I did.

  • I preheated my oven to 180 degrees Celsius/350 F/Gas Mark 4.

  • I chopped three small shallots and a handful of parsley and sprinkled them on a dish.

  • I placed two fillets of whiting on top and seasoned them with salt and pepper.

  • I then poured about 100ml of wine over the fish.

  • Into the oven it went for about ten minutes, during which time I basted the fish fillets twice.

  • I plated the fish and transferred the juices to a pan on a high heat. I reduced them by half and then whisked in two tablespoons of butter.

  • I poured the sauce over the fish and served with mashed potato and carrots.

    This was a simple dish to make and it was full of simple flavours. The shallots and parsley were fresh while the butter lent it a touch of richness. It's ideal for a midweek supper and for those of you who, like me, might want a hint of the summer that is to come.
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