Gordon Ramsay (pictured here) has won a Michelin Star for his flair in front of the stove. Here, he shares some of the hints and recipes that have put him firmly on the culinary map

Food & Drink
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
SEA BREAM

Gold or gilt-headed bream (known in France as dorade) black bream and red bream, are popular in the Mediterran-ean where they are often stuffed and baked whole. They are underrated here. Their skin is beautiful and you can prepare fillets like those of sea bass at a fraction of the price. I make cuts in the skin and insert chopped herbs, such as basil, chervil, tarragon, then grill or pan-fry it or roast it in the oven.

The fishmonger will scale and fillet it for you, and you can ask him to remove the pin-bones buried in the centre. Even if you can't see them you can feel them. It is worth buying a professional pair of tweezers, tough enough to do this job (press down on the flesh, imagine you're a dentist and pull the bones out slowly and evenly. The first time it seems messy, but you soon become expert.) The fillets are easy to cook.

DORADE WITH PESTO SAUCE

Serves 2

one whole fish, 800g/1lb 12oz filleted neatly in two

sprigs of thyme

1 tablespoon olive oil

Trim the dorade fillets neatly, then check for any fine pin-bones and remove with tweezers. Using the tip of a sharp knife, score the skin carefully a few times to prevent the fish from curling as it cooks. Pick the leaf "flowers" off one of the thyme sprigs and scatter over the flesh. Cover and chill.

Heat the oil in a pan. Season the dorade and then place skin-side down in the hot pan. Cook the fish for about five minutes or until almost done (it should be lightly springy and the skin crisp) then turn over and cook the flesh side for about two minutes. Serve with pesto.

At the Aubergine Gordon Ramsay serves it with his own pesto sauce, scallops, globe artichokes and on a potato puree (pictured left).

SEA BASS

Sea bass has largely taken the place of sole and turbot in the affections of both diners and chefs. It has a wonderfully sweet, subtle meaty flavour, with firm flesh. In particular, the skin has a lovely, silver-grey sheen, and you can cook it until it is extremely crisp. I serve it so that the skin is like a silver lid.

Unfortunately sea bass is the victim of its own success, and they are being farmed, mostly in the Mediterranean. If you get them at around 350g to 500g, unless you know otherwise, then they are probably farmed. I buy larger fish, from Brixham in Devon, that have been caught on rod and line. I have a man who rings every night at 11pm to tell me what he's got. He delivers them by refrigerated van to me at 7 every morning. I like bigger fish, cutting them into three pieces or more. The flesh is firmer, more compact in the cooking.

Filleting and trimming sea bass, or any fish, is the key to perfection. A good fishmonger will do it, but it's more satisfying to master the art yourself. Considering that cooking the fish is easy, this is the aspect which merits your fullest concentration. Trim, and trim again, to make neat rectangles (scraps can be used in a tartare of seafood, mixed with lime or lemon juice as a marinade). Wrap the 6cm by 10cm trimmed fillets (or tranches) in clingfilm and chill. This will set the shape before cooking. Sea bass bones should be kept as they are gelatinous and make excellent fish stock, especially the heads.

The skin is very important for both taste and presentation. I make a row of shallow cuts a few millimetres apart, which open up like a lattice during the cooking. They help hold the fish together and stop it from curling. I have very sharp knives, but you could use a Stanley knife.

(Confusingly, Gordon Ramsay has rewritten cookery terms to describe his method of frying the fish skin-side down. The "roasting", as he calls it, takes place in a frying pan in hot olive oil on top of the stove. He does this to colour it for two minutes. Then he turns it over, and finishes it in a hot oven for about five minutes.)

There are many ways of serving sea bass, but it needs fierce heat to maximise its flavour. You would almost never boil or poach it or stuff it. To bring out the sweetness of sea bass I developed an idea I got from a vanilla sauce served with lobster in Paris.

This technique will produce tender succulent and crispy-skinned sea bass which you can serve with any buttery sauce to your liking, with some new potatoes and green beans, perhaps. (The hobby cook who wants to attempt Gordon Ramsay's jus vanille may do so. Here is his recipe.)

FILLET OF SEA BASS WITH JUS VANILLE

Serves 4

one sea bass weighing 1kg/2lb 4oz filleted, but not skinned

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

Cut sea-bass fillets into four tranches, or neat slices, then lightly score the skin with a sharp knife. If preparing ahead, wrap tightly in clingfilm.

When you are ready to cook the bass (which you should do after preparing the vegetables and before reheating the vanilla stock for the sauce), preheat the oven to 200C/ 400F/Gas 6. Remove the clingfilm. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan with heat-proof or removable handles - suitable for the oven. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Add a knob of butter to the pan. When it has stopped foaming add the bass skin-side down. Cook for three to four minutes, then flip fillets over. Transfer the pan to the oven to cook the flesh side of the fillets for three to four minutes. The flesh should feel just firm and lightly springy. Any liquid should have evaporated. Season the bass with my Special Pepper Mix.

MY SPECIAL PEPPER MIX

In a small bowl mix equal quantities of white and black peppercorns. Toss in some coriander seeds, two to three star anise and a few green cardamom pods. Funnel into a pepper mill and grind freshly whenever required.

JUS VANILLE

1 litre/114 pints fish stock

1 large vanilla pod

400g/14oz salsify

juice of 1 lemon

50g/2oz butter plus an extra knob of ice-cold butter for finishing the sauce

8 whole baby fennel bulbs or 1 large bulb, halved, cored and sliced

1 sprig thyme

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon double cream

Strain the fish stock through a fine sieve into a saucepan and bring it to the boil. Split the vanilla pod open and scrape the seeds into the hot stock, followed by the pod. Leave to cool and the vanilla to infuse, then boil down to reduce by one-third.

Remove the pod.

To prepare the salsify, peel it thinly, then immediately drop it into cold water with a little lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Blanch in boiling salted water for two minutes. Drain, refresh in ice-cold water and drain again. Pat dry and cut into neat batons.

Melt half of the butter in a saucepan and add a ladleful of the vanilla- flavoured stock. Bring to a light boil, toss in the salsify batons and cook until stock has reduced to a glossy glaze. Stir in half of the remaining butter. The batons should be lightly coloured; if not, cook for a further minute. Set aside.

Melt the remaining butter in a medium-sized pan and cook the fennel until nicely coloured. Add another ladleful of the vanilla stock to the pan along with the thyme and the bay leaf. Cover and braise over a gentle heat for eight to 10 minutes. Set aside.

To make the sauce, reheat the remaining vanilla stock and stir in the cream. Reheat the salsify batons and the fennel in their separate pans. Divide the fennel between each warmed plate. Put the fish on top, skin- side up. Arrange the salsify batons around the bass in a circle.

To finish the sauce, add the knob of ice-cold butter and reheat in the saucepan, frothing with a hand-held electric blender. Spoon the frothy sauce over the fish and drizzle the remainder lightly over the salsify.

MONKFISH

Monkfish was one of the first new varieties to make the leap into haute cuisine. Actually it's a very watery fish without a lot of taste, but it does have a marvellous texture. Because it contains so much water it shrinks a lot in cooking. It's best grilled, cut into slices like scallops. Because it is so wet, it doesn't colour very well in the pan, so I dip it in a spice mixture of my own, which is like a Chinese five-spice powder. It gives both colour and flavour. It's one of the few fish that is just as tender when poached. And it is another fish that gets a lift from a red-wine sauce.

Some people find it troublesome to prepare because a membrane has to be stripped off. Sometimes there are blood sacs that should be removed.

ROASTED MONKFISH WITH BOULANGERE POTATOES

Serves 4

4 x 300g/10oz monkfish fillets, skinned

softened butter for greasing

olive oil for frying, plus extra for greasing

a little plain flour, for coating

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

For the potatoes:

250ml/9fl oz fish or vegetable stock

4 medium potatoes, each weighing about 200g/7oz, peeled

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

4 shallots, finely chopped

25g/1oz butter

To serve:

juice of 1/2 a lemon

a little olive oil

sprigs of tarragon

flat-leaf parsley

Make sure all the grey membrane is removed from the monkfish as this could cause the fish to curl and cook unevenly. Tear off four sheets of greaseproof-paper large enough to make a parcel for each fillet. Brush the sheets lightly with softened butter.

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/ Gas 7. Season the fillets then roll lightly in flour. Heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan and quickly seal the fish all over until just golden brown.

Wrap each fillet in a sheet of the paper, twisting the ends to seal. Place on a baking tray and transfer to the oven for eight to nine minutes.

Check the fish is cooked by pressing the thickest part firmly with your finger. If it is firm and not at all springy then it is ready. Allow the fish to stand in the paper until potatoes are ready.

While the fish is cooking, slice the potatoes thinly into rounds about 2mm (18in) thick, using either the slicer blade of a food processor or a sharp knife. Place in a bowl, season, then scatter the chopped garlic and shallots on top.

Cut four circles of greaseproof paper each 8cm (14in) in diameter. Brush the circles with olive oil and place in a small, shallow roasting tin. Arrange the potato slices, together with the shallots and garlic, in overlapping slices on each paper circle.

Pour the fish or vegetable stock over and bring the potato tin to a simmer on the top of the stove. Dot the potatoes with butter, then transfer the tin to the oven for around 10 minutes or until golden brown. When cooked, leave the slices in the stock.

Slide the potatoes from their paper bases using a fish slice, on to warm serving plates. Unwrap the fish, slice each fillet into four to six rounds and place on top of the potatoes. Trickle over any juices from the potato tin and from the fish parcels.

Sprinkle lemon juice and olive oil over the fish and potatoes, and garnish with the sprigs of tarragon and parsley.

JOHN DORY

John Dory is highly-favoured in France (where it's known as St Pierre, the black dot behind its head represents a nail on the cross of Jesus). It's caught in generous quantities off the Devon coast: mainly one-pounders and two-pounders. Of all the new fish used in restaurants it's one of the cheapest. It has a good strong flavour and the bones are very good for stock, especially the heads.

JOHN DORY FILLETS

Serves 4

4 x 200g/7oz John Dory fillets, skinned

3 tablespoons olive oil

For the potatoes:

600g/1lb 5oz baby new potatoes, washed and scrubbed

2 tablespoons olive oil

Cut each fish fillet into three long strips then cut those into 5cm/2in diamond shapes. Set aside in the refrigerator. Heat the three tablespoons of olive oil in a large non-stick or well-seasoned frying pan. Fry the John Dory "diamonds" for about two to three minutes, or, until just cooked and golden brown, turning once.

Boil the potatoes in their skins for about 12 minutes or until just tender. Drain and leave for a few minutes until cool enough to handle. Peel while still warm and place in a large bowl.

Gently heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a small saucepan then pour over the potatoes, crushing them lightly with a fork to form a chunky puree. At the Aubergine, Gordon Ramsay serves this with sauce made from tomatoes and a shallot confit.

BRILL

Brill is a good substitute for turbot, delicate in flavour. It is actually very good for steaming and poaching. It's also very flaky, like cod, which I have paired it with here.

ROASTED BRILL WITH A BRANDADE OF COD

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil

200g/7oz cod fillets, skinned and cut into chunks

150g/5oz potatoes, peeled and diced

500ml/18fl oz milk

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed

2 tablespoons double cream

2 teaspoons chopped parsley

For the cod brandade, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy-based pan. Roast the cod on top of the stove until just cooked and golden. Remove from the heat, flake and cool.

Cook the potatoes in the milk along with the garlic and some salt and pepper until soft but not broken down. Drain through a colander set over a bowl, reserving the milk. Mash the potatoes in a large bowl until smooth then slowly mix in the reserved milk and the cream, beating until you have a creamy paste. You may not need all the milk, but do use all the cream.

Using a spatula, fold the flaked cod gently into the potato, keeping the fish as flaky as possible. Season, mix in the parsley and set aside.

ROASTED BRILL

2 x 300g/10oz brill fillets, cut lengthways into 4 long fillets

To cook the brill, heat the oil in a heavy-based saute pan set over a medium heat. Add the fillets, and cook for about two minutes on each side. Season well, remove and keep warm.

(Gordon Ramsay serves this with a shallot and sherry vinegar sauce - made with veal stock, shallot confit and Madeira - and with asparagus tips and young leaves of spinach.)

TUNA

Seared-tuna steaks have become the fashionable restaurant dish of the Nineties. Nine times out of 10, tuna is eaten cold with salad, the outside well-cooked, the inside pink. The fish vary hugely in size. I get my blue- fin tuna from the south of France. I like steaks from a big tuna because the meat is more dense and not too flaky.

Examine the fish carefully. Those caught in small nets often panic, and they haemorrhage. The internal bleeding stains the flesh. Avoid that. Never boil or poach tuna, it destroys the flavour. It responds to fierce grilling, pan-frying, or griddling (which leaves a nice scorched lattice pattern). I've developed a technique of cooking the fish in goose or duck fat (which I call a confit of tuna) which turns the meat a cloudy, opaque white.

I don't use lemon juice with tuna, the flavour is too coarse. I just brush it with oil, season it, and grate a little lemon peel on it. I also serve tuna with a red-wine sauce as in this recipe.

CONFIT OF TUNA IN RED-WINE SAUCE

Serves 4

4 x 180g/6oz fresh tuna steaks, neatly trimmed

1 x quantity red-wine sauce

500g/1lb 2oz new potatoes, scrubbed

85g/3oz butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

150g/512oz baby onions, peeled

2 teaspoons icing sugar

200g/7oz fresh whole green beans, trimmed

300g/10oz asparagus tips, trimmed

2 teaspoons chopped parsley

500ml/18fl oz duck or goose fat

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

When you are ready to cook the tuna, heat the duck or goose fat in a deep-sided frying pan to a medium heat of about 65C/160F, or if you don't have a thermometer, until a cube of day-old bread browns in about one min-ute. Cook the tuna steaks, submerging them under the fat, for about five to six minutes. When cooked they should be pale brown on the outside nicely pink inside, and lightly springy to touch. Drain well on kitchen paper towels. Have ready the red-wine sauce (see below) and set aside.

Parboil the potatoes until almost cooked but still firm, then drain and leave them to cool. Cut into even slices for sauteeing and then set aside.

Melt one-third of the butter in a heavy-based frying pan with half the oil and, when hot, saute the onions, sprinkling over the icing sugar and stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until caramelised and golden brown. Remove and keep warm.

Blanch the beans and asparagus separately in lightly salted boiling water until cooked but just firm. Drain and set aside in a warm place.

Heat the remaining butter and oil in a saute pan and saute the potatoes until golden brown and crisp, turning occasionally so they colour evenly. Drain, sprinkle with parsley and seasoning, and keep warm. Meanwhile, reheat the red-wine sauce in a small saucepan and keep hot.

To serve, arrange a bed of potatoes in the centre of each warmed plate and place a tuna steak on top of each. Spoon the onions, beans and asparagus around the edge then spoon over the hot red-wine sauce and serve.

RED-WINE SAUCE

A full-bodied sauce that is brilliant for serving not just with meat but also with "meaty" fish, such as roasted monkfish and confit of tuna. I often serve fish with meat-stock based sauces.

Makes about 400ml/14fl oz

800ml/1 pint 10 fl oz chicken stock

1 x 75cl bottle red wine

2 tablespoons olive oil

8 shallots, sliced

1 teaspoon five-spice powder

12 black peppercorns

1 sprig thyme

1 small bay leaf

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

Have ready the chicken stock and set aside. In another saucepan boil the bottle of wine until it is rich and syrupy and reduced to about enough to fill one large wine glass.

In another saucepan, heat the oil and saute the shallots together with the five-spice powder, peppercorns, thyme and bay leaf until caramelised - about 10 minutes. Deglaze with the vinegar then pour in the red wine "syrup".

Stir in the chicken stock, bring to the boil, then boil hard for about 20 minutes to reduce by about half, skimming occasionally with a ladle as required.

Pour this at least twice through a sieve lined with wet muslin or a fine cloth to remove all the vegetables and herb particles until you have a smooth sauce. Season as required.

CONGER EEL

One of the fish with a meaty, glutinous character that contributes a lot to a bouillabaisse fish stew. I make this dish in two parts, though people at home might not want to go to such trouble. If you really want intense flavour and colour, you'd leave the base in a colander overnight, under a heavy weight, to extract every last bit of essence. This is the base in which you later poach some delicate pieces of fish.

BOUILLABAISSE WITH SAFFRON NEW POTATOES

Serves 12

For the basic broth:

3kg/6lb 10oz assorted Mediterranean seafood chosen from at least three of the following: wrasse, perch, rascasse, sea bream, weever fish, large prawns, sea bass, red mullet or skinned fillets of conger eel

450mg/14 pint olive oil

2 large leeks, white parts only, sliced

400g/14oz onions, coarsely chopped

12 cloves garlic, unpeeled and crushed

800g/1lb 12oz ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 large bouquet garni

2 bulbs fennel, roughly chopped

stalks of fresh basil, chervil and parsley

6 litres/1012 pints cold water.

For the garnish additions:

2kg/4lb 8oz assorted fish, chosen from at least three of the following: John Dory, monkfish, sea bass, gurnard, red mullet, sea bream

1kg/2lb 4oz small new potatoes, left whole and scrubbed

2 large pinches of saffron strands

a little olive oil, to serve

2 tablespoons chopped chives

Begin by preparing the seafood. Scale, cut and trim off fins. Keep heads intact but remove gills. Prawns can be left intact. If you obtain weever fish, have their poisonous spines removed when you buy them. To prepare the remaining fish for the garnish, scale, gut and trim them, removing the heads. Cut into bite-sized chunks.

To make the broth, heat the oil in a large saucepan or stockpot and add the leeks, onions, garlic, tomatoes, bouquet garni, fennel, herb stalks and fish. Sweat the ingredients over a low heat for 20 minutes stirring frequently.

Add the cold water, bring to the boil then simmer for 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to stand for 20 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.

Meanwhile, prepare the garnish of potatoes: parboil the potatoes with the saffron until half-cooked, then drain.

Pass the fish broth through a mouli foodmill or through a large sieve, rubbing with the back of a ladle. Discard the bones and other debris. Pour the broth through a fine sieve twice, again rubbing with a ladle. Check seasoning.

To complete the boullabaisse, put the parboiled potatoes into a large casserole or saucepan then pour over the fish broth. Bring to the boil then lower the heat to a slow simmer and cook for five minutes. Add the reserved chunks of fish for the garnish and a little trickle of olive oil and continue to cook for another seven to 10 minutes, or until the fish is just firm and the potatoes soft.

Using a slotted spoon, gently lift out the fish and transfer to a large warmed tureen. Pour over the broth and sprinkle over the chopped chives.

BASICS

ROUILLE

A French egg and olive oil sauce to serve spread on rounds of French bread, then floated in fish soups, such as bouillabaisse with saffron new potatoes. Alternatively, try it with roasted sardines or grilled salmon.

Serves 4

1 potato, weighing about 85g/3oz

2 eggs, hard boiled

2 egg yolks

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3 pinches of saffron strands

200ml/7fl oz olive oil

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

Boil the potato, then peel and mash it to a smooth puree. Set aside to cool. Peel the hard-boiled eggs, chop them roughly and rub through a metal sieve using your fingers or the back of a spoon. Put the potato and egg into a bowl with the egg yolks, garlic and seasoning. Crush the saffron strands into the mixture and blend well.

Trickle in the oil very slowly, beating steadily with a wooden spoon as if making mayonnaise, until you have a thick glossy sauce. Correct the seasoning and then serve.

FISH STOCK

The best fish bones to use for stock, if possible, are turbot or sole - others can be too oily or strong in flavour - but hake or haddock will do. Cut out the eyes and gills, and make sure any traces of blood are washed out. If your fishmonger doesn't have sufficient bones, you can use tail pieces of fish instead.

Makes about 2 litres/312 pints

1 small leek, finely chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 celery stick, finely chopped

12 bulb fennel, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, unpeeled

100ml/312fl oz olive oil

1.5kg/3lb 4oz fish bones, roughly chopped

300ml/2 pints dry white wine

2 litres/312 pints cold water

2 sprigs each of parsley and thyme

12 lemon, sliced

14 teaspoon white peppercorns

In a covered stockpot or large pan, sweat the vegetables in oil over a medium heat for about seven minutes until they are softened but not coloured.

Add the fish bones and wine, and cook until the wine has evaporated.

Pour in the water, which should just cover the bones. Bring to the boil and, using a ladle, skim off the scum. When the scum has been removed, add the fresh herbs, lemon slices and peppercorns, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to rest undisturbed for about 10 minutes so that the liquid can clear and settle. Strain the stock by pouring the contents of the pan through a muslin-lined colander set over a large bowl or food container. Cool the strained stock, chill or freeze until required. This stock will keep for seven days in a sealed container in the refrigerator, provided it is boiled for a few minutes after three to four days. It may also be frozen for up to two months. !

READER OFFER

`Passion for Flavour' by Gordon Ramsay is available to readers for pounds 20 instead of the recommended price of pounds 25. Call 01733 371999, or send a cheque, payable to Reed Book Services, at Conran Octopus Direct, 43 Stapledon Road, Orton Southgate, Peterbor-ough PE2 6TD. Postage and packing is free. Quote reference H119.

Comments