Net profits: Mark Hix's sensational fish main courses

Saturday 28 March 2009 01:00

When we eat fish, we tend not to like messing about with bones and shells and bits. But a whole grilled or baked fish is an absolute joy to tuck into; most fish benefit from being cooked on the bone, especially when they are stuffed with fresh herbs. Fishmongers do a lot more filleting than is necessary.

In my view, good quality fish shouldn't be interfered with too much. The Spanish and Greeks have the right idea, adding a bit of sea salt and a dash of olive oil, then straight on to the grill – now that's the way I love to eat fish.

Grey mullet with oyster stuffing

Serves 2

I've lifted this recipe from my mate Mitch Tonk's new book fish. Mitch lives in Brixham overlooking the harbour and has his pick of the local fish market for the menu in his restaurant in nearby Dartmouth. Mitch shares my view on grey mullet (or what I sometimes call silver mullet); yes, it can taste a bit on the muddy side when it has spent a lot of time in estuaries and rivers, but when the fish have spent time and are caught in the sea their taste is on a par with sea bass.

25g butter, plus extra for greasing
1 small shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
Half a celery stick, finely chopped
2 rashers of smoked bacon, rind removed and roughly chopped
150g cooked spinach
1tbsp finely chopped mint
1tbsp finely chopped parsley
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
4 oysters, shucked, reserving the juice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dash of Worcestershire sauce, to taste
1 egg yolk
2 grey mullet, about 350g each, or 1 larger one, scaled and gutted
Olive oil for rubbing

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6 and butter a roasting tray.

To make the stuffing, melt the butter in a frying pan, add the shallot, garlic and celery and fry gently until soft and golden.

Place the fried shallot mixture in a food processor with the bacon, spinach, herbs and breadcrumbs and juice from the oysters and pulse for a minute until a coarse stuffing mixture forms. Season with salt and pepper and add Worcestershire sauce to taste. Add the egg yolk and mix well. If the mixture is a little wet, add more breadcrumbs, but if it is a little dry just add a drop of water. Add the whole oysters to the stuffing and mix in by hand.

Lay the fish on the prepared roasting tray and fill the belly cavity with the stuffing, making sure there are 2 oysters in each fish.

Season the fish and rub all over with olive oil, then bake in the oven for 15-18 minutes. This is wonderful served with a salad of little gem lettuces dressed with red wine vinegar, oil and shallots.

Pan-fried dabs with whelks and monk's beard

Serves 4

Dabs are small flatfish and can make a tasty and cheaper alternative to some of the more luxurious flatfish such as Dover and lemon sole. You normally need to serve a couple of these per portion as dabs tend to be on the small size. There's a few other small flatfish which would also make a great alternative species, such as witch soles, sand soles and Torbay soles, all of which make for very good eating as well as giving the more common species a bit more of a chance to recover, too.

Monk's beard, known as agrette or barbe di fratte in Italy, is a spindly green vegetable that goes perfectly with fish; or it can be simply tossed into a salad or cooked in butter and served as a vegetable. You can buy it from Booths in London's Borough Market (020-7378 8666); or order your own pot to grow from

8 small dabs weighing 150g each or 4 larger fish with dark skin removed and fins trimmed
Flour for dusting
3-4tbsp vegetable or corn oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
16-20 large whelks
10 black peppercorns
1tsp fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
200g monk's beard, roots trimmed and washed
150g butter
The juice of half a lemon

Soak the whelks in a bowl of cold salted water for about an hour; rinse well. Place in a pan, cover with cold water, add about half a tablespoon of salt, the peppercorns, fennel seeds and bay leaf, bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove from the heat, leave to cool in the liquid for 30 minutes, then drain in a colander.

Remove the whelks from the shells with a cocktail stick and discard the hard piece of shell on the end of the whelk. Slice the whelks into two or three slices and put to one side.

Heat a large frying pan, or two if you have them, with some of the vegetable oil. Lightly flour the dabs and season. Fry for 3-4 minutes on each side, adding a couple of knobs of butter during cooking, until they're a golden colour. You may need to do this in two or three batches. Once cooked, keep them warm in a low oven. Heat the rest of the butter in one of the frying pans; gently heat the whelks and monk's beard for a couple of minutes. Season, add the lemon juice; serve the dabs on warmed plates with the whelks and monk's beard spooned over.

Crab curry

Serves 2-4

We started serving this at the Fish House in Lyme Regis a few months back and it flies out of the kitchen. Larger crabs work better for this dish as the large front claws are easier to get into and more meaty.

1 crab weighing 2kg or 2 smaller ones, cooked

For the sauce

60g ghee or vegetable oil
3 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
5 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tbsp chopped root ginger
3 medium-strength chillis, seeded, finely chopped
1tsp cumin seeds
tsp fenugreek seeds
1tsp cumin powder
1tsp freshly grated turmeric or 1tsp powder
1 pinch saffron strands
1tsp curry powder
A good pinch of curry leaves
tsp paprika
1tsp fennel seeds
1tsp mustard seeds
2tsp tomato purée
Half a lemon
1.3 litre fish stock (a good cube will do)
3tbsp chopped coriander leaves

To make the sauce, melt the ghee in a heavy bottomed saucepan and fry the onions, garlic, ginger and chilli until they begin to soften. Add the rest of the spices; continue cooking for a couple of minutes with a lid on to release the flavours, stirring every so often. Add the tomato purée, lemon and stock, bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper and simmer for 45 minutes.

Remove the large body shell from the crab by holding the legs with both hands and pushing the shell up with both thumbs. Scoop out any brown meat from the shell and add to the sauce. Remove the large claws and crack the shells a little to expose the meat. Remove the dead man's fingers from the main part of the body and cut the body into four with a heavy chopping knife.

Take a cupful of the sauce from the pan and blend in a liquidiser until smooth and pour it back into the sauce. Add the pieces of crab and simmer for 15 minutes, then add the coriander and simmer for a further 5 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with basmati rice.

Monkfish cheeks with sea spinach and new season garlic

Serves 4

As well as fishing sustainably, we should also be using every part of the fish that's edible. Monkfish liver, for example, is a delicacy, and so are cods' tongues, skate knobs (cheeks) – and even the bones and heads can all be put to use in the kitchen.

1 or 2 heads of new season fresh garlic
500g monkfish cheeks, trimmed (a good fishmonger should be able to supply these, though you may need to order in advance)
2 large shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
100ml white wine
150ml fish stock
250ml double cream
A couple of handfuls of small wild sea-spinach leaves or baby spinach leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g butter

Simmer the heads of new season garlic in salted water for about 10-15 minutes, drain and leave to cool. Slice thinly lengthways across the whole cross section of the garlic, then melt some butter in a frying pan until foaming and fry the garlic on a medium heat for a minute or so on each side, then transfer to a plate. Wipe out the frying pan, season the monkfish cheeks, melt the rest of the butter in the frying pan and cook the cheeks on a low to medium heat for about 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove the cheeks and put to one side with the garlic.

Fry the shallots for a couple of minutes, add the wine and fish stock to the pan and simmer until it has reduced by about two-thirds then add the cream, bring to the boil and simmer gently until it thickens. Add the sea spinach, garlic and monkfish cheeks and simmer for a few minutes until the spinach has wilted and is tender. If the sauce is too thick just add a little water. Add more seasoning if necessary.

Serve on its own as a starter or with mash as a main course.

Ling with laverbread and brown shrimps

Serves 4

I remember catching the occasional ling when I was a kid, as well as seeing the odd one landed by local fishermen, and in those days they were probably only used for lobster and crab-pot bait.

I never used to think that ling were worth bothering with – as was the case with pollack – but these days I'm always asking my fishmongers to look out especially for them as they are such a delicious fish. I admit that ling may not sound like the most appetising of fish on a menu, but I guess the same used to apply to monkfish before people realised what an amazing fish it was.

Laverbread is a cooked purée of seaweed, and it's a very interesting vegetable as well as being extremely good for you. It kind of acts as a vegetable and sauce all in one. You can buy it canned or chilled or frozen in tubs at supermarkets, which is the preferred option for me.

4 portions of ling fillet weighing about 200g each, boned and skinned
Flour for dusting
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4-5tbsp laverbread
200g butter
100g peeled brown shrimps
1tbsp chopped parsley
The juice of half a lemon

Season and lightly flour the fish, heat about 40-50g of the butter in a heavy or non-stick frying pan and cook the fillets for about 3-4 minutes on each side lightly browning them.

Meanwhile heat the laverbread in a pan with a couple of knobs of butter.

Heat the rest of the butter in another pan until foaming then add the shrimps, parsley and lemon, and season.

To serve, spoon the laverbread on to warmed plates, place the ling on top and spoon the shrimps and butter over.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments