I have, until quite recently, been something of a fish virgin. I have never cooked, a great deal of fish in the past. It's not that I don't like it - I am a sashimi addict and a seafood lover, it's just that I have always told myself that cooking fish was very complicated and should only be attempted by the very skilled. This is what I told myself about baking too until I decided to just give it a go. So I decided to give fish a go too.
In true Beyond Chocolate style, I decided to make it as easy as possible and resisted the temptation to go out and buy a fish cookbook. I was going to cook it once and see if I liked it and wanted to do it again. Then, I might consider getting Fish: The complete fish and seafood companion (all 320 pages of it). In the meantime I consulted St. Nigel - the king of the quick and easy - and picked the recipe that sounded the easiest and most tasty: a thick juicy fillet of haddock, browned in butter and served with mash. I had no idea fish could be so satisfying.
If you are a fish virgin I heartily recommend taking the plunge with this recipe. It's taken from Nigel Slater's excellent cook book Appetite and it's simply called 'a thirty-minute fish supper'. I've always thought of fish as something 'light' and although it sometimes hits the spot I've never thought of it as lip smacking, tummy patting, sigh inducing nosh. Fish cooked this way is. It ticks all the boxes, just as the best steak, chips and Bernaise sauce has done for me in the past.
So, to the recipe...
A Thirty-Minute Fish Supper
"Appetite" by Nigel Slater
potatoes--a large, floury one per person
butter--a thick slice for cooking the fish and another for the mashed potato
cod or haddock--a thick piece, about 7 ounces, per person
lemon--a quarter per person
Peel the potatoes and cut them into halves or quarters, depending on their size. Drop them into boiling salted water and let them cook till tender to the point of a knife. You can expect this to take about fifteen to twenty minutes, depending on the variety of the potato.
Meanwhile, get the oven good and hot. It should be at least 400 degrees F. Put a thin pool of olive oil--just enough to cover the bottom--into a metal handled frying pan or roasting pan. Warm the oil over a moderate heat, then slide in a thick slice of butter. The butter will bubble, then foam, and this is when you should lower in your piece of fish. Do this skin side down.
Tweak the temperature so that the bubbles surrounding the fish are lively but not so excited that the butter burns. Leave the fish without nudging or turning, for a minute or so. Lift it gently to check how it is coming on. You want the skin to be touched with pale gold. Now turn the fish over with a slotted or metal spatula, crumble over some sea salt and black pepper, and put it in the hot oven. Bake until the fish is opaque and juicy, and will come easily away from the skin and bone. Test it for readiness by gently tweaking a flake. You will find the thickest piece of fish, about 7 ounces in weight, will take about eight minutes.
Drain the potatoes, mash them with a potato masher, and beat in the butter. How far you go with this depends on how much dishwashing you feel like doing, but I believe the fluffiest mash is that which spends a minute in an electric mixer. Serve the mash with the roast fish and some lemon for squeezing over.