Josh Niland’s Gurnard Soup

Serves: 4 – 6

This is a remarkably good dish, though it is from Josh Niland and so no suprises there.

Check out that skin!
Beyond elegant. Clearly restaurant.

The bisque (soup) would be the best I have had, with the addition of lemon juice at the end dialing it up a further notch. The crispy skin fish combined with the bisque is just so, so good.

Worth absolutely every bit of effort.

Big grins.

We ended up using flathead instead of gurnard for both the fish and the bisque and Josh is fine with this.

The most interesting part of the process of this recipe, was really exploring how to achieve an optimal crispy skin, something we have never particularly focused on.

We still have a ways to go though after a few attempts, we are close. (N.B. that in the photos on this recipe, you will note that we have scored the skin, something we have heard a few people recommend, though we’ve arrived at don’t score the skin.)

Anyway, our best results:

  • Heavy, cast iron skillet over a medium-high heat.
  • Lot’s of quality ghee, with the addition of more ghee halfway through. (Josh says to discard the first quantity of ghee though to date we have not done this.)
  • Utilising a fish weight. (Thanks to our mate Josh D for ours.) You could also use a small pan.
  • Not flipping the fish and cooking skin-side down only.
  • After 1 minute, moving the fish with an offset palette knife (an absolute must instrument in your kitchen).

Ingredients

100gm ghee
4 x 80gm boneless red gurnard fillets, skin on (substiture leatherjacket, red mullet or flathead)
Sea salt flakes

Soup base

4 x 300gm whole red gurnard (or substitute), gills, cuts and gall bladders removed
120gm ghee
Large pinch of sea salt flakes
2 onions, finely sliced
8 garlic cloves, crushed
3 small fennel bulbs, finely sliced
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/4 bunch thyme sprigs
5 lemon thyme sprigs (optional)
2 tsp fennel seeds, lightly toasted
2 star anise
Generous pinchof saffron threads
200ml white wine
1 tbsp Pernod
freshly cracked black pepper
Lemon juice, to taste

Method

  1. To make the soup base, use a sharp cleaver to chop each gurnard into approximately eight small pieces, including the liver and roe.
  2. Heat 100gm of the ghee to a light haze in a large, wide, heavy-based saucepan over a high heat, add the chopped fish and salt flakes and cook for 10 minutes until coloured all over. Transfer to a bowl. Using a wide barbecue scraper, scrape off any caramelised fish from the base of the pan and add to the bowl.
  3. Heat the remaining ghee in the pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 10 minutes until softened, then increase the heat to high and cook the garlic and fennel for a further 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes, then return the cooked fish to the pan, align with all the remining ingredients except the salt, pepper and lemon juice.
  4. Pour in enough water to cover, then put the lid on and bring to the boil. As soon as it’s boiling, remove the lid and simmer over a medium heat for 20 minutes, or until thickened slightly and the taste is well rounded. Pass the stock through a mouli (or pulse in a food processer), then strain through a fine-mesh sieve, disgarding the pulp. Return to the pan, season well with salt, pepper and lemon juice and keep warm.
  5. To cook the gurnard fillets, heat 75gm of the ghee in a large cast-iron frying pan over a medium-high heat to a light haze. Place the fillets in the centre of the pan, skin side down and making sure they are not touching each other, and put a fish weight or small saucepan on their thickest side. Keeping the pan temperatures quite high, cook for about 1 minute, or until you start to see the colour around the edges of the fillets. Use an offset palette knife to lift the fillets, then reposition them to take on new colour. Now place the fish weights in the centre of the pan, covering the majority of the fillets. This will aid in setting the fillets gently from the rising heat. Cook for another 2 minutes and then remove the weights. Discard the ghee and replenish with 45gm more fresh ghee. (This is just to help temper the pan as at this stage it is important to keep the pan heat high but not so high that the skin burns, leaving the flesh on top raw.) If the flesh still seems cool to the touch at this point, position the weight on top for another 1 – 2 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets.
  6. If you find the fillets exceed your pan size, either use two frying pans or cook them in batches, and double the quantity of ghee.
  7. Once the fish is 75 per cent on the way set, the top of each fillet is warm and the skin is crisp from edge to edge, transfer them directly into warm soup bowls, skin side up and season the skin with salt flakes. Pour a generous amount of soup around the gurnard until the sides of the fish are completely submerged though the skin remains dry (and therefore crisp). Serve immediately.

Josh Niland’s John Dory Tagine

Serves: 6

Wow, this is a just a brilliant tagine.

The heat is perfect. The unusual addition of thyme and fish sauce and anchovies.

The f-you preserved lemon yoghurt.

And the pine nuts toasted with salt and then sherry vinegar.

I mean it when I say, skip now to that part of the recipe and simply do the pine nuts as a snack. They are addictive.

(If they lose their crunch, refresh them in a hot oven for a minute or two.)

This was our first Josh Niland recipe from his book Take One Fish and I really don’t know why we delayed buying his books or cooking his stuff. We have every other cookbook in the world, and there is a reason he won James Beard Book of the year.

We didn’t source John Dory darnes because we didn’t have the time to get to the markets; and also because we’re not entirely ready for whole fish-tail in our tagine. (It’s us Josh, not you.)

We cooked cubbed Snapper, though next time I’d do cubbed Dory or even Barramundi.

As Josh interestingly points out, the whole piece of John Dory tail with the bones means you get the addition of gelatine into the sauce which would just wonderfully balance it out: I guess it dependents on whether you’re a fish-tail tagine sort of person.

Either way, this tagine is absolutely on point. We just loved it.

Put the kids to bed, open a cold Chardonnay and do this next Saturday.

Ingredients

6 x 150gm John Dory tail shank chops or darnes (or 1kg firm white fish, cubbed)
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt flakes
1/4 c currants
1/4 c coriander leaves
1/4 c mint leaves
Couscous to serve

Tagine Paste

1/4 c chilli flakes
1/4 c ras el hanout
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp ground coriander
2 tbsp ground turmeric
3 tsp sweet paprika
3 large onions, finely diced
6 large garlic cloves, finely grated
100gm peeled ginger coarsely chopped
2 long red chillies, seeds removed
12 thyme springs, leaves picked
1 bunch coriander, washed
1 bunch flat leaf (Italian) parsley, washed
12 salted anchovy fillets
1 c extra virgin olive oil

Tagine Base

100ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 x 400gm tins crushed tomatoes
1/2 star anise
500ml brown fish stock
Pinch of sea salt flakes
1 x 400gm tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 large fennel bulb, coarsely diced
Generous pinch of saffron threads, soaked in 60ml boiling water
1/4 c honey
Zest of 1 orange
Lemon juice, to taste
Fish sauce

Salt and Vinegar Pine Nuts

1/2 c pine nuts
1 tsp fine salt
3 tsp sherry vinegar

Preserved Lemon Yoghurt

90gm preserved lemon, pith removed
350gm natural yoghurt

Method

  1. To make the tagine paste, blitz all the ingredients in a blender until completely smooth.
  2. For the tagine base, warm the olive oil in a large, wide-based saucepan over a medium heat. Add the tagine paste and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes, until thoroughly cooked out and aromatic. Add the crushed tomatoes, star anise, stock and salt. Brind to a simmer and cook for 25 – 30 minutes until thick and fragrant, then add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
  3. Rub each of the John Dory shanks with a little olive oil and season lightly with salt flakes.
  4. Using a tagine pot or flameproof casserole dish with a fitted lid, pour in enough of the sauce to completely cover the base to a depth of roughly 2.5cm, then nestle the shanks/cubbed fish into the sauce. Bring to the boil over a medium-heat, then cover with the lid, reduce the heat to low and leave to simmer very gently for 6 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through. (46 – 48c if cooking the tail). Remove from the heat and leave the residual heat of the tagine to finish cooking the fish.
  5. To make the salt and vinegar pine nuts, add the pine nuts and salt to a dry frying pan and set over a high heat and toast for 3 – 4 minutes, tossing the nuts as you go, until evenly coloured all over.
  6. Add the sherry vinegar and continue to cook, tossing for 2 minutes until the nuts are thoroughly dried out. Remove from the heat.
  7. For the preserved lemon yoghurt, place the preserved lemon in a blender and blitz to a fine paste, adding a splash of warm water if necessary to deliver a simply smooth finish. Stir into the yoghurt and set aside until needed.
  8. To serve, bring the tagline to the table and serve with the pine nuts, preserved lemon yoghurt, currants, coriander, mint leaves and couscous.