• Bute St Seafoodie

Baked Brill on the Bone with Cockles and Wild Garlic

Updated: Oct 30, 2021

"[The brill] is considered as inferior to the sole, but much superior to the plaice. It is a poor people's fish."

Frank Buckland (c. 1881)


Well, haven't times changed! It's widely claimed that turbot is the king of fish, but these days brill is considered a close second whilst being notably less expensive. Brill is extremely popular on the market stall and I suspect the previous sentence captures why.


I, for one, have never really had a wild enthusiasm toward turbot and brill, firstly because of their prices but probably more because of the propensity for them to be served with fussy, buttery sauces which are not really my thing. But as I was devising this particular butter-free recipe, brill increasingly became the compelling candidate for the lead role.


Wild garlic put in its first appearances unusually early this year but then it was a particularly mild winter. So, I was wondering in hope whether that might mean it would be around a bit longer than normal, at least until it's usual season's end. I'm pleased to say I have been fully reassured by the voice of experience that is Guy Singh-Watson, who writes in Wicked Leeks, Riverford's (the organic veg box scheme I have subscribed to for years) online magazine: "[wild garlic] will appear ... into April, before the plants are shaded out by the trees coming into leaf overhead." Excellent!


Cockles are widely available at this time of year and partner quite harmoniously with the flavour of garlic. Brill also appears regularly on the market stall at the moment so the combination of the two is quite apt for the season. The fact that wild garlic is in our midst is just a very welcome bonus. However, looking ahead to the autumn, both brill and turbot, and cockles, clams and mussels are all available on the market stall, so there is a breadth of choice in what you might include in a dish like this. And it certainly makes for an autumnal dish. Sadly, wild garlic will not be available then, but I will doubtlessly be doing something along these lines when the times comes... Watch this space...

You could certainly use turbot in place of the brill. Equally a large Dover sole (of about 700g) could fit the bill, but be sure to remove the scales from at least the dark side. Whatever fish you choose, allow it, as well as the rest of the ingredients, to come to room temperature before cooking.


Following the recipe as written, this dish is quite straightforward, can be made in about half an hour including prep, and leaves very little washing up. However, a slightly 'fancier' (read 'fussier') option is to develop the cooking liquor into a sauce (containing butter no less!) at the end, a process described in the Notes.


Serve with boiled potatoes and a green vegetable - steamed purple sprouting broccoli would be ideal at this time of year.




Baked Brill on the Bone with Cockles and Wild Garlic



Ingredients (Serves 2)


1 whole brill (approx 800g), scaled, trimmed and head removed (optionally, cut in half lengthways)

500g cockles, cleaned

60ml white wine

60ml boiling water

1 small fennel bulb, sliced as thinly as possible from root to tip

75g wild garlic leaves, washed well (optionally, coarse stalks removed)

2 or 3 slices of lemon

12 cherry tomatoes (on the vine if possible)

2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper



Method


  1. Preheat the oven to 240°C or 220°C fan. Put the fennel slices, two-thirds of the wild garlic leaves and the lemon slices in a thin layer at the bottom of a baking dish. Pour over the white wine and water and place in the oven for as long as it takes for the liquid to start boiling, approximately 5-10 minutes.

  2. Season the fish with salt and pepper and place the fish on top of the fennel and wild garlic. Add the cherry tomatoes wherever they fit and tuck in the rest of the wild garlic leaves. Pour over the extra virgin olive and season again. Cover the dish tightly with foil and return to the oven for 5 minutes.

  3. After the 5 minutes, remove the dish from the oven and remove the foil. Distribute the cockles around the fish, replace the foil and continue to cook in the oven for 10 minutes by which time the cockles should have opened. If not, return to the oven for a couple of minutes more.

  4. Serve straight from the baking dish with your chosen accompaniments.



Notes


  • If you wish to richen up the cooking liquor into a sauce, first of all, go easy on the seasoning at the beginning as this will intensify as the liquor is reduced to sauce consistency. Once the fish and cockles are cooked carefully remove them and the vegetables and put on a warmed serving plate and keep warm. Strain the cooking liquor into a saucepan and boil rapidly until it has reduced by roughly a quarter to a half. Taste for seasoning and adjust as required. Finally, over a high heat, whisk in a knob or two of butter so that the sauce emulsifies. Pour this over the fish and vegetables and serve immediately.



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