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  • Bute St Seafoodie

Fillet of Bream, Asparagus and Peas, Mustard & Tarragon Sauce

Updated: Oct 30, 2021

"Are you casting asparagus on my cooking?"

Curly Howard (1944)

For the reason that the peak of asparagus season coincides with the earlier weeks of the year in which black bream are line-caught off our south coast, this dish could not be more ideal. It comes from Nathan Outlaw, a chef I have admired from the first time I saw (and had the privilege of tasting) his work but, such is his skill, his idea of simple is, in general, everyone else's idea of difficult. This particular recipe is actually one of his simpler and more achievable numbers, and the fantastic combination of summery ingredients compelled me to up the (technical) ante a bit.

Typically fresh peas arrive around about the same time that asparagus season comes approaches its end. But this year the April weather put back the arrival of our summer veg by about 3 weeks according to conversations I've had in the farmers’ market. This has meant that locally-grown asparagus has spent longer into the start of the pea season than might be typical in other years. Earlier in the asparagus season frozen peas are a perfectly good substitute for fresh if wishing to make this dish with local and seasonal asparagus, not least because frozen peas are a well-known preserved veg success story. Which means that being able to enjoy best-quality line-caught native black bream alongside treasured early-summer asparagus can be enjoyed for as long as the asparagus is about!

Wilted spinach (or other seasonal greens) and/or salad on the side I think are the way to complement the dish. Oh, and definitely a crisp and dry white wine like a Sancerre or a Muscadet.

For the most part this is a fairly simple recipe to make, albeit requiring a bit of tedious prep with the veg - peas, potatoes and asparagus. That said, this can be done well in advance (all of step 1 can be done a day ahead and the prepped veg kept in the fridge, but bring back to room temperature before using in the remainder of the recipe). But I have to be up front, the sauce is not the easiest. It is based on a mayonnaise, already a naturally unstable relationship and, when transformed into the garnish with the addition of hot stock and acid, it does require a degree of focus if to avoid the whole reverting to become the collection of its parts. The main thing is to watch the temperature and never allow the sauce to get anywhere near the point that it boils.

I have chosen to pan-fry instead of grill the fish fillets as I think the dish demands a crispy skin. My experience is that this is very difficult to achieve reliably using a domestic grill without over-cooking the fish unless it is a particularly thick fillet.

If preferred, this dish could be made with fillets of sea bass or gurnard.

Fillet of Bream, Asparagus and Peas, Mustard & Tarragon Sauce

Ingredients (Serves 2)

2 x 125g bream fillets, ideally pin-boned

50g fresh peas (or use frozen peas)

8 small asparagus spears, woody ends removed

50g floury potatoes (e.g. Maris Piper), peeled and cut into 1cm dice

½ egg yolk

½ tsp cider vinegar

½ tsp English mustard powder

125ml olive oil (plus a little extra for coating the fish)

50ml fish stock (or use vegetable stock, from a cube if more convenient)

2 tbsp double cream

½ baby gem lettuce, finely shredded

2 tsp chopped gherkins

1 tsp tarragon leaves, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling


  1. Start by preparing the veg. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, add the peas and, when the water comes back to the boil, cook for 1-2 mins, depending on size. Use a slotted spoon to remove the peas and plunge them into ice-cold water to arrest their cooking then drain and allow to cool. Repeat the process with the asparagus, this time giving them 2 mins once at a boil. Finally boil the potatoes until just tender, which will take about 7 mins, drain and leave to cool.

  2. For the mayonnaise base of the sauce, whisk the egg yolk, vinegar and mustard powder together, then, whilst continuing to whisk, gradually drizzle in the olive oil to create an emulsion. Season to taste then stir in the cream. Heat the stock in a saucepan (or microwave) and very gradually whisk this into the mayonnaise until the sauce has a coating consistency. Set aside.

  3. Make sure the fish fillets are at room temperature and patted dry then coat them with a thin film of olive oil and season with salt and pepper on the flesh side and only with salt on the skin side. Heat a frying pan then place the fillets skin-side down in the pan and fry for about 3 mins, undisturbed, until the skin has become crisp and golden and the fish is cooked two-thirds through. Turn the fillets over and turn out the heat. Leave in the pan to finish cooking while you complete the dish.

  4. To finish the sauce, gently warm it in a saucepan and then add the peas, asparagus and potatoes. Let them heat through for a minute then add the lettuce, gherkins and tarragon. Season to taste.

  5. Spoon the sauce into wide soup bowls, place the fish fillets on top and drizzle the whole dish with the extra virgin olive oil.


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