Gurnard with a Potato, Garlic and Saffron Broth
Updated: Apr 6, 2022
Roughly this time last year Les emailed me to report that he had had a winning time scooping up a haul of large gurnard and invited me to put forward some suggestions as to how they might be cooked to bring out the best in gurnard at its finest. Had I been prepared, this dish is exactly the kind that I would have put forward, but I do so now. It's not one of mine, it's one from an early TV series of Rick Stein's, showcasing Mr Stein at his best, and I have been making it for years.
I love gurnard. It's cheap and tasty and has a flavour that, for me, is somewhere between red mullet and sea bass, and I often use it in recipes that might otherwise call for the latter (pricey) two. But it's not totally surprising that the disease of enthusiasm for it is not epidemic: it is bony. However this does not deter the afishionado! It also has a texture that holds together well in saucier preparations and I regularly use chunks of gurnard in a fish curry. When larger fish are on offer on the market stall I am happy to buy one, fillet it, freeze the fillets and make stock from the bones and trimmings.
Whereas this dish, in my opinion, is ideal for gurnard, it would also work with bass, bream, and red or grey mullet. There are a lot of reasons why it might resonate of a French "soupe de poisson" or a "bouillabaisse", but that is nothing if not a good thing.
The broth in this recipe is little more than very good fish stock thickened and enriched with "rouille" (see note) and scented with saffron. There is tonnes of room for creativity in preparing the stock as depth of flavour will reward in spades. The one I used here was made from fuller-flavoured fish including sea bass and the bones from the gurnard plus the shells from a previously-cooked lobster.
I have included a note about the rouille, which is essentially a mayonnaise built on a base of "harissa". I make my own harissa with red peppers that appear in my veg box a little more often than I would wish, and I encourage you to do the same. Fresh stuff is best, though freshly-made harissa doesn't keep brilliantly. But however you end up with a rouille, there's a very important stage in the recipe that must be observed to avoid disappointment. That is that if you are incorporating an emulsion into a hot liquid you have to introduce it somehow gradually, never allowing it to boil, or you are inviting it to split (my grandmother taught me this, but clearly Rick Stein knows it too). The way that this is achieved here is to whisk the rouille into a small quantity of the stock which has been allowed to cool a little. Once you are assured that the amalgamation has succeeded you can mix this back into the stock. But I say again, don't let it boil - it will split!
With a hearty potato broth such as this, some bread and a green salad is all that is required as an accompaniment.
Gurnard with a Potato, Garlic and Saffron Broth
Ingredients (serves 2)
Extra virgin olive oil
Fillets of gurnard, for 2 servings
6-8 garlic cloves, whole and unpeeled
Fresh oregano, 2-3 whole sprigs plus 1 tsp finely chopped leaves
3 tbsp white wine
Half a leek, white part, cleaned and cut into 1cm slices
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm slices
300ml fish stock
Saffron strands, a pinch or two
2 tbsp rouille (see note)
2 tsp capers, rinsed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat some olive oil in a sauté pan (for which you have a lid) and fry the unpeeled garlic cloves and the sprigs of oregano for a couple of minutes until the garlic has taken on a little colour. Then pour in the wine and cook until it has practically evaporated.
Add the leeks, fry for a minute, then add the potatoes, stock, saffron and some seasoning to taste. Cover the pan and allow to simmer until the potatoes are just cooked, around 15 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Put a few spoonfuls of the broth in a small bowl, leave to cool a little, and whisk in the rouille. Once incorporated stir it back into the broth with the capers and the chopped oregano leaves.
In a frying pan heat a little olive oil. Season the gurnard fillets and pan-fry them, skin-side down until the skin has crispened, then turn them over and remove from the heat to finish their cooking.
Spoon some of the potato, garlic and saffron broth into wide soup bowls and place the gurnard fillets on top.
"Rouille": Put 2 tbsp harissa in a blender with 1 coarsely-chopped garlic clove, some salt and pepper and one egg yolk. Blend briefly then slowly drip olive oil (it doesn't need to be extra virgin) through the lid of the blender, with the motor running, to allow the combination to emulsify. Once a mayonnaise-type consistency has been achieved you can continue blending with a little extra virgin olive to richen up the flavour. This will make far more than you need for this particular dish. For a full recipe, see pp. 187 of "Rick Stein's Seafood Lovers' Guide".
"Rick Stein's Seafood Lovers' Guide", Rick Stein (2000), pp. 46: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rick-Steins-Seafood-Lovers-Guide/dp/0563488719