This simple-looking recipe has been a long time coming. Why? It’s not the turbot, they’re quite easy to find and not too expensive, no it is the shrimps that have been causing the problem. Brown shrimps are required for this recipe – again, easy to find as potted shrimps or frozen in bags – but this recipe required them unshelled. This has proven nigh-on impossible; in fact I was imagining having to go out to Morecambe Bay with a shrimp fisherman to get them or something. There are only 2 left; the history surrounding shrimp is very interesting, but I have little space to go into it in this post, but I have added it to my list of future podcast episodes.
The reason it’s so difficult to buy them in the shell is they have become rather a niche food (their hey-day was the 1920s), they have also dropped in population size, and have become more expensive. They are also very fiddly to shell. The shrimpers need to be sure to sell their catch, so they prepare them in the way most desirable: potted in butter, and a few frozen. None are ever left intact.
Or, that’s what I thought until one day last month, walking around Didsbury, Manchester, I walked past Evan’s fishmonger’s shop and there they were, a big pile of them in the shop widow. In I walked and purchased an approximate half-pint’s worth – that’s the amount needed for the recipe.
When I got home I popped them in the freezer and last weekend I invited some friends over who I hadn’t seen in ages, and used to come to my early ‘blog dinners’ back when I was doing my PhD at Manchester University.
The best place to begin this one is with the shrimp sauce; Jane makes out that shelling them takes a matter of minutes. Well it doesn’t, it takes ages. I was sure there is a knack to shelling the tiny blighters quickly, but I couldn’t work it out, though I was sure that I had seen footage on TV showing people shelling them using a pin to draw them out, but found nothing on the web to support this so I might have misremembered.
Anyway, you need enough unshelled brown shrimp to fill a half pint glass, remove the shells and then pop the shrimp meat in the fridge as you make a simple stock from the shells by placing them in a saucepan along with half a pint of water. Bring the whole thing to a boil and simmer for just 10 minutes, pass the liquid through a sieve into a measuring jug, squeezing the shells with the back of a spoon. Top back up to half a pint with more water.
Now it’s time for the turbot. Jane asks for one 3 pound in size. Ask the fishmonger to gut and trim it. Before poaching make a cut all down the length of the spine of the knobbly (upper) side of the fish and place in knobbly side down a large deep pan. I used a large wok. Fill the pan with a mixture of half milk, half water so it just covered the fish. Season well with plenty of salt and pepper and add a slice of lemon. Bring to a simmer and poach ‘for 10 minutes or until the flesh loses its transparency and the bones can be raised from the bone very slightly’. Not having cooked a turbot before, I wasn’t sure if Jane’s description would be very helpful, but in the end it was! I use the blunt side of a knife to inspect the meat close to the back bone and it was easy to see it was cooked. It took my turbot about 12 minutes to cook through.
As the turbot poaches, make the sauce. Measure a tablespoon of plain flour in a cup and pour in around 2 tablespoons of the made stock to form a smooth paste, then tip the rest of the stock into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once simmering, whisk in the flour paste, allow it to come back to the simmer. Now the butter: cut 6 ounces of butter (I used slightly salted) into cubes and whisk them in a couple at a time. You should end up with a nice smooth sauce. Don’t let the sauce boil or the butter will split; keep that heat very low. Season with salt (if it needs it), black pepper, cayenne pepper, mace and nutmeg.
When the fish is cooked gingerly lift it from the pan and onto a large serving plate. Jane recommends those ones with a strainer at the bottom. I didn’t have one of those, so I made sure the plate was quite deep, so it was easy to pour away any poaching liquor. Before you serve take a knob of butter and spread it over the top of the fish to give it a nice sheen, then sprinkle over some chopped parsley.
I served it with simple steamed potatoes and green beans.
Don’t throw away the poaching liquor by the way – simmer the bones and skin left over and make a stock. I used leftover sauce, potatoes, beans and turbot meat to make a chowder the next day and it was great.
#444 Poached Turbot with Shrimp Sauce. What a great recipe to finish off the Saltwater Fish section of the book. I’m still a little nervous cooking fish like this because it happens so rarely, but it was really good: delicate meat that was just at the right point between firm and tender. The shrimp butter sauce was delicious, so glad after waiting all these years to make it. I’ll be making it again, but next time, I’ll make the sauce from small prawns instead. Excellent stuff 8.5/10
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