Fish on Friday November – Turbot Ceps and Capers

November is a month of striking change, the days shorten rapidly and the weather is uncertain. One day the skies are clear blue and the air crisp, the next is dark and stormy, with strong winds and driving rain. Autumn forces us to change our way of life, retreat, warm our feet by the fireplace and cook comforting food. The seasonal vegetables and ingredients available to us reflect our instinctual desire for heart-warming meals – wild food is abundant; rabbit, pigeon and venison are fattened from the late harvest; mushrooms are still prolific in our woods with hidden gems such as the black truffle and chanterelle; and the fields are stocked with hardy vegetables that work so well used in a nourishing stew or broth. My favourites this month are, celeriac, chestnuts, chicory and fennel, kohlrabi, quince and swede.

As the temperature drops it’s now that I really admire the stoic fisherman. It must take a lot to go out on the cold sea each day. Inland the skies can sometimes feel moody and dull, endless plains of grey. However the sky at sea whether stormy or still can produce a peace of mind like no other, a scenery that resonates with the deepest part of our souls.

After the busy breeding season the seas, perhaps more so than the land, are full of life, teaming with species juvenile and ancient. A few of my favourite species that are now prolific and in season are: cold-water prawns (fry them up with some Spanish paprika, garlic and olive oil),  scallops (roasted for five minutes with butter), and cuttlefish (seared on a hot griddle with olive oil for a minute or contrarily slow-braised for one hour). The cold water keeps the best shellfish so keep bi-valve’s and crustaceans such as oysters, clams, mussels, winkles and cockles, on your shopping list. Other sustainable species to look out for are gurnard, sardines, hake, pollock, herring, pouting, coley, and black bream.

Normally I prefer to cook and write about lesser-known and more-affordable fish to diversify from the popular species such as cod, salmon, haddock and plaice which are often exploited and over-fished. A fish with a high market value often reflects it’s rarity, a warning sign to eat less. This month I’ve chosen a fish at the other end of the financial spectrum, heralded as the king of the sea. With a firm meat that has an utterly divine texture, turbot deserves its regal title. Farmed turbot is the most sustainable way to enjoy this species. Turbot is farmed on the land in enclosed tanks that have little effect on the local environment. If you buy wild then make sure your fish has been line or trap caught as other methods such as trawling are less selective, can catch juvenile fish (There is no regulation for catch size but aim to buy fish over 30cm as they are fully mature) and harm the sea bed.

Turbot is expensive but worth the treat. It marries well with the exquisite wild mushrooms that are available now. Get the most bang for your buck by making a wonderful stock from the leftover bones, use the stock to make the most moreish leek and potato soup you will have ever tried. Flat fish make the best stock in my opinion, the high gelatin content gives the stock a wonderful viscosity. Make sure you remove the gills first to keep the flavour as clean as possible. The cheeks are a delicacy, should be savoured and shared as a morsel for all at the table.

Whole roast turbot with ceps, capers and marjoram,

When cooked fresh turbot meat is subtly flavoured and sweet, it also stores well for a few days due to it’s mild flavour and high gelatin content. It can be filleted then steamed or sauteed, but I like to mark the occasion as grandiose and roast the turbot whole to be shared at the table.

Ingredients – serves 6

1.5 kg turbot, gutted, gills removed

Extra virgin olive oil

6 sprigs of fresh or dried marjoram

500g ceps, brushed clean and sliced

50g capers (try and find the salted variety), rinse in water and soak until edible

2 cloves garlic

Lemon wedges and chopped parsley to serve


Method – preheat the oven 180c

Place the turbot on a baking tray and douse liberally with extra virgin olive oil. Stuff the sprigs of marjoram into the belly cavity and tuck underneath the fish. Season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile fry the mushrooms in olive oil until they take on a little colour, season and add the capers then put to one side.

Serve the fish whole at the table with wedges of lemon. Some chefs remove the skin but I don’t understand why. It is delicious roasted and far more attractive than the white flesh. Make the dish even more pretty with a sprinkling of freshly chopped parsley.

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