Smoked haddock is one of Britain’s greatest culinary treasures, but, unfortunately, the variations in origin, cure, smoking process and quality make it a bit of a minefield. Finnan haddock is generally regarded as the best, whilst unidentified smoked fillets with a poisonous yellow hue are definitely on the bottom rung. What you ideally need for this dish is a mild cured fish, by this I mean not too salty. Traditional cures of haddock are generally speaking too salty. The best result I have produced in twenty-five years of making this mousse was with Bird’s Eye ‘boil in the bag’ smoked haddock portions (I discarded the knob of butter that came in the plastic bag). This estimable product may no longer be on the market but I do urge you to find one that you like and one that comes with as few bones as possible.
This recipe is not as difficult as the method makes it sound, I am being rather cautious in pointing out the various pitfalls before they happen to you. It would be advisable to practise making this sort of mousse on yourself or your family rather than unleashing it for the first time on important dinner guests.
Butter six large ramekins or small pudding moulds. Cut the haddock into pieces, trying as you go to remove any remaining bones. Place the fish in a food processor and give a quick whizz to chop it, then add the eggs and parsley. Give it another quick blast until it is all mixed together in a very unstructured mess. Put this, still in the processor bowl, in the fridge for half an hour.
Take the bowl out of the fridge and reassemble the processor. Then, with the machine running slowly, pour in the cream in a steady stream until it is all absorbed into the purée. Do not continue processing after a smoothish and amalgamated blob is produced; if you do, the heat from the processing will partially cook the mousse with unpleasant consequences to its taste and possibly your health. Season the mousse with salt and pepper (yes, you will have to taste it raw) and spoon into the prepared ramekins.
Cover the top of each little mousse with a small square of buttered foil, and place in a baking tray with high sides and pour warm water around until it comes just over half way up the ramekins. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.
Put the lemon juice, a tablespoon of water,
Remove the mousses from the oven and test to see if they are cooked. This is done by inserting a clean little knife into the centre of one of them; the blade should not emerge completely clean (the mousse would be overcooked if this was the case, although this is highly unlikely after only 15 minutes). A small amount of soft semi-set mousse should adhere. Leave to rest for a couple of minutes then run the same small knife carefully around between the ramekin and the mousse. Invert the ramekin on to your serving plate and gently shake the contents out. Repeat with the other ramekins and serve with the lemon butter sauce.
© 1999 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.