Fishmongers are another of Soho’s disappearing assets. This is very true of other areas in Britain as well, but somehow the loss seems greater here because the past situation was so different. Up until the 1970s there were four shops selling fish: Bacrac’s in Livonia Street (never very good and mainly dealing with the then flourishing Jewish fish and chip trade), Myall’s in Romilly Street (good wholesale fishmongers and game dealers, but would sell to the public), Hamburger Products in Brewer Street (smoked and cured fish, discussed at some length), and the best of all,
This paragon of fishmongers could always be relied on to have that king of fish, a turbot, sitting majestically on their slab, from which they would cut a steak or two to your exact specifications. Turbot poached on the bone is possibly the most flavoursome of all the North Atlantic fish, the bones lending the flesh a gelatinous savour more reminiscent of meat than fish. In an ideal world the best way to poach turbot is to cook it whole, but in the absence in your kitchen of a turbotière (an enormous diamond-shaped copper fish kettle, costing several hundred pounds and the one piece of kitchen kit that I really covet), this is plainly impossible, although several authors, including Brillat-Savarin, have suggested ingenious if unwieldy alternatives.
Turbot is now farmed, indeed the last time I bought fish from
Put all the court-bouillon ingredients in a large wide pan (big enough to accommodate the turbot in a single layer: a deep flameproof roasting dish is probably best). Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Use immediately, or allow to cool and refrigerate until needed. Do not omit or reduce the salt. At this point start making the hollandaise sauce.
Bring the court-bouillon to a slow but steady simmer, barely bubbling around the edges (the French refer to this temperature as shivering, which is as good a description as any). Lower the turbot in and poach until done. Exactly how long this will take is impossible to say because a great deal depends on the thickness of the fish: assume 15 minutes, then start checking. You can tell the fish is cooked when its flesh has shrunk, the bones around the edge are starting to protrude and the central bone begins to separate from the surrounding meat. Gentle prodding with a fork should elicit this information.
Carefully lift the fish out of its liquor and put to drain on a plate. (Traditionally this was done on a freshly laundered tea towel.) Scoop some of the vegetables out of the court-bouillon, avoiding or picking out the bay and peppercorns, and arrange these on a serving dish to form a bed for the fish. Even more carefully, transfer the turbot to this bed and pour a little hollandaise around. Serve with lots of freshly boiled peeled new potatoes and offer the rest of the sauce on the side.
© 1999 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.