John Dory with mashed potato

Continental or flat-leaf parsley is a comparative newcomer to Britain. I distinctly remember the first time it was sighted as a rare summer migrant passing through Berwick Street market about twenty years ago. It was very exciting, because all the cookery books I’d read assured me that it had a much finer flavour than the curly English variety. This is true and it is used pretty universally in London restaurant kitchens these days, as well as being fairly widely available from the major supermarkets. Throughout this book, when parsley is stipulated in a recipe, it is the continental type, except for this recipe (and one other), where the much more assertive, native herb is used. Parsley sauce is one of the few bits of British food regularly served in my restaurants, although I’m thinking of expanding this repertoire a little.

The same cookery books that insisted on the right kind of parsley would often bang on about John Dory, which was equally unobtainable. Jane Grigson’s Fish Cookery was the main culprit. Richard’s, the excellent, but unfortunately defunct, fishmonger on Brewer Street, could be relied upon to find some. John Dory is such an ugly, intimidating fish that few people would want to try and fillet it, and it has so many hidden barbs that those foolish enough to try will regret it. Leave this to your fishmonger. Ask him to fillet it and to detach the spine and ribs from the head, tail and fins. He should also be bullied into cleaning the gills from the head for you. The head, tail and fins are superfluous to this dish and should be frozen (they make an excellent addition to the Frith Street Fish Broth).

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Ingredients

Parsley Sauce

  • 200 ml white wine carcass of the John Dory, minus head, fins and tail
  • 1 onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 leek, trimmed, washed and sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 bunch parsley, stalks separated from the curly clumps of leaves
  • 250 ml double cream

Method

Making the Sauce

Put the wine, fish bones, onion, leek, bay leaf and the parsley stalks in a pan and bring to a boil. Add the cream and return to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer everything for 15 minutes. By this time the cream should be thickening slightly. Pass the sauce through a sieve into a clean pan and add the parsley leaves. Place on a medium heat and simmer until the leaves have wilted but remain a vibrant green. Process the sauce in a liquidiser until smooth, and set aside until needed.

Cooking the Fish

Preheat your oven to its maximum. The fish will be in two large fillets; these have three quite distinct sections, which should be detached from each other. You will now have four large fillets and two small; halve the big ones to give you ten equal pieces. Coat the fish pieces in the oil and season generously. Place in a single layer in a roasting dish and bake in the hot oven for approximately 10 minutes.

Serving

While the fish is baking, warm the sauce and mashed potatoes. Put a bed of the potatoes in the centre of five heated dinner plates. Place the cooked fish on top and spoon a line of the sauce around this mound of food. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper mix and drizzle lightly with the super oil.

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