Baked plaice with prawns and salsify

Probably the best fish I have ever served was some plaice from Poole in Dorset. Caught by divers (they were looking for scallops at the time), they arrived in Frith Street still alive, in time to be served for lunch. Plainly roasted and served with a rather old-fashioned prawn sauce, they were simply delicious. While it is important for the chef to get excited when really superb produce arrives, it is much more significant when the customers confirm it. In the case of this plaice, several of the guests that lunchtime praised it extravagantly.

The sauce uses the Greenland prawns, which unfortunately need to be peeled as the shells are used to make the sauce. Salsify is added to the sauce, giving this neglected vegetable a rare outing.

Ingredients

  • 1.4 kg plaice on the bone (try and get 2 larger fish rather than 4 smaller ones)
  • 1 kg Greenland prawns, beheaded and peeled (save all shells and heads for the sauce)
  • 1 recipe Salsify
  • 1 recipe Blanched Spinach
  • 100 g plain flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 30 g butter

Sauce

  • 1 onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • a sprig of parsley, coarsely chopped
  • the shells and heads from 1 kg peeled Greenland prawns
  • the head and trimmings from the plaice
  • 1 tsp tomato concentrate
  • 40 ml white wine
  • 20 ml Noilly Prat or other dry vermouth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • 25 ml double cream
  • 1 tbsp brandy

Method

Get your fishmonger to clean, behead and cut the plaice into four equal steaks (make sure he gives you the trimmings for the sauce). Peel the prawns and set the meat aside whilst you make the sauce. Prepare the salsify. Prepare the spinach, and wring out thoroughly.

To make the sauce, sweat the diced vegetables in the oil over a medium heat until they have taken on a little colour. Add the parsley, the prawn shells and the plaice trimmings to the pan and sweat for a couple of minutes. Now add the tomato concentrate, the wine, the vermouth and the bay leaf. Bring everything to the boil, then turn down and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour in enough water to cover the solids, and crumble in the stock cube. Return to a simmer and cook for a further 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Now add the cream, turn up the heat and boil until the liquid begins to reduce and thicken. Pass this sauce through a fine sieve into a clean pan, return to a gentle simmer and keep warm while the fish is cooking.

Preheat the oven to 240°C/475°F/Gas 9. Spread the flour out on a large plate and season generously. Lightly oil a heavy baking sheet. Dust the plaice steaks in the seasoned flour and place on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes then turn the fish over and continue cooking for a further 5 minutes.

After the fish has been turned, add the salsify to the simmering sauce to heat through. Gently heat the spinach up in a frying pan with the butter, then season to taste.

Serving

Add the prawn meat to the sauce and salsify, and then the small amount of brandy. Divide the spinach into piles in the centre of four hot soup plates. Place the fish on top of the spinach with the dark skin uppermost. Spoon the sauce and its contents around.