Friday, September 16

Seabass & Borlotti braised with Salami & Serrano Ham

Inspired by my recent work at a local Italian restaurant, I thought I would do a twist on a dish they had on as a special a few weeks back. I was slicing salami and speck for the antipasti boards and there were some odds and ends left over. Dave the sous chef was braising borlotti beans and hey presto, a dish was born. Ask your deli if they have any ham or salami ends, I know Waitrose will give these to you for pennies rather than pounds. Now, a few pointers on successfully cooking beans:

1) They must be soaked for at least 24 hours in cold clean water - this takes no effort, just organisation.
2) Never boil beans in the soaking water, use fresh and never salt the water or sauce until the end of cooking as this toughens the bean skin.
3) Always skim any scum that forms when the beans come to the boil.
4) A very very gentle simmer is the way to go, no rolling boil or you will get soup. 
5) Make sure you give the beans time to cook, there is nothing, nothing worse than crunchy beans. Perfectly cooked beans should be intact and not split, but creamy in the middle.

For four:

Dry borlotti beans - 500g
Celery - 2 sticks finely diced
Onion - 1, peeled and finely chopped
Carrot - 1 large, peeled and finely chopped
Leek - 1 small, washed and finely chopped
Garlic - 3 cloves, finely chopped
Olive oil - 50ml
Chunk of salami - 100g, skinned and finely diced
Chunk of Serrano or Parma ham or equivalent - 100g, finely chopped (trim any really hard bits if using ends)
Rosemary - 1 small sprig
Bay leaf - 2
Red wine - 125ml
Chicken stock - cube or fresh, 500ml
Tinned or fresh tomatoes - 200g, chopped
Seabass - 4 fillets, scaled and pin boned
Fresh parsley - 1 small handful picked and chopped
Veg Oil - 50ml
Butter - a small knob
Salt and Pepper

Soak your beans overnight, drain and discard water. In a roomy braising pan gently fry the garlic, leek, carrot, onion and celery in the olive oil until soft. Add the salami and ham, the rosemary and bay, the beans, stock, red wine and tomatoes. Season with pepper only and bring to the simmer. Simmer gently uncovered for 1 to 2 hours until the beans are perfectly cooked but not falling apart. If the sauce looks dry, add a little more stock or water during cooking. You may season your beans now with salt and more pepper if required. The end dish should be thick and saucy so aim to get yours like the picture above.

Put a good non-stick frying pan on a medium high heat. When frying fish, you must heat the pan and the cooking medium (oil) before you add the fish. If the pan is cold when the fish goes in, the skin will stick. Add a generous glug of vegetable oil to the pan and allow to heat.   Test your pan is hot enough by dipping a little corner of the fish into the pan. If should sizzle loudly but not be so hot that the oil is smoking and spitting when the fish goes in.    

If you think you are there with the temperature, season the fillets on both sides and lay the fillets into the pan, skin side down. The fresher the fish, the more the fillet will want to curl.   Push the fillets down so that the whole surface of the skin is flat to the base of the pan - use your fingers if brave or more sensibly, a fish slice. After 20 seconds or so the fillets will stay flat.   Adjust the heat to maintain a medium/hot cooking temperature and leave the fish to cook for 2 to 3 mins untouched. Toss in your butter half way through this cooking time - the butter will give a lovely colour and flavour. Fish has a tendency to 'pop off' the pan when the skin is crisp and the less agitation you give the fillet until this point, the better. If your fish is sticking a little, leave for another minute. When golden and crispy, flip your fish onto the flesh side and turn off the heat. The residual heat in the pan will cook the fish through - in the meantime begin plating the dish.

Spoon the beans into warm bowls, top with the drained fish fillets and sprinkle with chopped parsley and a drizzle of good olive oil. A green peppery salad of watercress and rocket works well as a side, as does a large chilled glass of Albariño.

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