A whole brill

On Friday I was lucky enough to pick up a whole brill half price in my local supermarket. I was quite surprised to see it there in the reduced section and as I like to challenge myself, I quickly grabbed it and put it in my trolley.

Several years ago my sister and I spent a wonderful few days taking a cookery class just outside Toulouse, where we learnt about all things duck, how to fillet flat fish, and what makes the perfect lemon tart. Since then I’ve only attempted to fillet a John Dory once or twice, so a large brill was definitely a step further in testing my knife skills.

When I got home I unpacked the brill and set about filleting it. I certainly wouldn’t win any awards for speed but I was pretty chuffed with my effort. My husband never used to eat fish at all and he is still somewhat nervous when he has to ‘face’ a fish head! Fortunately for him, all of the filleting was done by the time he got home.

I made fish stock from the bones and head, froze 2 large fillets and kept the 2 remaining fillets for our dinner – Brill with butter and tarragon. It’s such a simple recipe and I wonder why I don’t cook it more often. I felt ‘proper cheffy’ as I deftly spooned the frothy butter over the fish in the pan. It was a decadent delicious triumph, even if I say so myself.

Serves: 2

Prep time: 20 minutes (if you are filleting the fish yourself, otherwise 5 minutes)
Cook time: 6 – 8 minutes

2 brill fillets
plain flour
50g butter
2 tbsp veg oil
freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon
handful of chopped fresh tarragon

Put some flour on a large place, add the fish, cover with flour on both sides and shake off the excess.

Reserve 20g of the butter. Heat the oil and remaining butter over a medium high heat in a non stick frying pan large enough to hold both fish side by side. When it sizzles, add the fish skin side down and cook for 3 minutes. Turn them over and cook them on the other side for 3 minutes. Sprinkle the first side with salt while the second side is cooking.

Transfer the fish to a warmed plate. Return the frying pan to the heat, add the remaining butter and when its melted and starts to sizzle, lower the heat and add the lemon juice. Place the fish back into the pan skin side up, sprinkle with the tarragon and rapidly spoon over the melted butter for about 30 seconds (smile while you do this!). Serve immediately, pouring the sauce equally over each fish.

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Fiji

A loud and enthusiastic ‘Bula’ (meaning Hello) was how all the Resort staff welcomed me when I visited Fiji a number of years ago. Famed for exquisite beaches, undersea marvels, lush interiors and fascinating culture, Fiji is an archipelago of more than 330 islands in Melanesia in the South Pacific Ocean. The two major islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, account for 87% of the population of almost 900,000. Viti Levu is home to the capital, Suva, a port city with British Colonial architecture.

Fiji became independent in 1970 after nearly a century as a British Colony. Fijian life revolves around the church, the village, the rugby field and the garden. While this may sound insular you would be hard pressed to find a more open and welcoming population. Though the realities of local life are less sunny than the country’s skies, many regions are poor and lack basic services. Fijians are famous for their hospitality and warmth.

Fiji has one of the most developed economies in the Pacific due to an abundance of forest, mineral, and fish resources. Today, the main sources of foreign exchange are its tourist industry and sugar exports. The country’s currency is Fijian dollar, the official languages are English, Fijian and Hindi.

Rugby Union is the most-popular sport played in Fiji. The Fiji national sevens side is one of the most popular and successful rugby sevens teams in the world, and has won the Hong Kong Sevens a record fifteen times, and they have also won the Rugby World Cup Sevens twice in 1997 and 2005. In 2016 they won Fiji’s first ever Olympic medal in the Rugby sevens at the Summer Olympics, winning gold by comprehensively defeating Great Britain 43-7 in the final.

Fijian food has traditionally been very healthy. Staple foods would include taro (a root crop similar to artichoke), coconut, cassava, seafood, breadfruit and rice. Recipes I came across include Palusami (Taro leaves filled with corned beef and onion), Lovo (marinated fish or meat wrapped in foil and cooked underground), Cassava cake and Coconut fish soup. I was recommended the dish Kokoda (raw fish salad), which is marinated fresh fish with coconut milk. I had it for my lunch and I really enjoyed the fresh zingy flavour. And with Fiji done, that means I’m 75% of the way through my challenge.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 1
Prep time: 15 minutes + 6 hours marinating

1 fish fillet (I used red mullet but cod or halibut will work. Mahi Mahi is traditionally used)
Juice of 1 large lime
pinch salt
80ml coconut cream
1/4 red onion, very finely chopped or minced
1/2 green chilli pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tomato, finely chopped
Salad leaves to serve

Cut the fish into bite-size pieces and place in a bag together with the lime juice and salt
Mix well, then refrigerate and leave to marinate for 6 hours
When ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator, add the coconut cream, chopped onion, and chilli and mix well
Place the salad leaves on a plate, top with the fish mixture and garnish with the chopped tomato

Iceland

Iceland, a land of beautiful landscapes and friendly charm. It is a Nordic Island nation with a population of just over 330,000. It is the second largest island in Europe after Great Britain.

When the Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant started operating, Iceland became the world’s largest electricity producer per capita and they expect to be energy-independent by 2050. The fishing industry is a major part of Iceland’s economy, accounting for 40% of the country’s export earnings with Cod being the most important species harvested. Whale watching has also become an important part of the economy since 1997. Iceland receives around 1.1 million visitors annually. Other than whale watching, visitors to Iceland can enjoy relaxing in Geysir and Strokkur hot springs, taking in the Jökulsárlón glaciar lagoon, the Laugavegurinn hike and of course witnessing the Northern Lights.

Staple foods of Icelandic cuisine include lamb, dairy and fish. Some dishes I came across were Lambakjot meth Graenmeti (Lamb Fricassee with Vegetables), Saltkjöt og baunir (split pea soup with salt lamb), Kartofluflatbrauth (Potato Flatbread), Steiktar Heilagfiski (Baked Halibut)  Sild meth Surum Rjoma og Graslauk (Herring in sour cream) and Sveskuterta (Prune Torte). I opted to make Plokkfiskur (fish stew) which was simple and very tasty.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes

1 tbsp butter
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalks, finely sliced
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
250g small, waxy potatoes, cut into quarters
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
350g haddock, cod or other white fish, cube into 1 inch cubes
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 cup single cream
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp chives, finely chopped

In a heavy-bottomed pot, heavy butter over medium heat
Add onions, celery and carrots and sweat until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes
Add white wine, bring to a simmer and reduce by half, about 5 minutes
Add stock and potatoes, bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes or until vegetables are soft
Add cubed fish and chopped tomatoes; softly simmer for another 5 minutes
Turn heat down to low, add cream and salt and pepper to taste and heat until soup is piping hot but not boiling (otherwise the cream with curdle), about 7-8 minutes
Turn off heat, add chives and serve immediately