Philippa Vine cooks a tasty dish from an ugly fish

Lying on the fishmonger’s slab with its large, red bony head, bulbous cartoon eyes and prehistoric pink spines, gurnard doesn’t look that tempting.

Its hideous appearance probably partly explains why it’s never been that popular, although Shakespeare’s Falstaff compares himself to a “soused gurnet” and the fried fillets used to be preserved in vinegar in Henry IV Part 1.

I like to think of it as an ugly fish that makes a tasty dish. Its firm, lean white flesh offers a quality alternative to those varieties of fish whose stocks are under pressure – close your eyes and it could be cod.

It is also a cheaper option, although lobster fishermen complain that it’s now too expensive for them to use as bait in their lobster pots.

Having sorted out the fish, we now need to do something about the chips. These potato wedges are very quick to make (especially if you microwave the potato), are healthy and save all the palaver of setting up a deep fryer.

Instead of mushy peas we’ve got mushy beans or, more prosaically, a broad bean pureé which does involve removing the skins of the beans once they’ve been cooked. I usually get the children to help out at this stage, but there’s always a chance that once they’ve got the gleaming green bean out of its pale wrinkled skin that at least one of them will stick it up their nostril and shout “bogies”, causing much giggling, which leads to hysterical laughter followed by general chaos and I will have to finish the task myself.

While the Lorraine region of France has its own quiche, this month’s starter originates from the neighbouring Alsace area. “Does this mean your cooking an Alsatian Tart?” asks a predictably perverse Mr V, whose comments are sometimes best ignored. This is a delicious onion tart and the crème fraiche nicely balances the sweetness of the onion and is always popular when I serve it for our open garden lunches.

Pan Fried Gurnard – My take on fish and crisps with mushy peas

gurnard-and-wedgesServes 2

2 fillets of Gurnard weighing about 175g each (skin on)


Salt and pepper

50g (2oz) butter

1 lemon

My favourite way of pan-frying fish is to use a heavy based pan which you get hot first and the grill (or hot oven) which you also pre heat. Season the fish fillets. Place the oil in the hot pan to heat up then lower the fillets into the 
pan skin side down. Cook for a couple of minutes then drizzle a little oil onto the surface of the fish and place under the grill or in a hot oven. (This way the fish cooks from both sides, and you don’t have to turn it over). When the fish is done, and it doesn’t take long so don’t overcook it, place the pan back over the heat and put in the butter. When the butter is melted and sizzling squeeze the lemon over it and serve immediately.

Potato Wedges with Garlic and Rosemary

Serves 4

4 medium size potatoes

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves of garlic

3 sprigs of rosemary

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the potatoes in their skins either by baking or boiling. Cut the potato into wedges, crush the garlic and chop the rosemary. Heat the oil in a frying pan large enough to hold all the potatoes. Fry the potatoes with the salt and pepper until golden on all sides. Add the garlic and rosemary and perhaps another glug of oil and cook for a further five minutes taking care not to burn the garlic.

Onion Tart

You will need a 24cm tart tin.

onion-tartFor the pastry:

225g (8oz) plain flour

150g (5oz) butter

1 egg

For the filling:

For the filling:

3 large onions

100g smoked bacon pieces

50g (2oz) butter

1 large egg

200ml crème fraiche

Salt, freshly ground black pepper and nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F, Gas mark 4). Make the pastry by rubbing in the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg and work it into the mixture until it forms a ball (I use a food processor). Refrigerate for 30 minutes while you get on with the filling. Slice the onions and sweat in the butter until soft and translucent (do not brown). Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and use to line the flan tin. Bake blind using baking beans and foil for 10 minutes. Remove the baking beans and foil and bake for another five minutes. Cut the bacon into small pieces and fry with the onions until cooked. Allow to cool and stir in the egg, crème fraiche, nutmeg, black pepper and a little salt if necessary. Spoon the mixture into the cooked pastry case and bake for a further 25-30 minutes until golden and set. Serve warm.

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