Sarah’s Mum Bridget was a great cook. Her prime cooking years were the dinner party years of the 1960s and 70s. A couple of times a week she and Jim would either entertain or go to friends’ houses to eat. These were the days when a dinner party involved four courses and a choice of puddings so a massive amount of cooking was done – and that was in addition to cooking proper food every night for the family.
This recipe – fish baked in foil with wine – was, I think, one of the most popular ways to cook fish in those years. Bridget cooked it often and it was always delicious. Since Bridget’s (much too young) death Jim has become a great cook and, now that he lives next door to us, we often benefit and he’s made this dish for us a few times. So, a couple of weeks ago I plucked up courage to give it a go myself and I’ve now done it twice: once cooking a whole seat trout and once using the same method for individual seat trout steaks. The bit I have trouble with (because I’m cack-handed and am unable to wrap presents) is wrapping the fish in foil without tearing the foil. However it’s not a disaster if you do tear the foil as long as you’ve got the package sitting in something that will contain the juices. You can either cook the foil package in the oven with the foil package sitting in a baking dish or, in a fish kettle on the hob.
It’s a dish that cries out for new potatoes and either asparagus (in May/June) or samphire (June to September). If you’ve not used samphire before you’ve got a treat in store. Sometimes called ‘sea asparagus’ it’s a delightfully weird-looking vegetable that grows wild in coastal areas particularly Norfolk and Brittany and is now also cultivated in Israel year round. It’s more often sold in fishmongers than greengrocers. Don’t bother with pickled samphire which (to me) looks and tastes horrible. You need to pick through the samphire and pinch off any hard brown bits at the bottom of the stems and then boil it very briefly – no more than a minute – in a large pan of boiling water and then toss in olive oil and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice.
Seat trout with Bridget’s sauce
(salmon also works well)
1 whole sea trout (approx 2kg), gutted or 6 good sea trout steaks
200 ml white wine
2 bay leaves, torn in half
50g plain flour
400ml whole milk
1. Put the fish in a foil with the bay leaves and wine. To do this lay the foil (the wide foil designed for turkeys is easiest to use) on whatever you’re going to cook in i.e. either roasting tin (for the oven) or fish kettle (for the hob). Be sure to leave lots of spare foil to wrap with. Lay the fish carefully in and add the wine, bay leaves and two halves of lemon and then pull the edges together to form a parcel. If you’re using the fish kettle add half a cup of water to the bottom of the kettle underneath the parcel so create some steam.
2. If baking, then bake at about 180C for about 20 minutes (longer for a whole fish) until the fish is just cooked. If cooking on the hob, steam for about 10 minutes (again, longer for a whole fish) until the fish is just cooked. For those like me who are not highly experienced fish cooks there is no substitute for putting a knife gently in to the thickest part of the fish and looking to see if the flesh has gone opaque – which means it’s cooked.
3. When the fish is just cooked, carefully pick up the foil parcel and, forming a spout with one end of it, pour off the cooking juices. Dont’ waste a drop – it’s these juices that will make your sauce unutterably delicious. If you’ve cooked the fish on the hob then make sure you also collect the water from the bottom of the fish kettle.Meanwhile leave the fish keeping warm while you make the sauce.
4. In a smallish saucepan, make a roux with the butter and flour. Warm the milk (in a jug in a microwave is the easiest way). Slowly add the cooking juices to the roux whisking all the while to keep it smooth. Add the milk whilst still whisking. When all the liquids have been added continue to simmer for a couple of minutes to make sure that the flour is properly cooked. Adjust the seasoning and consistency, adding more milk if necessary. Serve at once with the fish and with your new potatoes and samphire.
I’m not generally a great believer in serving at the table (I find it much easier to put food on plates straight from the pans you’ve been cooking on) but a whole fish looks so lovely that it’s worth serving it at the table so that your eaters get a chance to enjoy the sight.