Looking for a way to use up some rouille, that lovely orange garlic and saffron goo you stir into proper Provençal fish soup, I came up with a sort of Mediterranean fish pie, with a splash of pastis instead of vermouth and the usual dollop of cream replaced by the rouille. Buttery pastry or mash on top felt out of kilter in olive oil country, so the pie became a hotpot, topped with thinly sliced potatoes dipped in herby oil, and cooked to brown crispness. A sort of Morecambe-sur-Med.
- 800g fish off the bone, skinned and trimmed – a mixture of monkfish, bream, hake and red mullet
- A dozen large prawns, shelled and deveined
- Plain olive oil
- 1 banana shallot, finely diced
- Six anchovies from a jar or tin, rinsed and dried
- Six sun-dried tomatoes in oil, blotted on kitchen paper
- A generous splash of pastis, eg Pernod
- 300ml fish or shellfish stock (see below)
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, thyme and dill, leaves only, chopped
- 2 tubs rouille, about 180g altogether
- Some thyme sprigs, leaves removed
- Two large baking potatoes
NB Owing to the difference in surface area between baking dishes of the same volume, I err on the side of caution here and prepare far more spuds than I think I need. I can promise that there will be no leftovers.
If you buy your prawns whole, the heads and shells make good stock. Rinse them well, crush roughly and add to some diced celery, carrot, garlic and onion, browned in olive oil in a smallish, deep saucepan. Add a glass of white wine, the stalks from your parsley, above, a few white peppercorns and a couple of fresh bay leaves and let it all bubble for a few minutes. Cover with 500ml water and simmer for 30 minutes or so. Strain through a sieve lined with kitchen paper. Taste and if you want a stronger flavour return to the hob and reduce, but remember that it will be boiled down and further concentrated in this recipe. On no account bother trying this with mussel shells.
Ask your fishmonger nicely to prepare all your fish for you. All skin, bones, membranes and mucky bits will thus end up in his bin, which is already a lost cause.
Cut the fish into generous chunks and arrange in a baking dish. Wash the deveined prawns in salted water and dry thoroughly. Add them to the fish. Cover and refrigerate.
Peel the potatoes and cut into slices. A mandoline on its normally thickest setting (one up from gratins, two up from crisps) is perfect. Manually, aim for between the thickness of a 10p piece and a £1 coin. As you slice them transfer them to a pan of water and leave to soak for about 20 minutes to remove excess starch. Then rinse thoroughly, shake dry in a colander and finally wrap in a clean tea-towel. Leave for as long as you can.
In a saucepan that will hold the stock, heat some olive oil and when it’s hot, add the shallot. Lower the heat and let it become translucent. Using a pair of kitchen scissors, snip in the anchovies, along with the sun-dried tomatoes. The pieces should be quite small, so that they will melt into the sauce.
Now add the pastis and let it bubble and sizzle, stirring to deglaze the pan. Finally add the stock and herbs, and let it boil down to about half its volume. Take the pan off the heat and let it cool thoroughly. Fish out the bay leaves. Season with black pepper – the anchovies should contribute enough salt.
Once it’s cool, stir in the rouille and once it’s incorporated, add to the fish and coat it all well. You can now cover and refrigerate the dish until ready to cook, but remove it an hour before cooking starts to bring it to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Unwrap the potatoes and put in a large bowl with enough olive oil to coat. Strip the leaves of the remaining thyme sprigs and add, along with salt and pepper. Use your hands to ensure every slice is glistening with oil and flecked with herbs and black pepper. Arrange them in one layer on one or two baking sheets. I like to give them a start before adding them to the fish to make sure they cook thoroughly.
Cover loosely with foil, put them in the oven and set a timer for 10 minutes. This should be enough for them to soften without browning, but if not, give them just a few minutes more.
Let them cool just enough to handle, then lay them on top of the fish in overlapping slices, making sure the top of the dish is completely covered. Leave any remaining slices on the baking sheet and return to the oven, along with the fish, but on a lower shelf and without the foil.
Set the timer for 35 minutes, or until the fish is bubbling and the potatoes are browned.
When the hotpot is done, you may find that the potato topping has shrunk a little, leaving the odd gap. This is what your spares are for, so tuck them in as needed before serving.
Serve the hotpot with a simple green vegetable like tenderstem broccoli and hand round any remaining potatoes unless you have shamelessly nibbled them in the kitchen. And why would you not? They are a cook’s perk of the highest order.
The obvious partner for this deeply fishy, garlic and herb-infused feast, with its glints of orange and whisper of aniseed, is a rich Languedoc or Rhône white with just a bit of bite. Marsanne, roussanne, grenache blanc, viognier and rolle (vermentino) are good options, and if there is some fresh but firm picpoul in the mix, so much the better.
A spicy shiraz or Portugese red would not come amiss either.
Janet Wynne Evans