We are having a real John Dory moment at mi casa at the moment. It seems to be the ‘hot’ fish at so many restaurants and I can see why – it’s relatively cheap, it has an awesome texture, it’s not overused and it tastes gorgeous.
To tell you the truth, though I absolutely love to eat fish I very rarely order fish – it’s almost always disappointing. If I am served a perfect piece of fish, pan-fried perfectly, yes it tastes lovely, but it’s boring. I can cook a piece of fish perfectly. I can season it perfectly. I can source it perfectly. And I can slice a cheek of lemon perfectly. A fish fillet is ridiculously easy to cook, it’s just hard to make interesting.
John Dory has become the exception to this not particularly hard and fast rule. One dory dish in particular is making great strides to change my opinion of fish in restaurants – the dory at Carlton Wine Room. We recently visited for manfriend’s birthday – we were seated in the spectacular cellar, surrounded by wine and candles, and had a completely lovely evening. The highlight was without doubt the dory, served with hazelnut spatzle and saffron broth. It is insane. I will order that dish every time I go there for as long as it is on.
So John Dory has swiftly become the fish of choice for our Tuesday night fish cookery sessions. Understandably, we eat a substantial amount of meat during the week so every Tuesday we go crazy with loads of vegetables and fish. So far the favourite home version has been somewhat inspired by CWR’s version (I dream about it).
First we made a simple fish stock from a snapper carcass we bought at the market. I really recommend that whenever you are spending some time in the kitchen, you pick up some bones and make some stock. This rather meaty carcass cost us less than a dollar and made enough for dinner with about a litre left over. We cooked it with just a little onion and garlic – I like to keep stocks simple, and build flavour for each dish.
Next I braised some fennel. This is my favourite preparation for fennel as it really lets the aniseed flavour shine through. I fry slices in a little olive oil until golden, then add water (or in this case, beer) gradually and let it bubble away, then add a little more. Finish with some chopped garlic, a little more liquid, plenty of salt and pepper, let it bubble away then stir through all the chopped fronds.
Then to turn that stock into broth. I sautéed some of the tough outer layer of fennel with a little garlic and a tiny pinch of saffron (and I mean tiny, we ran out – I am terrible at checking the pantry before I shop). Then I added a splash of vermouth, let it bubble, then a good amount of the light fish stock. I let this simmer for a time to get the flavours going, seasoning well, then strained it. You could clarify it to get a gloriously clear, clean broth, but to be honest I don’t mind a little cloudiness; it’s all flavour. We boiled a couple of new potatoes in the broth, quickly pan-fried the dory with just some salt, pepper and butter, and served.
Since I am a firm believer in always eating greens, I also cooked some rainbow chard in oil and lemon and sautéed some zucchini as a side.
This was a pretty tremendous meal. Any suggestions how to cook my John Dory next week?