This dish has philosophical roots in two different places.
First, and most anciently, one of the things I learned from Kenneth Lo is the importance of complementary shapes in cooking. This is behind chow mein, with its long noodles and long bean sprouts, and the pleasingness of cashew nuts in your lemon and ginger chicken.
Ken Lo was the inspiration to the massive Chinese meal I served at LMH in Oxford once, using all the 2-hob mini ovens (what were they called?) over the three floors of Old Hall. I don’t remember exactly what I prepared, but I do have stains and notations all over his book.
Second, there used to be a modern little cafe in Gravesend that we frequented, run by a local businessman and character, Andrew. Sadly Brasserie 32 had to close a couple of years back—a grievous loss to the community—although we still see Andrew at the Compass, among other places.
Andrew used to experiment with mostly French-inspired cooking, with his own twist on the cuisine. You can probably tell we got on well. One of his creations that I remember was grilled salmon on a bed of leek, probably served with crunchy little potatoes and a bottle of Picpoul.
I have done something like this previously, so tonight’s attempt wasn’t completely novel, but it did turn out to be quite special. The idea came to me when I got sea bass fillets in Waitrose’s ‘3 meats for £10’ offer. A bargain, and at about 20 minutes from fridge to table, perfect for a busy weeknight.
First, salt the skin-side of two thin sea bass fillets and let them come to room temperature. Using a food processor, shred a small potato. Set aside. Then shred two small-ish courgettes. Bring a pan of vegetable oil up to heat.
Gently fry, in a mix of olive oil and butter, half a thinly sliced onion. When it starts to brown, add the courgettes, a pinch of pepper, and some fresh fennel fronds. Fry for a couple of minutes until the courgette begins to soften. Make space in the middle of the pan and add another Jamie of butter.
Drop the shredded potato, formed roughly into two little nests, into the hot oil. Put the fish, skin-side down, into the middle of the frying pan.
Now you want to fry the fish gently for about 5 minutes, without turning. The skin shouldn’t stick to the pan, and you’ll see the top of the fish being to turn white. You might want to put the lid on for 2 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillet.
Drain the potato nests well.
When the fish is done—just done—scrape the courgette and onion mix onto your two plates, and gently lift the fillets on top.
I would have served with one of the more gentle Marlboroughs—say a Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc—but we weren’t drinking tonight.