Wed 27 Apr 2016

Food Without Fuss: A Languedoc Hotpot

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These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the spring selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?

Find out more about Wine Without Fuss in a short video on our website.

This recipe was inspired by poor stock control, although, in fairness, that doesn’t happen often. My very first wine-trade job involved reconciling book balances with bottles, some of which would be missing while others had reproduced, surreptitiously and parthenogenetically. That annoyed me immeasurably and I’m usually pretty attuned to the contents of my own cupboards.

Janet Wynne Evans

Janet Wynne Evans

My downfall is a siege mentality. Unable to procure an ingredient for a recipe I’m impatient to try, and immeasurably annoyed by that too, I tend to lay in vast stocks of it when I do manage to run it to ground.

In this case, the item is rouille, that lovely orange garlic and saffron goo you stir into proper Provençal fish soup. It’s not on most supermarket shelves, so when we offered a Wine Society Christmas gift pack containing a jar both of fish soup and rouille, I snapped up a canny few and stashed them away. I got through most of them, but two escaped my notice. By now, the soup was well out of date, with an irretrievably manky aroma that consigned it to the bin. The rouille, at least, was still a goer, but due for consumption by the end of the month.

Mulling over alternative uses s for my orange treasures, 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.

Sort of Morecambe-sur-Med.

This is a recipe that makes satisfying use of everything, from parsley stalks to prawn shells. It’s also versatile.

The fish content should include strong flavours – monkfish, bream, mullet – to stand up to the sauce, but the choice is then yours. In fact the world is, quite literally your oyster, for which the Bassin de Thau near Sète is famous, just as it is for mussels. Use these by all means instead of prawns, just don’t serve the blighters to me. Do make sure, in the case of mussels, that you take the important precaution of steaming them first, just until they open , so that you can discard any wrong ‘uns that don’t. Or buy the labour-saving frozen and already shelled variety and defrost them thoroughly.

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
Fine Wine Editor

LANGUEDOC HOTPOT
Serves four

• 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.

Wine matches
Fine matches for this fishy feast include Undurraga Cauquenes Estate Maule Viognier Roussanne-Marsanne 2015 (Buyers’ Everyday Selection, available for sale at £6.95 per bottle), Domaine Magellan Blanc, Hérault 2015 (Buyers’ Premium Selection) or Collioure Blanc Tremadoc, Domaine Madeloc 2015 (Buyers’ French Classics).

Red wine aficionados need not panic – the rich, tomato and herb flavours here are lovely with spicy Med Reds: Australia Felix Swan Hill Victoria Shiraz-Sagrantino 2014 (£7.95, Buyers’ Everyday Selection) will do it as will the pescivore’s friend, Mouchão Dom Rafael, Alentejo 2012 (Buyers’ Premium Reds). Vacqueyras Domaine des Genêts, Delas 2013 (Buyers’ French Classics) is a real treat.

Comments

  1. Mark Bishop says:

    Janet,
    I will be trying this recipe at the weekend but my fishmonger does not have enough fish in stock.
    200kg per head of fish off the bone per person is quite generous, do you think it would work if I scaled it back a bit??!!
    Regards
    Mark

    • Janet Wynne Evans says:

      Many thanks for this Mr Bishop. Sorry to raise your poissonnier’s hopes with that rogue ‘k’ but you will be relieved to learn both that you only need 800g of fish for this recipe, and that I am currently recovering from eye surgery!
      Janet Wynne

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