Saturday, 20 March 2010

A great fish recipe to show off a great white wine

As I often use a special bottle of wine as the starting point of a meal, it's interesting to see what food works best. It's often dishes with a certain level of simplicity or subtle complexity, so not to overwhelm the wine. Really good quality meat or fish, served in an unfussy way works a treat and has a great senseof occasion, but sometimes you hit on something less grand that also turns out to be sensational.
A particular favourite in this respect is Rowley Leigh's mackerel with apple purée – a recipe that appeared in his column in the Financial Times some time ago. The wording of the recipe doesn't do it justice as there is quite a lot going on in the dish: mackerel with rosemary-scented olive oil, toasted pine nuts, gently spiced apple. An interesting array of flavours and textures. When I first cooked the dish we enjoyed it with a bottle of mature Vouvray Sec by Huët. Second time around we served it with another nicely evolving Chenin from the Loire, Clos de Coulaine Savennières 2001 (Papin-Chevalier). Great Chenin is a wonderful choice here as it has a distinct apple note that becomes more spicy and baked as it matures and the mouthwatering acidity and complex minerality deliciously cut through the oiliness of the mackerel. What's more, the wine has a mouthfilling waxy richness (from botrytis) highlighted by the toasted pine nuts in the dish. You can see how both the wine and the food have a range of subtle elements that all work in harmony with each other – and quite unforgettably. (That said, you could also consider other smart whites with decent acidity, not much oak, but ideally with some maturity such as Chablis, Gruner Veltliner, Graves and top Rhône whites.)
Mackerel with apple purée
4 large mackerel fillets
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon pine nuts
2 teaspoons rosemary leaves
2 cooking apples
half a cinnamon stick
10 cloves
1 bay leaf
1 dessertspoon sea salt flakes

Serves 4
Toast the pine nuts under a hot grill until golden brown. In a small pan gently warm the olive oil with the rosemary. Add the pine nuts, allow to cool and let the flavours infuse for at least half an hour. 
Peel, core and quarter the apples. Chop roughly and place in a small saucepan with 4 tablespoons water, the spices and the bay leaf. Simmer over a low heat until disintegrated. Remove the cinnamon and bay leaf and whisk the purée until smooth.
Take a large non-stick frying pan, sprinkle the sea salt over the surface and place on a high heat. Lay the mackerel fillets skin side down on the hot salt and press down to prevent them from curling. Reduce the heat slightly and cook the fillets until you can see the heat has penetrated half way through. Turn the fillets at this point and briefly seal the flesh side. You want the fillets slightly undercooked in the middle.
Warm the apple purée and put a couple of tablespoons on each plate. Place the fish skin side up on the apple and dress with the pine nuts and rosemary. Sautéed potatoes are a good accompaniment for a main course, but nothing else would be necessary if you're serving this as a starter – just your special bottle of wine!

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