Mitch Tonks runs RockFish Grill & Seafood Market in Clifton, Bristol. He is an award-winning chef, restaurateur and food writer and has two other seafood restaurants in Dartmouth.
Here’s the Catch
With sustainable fishing top on the agenda, each month new flavour columnist and seafood specialist Mitch Tonks cooks up a storm with his seasonal fish of choice…
A wonderful flat fish from the seas of the South Coast, the plaice is in season right now. This has to be one of the simplest fish to recognise and tell if it’s fresh, as it has distinctive bright orange spots marking its grey skin – the brighter the orange the fresher the fish. The second thing to look at for freshness is the flesh, which should be snowy white… Pretty simple stuff. They stand out on the fish counter as if announcing their freshness and there is no hiding if they are not fresh from the sea, although beware of plaice that is already filleted and skinned on the counter, much harder to tell how fresh it is.
This is a fish that is a winner with most people and versatile in the kitchen. Strangely, it’s rather overlooked in many of the smarter restaurants and more usually found battered in the chip shop, but on the plus side it’s a relatively inexpensive fish to buy in this country. When in season you will find that they are lovely and fat and perfect for crisping up in batter and serving with chips. Whenever we put them on the specials menu at RockFish with chips they sell out fast. Thinner fish are delicate and somehow more refined and will poach beautifully to soak up flavours like cider and thyme (like the recipe here), simple to cook and serve or pan fry with the skin on. As the skin is relatively smooth with no prickles it cooks to a beautiful crisp in the frying pan, under the grill or baked in a hot oven.
Plaice is fabulous baked or grilled. To bake, heat your oven to max, smooth a little soft butter over the back of the fish and bake for 10-12 minutes. You can if you wish make a few slashes across the back of the fish and fill with some sprigs of thyme.
To grill the fish, a little olive oil or butter can be smoothed over the back and placed under a hot grill until the skin bubbles and crisps (within two-three minutes). Finish the fish in a really hot oven for six-seven minutes. This way you’ll ensure you get a wonderful, moist cooking.
Poached Plaice With Cider and Onions
A glug of olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
500ml good quality dry cider
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 x 150g plaice fillets
A small handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pan and add the olive oil. Add the onions and cook slowly for 10-15 minutes so that they gently brown and melt but do not fry. Add the garlic, cider, bay leaves and thyme and simmer for 5-6 minutes.
- Lift the fish fillets out and place them on a serving plate. Add the parsley to the pan, turn the heat up and reduce the liquid by a third. Season to taste.
- Place a pile of onions on top of each piece of fish and spoon the remaining juices around. Alternatively, put the fish back into the pan and take the whole thing to the table.
Recipe taken from The Aga Seafood Cookbook by Mitch Tonks published by Absolute Press. Photo credit Pete Cassidy