Grilled red mullet with saffron mashed potatoes
The burnished red-mullet skin is as near as dammit to the scent of those deeply scorched prawn shells. That initial cooking smell, after all, is what heralds the taste of the dish.
For the saffron mashed potatoes
750g floury potatoes, peeled
and cut into chunks
1tspn of saffron threads
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
to a paste with a little salt
75ml–100ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 large red mullet fillets (about 150g–
175g each), scaled and de-boned
A little olive oil
Boil the potatoes in lightly salted water until tender. Warm together the saffron, garlic, cream, milk and olive oil in a small pan. Cover and infuse for 10 minutes. Drain the potatoes well; dry out in the oven if they seem excessively wet.
Pass the potatoes through a mouli-légumes or potato ricer into a heated bowl, then add the saffron mixture in a thin stream, beating energetically with a wooden spoon; don’t use a whisk, as the saffron stamens will become entangled in it. When all the saffron infusion has been added, further continue to beat the potato until light and fluffy.
To cook the red-mullet fillets, liberally brush them with oil on both surfaces, season with salt and briefly cook in a dry, non-stick frying pan for about two minutes on each side.
Serve alongside a perfect scoop of the saffron mash, then trickle a little extra olive oil over both. Offer halves of lemon to squeeze over the fish.
Ink-stewed squid and grilled polenta
Serves 2 with plenty for seconds
Note: The polenta recipe will make more than you need, but it’s impractical to make in smaller quantities. Any left over (grilled, as before) is very good simply anointed with softened butter and a generous sprink-ling of grated Parmesan.
For the polenta
Half tspn sea salt
150g white (or yellow) polenta
4tbspn extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped
Scant tbspn tomato purée
200ml dry vermouth
Quarter tspn dried chilli flakes
4 strips lemon zest
1 bay leaf
400g cleaned squid, including tentacles, thickly sliced
2 heaped tspn (or 5 sachets)
A little salt
Juice of half a lemon
1 heaped tbspn finely chopped parsley
To make the polenta, bring the water to the boil and add salt. Turn down to a simmer and, while stirring the water with a wooden spoon, slowly pour in the polenta in a constant, fine stream until the mixture slowly begins to lightly thicken. Now, reduce the heat to very low and, while stirring almost constantly, allow the polenta to cook until very thick over a period of about 30–40 minutes.
Note: a heat-diffuser pad prevents the mixture from scorching, as well as helping the polenta itself to swell quietly, rather than be rushed; it further allows the patient stirrer to leave it for a few minutes, while it lazily, occasionally, erupts.
Once fully thickened (it should only have the slightest grainy texture when tasted), vigorously stir in the butter until fully incorporated, then pour into a (lightly oiled) deep rectangular dish and smooth the surface with a spatula. Leave to cool.
Heat the olive oil in a wide, solid-bottomed pan and, in it, fry the onions until golden. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Stir in the tomato purée, allowing it to stew quietly for a few minutes until its bright-red colour has turned rusty. Pour in the vermouth, add the chilli, lemon zest and bay, then stir in the squid.
Once the squid has visibly stiffened from the heat (from slippery-raw to taut), stir in the ink until the whole is a mass of black sauce. Gently simmer for about 40 minutes or until the squid is tender to the tooth.
When the squid is almost ready, pre-heat a stove-top ribbed griddle pan until very hot. Tip out the polenta (now set to a solid block) from its dish onto the work surface and, using a sharp knife, cut from it two thick slices (about 2cm). Lightly brush them with oil and then grill the polenta for 3–4 minutes on each side or at least until well marked.
Just before serving, add a little salt to the squid, then stir in the lemon juice and parsley. Gene-rously decant about half of the stew, dividing it between two hot plates. Slide the polenta alongside each serving and, using a fork, introduce one to the other while still piping hot. Once deliciously devoured, repeat the process one more time, if you will, before retiring replete.
* This article was first published in Country Life on August 13 2014