"There are a few elements to this dish, some more adventurous than others, but at its heart, the fish, leek and sauce will work beautifully together without the added extras"
Ethicurean Head Chef, Mark McCabe prepares Arctic Char with blackened leeks and a buttermilk sauce.
1 fillet of firm white fish (800g to 1kg)
8-10g of salt (1% of the weight of fish)
2 large leeks with tops!
200g of melted butter
1 large Jerusalem artichoke
(parsnip works well too)
1 saucepan, no more than half-filled
with neutral oil.
1 fennel bulb – finely sliced
150ml white wine vinegar
3g toasted fennel seeds
2g of salt
250ml organic buttermilk
(You can use extra cream)
250ml organic double cream
Leek top oil
The tops of your 2 leeks
200ml neutral oil (sunflower or vegetable works best)
Fermented leek seasoning (optional)
Weigh the fish and calculate 1% of its weight. Measure that amount of salt and sprinkle evenly over the fillet. This will draw out a little moisture, tighten up the flesh and season the fish at the same time. Leave to sit in the fridge like this for at least one hour. Portion into 4 even pieces.
The pickled fennel can be made up to a week in advance and will taste better the earlier you make it but it will work well if made an hour before you need it. Bring the vinegar, sugar, fennel seeds and salt to a boil and pour over the sliced fennel. Allow to cool before serving.
Wash the leeks thoroughly and then chop the tops off just before they start to fan out. Pat the tops dry and roughly chop. Pack into a high-powered blender with the neutral oil and blitz for 1 minute on full speed until smooth. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth or a clean tea towel and retain the oil.
Next we need to make the crisps. Slice the Jerusalem artichoke on a mandolin or peel thin strips using a peeler. Heat the oil to roughly 150 degrees Celsius. If you don’t have a thermometer carefully drop one of the strips into the oil. The vegetable should rise immediately to the surface and go golden in about 30 seconds.
Being very careful, drop small batches of the artichoke into the oil and let them fry. Once they are golden brown, remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on some kitchen paper. Repeat until all the crisps are made and then turn off the oil and allow it to cool somewhere safe. Sprinkle the crisps with some salt and put them to one side. Try not to eat them all before dinner!
Heat a heavy frying pan until it’s smoking and place the whites of the leek into the dry hot pan. We are trying to burn the leek here so don’t be afraid to leave it for a while but be sure to turn them every so often so that all sides are evenly blackened. Once they are fully burnt and soft, put the leeks in the warm melted butter to rest.
Give the pan a wipe and add a splash of oil. Bring back to a high heat and then place the fish, skin side down, in to cook. The heat will make the fish curl up so press it hard for the first 30 seconds or so to make sure the skin has full contact with the pan. Once the edge of the fish is looking cooked and golden, turn the heat down to medium and leave the fish to cook for two or three minutes before flipping and leaving for a further few minutes. Once it’s almost cooked, remove it from the pan and place in the butter with the leeks to rest.
Put the buttermilk and cream into a high sided pan and cook on a high heat. Keep stirring until the liquid has reduced by half. Be careful it doesn’t catch and burn. If you are just using cream, add a small splash of vinegar to add some acidity and then season to taste.
Remove the leeks from the butter, pat with kitchen paper and then carefully remove the burnt outer skin to reveal the beautifully steamed leeks inside.
To serve, place the fish and one piece of leek in the centre of the plate, leaving a gap for the sauce. Top the leek, first with a few pieces of pickled fennel and then the artichoke crisps. Pour the buttermilk sauce into the space between the fish and garnish, and then add a few drops of the leek top oil.
Garnish with a few fresh herbs or mustardy salad leaves if you have them available.