SEA BASS, COCKLES, SHRIMPS AND SAMPHIRE BY MARK HIX AND MEEK & WILD
I tried this Mark Hix recipe out recently, and it was a cracker. It reminded me of his crab salad – British ingredients all together in an amazing, sweet-tasting and soft-textured combination.
But it’s also typical Hix in that once upon a time the ingredients would once have been easy to source if you lived close or close-ish to the sea. British waters have shrimps and cockles in abundance and the many marshy inlets are covered for many months of the year in green swathes of samphire.
However in the modern day shopping world, cockles are almost non-existent, replaced by many a fishmonger with clams (from France), which they can charge more money for. Meanwhile instead of shrimps there are often large prawns from Madagascar in their place.
It’s often easier buying Chilean/Israeli/Australian than it is British. So putting all this together was quite a task.
However, I managed it thanks to the great fishmonger that is Meek & Wild, new-ish to Highbury Barn.
The main guy who works there is knowledgeable and was on my wavelength. In other words, he understood my slightly mad craving for British ingredients above all else. And he helped put together this fine dish, including a silvery-fresh sea bass from Cornwall.
The only downside was the price of the cockles, at £5 for around 300g, which is edging towards clam territory. The samphire was also two large handfuls for £4 – not cheap. But £12 for the bass and £2.50 for a pot of shrimps was reasonable. £23.50 for a meal for two equals expensive, but worth it!
A final word on samphire: it’s at an end now; a few weeks’ ago the pieces I took were slightly woody and bitter, but the bitterness disappeared on cooking and the woodiness softened. So have faith – and have a go at this truly wondrous dish.
Fillet of sea bass with samphire, shrimps and cockles
4 sea bass fillet portions, each weighing 150-160g, skin on, scaled and boned
A good knob of butter
3tbsp dry white wine
100g samphire, woody stalks trimmed, or chopped baby leeks
60g cooked shrimps, peeled or whole
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Method (words by Mark Hix)
Cockles tend to contain a lot of grit in their ribbed shells, so immerse them in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes and agitate them every so often with your hands to dislodge it. Then rinse under cold running water for 10 minutes and drain.
Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas 6. Season the sea bass fillets, then put them in an ovenproof dish and rub each fillet with butter. Cover with greaseproof paper and cook in the oven for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the white wine in a saucepan with the cockles and samphire (or baby leeks), season, cover and cook on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the cockles are all opened.
Add the shrimps and any cooking liquid from the sea bass and stir well.
To serve, put the sea bass fillets on warmed serving plates and spoon the cockles, shrimps and samphire over, with the cooking liquid.