Well that didn’t exactly go to plan: Disaster to Delicious! Herb Cured Smoked Haddock Brandad

Puree of Herb Cured Smoked Haddock

Brandade of cured smoked haddock, Quails egg mayonnaise and sourdough croutons

Cookery bloggers don’t usually tell you about the dishes and the ideas that don’t work out, we have a horrible habit of writing up the successful recipes, giving readers the impression that we never make mistakes, that those delicious ideas we have in our heads always work out as planned. But as any cook will know disasters, and things that don’t quite go to plan happen, perhaps especially for those creatives amongst us who have a tendency to get carried away, inspired by ingredients, flavours and aromas; those of us who dream about how to deconstruct recipes and add our own twist to a dish.

Preparing for the Easter weekend I had one such (luckily not ‘binworthy’) moment with a new recipe idea. It didn’t work out as planed and as I was pondering how to remedy the situation it occurred to me that the thinking process that this time turned a near disaster into something delicious might be worth sharing with you – it might come in handy next time you get caught out with a dish that hasn’t gone quite as expected, encourage you to ask questions about the flavour and texture in order to work out if you could create something that might work, rather bin your efforts too quickly in a fit of pique.My plan was to take a traditional recipe for a Salmon Gravad lax – and to substitute smoked haddock for the salmon, adding lemon thyme to the dill and salt cure. In my mind this would create slices of pretty yellow fish infused with a delicate lemon scent. When I cook I am very much in the moment – alive to the smells and textures of the ingredients that I am working with. I knew from experience that lemon thyme marries beautifully with smoked haddock, but as I was preparing the sugar and salt brine I had a fleeting feeling of disquiet, I wasn’t sure if the sweetness of the cure would work with the delicate smoke flavour of the haddock. Also the texture of haddock is much more open and less oily that that of fresh salmon. But, I thought wistfully, the pale yellow fish looked so beautiful as I scattered over the delicate green herbs and white peppered salt, that on this occasion I was seduced to put hope over experience, and to carry on regardless of that warning voice.

48 hours later I unwrapped the fish from its layers of cling film, wiped and rinsed off the marinating debris. It smelt good; fresh with dill and the gentle lemon from the thyme sharpened by the white pepper. I sliced off a taster and disappointment set in ….. I should have listened to that little voice of dissent after all. The sugar wasn’t the problem, the salt was, and the texture, rather than being soft and succulent like a salmon gravad lax was sticky, even chewy. Despondent – I hate it when things don’t work out, I wrapped the fish up again, popped it into the fridge and went to the gym! Exercise, or being in motion always seems to have the effect of loosening the little grey cells from stuck to creative mode, and I soon found myself analysing and answering questions about that fishy package in the fridge. What does the texture remind me of? Is the saltiness reminiscent of something -Salt cod perhaps? Well, what can one do with salt cod? light bulb moment –  how about turning this not so great herb cured smoked haddock into a Brandade?

Well I can tell you that this was a mistake worth making because Brandade of Cured Smoked Haddock is an absolute sensation. There nearly was non for our Easter feast – the fork had to prized from my hand and the dish of delectably warm, fluffy, fragrant, delicately smoky fish puree firmly covered and put out of reach!

Although it’s a bit of a long winded recipe as the fish needs preparing a couple of days in advance, the final cooking is easy. The Brandade is wonderful served immediately, warm and comforting (try making these delectable salt crust new potatoes to dip into it), or chill and serve the next day. Perhaps make up several batches of the haddock and pop two in the freezer for later.

I hope that you will enjoy it as much as we did.

Brandade of Cured Haddock

curing moked haddock fillets like Gravad Lax

Fillets of undyed smoked haddock salt cured with chopped dill and lemon thyme

Cured Smoked Haddock

Make two days ahead

Ingredients

2 x 600 to 750g pieces undyed smoked haddock fillets (1.2-1.5kg in total)

2x20g pack dill, chopped (for cure)

1x20g pack lemon thyme, leaves and tender stalks, chopped

100g granulated sugar

75g coarse or flaked sea salt

1 tablespoon white peppercorns

2 tablespoon coriander seeds

Method

Check the fillets for pin bones. Drape a flat board with enough cling film to wrap the fillets in for marinating and then place the fillets on this, skin down, thin tail end to fatter end, side by side. Chop the herbs and mix together in a bowl.

In a second small bowl mix together the sugar and salt. Coarsely crush the white peppercorns and corriander in a mortar and mix with sugar and salt.

Undyed smoked haddock fillets

scatter over the roughly chopped dill and lemon thyme

Spread chopped herbs evenly over the flesh of the fillet halves. Scatter over the spiced sugar and salt in a layer on top.

Sandwich both fillets together so that the dill spice mix is in the middle and the skin is outermost. Cover any exposed surface of smoked haddock with any herb and spice mixture that tumbles out. Wrap very tightly in two layers of clingfilm and place on a tray or roasting tin to catch the brine that escapes the fish as it cures. Refrigerate for 48 hrs.

Brandade of Herb Cured Smoked Haddock

delicious creamey smoked haddock brandade

Brandade of Herb Cured Smoked Haddock

Ingredients:

Serves 8-10 as a first course.

1 quantity cured smoked haddock as above

1 large (190-225g) baking potatoes, peeled and cut into large equal sized chunks

250ml sweet flavoured olive oil

250ml full fat milk

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Ground white pepper to taste

Method:

Cook the fish and potato:

Unwrap the cured fish and wipe off the herbs and salt. Rinse well under cold running water ( if the haddock is still a bit salty then soak for an hour in a couple of changes of water).  Pat the fillets dry and place skin side down in a large lidded saucepan.

Cover the fillets with water and over a moderate heat bring to simmering point. Cover the pan and gently cook the fillets for 10-15 minutes until the flesh is cooked and flakes easily from the skin. Remove the fillets to a board and cool slightly before flaking the flesh into a bowl. Discard the skin.

Put the potatoes chunks into a pan and boil for 12-15 minutes until tender. Drain, return the cooked potato to the pan and set over a low heat for a few minutes to dry them off. Set aside.

Heat the oil and milk:

Put the oil and the milk into two separate small pans , heat the oil until it is very hot, and the milk to scalding point. Pour the hot liquids into 2 heat proof jugs.

To Puree using a food processor:

Put the flaked fish into the bowl of a food processor along with the crushed garlic. With the motor running slowly pour both the milk and oil onto the fish.

Add the cooked potato pieces and pulse to incorporate. Do not overwork or they will become sticky.

To make the Brandade by hand:

Heat half of the oil in a large pan. Reduce the heat to low and add the crushed garlic and the flaked fish and beat together vigorously until pureed. Remove from the heat. Mash or rice the cooked potato and add to the fish. Heat the remaining oil and the milk and add these slowly, beating all the while until they are incorporated and the puree is light and airy.

Adjust the seasoning with white pepper and salt if required.

To serve:

Serve warm, or at room temperature, (do not serve cold! if you have chilled the Brandade then make sure you sit it at room temperature for at least an hour before serving to allow the oils to warm through and the puree to soften).

Serve with crudités and fried bread croutes and black olives as a first course. As a light meal serve with toast and red cabbage salad and these delicious salt crust baked new potatoes.

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