The zesty punch of monkfish ceviche is combined with the gentle flavours of an English summer salad by executive chef Garry Hollihead of the Northall restaurant at London's Corinthia hotel. Michael Raffael reports
Gary Hollihead's monkfish ceviche and chilli, lime and ginger dressing with yuzu, served at the Northall restaurant in London's Corinthia hotel, is a cocktail of Thai, Japanese and Peruvian flavours.
The dish may bring together culinary strands from around the world, but the preparation is classic, and the carving of the fish similar to smoked salmon. The most significant part of the recipe is Hollihead's attention to detail: his julienne of lime and fine dice of green chilli should elicit purrs of admiration from any classically trained chef.
Chefs may assume that ceviche flies the flag for Peru, but the real story of its evolution is fascinating and it sheds a light on the way international cuisine evolves.
Ceviche probably owes its origins to a Persian dish flavoured with vinegar, and a similar dish can be found about 1,200 years ago, when Moors who ruled Andalusia in southern Spain marinated both fish and meat in vinegar. Orthodox Muslim cooks who refused to use wine vinegar used Seville orange or lemon juice instead.
Freshness and yield
Most chefs prefer buying monkfish without their bulbous, ugly heads, so the usual freshness pointers of bright eyes and reddish gills are no use here. Also, like skate, monkfish skin can have a faintly unpleasant smell, even when perfectly fresh.
The easiest way to check freshness is to look at the blood traces: if it's bright and pink, the signs are good; if it tends towards brown, the fish is probably not good enough to serve raw.
Monkfish can grow into 25kg monsters, but can also weigh in at less than 1kg. To slice the fish finely and portion them without wasting meat, chefs should aim to buy a fish large enough to yield a minimum of two 1kg fillets.
The price will vary for head-off fish, but Hollihead pays around £17 per kg. Prepped monkfish fillets will cost about £22, but may require a final trim.
The cost price of monkfish per starter portion is about £2.50 based on 40-50g fish with a selling price of £12. This fits within the context of an overall 72% gross profit Hollihead has to achieve for food costs at the Northall restaurant.
â- The Northall restaurant receives five fish deliveries a week from Matthew Stevens (www.mstevensandson.co.uk). Fish ordered in the morning arrives the same evening and is prepared for service the next morning.
â- The monkfish fillets can either be refrigerated and then carved to order, or they can be portioned and kept in sealed vacpac bags (but without vacuum).
â- The onion and orange seasoning can be made in advance.
â- The dressing is made fresh ahead of service.
â- The avocado purée is part of the mise en place.
Filleting and trimming
To obtain 2 x 1kg fillets or more, order a fish weighing at least 3kg (head removed).
To remove the outer layer of skin, start at the head end. Lift the flap of skin in the centre of the fish and cut through it where it attaches to the flesh (1). Work back, towards the tail, loosening the skin as you go. You should be able to pull it off like a stocking (2). To remove the first fillet, keep the edge of the blade flush against one side of the bone at the head end (3). Cut straight down and along the line of the bone, without sawing, through the flesh. The fillet comes off in a large, slightly tapering piece.
Repeat for the second fillet (4).
To remove the membrane or second skin on the fish, lay the monkfish on its back, skin-side down. Loosen a flap of membrane from the flesh - exactly as though removing the skin on, say, a lemon sole. Keep the knife-edge flat against the meat and, holding the flap, jiggle the membrane from side to side, pulling until it has separated from the flesh (5).
Note if your knife is sharp enough you can simply slice off the membrane.
Trim the pinkish flesh running down the centre of the fish (6), starting at the tail-end and working towards the head. Trim the membrane covering the belly - this exposes the bloodline running through the centre of the fillet. Use your knife point to lift the tough vein running through it, lift it out and discard (7). Give the fillet a final trim so that only the white flesh is left (8).
Start at the tail-end. Cut wafers of fish as thin as possible. Ideally, they should be long enough to drape over the Little Gem lettuce leaves that are a key part of the recipe.
Each slice will weigh about 10g and four to five pieces will make a portion (9).
Dressing For the photography, Hollihead prepared enough for four portions, but he would normally make a batch based on 24 limes per one large monkfish.
100g caster sugar
100ml white wine vinegar
2 long green mild chillies
25g piece of very fresh ginger
50ml bottled yuzu juice
100ml extra virgin olive oil
Put the sugar and vinegar in a small pan, bring it to the boil and cool.
Zest the limes so you have pieces roughly 4cm long. Trim the edges and slice into julienne. Wrap the zest in muslin and tie up (10). Bring three pans of water to the boil and prepare a bowl of iced water. Blanch and refresh the lime zest three times, and then place it in the sugar/vinegar mixture. Reserve for dressing the plate (11).
Top, tail and split the chillies, and remove the seeds and pith. Dice them as finely as possible (smaller than brunoise). Test for hotness and reserve (12).
Peel the ginger and dice it as finely as the chillies. Weigh out 10g, or two teaspoons (13).
Finish peeling the limes and remove the segments by cutting through the membranes. Reserve the segments for plating. Reserve as much juice as you can for the dressing (14).
In a bowl, place the juice from the limes, the yuzu juice and the oil. Add the ginger and three-quarters of the diced chillies.
MONKFISH CEVICHE WITH GEM SALAD, LIME AND CORIANDER CRESS AND VIOLET FLOWERS
About five crisp Little Gem lettuce leaves (trim the stalks at the base)
40g (approximate) monkfish slices
1 pinch blackened onion and orange seasoning (see box)
1 pinch finely diced green chillies
1 pinch lime zest infused in the sugar/vinegar mixture
About five lime segments
Avocado purée (see box)
1-2tbs of dressing
Pile the Little Gem leaves loosely in the centre of the plate. Season the slices of monkfish with Maldon salt and drape the slices over the leaves.
Sprinkle the onion and orange seasoning around the plate. Do the same with the chillies.
Add the lime zest, lime segments, coriander cress and a few violet flowers.
Dab three or four small piles of avocado purée on the plate, spoon a little dressing over the lettuce and monkfish and serve (15).
â- The larger the fillet, the easier it is to slice.
â- Wrap the lime zest in muslin before blanching and have three pans of simmering water ready - the same trick works when blanching garlic.
â- If you work with smaller monkfish, slice the flesh like sashimi in fine slivers.
â- Work with a long-bladed, sharp knife. A Japanese-made deba knife is ideal.
â- Don't leave the prepared fillets on ice - it harms both taste and texture.
â- Put coriander cress in iced water to make it crisp.
Blackened onion and orange seasoning
Slice white onions as finely as possible. Spread them on a tray and bake at 180Â°C until blackened. Cool and blitz. Add grated orange zest.
Avocado pureePurée avocado with lemon juice and salt to taste in a Thermomix or blender and store in a squeezy bottle.
Three years ago, when Garry Hollihead was about to open the Northall restaurant, one of the dining rooms in the five-star Corinthia hotel just off Trafalgar Square, he got his fledgling brigade into shape by making them practise their knife skills for a week, chopping and dicing vegetables.
It's that kind of rigorous, disciplined training that reflects Hollihead's classic style. He started his career in 1984 with Louis Outhier at the three-Michelin-starred Restaurant L'Oasis at La Napoule outside Nice. His mentor was renowned for extreme neatness and precision and it's these qualities that have always characterised Hollihead's approach.
Among his peers, he's often thought of as a restaurant chef because of his time at Sutherlands restaurant and L'Escargot, where he won stars at a time when they were a rarity in London, and he has also worked for Anton Edelmann at the Savoy.
Hollihead now runs a team of 51 chefs and he hasn't lost his love of cooking - he still prepares much of the fish for service in the Northall.