Whiting with Braised Cabbage
Merlan au Chou
Preparation time 10 mins / cooking time 1 hour
One of the many varieties of fish readily available in Brittany is the whiting or merlan. This used to be a fish commonly used in the UK but in recent years has become rather overlooked. It is a white fish of delicate flavour and texture and deserves to be rediscovered. Brittany produces many high quality vegetables and this recipe utilises two of these: savoy cabbage and carrots. This recipe also includes cumin seeds, which are not found in traditional Breton recipes. However contemporary Bretons are increasingly using more such spices which are stocked in most local supermarkets.
This dish is easy to prepare, incredibly cheap and full of subtle complementary flavours.
We enjoyed this with a simple baked potato, garnished with a dollop of crème fraiche and a sprinkling of chopped parsley. It definitely got the thumbs up from my family.
4 fillets of whiting (merlan)
Half a medium sized savoy cabbage, finely shredded
1 medium carrot, sliced into thin rounds (half cm)
50 g breton butter, ‘demi-sel’
1 dessertspoon sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon cumin seeds plus a couple of generous pinches to garnish the fish.
150 ml vegetable stock – if using stock cubes use one quarter of a cube.
1 small pot of crème fraiche (100 ml or 10 cl)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
4 baking potatoes
Preheat the oven to 180°C Put in the potatoes as soon as the oven comes to temperature. They should be ready in the hour it takes to prepare the rest of the meal.
Melt the butter in a large pot. I used a cast iron casserole with a close fitting lid.
Add the cabbage and carrots and stir fry in the butter over a high heat for 5 minutes.
Lower the heat and mix in the sugar, cider vinegar,1 teaspoon of cumin seeds then sprinkle the stock over the top.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Put the lid on the pan and cook over a low heat for 40 minutes. For those of you with an Aga / Raeburn or equivalent this stage can be completed in the bottom simmering oven.
Meanwhile prepare the fish. If your family are like mine, remove any small bones left after filleting with a pair of fine tweezers.
Roll the fillets of whiting; skin side inside, head to tail.
You can relax now for a little while, perhaps with an apéritif ! How about a Kir Breton*?
After the vegetables have cooked slowly for 40 minutes, place the fillets on top, put a dollop (about 1 dessertspoonful) of crème fraiche on each fillet and sprinkle a few more cumin seeds over the top.
Put the lid back on the pot and continue cooking on a low heat for 8-10 minutes, depending on the size of the fillets. Be careful not to overcook the fish.
Serve immediately with the crispy skinned baked potatoes, garnished with a dollop of crème fraiche and a sprinkling of chopped parsley.
We found a chilled Bordeaux Blanc Sec went well with this meal.
Cost per person: An amazing €1 per person! So, you can afford to splash out on a nice bottle of wine or a luxury dessert or maybe even both.
* Kir Breton
Pour a little Crème de Cassis de Dijon into a tall champagne flute and top up with Cidre Bouché de Bretagne (bottled breton cider). Both the cider and cassis should be chilled and as a general guide, use one part cassis to 4 parts cider, but modify to your own taste. I use Brut or dry cider but again this is a matter of personal preference.