Vegetable nage was on the opening menu at my first restaurant, Black Pig in Rock. I would throw in any veg I could get my hands on and the herbs were freshly picked from our herb patch. Topped with a fillet of wild black bream it became a signature dish. You can vary it with the seasons, making it simple or complex. I like it to have a medley of vegetables, so every spoonful promises a different taste, texture and look.
2 bream, about 500g each, fins and gills cut off, scaled, gutted, filleted and pin-boned
Spring vegetable nage
Finely pared zest and juice of 1 lemon
400ml vegetable stock (see page 222 of the book)
12 asparagus spears, trimmed
100g podded peas
Light rapeseed oil for cooking
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
4 young carrots, peeled and sliced
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
100ml double cream
4 small spring onions, trimmed and sliced
1tsp chopped mint
1tsp chopped chervil
1tsp chopped tarragon
Cornish sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
To finish Lemon oil (see page 227 of the book)
For the nage, place a saucepan over a medium-low heat to heat up, then add the lemon zest. Heat for a minute to allow the lemon zest to release its natural oils and then pour in the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for five minutes. Set aside to cool. Once cooled, add the lemon juice.
To cook the vegetables for the nage, blanch the asparagus and peas in boiling salted water for a few minutes until just tender, then drain and refresh in cold water; drain and set aside. Heat a little rapeseed oil in a saucepan and add the shallots and garlic. Sweat for one minute, without colouring, then add the carrots and fennel. Continue to sweat for another two minutes and then add the nage stock. Simmer until the carrots start to soften slightly, about five minutes. Now add the cream and simmer for a couple of minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To cook the fish, heat a large non-stick frying pan and add a drizzle of oil. Once the oil is hot, place the fish in the pan, skin side down, and cook for two minutes or until the skin is golden and crisp at the edges. Flip the fish over and take the pan off the heat. The fish will continue to cook in the residual heat while you finish the nage.
To finish the nage, add the blanched asparagus and peas, spring onions and herbs and simmer for one minute. Ladle the vegetables and nage into four warmed soup plates. Top with the pan-fried fish, placing it skin side up, and drizzle the lemon oil around. Serve at once.