Salmon with Super-Crispy Skin

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The absolute best way to serve salmon is with the skin on and cooked so that it is as dry and crunchy as a potato crisp, while retaining the moistness of the salmon fillet.

The trick is two-fold: ensuring the skin is as dry as it can possibly be, and being brave enough to cook the skin side of the fish for long enough and at a high enough temperature to ensure any remaining moisture is driven out.

To get the skin as dry as possible: first remove any scales, then pat the skin dry as thoroughly as possible using kitchen paper or a j-cloth. Now take a chopping board that is set aside solely for use with raw fish, and lay several layers of kitchen paper on it. Hold the fish fillet, skin uppermost, in the palm of one hand and using the other hand season generously with sea salt. Now lay the fillet, skin side down, on the kitchen paper. Repeat with the remainder of the fillets that you are using, then cover and set aside for 30 minutes or so.

The salt on the skin will draw out any remaining moisture in the skin, and the kitchen paper will absorb it. You will be amazed at how much moisture is extracted.

When you are ready to cook, cut a circle of baking parchment the same size as the base of your frying pan – the same way that you would line the base of a baking tin. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of light oil over the parchment, turn the heat up and let your pan get really hot, until it is just below the smoke-point of the oil.

Carefully lay the fish fillet, skin-side down, on the oiled parchment, press down so that it lies flat – the fish will probably shrink away slightly at the edges. Cook at high heat for 90% of the cooking time, which for a fillet around 2cm thick will be around 5 minutes, then flip the fillet over and flash-fry the flesh side for 30 seconds – just enough time to give it a bit of colour.

Remove the fillets from the pan and place onto a warmed plate to rest for a few minutes, then serve. It is as easy as that!

Thai Yellow Fish Curry with Coconut Rice

There are some dishes that encourage you to eat far more than you should, this is one of them. A rich, creamy yet – relatively – healthy mild Thai curry that is so moreish it should be a controlled substance. It’s the combination of coconut milk and rice, it is as warm and comforting as a hug from your mum.

As an added bonus, it’s almost as quick to make as a stir-fry, without all the chopping. It’s my new favourite dish.

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RECIPE – Serves 4

2 tbsp groundnut oil

2 tbsp yellow curry paste

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

400ml tin of coconut milk

1 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

1 tbsp soft brown sugar

6 kaffir lime leaves

300g green beans, trimmed into 3cm lengths

600g thick white fish fillets (cod, hake, haddock etc), skinned and cut into bite-sized pieces

For the coconut rice:

400ml tin of coconut milk

175ml cold water

400g long-grain rice

To garnish:

chopped coriander leaves

mild red chillies (optional)


METHOD

First, make the coconut rice: combine the coconut milk, water and rice in a saucepan, bring to the boil then reduce the heat to minimum, cover and simmer very gently for 12-14 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed. At this point, cover the rice again and set to one side for ten minutes while you start making the curry.

Place a large wok or frying pan over a medium-high heat and add the oil, when hot add the curry paste, coriander, cumin and turmeric. Stirring constantly, fry for a minute then stir in the coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar and lime leaves, then add the green beans with 50ml water.

Bring to a simmer and cook for 3 minutes, then gently add the chunks of fish and cook for a further 3 to 5 minutes, until the fish is just cooked and starts to flake. Serve alongside the coconut rice and your choice of garnishes.

Sesame Salmon, Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Sweet Potato Mash

We had a fish-hating visitor staying with us last week, so in deference to her we had ten days of lentils, pulses, vegetables and soups. All lovely stuff, but man did I miss the fish…

It was the salmon fillets that initially attracted me to this recipe in the current issue of BBC Good Food magazine, that and the fact that every ingredient here works perfectly with everything else.  What I wasn’t prepared for was just how good the sweet potato mash was (I wax lyrical about it here), and the alchemy that occurs when you put this particular set of ingredients together in this way. The first mouthful was a ‘WOW’ moment, and it only got better from there.

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RECIPE – serves 2 

For the marinade:

1/2 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

a large knob of fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 fat garlic clove, peeled and crushed

1 tsp runny honey

For the sweet potato mash:

2 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into wedges

1 lime, cut into wedges

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 red chilli, de-seeded and thinly sliced

a pinch of sea salt

And the rest:

2 boneless, skinless salmon fillets

250g purple sprouting broccoli

1 tbsp sesame seeds


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan / Gas 6.

Mix the marinade ingredients together in a small bowl.

Pat the salmon fillets dry with kitchen paper and season lightly, then line a baking tray with baking parchment and spread the purple sprouting broccoli in a single layer. Then put the salmon fillets on top of the broccoli and spoon the marinade over the salmon and broccoli. Roast in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the salmon is just cooked.

Meanwhile, make the mash: scrub the sweet potatoes clean and cut away any rough bits, otherwise leave the skin on. Cut each potato into eight wedges, and the lime also into eight wedges. Put the sweet potato and lime wedges into a large glass bowl and cover with cling film.

Microwave on high power for three minutes. Leave to stand for a couple of minutes then microwave for three more minutes. Repeat this process until the sweet potato is completely soft; it took me a total of 11 minutes of cooking – I judged that the last blast in the microwave should only be two minutes.

Remove from the microwave and take out the lime wedges. You should see a puddle of hot lime juice in the bottom of the bowl, leave that there and roughly mash the sweet potatoes with the lime juice, using a fork. Add the chilli and sesame oil with a small pinch of salt, then mash until fairly smooth.

Check the seasoning of the mash, scatter the sesame seeds over the cooked salmon and serve the mash, salmon and broccoli with a simple green salad.

Moroccan Prawns with Paprika and Honey

It’s been a while since I made a stir-fry. I kept telling myself I didn’t have time to make one… if you have ever made a stir-fry you will know how absolutely ridiculous that statement is. There is generally a lot of chopping involved in a stir-fry, but the cooking takes mere minutes. This recipe doesn’t even involve much chopping, so it’s super-quick.

The paprika, ginger and honey do a sexy little dance on your tastebuds, it’s a bit like sweet ‘n’ sour but not quite – however you care to define it, it is absolutely delicious. It works all by itself with some flatbread as a starter, or you can cook up some Basmati rice and it makes a great evening meal. I made this with Basmati rice with butter and lemon, I cannot begin to tell you how well they go together.

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RECIPE – serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course

50g butter

4 tbsp olive oil

3 banana shallots, finely chopped

1 long green chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

3 fat cloves of garlic, finely sliced

a big thumb of ginger, finely chopped

1 tsp paprika

250g peeled raw tiger prawns

250g large tiger prawns, shell on

the juice of half a lemon

2 tbsp runny honey

the zest of half a lemon

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

lemon wedges, to serve


METHOD

First, prepare all your ingredients, this cooks quickly so you need to have everything to hand.

In a large pan or wok, melt the butter with the oil and when it is hot fry the shallots for a couple of minutes until translucent.

Add the chilli, garlic and ginger and cook for a further couple of minutes, then add the paprika, stir thoroughly then add all the prawns. Stir-fry over a medium heat – adding the lemon juice part-way through – for a few minutes until the prawns are just pink, they will cook on so take them off the heat sooner rather than later.

Once you have taken the wok off the heat, add the honey to glaze the prawns, stir well then add the lemon zest and parsley, then adjust the seasoning and take it to the table.

Perfect with flatbreads as a starter or, my favourite, with Basmati rice with butter and lemon.

Lemon Risotto with Seared Prawns

If you have made my chilli oil and you are wondering what to use it with, here is your answer. Fast-frying the prawns in a couple of tablespoons of chilli oil lend a spicy undertone and a rich colour, without overpowering; the oil that you cooked with makes an ideal drizzle to finish the dish as well.

The spiced, delicate flavour of the seared prawns marries perfectly with a simple creamy risotto and makes for a very elegant dish indeed. Seared scallops work equally well and make it even more special. You can use Arborio rice to make risotto, although many Italians consider Carnaroli and Vialone Nano far superior. Carnaroli is what I prefer to use.

If you can get them, use big, fat Amalfi lemons or something similar. If you are stuck with the small offerings from your local supermarket then use four of them, this risotto is all about the citrus.

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RECIPE – serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil

2 shallots peeled and finely chopped

400g Carnaroli or Arborio rice

300ml vermouth

1 litre (approx) hot vegetable stock

the grated zest and juice of 2 large lemons, or 4 small lemons

2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley

60g mascarpone

2 tbsp chilli oil

16 raw, peeled king prawns, deveined


METHOD

First, heat the stock until it is hot but not boiling. Keep it on a very low heat throughout.

Heat the oil in a large frying or risotto pan over a medium heat, add the shallots and fry gently for a few minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the rice and stir constantly for a minute or so until completely coated and glistening with oil.

Add the wine and simmer for a minute until it has largely evaporated, then add two ladles of the stock, bring it to a simmer and stir until it is absorbed. Continue adding the stock, a little at a time and letting it be absorbed before adding more. The rice is cooked when it is soft but still has a slight ‘bite’ to it. This should take 15-20 minutes and you may not need to use all of the stock.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon zest, most of the lemon juice, the parsley and mascarpone and stir it through until the risotto is thick and creamy. Season with salt and pepper and keep it warm while you cook the prawns…

Season the prawns with salt and pepper then heat the chilli oil on a high heat in a frying pan large enough to take all the prawns. Fry the prawns for a minute or two on each side, until they are just pink – there is nothing worse than an overcooked prawn. Nothing.

Pour the leftover lemon juice into the pan, swirl it all around with the prawns then serve the risotto in bowls, topped with four prawns each and finished with a drizzle of the oil and lemon juice that you cooked the prawns with.

 

Oven-Baked Fish with Tomato and Parsley

The aroma that filled my kitchen last night was indescribable – I am yearning for the day that some clever boffin invents a way to transmit smells across the internet. Until then, you’ll have to take my word for it, unless you decide to make this for yourself, and I strongly recommend that you do – delicious food doesn’t come much easier than throwing some flavourful ingredients into a casserole and sticking it in the oven.

This Greek-inspired recipe comes from ‘Falling Cloudberries’ by Tessa Kiros, a book my wife initially bought just because it was a beautiful book. The picture below comes from that book, and when I first laid eyes on it I knew we were having it for dinner that night. I have made it several times since, and every time I do my wife says she could happily eat this every night for the rest of her life. Praise indeed.

Tessa Kiros claims that this tastes great straight from the fridge; I have to wonder how she ever has any leftovers to put in the fridge!

This needs nothing more than some crusty farmhouse or sourdough bread to wipe every trace of sauce from the casserole, your bowl and your cutlery.

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RECIPE – serves 4 

1 kg firm white fish fillets (cod, hake, haddock or similar)

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, stalks and leaves chopped separately

4 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

the juice of 2 large lemons

2 celery stalks, with some leaves, finely chopped

1 tsp golden caster sugar

3 tbsp olive oil

farmhouse or sourdough bread to serve


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ Fan 180C/ gas 4. Place your fish fillets between pieces of kitchen paper to absorb any excess liquid and set aside.

In a casserole, mix together the tinned tomatoes, chopped parsley stalks, garlic, lemon juice, celery and sugar with the olive oil. Season, then cover with the lid, or some foil, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes or so, then remove the lid, stir and place back in the oven uncovered.

Lightly season the fish fillets and cut into chunks around 2 inches thick.

When the sauce has been uncovered in the oven for ten minutes, place the fish pieces into the sauce with the parsley leaves and ensure that each piece of fish is covered by the sauce. Put back in the oven for ten minutes or so, until the fish is just cooked and flakes easily. By now the sauce will be rich, thick and unctuous.

Take to the table with a big spoon, some bowls and plenty of bread, and bask in the appreciation that will surely follow.

Pan-Fried Sea Bass with Herby Salsa and Fennel Chips

This was a meal born out of necessity: I was short on time, short on inspiration and short of the will to do much in the way of cooking. Fennel chips are a staple in our house because they are healthy (being oven-cooked), easy and delicious. The question remained: what to have with them? Normally I would sear a couple of tuna steaks and serve alongside a zingy salsa verde, but I nearly always do that and I fancied a change.

Lurking, unloved, in the back of my freezer was a bag of sea bass fillets. They needed to be used, Christmas is coming and I will need the freezer space. Now what? Something was required to tie my posh fish ‘n’ chips together and tartare sauce, lovely as it is, is a bit too overpowering for sea bass. Instead I put together a simple, fresh, citrusy herb salsa and… wow. What a delicious meal it was. You can’t really call chips – however they are cooked – a light meal; in this meal though that is exactly what they became. It may be cold December right now, but this is a meal that would be equally appropriate for a warm spring evening, eaten in the garden with a good Pinot Grigio alongside it.

I’m making a calendar entry right now, just so I don’t forget to make this again in April…

At this stage, to avoid confusion, I should point out that fennel chips are not made of fennel, they are regular thick-cut potato chips scattered with fennel seeds – a match made in heaven for just about any fish, cooked any way you like.

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RECIPE – Feeds 2

For the chips:

2 large floury potatoes (e.g. maris pipers, roosters) per person, plus 2

olive oil

fennel seeds

sea salt

For the salsa:

2 ripe tomatoes, skinned, and finely diced

1 long red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped

a small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves only, chopped

zest and juice of a lemon

a pinch of sea salt

To serve:

3 or 4 sea bass fillets, skin on

sea salt

the juice of half a lemon

a few good handfuls of rocket

lemon wedges


METHOD 

First get the chips cooking…

As a rule of thumb, allow two large floury potatoes per person, then add two more for the pot. So if you are cooking for two use six potatoes, if cooking for four people use ten large potatoes – believe me, there will be no leftovers.

Pre-heat the oven to 220C / 200C fan / gas 7.

Peel the potatoes and chop them into thick and chunky chips. The chips at the extreme sides are likely to end up skinnier so will be more crispy, adding great contrast.

Place the chips in a large pan of unsalted cold water, bring to the boil. Keep an eye on the water and when it just begins to boil set a timer for three minutes. After three minutes drain the chips in a colander and let them steam themselves dry for a minute or two. Hang on to the empty pot, you will need it again.

Give the chips in the colander a good shake, the edges of the chips should roughen and fluff up slightly. Tip the chips back into the pan and drizzle a good glug of olive oil over the chips – don’t overdo it, all you are trying to do is coat each chip with a film of oil so it doesn’t stick to your baking tray. Agitate the pan to spread the oil around, then take a small handful of fennel seeds and scatter them all over the chips, agitate the pan again then tip the chips out onto a large roasting tray.

Give each chip plenty of room, if you crowd them together they will steam and so won’t roast so effectively. You only need a millimetre or two between each chip, but if you need to use two roasting trays then use two roasting trays. Scatter more fennel seeds over the chips, ensuring they are evenly distributed. Season lightly with sea salt, then roast on the middle shelf for approximately an hour. Turn them after 30 minutes to ensure even browning and so you can gauge how much longer they will actually need.

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Now make the salsa:

To de-skin your tomatoes: boil a kettle, lightly score a cross in the base of the tomato and put it into a cup. Pour the just-boiled water over the tomato and leave for 10-15 seconds. Empty the hot water out and immediately refill it with cold water. Lift out the tomato, insert the point of a knife under the score and lift the skin away, you should find that the skin peels off easily. If you leave the tomato in the hot water for too long it will begin to cook, and the skin will not come so easily.

Cut the tomatoes into quarters then slice into thin strips, then slice across to make fine dice. Combine with the rest of the ingredients, season with the salt, then put the salsa to one side.

Pat the sea bass fillets dry with kitchen paper, then place on more kitchen paper, skin side up and season with a little salt. Allow to sit for 15 minutes or so; the salt will draw more moisture out of the skin. Pat the skin dry; the skin needs to be as dry as you can possibly make it so that the skin will turn beautifully crisp. Now turn the fillets over onto more clean, dry kitchen paper and lightly season the flesh side. Then heat the oil in a large frying pan.

When the oil is hot, but not smoking, fry the fillets, skin side down, over a medium heat for approximately 3 minutes until the skin is crisp and the fish moves freely in the pan. Carefully flip the fish over, squeeze the juice of half a lemon into the pan, and cook for a further minute.

Remove from the pan onto a chopping board, skin side up and, using a sharp knife, cut each fillet in half.  Place a good handful of rocket leaves on the plate, arrange the fillet pieces on the rocket, then drizzle the salsa over the top. Serve with lemon wedges on the side of the plate.

Serve the chips separately, in the middle of the table along with the remaining salsa, so people can help themselves.

Tamarind Honey Prawns

Another of my favourite starters, this sweet/sour delight is once again from Sabrina Ghayour’s excellent ‘Sirocco’.

This can be prepared in minutes, the only forward planning required is 30 minutes for the prawns to marinade. I pan-fry them here, but they work equally well when skewered and barbecued.

 


RECIPE – feeds 4 as a starter

For the marinade:

100g tamarind paste (I use a concentrate and dilute it)

75g runny honey

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 tbsp light muscovado sugar

4 tbsp olive oil

sea salt

To cook:

400g raw tiger prawns, peeled with the tails left on

3 spring onions, finely sliced at an angle

a small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves only, chopped

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

sesame seeds


METHOD 

Prepare the marinade: combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl until the sugar has dissolved. Season with salt to taste – you MUST taste this to get the balance of sweet, sour and salty correct.

Add the raw prawns to the marinade and work the marinade into the meat with your fingers. Cover with cling film and allow to marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the spring onions and coriander.

When ready to cook, heat a large frying pan over a medium-high heat and when it is hot pour a little of the marinade into it, with the chilli flakes. The marinade will bubble and start to reduce, leave it for a minute or so until it is visibly sticky, then add the prawns and cook for about a minute on each side until just pink.

Your pan will look like this, note the vigorous bubbling on the left hand side as the marinade thickens and reduces:

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Serve on small plates, with a little of the reduced marinade and scattered with the spring onion, coriander leaves and sesame seeds.

Southern Indian Rice and Seafood Soup

This dish started life as a Jamie Oliver recipe – always a good starting point – and with only a few slight alterations it has become an eternal favourite in our house.

It’s perfect for autumnal evenings: thick, filling, warming, comforting. I make it quite spicy, but if you’re not a fan of chilli heat just reduce the amount of chilli powder accordingly and use milder fresh chillies.

The ingredients list may look a little daunting, but this is actually a quick and easy dish to make and most of it you probably already have in your cupboards.

Once again, using a home-made vegetable stock makes an incredible difference to the depth of flavour. I have made two versions of this side-by-side, one using a good bouillon powder and the other using my own stock – the difference was like night and day. Using ghee (clarified butter) rather than oil also makes an enormous difference. Much of the shelf space in my fridge is taken up with home-made concoctions such as these – it’s a sacrifice worth making for the results you get.

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RECIPE – serves 4

3 tbsp ghee

2 medium onions, finely chopped

3 tbsp brown mustard seeds

a handful of fresh curry leaves (I freeze mine fresh and use them as needed)

2 tsp cumin seeds

5 birds-eye chillies, finely sliced, seeds left in

4 cm fresh ginger, finely chopped

6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

2 tsp garam masala

1 1/2 tsp hot chilli powder

2 tsp turmeric

2 handfuls of Basmati rice

600 ml vegetable stock

2 400 ml tins of coconut milk

600g fish (a mix of cod, hake, haddock, salmon and prawns) cut into large chunks

a small bunch of fresh coriander stalks, chopped

the zest and juice of 2 limes

2 tsp garam masala to garnish

mild red chillies to garnish (optional)

a small bunch of fresh coriander leaves, chopped, to garnish


METHOD 

Put the garam masala, hot chilli powder and turmeric in a small bowl with a little water and make into a smooth paste. Set aside for now. Doing this prevents the spices burning when added to the pan.

Melt the ghee in a very large pan, then fry the onions gently for around ten minutes until softened but not coloured. Adding a little salt to the onions encourages their moisture to leach out and prevents browning. Toward the end of the softening time, add the brown mustard seeds, curry leaves, cumin seeds, birds-eye chillies, ginger and garlic. Stir thoroughly and cook on gently for a few minutes until deeply aromatic. Add the spice paste, stir thoroughly and cook for a minute before adding the Basmati rice. Stir again, thoroughly coating the rice with the spices.

Add the stock and bring to the boil, then simmer for ten minutes. Add the coconut milk with a good pinch of salt and bring back to a simmer – do not let it boil.

At this point you can turn the heat off and let the broth steep for a few hours. This deepens and softens the flavours of the spice, but you can of course carry straight on…

At this point you will of course have been tasting the broth regularly, and you may be puzzled that it tastes a little flat and unexciting. Fear not, the magic happens now.

If you are using them for the garnish, slit each mild red chilli several times and add to the broth.

Add the fish (not the prawns if you are using them, not yet) together with the chopped coriander stalks, put a lid over the pan and simmer gently for around ten minutes, until the fish starts to flake. Three or four minutes before the fish is cooked, add the prawns and re-cover the pan.

When the fish is cooked, remove the mild red chillies and set aside for use as a garnish, check the seasoning and adjust as necessary, stir to break up the fish, then add the lime zest and juice, stir, and scatter 2 teaspoons of garam masala over the top.  Taste it now… your toes will probably curl in pleasure!

Serve in bowls garnished with chopped coriander leaves and a mild red chilli each if you like.

This requires nothing else alongside it except, perhaps, some chapattis; it is a complete meal in itself.

Grilled Sea Bass with Chilli and Mango Sauce

I am lucky enough to have access to a great fishmonger, and I’m always buying his fresh-caught sea bass. It has a lovely flavour and firm flesh, is an easy fish to work with, and whatever you pair it with it makes an impressive dish to put in front of guests. To prepare it, you need to gut and descale it, remove the fins and cut out the gills – but if you don’t fancy the work your fishmonger will happily do it for you.

This recipe comes courtesy of Gizzi Erskine, and it is perfect. It’s definitely one that I will make again and again, my wife demands it.

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RECIPE – serves 2

2 small sea bass
4 tbsp Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
3 tbsp shao hsing wine or sherry
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp soy sauce
juice of 2 limes
1 fresh red chilli, chopped
½ firm mango (green underripe mangoes are great if you can find them), peeled and cut into matchsticks
200ml water
1 tsp tamarind paste
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp cornflour, mixed with 2 tbsp of water
To garnish, a handful of fresh coriander leaves 


METHOD 

Using a sharp, serrated knife, make 3 or 4 cuts on each side of the fish.

Put the fish into a bowl, pour 2 tbsp of the fish sauce over it and leave to marinate for 5–10 minutes.

Heat the grill to a high heat.

Put the rest of the fish sauce and all the remaining ingredients, except the cornflour and the coriander, into a saucepan. Place over a medium heat and bring gently to a simmer.

Pour in the cornflour mix and stir until thickened. Cover and keep warm.

Grill the fish for 8 minutes on each side or until crisp and golden on the outside but firm and flaky when pushed in its meatiest part.

Place on a serving platter and pour over the sauce. Finally, sprinkle with the coriander.