Ugly? I don’t think so. Sure they look a little different but I think they look kind of cute – they look a bit like puppies. Not that I’d suggest eating puppies.. well, we’ll see. Put it this way – I’d rather take one home to meet my mother than a monkfish.
Whatever you think of their looks they’re an excellent fish to cook with if you prepare yourself for a little work.
The gurnard is a sustainable fish so go ahead and eat a load of them. The reason they’re not over fished, I would imagine, is, as I mentioned, that they take a little more work than popping down to the supermarket and buying big old fillet of cod. But – that’s where the satisfaction comes from with this fish – it takes that extra little bit more time and thought. Plus – they are generally cheap to buy. I bought 5 for £10 on my travels recently. Not bad value.
First of all a warning – gurnard have all sorts of spikes, horns, poky bits and other sharp points on them that will cut into your hands when you handle them. Handle them with care and take note of where the spikes and fins are.
There’s a little spike that sticks out behind their heads – that’s where you need to start your cut from. Stick you filleting knife in behind that, with the belly of the fish facing you. Now turn your knife round so it’s cutting towards the tail and follow the line of the back bone down the fish. Take it easy and try to keep your knife flat and not waste any meat. Repeat on the other side.
The great thing about gurnard is they make excellent stock. So – after removing the fillets you can begin to make a very respectable fish sauce. You’ll need the following
- 1 Onion
- 1 leek
- 1 bulb fennel
- 2 – 3 tomatoes chopped
- A pinch of saffron strands
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig thyme
- A glass of Pernod
- 2 cloves garlic
- Olive oil
- Salt & Pepper.
Chop the onion, leek and fennel and cook them down gently in a pan in the olive oil. Don’t fry them – they should just wilt down over 15 – 20 minutes.
Add the Pernod and cook for a minute or 2. Now add the herbs and saffron and the tomatoes. Add a cup of water or 2 and bring to a simmer.
Now put in your gurnard (after you’ve filleted them). I managed to squeeze 3 of them into the pan.
Add a little more water if it needs it and press the gurnard down into the mix – the liquid should just about cover the veg and fish.
Simmer gently for 40 minutes or so.
Now you need to strain the stock – pour the stock into a second pan and start to reduce the sauce over a low heat.
Remove any froth that might form on top of the sauce.
As you reduce the sauce, keep tasting it. Trust me – the sauce you start with will develop so much flavour as you reduce – it will become surprisingly sweet and will strengthen in flavour. Once you’re happy with the stock, stop cooking it.
Cooking the fish
Those fillets don’t need much doing to them. Salt, pepper and a little flour. Fry the fillets in a hot(ish) oil for a couple of minutes – they don’t take long. I really do think you only need salt and pepper to season these fillets – the skin will become wonderfully crisp. Great eating.
I made up a batch of linguine that I served in the middle of the plate with the gurnard on top. I also had some prawns that I needed to use up so I fried them in olive oil and finished off with lemon juice and parsley.
There’s something undeniably satisfying about using every bit of a fish and making a half-decent meal out of it.
By John Loydall