Slow roast turbot – Sweet tasting turbot, slowly roasted in an olive oil infused with zesty lemon, fragrant thyme, and salty anchovies.
It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten let alone cooked a bit of turbot. Last weekend that all changed. I’d made a rare trip out to Howth fish market in search of some black sole but due to bad weather there was none available. The best thing about visiting the bigger fish markets like Howth though is the sheer variety of fish and shellfish on offer, you’re nearly always guaranteed to find something spankingly fresh to tickle your fancy.
On this occasion it was some fresh looking whole turbot sitting on the shaved ice that caught my eye. After a bit of discussion with the French fish monger working behind the counter I discovered it was in fact a farmed turbot all the way from Spain.
Having never eaten farmed turbot I was curious to know how it tasted and was contemplating giving it a go. Before I could even ask what it was like, the french lad told me “is meard, but I have some wild turbo”
Without getting into the whole wild vs farmed fish debate, and leaving other considerations aside like nutrition, sustainability, and the environment, if I’m given a choice I’ll always go for the wild fish. Generally it just tastes better.
The only stumbling block can be the price. Wild turbot can be ridiculously expensive, up to 25 euro a kilo for fillets. Back when I was a young commis chef it was a lot cheaper. l can still remember these massive whole turbot, the size of a small child, arriving into the kitchen sticking out of styrofoam boxes. Weights of 10 to 12 kilo were not uncommon and If there was a couple of big ones in the box than it would take 2 of us to lift it. Maybe I’m been a bit nostalgic but these bigger fish always seemed to taste better. Simply cut into large stakes and charred over a hot grill then served with deep-fried parsley and half a lemon….delish.
Turbot this size are long gone because of overfishing and It’s one of the reasons you don’t see it on the average restaurant menu anymore, its cost is just too prohibitive. This time as I was buying a whole fish it worked out a good bit cheaper at 14 euro a kilo which is only 50 cents a kilo more expensive than the farmed fish.
The downside about buying a whole turbot like this is your paying for what you can’t eat as well as what you can. There’s a fair amount of waste – the head, the bones, and the fins, though you could make use of them in a stock. Even though my piece of turbot weighed in at a hefty 1.2kg by the time it’s trimmed and cooked there’s really only enough in it to feed about 2 hungry people, 3 at a push, and anything bigger wouldn’t fit in my oven.
Having spent all that cash on a pricey piece of turbot I wanted a recipe to do it justice. Normally when I’m in a hurry I just whip off the fillets and give them a quick pan-fry. However, on a lazy Sunday, a long slow roast in the oven seems like a good idea.
This slow roast turbot recipe is quite simple but requires a little forward planning. I didn’t want to roast the turbot in just any old oil. I wanted something to pack a punch and add a flavour hit to complement the sweet flesh of the turbot. Any plain oil just wouldn’t do, so i infused a fruity extra virgin with salty anchovies, fragrant thyme, zesty lemon, and a little garlic. Try to whip this up at least an hour before you roast the fish to give it a little time to infuse.
Having gone to all the trouble of making this oil it just didn’t seem right to bin it once the fish was cooked. You could save it and use it the next time you’re pan frying a bit of fish or use it to make a little dressing to go with the turbot. I kept this really simple by just using some of the ingredients I had to hand. So into the oil went some lemon segments, a spoon or two of piquant capers, and a little bunch of roughly chopped parsley for freshness.
A big concern for many with a recipe like this is taking the fish off the bone. People can get very paranoid about fish bones for some reason, but flatfish like turbot are amongst the easiest to fillet whether they’re raw or cooked. It’s one of the first things they teach you in the larder class at chefs school. Simply make an incision down the centre of the fish from just below the head to the tail. Then cut across, following the line of the central bones and remove each fillet by sliding the knife underneath. Then turn the fish over and repeat the process on the other side. Dead easy!
Some might get a little nervous about cooking a large whole fish on the bone like this. The biggest worry is you might somehow mess it up and the turbot will either be over or under done. If you’re concerned it’s a little under just insert a knife at the thickest part of the fish and have a little peek inside to see if it’s ready.
With this recipe, you don’t really have to worry about overcooking the fish. Its cooked at such a low temperature and in such an amount of oil that as long as you baste it while it’s cooking it won’t dry out. Cooking the fish at a low temperature like this also means it won’t shrink as much. Don’t be tempted to turn your oven up, turbot has a delicate flesh that flakes up really easily at a high heat.
I have to be honest and say that cooking fish fillets is a lot easier and quicker than roasting or baking a whole fish on the bone like this. If you’ve got a bit of time on your hands and you’re not afraid of fish bones than cooking a prime piece of fish by slow roasting it in the oven is a great way to do it justice. You won’t believe the moist and succulent results.
the zest of 2 lemons (then peel and segment the flesh of 1 for use in the dressing later)
2 peeled garlic cloves
10g / half oz of thyme leaves
2 teaspoons of flakey sea salt
50 ml of the oil from a tin of anchovies
150 ml of extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons of capers
10g / half oz of chopped parsley
First make your oil for roasting the fish by combining the garlic, lemon zest, thyme, and sea salt in a motor and beating it up roughly with a pestle. Next add in the oil from the anchovies followed by olive oil and give everything a good stir. Allow the oil to infuse for an hour before you cook the fish.
Pre-heat your oven to 150c / 300f
Next prepare your turbot by removing the guts if your fish monger hasn’t done so already. Than trim off the fins at the side of the fish with a sharp scissors. Finally cut an incision down the center of the fish at the back bone and around the side of each fillet. Do this on both sides of the fish. It helps it cook more evenly and allows the flavours to penetrate its sweet flesh.
Place your turbot in a large roasting tray and pour over the oil massaging it into the fish. Place the fish into the pre-heated oven and cook for approximately 45 minutes basting the fish in the oil every 10 to 15 minutes so it stays moist. When the 45 minutes are up turn the oven off and allow the fish to rest and finish cooking in the residual heat.
While the fish is resting make the dressing by pouring off 100 ml of the oil from the fish and adding in the reserved lemon segments, capers, and freshly chopped parsley.
To serve the fish gently slid the fillets from each side of the fish and put them on warmed plates before spooning over the dressing. This whole roast turbot goes well with some new boiled potatoes and a green salad.
Alternative fish – most fish could be roasted like this but brill would be the best alternative for this recipe.