Alsace has been under water for the best part of a month and our temperatures have been somewhat submerged too. At last the sun has come out and I’ve come over all summery in the kitchen.
Listening to France Bleu Alsace on the car radio the other morning, I caught a chef talking about a dish he does in his restaurant involving fillets of red mullet layered with aubergines/eggplant and peppers. Hmm, I thought, that sounds good. Of course he didn’t give a recipe, so here’s mine, concocted/reconstructed from his scanty instructions. It’s the kind of thing I would have offered at a summer workshop, but as I’m taking time out from my workshops at the moment you can have it here free, gratis and for nothing.
It makes a super summer starter with a Mediterranean feel – or maybe a light summer lunch. It’s a bit like a terrine to behold only it’s not cooked, just moulded in a loaf tin or terrine. I’ve called it a pressé, which is just a fancy name for something pressed (you need to place a bag of beans or rice on top at the end to press it firmly into shape so you can slice it without it collapsing in a heap). Full disclosure: I’ve only tried this out once, and didn’t write the recipe down immediately as we were having too much fun scoffing it out on the lawn. If you try it out and find something is a bit awry, please feel free to comment.
Serve with salad and tiny newpers (new potatoes) to keep that summer feeling going, even if it has started to pour down again.
Pressé of aubergines, peppers and red mullet
2 x 500g aubergines
Salt and Piment d’Espelette or freshly ground black pepper
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
300g red mullet fillets
Juice of ½ a lemon
2 leaves gelatine
Using a long-bladed sharp knife, slice the aubergines lengthwise in 6 to 7 slices each about 1 cm thick. Lay them on paper towels, sprinkle with salt, cover with more paper towels and leave them to release some of their juice.
Cut the peppers in half, brush with a little oil and blister them all over, either on a gas flame, or under a grill, or on the barbecue. When well roasted and blistered, rub off the skins under running water, remove stalks and seeds, pat dry, cut in quarter segments and lay them in a dish. Sprinkle with olive oil and Balsamic vinegar.
Season the fish with salt and Piment d’Espelette or black pepper. Heat a film of oil in a non-stick pan and fry the fillets very briefly on both sides till the flesh turns opaque (1 to 2 mins each side, max). Lift fillets out onto a dish, sprinkle with lemon juice and let cool.
Soak the gelatine sheets in a bowl of cold water till floppy.
Remove paper towels from the aubergine slices and lay them on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Brush with more olive oil. Heat the oven-with-grill to 220C and grill the slices till golden brown, turning once – about 6 minutes each side.
Catch them before they get hard and long before they get incinerated – they should remain pliable. Place in a dish and sprinkle with a little Balsamic vinegar.
Take a baking tin 25 x 10 x 5 cm deep, brush with oil (so the clingfilm – counterintuitively – sticks to the tin) and lay in a generous piece of clingfilm. Press it into the corners and allow the surplus to hang out over the sides.
Place aubergine slices in the bottom to completely cover the bottom of the tin. Squeeze out the gelatine sheets and place one on top of the aubergine layer. Follow with pepper quarters, then a layer of red mullet fillets. Repeat the layers, finishing with the second sheet of gelatine and a final layer of aubergines. Bring the clingfilm up over the top to enclose, place a weight on top and refrigerate.
To serve, open up the clingfilm, invert the pressé onto a board or plate, remove the tin and lift off the film.
Cut in 1 cm slices and serve on lettuce leaves.