August 2nd, 2009


Fishworks! Pan-Fried Brill with Creamed Caper Vermouth Sauce

A few weeks ago I hosted a Fishworks cookery and skills course for a group of chefs. The day was sponsored by M&J Seafood. Their generosity was astounding as they provided not only Bill the friendly block man but also the most astonishing display of fish and shellfish.

It was a chefs dream, the group enjoyed every minute and even James and I got stuck in honing our fish filleting skills.

Amongst the display of fish were Brill, Turbot, Cornish Albacore Tuna, Plaice, Sea Bass, Tilapia, Mackerel, Hake, Cod, Salmon and the list goes on and on. Derek held a competition where we all had to identify and name 12 labeled fish on the display. I was embarrassed as I could only name 9 but I did get the most difficult one though, tilapia!

I thoroughly enjoyed getting my filleting knife out again and I had the privilege to fillet the lovely looking brill. It brought back plenty of lovely memories from the past working in the restaurants as I used to spend quite some time filleting the daily fish delivery. I loved filleting the flat fish but I was  nervous when a very pricey turbot landed on my chopping board. I was fearful that I would  gash such an expensive fish and I remember how I used to sweat in fear of the lashing sharp tongues taunting me if I made a mistake. Even though it was not pleasant  I  still have  fond memories and I am proud of a skill that is fast phasing out.

After an educational speech on sustainability and responsible fishing, we got stuck in fish filleting -master class followed by a ready steady cook session.


The students enjoyed every minute and I loved watching the creativity blossom and bloom. The winning dish was cooked by Maksymilian from Oxford. We loved his pan-fried sea bass served on puy lentils and a creamed caper sauce. The dish was moreish Derek and I kept on going back for a second and third tasting.


This recipe is dedicated to Maksymilian and all the boy’s from M&J Seafood for such a memorable day. I thought I should try and recreate the winning dish but I could not ignore the rest of the attempts. I quite liked Jacobs creamed leek and smoked bacon combo and James cooked his Saudi prawns beautifully, they looked very pretty once sliced into pieces.

I carefully wrapped up a piece of the brill and a couple of the Saudi prawns also know as king prawns to bring home to create this delicious recipe. I cooked puy lentils and finished them off with a dash of my favourite Valdespino Sherry vinegar, brunoise of carrot, saute shallots and smoked bacon. For the vermouth sauce I sweated shallots in butter and deglazed the pan with a generous helping of vermouth added a dash of cream and stock. Once the creamy sauce was reduced enough I added a handful of small capers. They add a lovely balanced acidic touch to my rich and flavoursome dish. Finally I shaved raw fennel finely on the mandolin for a touch of crunchiness.


Aromatic Lentils

  • 180g cooked puy lentils
  • 1 small carrot
  • 1 small banana shallot
  • 2 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
  • 1 small clove of garlic
  • 1tsp unsalted butter
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1tbs Valdespino Sherry Vinegar

Cut the bacon into small pieces.

Peel and finely chop the banana shallot and crush the garlic.

Peel the carrot and cut into small brunoise.

Heat a nonstick frying pan with the butter, as soon as the butter starts foaming add the diced bacon, chopped shallots, garlic and carrots, season and saute until the shallots turn opaque and the bacon caramelizes.

Add the drained cooked lentils and deglaze the pan with the vinegar.

Set the cooked lentils aside.

Caper Vermouth Sauce

  • 1 small banana shallot
  • 1tsp unsalted butter
  • 50ml vermouth or dry white wine
  • 100ml fish stock or white chicken stock
  • 100ml double cream
  • 2tbs small whole capers
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Peel and finely chop the banana shallot.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and saute the chopped shallot until it starts to caramelize.

Deglaze the pan with the vermouth and cook for a few minutes until the vermouth reduces by half, add the stock of your choice and the cream. Bring the sauce to the boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the required thickness, add seasoning to taste, go easy on the salt as the capers could be quite salty.

Drain the capers, taste them and if they are very vinegary and salty rinse them under cold running water and pat dry.

When you are ready to serve bring the sauce back to the boil and add the capers.

Assembling the dish

  • 2 small bulbs of baby fennel
  • juice and zest of half a lemon
  • 2 x 100g skinless portions of brill
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 tbs cold unsalted butter
  • 2 Saudi prawns, peeled and cleaned
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • Aromatic lentils
  • 1tbs of chopped chervil, fennel tops or dill, flat leaf parsley and chives
  • caper vermouth sauce

Wash and finely slice the fennel into thin slithers using a mandolin, season, add a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil and the juice and zest of half a lemon, set aside.

Heat the aromatic lentils, add the chopped mixed herbs, set aside.

Heat a non-stick frying pan with a dash of the oil over medium heat (you do not want the pan to be smoking hot, it will burn the fish), season the two pieces of fish and prawns and pan-fry them until golden brown on one side, about 4 minutes (add half the butter after 3 minutes), turn the prawns and fish over and cook for a further 2 minutes on the other side with the rest of the butter.

Remove the fish from the pan and drain on kitchen paper, let the fish rest for a minute. Continue cooking the prawns for a further minute, I normally turn the heat off at this stage and leave the prawn in the hot pan, if the prawns are small then 6 minutes should be long enough to cook them through.

Serve the warm lentils on a warm plate, place the brill on top, slice the cooked prawn on top followed with the lemon marinated fennel. Heat the sauce and spoon the sauce around the lentils and serve.

Serves 2

Food Fanatics Tips

The brill could be substituted by halibut, sea bass, turbot, lemon sole or sea trout. Saudi prawns are also known as jumbo prawns or king prawns. It's quite an expensive and elaborate dish, the prawns are completely optional or if you feel even more flash substitute the prawn with a lovely meaty scallop. The scallop, brill and aromatic lentils makes a fantastic combination.

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One Comment to “Fishworks! Pan-Fried Brill with Creamed Caper Vermouth Sauce”

  1. Luke says:

    A beautiful dish! I tried it with Halibut; replaced the lentils with a parcel of buttered spinach and added some langoustines in a panko crumb, (only because thats what I had to hand!). It was lovely with the vermouth sauce exacty what was needed. I will be trying this recipe word for word the next time I get my hands on some brill. Top quality guys, as always!

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