…or gurner as Gary, the delivery driver and Sunday salesman down at the Farm Direct depot calls it. And it does look like a bit of a gurner, all spiky fins and armoured head. Once you get past its gruff, grumpy exterior, its a fish worth being stabbed in the finger (repeatedly) to eat. Although the head takes up a fair bit of space, there’s plenty of meat on the body to make it a definite winner in the kitchen. Not a fish to try filleting (other than the clever Billingsgate way that removes the head and skin in one go – I’ll demo that next time I buy gurnard), I took advice from HFW’s Fish book and cooked this weekend’s beauties whole in a casserole and let steam from some root veg do the hard work for me.
They are quite bony fish, but the bones are big so although a bit fiddly to eat, not that annoying, if indeed you’re the kind of person to be annoyed by fish bones. I am that person, although I wish they didn’t bother me and that I could happily crunch my way through a whole sardine without attempting to subtly spit out half the bones. Hey ho.
I picked two one-person fishes (about 300g each) but you could happily do this with a single bigger fish and divide it up when serving as the fish comes really easily off the bone.
Prep: 20 minutes
Cooking: 40 minutes
Oven temp: 180°C.
2 gurnard, about 300g each
2 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cut into inch chunks
2 carrots, same size chunks as the potatoes
1 onion, diced
2 white beetroot, same size chunks as the potatoes
Pinch of saffron
Tablespoon of tomato puree
150ml white wine
Bunch of thyme
A couple of bay leaves
First, have a look at your gurnard. If they’re whole (as mine were) and with fins, be careful when you handle them as the fins are incredibly sharp and will neatly slip down under your nail bed to stab you if you’re not careful. Gut the fish by making a slit from the hole in the bottom of the fish (its, um, anal vent…) to its head. Stick your fingers inside and pull out all the guts and bin them. If you can’t get the tube that I guess is its oesophagus, stick a pair of scissors in and snip it as close to its head as you can.
Turn the fish over and lay it straight up and down, so its head is pointing away from you. With a sharp filleting knife, grasp the very end of the main body’s fins, and in a sawing motion, start cutting the fin off, working away from you. It will be a bit tough, but be tough back and you’ll get the whole fin off in one go.
Then if you want, use scissors to snip off the other fins. I didn’t, cos I figured more fish more flavour, just didn’t want to impale myself on a scary dorsal spike.
Fish prepared, time to get on with the veggies.
Fry the onion in a little oil for 5 minutes in a casserole dish with a lid that you’ll be able to fit all your veg and the two fish in. When the onions are soft add the rest of the vegetables followed by the saffron, tomato puree, bay leaves and wine. Give everything a good stir round and season with salt and pepper.
Sit the fish on top of the vegetables, and add the bunch of thyme on top, pushing the fish and the herbs a little way down little into the veg. Put the lid on and put in the oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, check they’re done. The flesh should be moving away from the bone, or if its still looking pretty firm, gently place a knife along the spine to see if the fish flakes away. If so, its ready, if not give it another 5 minutes or so. I left mine a little bot too long, but with all the steam in the pot, the flesh didn’t dry out at all, so it’s not the end of the world if you overcook it a little.
We had ours with a little bit of bread, and had a few veggies leftover (whizzed up into a soup the next day) but with so many veggies in the pot, you’ll probably have enough to be getting on with.