Buttermilk is very easy to make at home, a delightfully milky product that has a slight tang. Its delicate nature makes it perfect for gently poaching fish and you are left with a lovely subtle dish celebrating the flavour of your seafood and the fresh spring herbs.
- 1 litre pure cream, at room temperature
- 2 250 g snapper fillets, skinned and boned
- fine zest of 2 lemons
- river salt and white pepper
- ¼ cup chive batons, cut into 1 cm pieces
- ¼ cup chervil
- ¼ cup celery cress
- ¼ cup parsley cress
- extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Place the cream in a stand mixer and start whisking on high, you will need to keep a careful eye on it as it can go from innocent to very messy in the blink of an eye. Watch as the cream first thickens and then begins to take on an almost granular appearance. At this stage, turn the mixer down to medium and very soon you will see the mix separating, the solids will begin to cling to the whisk and the liquid will come out. Continue whisking on low for another minute to ensure the process is complete and then you’ll find that you have both fresh butter and buttermilk. Simple.
Strain the buttermilk (you should get about 500 ml) through a few layers of muslin cloth, giving the butter a good squeeze to take out any last drops of liquid as this will help the butter last longer. Put the butter (you should get about 500 g) away in your fridge to use at whim and pour the buttermilk into a shallow pan large enough to hold to fish fillets.
Season the fillets generously with salt, pepper and the lemon zest.
Slip the fillets into the pan with the buttermilk and place on a medium heat. Gently cook them, jiggling the pan so the fish doesn’t stick and spooning over the liquid to cook the top of the fish. Continue in this jiggly spoony manner for 5 minutes or so or until you think the fish is ready. You want it to be just cooked through. Remove the pan from the heat and let the fish rest in the warm liquid for a few minutes or so.
Gather all your delicate spring herbs and gently mix them together in a bowl.
Find a nice shallow dish and warm it before carefully transferring your fish onto it. Taste the poaching liquid and season if necessary before pouring it back over the fish.
Give your dish a good drizzle of olive oil before gently scattering over the herbs and serving to your friends.
• As usual, let yourself be guided by the fish that you have available. This dish, however, does require a delicate, white-fleshed fish.
Photography by Benito Martin. Styling by Lynsey Fryers. Food preparation by Suresh Watson.
Plate from Mud Australia; dining chair from Life Interiors; oil bottle from Chef and The Cook.