Ingredients: Hake fillet, dried fregola, piquillo peppers, black olives, lemon zest, monk’s beard, wild garlic, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, butter (for frying).
Menu price: £16.50
GP: approximately 70%
Prep time: 20 minutes
The chef: Before coming to the Empress, which was recently named as the 32nd best gastropub in the country at 2016’s Top 50 Gastropubs awards, Elliot Lidstone worked at Michelin-starred restaurant L’Ortolan, Berks, under acclaimed chef Alan Murchison.
- Toast the fregola before transferring it to a pan of boiling water with a little olive oil. Simmer for approximately 10 minutes until al dente.
- Strain the fregola and leave it to cool before running through some pumpkin and sunflower seeds to add texture.
- Mix in sliced piquillo peppers, spring onions and wild garlic. Season to taste.
- Leave to cool. The garnish can be reheated on the hob in the time it takes to cook the hake
Black olive purée (served at room temperature)
- Process pitted black olives with a dash of lemon zest and rosemary salt.
- Pan fry the hake skin side down for roughly 4 minutes until the skin has a healthy crisp to it.
- Transfer to a hot oven to cook for roughly another four minutes. During this time, heat the garnish on the hob.
- Remove the hake from the oven and finish off with a knob of butter in a pan. Cook the monk's beard in the pan with the butter and hake
Why the dish works:
“Once the cheque goes on, everything else can be ready in the time it takes to cook the fish as it’s just a matter of reheating the garnish," says Lidstone.
“One of the important things to remember here is that because of the size of the Empress and the size of the kitchen team, no dish should require more than three pans. If you start getting more complicated it can go t*** up.”
He adds: “Wild garlic has just come in and we’re at the end of the monk’s beard season so we’re trying to make the most of that. We use fregola which is a Sardinian pasta with a lovely texture as it’s something people don’t see that often and provides something interesting from our regulars.
“The sun’s coming up now and people are getting a bit excited so this dish fits with the Mediterranean tones of the black olives and peppers.”
Versatility is the name of the game with this dish. In the absence of hake, operators could use cheaper options such as cod, pollock or even salmon in its place, Lidstone suggests.
And to drink?
Beer sommelier Jane Peyton recommends opting for a wheat beer to pair with this dish.
“Wheat beer is such a versatile beer with food, especially with white fish, seafood, pasta and fragrant spice dishes,” she says.
“Choose a Belgian style wheat beer because they are brewed with coriander seeds and orange peel that will elevate the peppers and zest in this dish.
“Wheat beers also have a tangy, lemon character that complements the mild flavour of hake well. One of my favourites is Hebden’s Wheat, brewed by Little Valley Brewery in Yorkshire.”
Additionally, Peyton recommends serving the drink in a tulip glass to show off the ‘pillowy’ head typical of wheat beers.