The neep, or swede, is a classic Scottish ingredient most commonly associated with haggis neeps and tatties, the national dish. For this famous meal it's usually blended or crushed to a pulp with butter – much the same as one would make mashed potato – and it's really nice like this; the butter compliments the sweetness of the neeps, which are surprisingly sweet when cooked. I do, however, think it's underrated as an ingredient to be used in many other ways.
Restaurant Mark Greenaway, one of the places I worked, used to serve confit neeps. The neeps were cut into chunky oblongs and then slowly cooked in clarified butter. They were served simply with a fillet of hake topped with a herb crust. My version of hake-with-neeps is an improvement on Mark's version, I think, because I sauteed the confit neeps before serving, to bring some vital caramelisation to the party. Combined with the crunchy skin of the pan fried hake, it's pretty excellent.
Basting with butter is not just a lovely way to finish cooking the fish; allowing the butter to turn nutty and brown (beurre noisette) gives you a deeply flavoured sauce that is almost effortless. This is a traditional way to serve fish – in fact, after I added chopped lemon and capers, this was more or less a sauce grenobloise, minus the croutons and with the addition of brown shrimp. Finally, to complete the garnish I added some sauteed cavolo nero, in keeping with the theme of winter vegetables.
- 2 fillets hake, about 150 g each
- ½ medium neep (swede)
- 2 medium leaves cavolo nero, chopped
- 400 g unsalted butter
- 2 slices lemon, cut into 5mm dice
- 1 tsp capers
- 2 tsp brown shrimp
- vegetable oil, for frying
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Take the fish out of the fridge to start coming to room temperature, and pat the skin dry with a cloth or a piece of kitchen towl. This will ensure it goes nice and crisp when you fry it.
Cut of 60g of butter for making the sauce later, then clarify the rest of it: put it in a saucepan and place over a low heat until it the fat has separated from the milky part. Carefully pour of the fat into another pan, and discard the rest. Peel the neep and cut into chunky oblongs about 2cm thick. Immerse them in the clarified butter and place over a medium-low heat. Cook gently; don't allow the butter to get too hot otherwise the neeps will start to fry. Cook for about 20-30 minutes or until they are tender, then remove from the pan and allow to cool. Once cool, cut the oblongs into dice.
Now cook the cavolo nero: place a saute pan or frying pan over a medium heat and add a splash of oil. When the oil is hot, add the cavolo nero along with a pinch of salt. Stir-and-fry for about 30 seconds, then add about half a glassful of water and put a lid on (use a piece of foil if you don't have a lid). Cook for 1-2 minutes, or until tender, then remove from the pan and set aside.
Now for the fish: place a heavy-based frying pan over a high heat and allow to get hot. Add 2 tablespoons of oil. Wait for the oil to get hot; about 30 seconds. Season the fish all over with salt, then place in the pan skin side down. Press gently to ensure the skin makes good contact with the surface of the pan. Cook on a high heat for 30 seconds, then turn down to medium. Continue to cook for about 3 minutes. You should be able to see that the flesh of the fish is about 3/4 cooked. At this point add the 60g of reserved butter from earlier, and allow it to foam. Baste the fish for 1 minute. The fish should be cooked at this point. You can check if it's cooked by inserting a skewer: it should give no resistance. If it's not cooked, continue to baste. When it's done, remove and set aside.
While the fish is cooking, fry the diced neep in a hot pan until caramelised, then set aside.
To finish the sauce, add the capers, lemons and brown shrimp. To serve, place the cavolo nero in the centre of the plate and put the neeps on top, followed by the sauce.