As asparagus season is slowly coming to an end, I thought this would be the perfect time to go big for one last time – at least for this year~ I had planned on cooking up a three-stage asparagus storm that weekend, involving veal and strawberries and all that yummy jazz for you guys, but I got sidetracked – or more precisely: blindsided! – during our usual Saturday-trip to the farmer’s market. To my great surprise, my wary-of-sea-creatures hubby of all people, all but jumped up and down in excitement while pointing the fishmonger’s sign advertising his good deals on monkfish.
After a quick look around and upwards to estimate the chances of the world coming to an end right this moment, I decided it would be best to simply grab this extremely rare opportunity and bank my plans for the time being in order to satisfy Hubby’s appetite – and maybe fan the fire a bit~ Carpe Diem and all that! Caught a bit off guard by the sudden addition of a fish to our shopping bags, I had to fumble around in my headspace for a moment and quickly settled on combining two well-tested yummies into one. While sticking to my asparagus plan, I picked one of the dishes I usually whip up to treat myself with whenever hubby’s out on a business trip, to go along with it: a simple yet oh-so-yum parma ham-blanketed monkfish fillet. If my memory serves me right, a rolled up monkfish parcel like this one was the result of my first fish-related baby steps in my own kitchen – they’re fairly fail-proof and go deliciously well with a variety of tasty sides, especially salady things bringing a hint of acidity along with them to balance out the ham. And that’s exactly where the strawberry vinaigrette comes in~ So, here’s my new, shiny and hubby-approved (weee~!) asparagus & monkfish combo!
1 Tbsp Soft Butter
1 Small Shallot, very finely chopped
3 Sprigs of Flatleaf Parsley, leaves picked and very finely chopped
½ Lemon, Juice and Zest
About 300g Monkfish – 2 Fillets of 150g each, deboned and skinned – Try to get fillets cut out of the front or middle section of the fish so they’ve got roughly the same thickness all the way through, otherwise you’ll have some fiddly work ahead of you, tucking and tieing it up in order to cook it evenly.
8 Slices of Parma Ham
1 generous Pinch each of Sea Salt and Black Pepper
1) Add the butter, herbs, salt, pepper and the lemon zest to a small bowl and work them into a smooth, well combined paste with a fork.
2) Smooth out 2 pieces of clingfilm, large enough to comfortably accommodate the ham slices and fillets, on your work surface.
3) Neatly lay out the ham slices vertically – 4 per fillet – next to each other, overlapping by ½ or 1/3 depending on the length of the fillets. Make sure that, once you’ve placed the fillet in the bottom third of the ham-blanket, there’s about ½ cm of ham hanging over the edges of the fillet.
4) Pick up your herbed butter, divide it onto the ham arrangements and evenly spread it out over the bottom half of the blankets, leaving the rim I’ve mentioned uncovered.
5) Place the fillets right smack in the center of the lower end of the buttered section, smooth the tips of the ham slices over the fillets and, with the clingfilm as convenient lever, roll them upwards into neat monkfish cigars as tightly and evenly as possible.
6) If you’ve never pan-fried a ham- or bacon wrapped parcel like this before, I’d suggest using two pieces of butcher’s string to firmly tie the slices around the fillets to hold them in place. Otherwise, go about the next step by starting the fish’s pan-adventures on the seam-side of the log to basically crisp up the ham into place.
7) Set a heavy-based pan with a fitting lid onto medium heat and add a drizzle of oil. Once it’s heated up, gently place the ham-wrapped logs inside – they should start to sizzle as soon as they hit the pan, so wait a bit longer if they don’t.
8) Once they’re safely inside, drizzle them with the lemon juice, pop on the lid and leave the pan to work it’s magic for 3-4 mins.
9) Carefully try to pick up one of them with a pair of tongs – if you can comfortably give it ¼ of a turn, do so with both fillets. In case doing this feels a little bit too wobbly of an exercise, place the lid back on and wait for another minute or two.
10) After that initial turn-over, keep rolling the logs every couple of minutes, ¼ of a turn each time, until the ham has crisped up nicely all around. A gentle pinch of the cigars should give you the impression of a firm’ish, juicy and slightly springy fillet sitting on the inside. All in all, this will take around 10-12 mins.
11) Once that’s done, gently take the parcels out of the pan, place them on a cutting board and cover them with a sheet of baking parchment or aluminum foil until you’re ready to serve.
12) Here’s a somewhat less fussy alternative method for those of you with an oven at their disposal:
Preheat your oven to 180°C, place your wrapped up fillets in a small roasting dish, drizzle them with the lemon juice and roast them on the middle rack for 20 mins at 180°C. Give them a quick baste with their own cooking juices after 10 mins.
200g White Asparagus, peeled and woody bits removed
200g Green Asparagus, bottom 1/3 trimmed and woody bits removed
1 Pinch each of Salt and Sugar
1 Splash of Lemon Juice
1) Place the whie spears in a wide pot or pan – wide enough to accommodate their full length.
2) Add just enough water to the pan to cover them. Sprinkle the lot with a pinch of salt, to enhance the flavors, and sugar, to take the edge off of the bitterness asparagus develop sometimes.
3) Drizzle the contents of your pan with some lemon juice and set it onto medium-high heat.
4) Once the water has worked up a gentle simmer, turn the heat down to medium and give the asparagus spears about 5-12 mins in the tub – Their cooking time wholly depends on their individual thickness, so all you can do – unless you’re familiar enough with white asparagus to simply autopilot their prep – is to poke, pinch or bite one of the spears to see if they’re done and ready to be dug into.
- Poke a sharp knife halfway through the thick end of a spear. If it slides out easily, they’re done~
- Pinch the thick end of a spear. If it feels firm’ish but slightly springy, they’re done~
- Bite into a piece. Cool it down under running water first! If it’s a particularly thick spear, the core takes ages to cool down… After all those years, I still trample into that trap at least once per season…
5) After about 3-4 mins, add the green asparagus spears to the mix and blanch them for 3 mins before removing them again and rinsing them with cold water to stop the cooking process.
6) Once the white asparagus are done, rinse them with cold water as well and get ready to plate up~!
The Strawberry Vinaigrette
125g Strawberries, cleaned and halved – keep a few pretty slices to doll up your plates
1 Tbsp mild Herbed Mustard
1 Tbsp Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tsp Honey
1 Shallot, roughly chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
1) Pop everything into a stick-blender friendly container along with a generous pinch of salt and a good crack of black pepper.
2) Whizz the lot into a smooth and silky dressing.
3) Have a taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper if necessary.
Assembling the Dish
1) Slice the monkfish parcels into halves.
2) Divide the asparagus spears onto your plates.
3) Arrange the monkfish on top of the stack.
4) Drizzle the asparagus with the dressing, garnish the servings with a couple of strawberry slices and serve immediately.