Fast fish

Fast fish

We sent chef Christian Delteil some whisky, and he invented some recipes for us. That took all of 20 minutes. Coooking them, says Margaret Rand, toook only slightly longer

Food | 04 Aug 1999 | Issue 5 | By Margaret Rand

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The kitchen at Bank smelled like a maltings. And why? Because tucked in among the little dishes of chopped chillies, sliced leeks, mashed celeriac and prepared scallops was a bowl of ground malted barley. Not much: only about a cupful. But it smelled profoundly out of place in a restaurant kitchen.

Christian Delteil, you see, was experimenting. A few weeks before we'd sent him assorted bottles of whisky; he had tried each one and concocted a recipe into which it would fit. How long had this taken him? 'Oh, about 20 minutes'. Had he tested them out before today? 'No, it's the first time. Except for the crab linguini. They do a version of that here quite a lot.' Will the recipes work? 'They usually do'. This ability to see flavours in his head (not to mention the ability to cut leeks so that they look decorative instead of like pieces of green Edinburgh rock, and the ability to cook five experimental dishes in 45 minutes with a photographer asking him to do that whisking a bit nearer the camera, please) is the reason why Christian Delteil is Chef Director of more than four restaurants.

We'd started with a trip to Billingsgate fish market. Delteil can distinguish a farmed sea bass from a wild one at 20 paces and picks up bigger fish by pushing his fingers into their eye sockets.' You get used to it,' he says. Good. But why, I ask, does the fish at Billingsgate look so fresh, while the fish at every fishmonger and supermarket I've ever known in Britain look tired? Simple. 'They hold stock. They don't buy every day.' You can go to Billingsgate and shop for yourself if you want to - some stalls won't sell to individuals, but many will. 'You always see Chinese here. Chinese restaurants like to do their own shopping.' Then back to Bank for some serious cooking. The recipes hang over the work area, though Delteil refers to them disappointingly seldom. He's worked out precise amounts for Whisky Magazine readers, though I suspect he never ever works like this in real life. Apart from that there are two things to note about these recipes. One is that the quantities of whisky he uses are small. He simply puts his thumb over the open neck of the bottle and shakes a few drops at a time. The other is that everything is cooked extremely quickly. A piece of fish is on the (very) hot griddle for perhaps a couple of minutes; the linguini are dipped into boiling water and taken out after what seems like just a few seconds.

First off is the sea bream. A few seconds on the griddle and it gets turned over; a few more and it's cooked, arranged on the plate and photographed. On to the scallops. The flambéing was a piece of theatre for the camera; it's not necessary for the success of the dish. He moves on to the sea bass; I nibble at a scallop. They're wonderful: firm and sweet and with a sauce of well-judged delicacy. He cooks the crab linguini (equally scrummy). I have another scallop.And the malted barley? This is for a dish so experimental that Delteil hadn't even written a recipe for it. And I'm only giving it here because so many people in the whisky industry read Whisky Magazine, and they may well be able to lay their hands on some ground malted barley. Anyhow, here's what you do. For each person you need a piece of salmon, a handful of malted barley, a couple of slivers of lemon pith and a handful of seaweed. Yes, seaweed. It brings out the fresh sea flavours of the fish, says Delteil; he uses the seaweed they get when they buy oysters. For each portion, cut a piece of greaseproof paper to an oval about 24in by 12in/30 by 15cm. Oil the paper and at one end put a handful of malted barley with a handful of seaweed on top and a couple of slivers of lemon pith. On top of that put a piece of salmon. Make a thick flour and water paste and brush round the edge of the paper; then fold it in two and seal the pasted edges by rolling them. Delteil blew into the paper package to inflate it, before sealing the final corner. Put this papillotte on an oiled baking tray into a fairly hot oven (170˚C/340˚F/Gas 4) and cook for six or seven minutes. You don't eat the barley or the seaweed - but they do infuse the fish with a lovely flavour, malty and fresh. Distilleries might like to take note.

Christian Delteil's recipes

We have specified the whiskies used, but other similar whiskies could be substituted.

Crab linguini with chilli and whisky

Serves 1


  • 1-2 shallots, chopped

  • 1 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 small red chilli, chopped finely

  • 85g / 3oz white crab meat

  • 150g / 5oz fresh linguini

  • 1 tsp parsley, chopped

  • Ground black pepper

  • Salt

  • 1 portion crab sauce (see below)

  • 1 tsp Rosebank

  • Crab sauce

  • 1 tbsp mayonnaise

  • ¾ tbsp brown crab meat

Sweat the chopped shallots in olive oil in a frying pan.
Add the red chillies and cook for one minute. Add the white crab meat and cook for a further minute. Deglaze with the whisky and boil to reduce the liquid by one-third. Check the seasoning. Add the chopped parsley.
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Cook the linguini for two and a half minutes and drain well. Toss the linguini into the crab mixture and mix well. Put each portion on a plate and pour the crab sauce (made by mixing the mayonnaise and crab meat together) over.

Sea bream marinière with Drambuie Black Ribbon

Serves 1


  • 130g / 5oz fresh mussels in their shells

  • 55g / 2oz fresh clams in their shells

  • Olive oil

  • 1 tsp Drambuie Black Ribbon

  • 1 tbsp vegetable stock

  • 20g / ¾ oz butter

  • 1 tsp parsley, chopped

  • 1 lemon

  • Ground black pepper

  • Salt

  • 1 portion sea bream fillet

In a searing hot pan put the mussels, clams, a dash of olive oil, the Drambuie Black Ribbon and vegetable stock. Cook with the lid on until the mussels and clams open (about two to three minutes). Reserve the mussels and clams. Bring the stock back to the boil and whisk in the butter. Add the parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice, and season. Add the clams and mussels back to the liquid. Cook the sea bream in a pan or skillet (a cast-iron griddle pan is ideal) for three minutes per side. Cook the skin side first. Serve each portion of clams and mussels in a wide shallow bowl with the sea bream on top.

Caramelised scallops with lemongrass and Talisker butter

Serves 1


  • 2 rashers streaky bacon

  • 200g / 7oz celeriac

  • Squeeze of lemon juice

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1 tbsp double cream

  • 15g / ½ oz butter

  • 1 tbsp spring onions, chopped

  • 3 scallops, each cut in half horizontally

  • Lemongrass and Talisker butter (see below)

Grill the bacon rashers until crisp, and reserve. Roughly chop the celeriac into 2in/5cm cubes. Boil for about 12 minutes until tender, in salted water to which you have added lemon juice. purée with a potato masher. Reheat the purée with cream, butter and spring onions. Season to taste. Sear the scallops on an extremely hot griddle pan for 30 seconds per side. Put the celeriac mash in the middle of the plate (ideally shaped into a quenelle shape with the aid of two spoons), surround it with Talisker butter, and place the scallops on top. Arrange the bacon rashers over.

Lemongrass and Talisker butter

  • 1-2 shallots, chopped

  • 50ml / ¼ C dry white wine

  • 30g / 1oz finely chopped lemongrass

  • 1 tbsp cream

  • 100g / 3½ oz butter

  • 1 tsp Talisker

Sweat the shallots and lemongrass with the white wine and whisky, and reduce. Cool slightly and then whisk in the butter. Do not reboil or it will separate. Add the cream. Pass the mix through a fine sieve, and season with salt and pepper.

Sea bass bagayère with Tullamore Dew

Serves 1


  • 100g / 3½ oz small new potatoes

  • 50g / 2oz fresh fennel

  • 1 smallish onion

  • 1 portion fish soup*

  • 3 tbsps Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey

  • 50g / 2oz mayonnaise

  • 1 portion sea bass fillet

Finely chop the potatoes, fennel and onions into 1in / 2cm squares. Mix together and season. Place in a pan with 1 tbsp whiskey and sauté until tender - about six to seven minutes. In a saucepan heat the remaining 2 tbsps whiskey until it comes to the boil, and reduce gently by half. Add the fish soup and mix well. Rub the sea bass with olive oil, salt and pepper and grill for two to three minutes per side. To finish the sauce, add the mayonnaise to the fish soup mixture and mix well until it thickens. Do not boil, or it will curdle. To serve, put the potato mixture on a plate with the sea bass on top; surround with the sauce.
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