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Cooking Whole John Dory from Moxon’s Fishmongers
Fish might just be the perfect ready meal. With the help of a good fishmonger, you really don’t need to do much to create restaurant-quality meals from the comfort of your own home. Something like this oven-baked John Dory with lemon and shrimps takes less than 5 minutes to prepare and about 15 to cook (depending on the size of your fish). Cooking fish on the bone really does produce great results and, although a whole John Dory is rather a scary-looking beast before it’s trimmed, a good fishmonger like Moxon’s will trim the spines for you so all you need to do is season it and put it under the grill or in a pre-heated oven.
Although it looks as if it’s been there forever, Robin Moxon’s first fishmongers opened in Clapham 18 years ago. I must have just missed it, though I remember the florist which, when I lived there, had the larger unit now occupied by Moxon’s rather than the small one next door.
Such is the success of Robin’s shop that when I visited last week there was a 20-minute wait or so in the socially distanced queue. I stood chatting to Robin and learnt that he now had three other shops and his own London Smokehouse. Apart from supplying his own shops, until lockdown he was also providing smoked fish to Browns Hotel. The effect of the recent crisis though, has been broadly positive for him, though I suspect that’s a result of his own entrepreneurial spirit. He told me that when the Welsh fishermen were unable to transport their catch, he was driving down and picking up fish from the harbour to bring back to London. I’m not sure many London shop owners would bother…and, that he still buys from Billingsgate, Brixham and Peterhead fishmarkets, arriving in the early hours of the morning to ensure the best fish is in his shops.
The Clapham shop entrance is stacked high with fresh vegetables and herbs and inside the shop, there’s a deli-style selection of jarred fish stocks, canned fish produce and chilled goodies – homemade smoked mackerel pate, taramasalata, my favourite little brown shrimps and more. There’s a tank full of fresh crab and lobsters too. The fish counter is piled high – one side with smoked goodies, the other with every kind of fresh fish I can imagine.
I love fish but, instead of picking a loin of cod or fillet of turbot, I leave it to Robin to choose for me.
John Dory must be one of the ugliest fish in the world (narrowly beaten by Monkfish) and, I have to confess I’ve never cooked it before. But, a small John Dory is the right size for me and as I watch it being expertly trimmed, I’m already plotting.
Robin tells me not to do too much to my whole John Dory, just to roast it in the oven and serve it with some green vegetables. And, I’m pretty much in agreement that good fish cooked on the bone really doesn’t need too much fancy stuff. That said, I have something of an addiction for those little brown shrimps…I used to go shrimping when I was younger and it’s a taste that takes me back. So, in addition to a handful of other samples, I ask for some…planning a variation on a dish that I generally make with filleted fish.
Back home, I put the half bottle of Louis Jadot Macon Blanc Villages 2018 to chill. A dry, unoaked Chardonnay white from the southern part of Burgundy, this wine is grown on chalk and limestone so it should have a good minerality. I’m particularly happy to be able to open a half bottle (this one is available from Morrisons at £8.30) because in keeping with my ‘meal for one’ I’ll be able to finish the wine rather than leaving a substantial amount till tomorrow and perhaps not enjoying it at its best.
Maison Louis Jadot was founded in 1859. The eponymous founder’s family had arrived in France from Belgium in 1794 and the house remained in family hands until 1985. They have exacting cultivation and production standards and now produce a wide range of wines. The Macon-Villages is a light lemony wine which would pair well with shellfish too, but I’m very happy to sip on it as an aperitif and then later to pair with the John Dory. Meanwhile, I’m cooking supper.
Fish on the bone can be fried (if you have a large pan), grilled or roasted in the oven. I’m keen to produce something I could serve a friend for dinner – and for that purpose roasting in the oven is a neater option because there’s no need to stand watching over the grill or frying pan. Oven-roasted fish though, can be dry. To avoid that I line my roasting tin with enough foil to be able to make a tented parcel. I fill the cavity of the John Dory with a little freshly ground pepper, a bay leaf, a few sprigs of thyme, garlic, butter and some lemon zest. I put a pat of butter on the foil and place the fish on top. Then I pour a glass of vermouth around the fish and add a little more thyme and lemon zest. More pepper on top and just a little salt, then a glug of olive oil. Finally I squeeze the lemon juice into the pan and bring the foil up around the fish to seal it.
Ten minutes in an oven at 180C is enough to take the edge off the whole John Dory. I open up the parcel so that the cooking liquid can reduce down and the skin crisp up a bit. I add in a handful of those lovely brown shrimps for sweetness and textural contrast and return the tray to the oven. Five minutes later, I can see that the fish is opaque and nicely cooked.
Served with the pan juices poured over, some spinach and a few Jersey Royal new potatoes, I have the perfect meal for one.
John Dory is also known as ‘Peter’s Fish’ or St Pierre. St Peter is the patron saint of fishermen and John Dory is said to have the thumbprint of St Peter on its flank. In fact, it’s believed that the strange marking is designed to look like an eye – and to scare away predators. My trimmed John Dory is missing the prickly spines which fan from the fish – but it still looks rather predatory.
John Dory generally feeds on smaller fish (sardines for instance) and it can grow to 2 ft or one metre in length and about 12 lbs or 6 kg in weight. My whole John Dory was around 350g – but apparently the head (which I removed before serving) is about half the weight of a whole fish. It generally lives on the bottom of the seabed close to the coast. It’s regarded as sustainable simply because it’s not fished in large quantities and is generally landed as part of a targetted catch of other, more popular fish such as hake. I was concerned I’d find it rather bony – but actually once cooked it was remarkably easy to fillet and enjoy.
Here’s my recipe for whole John Dory. You could use the same method for fillets of white fish or for other whole sea fish. The cooking time will obviously need to be adjusted depending on the thickness and size of the fish. Just keep your tented parcel closed until the last 5 minutes of cooking, then open up and add in the shrimps to finish the dish.
An easy recipe for whole john dory with lemon and brown shrimps
- 1 small John Dory (whole) about 350 -400 g
- 100 ml Dry Vermouth
- 1 Lemon
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 2 sprigs Thyme
- 1 clove Garlic finely sliced
- 50 g brown shrimp
- 25 g Butter
- 15 ml Olive Oil
Set the oven to 180C
Line a roasting tray with enough foil to tent and cover the fish
Put half the butter in the centre of the foil
Season the fish cavity and fill it with the remaining butter, half the garlic, a bay leaf and a sprig of thyme.
Put the fish onto the foil
Zest the lemon onto the fish and season the skin with salt and pepper
Pour the vermouth around the fish, then add the lemon juice, remaining garlic and olive oil
Pull the foil up to tent the fish and seal
Put in the oven for 10 minutes
Check the fish and if it looks nearly cooked with opaque flesh, leave the foil open, and sprinkle over the shrimps
Cook in the oven for a further 5 minutes or until the fish is fully cooked
Moxon’s Fishmongers are based in Clapham South, South Kensington, East Dulwich and Islington. I know Robin working on a new home delivery service too, so if you are not near one of their current stores, do check their website