Pan-Roasted Groper with Sauteed Gnocchi, Fresh Herbs, Capers & Preserved Lemon

2:47 am on 6 October 2009

Groper has been at the top of my list as an eating fish for most of my life. Its large white meaty flakes hold moisture well when cooked and make groper terrific for nearly all methods of cooking. Groper has been our signature fish at Logan Brown since we opened. The waters surrounding Wellington have always held good numbers of these fish, however, they are now caught in much deeper water than in the old days. I have seen old black and white photos of anglers holding groper with their chunky old surf-casting rods in the same picture. Just more evidence of what it was truly like before any real angling or commercial pressure was evident.

(Serves 6 as a main course)

Ingredients

Gnocchi

  • 1kg large Agria (or other floury variety) potatoes, scrubbed
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten with a fork
  • 50g flour
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To cook and serve

  • 6 x 160g thick groper fillets
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • cooking oil for frying
  • flour for dusting
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of dried chilli flakes (to your liking)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped preserved lemon peel (see recipe on page 316) or lemon zest
  • ¼ cup finely chopped capers
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil
  • 60g butter, cut into cubes
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • cooking oil

Method

Gnocchi

Preheat the oven to 180 C.

Bake the potatoes in their jackets until crisp on the outside and very soft in the centre (about 1 hour). Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a rolling boil.

Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice in half lengthwise and carefully scoop out the soft centre into a bowl. Weigh out 400g of the cooked potato.

Working quickly, put the soft potato into a sieve and, with the back of a spoon, push it through the mesh to create a pile of light, lump-free potato. Spread the potato out about 2cm thick on a floured flat surface. Drizzle the egg yolk over, sprinkle the flour over, then season with a little salt and a healthy grind of black pepper. Using your hands, very gently fold the mixture until it just comes together. Do not overwork!

Split the dough into quarters and flour the surface again. With your hands, gently roll the dough into rounded lengths of about 5mm in diameter. With a knife, cut the dough into pieces about 4cm long or smaller if you prefer.

Gently drop a dozen or so at a time into the boiling water. After about 30 seconds the gnocchi will float to the surface. Carefully remove with a slotted spoon or sieve and spread out on an oiled tray to cool. Once the water comes up to the boil again, repeat the process until all the gnocchi is cooked.

Lightly oil the gnocchi, cover and refrigerate until required.

To Cook and Serve

Preheat the oven to 180˚C.

Place a skillet or frying pan on high heat. Season the groper fillets with sea salt and black pepper. Once the pan is hot, add a little cooking oil and sear both sides of the groper, then remove and place on a lightly oiled ovenproof dish. Set aside. Keep the pan you seared the groper in for the sauce.

For the gnocchi, place a clean skillet or, even better, a non-stick frying pan on medium heat. Lightly dust the gnocchi with flour. Add a small amount of cooking oil to the pan and sauté the gnocchi in batches. Carefully turn with tongs so they are golden on each side. Remove and keep warm while you finish the rest.

Place the groper in the oven.

For the sauce, place the pan you seared the groper in on medium heat. Add the extra virgin olive oil, chilli flakes, garlic, preserved lemon or zest and capers. Fry gently for 1–2 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic. Remove from the heat and toss in the parsley, basil and cubes of butter. Add the lemon juice and season with a little sea salt and black pepper. Stir to combine.

Check the groper after 5 minutes and remove from the oven when just cooked.

To serve, put a piece of groper in the centre of each plate or put them all on a platter, top with sautéed gnocchi, spoon the sauce over and serve.

For potato gnocchi, always seek out large floury potatoes rather than waxy varieties. Agria, Russet and Idaho all work well as they are high in starch and have a low moisture content.

Suggested wines to complement this recipe

Richmond Plains 2009

Chardonnay
John Forrest Collection 2008

From Nine To Noon

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