Cornish John Dory, Cornwall
The John Dory is a fish perhaps better prized in the Mediterranean than in Britain, perhaps because it is rarely seen in waters beyond the southern coastline of England. Or maybe it is some prejudice against its looks, as it has a face like a Tory ex-minister in mourning and more fins than a fifties gas-guzzler. The John Dory is found off Devon and Cornwall , however, and is traditionally served there cooked with those other wonderful local ingredients cider and cream. In the last decade or so restaurateurs have taken far more to the fish which is landed at ports such as Newlyn , which from its point of view is not necessarily a good thing, though as consumers we can be delighted at the fact as it has an excellent flavour.
There is some controversy about the English name of the fish, Dory thought to be a corruption from the French dorée, or golden, though a less likely but more attractive derivation is from a Cornish sea shanty dated to the early 17th century, which features John Dory as a villain offering his services to the French king. Ralph Vaughan Williams set the song for chorus.
Most cooks think the fish too ugly to be served whole, and given the relative lack of meat on a whole John Dory, and the bony nature of the beast, it is probably kinder and easier to cook and serve fillets. These are dried and then fried in clarified butter (they can be floured too, which helps the sauce a little and stops spitting in the frying process), then simmered gently and very briefly in cider to which cream is added when the fish is done. Alternatively the fish can be removed once fried, and the sauce made thereafter. A good grinding of black pepper enlivens the sauce on the palate and visually too, though it is best to do this after the fillet is on the plate with the sauce poured over it.
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