I have always had a fascination with fish roe. I realise that this means I should get out more, but as we are all under quarantine at the moment, it will have to wait.
Like a lot of chefs, I always used to prep my fish fillets and then throw away the rest. It seemed like such a waste: almost half of the weight of a fish, such as a turbot or sea bass, would end up in the bin or stock. With this playing on my mind, I tried to come up with a way of using as much of the fish as possible.
Back in 2009, I was asked by a magazine for a recipe that would be fit for a feast, so I decided to make an entire multi-course meal using a single turbot. This meant making a snack with the fish skin, using the bones and some seaweed to make a dashi-style broth and deep-frying the oily “skirt” of the fish.
The result was very satisfying, but I still wanted to make use of the roe. I had once arrived early for lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in the early 2000s and, while waiting for my guest to arrive, I was given some small pieces of toast with some smoked cod’s roe, or taramasalata as we called it in the Eighties. It was – of course – the best I had ever eaten, and I duly filed it in my taste memory bank for a later date.
Several years later, I was eating in New York at a restaurant called Per Se, which overlooks Central Park. One of the dishes I had there was red mullet served with a sauce made from its own roe. Now, I knew that mullet livers were a delicacy, but I didn’t realise just how good the roe was. This, too, was among the best dishes I had ever eaten. When I got home, I immediately started to try working with the roe of all the different fish I used. Luckily, it was spring – there is plenty of roe in most fish at this time of year.
I eventually came up with a sauce for our turbot roe, which involved salting, smoking and then emulsifying it with our homemade smoked salt butter. The results were spectacular, and so we adopted it as the sauce for the fish course on our tasting menu during the springtime.
Meanwhile, news of the excellence of Ramsay’s taramasalata had spread, and many restaurants were serving some version of this. It’s been popular on menus ever since.
When I came to write the recipe below, before the lockdown, I bought a whole large cod’s roe from my local farmers’ market, the Goods Shed in Canterbury, which has a great fish stall. One of my chefs salted and then smoked the roe and we used it to make a sauce for cod. The problem is that the dish was so popular that when I came to devise the recipe, it had all gone.
I had to think fast. Suddenly I remembered that the best smoked cod’s roe I had eaten recently was at the Fordwich Arms, just a few miles away from me outside Canterbury. I am a big fan: I’ve already been nine times in the two and a half years they have been open. A quick call to the chef, Dan Smith, and he kindly sent me the recipe that I offer you today.
When this quarantine is over, I’ll be booking a lunch table on the terrace at the Fordwich Arms, to enjoy, once again, Dan’s beautiful food, especially the smoked cod’s roe. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my version below.