Fish mornay is a fantastic recipe as it is the combination of ingredients that makes it fantastic, rather than having to depend on high quality fish.
I cooked this recipe using fillets from a 70cm painted sweetlip and it was superb. This family of fishes, especially the slatey bream variety of the blubber lip/sweetlip are better to eat than their reputation suggests. Treated correctly, by brain spiking, bleeding and icing down soon after capture (even the best eating fish are better if treated this way), the painted sweetlip goes from being average to very acceptable.
This is not a second rate fish in a second rate dish; this is a great first rate seafood dish and the fish flavour and firmness of texture of the painted sweetlip makes them arguably the best fish for this very delicious recipe – it is less likely to ‘crumble’ into flakes that are too small, especially during the cooking.
1kg fish fillets
500g baby spinach
Freshly ground salt and pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
4 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp fresh parmesan
250g cooked prawns, peeled and deveined (optional)
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs or panko breadcrumbs
3 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
(1) Preheat your oven to 200C/400F. Place the fish fillets in a large saucepan and cover with water until the fish is just covered. On the stove top, slowly bring the water to a simmer and continue until the fish is cooked. Once cooked, remove from the water and allow to cool. When the fish is cool enough to handle, break the flesh into large chunks and place to one side until later.
(2) Place the baby spinach leaves into a microwave proof container, adding a tablespoon of water. Cover with some plastic wrap and microwave on high for two to three minutes. Alternatively, place the baby spinach leaves in a saucepan, add a tablespoon or two of water and cook on low heat until the spinach leaves wilt. Once wilted, drain the baby spinach well, pressing by hand to remove any excess liquid. As an alternative to spinach use either leek or Asian leaves such as bok choy. Cook them in the same manner as I have described for the spinach.
(3) Spray a large ovenproof dish or casserole with non-stick cooking spray. Spread the cooked baby spinach over the base of the dish and place to one side.
(4) Melt 100g of butter in a large saucepan over a low to medium heat. Add the finely chopped onion to the pan and sauté the onion until it has softened. Add the plain flour to the pan and stir with a wooden spoon to form a roux (buttery, oniony, floury mixture).
(4) Remove the pan from the heat and add the milk a little at a time, stirring vigorously until all of the milk has been added. Return the pan to the heat, adding one tablespoon of the freshly grated parmesan. Continue to cook the milk mixture until it has formed a béchamel (thick sauce consistency) and the parmesan has melted. Season the sauce and remove the saucepan from the heat.
(5) Gently, mix the flaked fish and the cooked prawns into the sauce. Use small ‘baby’ prawns, or cut larger prawns into pieces. Spoon the mixture over the top of the spinach-lined overproof dish.
(6) In a bowl, combine the fresh breadcrumbs, chopped parsley and the remaining grated parmesan. Generously sprinkle this breadcrumb mixture over the top of the seafood mixture in the ovenproof dish. Dot the breadcrumb topping with small pieces of the remaining butter and place in the oven until the topping is golden brown (about 10 minutes). All of the ingredients in your mornay have already been cooked so it is simply a matter of popping the mornay into the oven to crisp the top. Your Seafood Mornay is now ready to serve.Reads: 15402