IT was 1999 and we were about to open a new restaurant in Manchester, Steven Saunders at The Lowry.
I was excited because it was a fantastic multi-million pound project built by the same famous architect who designed the Guggenheim in Bilbao. We called a board meeting to discuss the launch.
“Why don’t you ask your friend Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to open it for us?” someone said. Now Laurence is great but this was a Millennium project for the North West. I replied, “Why don’t we ask the Queen?”
There were a few seconds of silence that felt like hours and then a typically left-wing board member observed (in his usual negative way): “We will never get the Queen to Manchester, you are dreaming!”
Anyway, we still sent the invite, via the Mayor of Manchester, and anxiously awaited the response.
Much to sceptics’ surprise, an official envelope duly arrived, which read: ‘Her Majesty The Queen of England would be delighted to open Steven Saunders at The Lowry.’ I was so thrilled!
However, what the heck did I cook for a Queen? It had to be special but conform to guidelines; for example, Her Majesty does not eat garlic, hot spices and many other things.
I created a menu that started with a vegetarian terrine, in the middle I placed a slightly risky blackened cod dish with wild rocket, followed by rack of lamb Nicoise. The Queen adores lamb, but it has to be well cooked.
I sat and ate lunch with her, and was told not to ask questions but only to answer them. She was adorable, it was like talking to my grandmother, she was so normal.
“My son is also into organic,” she told me. “I am sure you would get on, I loved your cod!”
“Ma’am”, I replied. “I know your son well. We love him and we work closely together. He loves sustainable fish and he has had my cod dish, he loved it.”
When the Queen left, the press were all over me for a story.
“Leave me alone, please!” I said, throwing them a few titbits. “The Queen was like my grandmother to talk to, I was honoured to have her here, we had a great time together.”
After that great experience I have always tried to feature the cod dish on my menu.
This simple dish really depends on the freshest of cod that you can get hold of and you’ll find it on the menu at our Little Geranium restaurant in La Cala de Mijas.
Cod can be a bit flavourless so follow this recipe to get the most out of it … although don’t expect HRH to show up!
Blackened Cod the way Her Majesty loves it
Ingredients for 4
4 x 250g pieces of fresh cod, skin on
For the glaze/marinade
2 tablespoons honey
1 dessertspoon of soy sauce
1 tablespoon sake
1 tablespoon mirin ( rice wine or regular dry white wine)
4 tablespoons white miso paste
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Bring the sake, soy, mirin (or wine) and honey to a boil in a medium saucepan over a high heat. Boil for 20 seconds to evaporate the alcohol. Turn the heat down to low, add the miso paste, and whisk. When the miso has dissolved completely, turn the heat up to high again and add the sugar, whisking constantly to ensure that the sugar doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat once the sugar is fully dissolved. Cool to room temperature.
Pat the cod fillets thoroughly dry with paper towels. Slather the fish with the miso marinade and place in a dish or bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Leave to marinate in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
To cook the fish
Preheat oven to the highest heat. Heat an oven-proof skillet over high heat on the stove top. Lightly wipe off any excess miso clinging to the fillets but don’t rinse it off. Cover the pan with a little oil, then sear the fish skin-side down in the pan and cook until the skin crisps, about 2 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until the other side is browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the oven and bake for 5 minutes or less, depending on the thickness of the fish, until the flesh is opaque and flakes easily.
Serve on a bed of wild rocket drizzled with basil oil or good olive oil and some of the cooking juices and season well.
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