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10 minutes with Nathan Outlaw

by Sarah Alcock

Do you put boiled eggs in your fish pie? Nathan Outlaw does, which means that we will never omit them from a fish pie again! We chatted to the Michelin-starred king of seafood about his favourite fish dishes, his early career with Rick Stein and how you can get a dish on his pub menu...

How do you make the perfect fish and chips?
'I'm not a triple-cook chip kinda guy, I like my chips boiled from a Maris Piper potato. I fluff them up in the pan and fry them. A good beer in the batter really does make a difference and I always add a small amount of honey, too, to make it nice and golden. I am a big fan of pickles, so you've got to have a gherkin on there, too. And a pickled egg.'

What's the best drink to pair with fish and chips?

'Something like a Pilsner is really really good. You need to have that sort of acidity that cuts through the fat of fish and chips. They say the perfect drink to have with fish and chips is actually Champagne – it cleanses the palate. But for me personally, a cup of tea.'

What inspired you to get into cooking with seafood?

'In the summer holidays we'd always come to Cornwall and, after qualifying as a chef, I headed straight down there. I went to work with Rick Stein and that was probably the main thing that got me interested in seafood.'

How did Rick influence you?

'Rick opened my mind to a simpler approach to cooking. If you've got good ingredients and you know how to cook, you can make some fantastic food. Sometimes that's quite ballsy; you look at a plate and think "Is that a bit too simple?" – but as long as it tastes amazing and the produce you've got is great, people will love it.

What's the best fish at this time of year, and what's the best way to serve it?

'Mackerel is my favourite fish. It's one you have to eat as soon as you've caught it, as it does deteriorate quite quickly. An unsung fish that I think is fantastic is red gurnard. It's great for making fish and chips with. And it's about half the price of cod or haddock at the moment.'

What's your favourite way of cooking salmon?

'I like poaching salmon. Take onion, thyme, carrots and bay leaves and put them in a pan to make a stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 5-10 minutes. When simmering, drop in your salmon. A 150g salmon will cook in about 6 minutes, so make sure everything else is ready before you start cooking the fish. I like poached salmon cold, served with a cucumber salad and some mayonnaise.'

Can you suggest an easy fish recipe?

'I like a whole fish cooked so everyone can help themselves. Something like a big plaice or brill or, if you can't get bigger fish, a couple of nice lemon soles are always good. Oil the fish all over and then season with salt and pepper. Put in the oven, around 200ºC, with a bit of softened butter, chopped shallots, lemon zest, chopped potatoes, some parsley and some garlic. Then serve with salad and everyone will be happy.'

What would you put in your ultimate fish pie?

'You have to make sure there are three parts: one-third white fish, such as cod, one-third smoked haddock and one-third salmon for the oiliness. I'm quite strict about that. I do like a boiled egg in my pie. I also like to put some tartar sauce through my white béchamel to give it a bit more flavour. I tend to use mashed potato as I like the cheese grilled on top. I've tried before with a pastry top but I think you overcook the fish while you're waiting for the pastry to cook.'

Do you have a favourite way of cooking prawns?

'I think prawns work really well on a tray with the shells still on. Try them with red onion, red peppers, chilli and olive oil. Put them in the oven and serve just like that so everyone can help themselves with finger bowls.'

Which desserts go well following delicate fish?

'Citrus desserts, like lemon posset or passionfruit panna cotta. Rhubarb also goes really nicely. Heavier desserts like chocolate are harder to get right with a fish menu.'

Have you got any top tips for pairing beer and food?
'Be careful when adding beer to any food that the dish doesn't become too bitter. If you're making a beer sauce, for example, be careful when reducing as it can become quite bitter, so needs some sweetness to balance it out. If you were making a beer sauce to go with lamb and rosemary you will probably need to add a bit of redcurrant jelly.'

What are the best food and beer pairings?

'Pale ales pair well with sea bass and more Mediterranean-style tomato sauces. With chocolate desserts I'd go for a heavier, fruitier beer and hoppier beers work really well with blue cheese. Try cooking mussels in Doom Bar beer, instead of white wine – it's amazing.'

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