Sea Bream with Palourde Clams and Vermouth

We all know we need to eat more fish, and I’m as guilty as anyone for not doing so.

This is a simple yet luxurious dish, the clams and the pancetta adding depth and flavour. And the cavolo nero adds a deep green bed for the fish to nestle on.

Serves 2

2 x decent sized English sea bream, preferably line caught

12 x Palourde clams

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced as thinly as possible

50g piece of pancetta, cubed (or lardons or bacon)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon unsalted butter

125ml dry vermouth (I like Noilly Prat)

1 tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley

salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the vegetable accompaniment

300 – 400g cavolo nero

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced very finely

a pinch of dried crushed chili flakes

½  tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper

a splash of water

1. Have the fishmonger scale and gut the fish and fillet them for you. You can do all this yourself if you want — I just think this saves time and swearing!

2. Check the clams by tapping them with a finger nail — if any stay open discard them! Tap a couple of times — if they have been in the fridge or on ice they may be sleepy!

3. Heat a non-stick frying pan and add a dash of olive oil. Add the chopped pancetta, and fry off gently until they are browned and crisp. Drain them onto some paper towel and set aside. Save the fat that has come out of them in the pan.

4. Prepare the cavolo nero by roughly stripping the leaf off the stems and setting aside.

5. Season the bream filets on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat up the pan used to fry off the pancetta, adding a splash more olive oil if there is not so much porky fat there. Add the butter. Once it is hot, add the fish fillets skin side down. You may need to do this 2 at a time. Let the fish sizzle away for 5 – 6 minutes — you will see the skin curl back on itself — and once you see the flesh above the demarcation line of the skin start going opaque, carefully turn them over and give them another 3 minutes or so on the flesh side. You want the flesh cooked through, but moist with little golden flecks. Take out and put aside.

6. Put the pan back on the heat and add the garlic and the lardoons, stir about 30 seconds, then add the vermouth and the clams. Bring up to the boil and put a lid on.

7. Whilst they are cooking, heat olive oil in another pan, add the garlic and the crushed dried chilli and sauté a few seconds. Add the cavolo nero and move it around. When it starts to go glossy add a splash of water to sizzle and steam and some salt and pepper. Remove from heat and divide amongst the plates.

8. Take the lid off the clam pot — discard any clams that have not opened. Add a knob of butter, some seasoning and the chopped parsley and bring back to heat.

9. Plate the fish fillets, laying them on top of the cavolo nero. Surround the dish with sauce and clams. EAT!

You can also serve this with crusty bread or new potatoes, but a tin of borlotti beans heated through in the sauce is delicious as well…