This is a simple yet luxurious dish, the clams and the pancetta adding depth and flavour. Serve it with some simply sautéed cavolo nero to make a deep green bed for the fish to nestle on.
2 decent sized English sea bream, preferably line caught, filleted
12–18 Palourde or Poole clams
2 garlic cloves, 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
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 asking them to do it for you saves time and swearing!
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.
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.
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 2–3 minutes on the flesh side. You want the flesh cooked through, but moist with little golden flecks. Take out and put aside.
Put the pan back on the heat and add the garlic and the lardons, stir about 30 seconds, then add the vermouth and the clams. Bring up to the boil and put a lid on.
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.
Serve the fish surrounded with the sauce and clams, either on top of some simply sautéed cavolo nero or with crusty bread or new potatoes.
Sometimes I heat some rinsed, tinned borlotti beans in the sauce… just to ring the changes.