A tasty and highly underrated flat fish
“Brill is a wonderful, very tasty fish that I think is one of the most underrated swimming in our waters,” says fishmonger Paul Day pointing at a spankingly fresh flat fish, its dark-brown skin dotted with white speckles glistening among the ice on the Sussex Fish stall. “It has a very defined, quite distinctive flavour, which is wonderful in itself but also combines well with other ingredients making brill quite versatile.”
If you are not familiar with it, brill is a flatfish similar to turbot—which a lot of the top chefs consider the ‘king of fish’. “The two species are related, but brill has a smaller bone structure which actually means it has more flesh to it”—meaning you get more for your money than from a turbot of a similar size.
Now is a good time for brill because spring is when they come closer inshore for the breeding season. “They normally live a bit further out, feeding themselves up, so when they come in to breed they are plentiful and in really good condition.” However, Paul reveals a Sussex secret: “Brill are more prolific in the waters around the stretch of coast where our day boats fish, so our season goes on a lot longer. It’s one of the nice things about inshore fisheries: we are allowed to land some species at different times to the deep sea trawlers, which means that there is usually something a bit different coming in.”
Dill and orange
Paul has several suggestions for making the most of this tasty flat fish. “I recently came across a recipe that was originally created for turbot, but which works beautifully with brill,” he says. “You cut a pocket into the top side of the fish by sliding the knife along the bone, then stuff the pocket with fresh dill and orange segments. Go for an orange with a slightly acidic edge, as opposed to one that is very sweet.”
Pour over a splash of olive oil, add a knob of butter, season it with some salt and black pepper then wrap it in foil and bake it in the oven. The baking time will depend on the size of the fish, so be careful not to overcook it. “This is a simple recipe but I really suggest you give it a go, it is a winner every time.”
For something more adventurous, try chef Luke Robinson’s sweet and salty brill ceviche with sea vegetables, or if you have a favourite recipe for turbot, sole, or even halibut, substituting it with brill would be a great introduction to this fish or a nice way to extend your repertoire. “The firmness and sweet flavour of brill also make it excellent for pan-frying or grilling and serving with butter, lemon, capers and delicate herbs,” Paul advises.
A good steak
As a guideline, a medium-size brill of about 600 to 800 grams is the perfect size for two people. “I have sold brill of five to six kilos in the past as the main dish for a dinner party,” Paul reveals. “Because of the girth of fish this large you can get a good steak cut out of them, but I tell people that they have tell us in advance if they want one that big. They need a bit of skill to handle and to be honest, at that point things start to get pricey.”
Since being at the Market, Paul has introduced many people to this lesser-known fish, “many of whom absolutely loved it, and will look for them whenever they come to the stall.” It appears that once you have discovered this fish, you are a fan for life. “Brill is one of my favourite types of fish,” Paul agrees. “I don’t eat them every week, but they are a regular on the dinner table.”