We don't have a decent chip shop anywhere near us. Probably just as well. For me, not much beats a good fish supper: conversely, few things are more disgusting than a bad one. And in Scotland, the fish has to be haddock. I've never been a great fan of cod, favoured south of the border. Even when you get it at its whitest and freshest, it lacks the flavour you get from a good piece of Melanogrammus Aeglefinus, as we used to call it in Lochgelly.
Where you have fish, you have the means of preserving it. Cod, typically, is salted: haddock, for some reason, doesn't take to that. In Scotland, we smoke it - and very fine it is too. Let's define the terms. Probably the best known example, and, paradoxically, the less commonly eaten one, is the Arbroath smokie, now registered under the EU's Protected Name Scheme. In Arbroath they use the hot smoking method, which means that your smokie requires no further cooking, unlike today's star ingredient.
In L's house, smoked haddock was referred to as yellow fish, a nod to the fact that it was (and some of it still is) dyed yellow. We buy the undyed stuff. I had never understood the colouring until one night when L was out. Poking through the fridge I decided on fish, chips and peas for supper. The beast was duly breaded and fried. Only on first bite did I realise that I had maltreated a slice of smoked.
It does need to be cooked. I normally do this in milk. Many of us have a bad habit of overcooking fish. If it breaks easily when you lift it out of the pan, you've probably overdone it. You can either poach gently for about 5 minutes, turning half way through. or cover it in milk, possibly chuck in a bay leaf, bring to the boil, remove from the heat and leave for about 8 minutes. Whatever you do, try to find a use for the lovely perfumed milk. I use some of it in today's recipe.
Smoked Haddock Risotto
Risotto, of course, is traditionally made using stock. I always use chicken; however, in Milan, home of the risotto, beef stock is the thing. If you were to use only milk, you would end up with a savoury rice pudding. A combination of milk and stock gives a lovely creamy finish. Adjust the proportions to suit your taste. I probably went 60:40 stock:milk.
A couple of other points. If you're not careful, a risotto can be a little bland. Adding red or yellow pepper adds colour as well as flavour. It's also useful to have a little extra soupcon of something, whether finely chopped anchovies (use sparingly), fish or oyster sauce (ditto) or Worcester sauce (principal ingredient anchovy, in case you didn't know). Or Tabasco for a little heat, but don't overwhelm the delicate flavour of the fish. Some herbs at the end will improve appearance as well as taste. Take your pick from parsley, chives, coriander, tarragon or whatever. I like to use the green parts of spring onions, finely chopped. For me, this dish doesn't need salt, but add plenty of pepper at the end and a good squeeze of lemon.
Ingredients (serves 2)
1 large fillet of smoked haddock; enough milk to cover; bay leaf (optional); 160g risotto rice (Arborio or Carnaroli are the most common in this country); 1 banana shallot, very finely chopped; ½ red or yellow pepper, finely diced; 75ml dry white wine; warm chicken stock - you'll probably need about 300ml, but have more just in case; flavouring (see above), your choice from finely chopped anchovy, fish sauce, oyster sauce, Worcester sauce, or Tabasco; butter; pepper.
Finely chopped spring onions, green parts only, or herbs of your choice - see above; lemon juice.
First cook your haddock by poaching in milk with the bay leaf if using, ideally for about a minute less than normal. Break into large chunks and set to one side to keep warm, reserving the milk. Start your risotto in the usual way by sweating the shallot and pepper in the butter until soft. If you use salted butter, the dish won't need any added salt. Add the rice and stir with the veg until the rice turns translucent. Increase the heat slightly and pour in the wine. Once it has almost evaporated, add some stock and stir. Thereafter add stock and milk, continuing to stir more or less constantly. Add whatever additional flavourings you fancy. When your risotto is about a minute or so from being ready, remove the pan from the heat and place the chunks of fish on top of the rice, pressing them gently into the surface to warm through.
When the rice is done, and the fish is warm, add a good squeeze of lemon juice and a few grinds of black pepper. Serve onto heated plates, trying not to break up the pieces of haddock. Top with your garnish of choice.