Most of the time when people — especially restaurant chefs — tell you that it’s all about the ingredients, they’re being a little disingenuous. Give the same basket of food to a good cook and a lousy cook and, believe me, you’ll soon see it’s also about at least minimal know-how.
But, yes, sometimes ingredients really are, let’s say, 90 percent of a good meal. Like this one, cooked on a trip to northeast England. The fish guy had brilliantly fresh wild sea bass and red mullet, all from nearby waters. There were very good vegetables in the stores, too, and a bottle of surprisingly nice sauvignon blanc from, get this, Slovenia.
I asked the fish guy to fillet the fish and give me the bones. I made a 20-minute stock from those bones, a gurgle of that Slovenian wine (reduced by a good 75 percent), a carrot, the green part of a leek, some parsley stems and water to cover. I cooked little carrots and sliced leeks in a covered pan with a couple of teaspoons of butter and a little water (and salt), and set them aside. I sliced some cherry tomatoes. I plucked some parsley leaves.
Five or six minutes before dinner time, I warmed up and salted the strained stock, slipped in the fish filets (with the bass cut into portions), turned down the heat and covered the pan. I also warmed up the carrots and leeks. I put vegetables into each diner’s bowl, set a piece of mullet and a piece of bass on top, ladled some of the cooking liquid (now even better for having hosted the fish) over and garnished with parsley. We had plain steamed potatoes (from the garden) on the side.
All it was was the ingredients, cooked. And that’s what it was all about.