Sunday 30 December 2007

Heaven on a plate: Fillet, Mash and Rocket with Balsamic glaze

My recipe of the year - this really is heaven on a plate; the most sublime combination of flavours and textures. Actually, it's not my recipe, but my humble imitation of an exquisite plate of food served up at Al Fiume, a very good Italian country restaurant set on the banks of the lovely Hennops River, about 45 minutes' drive north of Johannesburg. In the kitchen is the inspired Giancarlo Pironi, formerly of Assaggi and arguably South Africa's best Italian chef.
Fillet with Mash and Rocket
This is the perfect dinner-party dish. It's easy to make and not at all fiddly, provided you move quickly, keep everything piping-hot and buy the very best matured fillet and and the pepperiest, freshest rocket and sharpest Parmesan. This recipe serves 10, but is easily halved.

I blush at the fact that this dish is vertically stacked on the plate (I detest towers of food, but in this case the piling of rocket upon steak upon mash is entirely justified).

Fillet with Mash, Rocket, Parmesan and a Balsamic Vinegar Glaze

2 whole fillet steaks
2 T (30 ml) Dijon mustard
2 T (30 ml) olive oil
3 T (45 ml) good soy sauce (Kikkoman)
salt and milled black pepper

oil and butter for frying

10 large floury potatoes, peeled and quartered
milk and butter

fresh rocket (about 3 'pillow packs', or enough to fill a medium salad bowl)
a wedge of cold Parmesan or Grana Padano
freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons
a glug of olive oil

200 ml balsamic vinegar

An hour or two before you're going to cook them, trim and prepare the fillets (click here for details). Place the fillets in a ceramic dish and, using your hands, smear with the mustard and olive oil. Pour the soy sauce over the meat, cover with clingfilm and set aside (out of the fridge, so they can come up to room temperature).

Preheat the oven to 190°C and place a baking sheet in the oven to heat.

Put the potatoes into a pan of salted water, bring to the boil and cook until quite tender. Drain in a colander, allow to dry out for 5 minutes, and then put them back in the pan. Place the pan back on the heat, add a splash of milk and a large knob of butter, and mash until fluffy and very smooth. Season with salt and pepper, cover and keep hot.

In a large frying pan, heat some olive oil and butter until very hot - just short of smoking. Remove the fillets from the ceramic dish, shake off the liquid, season well with salt and pepper and place into the hot fat. Quickly brown the fillets on all sides until nicely caramelised (this should take about 6 -7 minutes). Put the fillets on the heated baking sheet and place them in the oven for 7-12 minutes, or until done (they should be a nice rosy pink inside - cut a slit in the thickest part of the fillet to check for doneness). Leave the frying pan and its juices on the stove. Put 10 plates in the warmer drawer.

While the fillet is baking, tip the rocket leaves into a deep bowl. Using a potato peeler, shave the Parmesan or Grana Padano into large thin flakes and add to the bowl. Now add the lemon juice and olive oil, in equal quantities, season with salt and pepper and toss well to coat.

Turn the heat on under the pan you fried the fillets in. Tip the liquid left in the ceramic marinating dish into the hot pan and stir well to loosen any sediment. Pour in the balsamic vinegar. Allow to bubble over a high heat until reduced by about half, to a slightly syrupy glaze.

To serve: Take the fillets out of the oven, cover and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Carve into 20 1-cm-thick slices. Put a generous mound of hot mashed potato into the centre of each plate and drizzle with a little olive oil. Place 2 slices of fillet on the mash (they should lean casually against the mound). Sprinkle with a few drops of balsamic glaze. Top with a generous handful - an extravagant crowning tuft - of the rocket and Parmesan.

Now, in best cheffy style, take a teaspoon of the balsamic glaze and make a pretentious designer dribble around the edges of the plate.

Serve immediately, to rapturous applause.

Serves 10.

Note: Don't shave the Parmesan in advance - it tends to dry out and get a bit greasy.
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