Cook it, live it – pan-fried bream on pistou

Cook pan-fried grey bream fillet on pistou from Mange Tout by Bruno Loubet, live it with jewel-coloured, Mediterranean-inspired tableware from Habitat.

Chef Bruno Loubet is known for reinventing French bistro food. After training in Bordeaux, he worked in Belgium then Paris, before moving to London in 1982 and a job at Pierre Koffmann’s La Tante Claire. He was head chef at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir, ran his  own restaurants in the UK and Australia, and returned to London in 2009 to open Bistrot Bruno Loubet at the Zetter hotel. His latest opening is the Grain Store in June 2013. Mange Tout: Bistro Cooking With a Modern Twist is his first book since 1995. Inspired by his upbringing and travels, it places emphasis on the lighter style of classic French bistro, with a nod to health and Asian influences.

‘Pistou is a Provençal vegetable soup, finished with a basil purée (also called a pistou, confusingly). One of my wife’s aunts is originally from Marseille and aside from her fun and flamboyant personality, her cooking was another big charm. Every single day of her married life, she cooked two meals a day – to the great satisfaction of her family. The love and happiness she put into her cooking was an inspiration. I remember her telling me that she never followed recipes but cooked with her soul! Her pistou was the best I have ever tasted and it was a celebration of her fantastic vegetable garden.

In this dish, I make the pistou soup with less liquid than usual so that it is quite thick, and with the addition of mussels, it makes a great accompaniment to the bream. I suggest you serve it with a dollop of Rouille Sauce as you would for a bouillabaisse and you will get the perfect hybrid Provençal dish.’

Serves 6

80g fresh borlotti beans or 40g dried borlotti
1 bay leaf
1kg mussels
50ml white wine
6 grey bream fillets, about 150g each, with skin
25ml olive oil
6 rosemary sprigs
2 tomatoes, deseeded and diced
½ tsp marjoram leaves
salt and black pepper

Pistou
50g bunch of basil
1 garlic clove
50ml olive oil
2 slices of white bread, crusts removed

Soup
25ml olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
200g leeks, diced
150g carrots, diced
1 onion, diced
150g potatoes, diced
150g turnips, diced
150g courgettes, diced
100g green beans, cut into 1cm pieces
100g shelled broad beans

If using dried borlotti beans, soak the beans overnight in five times their volume of cold water. The next day place the soaked beans in a pan. Cover with cold water, add the bay leaf, bring to the boil then simmer for 45 minutes, until tender.

Soak the mussels in plenty of cold water for 30 minutes. Scrub them clean, then remove the beards (the fibrous clumps attached to the mussels). Discard any that are cracked, broken or remain open when tapped. Drain the mussels in a colander and rinse well.

Heat the white wine in a large pan over a high heat until simmering, add the mussels and cover with a lid. Cook for 4–5 minutes, or until the mussels have opened (discard any that haven’t), then remove them from their shells and pass the juice through a fine sieve set over a bowl.

Preheat the oven to 220°C/fan 200°C/Gas 7. For the soup, heat the olive oil in a large pan over a low heat. Add the garlic and stir, then add the leeks, carrots, onion, potatoes, turnips and fresh borlotti, if using. Season very lightly and sweat, stirring often, for 5 minutes, then add the cooked borlotti, if using, and pour in enough water just to cover. Bring to the boil, skim the surface and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Cover with a lid. Return to the boil, then add the courgettes, green beans and broad beans. Boil gently for 5 minutes then remove from the heat and add the mussels and the strained cooking juices.

Meanwhile, make the pistou. Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Cook the fish. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil over a high heat in a large frying pan until very hot, then add the seasoned bream, skin-side down. Place a rosemary sprig on top of each piece of fish and lower the heat to medium. After 2 minutes check the skin, it should be golden brown. If so, remove the fish from the pan using a palette knife or fish slice and place on the lined baking tray, skin-side up.

Place the fish in the oven to finish the cooking – it will only take 2–3 minutes so watch it carefully, then remove from the oven. Reheat the soup gently, then add the pistou, tomatoes and marjoram to it and stir well. To serve, ladle the vegetables and soup liquid into large soup bowls and place a fish fillet on top of each serving. Serve immediately.

Bruno’s Tips

  • I add a bit of bread to the pistou purée to thicken it and give the sauce more texture.
  • If you want to save time you can buy frozen broad beans. To prepare, cover the beans with hot water from the tap and leave for 2 minutes, then drain and peel the shells by squeezing them between your fingers – the beans will pop out.
  • You can also use a 400g can of borlotti beans. Drain and rinse well. They will need to be added to the soup with the courgettes and green beans.
  • The bream could be substituted for salmon or sea trout. Cook the fish. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil over a high heat in a large frying pan until very hot, then add the seasoned bream, skin-side down. Place a rosemary sprig on top of each piece of fish and lower the heat to medium. After 2 minutes check the skin, it should be golden brown. If so, remove the fish from the pan using a palette knife or fish slice and place on the lined baking tray, skin-side up.

Madras tea towel; Revol baking dish; Flynn chopping board; Milly salt mill; Hano tray; Yipsilon carafe; Devon wine glass; Ginosa tumbler.

Mange Tout: Bistro Cooking with a Modern Twist by Bruno Loubet (Ebury Press, £25).

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