Recipe: Fillet of sea bass, aromatic couscous, ratatouille and sauce vierge

THESE are exciting times at St Michael’s Manor Hotel in St Albans as the property embarks on a promised new emphasis on food following the arrival of former chef Olivier Delaunoy as general manager and Franco Bettini as restaurant manager. At the forefront is executive chef Erick Moboti, whose take on this seabass dish shows what the team are out to achieve. Erick says, ‘Cooking staple foods such as couscous and ratatouille combined is scary, but it is part of teaching our younger chefs how to appreciate the simpler things in life. The challenge here is to get the basics right, and I believe we are on to something. The great debate on how best to cook ratatouille in the traditional way doesn’t happen in my kitchen – we saut� all the vegetables together. The key to this dish is to use the right proportion of ingredients and allow it time to yield.’

Fillet of sea bass with aromatic couscous, ratatouille and sauce vierge

Ingredients (serves 4) 4 sea bass fillets; 2 tbsp olive oil; 25g butter; sea salt; freshly ground black pepper

For couscous: 250g traditional couscous; 50g melted butter; 2 tomatoes (roughly chopped); � bunch fresh coriander (chopped); Juice of one lemon; 1 tsp cumin seeds

For ratatouille: 1 of each colour pepper seeded and diced; 1 large courgette (diced); 1 medium aubergine (diced); 2 large plum tomatoes (roughly chopped); 1 medium red onion (diced); 2 cloves garlic (crushed); 2 sticks of thyme; 1 tbsp tomato puree; Nutmeg

For sauce vierge: 200ml extra virgin olive oil; � tbsp lilliput capers; 1 plum tomato seeded and diced; 1 red onion finely diced; 1 tbsp of sliced black and green olives; � bunch chopped coriander; Sea salt and ground black pepper; Juice of one lemon

To cook the seabass: Season the fish with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large frying pan, add the sea bass, skin side down, and cook over a moderate heat for about 3 mins or until golden brown. Turn over and cook for another 3 mins.

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To cook the couscous: Heat the butter in a heavy base saucepan, add the cumin seeds and toast on low heat for 5 mins. Add the couscous and stir to coat, add hot vegetable stock, take off the heat and cover with cling film until liquid is absorbed. Fluff to separate, add the chopped tomatoes, coriander and lemon juice and mix well. Season to taste.

To cook the ratatouille: Heat olive oil in a large casserole dish. Saut� all the vegetables together and season with salt and pepper, stir and cook for 3 mins. Add the tomato puree and thyme, cook for a further 5 mins, pour in the chopped tomatoes, stir and check the seasoning. Cook for a further 5 mins without the lid. Stir in the basil and freshly grated nutmeg.

Sauce vierge: Heat the olive oil in a pan, add red onion, olives and capers, remove from the heat and set aside to simmer for 5 mins, add the lemon juice and season. 5 mins before serving add the chopped coriander. Begin the sauce vierge at least 30 mins before you plan to serve it. It can be kept waiting, covered, in a cool place but not the fridge.


St Michael’s Manor Hotel, Fishpool Street, St Albans01727 864444