How To Entertain This Month – With Alexandra Dudley

Alexandra Dudley is a food columnist, cookbook author and host of the Come For Supper podcast. In this monthly column, she shares delicious recipes for chic entertaining. This time, it’s a simple, seasonal asparagus starter – plus a showstopping seabass tray bake.
By Alexandra Dudley /

The idea of cooking fish, especially when entertaining, can be daunting. True, pin-boning a fish can be a fiddly and challenging task, but there are many ways to cook fish that are as stress-free as they are delicious. This is one of my favourite ways with seabass. Rather than pan fry it, I cook it skin-side up in a hot oven. It takes no more than 12 minutes and delivers perfectly cooked fish with golden crisp skin. I serve this with extra crispy smashed potatoes and a vibrant herby oil. Recently, I cooked this at home for my fiancé, and with the goal of ‘less washing up’ thought I’d try cooking it in the same pan as the potatoes. The result was perfect as well as being rather pretty. So, as well as providing instructions for cooking for four or more, I’ve offered instructions for how to do this if you are just cooking for two – it makes for a lovely date-night dish.

This dish takes no more than 12 minutes and delivers PERFECTLY COOKED FISH with golden crisp skin.

Asparagus is in high season and is great for a dinner party. It needs little fuss. I simply blanch it and pair it with a champagne butter sauce that is as delicious and indulgent as it sounds. It’s also a very good excuse to open a bottle of fizz.

Rhubarb and almond tart for pudding is another ode to the season and provides the perfect finish to this light and springy supper. I love to serve all this with a crisp white or rosé. I love this organic rosé from Drink Amie.

Discover Alexandra's Menu...

THE STARTER:

Asparagus with Champagne Butter Sauce

I’m always happy when asparagus comes into season. It’s a sure sign that spring has arrived. This butter is a take on the classic beurre blanc, but rather than using white wine, it is enriched with champagne. It goes down spectacularly well at a dinner party. Don’t worry about giving up your best fizz for the sake of a vegetable. You only need about half a glass. The result is a deliciously buttery, glossy sauce that is poured over a heap of perky green asparagus.

Serves
4
Total Time
20 Minutes
Ingredients
3 bunches of asparagus
1 shallot, finely sliced
100ml of champagne
150g of butter, at room temperature, chopped into pieces
Method
Step 1
Trim any woody ends of the asparagus (I find the best way to do this is to snap them where they feel like they naturally want to snap). Get a large saucepan of water onto the boil ready for the asparagus while you make the butter sauce.
Step 2
Add the shallots and champagne to a medium-sized saucepan, bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 3-5 minutes until the shallots are softened.
Step 3
Take the pan off the heat momentarily and beat in a little butter using a wooden spoon, then return to a low heat and beat in the remaining butter slowly, a little at a time. Keep stirring as you do to thicken the butter.
Step 4
It is ready when the butter becomes creamy and begins to foam slightly.
Step 5
Season the sauce to taste, then run the sauce through a sieve into a clean saucepan placed over a gentle heat to keep it warm.
Step 6
Blanch the asparagus in the saucepan with boiling water. They should be cooked but retain a little crunch (about 2 minutes) Keep an eye on them as you do not want them to overcook. Once cooked, drain immediately.
Step 7
Arrange the asparagus onto a platter and pour over the champagne butter sauce.

THE MAIN COURSE:

Seabass, olive and crispy potato bake with herby oil

These potatoes are a staple dinner party dish of mine. I often serve them with a squeeze of lemon, but they are wonderful with this zippy herby oil – a lazy take on salsa verde. I love seabass with this, and the fillets make for a good dinner party dish too. I’ve laid out instructions for how to make this for two as it’s a brilliant dish for a date night (just double up for four). If you are cooking for two, you’ll only need one oven tray, but if cooking for more just do the potatoes and fish on separate trays. You can arrange it all on one platter as I have done here or plate it up as individual servings. 

Serves
2
Total Time
1 Hour 10 Minutes
Ingredients
500g of new potatoes
50g of butter
1 lemon
1 tsp of oregano
Olive oil
50g of taggiasche or kalamata olives, pitted
2 fillets of seabass
1 small bunch of parsley, leaves picked
1 small bunch of mint, leaves picked
1 small bunch of tarragon, leaves picked
1 clove of garlic
Sea salt
Method
Step 1
Boil your potatoes for about 15-20 minutes until cooked well and soft. Meanwhile preheat your oven to 200ºC Fan.
Step 2
Drain the potatoes and allow them to steam dry for 5 minutes, then transfer onto a roasting tray. Smash them slightly using the back of a fork.
Step 3
Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the zest of the lemon, oregano and a good pinch of salt. Stir to combine and pour over the potatoes. Then drizzle with olive oil (to make them extra crispy) and season generously with salt. Roast for 30 minutes until crisp and golden.
Step 4
Briefly remove the potatoes from the oven. Add the olives to the tray and stir to combine.
Step 5
Oil and season the seabass fillets on both sides.
Step 6
If cooking for two simply make a little space within the potatoes for the seabass and place it, skin side up into the tray. If cooking for four or more rub a little oil onto a separate tray and arrange the seabass. Cook on the top oven rack above the potatoes.
Step 7
Bake for 10 minutes. I like to crank up my oven heat and switch it to the grill for the last five minutes for extra crispy skin.
Step 8
For the herby oil, finely chop the parsley, mint ant tarragon and place in a small bowl. Add the lemon juice, finely grate in the garlic clove, season with salt and add enough oil until you have a spoonable saucy oil.
Step 9
Transfer the fish and potatoes to a serving dish or serve straight from the roasting tray if you like. Spoon over the herby oil and serve with any remaining oil on the side.

THE PUDDING:

Rhubarb & Almond Tart

Perky pink rhubarb brings a subtle sharpness that’s perfect paired with sweet almondy frangipane. Forced rhubarb is in season now but come summer, this tart is also delicious made with stone fruits like apricots and plums. Although it’s now easy to purchase ready-ground almonds, I urge you to look for whole blanched almonds and grind them yourself in the food processor. It takes very little time, and the result is a far more flavourful and textured frangipane. I love to add a splash of amaretto too for a heightened almondy flavour, but a little vanilla extract will do too. 

Serves
8
Total Time
2 Hours
Ingredients
For the pastry:
175g of plain flour
100g of butter
30g of icing sugar
1 free-range egg
For the frangipane:
130g of blanched almonds
130g of unsalted butter, at room temp
130g of golden caster sugar
30g of plain flour
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp of amaretto
250g of rhubarb, sliced into chunks on the diagonal
Method
Step 1
To make the pastry, place the flour, butter and icing sugar into a food processor. Pulse briefly until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then add the egg. Pulse again until the mixture forms a pastry. Wrap in clingfilm or beeswax wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Step 2
Preheat the oven to 180°C fan setting.
Step 3
Dust a surface with flour and roll out the pastry until about ½ cm thick.
Step 4
Roll the pastry back over the rolling pin to help lift it into a 23cm loose-bottomed fluted tart dish. Press the pastry into the edges of the tart dish, allowing any excess to hang over the sides. Prick the base lightly with a fork.
Step 5
Line the pastry with baking parchment, fill with baking beans or dry rice. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the parchment and baking beans and trim the excess pastry. Allow the tart shell to cool. Reduce the oven to 170°C.
Step 6
While the pastry cools, make the frangipane. Place the blanched almonds into a clean food processor and pulse until they resemble textured breadcrumbs.
Step 7
Cream the butter and sugar using an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Add the flour slowly continuing to whisk.
Step 8
Add the egg and amaretto and beat again. Then fold in the ground almonds.
Step 9
Spoon the frangipane into the cooled tart shell and level out with a spatula. Arrange the rhubarb on top.
Step 10
Bake for 45-50 minutes until the frangipane is golden and set. It should have a slightly crisp top.
Step 11
Allow the tart to cool on a wire rack. Serve as it is or alongside crème fraiche or cream.

For more from Alexandra, follow her @AlexandraDudley or visit AlexandraDudley.com

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