Cornish brill, asparagus & butter sauce by Ethan Friskney-Adams

The first of our Farmhouse Cookery Journals comes from chef Ethan Friskney-Adams, of Fitzroy in Cornwall. Read his story, the impact of Covid-19 on his relationship with food and find the recipe for this delicious fish dish at the bottom of the page.

The Chef

Ethan Friskney-Bryer is a chef living in Cornwall, whose culinary focus has, for a long time, been on working with fish and other local produce. The abundance of excellent ingredients in Cornwall was a huge motivating factor behind the move from the city. When Head Chef at Elliot’s in London, Ethan concentrated on underused & undervalued fish species, by finding fishermen and a decent fish supplier who would look after them properly once landed. Since arriving at Fitzroy in Fowey, he has become more focused on nose-to-tail fish eating. In addition to working at Fitzroy, he also does pop ups under the name Grale Frit, with his brother Joel and wife Hazel.

The artist

Hazel Friskney-Bryer is an artist/illustrator; this and future journal recipes will be accompanied by one of her traditional linocut illustrations (right), made by carving the blocks and printing them on a small press in their spare room.

She is often inspired by open air swimming spaces around the country, from the lidos in London to the coves & harbours of Cornwall. In her spare time, she helps with the walled garden project at Trefrawl farm.

The Garden

While on furlough, Hazel & Ethan have been helping to restore the walled ‘Wayzgoose Garden‘, at Trefrawl Farm, belonging to Ed and Nicola Hooper (also listed on Farms to Feed Us), where they’re growing produce that will supply Fitzroy in the future.

“The aim was never for the restaurant to become totally reliant on the produce we grew in the garden. We were hoping to supplement the excellent produce we could already get our hands on, with a few different bits & pieces. But then the world went mad. ⠀

And the garden became even more important for us. Our original aims shifted slightly. No longer were there any restaurants to which we could sell produce so instead the garden became a refuge – admittedly a refuge in which there was still a huge amount of work to do – but a small island of calm control away from the rest of the world. ⠀

There’s a long way still to go and hopefully the restaurant industry will start up again in time to benefit from the fruits our labour.  We would not have got this far without everyone giving up their free time to devote to the project.”⠀

The food

Fish from Nippers Shellfish, Looe

Asparagus from St Endoc Asparagus

Wine from Noble Rot

“This recipe uses a ‘tranche’ of brill, also known as a ‘steak’, ‘chop’, or simply ‘brill on the bone’. It works equally well with any other large flat fish prepared in the same way (for example, turbot, a large plaice or something like a John Dory left on the bone – the cooking time will be less for the last two). You can use this method to cook a whole fish, which is slightly more fiddly to eat but just as rewarding (especially if you’re lucky enough to get the cheeks). 

Cooking fish on the bone stops it from drying out or over-cooking (also helped by the stock in this recipe). The bones also give flavour to the sauce and larger ones will help to thicken it with their natural gelatine content. This is the easiest way to deal with whole fish and requires very little skill: all you need is a rubber mallet and a not too precious knife. 

Do not wash the fish in water at any point during preparation. This will this decrease its shelf-life (important if you have a larger fish and you are hoping to get more than one meal out of it) but is also very detrimental to the flavour. Ensure the fish is scaled (not necessary for plaice, John Dory or turbot) and follow the below method/diagrams for portioning: 

First, find the line of the backbone (there should be a visible line on the skin running from behind the head to the tail) and slice down to the bone with as few cuts as possible. Leave the knife at the deepest point of the cut, lying along as much of the fish as you can, angle the point of the knife upwards slightly, and using the rubber mallet, give it one very firm tap (if you’re right-handed it might be easier to hold the knife in place with your left hand, whilst wielding the mallet with your right). Once through the bone, cut through the rest of the fish with the knife if necessary. Remove the head and divide the two halves into appropriate portion sizes.  

For smaller fish (less than 1kg), remove the head and weigh what remains. It’s often easier to cut directly across the fish from side to side (rather than splitting it down the spine) to get an appropriately sized portion for the smaller fish. For those upwards of 800g you might be able to get 3 portions by cutting from one side to the other to remove the tail in a triangular piece, before splitting the remainder in half. This will also leave you the head and collar which are excellent marinated and grilled.

In all instances, ensure that the blood line (the red sack on the underside of the spine) as well as all other internal organs, roe and gills are removed before cooking, as this will make the sauce and fish taste bitter. 

Illustration @hazelfriskneybryer

Asparagus season is one of my favourite times of the culinary year but if it’s out of season, a wedge of grilled hispi / sweetheart cabbage / purple sprouting broccoli would be delicious alternatives. I also like to serve this dish with new potatoes, either par-boiled – skin on – and roasted with hard herbs, or boiled (a few hard herbs or lovage/celery in the water with them is a nice addition), then tossed in the butter sauce.

The Recipe


  • 2 tranches/chops/steaks of brill (around 200-250g per person)
  • 2 garlic cloves skin on, crushed
  • 1 white onion, peeled and cut into small wedges
  • 1 bulb of fennel (or ¼ of a head of celery), cut into small wedges
  • 6 black peppercorns, lightly toasted
  • ½ tsp of fennel seeds, lightly toasted
  • ¼ lemon zest peeled
  • 1 spring each of any hard herbs (thyme, rosemary, bay etc)
  • 125ml of good white wine (rest of the bottle to be drunk with the fish)
  • 200ml of fish stock (preferably bones are roasted and eyeballs left in)
  • 50g of good quality unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 sprig of any fine herbs (mint, parsley, chives, tarragon etc) finely chopped
  • 6 spears of asparagus (or more if you’re greedy like me)

Start to finish: 45 minutes – Prep time: 15 minutes

Salt the brill and leave for around 20 minutes at room temperature for the seasoning to penetrate properly (alternatively a 8-10% brine for about 20 minutes is just as good).

Meanwhile toss the onions, fennel and garlic in a roasting tin with a little veg/rapeseed oil as well as olive oil and roast in a preheated 180°C oven for around 15-20 minutes until they just begin to soften.

Place the roasting tin on the hob, on a high heat, adding the peppercorns, fennel seeds, lemon zest and hard herbs, give it a stir before adding the white wine.  Reduce the wine to almost nothing, add the fish stock and turn off the heat. 

Ensure the brill is dry after salting/brining and place it black skin up in the roasting tin.  You want the brill to be just under ½ submerged in the warm liquid. Add a little more fish stock, or a splash of water if required. 

Return the tray to the oven and cook the brill for about 10 minutes (depending on your oven efficiency / thickness of tranche). Spoon the stock over the fish a few times during the cooking to prevent it drying out and ensure an even cook. 

You want the internal temperature to reach around 45-47°C and the fish should only just come away from the bone with the point of a knife.  The fish will continue cooking a little as it rests. 

Sieve the liquid into a hot sauce pan (keep the brill as well as the fennel & onions in the warm tray but discard the spices and hard herbs).  As the sauce reduces, whisk in the cubed butter, a bit at a time, to form a thick emulsion, about the consistency of double cream. Whilst doing this, griddle the asparagus (or blanche in salty water if preferred).

Finally add the chopped herbs to the sauce, check the seasoning and – if required – quickly flash the brill in the oven.  Ensure any resting juices from the fish are added to the sauce. 

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