Poaching orange roughy

The previous butter-soaked fish dishes came from my restaurant days, somewhere between 1983 and 1988. The following was written in May, 1990, when the penny was starting to drop.

I think I must be falling for this health propaganda in some sort of subconscious way. Not so long ago, if you gave me a fish to cook, I’d pull out the butter, split a lemon, and go for broke with a simple sauce of plenty of butter, a little lemon, a touch of salt, a few herbs and several twists of the pepper mill.

Suddenly I’ve turned. Here we were, a gorgeous slab of orange roughy before us, and me pronouncing that we were going to have a meal without any naughties. No butter, no salt, no grog. She sneered and mumbled something which sounded like: ‘Here we go again, another hare-brained scheme.’

I looked up and said: ‘What did you say, pet?’

She gazed into my eyes and said: i said “that sounds like a pretty fair scheme.’”

I had turned to health after a meal out the night before when a perfectly respectable piece of orange roughy was slaughtered by an appalling chef. The menu read something like: ‘Fish of the day (orange roughy) with bearnaise sauce.’ We were eating in what purported to be a restaurant in the French bistro style, and I had my mind on a gently fried fillet, attended by a neat spoonful of bearnaise, tarragon popping out left and right. Maybe a simple salad on the side and perhaps a potato or two.

What did I get? A fish that had hit a pan so hot its edges had curled, and the poor dear was still swimming, this time in the most revolting reservoir of split butter. Even after I had wiped most of it away, there was still a litre or two hanging about.

It showed a total disregard for the customer, surely, but what about the poor fish? In spite of the hype surrounding orange roughy it really is a lovely fish, gentle in flavour, just

tough enough in its personal infrastructure to hold together when cooked, but gentle enough to be so, so tender to the bite. It’s got plenty going for it. In the pan that is. Reserves of orange rough y, or sea perch (centurians when they reach the pan) are not only dwindling, but are in danger of fading away through overfishing. Remember, your children might like to try this fish before it disappears.

I offer this recipe as a way to use orange roughy if you must, but take it as appropriate for any fish, particularly those with a finely flavoured, slightly soft flesh.

orange roughy fillets — about 200g per person

½ lemon, sliced

some herbs — tarragon is great, or parsley, or chives


ln a pan, big enough to hold at least two fillets about 5cm apart, pour water to the level of about one centimetre. Toss in a few slices of lemon.


Heat the oven to flat out. Bring the water to the boil on top of the stove, and gently glide the fish fillets in. Allow the water to come to the boil again and move the fillets about a bit with a slide, to ensure there is no danger of them sticking to the bottom.


Put the fish, pan, water and all into the flat-out oven, and leave them for about 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish and the heat of your oven. Test regularly.


Remove, allow the fish to drain, and serve the fish in all its glory, sprinkled with chopped herbs.


Any of the following makes a good accompaniment: mashed potatoes; mushrooms ‘baked’ in a microwave or slow oven until their moisture is eliminated, then tossed with a little beef stock, or madeira; a salad of spicy cress, tossed with a little Ricotta, olives and roasted red pepper strips; or, if you can’t go cold turkey, a speck of butter, melted in a little of the water in which the fish was cooked; and, of course, lemon juice and black pepper.

WINE: The first white wine that changed my life was a Brown Brothers Rhine riesling — it was under the old, white Milawa label and I was under-age. I decided I had to be a winemaker. I still like Brown’s Rhines, especially the King Valley range.