Gurnard are also known as sea robins due to their large pectoral fins which mimic bird’s wings in appearance. There are three different types of gurnard (red, grey and tub) which vary in shape, size and colour but rarely exceed 40cm long. After decades spent away from dinner tables, gurnard have become more popular in recent times as chefs and cooks look for sustainable (and tasty!) fish options. They are at their best during late summer until the end of winter and best avoided during the spring and early summer months as this is their spawning season.
Like all fish, it is vital to buy gurnard when it is fresh – it should be firm to the touch and non-odorous. When choosing gurnard fillet, check the flesh to ensure there is no discolouration and it looks firm and moist.
Gurnard is a real treat to eat but owing to its appearance it has taken a while for chefs and home cooks to fully appreciate its qualities.
Gurnard is perfect for roasting whole – remove the fins and the head, though (see Paul Foster’s alternative Christmas lunch with Roast Gurnard recipe). Once cooked, the meat can be picked away from the bones on the plate which will save you the hassle of filleting it. You will probably need a gurnard for each diner.
When filleting gurnard, be careful of their spiky fins which can easily cut your hand if you do not pay full attention. Gurnard’s firm flesh lends itself well to one-pot dishes, such as stew or bouillabaisse, as it is able to stand up to relatively long cooking times while gurnard fillets are ideal for grilling or pan-frying, just make sure that the skin is nice and crisp.
While gurnard is not as strong as fish such as salmon or mackerel, for example, it does have a unique and tangible flavour. Its meaty texture, holds a delicate flavour with residual earthy undertones. This means it macthes well with other earthy components like mushrooms or Jerusalem artichokes and is nicely complemented by ingredients with sharpness, such as, onions, white wine, lemons etc.. Gurnard can be used as an alternative to red mullet.