Roasted whole John Dory with vanilla and saffron

Roasted whole John Dory with vanilla and saffron

Real Food by Mike
Alan Benson

Generally speaking, 400 g of fish per person is the right amount. However, a John Dory has a very large head and a lot of bones so you won’t end up with much fish per person. Therefore I would increase the amount to 500 g per person. If you don’t have a pan large enough to fit the whole fish, ask your fishmonger to chop the head off and gut the fish for you. If they’re not too busy, they may also cut the fins off for you (with scissors) so you are left with a sort of obtuse triangle of John Dory. Vanilla can really complement and enhance a savoury dish. We expect it with sweets and so when you taste the vanilla with this fish, it takes you by surprise.


Quantity Ingredient
1 pinch saffron threads
125ml hot fish stock
80g butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2kg john dory
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1 splash medium vermouth
1 lemon, juiced, plus lemon cheeks to serve


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Soak the saffon threads for 30 minutes in the fish stock until the stock is a gorgeous deep-yellow colour. Set aside and keep hot.
  3. In a heavy-based ovenproof frying pan, melt half the butter with the olive oil. When the butter is foaming, add the fish. Once the fish is in, make sure you shake the pan to ensure that the fish is not sticking. Add the vanilla seeds and bean with the saffron-infused fish stock. Continue to fry the fish for 4 minutes on one side, before you turn it and give it one more minute on the other side. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  4. Remove the pan from the oven and add the vermouth. Place the fish on a plate to rest for 3–4 minutes.
  5. While the fish is resting, return the pan to the stove top and add the remaining butter. Over high heat, allow the butter to sizzle, making sure not to let it darken. Add a good squeeze of lemon juice to stop the butter from cooking further and set aside to keep warm.
  6. If you have cooked a whole fish, put the fish on a platter and take it to the table, as it makes a wonderful centrepiece. To serve, slide a spatula under the fish fillet along the top of the bone – the top fillet should slide off the bone. Hold onto the tail and lift it up, using the bone to free the flesh from the spine. You will be left with two lovely fillets. Pick out the remaining bones and put the fillets back together on the serving plate. Spoon over the butter, vanilla and vermouth mixture and serve with the lemon cheeks.


  • A nice touch is to foam the butter. (Whisk the butter continuously as it melts. Before it browns, take it off the heat and continue whisking until a foam forms.) Then, to finish, add some lovely green leaves. I find things like turnip tops, beetroot tops or cavolo nero are good light vegetables that wilt quickly and add a nice balance to the dish..

Medicinal Benefit

  • We all know that fish provides omega-3 fatty acids, essential to our body and helpful in lowering ‘bad’ cholesterol. But saffron and vanilla also pack a nutritional punch. Saffron is full of vitamin A carotenoids, which are antioxidants that protect against cataracts in the eyes. It also has B complex vitamins, to help transform food into energy, and immune-boosting vitamin C and potassium, to help with muscle contractions. Vanilla is very rich in the B complex vitamins that are so essential for healthy skin, healthy blood cells and the proper functioning of the nervous system.
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