Smoked Haddock Chowder with Poached Quails' Eggs
Smoked haddock makes a very fine soup, and this I've adapted from a famous version invented in Scotland, where it is called Cullen Skink.
If you add poached quails' eggs to the soup this makes a delightful surprise as you lift up an egg on your spoon. For a main course meal you could use poached hens' eggs to make it more substantial. Either way, it is lovely served with brown bread and butter.
Start by placing the haddock pieces in a large saucepan, pour in the milk and 18 fl oz (500ml) water, season with pepper (but no salt yet) and add the bay leaf.
Now gently bring it up to simmering point and simmer very gently for 5 minutes before taking it off the heat and pouring it all into a bowl to steam for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, wipe the saucepan with kitchen paper and melt the butter, add the chopped onion and let it sweat very gently, without browning, for about 10 minutes. By that time the haddock will be ready, so remove it with a draining spoon (reserving the liquid) to a board, discard the bay leaf and peel off the skin.
Next, stir the flour into the pan to soak up the juices, then gradually add the reserved fish-cooking liquid, stirring after each addition. When that's all in, add half the haddock, separated into flakes.
Now pour the soup into a liquidiser or food processor and blend thoroughly. After that, pass it through a sieve back into the saucepan, pressing through any solid bits of haddock that are left to extract all the flavour. Discard what's left in the sieve then separate the remaining haddock into flakes and add these to the soup. Taste it now and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice and leave to one side to keep warm.
Now poach the eggs: pour boiling water straight into a medium-sized frying pan and place over a heat gentle enough for there to be the merest trace of bubbles simmering on the base of the pan. Break the 8 quails' eggs (or 4 hens' eggs) into the water and let them cook for just 1 minute. Then remove the pan from the heat and let the quails' eggs stand in the water for 3 minutes, and the hens' eggs for 10, after which time the whites will be set and the yolks creamy. Use a draining spoon and a wad of kitchen paper underneath to remove the eggs, place 2 quails' eggs (or one hen's egg) in each warmed serving bowl, ladle the soup on top and serve sprinkled with the chopped parsley.