Monday, 19 July 2010

Cornish fusion crab cakes with tropical dressing, cucumber and spring onion

Ahh, the humble fish cake, a favourite of mine and another impressive yet modest little dish that's very easy to do.

Nice for light lunches or evening meals. If you can't get hold of fresh crab then substitute for chopped crayfish and salmon.

It mentions in my Cornish eatings post that we ate some particularly impressive squid with an interesting dressing of what tasted like passion fruit juice, nam pla and palm sugar.

It got me thinking about a nice little accompaniment to some fresh crab cakes - as much as I love chillies I'm not really into sweet chilli sauce, the ubiquitous sugary syrup that always turns up next to them has become a bit boring for me.

It took a couple of attempts to get the recipe just right, and whilst I'm not overly into sweet things (notice the lack of puds on the blog?) I'm trying to get more into them, and this little dipping sauce / dressing manages to really excite my taste buds - perhaps on account of the intensity of the fish sauce, the sourness of the citrus and the red chilli kick. 

Usually I like to wrap fish cakes in panko (love those sharp little breadcrumbs on many things actually!) but it is nice to go without once in a while. The delicate crab might get a bit overpowered by the texture, and in this dish its the crab flavour that we're after.  Now, not giving them a coating makes them a little more difficult to cook - but so long as you well oil the frying pan and move them carefully to avoid breaking them up they'll be fine.

Fishcakes for two as a main, or four as a starter:
225g white crab meat
2 medium baking potatoes, pierced
4 spring onions, 2 finely chopped up, two left whole
Half a cucumber
200g broad beans, blanched in boiling water, then cooled and shelled
Two red chillis, one de-seeded and finely sliced, the other chopped up
Two heaped tablespoons sesame seeds toasted in a dry frying pan
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce
A small handful fresh corriander, chopped up  
One egg yolk (free range of course)
Plain flour for dusting
3 passion fruits
Juice of one lime
Nam pla (Thai fish sauce) - the same quantity of liquid as in the one lime
One teaspoon palm sugar
50g rocket
50g shiso (or watercress)
50g butter
A few tablespoons oil for frying

- Make the dressing first. In a bowl mix together the chopped up chilli, contents from the three passion fruits, fish sauce, palm sugar and lime juice and let the flavours mingle together for about 30 minutes. After that time, press the liquid through the sieve into a cup or bowl. Taste it to see if it needs a bit more palm sugar or lime juice
- Bake the baking potatoes for an hour and a half on 190 degrees, then remove from the oven, cut in half and leave to cool. Once cooled, spoon out the potato from its skin into a bowl (discard skin)
- Mash the potato up with a fork and add salt and pepper, chopped up spring onion, egg yolk, sesame seeds, Tabasco sauce, fresh corriander and crab, mix together with the fork carefully, until all the ingredients are combined
- Using your hands split the mixture into four portions, and then form them into four balls, or eight small balls if you're making them as a starter. Make sure you compact the mixture together tightly so they dont collapse when cooking. Once formed into balls, gently press between your palms to flatten them out, around a 2cm thickness is ideal
- Lightly dust the crab cakes with the plain flour
- Heat the butter and oil together in a frying pan on a medium heat and wait for the butter to start foaming
- Add the crab cakes to the pan, turn the heat down and cook for around 8 minutes before turning them over and cooking for a further 8 minutes, you're looking for a deep golden colour. Don't cook them too fast as they'll be cool in the middle, you're looking to heat them through more than cook the fish as the crab is already cooked
- While they're cooking, quarter your cucumber lenghthways and remove the watery core, I do this by making two cuts along the length, cutting through the point where the core joins the outer flesh, and cutting through to the centre. Once done, finely slice the cucumber length ways into shards
- Cut the two whole spring onions into lengths the same as the cucumber, and shred length ways
- Put the cucumber, spring onion and finely sliced red chilli into a bowl and add half the passion fruit dressing, mix through with your fingers
- In a separate bowl add the salad leaves and broad beans, and add the rest of the passion fruit dressing, mix again with your hands
- Pile the leaves and broad beans on a plate, top with the cooked fish cakes and finish by adding the spring onion, chilli and cucumber mix to the top

Friday, 16 July 2010

Cornish mackerel with anchovy and black olive salsa

I live in a land-locked city, so 'local' fish isn't something I get to enjoy regularly really, probably why I jumped at the chance to cook these little beauties when I found them on our doorstep in Cornwall.

The mackerel is rich and meaty on its own and is delicious when pan fried in a little foaming butter, but it does need something to cut through and lift that richness, which is where the salsa comes in, and eating them together on crispy bruscetta provides some needed crunchy texture.

A bit of a mixture between salsa verde - with fresh vinegary anchovies, and black olive tapenade, with salty, buttery black kalamata olives - was just what was needed. Perfect dish for a light supper or weekend lunch.

Quick and simple to do, tasty, fresh and seasonal, all good!

For two:
2 fresh mackerel fillets each, skin scored lightly (to stop them curling up during cooking)
12 cherry tomatoes (I like ones off the vine) chopped up
100g fresh anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped up (you'll find these in countless independents, the deli counter in Sainsburys and the pre packed tapas section there too)
100g black kalamata olives, stones removed and the olive meat chopped up
Quarter of a red onion, finely chopped
Juice of one lemon
A small bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
50mls extra virgin olive oil
A couple of handfuls of fresh rocket
Ciabatta / bread for toasting - one slice for each fillet, so four in total
Sea salt and black pepper

- Combine all the ingredients in a bowl (apart from the mackerel) and leave the flavours to mingle for about 30 minutes before you cook the mackerel
- Heat some butter in a frying pan until it begins to foam (med-high heat)
- Salt the skin of the mackerel fillets just before putting them skin side down in the pan
- Turn after around 2 minutes - the skin should be crispy and golden around the edges, and after they've been cooking for around a minute, turn the pan off and they'll continue to cook in the residual heat
- Griddle / toast your sliced ciabatta on both sides, add a handful of rocket, a couple of tablespoons of salsa, and top with the mackerel, skin side up

Variations and ideas:
Chilli lovers might like a generous shot of tabasco in the salsa mix for a little kick
Add a little oriental and add fresh chopped corriander to the salsa mix

Friday, 9 July 2010

Chicken with English mustard and broad beans

I had the idea for this while we were in Cornwall, think its my obsession with broad beans that led to it, perhaps that and my liking for spicy things - which includes large quantities of Coleman's English mustard (the only English mustard that makes me sneeze so much, and I do quite like sneezing).

Now, a slow cook style dish isn't normally a summer time dish, but the sauce in this one is light and the dish goes very well with a side salad so it's a good one for this time of year, and the slow cooker was used only really for convenience while I was at work.
Alternatively, you could use pan fried chicken breast, make the sauce separately in a pan and serve it over the top of the chicken, but I especially like the tastiness and tenderness of the slow cooked chicken thighs - plus their bones add something extra to the sauce of course.

Don't forget, shelling broad beans is a right pain in the backside, make sure you leave enough time to do it ahead of when you need them.
For two:
Four chicken thighs, skin on, bones in
250g shelled broad beans (I boil in water for a few minutes, then drain and cool with cold water so they're cool enough to handle)
6 peeled shallots
2 heaped tablespoons English mustard
1 heaped tablespoon soft brown sugar
500mls white wine (dry or medium is fine, something with body really)
250mls water
50g butter
Groundnut or vegetable oil for frying
A small handful of fresh tarragon, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper
Side salad with a sharp vinaigrette to serve

- Put a frying pan on to a medium to high heat and add some cooking oil
- Season the chicken thigh skin with salt and pepper, and add to the pan skin side down, along with the shallots
- Cook for around 6 minutes, turning just once - you're looking for the chicken and shallot skin to colour a rich golden brown, which will add lots of great flavour to the sauce
- Transfer the chicken and shallots to the slow cooker pot
- Add the wine to the frying pan to deglaze, then stir in the mustard and brown sugar
- Add the wine mixture to the cooker pot
- Add some more salt and black pepper, and the water and turn on a low setting for around 5-6 hours
- You're looking for the chicken to become really tender but not to fall apart off the bone or for the skin to fall off
- When it's ready, remove the chicken carefully and strain the sauce through a sieve back into a pan that's on a low heat - discard the shallots at this point
- Add the broad beans to the sauce along with the tarragon, taste for seasoning, you might want a bit of lemon to cut through, some more salt or even a dash more sugar, just see what your taste buds feel it needs
- Add the chicken back to the sauce to heat through for a few minutes on a gentle heat
- Serve with salad and bread to mop up the juices

Cornish eatings

A blissful week in Cornwall, the weather was incredible, makes me wonder why people holiday abroad, our week away was a bit like being on the French riviera!

Boat trips with Amie and James from their private access to the river leading to the sea were wonderful, bombing down in a four by four through the farms fields to the boat were pretty bumpy, but once we were on the boat and sailing down the river to the fairytale building that is Smugglers Cottage, it was like being on the amazon, I kid you not.

Needless to say, as well as lovely scenery and great company, the food we ate whilst away was all pretty special, and getting to hold a chicken and try their fresh eggs was a really lovely first - thanks Amie's mum!

Hotel Tresanton - Firmdale Hotel styling, gorgeous, glamorous and elegant, truly like being in some kind of premium Orange County country club, surrounded by staff who look like they've come out of a Ralph Lauren ad - not the kind of place I usually hang out!
The food didn't disappoint either, monkfish cheeks with langoustine was a delicate and delicious starter, as was the terrine, followed by pan fried turbot with samphire and a miniature crab cake, and finally, an assiette of unpasteurised cheeses with fig and almond torte on the side - an alternative take on a sweet quince jelly, it really brought out the flavours of the cheeses.
But it wasn't all fine dining fanciness, we ate in too, and ate our way around some other great places.

Porthminster Beach Cafe at St Ives was divine, we loved it and its vibe so much that we went back there twice. Their crab cake has to be the best one I think I've ever eaten, it seemed to have minced crayfish tails in it too, which enhanced the sweetness of the crab, and the shredded cucumber, spring onion and red chilli salad in rice vinegar on the side was the perfect accompaniment.

They also did a brilliant chilli and baby squid dish, and the unusual dipping sauce of what tasted like passion fruit, lemon juice, lime juice, nam pla and palm sugar was just divine.

But sadly, even two visits to St Ives and two excellent meals weren't enough to convince Mathew that we 'needed' to buy a beautiful painting by Simon Pooley. Oh well, perhaps next time I'll have more luck. We still got to enjoy the art St Ives had to offer, the Barbara Hepworth garden was glorious, she's a favourite of mine so it was great to see some of her creations in the garden of her old house.

Sams at Fowey was also very good and not at all what we were expecting - 50's diner meets punk pub, crossed with seaside and surf vibe made for a really interesting interior, and the food was just as good - if a little large on the portion size. Red mullet tempura with a red pesto relish was very fresh and tasty, light and crispy batter housing perfectly cooked fish, and the fat, juicy scallops marinated in corriander oil were divine, tasting so fresh and of the sea.

Then there was a night at at the wine/tapas bar on the Mylor harbour side, Castaways. Plump and juicy pan fried Cornish scallops with lovely yolk coloured roes, accompanied crispy black pudding and wild herbs and salad leaves. Not only did it taste excellent, but there were enough of those beautiful, juicy scallops to feed two on my plate alone, and the tuna steak didn't look too shabby either - but I was too full to stuff any more food in by that point.

A particularly great meal was a genuine Cornish pasty. Amie asked her granny to make some for us, and as an expert pastry maker and lady who'd been cooking pasties for decades, I knew we'd be in for a treat. They looked incredible, golden and ginormous with the flakiest pastry encasing beef, carrots and turnip. We ate them hot, accompanied by some cornish cider we bought at the Eden Project, delicious.

The last night out was down in the woods at 'le shed' (the most glam and well equip shed I've ever seen, it's got a boiler, hot running water and a proper toilet!) We packed up Lucindas car with food and wine and headed over the fields. The ride was a little ropey but we got there in the end with the car in once piece, then we sat back taking in the scenery, the view over the river, the evening sunset, and enjoyed it all over lots of wine and barbie food. Homemade highlights included the dill, lemon and red onion stuffed Cornish mackerel, and the bananas cooked with Mars bars, lots of ummm's and ahhh's all round for those!

Our next adventure with the lovely Amie and James takes us to the Edinburgh Fringe. We're staying in a serviced apartment but are intending to explore the Edinburgh restaurant scene fully while we're there - of course any noodle bars, sashimi restaurants or anything that's oriental and excellent will be of great interest (especially to Amie and I of course :-)