Sunday, 30 January 2011

Mediterranean fusion fish stew

This French Sicilian fusion fish stew has a real fresh and deep flavour that's sure to warm your cockles right the way through.

I'll be honest with you, it does take a while to prepare, but it's all quite simple and straightforward and the time is well rewarded.

A variety of fish will work well here, just be careful with oily fish like mackerel that will dominate it. I've chosen salmon, plaice, mussels and a langoustine each (as much for their prettiness as for their taste).

You could use any white fish, prawns, squid and tuna, and the more exotic white fishes such as mahi mahi or talapia would also be excellent, see what looks good on the day and better still - what might be reduced as then you can perhaps splash out a bit more (no pun intended).

The mussels of course don't only provide their meat, they are a stock in themselves and I use these in this stew to create the much needed fish stock, far easier than cooking down shells and heads.

Right then, onto the dish...

Fish stew for four:
2 large skinless salmon fillets, cut into large cubes (salmon thats nice and fatty is best here rather than a wild and very lean fish)
4 skinless plaice fillets, cut into large pieces
4 langoustine
1 net of mussels, cleaned and ready to use
1 squid cut into rings (this is to help flavour the stock)
1.5 tins of tomatoes (I used tinned cherry for extra sweetness but its not essential)
2 tins borlotti beans, don't drain them we want the starchy water they're held in
6 large ripe tomatoes finely diced
2 fennel bulbs, sliced as finely as you can on a mandolin
2 large carrots, peeled and finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely diced
6 shallots, peeled and finely diced
1 large red onion, peeled and finely chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1 bottle of white wine, I used pinot grigio but any other dry fresh white will work
A pinch of saffron (not essential if you don't have any at home)
A pinch of dried chili flakes
2 teaspoons capers
1 tablespoon sugar
A handful each of fresh basil and parsley, finely chopped (just before they're needed)
Extra virgin olive oil
Unsalted butter for frying

- In a large pan sautee the carrot, celery and shallots until translucent (not golden), once translucent after around 10 minutes turn the heat up to its highest
- Add the saffron, squid and cleaned mussels to the pan and add 3/4 of the white wine, clamp the lid on the pan and cook covered for around 6 minutes, shaking occasionally so make sure all the mussels get coated in the liquor
- When the mussels have all opened they're ready, remove the pan from the heat and strain the contents through a sieve catching all the cooking liquor in another pan for use later
- When the mussels are cool enough to handle remove them from their shells, but leave around 10 still in their shells as I think these help with the presentation of the dish, set them aside for later
- Preheat your oven to 100 degrees and put your serving dish and lid in to warm through
- Take a large sautee pan or saucepan (must have a lid) and add a generous glug of olive oil and a knob of butter with the pan on a medium high heat
- When it begins to foam add the red onion and cook for around 5 minutes until it begins to turn golden, then add the garlic and fennel and continue to cook for around 5 minutes
- Add the chopped and tinned tomatoes, capers, lemon juice, sugar, remaining white wine and liquor the mussels were cooked in, stir thoroughly and put the lid on the pan, turn the heat to low and cook for around 20 minutes
- After 20 minutes remove the lid from the pan and add the borlotti beans in their water, stir to combine and cook for 10 minutes uncovered
- Now add all the fish to the pan (which should be lightly simmering) and cover, cooking for 2 minutes - this doesn't sound like a lot of time but the fish will continue to cook in the hot liquor once it's off the heat and in the serving dish
- While it's cooking remove the empty dish and its lid from the oven ready to decant the stew into
- After the fish has been poaching for a couple of minutes add the fresh basil and parsley
- Carefully pour the stew (or it could be easier to ladle it in depending on the size and shape of your pan) into the serving dish that you took out of the oven
- Put the lid on the serving dish and serve it at the table along with a nice bottle of vino, red or white both work nicely

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Courgette and corn fritters with umami salsa

I find browsing and shopping for food to be one of the most pleasurable things to do in life (I'm not kidding). 

It's often where ideas generate, percolate, are enhanced and refined, and when I'm feeling reckless I head food shopping on an empty stomach and without a list - two big 'sins' leading to being skint rather quickly, and sometimes resulting in having shall we say, an 'eclectic' selection of foods for your hard-earned. 

(It truly is a sign of my age where food shopping is a a thrill, gone are the days of all night raves and other things I don't want my parents or employers to know I use to get up to.) 

Anyway, whilst shopping this morning I chanced upon the Taste No5 Umami Paste by Laura Santtini.

Umami is the fifth proven flavour and it means 'a flavour that is meaty and savoury'. Mrs Santtini has done a fantastic job of distilling it into a paste that's most delicious and versatile. It contains anchovies, black olives, balsamic vinegar, porcini mushrooms, Parmesan and is well worth seeking out. Click here to find out more. 

So here's where the recipe idea began; flavours to work well with this paste. Earlier in the week I'd been thinking about crispy corn and courgette fritters done with a Thai bent, but this umami angle would work just as well as courgettes love salty flavours.

The salsa base (that hasn't had the paste added to it yet) packs quite a punch on its own so if you cant get hold of it don't worry, it will be just as delicious without.

I suggest frying the fritters until they're really quite dark brown, they may look like they've gone too far but trust me, they need that bite and nuttiness from a deep golden brown outer - and the inside will still be fluffy and light.

For 10-15 fritters:
2 large courgettes, top and tailed and grated on a fine setting
2 spring onions finely sliced
150g drained sweetcorn
1 green chili finely sliced (leave it out if you're not into heat)
100g buckwheat flour (which is wheat free and gives a sweet nuttiness, but you could use plain too)
2 large free-range eggs
A few pinches each of chopped fresh mint and parsley
75mls milk (green or blue)
Sea salt and pepper
Unsalted butter and groundnut oil for frying
Some shredded lettuce to serve, I used Chinese leaf for its super crispiness and freshness  

For the umami salsa:
A handful of pitted green olives, coarsely chopped
A tablespoon capers, drained and coarsely chopped
50mls extra virgin olive oil
Juice of two lemons
A couple of pinches each of chopped fresh mint and parsley
Half and avocado finely chopped
One teaspoon umami paste - if you don't have this add a couple of scrunches of sea salt

It's worth noting that the salsa can be made in advance but the fritters are best not as the courgette is watery and if made too early can leave the mixture difficult to fry.

- Combine all the salsa ingredients in a bowl and mix together, leave to one side for the flavours to mingle
- In a large mixing bowl whisk the eggs, add a few generous scrunches of salt and pepper, the milk and flour and mix until you have a thick paste
- Add to the paste the grated courgette, corn, spring onions and herbs and mix until combined
- Heat a frying pan on a medium heat and add a generous knob of unsalted butter and a slug of groundnut oil
- When the butter has foamed using a tablespoon add a dollop of the mixture to the pan, it will naturally spread out in the pan so dont put too many in at once
- Cook for around 5-8 minutes before turning over to cook the other side, once they're a deep golden brown on both sides remove and drain briefly on kitchen paper
- Plate with the leaf of your choice and add a tablespoon of the salsa to the top of the fritters, then eat. It's a little lunchtime dish that stands up well next to a rounded white or rose wine or even a chilled beer.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Whole poached chicken Asian style, version 2... plus 3 dish ideas to make with it

It seems the poached Asian chicken recipe I posted over a year ago is the most frequently viewed entry on the blog.

Because of this dishes popularity, and of course because I love oriental food, I've decided to do another one in a slightly different way, and to show a number of different things that can be cooked from it. Hopefully this will please the thrifty, greedy and chili addled among you (and I don't know about you, but I fall in to all three categories).

Poaching a chicken like this is a fantastic way to cook it, not just because of the flavours you can pack in to the flesh, but letting the chicken cool slowly in the pan means you're left with the most juicy and tender meat possible - a real delight to eat.

Three dishes from one bird...

- Ginger, chicken and Szechuan peppercorn broth with rice noodles
- Rice paper rolls with chicken satay, aromatic herbs and crispy fried shallot
- Oriental crispy fried chicken with chillies and five spice

For the whole poached chicken:
1 whole medium chicken
4 carrots, cut roughly
2 medium golden onions, peeled and quartered
2 celery stalks, cut into batons

6 spring onions, top and tailed and cut in half
A very large piece of ginger, roughly cut up
A big piece of galangal, roughly cut up
10 star anise
10 cloves
1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 large green or red chilies, cut down the middle
1 shot of rice wine vinegar
Shaosing rice wine or cooking sherry - 2 shots
Enough cold water to cover the chicken by half and inch in the pan

- Combine all the ingredients in a very large saucepan and bring to the boil on a rapid heat
- Boil rapidly for 20 minutes, skimming any impurities that rise to the surface
- After 20 minutes turn the heat off, put the lid on the pan and leave to cook for 3-4 hours
- Preheat your oven to 180 degrees
- Remove the chicken from the pan leaving the liquor in the saucepan (the chicken will still be warm and perhaps a little hot in the centre) and remove all it skin and discard, then take the chicken apart with your hands removing the meat from the legs, wings and carcass, and separate the breasts from the carcass with a knife (so you remove them both in one piece)
- Put the meat to one side and place the bones and carcass into a roasting tin, roast for 25 minutes turning over once, you're looking for the bones to be turning golden
- While the chicken is roasting, strain the poaching liquor through a fine sieve into another saucepan
- Once the chicken bones are ready, remove them from the oven and add to the liquor, bring to the boil and then simmer for an hour

- Strain once more through a fine sieve, the liquor is now ready to use in a broth, or reduce down further to an even richer stock and then freeze or keep in the fridge

By poaching the chicken and then roasting and simmering its carcass in the liquor once more you'll create an excellent stock packed with aromatic chicken flavours.

Dish number one...

Cleansing ginger, chicken and Szechuan peppercorn broth with rice noodles. 

Now, you know I love noodle soup (I think it should be a food group in itself) so no surprise there's one making an appearance here.

Szechuan peppercorns are very potent and clean tasting, almost mentholated, so they work really well with a big kick of ginger and green chilli, helping the chicken pack a punch in it's fragrant liquor.

So whether you feel like you've overindulged, are a seasoned noodle soup fan, or just want something clean, zingy and packed with flavour, this broth is just the ticket. We like to serve it in a big pot at the table and then help ourselves.

Broth and noodles for two:
The shredded meat of one of the chicken legs
1.5 pints of the poaching liquor (making sure you've skimmed the fat from the surface first)
A large piece of ginger, peeled and cut into slender matchsticks
2 large spring onions, finely shredded lengthways
A small handful of fresh mint and coriander leaves, finely shredded
Half a teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns
1 green chili finely cut
Enough skinny rice noodles for two (however many you like really) made up as per their instructions and then sat waiting in cold water

- Place the broth, ginger, peppercorns into a saucepan and bring to the simmer for 10 minutes so the ginger and peppercorns can infuse into the broth
- Strain through a fine sieve into another saucepan and put back on the heat (you don't want to chew down on one of those peppercorns!) pick the ginger out of the sieve and put it into the saucepan with the liquor
- Bring to the simmer again then add the chicken, spring onions and noodles - cook for around 5-7 minutes to heat everything through and then add the chilli, spring onion and fresh herbs
- Either ladle into bowls ready to eat or transfer to a soup dish for the table

Dish number two...

Rice paper rolls with chicken, crispy fried shallot and aromatic herbs.

I love these rice paper rolls, you can wrap up loads of tasty things in them like a spring roll - but these don't come with any guilt.

I've eaten them a few times in Vietnamese restaurants and have always really liked them, though the best time I tried them was in Thailand, not from a street vendor or somewhere only the locals go, but in Bangkok airport between flights.

You could put loads of different things in them, I decided to go for satay in these as it gives them a real richness and is a classic combination with the chicken. Homemade satay is infinitely nicer than shop bought, and as it's really easy to do there's no reason not to give it a go.

We like to make them then cut them in half, stand them on their ends and then drizzle a tiny bit of light soy sauce into them before eating.

For four rolls:
4 sheets of rice paper - you'll get this from an Asian supermarket
200g peanuts (plain)
2 tablespoons  light muscavado sugar
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
One garlic clove, peeled
100mls coconut milk
2 spring onions, cut into 3" length shreds (this is so they can fit easily into the rolls)
Quarter of a cucumber, core removed, cut into the same slender shreds (like you see with hoisin duck pancakes)
A handful of fresh coriander (leaves and stalks)
A handful of fresh mint, leaves torn
One red chilli, finely sliced
5 shallots, peeled and finely sliced
Groundnut oil for frying
Soy sauce to serve

- In a food processor place the garlic, peanuts, sugar, lime juice, rice vinegar, coconut milk and dark soy sauce and blitz until smooth, this is your satay done - easy see
- Fill a large bowl with the hottest water your hands can stand to dip in to, then take one of the rice paper sheets (which are very brittle so be careful) and put it into the water for just 30 seconds, then remove
- You need to be careful when you take them out to try to keep them from sticking to each other, it has a funny sticky texture so a light touch is needed
- Lay the sheet flat onto a plate, then start to place your herbs, cucumber, onion, chillies, chicken and satay sauce lengthways at the side closest to you - don't be scared to mix it up with your fingers instead of having them there in layers
- Now as when making a spring roll, bring in the sides of the roll and then the end closest to you up over the top of the ingredients, the bottom piece of the rice paper will stick to the sides that you pulled up first making it really easy to finish the roll
- Tuck the ingredients into the pocket you've created then turn it over to seal the roll. Place to one side and then repeat with the other three rolls until you've used all the ingredients
- Once this is done these can sit and wait, they're eaten cold after all. Heat the groundnut oil (about an inch deep) in a pan until its very hot and then add the shallots to the oil to deep fry them. Cook in the hot oil for a few minutes until the shallots turn golden, then remove them and drain on kitchen paper
- Dress the top of the rolls with the crispy shallots then eat

Dish number three...

Oriental crispy fried chicken with chillies and five spice

After those semi-virtuous dishes this one is chance to be a bit naughty, KFC oriental style - delicious!

Crispy chicken for two as a snack or starter to share:
One of the chicken breasts, torn by hand with the grain of the chicken into several large-ish pieces
One egg, beaten
2 teaspoons five spice powder
A generous scrunch sea salt
A few pinches dried chili flakes
A few handfuls panko breadcrumbs
A few tablespoons plain flour
Groundnut oil for frying
Shredded spring onion and a little fresh coriander
Sweet chilli sauce to serve

- Mix the panko with the five spice, salt and chillies in a bowl
- Place the flour into another bowl, and the beaten egg in another - line them up with the egg in the middle
- Take each piece of chicken in turn and lightly coat in the flour, then the egg and finally the panko, sit them waiting on a plate
- Heat some groundnut oil in a deep pan (you need the oil a couple of inches deep really) and when its very hot carefully put the chicken in, cook until golden and turn if you need so they are golden all over
- Remove from the pan carefully when they're ready (this should take around 6 minutes) and drain on kitchen paper
- Place into a serving dish along side the sweet chilli sauce and a napkin (tis finger food after all) then eat

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Moroccan pastilla with wood pigeon and chicken, served with jeweled cous cous

Pies are apparently the big food trend for 2011. According to Serious Eats, 2010 was the year of the cupcake, but this year it's all about pies - so what better way to start the blog in 2011 than with a pastry topped creation.

But what pie to begin with?

I think I've mentioned in a previous post that the food at mine and Mathew's wedding was a huge Moorish feast. 

My dad didn't do the catering, we hired in a local Moroccan restaurant to supply the saffron chicken, spicy tagines, merguez sausage with harissa paste, and a number of pastries and sweets with rose water, pistacho and fruit centres. But my dad did make some other delicious things to accompany the restaurants offerings - I'd like to say it was because we got nervous there might not being enough food, but actually it was because as a family we're a bit greedy for lots of different tastes, hunger doesn't come in to it. 

The day before the wedding my dad was in the restaurant kitchen, immersed in cooking, chatting and drinking red wine (his usual trio of pursuits). At first it looked like he was making a strudel, but as I got closer and saw the colour of the meat and the bowl of toasted flaked almonds I knew what he was up to; making a pigeon pastilla. And being as it would be making an appearance on our big day, it seemed eminently sensible that we try it first. 

We only intended it to be sampled by a few of us, but it was so good that word soon got out and most of the guests got to devour a piece or two with gusto. None of it made it to the wedding day feast.

For ease I've used breast meat for this recipe rather than cooking the birds on the bone and picking the meat off, and whilst I love the gentle gamey flavour of the pigeon, to keep the dish light I've used a mix of half pigeon and half chicken.

The ingredients list is very long, but these are the wonderfully complex, sweet and umami flavours of Moroccan food and this is a dish that's easy to prepare once you get going. We like to eat it at lunch but it would also go down really well at a dinner party perhaps as a starter on account of it being a bit different and just delicious. 

If you can't find pigeon near to where you live (the eating variety) then I can recommend the wonderful Wild Meat Company who will deliver it direct to your door. Their service, pricing and meat quality are second to none and I'm a real fan.

For two pigeon pastillas which should feed 8 as a snack or light lunch, or 4 as a main meal:
For the pastillas - 
300g pigeon breasts, skin off (this is about 6 pigeon breasts) - diced
300g chicken breasts, skin off (this is about 1 medium-large breast) - diced
2 large golden onions, finely diced
1 green chili (not authentic but we like chili in this house), finely chopped and deseeded if you don't like it too hot
1 large thumb sized piece of ginger, minced
2 fat cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon black peppercorns - ground down
1 teaspoon coriander seeds - ground down
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
5 cardamom pods, seeds removed and pods discarded
1 tablespoon regular sugar
250mls water
3 eggs, beaten
A handful of both fresh flat leaf parsley and coriander
50g flaked almonds, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan
8 sheets of filo pastry
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (for the top)
1 tablespoon icing sugar
100g unsalted butter, melted
Olive oil and unsalted butter for frying
Sea salt
2 x 9" cake tins - the type with the removable base

For the cous cous - 
Use the cous cous recipe in my blog entry in December 2009 - and add the seeds of half a pomegranate to the top of the cous cous once placed in your serving bowl. You're best to get the seeds out b holding the cut pomegranate in your hand and hitting its skin side with a wooden spoon.

- Add a generous knob of butter and glug of olive oil to a frying pan on a medium heat and when it starts to foam, add the onions and cook until turning lightly golden
- Add to the pan the ginger, garlic, chili and the dry spices and combine the mixture, cooking for around five minutes until the aromas really come out
- Add the chicken and pigeon to the pan and a generous scrunch of sea salt, turn the heat down and cook the mixture for around 10-15 minutes until the meat has been lightly seared
- Add some of the water to the pan (you're using it so that the ingredients dont catch while the mixture is cooking down) and stir and place the lid on the pan
- Cook for 1 hour on the hob stirring it regularly and adding more water if it needs it to stop it catching
- Pre heat your oven to 200 degrees- Add the fresh coriander and parsley to the beaten egg and mix thoroughly  
- After the hour cooking the meat should have become very tender and when you gently press it with the back of a spoon it should break a little - the sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon
- Pour the beaten egg mixture to the pan and let it sit in the pan for a couple of minutes without moving it, then begin to stir it through the meat so it creates a scrambled egg type mixture in the sauce, this should take around 2 minutes then you can turn the heat off
- Butter the inside of your cake tins with the melted unsalted butter
- Lay your first sheet of filo in the tin, covering just over a quarter of the base and letting the sides fall over the edge and out. Now butter that pastry on the base and sprinkle with a little ground cinnamon, icing sugar and some toasted almonds. Then lay your second sheet of filo over another quarter of the tin but overlapping the first piece (so the mixture will be well sealed inside), butter this and repeat with almond, sugar and cinnamon and the third and fourth sheets of filo. You should end up with the base of the tin covered with 4 layers of filo each separated by cinnamon, sugar and almonds, and the rest of the filo hanging well over the edge of the tin. 
- To the top of the final layer of filo add a sprinkle of the almonds, sugar and cinnamon once more and then layer in half of your pigeon mixture until the tin is evenly covered with the mix
- Add some more flaked almonds to the top of the mixture and then pick up the filo that's hanging over the edge (this bit sees all of them being layered back over the top in the reverse order to how they went down so start with the last one you put in) and drape it over the top of the mix, butter the top of this filo, add a sprinkle of icing sugar, cinnamon and almonds and then bring up the third piece of filo and drape this over the top - repeat with the buttering and spicing and remaining two sheets
- You now should have a pie that's totally encased by filo - butter the top and repeat the process with the rest of the mixture and filo using your other cake tin
- Place them into your oven for 20 minutes or until they're golden brown
- Remove from the oven and place on a plate for serving. Lightly dust ground cinnamon over the top and then icing sugar - I held a piece of paper of the pie in two different places to give the stripy effect but this isn't essential, more just because it looks nice
- Serve with the jewelled cous cous or along side a saucy tagine