Friday, 30 October 2009
So fate decided that the meal would be pescatarian, however as we set off for Billingsgate at 5.30am, the menu was still very much up for grabs. I had thought of doing a rustic variation of fish and chips, with fresh mackerel wrapped in streaky bacon, roast in the oven in amongst wedges of potato, rosemary, and whole heads of garlic, cut in half through the centre of the cloves. To serve there would have been crushed minted peas and a home-made tartare, bursting with capers and finely chopped gerkin.
When I got to the market, however, variety got the better of me, and it seemed a shame to limit our supper to just one type of fish. And so fish stew it was to be, packed full of my sea bass, haddock and mussels.
I'd previously tried a few Basque-style fish stews, however since the fish was so fresh, there was no need to over-complicate things with unnecessary chorizo or even pernod. I opted for a recipe penned by my culinary hero, Nigel Slater.
Just as I would expect from him, his recipe - with the inclusion of a couple of un-conventional ingredients - is something of a culinary masterstroke. He starts with a base of anchovies, orange peel bay leaves and thyme, which are muddled together with garlic in lightly sizzling oil. I also added leek and fennel for texture and to complement the fresh fish flavours, but these aren't essential. Next, white wine, tomato, fish stock, and the fish only when the sauce has reduced to a splutter. Finally, the mussels are dropped in, which according to Nigel, add as much flavour in their three minutes of cooking as all the other fish put together.
The result is a bold and comforting stew that is both rich yet never heavy, with beautifully evocative scents and flavours. Alongside our starter of smoked salmon, and plenty of Dad's freshly-baked Irish soda bread, it was quite a midweek supper.
Nigel Slater's Fish Stew
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
6 anchovie fillets, drained from their oil
1 or 2 curls of orange peel
1 or two bay leaves
3 or 4 sprigs of thyme
1 large leek
1 large fennel
1 glass white wine
2 400g tins of tomato
500ml fish stock (I simply boiled the fish heads and bones in vegetable stock for 30 minutes, which worked very well)
400g assorted fish per person (I used sea bass and haddock)
Chopped parsley to serve
Plenty of bread to mop
Peel and finely slice the garlic and cook in a deep pan with the oil, anchovies, orange peel, bay and thyme till the garlic is golden and the anchovy has dissolved. Add the chopped leeks and sliced fennel, and cook for another 6 minutes, until the leeks are translucent.
Pour in the wine, boil rapidly for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes and the stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 20 minutes. When the sauce is thick and slushy, lower in the fish, firmest first. Then, once the fish is opaque and tender, add the mussels. Cover with a lid and cook for another 3 minutes until the mussels open. Serve in soup bowls, sprinkled with parsley, and plenty of fresh bread.
You could also include chorizo, before adding the leeks, and use fino instead of white wine for a more Iberian-inspired version.
P.s. If you're wondering why the picture has no mussels, it's because that's the left overs... We were too busy eating to take photos the first time around.
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Billingsgate at 6am, after a five mile pelt through the East End of London. Teas for 50p in a polystyrene cup await... And then it's down to business in the market.
Bargains. They were this [***stretches arms out wide***] big.
Wheeling and dealing. Probably not your average market goers...
Alfred Endeby's smoked fish selection. Including our breakfast to be.
Our morning's work is done... Back to the Cosmic Loft!
The twilight haul. A box of smoked haddock, mussels, smoked salmon, and sea bass.
Breakfast: Poached smoked haddock, scrambled eggs with creme fraiche and chives, roast tomatoes, Irish soda bread, coffee, orange juice.
The Billingsgate bicycle boys and their breakfast. Good way to start the day...
Friday, 16 October 2009
On the menu...
Black pudding, free range egg and farm crab apple jelly on Irish soda bread
Carrot puree with overnight wood-roasted octopus
Roasted garden Jerusalem artichokes with vinegar, chilli, mint and strained yogurt
Wood-roasted squash with bacon, wild mushrooms, cheese, white wine and thyme, served with buttered cinnamon rice and crispy onions (available without the bacon upon request)
Toffee apple tart
Previous feasts have been well documented on this site, so the unintiated should take a look.
See you there!
Thursday, 8 October 2009
For those who need feeding on Friday... What better than a fish supper, down on the Isle of Dogs?
On the menu:
Mudchute Kitchen fish pie, with bay, vermouth, free-range farm eggs and nutmeg mash Served with curly kale and nutmeg mash
Wood-roasted farm apple struddle, with whipped cream
£15 per head (or £10 for kids)
At Mudchute Kitchen, Mudchute Park & Farm, Pier Street, Isle of Dogs, London E14 3HP
Monday, 5 October 2009
So, on the menu that evening was...
Jamon Iberico with caramelised figs
Moroccan bread salad
Roast lamb shoulder, stuffed with saffron rice,
Pear, pomegranate and orange coleslaw
Yogurt and pistachio cake
Manchego y membrillo
Lots of Spanish, north African and eastern Mediterranean influences. The idea was that there was that certain ingredients were carried between a few dishes in a row, with the flavours of one dish were built upon by the next. So the figs were caramelised in some fino (Spanish Sherry), and I also added a dash to the dressing for the bread salad to counteract the nuttiness of the cumin. The cumin in the dressing was echoed in the marinade rub used on the lamb, along with the zest of an orange, and some garlic. The orange made an appearance in the coleslaw, and again to add a sweeter citrus dimension to the yogurt cake. The cheese was served with grapes and fresh figs, so that bookended the whole thing.
Some of the recipes were adapted from what I learned at Moro, others were sort of made up, so excuse me if some of the info is a bit patchy.
After having prepared the yogurt cake, my next task was to make a very pleasant trip to Borough Market in order to visit the excellent deli, Brindisa. My Spanish haul consisted of a bottle of fino, one bottle of Madiera, some olive oil biscuits, manchego, and membrillo – a sweet quince paste which is perfect with cheese, some paprika corn kernals for a pre-dinner snack, and some of the finest (if not the finest) jamon in London. I went for the Dehesa Extramedura Bellota, as it had the richest, nuttiest flavour. As a little treat for myself, I also picked up a bag of Iberico ham bones, which were used in a stock on Sunday night to make an excellent Spanish variation of French Onion soup. Ham stock instead of beef stock, and Madiera instead of white wine, plus a little rendered ham fat to cook the onions in, if you were wondering...
First course was the jamon with figs caramelised in fino, served on toasted sour dough, rubbed with a little roast garlic puree.
And from the decadent to the simple and peasant-like, Moroccan bread salad. The emphasis is on the cumin, so be generous – and make sure you use seeds, not the pre-ground stuff.Tear up some sour dough / rye bread and leave to dry out for a couple of hours. Crush some garlic, and add to a blender with a few whole tomatoes, and tsp or so of roasted, freshly ground cumin seeds. Finish with olive oil, a little cider or white wine vinegar, a dash of fino and salt and pepper.
Put the bread in a bowl, add chopped tomatoes, skinned peppers, sliced spring onions, and any fresh, leafy herbs you have to hand, and coat with a little of the dressing. Serve with more dressing poured on top, and a drizzle of olive oil.
Then on to the roast shoulder of lamb, stuffed with saffron rice. A bit of a wow dish, according to Samantha Clarke... The flavours of the cinnamon and cardamom alongside the richness of the lamb work really well. I prepared the saffron rice the night before which worked fine, and made a rub for the outside of the meat with crushed garlic, grated orange zest, and more roast, ground cumin seeds.
1 shoulder of lamb, about 1.6-1.8 kg, boned and trimmed of most skin and fat
3 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
juice of 1 orange
1 glass fino
blanched and braised chard or braised spinach
200g homemade or Greek yogurt, thinned
with 2 tbsp milk, with crushed garlic clove
and a good pinch of salt
Cook the saffron rice (see recipe below) and set aside. Preheat the oven to 220 C/gas mark 7.
Place the shoulder, skin-side down, on a board and open out fully. Put half, or as much as will fit, of the saffron rice into the pockets of the boned lamb, roll up and tie with string. Place a large roasting tray on the hob, over a medium heat, add the olive oil and brown all sides of the lamb until sealed. Season the lamb with salt and pepper, place in the oven and roast for about 1 to 1 hours or until the meat is pink inside. Remove, transfer the lamb to a board and let it rest for 10 minutes, loosely covered with foil.
Meanwhile, make the gravy. Pour off any fat and return the roasting tray to the hob and heat over a medium heat. Add the orange juice and fino, and bring to a gentle simmer, scraping the meat juices off the bottom of the pan. Taste for seasoning, transfer to a small saucepan or bowl and keep hot. When you are ready to eat, slice the lamb and serve with the orange-fino gravy over the top, the rest of the saffron rice (warmed) on the side, some greens or a robust salad, and some seasoned yogurt.
Saffron rice is eaten at weddings and on special occasions throughout much of the Muslim world. It is an elegant rice, subtly scented with butter and spice. This dish can be made in 15 minutes if the rice has been soaked. Serves 4.
80g unsalted butter
5 whole green cardamom pods, cracked
3 whole black peppercorns
200g basmati rice, washed and soaked in salted water for 3 hours
2 tbsp roughly chopped pistachio nuts (optional)
2 tbsp barberries (optional)
1 good pinch of saffron threads (about 100 threads) infused in 4 tbsp boiling water
Our empty plates were cleared away and we leant back on our chairs to enjoy the vibrancy that the signs of imminent summer had brought to this little corner of Clerkenwell. A beautiful day for a beautiful meal... But it wouldn't be complete without sampling one of the desserts... A slice of chocolate and apricot tart? Two scoops of home-made ice cream – made the River Cafe way, I later discovered – laced with Madiera soaked raisins, perhaps? Yet sat at the foot of the menu, was this most unusual of dishes, simply described as ‘yogurt cake’.
Our waitress said it was something of a house speciality, rarely having been off the menu. A North African dish, we were told, with a texture that somehow managed to blend cake and custard, in a single mass. I'm paraphrasing, of course, however it must be said that her description only served to make it seem more intriguing.
We ordered one portion with two spoons, and awaited the bounty of our decision. And soon enough, between us arrived a creamy and inviting plateful, certainly not what I was expecting, and if I'm honest, unlike anything I had ever seen before. Firstly, a light, almost golden crust, not too dissimilar to that of a rice pudding after a long, slow baking in the oven. On top of that lay a generous sprinkling of coarsely crushed emerald pistachios. Below, a fluffy sponge, which gave way into a citrus-scented custardy liquid at the base. The dish was finished with a slick of Greek yogurt, and a scattering of ruby pomegranate seeds, as if a handful of Persian jewels had been strewn across a white satin cloth.
The taste was even more surprising than the way it looked; a delicate balance of sweetness, lemon, orange, vanilla, held together with a sharp undertone of rich yogurt. Taking a mouthful, the sponge melted from the spoon to my mouth, and the custard carried the flavours coating every taste bud on my tongue. A rich and comforting pudding, which combines lightness and luxuriousness. The perfect end to our meal.
I was lucky enough to be taught how to make this desert by the masters, the chefs at Moro, after having recently completed a short stint working there. A stage, as it is called in the trade. I learned about its Labanese origins, and how a similar dish is eaten for breakfast in parts of Spain. The key is in striking the right balance of sweet and sharp, citrus and vanilla. Every chef at Moro seemed to have their own trick, the little touch or technique that they thought made theirs the best. Whether it be the level of water in the bain-marie, the length of time you whip the egg yolks, the temperature of the oven to begin with, and when you turn it down... But each time, whilst there were subtle differences in texture, the taste was always exceptional.
In my attempts thus far, I have tended towards over-cooking the cake very slightly. Keep an eye on yours as it cooks, and as the top begins to colour, test its’ done-ness by gently tapping the sponge on top. There should be a noticeable wobble, indicating the layer of runniness hiding somewhere beneath.
Serve with Greek yogurt, or a combined mixture of Greek and natural yogurt. If you choose not to use pomegranate seeds, then other seasonal fruits – peaches, blackberries, or even plumbs – would work just as well. Enough for six.
3 large organic or free-range eggs, separated
70g caster sugar
2 vanilla pods, split in half lengthways
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon and orange
Juice of 1 lemon
20g plain flour
30g shelled unsalted pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 180 C/gas mark 4, and put a bain-marie of water in to warm on the middle shelf. Have ready a 25cm round or square baking dish or cake tin with a solid bottom, preferably stainless steel, or lined with greaseproof paper. Having said that, I used an oven-proof dish at home, which was more than satisfactory.
In a bowl, beat the egg yolks with half of the sugar until thick and pale. Scrape out the seeds from the vanilla pods and mix into the egg-sugar mixture. Add the yogurt, lemon zest, lemon juice and the flour, and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with the remaining sugar until soft peaks form. Gently and evenly, fold the whites into the yogurt mixture. Pour the mixture into the baking tin.
Place the tin in the bain-marie, making sure that the boiling water comes halfway up the tin, and cook for about 20 minutes. Then add the chopped pistachios, sprinkling them gently on top, and continue cooking for a further 20 minutes or until the top is light brown in colour. The correct consistency of the cake should be a light sponge on top with a wet custard below.
Delicious warm or chilled.