Friday, 27 January 2012

Baked mackerel stuffed with preserved lemon

Mackerel is one of my favourite fish. The fact that it's both cheap and nutritionally sound is a bonus on top of its creamy, fleshy texture and delicate yet pronounced flavour. I regularly buy smoked fillets to toss into a salad, but fresh mackerel can't be beat, in my book, and it's amazingly versatile as it will stand up to being matched with all manner of robust flavours.

Ideally, I'd grill mackerel or barbecue it to do it justice but in my small, balcony-less flat neither of these are an option, so I settle for baking instead. This takes less than 10 minutes to prepare and only 20 minutes to cook, and you can grill it if you prefer.

What you need:
1 fresh mackerel, cleaned
A generous handful of fresh flatleaf parsley
Olive oil
A small clove of garlic
Black pepper
1 medium or 2 small preserved lemons

What to do:
Heat the oven to 220C. Chop the parsley very finely and crush the garlic into a pulp. Finely chop a small preserved lemon and combine all three in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil. Season with the pepper.

Rinse the fish under the cold tap, making sure the cavity is clean. Pat dry with kitchen paper. Make three slashes on each side of the fish, right through to the bone. Put on a baking tray and stuff the cavity with the parsley and lemon mixture. Slice the other preserved lemon and arrange on top of the fish. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.

Eat with a green salad and boiled new potatoes.

Cook's tips:
The fishmonger should have already descaled the fish but ask him to gut it too. I usually ask them to take the head off as well. At home, I remove any stray fins or gills with a sharp pair of scissors.

Mackerel is quite bony, so if you don't like dealing with the bones ask the fishmonger to fillet the fish and sandwich the two halves together with the stuffing.

I usually mash up the stuffing in a pestle and mortar once I've done the initial chopping.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Pease pudding hot, pease pudding cold

Pease pudding is such a quintessentially English dish it's even got its own nursery rhyme.Yet it seems to have not only gone out of fashion, but almost completely forgotten about. What a shame - it's cheap, filling, nutritious, low GI, healthy and tasty! In the winter months, those characteristics make it the perfect hearty dish to keep the cold out.

It's not made with fresh garden peas but the split green or yellow variety. You do need to plan ahead, as the peas need soaking beforehand, but it's well worth it. This is the kind of recipe to make over a leisurely weekend, putting the peas to soak on a Saturday afternoon then doing the cooking on the Sunday evening. This recipe makes a generous amount so you can, as the rhyme says, enjoy it hot or cold.

What you need: 
250-300g dried peas
1 small onion, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
2 fresh bayleaves
25g butter
1 litre dilute vegetable stock, cooled

What to do:
Soak the peas for 24 hours in cold water and then drain, rinse and drain again. You may need to change the water halfway through the soaking process.

Put the onion, carrot and peas in a saucepan and add the stock. Bring to the boil, skim off any scum, then turn down the heat a little and keep on a rolling simmer for at least an hour until they have turned to a soft mush and the veg have mostly melted into the mixture. The liquid should have completely evaporated or been absorbed - if not, drain the peas carefully and return to the pan. Fish out the bayleaves then blend the mixture with a stick blender or in a food processor. Season to taste and beat in the butter.

Tip half in a bowl and eat while piping hot. 

Cook's tips: 
Pease pudding goes exceptionally well with pork, particularly cured meats such as bacon chops, gammon steaks, ham hocks or one of those Polish-style smoked pork sausages. If you've boiled the ham, save the liquid and use it for the stock.

It's also delicious cold. Pour the leftover pease pudding into a bowl and put it in the fridge when it has cooled. It will set firm. Use it as a side dish with cold cuts, or spread it on piping hot toast.

I like to turn my leftover pease pudding into a terrine - line a small loaf tin with cling film then wafer thin slices of ham. Pour in the pease pudding, cool then chill in the fridge. To turn out, put a plate over the top of the loaf tin, flip it over, tap the tin hard then ease out the loaf. Carefully peel off the cling film then cut into thick slices - delicious with crusty bread and crudités.

Leftover pease pudding also reheats well in a microwave. Put in a bowl and cover with clingfilm then heat on full power for about two and a half minutes. It does not freeze well, however.

Sunday, 15 January 2012


Ever since I learned how to cook it, I've been making kedgeree backwards and it was years before I discovered I'd been doing it wrong. I don't mean that I was following the recipe backward, dear me, no - that would be stupid, if not impossible. What I mean is, I always thought this was a dish for dinner/supper/tea - whatever you call it - so it was a bit of a shock to learn the truth. Kedgeree is a breakfast dish and it's curried.

In my defence, I learned this recipe from my mother - perhaps she couldn't get hold of curry powder when I was a child. Or perhaps she just didn't know it's meant to be for breakfast, although I find that hard to believe as she was an excellent cook. Still, she had the basic ingredients right - smoked fish, rice, onions and egg. I still make it as an evening meal and I still don't add the spices - for me, the smoked haddock is the draw and I don't see the point in burying its flavour. 

What you need:
1 smoked haddock fillet
1 egg
Half a mug of basmati rice
1 onion

What to do:
Put the rice on to cook, using your preferred method. Meanwhile, boil the egg until it's firm and poach the haddock in a centimetre of water in a lidded sauteuse until it's just cooked (as soon as the water reaches the boil, turn off the heat and let the fish continue to cook in the hot water). 

Heat a generous knob of butter Roughly chop the onion and sauté it gently until it is soft and translucent. Don't let it colour. Meanwhile, flake the smoked haddock and shell the egg then chop it roughly.

When the onion is ready, fold in the rice, fish and egg. Stir through to reheat all the ingredients and serve.

Cook's tips:
I boil rice for 12 minutes, as this is how I was taught - bring a pan of lightly salted water to the boil, add the rice then keep it on a rolling boil until it's cooked. Most people I know say they don't get good results this way - it helps to rinse the rice with a kettleful of boiling water after draining into a sieve. This removes the excess starch and keeps the grains separate and fluffy. I never have any luck with the method my friends use, which is to put the rice into a pan, cover with a measured amount of water, turn on the heat and cover with a very tight-fitting lid until the rice has absorbed all the liquid and is cooked through. American long grain rice is a good substitute if you don't have basmati to hand. Cooking times are roughly the same.

This dish takes a lot of pans - to save on washing up, I often lower my egg into the boiling rice halfway through, so the two are ready at the same time. 

There's an ongoing debate about dyed versus undyed smoked haddock and other fish. The London Fishmonger explains the difference in his blog. Me, I want yellow fish as it provides an essential colour contrast - if that means buying dyed if I can't find naturally yellow smoked haddock then I will, The alternative is the inferior smoked version that is virtually white in colour.

Other kinds of smoked fish work well with this dish.

If you want to have a go at producing Raj-style curried kedgeree, Good Food has an excellent selection of recipes.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Blue tartiflette

A dish of tartiflette is pure indulgence - the blend of sautéed potatoes, onion, bacon and cheese smothered in cream then topped with breadcrumbs and grilled until it's bubbling is perhaps the ultimate in French comfort food. It's also staggeringly high in calories, so it should be a rare treat if you care about your weight - the French usually use butter at the frying stage and full-fat cream at the grilling stage.

Tartiflette originates from the alpine region of Haute Savoie, where the local Reblochon cheese is a key ingredient. However, the dish works well with most soft, creamy cheeses. I had a lump of Blacksticks Blue left over from Christmas so that's what I used here. My version is also lower in fat as I use half-fat crème fraiche and olive oil.

What you need:
1 onion, roughly chopped
3-4 small potatoes, or 1 medium to large, diced
2 slices of bacon, cut into strips, or 1 small pack of lardons
Soft creamy cheese, about 150g, cubed
1 small carton of half-fat crème fraiche

What to do:
Heat some olive oil in a heavy sauteuse and sauté the potatoes on a high heat until they soften and start to colour. Remove carefully, keeping as much of the oil in the pan as you can and place in an oven-proof dish. Sauté the bacon next and add to the potatoes, again leaving the oil in the pan. Finally, turn the heat down and sauté the onions until they are soft and translucent. Add to the potatoes and bacon and mix well. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

Heat the grill. Stir through the cheese and crème fraiche and top with homemade breadcrumbs. Grill until the mixture is bubbling and the breadcrumbs have formed a crispy gratin. Eat with a green salad on the side.

Cook's tips:
I make batches of breadcrumbs every so often, then freeze them in a storage container. They can be used straight from frozen.

In France smoked salmon is sometimes used instead of the bacon.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012


New year, new start and all that - I'm still craving simple dishes after overdosing on carbs at Christmas. And indeed, having signed up to do a 10km race for charity in the spring, now is the time for me to form some sensible eating habits while I teach myself to, you know, run. Further than a bus stop. But, I have no intention of starving myself on lettuce leaves for the next 4 months - I aim to eat as well as usual while subtly tweaking the things I like to eat to cut my fat intake and reduce the carbs, while upping my protein. So panic ye not, I've no intention of turning into a diet bore.

Last night I cooked myself a plate of turlu, a dish I last rustled up some 10 years ago. It's basically a very simple bean stew, originating from Turkey but found around the Balkans too. It's usually made with white haricot beans but I prefer to make it with butter beans, which I think are very underrated. Mixing up my European dishes, I grilled some Spanish chorizo to accompany it.

What you need: 
I small (half-size) tin of butter beans
1 onion, quartered and finely sliced
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

What to do:
Put a very generous tablespoon of olive oil into a sauteuse and heat on a moderate to hot heat. Add the onions then turn the heat right down to low and let them stew very gently until they are translucent. Add the garlic and continue to stew until the onions are almost breaking up. Meanwhile rinse the beans well to get all the gunk from the tin off them. Add them to the pan, stir them through and add a small mug of water. Turn the heat back up to bring the pan to a simmer then turn it back to low, put a lid on and cook for 20 minutes or so. Halfway through, gently mash up the beans a bit with the back of a wooden spoon. Season to taste.

Cut off a piece of chorizo about 12cm long from the loop and split it in half lengthwise. Heat an iron griddle until it's almost smoking and grill the chorizo for 10 minutes, turning once.

Serve and eat with a green salad.

Cook's tips:
I like a lot of garlic so I'll always put 2 fat cloves in, sometimes 3 - stewing it for so long on a very gentle heat does take a lot of the oomph out it and renders it sweet instead of punchy, but try it with 1 clove first then up it next time if you're brave.