July, 2009

Jul 09

A Rick Stein twist on smoked fish


Having had the opportunity to interview the fantastic Rick Stein recently, I left just a wee bit inspired – and just about all my food since has been South East Asian in influence. I was just reminded of the zing, the freshness, the delicious combination of hot, salty, sour and sweet, along with the textural pleasures of crunchy vegetables and peanuts, rice, noodles and crispy shallots.

I was inspired by the idea he suggested for making a salad with our very own smoked trout and decided to give it a go myself. But the fishmonger had sold out of trout so I went for some incredible home smoked mackerel.

So I have no shame in admitting this is straight from the Rick Stein school of cookery – and a teatime treat it was too. The idea of frying the smoked mackerel gives it a wonderful texture.

Green mango salad with crispy smoked mackerel à la Rick Stein

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 4 smoked mackerel fillets or 2 whole smoked mackerel
  • 1 green mango
  • 3 stalks lemongrass, finely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, julienned
  • ½ a cucumber, seeded and julienned
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • A large handful of coriander, roughly chopped
  • A large handful of mint, roughly chopped
  • A large handful peanuts, roughly chopped

For the dressing

  • 2 limes
  • 3 tbs fish sauce
  • 2 tbs palm sugar
  • 2-3 bird’s eye chillies

For the crispy shallots

  • 250ml vegetable oil
  • 10 thai shallots or 1 red onion, finely sliced


Cut the mango into matchsticks – if you can’t find green mango you could leave it out or use a regular one, but it is worth seeking out. Mix with the rest of the salad ingredients and set aside.

Make the crispy shallots by heating the oil in a high-sided saucepan until a cube of white bread browns in a minute. Add the shallots (you may need to do this in two or three batches). Fry until crispy, a matter of a minute or two. Remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Make the dressing by finely chopping the chillies and mixing with the rest of the ingredients until the sugar has dissolved.

Fry the mackerel in a frying pan in a few tablespoons of peanut oil (groundnut), turning once, until crispy – roughly five minutes. Drain and set aside for a few minutes.

Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients and toss to combine. Flake the fish into the salad in 2 cm chunks, turning gently so as not to break up the flakes of fish.

Place onto a serving dish and garnish with the peanuts and a few more chopped herbs.

Jul 09

Frozen, icy puddings

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A pudding from the freezer is utterly irresistible to me and I’m sure thousands of others. A cool sorbet or a decadent, smooth ice cream are both stellar ways to end a meal in my book. I don’t need fancy schmantzy, just a bowl with a scoop or two in it. Maybe some sauce if I’m lucky, maybe a few sprinkles too just to add a little texture – but sometimes even this is gilding the lily.

Frozen puddings have incredible mass appeal: how many people do you know who actually don’t like ice cream? There is a nostalgic joy in ice cream, memories of childhood treats, catching the drips as they roll down the cone.

Their other spectacular talent is giving the impression they aren’t filling; however much one has eaten at dinner there seems to be a shared piece of (il)logic going round that the ice cream just melts in the stomach filling in the gaps, and doesn’t actually take up any more space. Always room for ice cream.

This recipe is for a granita – a slushy, icy concoction perfect for the end to a summer lunch. It’s aromatic and delicious, tasting fragrantly of summer. Make sure you use very ripe nectarines to get the maximum flavour. Feel free to chop and change the fruit for anything very ripe, remembering to adjust the sweetness of the syrup to match. Using white sugar here will give you a much more vivid colour.

Nectarine granita (serves 4-6)

  • 150g caster sugar
  • 300ml water
  • 3 large, very ripe nectarines
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime or 1 passionfruit (optional)


Cut the nectarines into eight or so pieces and remove the stones. Place in a saucepan.
Over a low-ish heat dissolve the sugar and water in another pan. When dissolved completely, turn the heat up and bring to the boil. Once boiling pour over the chopped fruit and leave to cool.

Blend the fruit and syrup mixture in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add lemon juice to taste – you need a little bit of sharpness. I used the entire lemon.

Sieve the mixture into a shallow container. Put the container in the freezer, uncovered. After half an hour use a fork to break up the ice crystals. Repeat every half an hour to an hour for 3-4 hours.

To serve, scrape the granita with a fork into a large bowl for sharing. Either scatter some passionfruit seeds over the granita or squeeze on a little lime juice and serve with lots of spoons.

Jul 09

Rainy summer days and spicy curry nights


So our beloved country is yet again afflicted by weather. Summer seemed to be going so well and then, in no uncertain terms, came the rain. My cooking was all salads, cold cuts, jellies, berries, meringues and ice creams and now…well, now it’s rather regressed to the things I was cooking in spring.

Curry seems perfectly appropriate. It doesn’t hugely matter if the weather changes – I’d probably just swap out the rice for paratha or roti and serve it with a kachumba on the side, a light crisp, crunchy salad for contrast. Also, it gives rise to one of my favourite treats – a leftover curry wrap. If you’ve sensibly managed to keep a bit to the side for later, just pop it in a flatbread with some salad leaves, tomatoes and red onion and devour.

This recipe comes from my good friend and author, Simon Majumdar, whose book, Eat My Globe,  about his world eating tour, has been garnering praise left right and centre.

Doi Murgh

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

  • 1 whole chicken, jointed and skinned
  • 1 large white onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 fresh green chillies
  • 2 inch fresh ginger
  • 1 cup whole milk (not low fat) yoghurt

For the spice mix

  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander seed
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt


Blend the garlic, chilli and fresh ginger to a paste in a blender with a little salt and water.
Pour the oil into a large saucepan and fry off the paste for two minutes, stirring constantly.
Tip in the chopped onion and cook until soft and golden

Add the spice mix and cook until it begins to release its oils and lose its rawness. You can see this by drawing a spoon through the mixture – oil will pool around the spices. If they begin to stick, add a little water.

Remove from the heat and add in the yoghurt, blending it in thoroughly with the sauce.
Return to the heat and cook on a very low heat for three to five minutes.

Next put in the chicken pieces, reserving the breast to add later. Toss in the sauce. Cover and cook on a gentle heat for thirty minutes or until the chicken is almost cooked, checking occasionally to make sure it is not sticking. If it is, add more water.

Add the diced breast meat and cook for a further fifteen minutes on a gentle heat.

Remove the chicken and keep warm while reducing the sauce down to a thick consistency before returning the meat to make sure each piece is coated.

Serve with plain boiled rice or naan.

Jul 09

A simple French salad


Trawling through my old recipes often turns up a forgotten gem – and it’s always with a little bit of joy that I remember the flavours and wonder why I haven’t cooked this or that for ages. This recipe is what our French cousins are so very good at – taking the healthy and turning it into something distinctly naughty.

Now, strictly this is an Alpine dish, so in theory one should do some serious trekking before tucking in without the faintest glimmer of guilt, but a brisk walk around the garden should suffice.

It’s perfect for a British summer and will convert even the most resolute of meat n’ two veg eaters. A little something for everyone.

Salade Savoyarde

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 200g Beaufort cheese (you could use Comte or Gruyère)
  • 200g lardons or diced bacon
  • 400g potatoes
  • 50g walnuts
  • 50g bread, cubed
  • 1 head Frisée or a bag of mixed salad
  • 1 carrot, grated

For the dressing

  • 2 tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 5 tbs olive oil
  • Salt and pepper


Peel the potatoes and boil them in salted water until tender, a matter of some 15 minutes or so. Drain, and when cool enough to handle, cut into 1/2 centimetre slices and set aside.

Cut the cheese into pieces roughly the same size as the lardons.

Toast the walnuts in a dry pan for a few minutes, then tip them out and fry the lardons in the same pan until crisp. Set these aside also.

Fry the croutons – you may need to add some butter to the pan if there isn’t enough bacon fat. Drain them on kitchen paper when done.

Allow everything to cool slightly, before lightly tossing together with the frisée and the grated carrot.

Whisk the ingredients for the dressing, or shake in a jam jar. Pour over the salad and season. Serve with crusty bread.

Jul 09

Beans are the business


Runner beans are such a great addition to the summer kitchen. Along with their fellow green, broad and the short-seasoned bobby beans they suit all manner of dishes.

Sometimes I forget how delicious they are – we were served them as a side at dinner in a restaurant last week, just boiled with butter, salt and pepper. What a sweet, succulent treat – hardly a vegetable at all. We ordered seconds and fought over them to the last.

They are also delicious tossed with finely sliced shallots, cherry tomatoes and a splash of French dressing, or given the classic a la Grecque treatment. Their sweetness works perfectly with a Sunday roast – sliced finely and devoured with a generous splash of gravy. This food writing business is hungry work.

I love the following recipe – a simple summer dish. We had it initially with a pan-fried pork fillet, although it is delicious on some sourdough toast the next day. Feel free to add a pinch of chilli flakes if you like it spicy.

Runner bean stew with chorizo

Ingredients (Serves 2-4 as a side)

  • 150g cherry tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 cooking chorizo (about 4 inches long)
  • 250g runner beans
  • 1/2pt water or stock


Finely chop the onion and sauté in a splash of olive oil with the diced chorizo until soft but not coloured. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, a matter of a couple of minutes or so. Add the halved tomatoes and cook until they break down and release their juice.

Add the stock or water.

Finely slice the runner beans on the diagonal so you get nice long pieces.  Add these to the pan, season and simmer until the beans are cooked.

Jul 09

Strawberry sorbet – just one of the evocative aromas of summer

strawberry-a.jpgAromas in the kitchen are endlessly evocative. The rush of heady scent that escapes from a jar of cardamom pods, the greenhouse smell of tomatoes on the vine, bacon under the grill on a Saturday morning – all these things transport the mind.

The scent of ripe strawberries is a glorious reminder of summer; fresh, light and almost thick. At this time of year they make the perfect sorbet – a cool, dreamy ice, ideal for sunny days, for puddings or for mixing with a spot of booze to make a slushy frozen cocktail.

This recipe calls for Mistela Moscatel Turis, a Valencian drink found on my recent trip. It’s perfumed and aromatic – if you can’t find it try a sweet dessert wine. The alcohol stops the sorbet freezing too solidly, but also gives it a wonderful aroma. I also used a lime here as I’d run out of lemons. Feel free to use either, adjusting quantity to taste.

Strawberry sorbet with moscatel


  • 450g strawberries
  • 100ml water
  • 50g sugar
  • 60ml moscatel
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Tiny pinch of salt


Heat the water and sugar together over a low heat to form a syrup.

Hull the strawberries and put in a heatproof bowl. Pour over the moscatel or sweet wine, if using.

Once the syrup boils, pour it over the strawberries and leave to macerate for an hour or two.

Whizz the strawberry mixture up in a food processor or blender until very smooth. Pour through a sieve and then either churn till frozen in an ice cream maker or pour into a Tupperware and pop in the freezer. If using the Tupperware, remove every hour and beat with a fork or whisk to break up the ice crystals.

Jul 09

A Gooseberry chutney cheese pleaser



What to match with cheese can always be a bit of a conundrum. Gone are the days of the well-known brown pickle, it seems, as in every supermarket and shop there are new types ranging from the ordinary to the weird and wonderful. Somehow though, the shop bought varieties are always too sweet or too sharp, missing the sweet/sour balance so crucial to a good pickle. Home-made is the way forward – and is rather easier than jam-making in my opinion. It is good to have an airy kitchen though, as the boiling vinegar can cause a bit of a pong.There is something distinctly lovely about pickling – maybe it’s the waiting. Once jarred, most chutneys and pickles need to be stored for several months to mature before use. While they sit I get ever more tempted, looking in on them regularly, checking them for the smallest variation until I can sit down to a proper lunch of good, crusty bread, soft butter, a good hard cheese and a spoonful of my latest creation.

This fab recipe comes from my friend Henry Herbert, head chef at my favourite London pub, The Coach and Horses in Farringdon. He is forever pickling, jamming, curing meat and baking exceptional bread. This pickle calls for one of my favourite fruits, the gooseberry.

Goosegog Chutney


  • 500g Gooseberries
  • 1 banana shallot
  • 200ml white wine vinegar
  • 200g caster sugar


Finely dice the shallot and sweat in a little flavourless oil (groundnut, grapeseed or a very mild olive oil) in a large, heavy saucepan or preserving pan.

Top and tail the gooseberries and add to the pan together with the vinegar and sugar. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 45 minutes.

Pour into sterilised* jars, seal and leave somewhere cool for a month.

*To sterilise jars, wash in warm water then place in a 170°C oven for ten minutes.



Jul 09

Jam-making: a labour of love


Preserving is one of those things that needs doing on a hot summer afternoon full of plentiful ripe fruit and nothing much else to do.

It is somehow deeply satisfying to be presented with a large pile of blackcurrants, and to top and tail them all, witnessing the progress and working your way steadily through them. It’s quiet time, time to think, time to let the mind wander as you take on the task in hand.

If you plan to make a lot, enough to last the winter, it is definitely worth taking the kids down to a pick-your-own and getting them to collect several boxes of your favourite fruit.

It is both a good day out and the only place where a strawberry truly tastes like a strawberry, warmed from the sun and with a soft, yielding skin, unlike its hardened cousins in the supermarket, picked much before they were ripe.

If you’ve tried your hand unsuccessfully at jam-making before, it might be time to invest in a jam thermometer, which will let you know when your jam reaches setting point. Otherwise the saucer trick (detailed in the method below) will do.

This recipe is an old Mrs Beeton recipe. I have updated the weights and measures. She uses gills and pounds and also recommends collecting the fruit on a very dry day.

Mrs Beeton’s blackcurrant jam

•    450g blackcurrants
•    ¼ pint of water
•    340g jam sugar (Tate & Lyle do one, stocked by most supermarkets)


Put a saucer into the freezer. Turn the oven on to 160°C and put a large jar or two smaller ones into the oven, lids off, to sterilise.

Top and tail the blackcurrants. Put into a large pan (preferably a preserving one) and add the water. Boil for around 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve and let it bubble for around 10-15 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes.

To test if the jam is set, take the plate from the freezer and put a small spoonful on to it. Leave it for a few minutes, then push it away from you with your nail – if it wrinkles then the jam is set. If not, continue to boil for another few minutes before testing again.

Once setting point has been reached, carefully remove your jam jars from the oven and pour the jam in. Allow to cool then seal with wax paper or a rubber ring. Pop the lid on and store in the fridge.

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