Thursday, 11 December 2014

Restaurant review: Smokehouse, Canonbury

The Royal Oak pub on Columbia Road has a lot to answer for. Or rather, the beer at the Royal Oak pub on Columbia Road. It had been one of those delightful crisp Sunday mornings in Hackney. I was finished with work for another week, and with that one day that Katie and I would share we decided to stir early and make the most of it. First a caffeine hit, easily dealt with on Broadway Market, followed by a stroll through the City Farm to catch up with pig, goat and hen. Then a cautious dart across Hackney Road to the visual kaleidoscope of the flower market, dodging those last three bunches for a fiver and into the pub. That pub. It was barely midday but on a Sunday that is long past the start of beer o’clock. Although we had only just breakfasted, hunger was already stirring in every direction. It throbbed food. On tables all around babies and half-glasses were being shifted aside for boards of golden chickens or ruby lamb. Even the bar snacks board wasn’t fair; all charred brisket ends and crab. We supped on our cold pints and made suggestions over dinner plans but there lay the problem; it was Sunday. 

Sunday. The best day to be in the pub and generally speaking the worst to eat out. Sundays mean that dreaded thing; Sunday roasts. Urgh. I know most people’s spines won’t be too shivered at that thought, but to me they always seem like a wasted meal. Growing up, I was lucky in that our occasional family roasts were things of beauty. Potatoes fluffy inside a brulee-thin shell, mum’s Yorkies that hit the top of the oven. Chicken skin worth fighting for. It was a true family occasion, with bowls and platters passed around and everyone having a proper catch up. Why on earth would I want to sit in a pub having just begrudgingly spent fifteen quid to chew on leathery potatoes and carrots that still haven’t cooked through after 4 hours in a bain marie. Some do it right, but they are sitting with hen’s teeth for company. If I find myself caught staring down at Sunday menu I frantically look out for the anything but options and mostly get ditched with good old reliable fish and chips or a sad plate of pub pasta. I sympathise with the logistical nightmare that is turfing out high turnovers of often long-roasted joints and garnish, but it is only desperation over sympathy that ever makes me order one of the damn things.
Unfortunately no-one can be perfect, and Katie bless her soul adores a pub Sunday roast. So clearly a negotiation had to be reached as to where we would end up. I had followed the Smokehouse since it opened and knew its reputation well. A quick look at the menu confirmed it a perfect compromise, offering a full rundown of the favourites; pork, lamb, beef and chicken (well, poussin counts I guess) whilst still having a strong sounding hake dish and a veggie option should I wimp out. Within five minutes of faffing around on marvellously clever but beyond irritating iPhone booking systems we were in. Easy as that. And that was the start of how my faith in the traditional and much-loved Sunday roast was restored. 

At that point I was still nervous about the prospect, or at least that was my excuse for heading up Brick Lane and demolishing a monstrous bun of pork and hot sauce from the Ribman. I was even tempted to fill up further with a beigel. Despite wanting to visit the Smokehouse, a small part of me wished that it was on a different evening, as if on Sundays they all had the night off and allowed the Toby Carvery to take residence.
By the time we set off for dinner I had luckily walked off most of my earlier consumption. The bright day of early had been enveloped by darkness and rain, one of those evenings that make the street lamps appear almost old fashioned as their amber glow cut through the drizzle. The mist hit my glasses as soon as I was over the threshold and my shrivelled senses awakened to the warmth and cheer. I never doubted that pubs themselves were and are amazing places to spend especially grim Sunday evenings. Even at first glance, it was apparent that the Smokehouse had managed to combine being a serious restaurant and a good boozer. It wasn’t stuffy like those empty locals, devoid of atmosphere and populated only by the tiny ‘reserved’ sign upon every table. This was somewhere instantly welcoming, where people wanted to stay. It was also warm, at which point my glasses did their textbook steam effect rendering me momentarily blind. Must remember that that happens. 

Sitting in a charming seat near the pass with a fantastic glass of 2011 Chateau Tour des Genderes we were settled and knew we had made the right decision. We only really intended to have just the one roast course, but as all good menus do we were easily tempted to expand our selection. My starter of crispy fried oysters with bone marrow and dripping on toast was greasy and beefy and unctuous in all the right places. It was a plate a few components designed by someone who knew just when to stop. It was the sort of food that would create a window of time and a diverted walk if I find myself walking nearby in the future. Katie chose a well-assembled charcuterie board that would have been glorious save for the absence of bread or something crunchy. When we asked our server we were promised that some would be right along, but time went by and slowly I finished my own dish and Katie rather flatly nibbled her way through the rest without the slightest sign of a crumb.
If there is one thing that can redeem a diner’s faith it is a knockout course and that is exactly what happened next. Not that I needed redeeming mind, as the mellow contentment from my starter continued straight through. I could dress up a paragraph or two gushing about my smoked lamb shoulder main but to cut to the point it was far and away the best Sunday roast dish I have ever had. The meat was no match for silver cutlery or teeth and instead melted into smokey submission. Every other element on the plate was cared for with matching attention; Yorkshire puddings with perfect crisp and sog factor, an inventive broccoli cheese puree and potatoes that gave those old family memories a run for their money. A smart yet wholesome plate of food. We swooned when the condiment tray came around offering vats of mustards and sauces. I was dumbstruck, my Sunday scepticism had been given a well-deserved kick in the teeth. 

And just when things seemingly couldn’t get much better along swung a small bowl of rice pudding. Comfort food followed by comfort food. Rice pudding is deceptively hard to get just right, and here both subtle sweetness and portion size had been expertly judged. Katie opted for the Double D tart, and whilst saying that the pistachio ice cream was the best she’d tasted she found the rest a little rich. Having said that, without my nut allergy I doubt I would have had a problem putting it all away. Again it looked another cracker.
We have eaten out a fair bit in the last few months, and our evening at the Smokehouse was certainly up there with the very best of them. The food, atmosphere and ethos of the restaurant was fantastic. The only nagging point was the service throughout the meal which was patchy at best. Not just for the bread no show, it just all seemed a bit disjointed. We were left hanging for menus and drinks a few times while our waitress casually dressed empty tables and hovered around. We ordered a final glass of wine each after our mains to see us through pudding, yet these only managed to arrive as we were taking our last spoonfuls. But the highlights of the meal in general far outshone this, and we left with swollen stomachs and broad grins.
If like me you are loathe to a pub Sunday roast dinner then book and visit now. The earth will move. We will certainly be back.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Dark chocolate, peanut and coffee torte with salted peanut praline and buttermilk ice cream

This week I’ve got something a little special and different for you. Earlier last month I was contacted by the lovely people at ActionAid asking if I could write a recipe for their Bake A Difference campaign. This year they are specifically targeting 2700 of the world’s poorest children who will spend this Christmas hungry, sick and in danger, and it’s an absolute privilege to support the campaign and help spread the awareness of this in my blog. More information on the great work undertaken by ActionAid, and how you can sponsor a child can be found on this link. Today also marks Giving Tuesday, which hopefully puts things back into perspective after all of the gluttony and silliness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 

My brief was to design a recipe inspired by ingredients from one of the six countries that ActionAid are focussing on this Christmas; Afghanistan, The Gambia, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Myanmar. All of these countries traditionally produce and use amazing ingredients in their dishes, from cardamom and rose water in Afghanistan to sweet potatoes and bananas in Malawi, giving me a hard decision in picking just one! In the end I opted for the Democratic Republic of Congo. The swaying factor was the combination of cocoa, peanuts and coffee; just the sort of thing that I would order if I was out at a restaurant. Traditionally a Congolese sweet dish is something called Mikates, a sweet doughnut, but for this post I wanted to take the ingredients produced in the DRC and incorporate them into something that reflected my style of cooking. 
I thought that the idea for this campaign was a brilliant one and something that really resonated with me. Although baking has really taken off in the last few years and turned into quite a fashion, the fundamental routes of it have remained the same. Baking makes people happy. It is joyful to start off with basic ingredients and a relief to pull a fantastic finished product out of the oven. But the satisfaction really starts when a cake is given to friends or family. My whole interest in cooking started with baking. I haven’t got a particularly sweet tooth, but what spurred me on was the happiness that a cake as a gift gave others. And I think that this is a universal thing, something that spans countries, cultures and ages. 
Although there are a few different elements and stages to this recipe, it is fundamentally an easy cake to make. It is something to have a crack at even if the thought of baking sends a chill down your spine, and it’s a great one to get the kids involved in. Aside from the careful nature of making caramel they can get stuck into pretty much anything; from whisking the egg whites into a satisfying froth to bashing up the praline with a rolling pin. 
I added the soured ice cream to take the edge off the rich cake, but really any of these elements work just as well on their own. I will certainly be sneakily tucking into a bowl of that ice cream when no-one is looking, and the salted peanut brittle is addictive stuff. 
Serves 6-8    

For the cake: 
225g good quality dark chocolate, 70-85% cocoa solids preferably 
225g unsalted peanuts 
100g golden caster sugar 
125g light brown soft sugar 
225g unsalted butter, softened 
4 large eggs, separated into yolks and whites 
1 tsp instant coffee mixed with 1 tsp boiling water 
1 heaped tbsp cocoa powder 
For the buttermilk ice cream: 
80g golden caster sugar 
400ml double cream 
150ml whole milk 
200ml buttercream 
3 large egg yolks 
A pinch of salt 
For the praline:
120g unsalted peanuts 
200g golden caster sugar 
1 tsp sea salt flakes 

First get the ice cream on. Combine the milk, buttercream, sugar and cream in a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil. When up to temperature, remove from the heat. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and salt together, then pour over half of the hot cream mixture. Whisk until the yolks are emulsified, then pour the liquid back into the pan. Return to a low-medium heat and stir continuously until the temperature reaches 85⁰C. Take off the heat and allow to cool quickly, then transfer to an ice cream machine to churn as the manufacturer suggests. 
Pre-heat the oven to 150⁰C. 

For the cake, blitz up the chocolate and the peanuts in a food processor until they are the texture of coarse breadcrumbs. Tip into a bowl and set aside. 

Cream together the sugars and butter using a whisk until well combined and very light. Incorporate the egg yolks one at a time, then beat in the chocolate, nuts, coffee and the cocoa powder. 

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Using a spatula, beat a small amount of this into the chocolate mixture before carefully folding in the rest. Spoon the batter into a lined, 20cm round baking tin and bake for about an hour, or until a skewer is clean when removed. 

To make the praline, heat up the sugar in a dry saucepan on a medium-high temperature. As the sugar starts to melt, sway the pan carefully to combine, don’t be tempted to stir. When the colour of the caramel is a deep golden colour, add the peanuts to the pan and mix well with a spoon. Tip the mixture out onto a lined baking tray and allow to set. When cooled, bash into small pieces with a rolling pin. 

When the cake has cooked and cooled, dust with a little extra cocoa powder and sprinkle with some of the praline. Serve with a scoop of the buttermilk ice cream.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Mallard roasted on ciabatta with smashed borlotti beans, braised leg and liver, cavolo nero and truffle

We’re now bang in the middle of game season, which means it’s time to branch out from the usual beef, chicken, pork and lamb and have a go at something different. I’m usually terrible at taking advantage of this glut of alternative meat, but this year I’ve really made an effort and have already cooked with pheasant, grouse and wild rabbit. Although the often stronger, livery flavour puts a lot of people off, I personally love a bit of game and will always jump at the chance to buy it from a butcher or order it when eating out. The flavours work so well with other autumnal ingredients, be it sweeter squashes, beets and sweetcorn or bitter cabbage leaves and earthy mushrooms. 

This dish, like many of my better ones, happened by chance. It certainly wasn’t the result of a long-conceived and adjusted recipe; it all came together very quickly. I was strolling through Marylebone on the way home from town, and being a rare visitor to the area I thought I would take advantage and have a quick snoop around. Moxon Street was like my foodie heaven, with the delightful smell of cheese wafting out of La Fromagerie and the impressive glass-lined hanging room in The Ginger Pig, lined with blackened aged-foreribs and porterhouses. It was whilst in the butchers that I spied the mallard, and not often seeing them around I just had to take it. Back in London Fields and a quick trip to the local E5 Bakehouse for a huge slab of ciabatta and the local greengrocers saw me ready to go.
Ever since I had the chicken roasted on bread at Rotorino in Dalston I’ve wanted to have a go at something similar. It was such a fantastic dish, and the fact that I still have it at the front of my mind months after eating it is tribute alone. The end result is something similar to posh fried bread, all laden with the roasting juices and olive oil. To accompany the bird and the bread, I made a very savoury, earthy and thick stew out of the beans, the braised leg meat and the livers. Combined with the fairly sweet sauce it really brings depth to the dish. 

Serves 2 


For the mallards: 

2 plump mallards, legs removed and crowns trimmed 
2 long thin slices of fresh ciabatta 
2 cloves of garlic, sliced 
8 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked 
2 tbsp butter 

For the braised mallard legs and sauce: 

The legs and trimmings from the mallard 
4 shallots, finely sliced 
3 garlic cloves, crushed 
1 tbsp soft brown sugar 
1 carrot, diced 
1 leek, sliced 
5 sprigs of thyme 
1 bay leaf 
A good splash of brandy 
1ltr chicken stock 

For the smashed borlotti beans: 

6 tbsp cooked borlotti beans including the cooking liquid 
2 cloves of garlic, grated 
4 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked 
½ a shallot, finely chopped 
4 chicken livers, cleaned and diced 
The picked braised leg meat from the mallards 
¼ lemon, juice only 
Extra virgin olive oil 
A few gratings of black truffle  

For the roasted shallots:
2 shallots, quartered lengthways 
1 tbsp butter 
1 tbsp olive oil 
5 sprigs of thyme
For the cavolo nero: 

4 large cavolo nero leaves, thick stems removed 
1 tbsp butter
To finish:
A few gratings of black truffle 
Extra virgin olive oil 

First braise the legs of the mallard. Heat a heavy saucepan to a medium-high temperature and add a little olive oil. Fry the mallard legs quickly to brown well on all sides, then transfer to a plate. Repeat with all of the trimmings from the bird until well coloured. Turn the temperature down slightly and tip in the shallots, garlic, thyme and sugar and fry for about 15 minutes, or until softened and golden. Add the other vegetables and herbs and continue to cook for another few minutes. Turn the heat back up and add the brandy, burning off the alcohol and de-glazing the pan. Top up with the stock and return the mallard legs and trimmings to the pan. Bring to a simmer, then cook very gently for about 2 hours, or until the leg meat is tender. Remove the legs from the stock and shred the meat off the bones. Set aside until needed later.
Strain the rest of the stock and discard the carcass and vegetables. Pour the liquid into a smaller pan and set to a high temperature. Reduce until only a small amount of thick sauce remains, about 150ml. Cover and keep warm until needed. 

Pre-heat the oven to 160⁰C.
Put the quartered shallots into a small baking dish and toss in the olive oil, seasoning and thyme. Dot the butter around and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until really soft and slightly charred at the edges. Peel the shallot layers into individual petals and set aside.
For the borlotti beans, add a little olive oil to a saucepan and set to a medium-high temperature. Season the chicken livers and then fry quickly for about two minutes or until golden brown on the outside and still pink in the middle. Transfer to a side plate. Lower the heat, add the shallot, garlic and thyme and soften for a few minutes. Add the borlotti beans and liquid along with the braised leg meat, season well and gently cook for about 15 minutes. Return the livers to the pan and roughly smash the contents against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon. Finish with the lemon juice, a tablespoon of the reduced sauce, two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and a few gratings of the black truffle. Keep warm until needed. 

Raise the oven temperature to 200⁰C.
While the borlotti beans are cooking roast the mallards. Pour some oil into a non-stick frying pan and set to a medium-high heat. Season the inside and outside of the birds and sear quickly on each breast for 1-2 minutes, then add the butter to the pan, turn the birds breast-side up and baste really well. Lay the ciabatta slices onto the bottom of an oven dish and top with a little extra-virgin olive oil, the slices of garlic, seasoning and the thyme leaves. Place the browned mallards on top of the bread, pour over the pan juices and roast for 10-12 minutes, basting every few minutes. When cooked, transfer the mallards to a chopping board to rest for 10 minutes. Pick the garlic off the ciabatta and return the bread to the oven for a few minutes to crisp up slightly.
Re-heat the pan used to sear the mallards and add the butter for the cavolo nero. When melted, add the leaves, a bit of seasoning and a splash of water and fry for a couple of minutes until slightly softened.
While the mallard is resting also reheat the other elements of the dish if necessary.
To serve up, spoon a good amount of the smashed beans onto each piece of ciabatta and place one on each plate. Top with some of the cavolo nero leaves. Carve the mallards and arrange the breasts around the bread. Finish with some of the slow-roasted shallot, a generous spoonful of the sauce, some extra virgin olive oil and more grated truffle.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Roasted pumpkin soup with braised duck leg, girolles, toasted chestnuts, duck crackling and taleggio

In the last month Katie and I have moved from the original tiny Sam Cooks Food flat slightly east to London Fields. Although I enjoyed Stoke Newington and have plenty of fantastic memories, one of the things that I will miss the most is the amazing greengrocers that we had close by. This blog really wouldn’t be the same without it. That shop was a constant influence, and the sheer range of interesting fruit and vegetables meant that after every visit I often left with three or four new recipe ideas flying around my head. They were the place to go when searching for that springtime wild garlic, for those vibrant heritage carrots or the sweetest of summer tomatoes. I really was like a kid in a sweetshop there. Mum must approve that I’ve grown up to consider greengrocers like sweetshops.


I was up early one crisp morning, and having a day-off ahead of me I wrapped up and took a stroll back to my old haunts, planning to pop by the greengrocers to get a few bits to make a simple warming soup upon my return. I was taken instantly by the vast array of handsome pumpkins and squashes piled up outside, and immediately the old recipe cogs started working away. The comparison between the produce available at the supermarkets when compared to the smaller, specialist shops always amazes me. If I went to the former I would be limited to your standard Cinderella bulbous orange types or the old faithful butternut squashes. But that morning about a dozen variants were on show, some tiny, some speckled, some that looked like two totally different pumpkins fused together. I just had to get one. I changed my mind and bought two. And somehow upon my return home I had also acquired some lovely mushrooms, a pair of duck legs and a honking chunk of taleggio.

I really love the autumn, and living close to London Fields I’m lucky enough to be treated to the glorious spectrum of burnished gold and orange on a daily basis. The food is also at its most dramatic and striking, with gourds, corn, beets, apples and chestnuts all on the seasonal menu. Gone are the sea of green spring and summer vegetables and the light, refreshing dishes they abounded. For the next few months it is all about hearty, filling food; the sort that makes a day spent in the cold forgotten within seconds.

Soup is a year-round thing in our household and is always savoured. They are marvellous things, often loaded with all of those vegetables that my body screams out for after a few heavy nights out or a tough week at work. It always shocks me that lots of my friends still hold a stigma against the humble soup, not deeming them worthy as a standalone meal option. Well more fool them, they clearly haven’t had a steaming bowl of tomato soup with triangles of cheese and bread on the side. Heaven. I just like the creativity that they allow. On busy days a few chunks of root vegetable floating in a bit of stock will suffice, but the variety of little finishing touches is almost limitless. This recipe is very much in this thinking; the base is a simple yet delicious roasted pumpkin soup that stands up for itself. But this is only made more interesting with the different textures and bursts of flavour from the garnish.

Serves 4-6

For the pumpkin:

1 medium pumpkin, peeled and seeds removed and reserved
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 lemon, zest only
3 garlic cloves, grated
5 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
3 tbsp olive oil

For the duck and stock:

2 duck legs, skin removed and reserved
1 glass dry white wine
1 litre good chicken stock
1 leek, sliced
1 carrot, chopped
2 shallots, sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tomatos, diced
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp dried oregano 

5 sprigs of thyme 
1 bay leaf

For the chestnut, leaves and duck skin:

3 fresh chestnuts, peeled and thinly sliced
The reserved skin from the duck legs, cut into small pieces
The seeds from the pumpkin, cleaned of membrane
3 thyme sprigs
½ tbsp. dried chilli
½ tbsp. dried oregano

For the mushrooms:

12 girolle mushrooms, brushed clean

To finish:

100g taleggio cheese, torn into small pieces
Fresh oregano leaves
1 lemon, zest only 

Extra virgin olive oil

Pour a little olive oil into a large saucepan and set on a high heat. Season the duck legs and quickly brown on all sides, then transfer to a side plate. Tip in the leek, shallot, carrot, garlic, thyme, oregano, paprika and bay and sauté for about 5 minutes, then pour in the wine. Reduce by half then top up with the stock. Tip in the tomatoes and return the duck legs in the pan, making sure they are covered by the liquid. Bring to the boil, then turn to a low simmer. Partly cover and cook for 1.5-2 hours, or until the duck is very tender. Remove the duck legs from the pan and allow to rest in a little of the liquid for 10 minutes, then strip off the meat into small pieces and set aside. Strain the stock, discarding the vegetables. 


Preheat the oven to 200⁰C.

While the duck is cooking, cut the peeled and seeded pumpkin into 1.5” chunks and scatter in one layer onto an oven dish. Mix all of the other ingredients and a good amount of seasoning in a bowl, then pour over the pumpkin and toss until each piece is well coated. Roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until lightly caramelised on the outside with a soft core, turning every so often.

For the crispy seeds, duck crackling and chestnuts, pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a frying pan and heat to medium-high. Fry the skin, chestnut slices and seeds with the herbs, spices and seasoning for a few minutes, or until crispy and golden brown. Transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper and drain well.

When the pumpkin is cooked, transfer to a food processor and blitz really well. Slowly add the strained duck stock to the puree, continuing to mix until a smooth soup consistency is achieved. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Pour back into a saucepan and bring to just below the boil.


While the soup is heating up, pour a little olive oil into a small frying pan. When at a medium-high heat, fry the girolle mushrooms for a couple of minutes or until caramelised on the outside and cooked through.

To serve, place bits of the braised duck leg into each bowl and cover with the hot soup. Scatter over the crispy duck crackling, seeds and chestnut along with the pieces of taleggio, cooked girolles and fresh oregano leaves. Grate over a little of the lemon zest and finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Smoked haddock with pressed potato and leek, clam beurre blanc, charred corn and mussels

Gosh it’s been a while. The last few weeks and months have been a total blur, filled with the arduous and always-underestimated task of moving flat followed closely by the less arduous and highly anticipated task of a few weeks away in Sydney. With work and random jetlag tiredness to navigate around these goings on this blog has been shamefully put on the back shelf, until now! Despite being slow on the keyboard my cooking has continued and I’ve got a whole host of recipes to post over the next few weeks, from soothing cheesy pumpkin soups to rich, gamey mallard. 

This recipe makes me especially happy though as it is my 100th post on Sam Cooks Food. I’m really proud to have stuck with it and got this far; it seems like ages ago that I took the photos of that mushroom and goat’s cheese ravioli just over two years ago. I feel I’ve come on leaps and bounds since nervously typing that first recipe, both as a cook and writer. This blog has also been a source of stress relief, somewhere where I can vent or reflect on memories. It has been a place to celebrate birthdays and family gatherings and help me through personal struggles such as the death of my brother at the end of last year. It’s lead to numerous friends, writing opportunities, new jobs and collaborations with producers, and I was over the moon when The Evening Standard named it in their Top 20 London Blogs. On a practical level it drives my cooking level and food interest higher and higher. I used to be a stickler for recipes and was scared of venturing off-course, whereas now I take inspiration from something my parents have grown on their allotment or a cookery programme on the television and have a go at making something new. 
I had loads of ideas for what I wanted to make for this post. My first thought was spaghetti bolognese, something that has been somewhat of a cooking nemesis over the years. I still vow to correct my failings in this standby Italian and student classic in the future but for now it just didn’t fall into place. My mind was elsewhere and the wonderful autumnal seasonal food drove my cooking in other directions. Surely I can knock up a spag bol anytime? Well we’ll see. I also toyed with the idea of oysters, a true celebration ingredient, and made a delicious dish which is now patiently waiting in the wings for me to get around to and write. But as is often the case, what I was looking for was hiding in plain sight right in front of me. 
As the weather cooled and summer turned into a burnished chill, there were two things that I really started to crave; smoked haddock and sweetcorn. Two flavours that come together to form something so utterly soothing and comforting. Of course, my first instinct was to make chowder. This is something that my dad has long been the master, and he often makes huge batches at home in Brighton, steaming and ready after a blustery walk by the sea. It’s the sort of food that steams your glasses and exfoliates your cheeks, the sort that you eat until you full to bursting. It always seemed like such a difficult thing to cook, and before my food interest intensified I’d nag him again and again to show me how. Finally he bowed to my pestering, only for me to storm off in disgust after he cut himself. I was a moody teenager. Yet it’s still one thing that holds such a strong food memory. 
Here I have taken all of the components and flavours of the standard chowder and have given it my own stamp. Yet when you taste everything together I’m still taken back to family meals shared over the years. From cooking on a daily basis I also love how I keep on learning little unexpected things. On this occasion it was hard fried sweetcorn with butter and cayenne. It’s nothing new really, chilli butter has long been an accompaniment to corn on the cob. But it’s something that I’ve never really had before and an instant addiction. I could eat a bowl of that alone. 
Serves 2   


For the haddock:   

4 pieces of naturally smoked, undyed haddock, about 80-100g each, skin removed and reserved 
1 knob of butter 
1 tbsp olive oil 
½ lemon, juice only   

For the pressed potato:   

6 large maris piper potatoes, peeled and cut into thin slices 
1 leek, finely sliced 
1 clove of garlic, grated 
1 bay leaf 
1 knob of butter 
5 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked 
300ml single cream 
150ml milk 
(You may need a little more or less cream and milk depending on the size of your dish)   

For the shellfish and clam beurre blanc:   

1 handful live clams, rinsed 
1 handful live mussels, de-bearded 
1 glass of dry white wine 
150g cold butter, cut into 1cm chunks 
½ a lemon, juice only   

For the charred sweetcorn:   

1 cob of sweetcorn, kernels cut off and core kept 
1 knob of butter 
1 tbsp olive oil 
1 tsp cayenne pepper   

For the haddock skin:   

The skin from the haddock 

To finish: 
Nasturtium leaves 

Preheat the oven to 180⁰C. 
To make the pressed potatoes, pour the milk and cream into a saucepan and add the used cob from the sweetcorn and the trimmings from the leek and garlic. Bring to a simmer then take off the heat. Add the butter to a separate saucepan and heat gently. Add the garlic, thyme and leek and sweat until softened. Line the bottom and sides of a deep oven dish approx. 20cm x 30cm in size with greaseproof paper. When the leeks are cooked, layer the potato slices into the oven dish, evenly distributing a little of the leek mixture and a good amount of seasoning at the same time. Strain the cream mixture and pour the liquid over the potatoes until nearly covered. Put another sheet of greaseproof paper over the top of the potatoes, then place another dish on top. Fill the top dish with heavy items such as baking beans, rice etc. to weigh the potatoes down. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and all liquid has been absorbed. Allow to cool, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours. 

For the haddock skin, line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper and rub with a little olive oil. Season the haddock skin lightly on both sides and lay on top, then place more on paper and another tray. Bake for about 20 minutes at the same oven temperature as the potatoes, or until crisp. Break into rough shards and set aside. 
Heat a frying pan to a high temperature and pour in the oil for the corn. When hot, tip in the kernels along with some seasoning and the cayenne and fry until they start to char. Stir in the butter and continue to cook for another minute, then transfer to a bowl and set aside. 

When the pressed potato has cooled down, remove from the fridge and slice around the sides of the dish. Carefully tip out onto a board – it should have compacted and stuck together. Using a sharp knife, cut two 2-3cm wide slices and transfer to a baking tray. There will be plenty left that isn’t used in this recipe, which is delicious reheated and eaten on another occasion.
When nearly ready to serve, again set the oven to 180⁰C. 
For the shellfish, heat a medium-sized saucepan to a high heat. When hot, add the clams and the white wine then cover with a tight lid and shake. Steam for 2-3 minutes until they have all opened, then transfer to a bowl using a slotted spoon, leaving the liquid in the pan. Add the mussels to the same pan, cover and repeat the same process. When the mussels have been spooned out, turn up the heat and reduce the liquid until only a few tablespoons remain. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cold butter, one knob at a time, until emulsified and thickened slightly. Squeeze in a little of the lemon juice and add a couple of grinds of pepper then taste, it should be intense and sharp. Adjust if necessary. Keep warm. 

Slide the oven tray with the potato slices into the oven for 6-8 minutes to warm through. 
Heat a non-stick frying pan and add the oil and butter for the haddock. When at a medium temperature season the fish and fry for 2-3 minutes on each side depending on the thickness. Tip the cooked shellfish into the pan for the final minute to warm through and squeeze over the lemon juice.
To serve, place one slice of pressed potato onto each plate and arrange two pieces of the haddock on or around. Add some of the clams and mussels, shelled and unshelled, in the gaps and scatter the sweetcorn over the top. Finish with the crispy haddock skin, some nasturtium leaves and a good spoonful or two of the beurre blanc.