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.

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