Thursday, 26 May 2016

Black bream with Jersey Royals, purple sprouting broccoli, samphire and mussels

This is a true late spring dish that these warm, sunny evenings have been screaming out for. After many months of waiting, I was excited to see the first of the newly picked samphire arrive at the shop, but I certainly wasn’t the only one. This marsh grass has a crazy effect on people, and soon I was scraping the bottom of the box, desperate to salvage just one last handful. Samphire, samphierre, sampher, salicorne, seaweed, that green stuff, the names are endless, and I hear new ones every summer. But call it what you will, it does magical things when cooked with fish. And lamb for that matter. 

Following the seasons makes dreaming up new ideas a total doddle, and this recipe is a prime example. In the same few weeks that the samphire emerged, we also started receiving the first of the wild black bream that visit Cornwall and the south coast every spring. These deep, darkly-scaled fish are true beauties, with flesh firm with freshness flashing blue and silver in the light. Closely related to seabass, they cook in a similar way, and are best filleted and pan-fried until crisp, or roasted whole in a hot oven. Even if you do decide to go with fillets, make sure that you take the bones as well. It’s always nice to use the whole of an ingredient, and the carcass of the bream will provide a lovely stock.
Unlike the samphire and the black bream, the mussel season only has a few weeks remaining. As the weather and seas warm for the summer, their quality really does decline, and it’s best to hold on until September before you plan your next mariniere. But if you’re quick, you will still be able to sneak a bowl or two before this exodus. Although clams tend to get all of the glory with their pretty shells and classy spaghetti alle vongole, I adore the rich flavour of the humble, cheap mussel. In this dish they are cooked and then blitzed into a silky, buttery sauce, that really brings the fish and greens and potatoes together as one. But made in a larger quantity, the same method would make a fantastic soup. Just add a wedge of bread.
Serves 2
1 black bream, approx. 1kg in weight. Scaled, filleted and pin-boned 
1 large knob of butter
For the fish stock:
The cleaned bones from the black bream 
1 carrot, roughly chopped 
2 shallots, halved with the skins left on 
The trimmings from the fennel bulb 
1 clove of garlic, crushed 
A handful of fresh parsley 
1 tsp fennel seeds 
1 bay leaf
For the mussel sauce:
500g mussels, cleaned and de-bearded 
1 fennel bulb, finely chopped 
1 clove of garlic, grated 
½ tsp chilli flakes 
1 large glass of white wine 
A squeeze of lemon juice 
The reduced fish stock 
1 large knob of butter
For the Jersey Royals:
6-8 small Jersey Royal potatoes, washed
To finish:
6 stems of purple sprouting broccoli 
A generous handful of samphire

To begin with make the stock. Place all of the ingredients and a good pinch of seasoning into a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the liquid through a sieve into a smaller saucepan, then set on a high heat and return to the boil. Reduce the liquid by three quarters.
Put the washed Jersey Royals into a small saucepan and cover with well-salted, cold water. Bring to the boil, then simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and rinse well with cold water to halt the cooking process. Using a butter knife, scrape off the skins and discard. Set the potatoes aside to reheat later. 

Fill a saucepan with water and stir in a good pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then blanch the trimmed broccoli stems for 2-3 minutes, or until just tender. While the broccoli is cooking, fill a large bowl up with very cold water. Transfer the al-dente broccoli to the cold water to shock. Repeat this process with the samphire, boiling for 30 seconds to soften slightly.
Bring a large saucepan to a medium-low heat. Add a good glug of olive oil and add the fennel, garlic and chilli flakes, and sweat until soft. Turn the heat of the pan up and tip in the mussels and the wine. Cover with a lid and allow the mussels to steamfor 3-4 minutes, or until all of the mussels have opened. Allow to cool slightly, the remove the meat from the shells with a spoon, discarding the shells. Reserve 6-8 mussels aside to decorate the dish when plating. Transfer the remaining mussels and vegetables to a food processor and blend well. While the motor is still running, pour in enough of the stock reduction to loosen into a smooth sauce. Squeeze in the lemon juice and season to taste. Strain the sauce through a sieve into a small saucepan. 

Set a non-stick frying pan to a high heat. Pour in a generous amount of olive oil and season the bream fillets all over with salt and pepper. When the pan is hot, place them skin-side down into the pan and fry for 3 minutes. As the fish is cooking, carefully use a spoon to baste the flesh side of the fish with the hot oil. Add a knob of butter to the pan fry for a further minute, continuing the basting process. Remove the fish from the pan to a warm side plate.
Turn the heat of the pan down slightly and add the potatoes, samphire, broccoli and reserved mussels. Cook for 1-2 minutes to warm through, adding seasoning to taste.
Reheat the mussel sauce, then finish by beating in the knob of butter until fully emulsified.
Lay half of the sprouting broccoli onto each plate and top with a piece of fish. Arrange the potatoes, samphire and mussels around the sides. Finish with a generous amount of the mussel sauce.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Almond and brown butter tart with stewed rhubarb and crème fraiche

If someone ever asked me what the thing that I find the hardest when cooking is, my answer would without doubt be pastry. Specifically, shortcrust pastry. It always looks so effortless on the telly, when the beaming cook rolls out perfect, impossibly thin sheets, before casually lining their tin with the utmost precision. “Who needs to buy shortcrust pastry when it’s such a doddle?” they ask. They’ve clearly never experienced the crushing devastation of too-short pastry crumbling away at the merest suggestion of a rolling pin. The bottomless crevasses that appear from nowhere after blind baking. Or the brittle walls collapsing at the crucial moment of leaving the tin, spilling the filling to merge with the river of frustrated tears. Thankfully, practice (and a solid, reliable recipe) makes perfect, and after making pastry a few times recently, I decided it was time to cook something for this blog. 

However, I deserve absolutely no credit for the pastry itself. The recipe that I used is broadly based on Felicty Cloake’s version that she used to make her Perfect Custard Tart with. I always find her column brilliant when approaching new recipes or needing inspiration, and so far the pastry has worked every time. It’s even got to the point where I no longer dread getting the rolling pin out.
Adding brown butter to puddings and desserts seems to be very popular in London restaurants at the moment. But unlike a lot of trends and fads, it well and truly lives up to the hype. By cooking the butter until it is almost maple syrup in colour, a deep, rich and mellow flavour is released, which works as wonderfully with sweet things as it does with a piece of turbot. I will definitely be experimenting further with this, as I love the sound of other desserts to which it has been added; custard tarts, ice cream, icing etc.
Although making pastry was largely stress-free this time, there still managed to be a kitchen cock-up whilst testing this recipe. I wanted to make a crème fraiche ice cream to accompany the tart, but midway through churning, with a foul smell, the machine abruptly decided to overheat and refused to play anymore. So good old crème fraiche, straight out of the tub, came to the rescue. And after all of that faff, I’m not sure that the frozen version was even missed.
Serves 8-10
For the pastry:
225g plain flour 
115g cold butter 
85g caster sugar 
3 egg yolks, plus 1 whole egg for brushing
For the filling:
300g unsalted butter 
300g caster sugar 
300g ground almonds 
3 medium eggs 
1 lemon, zest only
For the rhubarb:
4-5 sticks of rhubarb, trimmed and sliced into bite-sized pieces 
2 tbsp of caster sugar 
1 vanilla pod
To finish:
Crème fraiche

Start by making the pastry. Using your hands, rub the butter and flour together in a mixing bowl, until all of the butter has been incorporated and the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, then the egg yolks. Work everything lightly until a dough is formed, then flatten slightly and wrap with cling film. Refrigerate for 1 hour 30 minutes to rest.
Use greaseproof paper to line the base and sides of a deep 9” tin with a loose base. Roll out the rested pastry on a lightly floured surface, then transfer to the tin. Patch any cracks, and use a spare piece of pastry to carefully edge the pastry into the corners. Leave the pastry overhanging the top of the tin. Wrap loosely with cling film and chill in the freezer for a further hour. 

Preheat the oven to 180⁰C (160⁰C Fan).
Prick the base of the tart with a fork, then cover with a sheet of greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans. Blind bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown around the sides. Remove the beans and paper, then return to the oven for a further 5 minutes. Crack the remaining egg into a bowl and beat with a fork. Brush the base and sides of the tart with some of the egg, then cook for a minute. Remove the shell from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
Lower the oven temperature to 150⁰C (130⁰C Fan). 

Measure out the sugar and the almonds and combine in a mixing bowl. Tip the butter for the filling into a saucepan and melt at a medium-high temperature. When the butter bubbles away and turns nut brown in colour, take it off the heat and pour into the almond mixture, stirring well with a wooden spoon. Beat in the eggs one at a time, until emulsified. Spoon the mixture into the pastry shell, it should leave a gap of about 1.5cm at the top. Gently slide the tart onto the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, or until the filling has just set. Allow to cool slightly before carefully removing from the tin and slicing.
While the tart is cooking, add the rhubarb to a large frying pan along with the halved vanilla pod, the sugar and a splash of water. Bring up to a medium-low temperature, then cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb has softened. Allow to cool.
Serve slices of the tart with some of the stewed rhubarb and juices. Finish with a generous dollop of crème fraiche.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Roasted carrots with smoked cod’s roe, wild garlic and pangrattato

Between December-February, cod are fully gearing up for spawning and are heavy with roe. As a result, during those months the markets flood with these giant, slightly alien-looking lobes. I have to admit that I’m not a massive fan, but for a certain fragment of our customer base, there ain’t no party like fresh cod’s roe party. They start asking over availability towards the end of every summer, getting progressively more excited as the weeks get closer. For the ninety five percent of other customers, these weird and wonderful objects provoke pointing and squirmy, scared faces. But those patient few, their eyes light up and they dance home with a heavy bag of fish eggs to boil up and eat on toast. Maybe next winter… 


Despite my clear scepticism of fresh cod’s roe, this changes completely upon the introduction of smoke. After some gentle curing, the roe is preserved and cooked over hot smoke. A total transformation occurs; the flavour becomes rich and intense, with a soft, smooth texture. Sliced and fried in butter it is magical, but whipped into a puree and used as a taramasalata-esque condiment is really where it’s at.

The sweetness of carrots make them the perfect companion for the strong, salty dip. Although the humble carrot is often used as a base ingredient in many recipes, here I wanted to showcase its flavour and versatility by preparing it a few separate ways. Of course if you’re strapped for time of simply want to shorten the cooking time, a few roasted or even raw carrots will still be delicious dunked into the roe.

A little pangrattato and a few wild garlic leaves finish everything off. Pangrattato is one of the great cooking words, like spanakopita and, well, taramasalata. It also adds that wonderfully addictive crunch, which is very welcome to contrast the other soft elements of the dish. And as wild garlic is seemingly everywhere at the moment, it seems rude not to include it here.

Serves 2


8 small-medium carrots, peeled and trimmed

For the carrot puree:

3 large carrots, thinly sliced 
3 tbsp olive oil 
1 lemon, juice only

For the smoked cod’s roe:

150g smoked cod’s roe 
2 thick slices of white bread, crusts removed 
1 lemon, zest and juice 
1 garlic clove, grated 
3 tbsp water 
100ml olive oil

For the pickled carrots:

1 carrot 
1 lemon, juice only

For the pangrattato:

1 thick slice of white bread 
1 tsp fennel seeds 
1 tsp onion seeds 
½ a lemon, zest only

To finish:

6-8 wild garlic leaves

Start by whipping the smoked cod’s roe. Chop the smoked roe roughly, then tip into a food processor with the grated garlic, lemon zest and juice, seasoning and the torn up bread. Blitz until well combined. Pour in the water to loosen mixture up. With the motor still running, slowly pour in the oil, until the puree is thick and emulsified. Taste and adjust the seasoning and lemon, then spoon into a plastic squeezy bottle. Set aside. 


To make the pickled carrots, use a vegetable peeler to slice the carrots into thin ribbons. Arrange in a small bowl, add a little salt, and squeeze over the lemon juice. Toss to coat. Set aside for at least 20 minutes to lightly pickle.

Toast the bread for the pangrattato really well, then transfer to a food processor and blitz to create coarse breadcrumbs. Pour 1 tbsp of olive oil into a frying pan and bring to a medium-high heat. Tip in the breadcrumbs along with the fennel seeds, onion seeds and lemon zest. Fry for a couple of minutes, tossing frequently, until the crumbs are golden brown. Pour into a bowl.

Preheat the oven to 200⁰C.

Thinly slice the carrots for the puree and transfer to a small saucepan. Cover with boiling water and season well with salt. Bring back to the boil and then simmer for 5-6 minutes, or until cooked all the way through. Drain the liquid and add the carrots to a food processor. Squeeze in the lemon juice and a little seasoning, and blend until smooth. With the engine still running, slowly pour in the olive oil, until it has been fully emulsified. 


Arrange the remaining carrots on a roasting tray and season with salt and pepper. Toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then slide into the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until lightly coloured on the outside and tender in the middle.

Serve by arranging 3-4 carrots onto each dish. Spoon on some of the puree and add a generous blob of the smoked roe puree. Top with some of the pickled carrots and pangrattato. Finish with a few wild garlic leaves and a drizzle of olive oil.