Dinner With The Omnivore

Posts Tagged ‘fish

OK maybe a bit less rudimentary these days

OK maybe a bit less rudimentary these days

There’s nothing quite like being deprived of the basics to make you appreciate how splendid your life actually is despite all its little irritations, and after five months spent living in one room with no access to cooking facilities (don’t ask), my frankly rather rudimentary kitchen arrangements look positively professional.

The other side effect of living on a diet of chalet scraps plus whatever you can get together using only a fridge, a kettle and a penknife is that you never want to see an instant noodle, a piece of meat or a croissant ever again. By the end of the winter I was drooling over allrecipes and the BBC’s Good Food website the way 50-year-old men who live with their mothers surf porn sites An excess of meat and sugar has left me with an insatiable craving for fish and vegetables, to the extent where I may shortly need to be treated for the effects of asparagus overdose. (But what a way to go.)

A trawl through new and existing recipes in search of suitable veggie/fishy dishes turned up something cut out ages ago from a copy of The Week (must get round to renewing the subscription one of these days) and contributed by no less a person than Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese dissident, political figure and general all-round bolshi person. Presumably the best part of 15 years spent under house arrest gave her plenty of time for cooking.

.... and accomplished curry chef, apparently.

…. and accomplished curry chef, apparently.

Contributing to cookbooks might seem a

bit of a frivolous pastime for someone involved in changing the world and receiving Nobel peace prizes for her efforts, but it seems she managed to fit it into her busy schedule, possibly because the book in question is ‘Share’, published under the auspices of charity Women for Women International, which fundraises for and offers training to women who have survived appalling experiences during wars in the likes of Bosnia, Afghanistan and Sudan.

I confess to not having bought the book as yet, though I probably will do so, because 1) it looks like a beautiful book, full of spiffy pictures and uplifting stories of survival against the odds; 2) it’s a very worthwhile and high-minded sort of charity which will give you a feeling of virtuous smugness as you click ‘add to basket’ on Amazon; and 3) Aung San Suu Kyi’s Burmese fish curry is bloody lovely. It’s also quite low calorie, should you be feeding anyone for whom that’s a consideration.

You will need: 300g white fish, cut into cubes; 2 tsp grounf turmeric; 2-3 red chilis; 100ml fish or veg stock; 2 tblsp fish sauce; ½ tsp paprika; 30g fresh coriander; 300g tiger prawns; 5 shallots; 5 garlic cloves; 2cm root ginger; 800g fresh tomatoes; lime or lime juice

Mix together turmeric, fish sauce and a splash of water to make a paste. Coat the fish and prawns with it and set aside to marinate for a bit. Meanwhile blend together the shallots, garlic, chillies and ginger.

Faffy onions - don't bother.

Faffy onions – don’t bother.

Fry the blitzed paste for a few minutes, add the paprika and cook for a bit, then put in the tomatoes and stock and bring to the boil. Add the prawns and cook for a couple of minutes, and then add the fish and carry on simmering until the prawns are pink and the fish just cooked. Stir in the coriander and season with lime juice and a bit more fish sauce to taste.

I admit to having tweaked this slightly, having forgotten what the prawns were for and used them in some fish cakes earlier on. Furthermore, I couldn’t be bothered with shallots, which seem to me to be nothng more than faffy onions, so I used a red onion intead. I also substituted a few dried chili flakes for actual chilis. However, none of this seemed to matter much, as the final result was such that this is now officially my favourite curry recipe, surpassing even Madhur Jaffrey’s rogan josh. Which is saying a lot.

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Preview of my next life.

I have noted before that the middle of the Alps is a foolish place for a fish-lover. In my next incarnation I shall get into sailing at an early age, and spend my summers on the Med, skippering yachts for wealthy holidaymakers while eating nothing but fresh fish and trousering the sort of fortune which will allow me to spend every winter snowboarding without the inconvenience of having to work. Why don’t they tell you about these options when they’re dishing out careers advice in school? Because they want you to have the same kind of boring crappy life they do, that’s why.

Anyway, the quest for acceptable fishy food continues to be reasonably successful, with the discovery of marinaded anchovy fillets on Casino’s deli counter, actual real kippers in Leclerc, and the possibilities offered by paella. Or pseudo-paella, if I’m honest, but you have to take what you can get this far inland.

The key to competent paella, I discover, is to remember that it is not risotto. Risotto is soggy and frankly rather uninspiring, whereas paella is drier and generally tastes of something. Fish, if we get it right. Cook it the way you would rice (ie twice as much water as rice, cook until the water disappears then put a lid on, turn the gas off and waut for 10 minutes). This means it takes about 20 minutes from start to finish, so if you want it full of chicken legs and other things which take longer than that, you have to cook them first. I discovered this the hard way and ended up with a sticky sludge of overcooked rice and undercooked chicken. I think we may well have eaten takeaway pizza that evening.

Risotto. Yes, it does look like dubious porridge with bits in.

The easiest way to obtain a decent fishy vibe without access to proper fish is to make liberal use of tinned tuna and smoked salmon, but I was aiming to avoid a rice-based version of Alpine Fish Pie, and besides, one of the attractions of paella is that it’s full of seafood. Frozen seafood clearly isn’t a patch on fresh stuff, but it works reasonably well as long as you cook it with a load of other things, and isn’t nearly so taseless as frozen white fish, which is a complete waste of money if you ask me.

Having discovered early on that I needed to pre-cook the chicken legs, I ditched them as an ingredient. Well, can you be bothered cooking dinner twice? No, me neither. I also ditched the white fish idea in short order (see above) and replaced it with salmon, which makes a better fist of surviving the freezing process. This is a long way off being authentic, but at least it tastes of fish.

Finally, a handful of big fat prawns complete with heads and whiskers adds yet more fishiness as well making the whole thing look more or less like real paella. I’d add a few mussels in shells for the same effect, but nowhere round here sells mussels other than in vac-packed moules marinieres form, and they’re always disappointing so I never bother.

So here it is, the final tweaked and tested Alpine Paella recipe. Ta-daaah!

Alpine Paella

You will need: about five cm of hot chorizo sausage; an onion; some frozen peas; frozen seafood mix; salmon steak; big fat prawns; paprika; paella rice.

Slice up the chorizo and fry it along with the onion and frozen peas. Chop up the salmon into chunks and add it along with the seafood and big prawns. Season with paprika and pepper, then sauté the lot for five minutes or so before adding the rice along with twice its own volume of water. Cook until all the water has disappeared, then turn the heat off, put a lid on the pan and leave to steam for 10 minutes.

I realise there is an irritatingly Jamie Oliveresque haphazardness about these instructions, what with the glaring lack of specific quantities of anything, but really it depends on how much of the stuff you want. I find that one salmon steak is enough for two, as is a whole onion, so I add enough of everything else for two as well and then eat it two days running. It reheats well in the oven, usual caveats regarding reheating rice without killing yourself. I’m sure you’ll all manage.

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Oh all right, it's an axolotl not a fish. But I quite like them, so here he his.

I think may have discussed the importance of culinary compatibility in a relationship before. In fact I’m sure I have. I wonder if Ms Middleton has thoroughly vetted her prince for willingness to eat basic foodstuffs without complaining. Mind you, as a senior royal required to attend diplomatically cruical banquets in exotic locations, he has probably been trained from an early age to look enthusiastic when presented with chocolate-coated sea slug on a stick, so mere liver shouldn’t present him with a problem.

I can’t say I’ve eaten a vast deal of liver this winter, but given that someone else has been feeding the house man for the past five months, fish pie has featured heavily on the seasonal menu.

I first discovered the joys of fish pie when I lived in Southsea, round the corner from a fishmonger. We don’t see much in the way of fishmonging here, what with being about as far from the coast as you can get without ending up in Switzerland. This particular shop used to have a tray filled with fishy offcuts of various sorts and species, priced at something very affordable even for me and probably intended for the cat rather than for human consumption. It was, however, perfect for making fish pie, the whole point of which is to get together as many different sorts of fishiness as possible all at once.

Southsea. Arnold Schwarznegger used to live here, you know. No, really.

Living next to Portsmouth, fish pie was a cheap dining option, but in the Alps it’s rather a different story with fresh fish being limited and expensive, frozen stuff tasteles and expensive and …….. well that’s about it really. However, all is not lost because it’s possible to get your hands on little packets of smoked salmon offcuts at slightly less than eye-watering expense and when combined with tinned tuna this gives you a more than acceptably fishy vibe. It’s not quite the same as filling your pie with half a dozens sorts of fish and a handful of seafood, but nor does it involve an eight hour round trip to the coast and the nearest decent fishmonger.

Alpine Fish Pie

You will need: some smoked salmon; a tin of tuna; two hard boiled eggs; some capers; a bit of anchovy; mashed potato.

Sautee the salmon in a bit of butter than add tuna, chopped capers and anchovy (the anchovy isn’t essential but it adds extra fishiness, as does Thai fish cauce if you happen to have any). Add some flour and milk to thicken the mixture and season with pepper. Chop up the eggs and add them as well. Finally, turn the whole lot into an oven dish and spread the mashed potato on top, then bake at 180°C or so for about half an hour.

And voila fish pie, more or less. For some reason I always feel that this has to be eaten with peas, despite the fact that there are plenty of other vegetables which I like better than peas. I have no idea why this is the case.

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pope benedict

Sexual naughtiness is right out, OK? Oh, except for us, obviously.

The Catholic church, that bastion of sexual integrity ( errrrr ……….. let’s not go there, shall we?) tells us that in order to marry, a couple must meet stringent criteria. They should be free to marry, which sounds uncharacteristically sane and sensible, considering where the advice is coming from. They should be baptised Christians, not too closely related, ‘in good standing with the church’, and definitely not homosexual in any way. (This last criterion doesn’t apply to the priest doing the marrying, naturally. Or possibly unnaturally.)

Surprisingly the church’s guidelines do not at any point mention fish. When you consider the central part played by seafood in the Gospels and the lives of the apostles (several of whom were genuine fishermen rather than the metaphorical sort), this becomes suspicious to the point of conspiracy theory.

Had I taken proper account of the whole fish issue, I might easily still be single. I have to confess that I rushed irresponsibly into matrimony without sober consideration of the consequences of shackling myself to a man for whom prawns are poisonous, anchovies anathema and mussels frankly ming.

A fish. I'd think twice about this one, actually.

Unfortunately, having made my bed I now have to lie in it, and I either lead a fish-free existence or have to make two dinners. Being a lazy slattern, I end up fishless, though I have been known to make prawn salad to take to work for lunch.

So the good news that JC had managed to walk (or possibly limp) straight off sick pay and into a job for the rest of the summer got even better when it transpired that in addition to being paid for his efforts he gets fed both lunch and dinner. Which means that a) I can probably cut the food bill by two thirds for the rest of the summer and b) I can eat whatever I like. Fish, ahoy.

Getting served at Casino’s fish counter can be a bit of a project, since it doesn’t have a dedicated member of staff, and you have to rely on catching the eye of whoever happens to be manning the deli counter. For this reason I was about to succumb to the temptation of raiding the fresh fish fridge for the ready-to-grill sardine fillets with marinade (6,50€ and enough to feed four, but guaranteed I could scoff the lot in a oner as I happen to know they’re delicious), but fortunately for both waistline and wallet the

Dutch tourist. Yes, of course they all wear clogs.

Dutch tourists in front of me managed to reel in a deli operative, so I ended up with a trout at a much more sensible size and less than half the price.

Since I didn’t fancy plain grilled trout and am never that impressed with the local truite aux amandes thing, I opted for winging it with whatever was in the fridge. And the result, though I say so myself, was particularly spiffing. All it needs is a posh name and it could go in a book. Unfortunately I have Leonard of Quirm’s talent for snappy names, so it’s probably destined to lurk in my personal recipe collection before disappearing back into the ether whence it came when I get round to hopping off the twig.

Trout For Women Who Rushed Into Marriage With Culinarily Unsuitable Men.

You will need: a trout; some capers: the green bits of a spring onion: olive oil: squirt of lemon juice; some cherry tomatoes.

Rinse the trout and put it on a baking tray. Chop the capers and the spring onion, add olive oil and lemon juice, season and spread over the fish. Cut the tomatoes in half and scatter around the trout. Grill until the fish is cooked through (about 20 minutes).

Trout prior to grilling. Looking promising already.

This should give you a trout slightly charred and crisp on one side but succulent and juicy underneath. Serve with whatever you like – I had green salad, but new potatoes could be good as well.

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Food for thought

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” ― Orson Welles

Food by e-mail - takeaway for the modern age.

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© Christa GIMBLETT 2010-2011