Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mr Lobster and Mrs Crab

After a body-crumbling week's work at Glastonbury's hottest campsite (in every sense of the word), my fellow team of Heidi Hi, happy campers and I were spoilt beyond our wildest dreams with a celebratory supper to die for...

No longer was it hole-filling potato pies and stretchy faggots to struggle with, but platters laid high with super fresh, coral lobster and enormous rusty crabs carefully and skillfully crushed, scored and dissembled by Son of a Fisherman come Trailer Dude, Jim.

We watched as he removed shell from flesh, dodging the unpredictable crab juice as it flew metres from the broken, salty morsel. He reminisced of his childhood days at Billingsgate fish market with his father, taught us the best way to dress a crab, and educated on how to tell the female from the male.

Every single piece of meat was extracted, the white, the brown, the eggs, the claws, delved into with one enormous knife and the end of a teaspoon. No struggle on receiving this plate of food, apart from to keep drool in mouth and eyes in sockets; a concept highly impossible when breaking off the rich smooth and pink meat and dressing it with a simple squeeze of lemon...Dribble...

Now, who said British festivals had to be all rain and no sun?

Friday, June 18, 2010


There's not much that beats a summer BBQ...

...unless of course you cook the fish you've caught that day.

I'm never been much of a fisherwoman, me, but after catching my first two mackerel yesterday, I can see myself making a habit of it. I'd compare the feeling to standing up on surfboard for the first time, learning to ride a bike or making the perfect cake. Hours of trial and error, constantly waiting for a nibble on the line, and finally it just comes. And all you can do is embarrassingly hoot with joy!

After six hours of tracking down shoals, keeping a look out for a flock of seagulls diving with speed into the sea, we managed to find a calm spot out of the wind. Five mackerel between three of us; a humble catch which made us appreciate our slippery friends all the more.


The first mackerel was small and pretty - intricate tropical green markings on the skin, and just enough meat to serve as the perfect starter. And so fresh. The smell of the sea and nothing else.

The second was big. A wriggler, leaving its iridescent scales firmly glued to my hands.

Homeward bound, salty and crisp, I pondered how I could do these fish justice, how to keep the fantastic flavour of the mackerel while giving them a bit of a kick? And who better for inspiration than Man of the West and Fish Extraordinaire, Rick Stein? His Seafood cookbook is an absolute necessity when it comes to preparing and serving fish well and I wouldn't tamper with any whole, fresh fish without flicking through its pages first...Simple but perfectly paired ingredients to bring out the best of the sea's offerings. So for my mackerel I chose a lightly spicy marinade which complemented my taste buds and the naturally rich and flavoursome flesh of my catch.

BBQ adaptation of Rick Stein's Devilled Mackerel
(I have doubled the original quantities to allow for extra marinade to pour over the fish once cooked, and add lemon juice which enhances the taste even more)

4 x 350g (12oz) mackerel, cleaned and trimmed and cut
(if you haven't the time nor energy for a day's fishing then mackerel are easy to find on fish counters in delis and supermarkets and are sold at a reasonable price)
60g (1 1.2 oz) butter
2 tsp caster sugar
2 tsp English mustard powder
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp paprika2 tsp ground coriander/ coriander seeds, crushed
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 generous squeezes of lemon juice
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp salt

Slash the skin of the mackerel at 1cm intervals on both sides from the head all the way to the tail, taking care not to cut too much into the flesh.

Melt the butter in a small roasting tin. Remove from the heat, stir in the sugar, mustard, spices, vinegar, pepper and salt and mix well. Add the mackerel to the butter and turn them over once or twice until well coated in the mixture, spreading some in the cavity of each fish as well.

Keep some of the marinade aside for post-pourage. Wrap each in tin foil so that all the juices are held in. Place the packages on a hot barbecue (coals white) and cook for 5 minutes on each side. Check to see if cooked through.

Simply roll the fish on to plate (arguably it looks prettier uncooked) and serve with a salad (as Rick suggests) of tomato and chopped mint. Open the fish in half and gently pull away the spine. It should come away easily. Pour over the rest of the juice and tuck into best ever mackerel.

If the spice recipe doesn't tickle your tackle, then try a simple filling of horseradish sauce, salt and pepper, and follow the same cooking method.

Now, how's about a good ol' knee slapping shanty?!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


It's a hot summer’s day, deckchairs are out, everyone is sporting the latest trilby, and grandfather’s binos are fixed on the riveting game on the green. Two teams of strapping, young, well-brought up boys are all adorned in starched whites and spotless knee-pads. After the last innings, an afternoon tea is served, in the pavilion, of cucumber sandwiches and scones...

...Yet, amidst the impressive neatness and stiff upper lips, Eton MESS sits pride of place. A towering castle of meringue, upon strawberries, upon cream. Rather a triumphant piece, yes, but surely not for here? A schoolboy prank, perhaps..?

Of course, there are those who would serve a neat little mound of whipped cream, with carefully cut meringue, and equally sliced strawberries. But where is the fun in that? One thing is for certain, my take on Eton Mess can in no way be described as tidy and conservative.
Unlike a game of cricket (though some might argue otherwise), this summer pud has no rules. You can make it any way you like and it will still taste the way it should. All you need is a few vital ingredients: a bat, a ball and some players...

Serves one Etonian cricket team of 11 players.
(Double the quantities if good sports)

750g whipping cream (double cream is fine but produces a heavier whip)
4 punnets/ 1kg of British strawberries.
1 vanilla pod
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 heaped tbsp caster sugar

750g small meringues:
750g egg whites
750g caster sugar
750g icing sugar

MERINGUES: Preheat the oven to a low temperature of 110C – you don’t want ‘em to burn.. Whip the egg white with an electric whisk, (by hand is fine if you want to increase the size of your biceps), until soft peaks appear. Then add the caster sugar. Continue beating for about five minutes, then add the icing sugar. Beat slowly for five more minutes. With a metal spoon, place small equal sized dollops (size doesn’t really matter for this recipe, it just looks more satisfying) on to a nonstick baking sheet. Why not make one giant meringue for the top of the mess? Bake for two hours, or until the meringues are crunchy and dry. You want the meringues to be white for this recipe, so make sure they do not start to brown. Leave to cool on a rack.

THE MESS: With an electric whisk (seriously, I would) whip up the cream until stiff and fluffy. Gently scrape the vanilla pod of its seeds and add to the cream.
Hull and quarter all the strawberries. Take a third of them and mash in a separate bowl until juicy, but still visibly chunky. Add the balsamic and sugar and marinate a while. Now fold into the cream, a little at a time. If the consistency becomes too wet, hold back on the mixture.
Crush the meringues, bar 11 into the cream. Best to leave slightly crunchy otherwise it just turns to sugar. The bittier the better.
Tower the rest of the meringues on top and sprinkle the remaining strawberries.
You now have a mountain of messy, summer scrumptiousity. Almost good enough to dive into...But if you’re wearing cricket whites I suggest you refrain, as strawberry juice is a toughie to remove and mother won’t be best pleased. Eat with spoons, forks, cricket caps or fingers. Anything goes old chap…

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Beetroot Frittata with Goats Cheese

My diary last week left me no choice but to indulge and wallow in pure and unadulterated gluttony.

Tuesday's celebration of the 10 year anniversary of Lou Hutton's Food of Course Cookery School in Somerset provided an evening spent gorging on deeeeelicious canapes made by previous students. Perfectly formed Lemon Tarts, Beetroot Rosti with a Quinelle of Goats Cheese and succulent tortellini, were washed down with Orchard Mist cocktail. Appropriate taste bud tuning for the next day's eager tour of the neighbouring Bath and West Show...

...And exploit it, I did. It's not every day you get to pair your wild boar and apple sausage with a toxic, brain cell-removing 'Cider by Rosie'. A minefield of culinary beasts - not to mention the oversized prize winning bulls - meant no chance of starvation, and I am no shrinking violet when it comes to tasting samples.

Then to Hay-on-wye fest, where the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall talked food and books and all-things-culture. A book in one hand and a pimms in the other, sheeps milk ice cream, deck chairs in the sun, listening to creative creatures, and tapping away to Laura Marling in concert. Not bad eh?
So as a thank you to a fab food-filled week, here is an adaptation of one of Lou's mouthwatering canapes:

Pre-cooked beetroot in natural juices, 250g
200g (or 4 small) eggs
4 tbsps milk/cream
salt and pepper
2 tbsbs melted butter

Goats cheese:
100g somerset soft goats cheese
200g soft cheese

1 apple

10 g chopped walnut

Watercress, spinach and rocket salad

4 tbsps of balsamic vinegar to reduce

Whisk in the grated beetroot with the beaten eggs and sprinkle in the salt and pepper. Add a tablespoon of melted butter to the mix.

Heat up the remaining butter in a flat, non-stick frying pan (cm) on a hight heat. Pour in the eggs. Ideally the frittata should be about 1 cm thick. Cook for 5 minutes until cooked on both sides (The best way to flip is to slide the frittata on a plate, hold the pan over the un-cooked side and turn). Place the omelette on a plate to cool slightly. If you like it warm you can always pop the shapes back into a pan of melted butter and crisp them up - it's just easier to cut if cool.

Meanwhile, fold the goats cheese into the soft cheese until firm and mouldable. I like it with just a hint of the goats cheese, but if you like a stronger taste, just add more goat in the place of soft cheese.

For the salad, I used spinach, watercress and rocket, and added chopped walnuts. Slice the apple with a vegetable peeler into thin shavings, and fold into a flower shape to serve next to the frittata. When it's time to serve, slide it slightly under the frittata to hold it in shape.

Pour four tablespoons on balsamic vinegar into a warm pan and reduce until thick. You can buy it pre-reduced but this is so easy to make and produces a rich, sugary and sharp taste.

With a 3 inch cookie cutter, punch out 6 circles of the cooled frittata. Place each on a large plate, and spoon on an almost triangluar shape of the goats cheese mix. Place a few basil leaves on each quinelle, and serve with a handful of salad. This is an in season, easy and delcious starter. For canape size, simple use a small cookie cutter!

A summer smacker!