Archive for the ‘seafood’ Category

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Feeling a little crabby?

December 6, 2010

In which practice actually does make perfect

Flicking through the recipe books in search of something special for a friend’s birthday dinner the other week, I happened upon Damien Pignolet’s crab soufflé. But I soon grew daunted by the gazillion steps, and then breathed a big sigh of relief when I remembered one of our guests can’t eat gluten, as the soufflé had flour in it. Then another idea struck: crab mousse! Retro enough to be surprising – or possibly raise a laugh – but I figured it would also involve just enough velvety lusciousness and feel-the-love effort to make a birthday girl feel special.

Next step, hello internets. My friends, there are so many bad recipes online, have you noticed? Obviously there are squillions of brilliant ones too (*bats eyelashes*), but lordy me. Google ‘crab mousse’ and you will find yourself immersed in more lists of cream cheese, powdered onion soup, gelatine, emulsifiers and other icky goop than you can poke a whisk  at.

Happy was I, then, to find this baked crab mousse recipe from  Tamasin Day-Lewis. But never having baked such a thing as mousse before I decided, most uncharacteristically, to give it a practice whirl a few days before the birthday do. Usually I don’t bother practising, being blessed with forgiving friends who are usually happy to be experimented upon and whose manners are impeccable even when served less-than-fabulous meals (Ms A, I’m thinking particularly of you and the grass-clippings chicken a short while ago – you were a model of composure).

Anyhoo – in this instance practice was a good idea. The first time I made the recipe I kept the oven at its standard fan setting, but it was too hot. I also used the recipe’s method of covering each mousse with greaseproof paper but that was a total dud idea for us, as the paper simply curled up, and given the hot oven the thing began to brown round the edges, which is not what you want on a delicate, pale, crabby moussy thing like this. Also, served after five minutes as recommended was way too hot. And finally, presentation-wise it tended to look a little wan and needed a bit of bling. However, the texture was not bad and the flavour was good. So good. So very good.

On the second attempt – birthday dinner day – everything went swimmingly. I used foil to completely cover the ramekins instead of the paper; I turned the fan function off on the oven; I cooked the mousse a little longer and let them cool for longer in the pots. And as a garnish I added a blob of creme fraiche with torn dill and a teeny dollop of caviar. And I am here to tell you it was good. The birthday girl loved it and so did we.

Baked crab mousse with dill & caviar

Adapted from Tamasin’s Great British Classics

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • meat picked from body & claws of 4 cooked blue swimmer crabs, or about 250g crab meat
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 400ml thickened cream
  • 4 tsp dry sherry
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • biggish pinch cayenne pepper (be careful – taste at half a pinch first)
  • 2 tbsp finely grated Parmesan
  • 6 dollops of creme fraiche
  • a few fronds of dill
  • caviar or salmon pearls
  • salt & pepper

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170C. If you have an adjustable fan setting, turn it off or to lowest setting.

2. Lightly grease 6 small ramekins.

2. Puree crab meat, eggs, cream, pepper, mustard and sherry until smooth.

3. Stir in the Parmesan and season to taste.

4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared ramekins and cover each with a round of aluminium foil.

5. Sit the ramekins in a roasting pan and pour enough near-boiling water into it to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

6. Bake for 25 minutes and check. If they are still very wobbly in the centre, keep cooking for another five or ten minutes. The centre should be just lightly set.

7. Remove pan from oven and leave on the stove top, leaving ramekins covered in the water bath until ready to serve. I left them sitting for a little over an hour, and the temperature was perfect – just slightly warm is the perfect temperature.

8. Remove foil lids, wipe away any condensation from the rims and top each one with a dollop of creme fraiche, a tiny spoonful of salmon pearls or caviar and a teensy frond of dill.

9. Serve with champagne & teaspoons.

In this case, practice made (almost) perfect, and I’m glad I did the test run. I doubt I’ll take up testing recipes first on a regular basis – who can be bothered? – but would love to know if you do. Are you a routine practiser or do you use your friends as guinea pigs? Any fabulous disaster stories? Do tell.


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Smoke on the water

August 15, 2010

Tea smoked salmon salad with crisp pancetta & horseradish cream

I was recently reminded about the earthy beauty of tea-smoked fish by that television show. You can see the MasterChef video here – well worth watching to see the technique working easily. Thank God MasterChef is over, is all I can say, because now I have my life back.  I feel as though I was in a cult for a while there (much like my favourite Twitter MC commentator, Ben Pobjie – read about his amusing MC addiction here).

Years ago I used to make a rather complicated but luscious Neil Perry tea smoked ocean trout with spring onion cake from the Rockpool book, and had forgotten all about it until watching the telly reminded me that the complicated aspects of that recipe were the sauce and other  bits, but that the smoking itself was really quite simple.

So, during a couple of beachside weekends with friends last fortnight (lucky us, no?) I decided to give tea smoking another go, minus the difficult stuff. Tea-smoking can be a tiny bit time-consuming, but the rich, complex flavour is well worth it. The first time we did the smoking using a wok and a barbecue; the second time, we borrowed the Empress‘s proper smoking box.  The latter was much quicker but because the smokiness was more intense we finished cooking the fillets with a few minutes in a moderate oven to prevent it tasting more like an ashtray than salmon. The first – if you do it right – is easy and doesn’t require special gear.

The smoking mixture

The MasterChef chaps used hickory chips combined with the smoking mixture, and so did I – but my original version of Neil Perry’s one only used the tea, rice and sugar, and except for the fact we now have a sizable bag of the chips (available from barbecue shops) I wouldn’t bother with the woody stuff again.

Most recipes I’ve seen for smoking are the same – equal parts (say, a cup of each) jasmine rice, jasmine tea and brown sugar.  You can see the mix with the chips pictured here – you just toss them all together and mix. The first time, using the wok, I thought it would be neat to use an alumnium tray to hold the mixture, but this turned out to be a tres stupid idea, because it took forever for the mix to get hot enough. Next time, I would do as everyone advises, and simply put the mix in some foil directly on the base of the wok. Simple stuff – you need maximum contact between the mix and the heat. Duh.

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Next, get the fish on a wire rack. The video advises putting the fish on baking paper first, which we did the first time, but didn’t bother the second time. Again, I think best is maximum circulation of the smoke and our quantity of fish meant the paper worked as another barrier between the heat & smoke and the fish. So on our second attempt I simply oiled the rack to ensure non-sticking, which worked fine.

The advantage of the wok method is that you can fit lots of fish in there at once. Then you put the wok on the barbecue, and put a lid on to ensure the smoke stays inside. Problem number three for our first attempt was that I have no wok lid, so used a metal bowl instead. I think if I’d had the mix directly on the foil & base of wok instead of the tray this wouldn’t have been a big issue, but it would be better to have a tighter fit between the lid and the wok so the smoke stays within the space as much as possible. As it was, we improvised a little tin-foil pashmina to wrap around the whole thing where ‘lid’ met wok, which did help a great deal to keep the smoke inside.

Which brings us to the great advantage of the smoker box – the seal, made by a sliding lid,  is very tight and the tray is very close to the mix itself.  Slight drawback for us, in cooking for ten, was that we had to do two batches. But then again, that allowed a couple of different levels of smokiness which allowed people to choose which flavour they liked best from the platter.

In retrospect I think you are supposed to get the thing smoking before putting the fish in, but both times we started with the fish in place, which seemed fine. The fish was beautifully moist both times, so I don’t think there’s much danger of overcooking.

The heat source on the smoking box is a sweet little pot of methlated spirits which sits beneath and outside the box and puts out a surprisingly powerful flame. With the wok, we just used the barbecue. You could easily use your stovetop as they do in the video, but the smoky smell might be difficult to get out of any nearby soft furnishings so I’d advise doing this outside if you can.

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Here is the smoked fish after about eight minutes in the smoking box – highly smoked on the outside, but a couple of pieces were quite raw beneath the exterior. Another five minutes or so in the oven fixed that, but several pieces were just cooked through enough to leave as they were.

With the wok smoking (when it finally got going, about half an hour after starting – but as discussed, this delay should be prevented by foil-cup-direct-to-wok-surface method), the smoking was subtler but the cooking more even. You should see white droplets reaching the exterior as it begins to cook within.

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So, once your salmon – or trout, or ocean trout or I imagine even chicken or whatever else you fancy! – is ready, all you need to make this salad is some good springy green leaves, some crisped bacon, pancetta or proscuitto, and a creamy dressing we made this time with creme fraiche, fresh horseradish and finely chopped dill, salt & pepper. A mix of good Greek-style yoghurt, dill and horseradish cream would do just as well. I dressed the leaves first in my standard three-parts-oil-one-part-balsamic vinegar dressing, then over that arranged the chunks of salmon, then topped with the bacon and a few dollops of the creamy dressing (keep the rest in a jug on the side – believe me, it’ll go).

All that remained was to pour a glass of bubbles, sling the platter into the centre of the table and then admire the ocean view before hogging into this for lunch.

I am now in love with the whole idea of hot-smoked fish, and am ready to play around with the flavours, with different fish, different teas and so on. Have any of you ever done this? Tempted to give it a try? I can seriously recommend the flavour – it’s so delicately musky – but also the flesh stays so satiny and moist, the texture is just as good a reason to do it. If you do give it a try, please come back and tell me how you go!

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A fine kettle of fish

May 23, 2010

Sunday lunch in winter is a very fine thing, and a big pot of shellfish stew has gotta be up there as one of the easiest ways to make it happen. I don’t think I’ve ever made a proper bouillabaisse according to a recipe, but over the years various versions of this fishy number have made their way to our table.

Great for a crowd or just few, as we discovered today it must also be one of the easiest meals to take to someone else’s place – just make the stock base at home, stick it in a container, then throw it in a pot with the seafood five minutes before you’re ready to eat. The prawn stock is the important bit. This quantity makes a hefty bowl for four.

Ingredients

  • 12 large prawns
  • 1 small fennel bulb, roughly chopped
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, chopped
  • splosh white wine
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 litre chicken stock
  • 3 strips orange peel
  • few threads saffron
  • pinch dried chilli flakes
  • ½ kg black mussels, cleaned
  • ½ kg perch or other firm white fish, cut into 4cm chunks
  • 1 blue swimmer crab, cleaned & quartered
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  1. Peel & devein prawns, leaving tails on and setting aside the shells & heads.
  2. Heat oil & toss in shells & heads, stirring over high heat till pink, then add leek, fennel, garlic & celery and stir till softened & starting to caramelise.
  3. Deglaze with the wine, then add stock.
  4. Remove as much of the prawn shells & heads as much as you can using tongs – but if a bit of leg or shell remains, what’s a smidge of crunchy crustacean between friends?
  5. Add tomatoes, saffron, orange peel & chilli flakes. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 30 minutes.
  6. A few minutes before you’re ready to eat, add the fish and cleaned seafood and turn the heat to low or even off.
  7. Check for seasoning, serve in big bowls with a drizzle of olive oil.

Make sure you have some great bread for dunking. Today our family from the beachside burbs provided some incredibly good sourdough baguette from Iggy’s Bread in Bronte – I’d never heard of this guy before today, but he’s obviously the business.

And if you have any other fishy stewy recommendations or ideas for giving this version some extra zing (a la a splash of Pernod), I’m all ears…

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In the pink: salmon Nicoise

February 15, 2010

I don’t know about you, but whenever I unwrap a salmon fillet these days it seems to have grown to twice the size it looked in the fish shop. So I’ve started cutting them in half after barbecuing – the easiest way to cook salmon, I find – and keeping half in the fridge for lunch.

Ever since I read in this book here that one of the major keys to preventing dementia (both Alzheimer’s & non-A) is to eat oily fish a couple of times a week, our salmon consumption has gone up. I know chefs turn their noses up a bit at salmon – all those early nineties menus full of pan-fried salmon on a lump of mash, I guess – and I’ve heard salmon described as fish for steak eaters (hmm, who could that be…?). And I see their point. I still love it though, and being a bit of a fish-cooking scaredy-cat, I find it durn simple to cook (these days, that is – remind me to tell you one day of the first time I cooked for my Neil-Perry-trained-seafood-restaurant-chef-brother-in law-to-be, chefbro Hamish, using a crap electric stove and oven in my old flat. He was very gracious at the overcooked, soggy pink slab he got – but what was I thinking!??)

Anyhoo, the other day I slung this little salmon nicoise salad together from leftovers and fridge staples. It pretty much only took as long to make as the egg took to hardboil (around eight minutes) – and, I have to say, was very fabulous. I used vino cotto instead of making a dressing, because I can kid myself that it’s got no oil (but I bet the sugariness of it cancels out that benefit…), but any dressing you like would be fine.

This made a big salad for one, but obviously you can mix and match quantities to suit.

Reckon it’s easy enough to stick in lunch for lazy people?

  • 1 piece cooked salmon, broken into bite-sized pieces
  • 5 kalamata olives
  • 5 anchovies, roughly chopped
  • 1 hardboiled egg, quartered
  • 1-2 tomatoes (I used a few I’d roasted; they shrink a lot so used more)
  • lettuce leaves
  • a couple of teaspoons of vino cotto (or balsamic & oil dressing)
  • next time, I’d add some green beans
  • salt & pepper

Method: Chuck it all in.

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Finding a cure – my first Twitter recipe

December 7, 2009

I try not to hang round on Twitter too often, as whole days can whiz by while I’m distracted by shiny baubles, but sometimes you can find gold there – like this easy wasabi & sake cured salmon.

It’s my first Twitter recipe – I’ve been resisting actual Twitter recipe providers, as I don’t think I’d ever get my head around all the acronyms they’d need to jam any decent recipe into 140 characters.

This is basically gravlax without the dill, with a Japanesy twist. Virginia, a brilliant web designer and food blogger, tweeted that she was making this dish, and I asked her for the recipe.

It’s so simple she could tell me with just a few tweets, but she also tells me it’s a Nigella Lawson original, so I also Googled around to find it available here, called ‘gravlax sashimi‘.

But if you can’t be bothered clicking away, just read on – preparing the whole thing takes about ten minutes max, and then it’s just a matter of waiting for the cure.

The recipe here says you can leave for up to five days, which I did because we were out for a couple of nights in a row after the third day. Yesterday I unveiled and sliced the salmon up and it is delicious.

It’s like gutsy-flavoured smoked salmon, and very silky, with the faintest wasabi tinge in the flavour. Too good. I am going to make batches of it to have on hand for Christmastide nibbles …

1. Mix 1 tbs wasabe, 3tbs caster, 1.5tbs sake, 3tbs salt into a paste.

2. Smear over both sides of a 500g salmon fillet.

3. Cover fillet & dish closely in cling wrap (tucking round the fish) and leave for three days, weighted with cans or jars or something. ‘Slice thinly and serve with other awesome things,’ as Virginia says.

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A new leaf – my miang goong

November 25, 2009

As I passed the excellent Fiji Market in King St, Newtown today (on the way home from the gym, that was – insert praise here), I remembered that’s where I’d seen the betel leaves used to make miang  kham, those little roll-up-and-stick-in-your-gob piles of Thai spicy goodness. So I popped in and snagged myself a pack of these fresh green heart-shaped lovelies (about 10 or 12 leaves for $2.50).

I have many times enjoyed the delectable Miang Goong at Thai Pothong described here but never attempted it myself till this evening. And I have to say, this is one of the zingiest new things I’ve tried in a long time. Tested these little babies not only on Senor but his two Wednesday piano students, adventurous primary-school gourmands Lulu and Riley and their caterer dad, and it got the thumbs up from all.

A quick Google search came up with a few recipes for Miang Khang (that’s without the goong – the prawns) and I chose this one to adapt.

The fiddly bit is the sauce – but I doubled the quantity of this one and had masses left over, now safely in the freezer for easy peasy quick Miang assembly for the next time or two.

My adaptation is here, but there must be lots of proper recipes about the place – I urge you to make this, because even though the sauce is fiddly, it’s much easier than you might think and very very good. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Little Patty

October 18, 2009

salmonpatties1Last weekend’s birthday party excesses left us with a heap of leftover poached salmon – the perfect excuse to indulge in some sixties-style comfort food: the classic salmon patty.

I made these last Sunday for a friend whose French mother happened to telephone as I was cooking and, being French, asked what was for dinner. My friend graciously described these little babies as salmon croquettes, which sounds far more glamorous. You can call them what you like, but they are sweet, crunchy, deliciously simple.

I enjoyed them so much that I cooked them again in a different house a few days later – this time not with leftover salmon but one medium fillet. Both times I discovered that a little salmon goes a hell of a long way (a single salmon fillet and one large potato made 12 medium-sized patties, for example), so I had leftovers to freeze both times. The second time I steamed the salmon fillet till just cooked through. This recipe is for the single fillet as it’s easier to work out quantities, but you’ll be able to judge for yourself – I’d suggest marginally more salmon than potato, and enough egg to make it bind.

What you need:

  • Steamed/cooked salmon, flaked
  • 1 potato, peeled, cooked & mashed
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/3 bunch dill stems, finely chopped
  • 1 egg
  • very fine breadcrumbs (I hate buying them so made my own, but whatever works)
  • salt & pepper
  • vegetable oil, for shallow frying
  • yoghurt, honey & chopped dill, for dolloping

salmonpatties21. Fry the onion, garlic & dill stems till soft.

2. Combine the potato, salmon & onion mix in a bowl.

3. Add the broken egg and mix till well combined.

4. Form the mix into patties about 5cm diameter, and while the oil is heating, coat in breadcrumbs on either side.

5. When the oil is quite hot, shallow-fry on both sides till golden, and drain well on kitchen paper.

Serve with a green salad and a big fat dollop of yoghurt mixed with a little honey, lots of salt and chopped dill.

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Fishy (and salty) business

July 1, 2009

stephsaltcodThe Empress’ Sydney Morning Herald Good Living column this week is on salt cod – mmmmmmmm. She writes:

Since the advent of refrigeration and better transport, there’s no storage imperative to salt fish. But try telling that to the Portuguese, who have bacalhau so firmly entrenched in their culinary repertoire there’s no turning back. Soaking in water renders the stiff, dried fish soft, palatable and ready to be made into any of the 365 recipes the Portuguese have devised for it. But salt cod isn’t only the preserve of the Portuguese. The French are also fans of salt cod, which they call morue, and transform into warm puree with olive oil, garlic and moistened bread.

She samples salt cod French, Portuguese & Italian style.  And it sounds good.

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Fishy business

June 3, 2009

steph1The Empress Clifford-Smith turns her attention to small and salty fish in her column this week – and oh my, how good does that little sardine number from the Burlington look?

You will find Steph’s Good Living column here.

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Simplest lunch in the world

May 5, 2009

prawns2A flying visit to the tropics for the weekend, with family at beautiful Magnetic Island in far North Queensland. It is an excellent escape and we plan to do it again before winter is out. Perfect swimming weather, and still warm enough to eat outdoors in the evening.

So if it’s cold where you are, and you want to pretend it’s still summer, turn up the heat and whack this on the table for the easiest lunch in the world.  

1. Cooked prawns. We had tigers one day and red spots the next – succulent, flavoursome, delicious.

2. Bread. Sourdough best, otherwise any good crusty white.

3. Green salad with good oil & balsamic dressing.

4. Mayonnaise – preferably Norganics Soya Mayonnaise, otherwise Hellman’s (or homemade, obviously, if you can be bothered).

5. Two glasses of Veuve Clicquot.

Happy, happy, happy day.