Posts Tagged ‘Neil Perry’

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On shopping, surliness & sustainability

August 21, 2012

I have always been rather afraid of stir-frying fish.

I have visions of fish fillets falling apart and turning to soggy mush, making not so much a stirfry as a soupy mash. As I think I’ve discussed here before, my thoroughly inland childhood meant I came late to seafood and, unlike my beachy husband, I still lack a natural confidence in cooking much seafood.

This is one of the reasons I love Neil Perry’s recipes for cooking fish and seafood – his instructions are always so exact and clear, especially in Good Food, one of my essential books.  So when I saw Mr Perry’s stir fried blue eye in last weekend’s paper I determined to look again at stir fried fish.

The recipe is for blue eye trevalla, which, while recommended for its firmness of flesh and ability to stand up to robust flavours, the sustainable seafood gurus GoodFishBadFish put in the category ‘Think Twice’. “Stocks are currently fully fished, with localised depletions. Some bycatch concern,” they say.

However, given that so much of the other seafood we like to eat is firmly in the “Say No” category, I find myself thinking that everything’s relative, and so blue eye is not so bad after all. GoodFish folks suggest alternatives of mulloway or coral trout, neither of which my nearest fish shop stocks.

I know I should ask them about mulloway, and start talking about sustainability, and “building a relationship” for future reference. But I’m weirdly, ridiculously shy of such conversations. I don’t know why, exactly. But with things like this I’m reminded of Julian Barnes’ amusing piece on food shopping in his Pedant in the Kitchen, where the author admits that for him, as for most of us, the idea of “developing a relationship” with or “instructing” one’s butcher, fishmonger or candlestick maker is as realistic as “advising” one’s local policeman or garbage collector.

This is why the Pedant’s morale is rarely lifted by a recipe beginning “Instruct your butcher to…” or “Telephone your fishmonger in advance and ask…” Now I know some excellent butchers, fishmongers and fruit ‘n’ veggers, though I don’t think of any of them as “mine”. Equally, I sometimes encounter a needlessly surly butcher who, when you hesitantly propose what you might require, will seize something in a flurry of hands, offer it for a nanosecond’s inspection with a lip-curling “That do?”, and have it on the scales and off again before your eyes can refocus, while calling out a weight and price which could well be a touch speculative.

I can imagine the look of bafflement on my fish shop man’s face if I quizzed him on his sustainability credentials. I suspect it would resemble the response of the woman behind the counter at a terrible local store laughingly called a “deli”, when I asked her about the origins of one of her four slabs of unmarked, unlabelled cheese. “I dunno,” she said, crossly. I tried again, valiantly. Might she know what kind of cheese it was? She sighed, cast her eyes to the ceiling, and shot me a look of undisguised contempt as she said: “English”.

Sometimes I wonder if avoiding this kind of exchange  is part of the reason some people actually prefer supermarket shopping. (It’s also one of the reasons, apart from the amazing quality of the meat and the ethical aspects, I buy almost all our meat from Feather & Bone – they actually do like to talk to you, are happy to help, and are generally Lovely Humans.)

Anyhoo, back to fish!

I bought blue eye trevalla from my surly fish man, and with it made a bastardised version of Neil Perry’s recipe last night. I marinated the chunks of fish as per his recipe, but from there returned to the old faithful stir fry combo taught to me a thousand years ago by my friend Ricardo: red capsicum, lots of sliced garlic, 3cm batons of green onion, a couple of birdeye chillis, split lengthwise, and then half a bunch of basil leaves tossed in at the end. Add to this a goodly slosh of fish sauce (I tend to go for at least one tablespoon, sometimes more) and a good pinch of brown sugar.

Method wise, I began as Neil suggests:

1. Heat a wok with a little vegetable oil until just smoking, then add the fish pieces with the marinade, spreading these evenly around the wok.

2. “Cook undisturbed for 1 minute, allowing the fish to start to brown” – then I turned the chunks once until almost cooked, then removed them and set aside.

3. I then added the vegetables but not the basil to the wok and stirfried them for a few minutes (adding a little boiling water), then returned the fish, slooshed in the fish sauce and brown sugar and gently stirred to combine, still at high heat.

4. As I turned off the heat, I threw the basil leaves in, put the rice in one serving bowl and the fish in another. By this time the basil leaves had wilted just nicely.

It was excellent.

Do you stir-fry seafood much? any problems? And what about “your” butcher, fishmonger or baker? How do you begin the conversations I’m too chicken to have? I would really love your views.

 

 

 

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Purple reign

May 19, 2010

Aren’t aubergines beautiful?

I routinely wish for a luxury garment in that exact glossy colour, and have never found anything near it. The search goes on …

Winter has  finally arrived here. Last weekend while staying at our friends’ cocoonish beach house (thankyou Caro & D…) I revisited Neil Perry’s recipe for ‘Cinnamon Scented Lamb’  casserole, of which eggplant / aubergine is a central ingredient.  The recipe is a corker, from that big fat white book of his (and theirs) called Food I Love. I don’t yet have it, but it does have an awful lot of good things in it and I think it must go on my list.

Not only because I love pictures of aubergine, but also because it is a very good recipe, I’m sharing here a very slightly adapted version of Mr Perry’s dish, which is full of those irresistible Middle Eastern flavours. This quantity is quite generous for seven or eight, I’d say.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 kg lamb shoulder, cut into chunks
  • 2 solid small aubergines, cut into large chunks
  • 6 baby aubergines, thickly sliced into rounds
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons currants
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 brown onion, halved & then sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 can diced tomatoes & juice
  • 1 small red chilli, split
  • 1.5 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • juice 1 lemon
  • ½ bunch chopped mint
  • ½ bunch chopped coriander

Method

  1. Sprinkle the aubergine generously with salt and leave for half an hour. Then rinse salt and any liquid away, and dry eggplant with paper towel or clean tea towel.
  2. Soak currants in vinegar in a cup or bowl.
  3. Using a cast iron cassserole or heavy pot, fry eggplant in batches in hot olive oil until golden on both sides; remove & drain on paper towel.
  4. Add lamb pieces to the pan in batches over high heat till lightly browned; set aside.
  5. Fry onion & garlic  till soft, then add tomatoes, currants, chilli, spices & stock, return lamb to pan and bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 1 to 1.5 hours or till lamb is very tender.
  6. Return cooked aubergine to pan along with lemon juice & seasoning, and stir to combine. When well combined, remove from heat and add herbs.

This dish is great served with plain couscous (or rice) and steamed green beans.

While winter evenings are fab for cooking, not so great for photography – but here’s a pic of the casserole anyway to give you an idea. Shame about the lack of natural light … it actually looks much more luscious than this in real life.

Anyhoo, if you’re a meat eater, I urge you to have a go with this one. And I think I might have a crack at a vegetarian version too, with chickpeas – do you think that would work?

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Neil Perry’s lamb, mint and pea pie

July 9, 2009

lambpie(or How I Got My Bottom Crispy)

I wanted to make some freezable food for a friend’s father who has been having a rough time, so I turned to an old favourite, this lamb, mint and pea pie from Neil Perry’s Good Food – it is a chunky, hearty little number full of comfort, but with the zing of the mint to give it a lift.

The only trouble is that I hate pies that have no bottom – in my book that’s not a pie, right?

And as I am no pastry-chef (my sister, on the other hand, makes the best flaky pastry this side of paradise) I pretty much always use the frozen stuff. (Except for one great pastry made with suet for rabbit pies – hmm, must get that one out again. Sooo delicious.)

Anyway, even with frozen pastry I have too often failed in the past to get a crispy bottom (vale Mrs Slocombe), and as the only thing worse than no base on a pie is a sludgy, undercooked one, I determined to get it right this time. And it worked – shortcrust pastry on the bottom, which I made sure for once to really thoroughly blind-bake, which also provides an excuse to use my lovely ceramic bauble pastryweights. And puff pastry on the top, well-brushed with egg wash.

And if I say so myself, these little babies turned out beautifully crisp on the base, reasonably rich on the innards and suitably golden on top. And if you cook them in these disposable aluminium trays you can chuck them in the freezer and then distribute to the needy as your heart desires.

PS: As I keep saying, just buy Good Food – it’s a great book; every recipe is a winner. Saves faffing around all over the internet…