Category Archives: Fishy

Soufflé without the suffering

Smoked haddock and Gruyere

Too much fuss is made about the effort and precision required to make a souffle. So I can understand a degree of anxiety when faced with the idea of creating something not just tasty, but also visually perfect, which is why I focus on the former and pretty much ignore the latter (see the photo for evidence). And while these souffles may not look exactly like souffles, they do taste like souffles. and this one tastes amazing. I kind of ripped it off from Dean Street Townhouse, who’s smoked haddock souffle is so good, I’m unable to order anything else when I go there. In fact, by finally doing this at home myself, I’ve managed to free myself from their shackles and I will at last be able to move on and order something else next time I’m there (which isn’t likely to be soon given we’ve moved from Soho to Kings Cross, where I will now no doubt find a new hangout that offers something equally alluring to entrap me once again. It’s never ending).

So here goes. The only real trick is that once you start whisking the egg whites, you should try to get things put together and into the oven fairly quickly. You don’t want to be farting around for too long or your souffles will suffer. Apart from that, it really is very simple. Oh and feel free to muck about with the quantities depending on how fishy/cheesy/airy you want yours. I’m all about strong flavours as you may have noticed.

Smoked haddock and gruyere souffle (with two missing accents)
Start with about 200ml of double cream in a small pan and into it place a small fillet of really good undyed smoked haddock, probably only about 150g or so. Bring the cream to the boil, turn down and simmer for just a couple minutes and then leave to cool. When it has cooled, flake the haddock finely between your fingers. Lick your fingers, enjoy and then wash your hands. Grate in some nutmeg and finely chop a handful of dill and pop that in too.

In the meantime, make a small quantity of bechamel. Take about 20g of butter, melt it in a small saucepan, add about 20g of plain flour and mix together on the heat. Now take about 200ml of whole milk and add it very slowly, a little at a time, slowly loosening the roux until you have a silky smooth bechamel which you need to cook for a couple of minutes on a low heat. At this point, you should no longer be able to taste the four in the sauce. Season with a little salt and plenty of pepper. Separate 4 medium sized organic eggs and once the bechamel has cooled a little, whisk in the egg yolks.

Grate about 100g of gruyere (or parmesan) finely into a bowl and take 4-5 ramekins (depending on their size – you can decide if you want lots of small ones or one big one, or something in between for that matter – just use what you have), butter them liberally and then line them with some of the grated cheese so that it forms a light coating around each the ramekins. Take the remainder of the cheese, the bechamel, the creamy haddock and mix them all together in a large bowl.

Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks and fold them gently into the creamy, fishy, cheesy mixture. Fill the ramekins pretty much to the top and place them in a bain marie (the water should be boiling hot) and into the oven at 190c for about 8-10 minutes (longer if you’re doing on big one)

Take them out and serve immediately with a peppery green salad and crusty bread. Don’t worry if they’re a little runny in the middle – they’re better that way. Dean Street Townhouse serve them with a rich cheese sauce, which is also amazing – I’ll try that next time and add to this post it if I manage to make it to the keyboard afterwards.

And you have any souffles left, cover them and put them in the fridge for another day – as long as you didn’t overcook them, they’ll do really well second time around as twice baked souffles…

From Beijing to Hangzhou (via Changsha)

Tea picking

I suspect many westerners have a handful of preconceptions about China, primarily driven by what we see on the news and read in the papers, and all coloured by the protests that took place in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and the terrible government backlash that ensued.

But if you visit, I think you’ll see a very different place to the one you are expecting. People are more enthusiastic, more intelligent, more energetic, more interesting, more opinionated and enjoying life more than most people I meet in London. Everywhere you look, people are going about their daily business in the same way people do here in the UK. Of course the press is controlled by the government, and Twitter and Facebook are blocked and replaced by Chinese versions that are automatically monitored and censored (mainly through keyword searches), and of course there are serious human rights issues that are a real concern. But despite all that I think it’s fair to say that for the vast majority of people, life over there is just as it is over here. Business is booming, people have good jobs, eat good food (far better than we do), drink lots of beer, go to bars, drink more beer, play dice, drink more beer and fall down. Oh and they smoke a lot. Really, all the time. Remember when you used to have an intercourse fag at the dinner table? (about 20 years ago…) They still do that in China. I hesitate in saying this for fear of my own little backlash, but that’s pretty cool…

And so to the food. Wonderful. Fantastic. Unbelievably good. And not at all like the british Chinese food we get to eat over here (mainly I think, because we generally eat Cantonese food here in the UK, rather than Mandarin). Every meal feels like a banquet, and rice is rarely served. Normally about 20-30 dishes, all shared and all perfectly balanced with each other: pork (Chairman Mao style is the best), steamed fish, fried fish, soup, noodles, pak choi, beef, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, beans, prawns, snails, duck (although the tongues are not my faves) and tofu. Always tofu. What is so perfect is that everyone helps themselves from the centre of the table and takes only what they enjoy and only what they need.

So rather than trying to describe how it was all prepared (I have no clue), I’ll just leave you with a little peek at some of the dishes (with a few of the more challenging ones thrown in for fun – there were very few of them, but they have to be included for balance) – oh and the odd funny sign. No photo album is complete without a photo of a funny sign…

Thanks Fan, Jacqueline and Watson…

Wheat-free me

Or fad at the weekend perhaps? I hope not…

Thanks for the photo Sally

Those of you who know me will be familiar with a florid range of rather unattractive nasal challenges that I seem to have to deal with on an almost daily basis. It’s always been like this, from waking up every morning as a teenager at school adorned with other people’s pillows, shoes, books, porn mags (in fact, anything to hand that they could throw at me in the middle of the night to curtail my incessant snorting), to (as I found out recently) whole swathes of staff and colleagues at EMI and News International over the last 10 years firmly believing I had a nasty habit (I don’t. I mean, I do have plenty of nasty habits, but none that make me sniff incessantly).

And without getting into too much detail, I have, from time to time over the course of my life, taken a variety steps to try to do something about this socially debilitating affliction but to no avail – making me slowly but surely come to the conclusion that I must accept my fate as a terminally snotty man.

So, while chatting to a friend of mine a few days ago and answering the question that I get asked on a pretty regular basis: “why do you seem to have a constant cold?”, it dawned on me that I really needed to sort this once and for all. And as luck would have it, it turned out that she had an approach that could indeed help me. Not with surgery or medication, but by removing certain things from my diet and making a few other simple life changes. Never one to shy away from a challenge I thought I’d give it a go – and as I journey through the process, I’m going to bore you lot with all the details – a problem shared and all that…

These are the instructions that she gave me:

1.       Nutrition – no grains, no wheat, no gluten, no dairy, no legumes, no sugar. So for 2 weeks your diet will be made up of good wholesome natural foods: meat, fish, eggs, veg, seeds, nuts and limited fruit (1 piece a day max) Make sure you have protein with every meal (protein shakes are a good snack) and try to get your carbs from green veg (kale is amazing as is broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, sprouts) Sweet potato is a great source of starchy carbs and as you’re burning lots of calories cycling you might want to make sure you add these to your diet.

2.       Probiotic – healing the gut is key to good health. Here’s one I recommend. Its great value.

There are other things I have to do, but they are less relevant to a food blog, and to be honest, they will probably put you off eating for a good day or two, so I shall omit them for now.

Day one started badly, as I nipped into the supermarket to grab some provisions for breakfast and lunch, and went to pick up things that I might normally grab for a quick bite at work:

  • porridge – nope
  • yoghurt – naha
  • bacon sarnie – nein
  • falafel wrap – non
  • pasta salad – no way
  • bean salad – no
  • croissant – no
  • bagel – no
  • cappucino – no

and on and on and on.

So I end up with a bag of apples, dried mango, fruit juice, a bag of nuts and a crappy salmon salad. Feels like I need more practice…(oh and it cost ten times as much as the croissant)

I had a better start this morning – a cup of coffee and half a smoked mackerel. Most painful though is that I baked this for the kids and can’t even have a mouthful – it’s a sight that I am going to see far less off for some time…

More to come (and I might even post some new recipes up here too – that would be novel).

Bread I'm not allowed to eat

Thanks to Caroline, who’s training to be a nutritionist and who pointed me in the right direction…
(and thanks for the photo Sally)

A few hot prawns


Two posts in as many days. Perhaps I’m back. Perhaps it’s the fact that I just made a commitment to update this blog more than once a quarter. Or perhaps I’ve finally managed to cook a few new things for a change. Whatever the reason, you’re a lucky reader because this one is a classic and definitely worth the almost zero effort to prepare…

Fried prawns with chilli, garlic and tomatoes

Buy the best quality prawns you can and wash them. Chop a few cloves of garlic, a red chilli and a halve a large handful of cherry tomatoes. Heat a wok as high as you can and pour in a few glugs of good oil. Drop in the prawns and fry them for a minute. Add the garlic, chilli and tomatoes and continue for another couple of minutes. Finally, add a decent splash of vermouth and plenty of salt and pepper and let it bubble away for just a couple more minutes. Finish with a handful of chopped parsley and serve with a crusty baguette and a bottle of Cassis blanc. Your guests will not know what to do with themselves.


Fish pie

It’s cold. It’s too cold to get on the bike without three layers of lycra and wool. Guilt is setting in, along with the fear that in less than six months a bunch of us will spend a week in the Alps then Pyrenees attempting to follow in the (very expensive) wheels of the big boys from the Tour. So what do I do? I make a fish pie. Obviously.

This is a recipe that my sister Nic shared with me many years ago and it’s a cracker, even if it did have a crap name:  “Luxury fish pie” (you have to say luxury in that Marks & Spencer’s ad voice but with the addition of a slight northern twang, otherwise it doesn’t work). Funnily enough, I think the luxury thing was a sign of the times – back in the early 90’s scallops and monkfish were still considered a little exotic – now (thankfully) they are commonplace, as they should be.. It just shows how much better we are at food than we were…

The other great thing about this pie is that it’s a chance to give your local fishmonger a little business – mine in Enfield is the real deal – an old boy who’s been there for decades and who is a pleasure to buy from – worlds apart from these Kensington & Chelsea boutique fish sellers who think it’s ok to charge the earth for an ammonious skate wing. It’s a great thing to support your local businesses, but I only really like to do it to when they’re not taking the piss..

Fish Pie

You can put pretty much anything in this pie – there are just three elements to it: Fishy stuff, a great sauce and a top. This time I used monkfish, skate cheeks (I was looking for cod cheeks, but this is what he had, and it worked really well), scallops, prawns and some salmon for colour. You simply skin and cut up the fish into bite sized chunks and put them in your dish. Like this:

For the topping, par-boil new potatoes for about 6 minutes and then plunge them into cold water. When they are cool enough to handle, grate them into a bowl (don’t worry about peeling them) and add a huge knob of butter, a generous handful of finely chopped capers and plenty of salt and pepper.

Now for the sauce – start with a simple roux – lots of melted butter and a couple of tablespoons of flour, then incorporating milk and mixing vigorously until you have a very thick sauce. Now add a glass of vermouth and double cream and let it cook and reduce. The sauce should be pretty thick as the liquid from the fish will thin it a little during cooking. Season the sauce and add a handful each of chopped parsley and dill along with a spoonful of dijon mustard. While you’re doing this, fry a very finely chopped onion (or leek) along with a little red chilli and once softened (don’t let it colour) add it to the sauce. Now pour the sauce over the fish and wiggle the bits about so that it’s well mixed together.

Place the potatoes in spoonfuls on the top of the pie, starting at the edges and working in. Pile it high and make sure there are plenty of edgy bits that will go crispy in the oven. Now just pop it in the oven at 180 degrees for 35 minutes. It’s really good with wilted spinach or just a hunk of really good bread. And a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet…

Oyster time…

It seems that I’m writing, yet again, about something people either crave or despise. But love them or hate them, you can’t deny that Oysters bring with them a certain magic, and despite the fact that the British food standards agency has recently found that three-quarters of British grown oysters contain the noro-virus (otherwise sensitively known as the winter vomiting bug), they are always an exciting prospect. Don’t worry by the way –  this is not a new phenomenon – they always have contained the virus and apparently most strains are non-infectious (saying that, if you do this and you get sick, don’t come running to me. In fact it was with interest that I noted the BBC food website has no recipes with raw oysters. Lily livered chickens).

I don’t know what it is about these little rocky molluscs, but they seem to give you license to go properly mad – they’re sexy, edgy and just a little bit dangerous – what other food can boast the same? They also demand that you have a drink in your hand when you eat them – champagne, martini or bloody mary – all work beautifully. I’m sure this is why people mistakenly consider oysters to be an aphrodisiac – it’s got nothing to do with the oyster itself, it’s to do with the fact that after a dozen oysters, you’re 10 units down and your beer goggles are well and truly strapped to your head.

Many years ago, when we lived in Antibes, we used to go to the supermarket a few days before Christmas and there would be a huge mountain of boxes filled with oysters with masses of people queuing up to gets theirs in, ready for Christmas eve. It’s an absolute must for the last dinner before Christmas day for many French families – and I think we should be doing the same over here (followed by a beautiful pan fried sea bass – maybe I’ll do that one later on in the week…)

Oysters for Christmas eve

This is so simple. You need a big platter with lots of crushed ice and enough oysters for 4-5 for each person. Open them and serve with the following three sauces, which your guests simply dribble over the top of their oyster before slipping them gently into their mouths…

  1. Red wine vinegar, very finely chopped shallot, salt and papper and a little finely chopped parsley (and a little chilli if you like)
  2. Lime juice, very finely chopped garlic and fresh red chilli, caster sugar, rice wine vinegar and finely chopped fresh coriander (oh my god this one is good)
  3. Lemon juice and a few drops of tabasco, straight onto the little fella

And don’t forget the martini, bloody mary, champagne – it doesn’t work without…

I’m going to do this one today if I can find some oysters in town, so pictures will come later.

Writers block and smoking

It happens too often. I think I’m on a roll and then it all grinds to a halt. This time for over six months. One problem is lack of discipline – rather annoyingly, discipline is something I had plenty of when I was 14 and when it wasn’t cool to have it. Now I have none it seems.

And as I think about it, the problem isn’t entirely about my laziness, in fact it’s not even my fault –  it’s the shorts – they are the ones to blame. And the reason is very simple – that despite their unequalled faculty for adventure and imagination in so many aspects of their lives (monsters under the bed, imaginary friends, sticks=guns, etc), they seem to have absolutely none when it comes to food.

And so it is that week after week I’m commanded to trot out the same old dishes that I wrote about over two years ago in this very journal. And they won’t let me try anything new. I’ve tried believe me. Every week I beg them to let me feed them something new. Something simple and tasty. Something that’s not Friday Night Pasta. And it’s not like I’m presenting them with a blowfish or pig’s trotters. I’m talking really basic stuff here – Am I expecting too much?

What adds to the frustration is the fact that they are not born this way – The smallest of the shorts is the most adventurous (he’s a big fish-eater is William) but I see him descending into a bisto gravy of food apathy just like the other two, slowly but surely, week by week. Any day now he’s going to refuse to eat mushrooms and all will be lost. I dread the moment…

I know I shouldn’t fret. I’m confident that in just a few years my kids’ culinary promiscuity will take a slow but definite U-turn back towards the light – I’m just not sure I can wait that long before I put another recipe on here…

Anyway – the good news is that the one thing that I can still cook for William (not the others sadly) is smoked mackerel. And I found out the other the day that the best way to get smoked mackerel is to do it yourself. It’s really really good, and not at all difficult. All you need is a saw, a random bit of wood (preferably from a tree, not an old Ikea table), a large old pan with a lid and a vegetable steamer. And a couple of very fresh mackerel.

Smoking Mackerel

So, take your wood (I use an old branch from a tree in the garden – fruit trees are especially good) and saw off very thin slices, making sure you capture all the saw dust for the pan (I put the pan under the saw and it just drops straight in). Once you have enough wood chips and sawdust to lightly cover the bottom of the pan, you’re done. Now put the steamer in the pan and place the mackerel, gutted and with heads and tails removed if they don’t fit neatly in the pan. Put the pan on the hob under a high heat with the lid off until the wood starts smoking, then lower the heat and put the lid on. Leave it like this on the heat for about 20 minutes and then turn off the hob. After another few minutes, you can take them out and they are ready to use. And they are lovely – sweet and very lightly smoked with just a hint of colour – nothing like the radioactive jobs they sell in the supermarket. I’d recommend two ways of eating them. For both, I start by removing the fillets from the bones with your fingers. They should pull away with very little effort (if they don’t you may not have cooked them for long enough). The simplest route now is to gently fry the fillets in butter and eat them with buttered toast and a cup of Earl Grey (no milk). Alternatively, use my smoked mackerel pate recipe.

Vitello tonnato

This is a lovely dish even if it looks reminiscent of something you may have deposited in a back street after a big night on the town. Besides, there are plenty of things in life that look awful but taste great and I urge you to give this a go – it really is beautiful, and it is (at least in its original form) an Italian classic.

Vitello Tonnato (DATW style)

The classic recipe requires you to used veal poached in a herby broth as the basis for this dish, but I used seared beef carpaccio instead which I think works really well.

To make the sauce, you need to put the following in a blender and give it a good whizz – a tin of really good tuna in oil and a tin of anchovies in oil (after having drained the oil), two hard boiled egg yolks, a tablespoon of capers, the juice of a lemon and a good glug of good olive oil. Once blended, season with black pepper and salt (carefully – you don’t need much salt).

For the beef, use my carpaccio recipe – take a piece of really good beef fillet and roll it in a dry rub of herbs and spices that you’ve pounded with a pestle and mortar. My favourites are finely chopped thyme and rosemary with cumin and corainder seeds and lots of maldon sea salt and black pepper (Note – whenever I refer to salt in here, just assume it’s maldon sea salt…). Then sear the beef all over in a very hot frying pan with a little oil and leave it rest for ten minutes. If there are any lovely juices at this point, add them to the sauce.

Now take the beef and slice it thinly onto a plate, covering the surface (and again adding any juices to the sauce). Spoon over the tuna sauce and sprinkle over a little chopped parsley and capers. As always, serve with really good bread and a bottle of crisp white wine or a bottle of Bandol rose if the sun is shining…