Retro fishpate with twists

Who – at least of my age – hasn’t made tons on smoked mackerel pate? And weren’t we so taken aback when they started doing fillets encrusted with pepper so that this good old sixties stand by could take on yet another life! All those cheffy variations too – adding fresh horseradish seemed positively cuisine minceur .. or not.
Fact is it’s good stuff, but it needs a bit of variation after fourty years. So I tried this one: the technique, as you all know, is simply to stuff the ingredients into the Magimix in order needing to be chopped. So start with some spring onions (half a red one would do nicely too) and a good handful of parsley (get of rid of the worst of the stems but don’t pick off every leaf – this is meant to be easy!); zapp. Pile in a box of philly like cream cheese (‘lite for us porkies) and a pack of smoked salmon pieces and two large or three smaller skinned smoked mackerel fillets (with peppers if you like). More zapp.
It should be spreadable, but with noticeable contents, not just a mush, so I use the zapp button rather than leave it to blend.
Put into brown dishes – yes, they have to be to be properly retro. If you are being posh and not dieting then there’s no doubt that a layer of clarified butter doesn’t do anything but good. Freezes great. But please, please don’t eat straight from the fridge …..

Comfort pie and no work


It’s been a theme of the week, raiding the freezer, but then that’s what advance cooking and planning is all about.
So after a truly hectic day – all morning fighting a licensing application as the standard bearer for hundreds of residents opposing a 120 hour a week ‘social club’ extension, followed by a long telephone conference, a recording for a 30 sound bite for tv news, and then live radio for the drive home … phew I needed easy.
And I didn’t have to do anything, for which I was really pleased. The fish pie (previous appearance here) had defrosted overnight and was accompanied with steamed carrots and beans. And brown sauce of course.
Even the fruit salad was there, ready to eat. Perfect Friday. Plenty of time to think about cooking again at the weekend.

Infinite variations on fishy pies

Knocking up a fish pie should be in everyone’s repertoire of great standbys, whether it has a Fish Pie top (potatoes) or a Fisherman’s (pastry). What goes underneath can adopt the same approach and, if crafty, entail just washing up one pot – apart from the topping that is. With variations of fish and the vegetables you need never cook two the same.
I use a large sauté dish or fry pan – a wok would do just as well – to make the filling from start to finish. It seems daft to make enough just for two/three, (who wants to chop half an onion?) so we usually end up making enough for two pies with the second going straight in the freezer as soon as the finished (but uncooked) pie is chilled down.
So, into some oil in your chosen pan put a chopped onion, followed in cooking order by a pepper, some carrots – diced, and any combination of courgette, fennel (not too much), celery (ditto). Sweat until they’ve lost their bite. Then add a generous heaped tablespoon of cornflower and wiz about a bit, it doesn’t need cooking, but ordinary flour would if you use that. Add two teaspoons of the ubiquitous Marigold vegetable stock powder, or a crumbled cube of something.
Now you’re ready to turn the mess into a rich sauce: start adding milk, first in glugs, then as it thickens and cooks, more at a time until you have a rich, coating texture. Now add frozen peas or beans or even sweetcorn – if you like bright colour! – and let it all come back to the boil. Add some fresh herbs: parsley finely chopped, some fennel if you have it, or whatever. Check the seasoning and overdo the pepper if anything. If you want it to be extra creamy add grated cheese, or do the Jamie Oliver thing and slosh in double cream!
Now the fish. Today I used a couple of slabs of salmon and a big handful of prawns. In truth I prefer solid white fish, cod if we can afford it, but see what’s on offer. And of course, smoked haddock – especially with a cheesy sauce – is quite a distinctive version.
Turn everything over carefully in the sauce and take off the heat.
You should have enough stuff to fill two 2/3 person dishes ready for topping. If using mash, make sure it’s extra creamy: I smooth it flat with a spatula then do plough lines with a fork, going both ways, just like mum taught me. More cheese on top maybe? Dot with butter.
Then 200°C for about 35 – 40 minutes.
It’s got to be peas or steamed beans to go with it.
Afterthoughts: so you don’t fancy freezing one – then use the remaining filling for delicious puff pastry pasties – but watch when eating they tend to be very hot! Or just serve on a baked potato with extra cheese. Or pile into those individual shop bought Yorkshire Puddings ….

Pot luck Paella really is

Supper pot luck invites from us mean just that: a pot of stuff, and on this occasion quite a bit of luck. The food of course has to have a bit more effort that an everyday evening, but not such that it gets into dinner party realms: and it needs to support a nice bottle of wine (each, that is!).
So the paella recipe in this Sunday’s OFM, itself from a classic Spanish cookbook called 1080 got the mind and juices thinking. And a very large (500 gms) Octopus clinched it: Octopus and prawn paella.
Now it seems to me as a frequent risotto cooker, that the difference between the two classic rice dishes are few: the kind of rice, of course, that paella is finished in the oven, and that risotto has cheese and creamy unctuousness resulting from 30 minutes of hard stirring. So, on the face of it, paella is a cinch.
For once I followed the recipe, adapting to my more limited choice of ingredients. Measured rice (half what is proposed) to 250 gms and half the quantity of stock 1.5 pints. The method was simple: brown finely chopped onion and garlic, add skinned chopped tomato and cook that. Add the chopped up octopus and the rice, cooking in the oil until opaque. Slosh in stock, some parsley that has been ground up with the saffron (I added some sweet paprika). Stir in peas (I used frozen, recipe says tinned!!!). Put sliced peppers on top. Stick in oven.
Twenty minutes later I looked and had a fine dish of rice soup. Far, far, far too much liquid. Small panic as guest is a) great cook, b) mother of daughter who runs own v successful catering outfit, c) at my left shoulder. Send her away and ladle out large quantity of delicious broth (tomorrow’s fish soup?) Turn up the gas and pray.
After a minute or to all begins to look well. Add prawns and more parsley. Rescue now forgotten French stick just in time. Try to look cool and serve.
Result? Well, a result. Full of flavour in spite of light hand on seasoning. Rich and creamy and quite like a paella. The fish was very meaty and contrasted well with the prawns and rice.
The reason for the problem? For a start I automatically put the lid on the casserole that was substituting for a paella dish – wrong, no chance for evaporation. But I still think it was too much stock. So next time I’ll do the “just under an inch above the rice” measurement that I always do – and leave the lid off…
PS The picture is from the book – not my effort!!

Not quite an Adriatic seafood supper

As the picture testifies our recent Croatian boat trip saw us eat a magnificent lunch of mackerel, freshly caught, with the heads hand fed to squawking sea gulls. I think we probably had four fish each – so tonight’s two didn’t look too greedy.
Four in a dish, well seasoned, a splash of olive oil, a finely chopped red onion, slices of lemon, and few sprigs of fresh thyme. A glug of apple juice is a suggestion in a Good Housekeeping recipe so it can’t be wrong. Foiled and a hot oven for 30 minutes about.
I wanted a chunky salad: so pointed red Cambridgeshire cabbage – shredded, sliced mushrooms, more red onion, a tiny chilli, chunks of tomato. Tossed in best olive oil well seasoned and just before serving some shredded Cos lettuce folded in. I have found a trick for this sort of composed salads which is to mix everything ‘dry’ as it were before dressing. Somehow the flavours blend better than if you just give it a toss when dressing.
There was a fresh sourdough rye loaf to mop up juices and horseradish cream – made for us dieters with yoghourt, and non the worse for it.
I promised not to mention last night’s takeout. Yuk.

Real Sardines on Toast

For this you need some left over (or specially done, worth it) grilled sardines, not a tin (delicious though they are in their own right).
Carefully fillet the by now cold fish – you can be picky about only using really nice bits, free of bones, they are so very cheap.
Toast a slice of good bread per person – we used tonight a seven seeds, wholegrain; sourdough would be good, Ciabata if it’s your thing. Butter. Cover with chopped crisp lettuce stuff (or posh leaves if you want, but I like crunchy for this).
Now lay the fish on top, be generous. Sprinkle on a good quantity of chopped red onion and finish with a dollop of salsa – shop will be fine. Stick a gherkin or two alongside.
Eat and be surprised.
It was an occasion when the starter was infinitely better than what followed – an indifferent stir fry of fresh vegetables, hair noodles and spicy sausage. The spicy wasn’t, I’d held back on the black bean sauce, the vegetables didn’t shine and the hair noodles were just – well, hairy. Win some, lose some.

Starting with left overs

There are some kitchen jobs that define the notion of boredom and make little or no difference to the outcome: halving and deseeding grapes, taking the pips out of tomatoes or cucumbers. Some mind numbing tasks however have a real impact or are essential: double shelling big broad beans springs to mind. And shucking the left over mussels …
They had to be done before bed last night and the box had a lot more in than I had anticipated meaning that they deserved something more than left over status. So although ‘starters’ aren’t usually on the menu in the week, that’s what they became. A heafty slosh of lime juice in some Hellman’s made a good mayo and all there was to do was make a pile of leaves, mussels and mayo.
The surprise was how good it was. I’d have never have thought of cooking fresh mussels for this sort of thing – even for a posh nosh night with guests. How wrong can you be? They were incomparably better than anything from the fishmonger, fresher, juicier and with a much more subtle taste than bought pre-cooked. So next time I do a starter like this, fresh it has to be, in spite of all that shelling……
To follow in this fishiest of weeks: a couple of large trout simply grilled, on a plate with fresh steamed spinach and some sauteed brown mushrooms. Too much already?