American Shrimp Cocktail
Travelling in the US, I love to discover foods that sounds the same as English versions but are in fact, quite different. It’s one of those “you’re like me but not like me” moments; a bit of a thrill, taking you out of the familiar. What we know as prawns, the Americans call shrimp. What we call shrimp, (the Morecambe bay tiny brown shrimp that we eat in tubs of brown butter) they probably don’t see as food at all. And if you ask for a shrimp cocktail, expecting a creamy mayonnaise-y Marie Rose sauce, you can get a bit of a shock to find a spicy tomato salsa, hot with horseradish instead. It’s a nice shock; you can repeat it at home easily and watch the surprise on your guests’ faces when you serve it.
A lot of American recipes for the spicy shrimp sauce are based on ketchup. I prefer this one, based on a jar of lovely tomatoes in the best juice you can buy – it gives such a sweet depth of flavour. But you could use a really good tin of tomatoes too – the Italian ones are very tasty.
If you can lay hands on fresh horseradish, it will blow your mind. The sauce gets hotter and more tingly over a day or so as the horseradish develops its spice, so make it ahead and keep in the fridge. Anyone with an allotment will probably be able to give you a section of horseradish root on a regular basis if you ask them – it grows like a weed and takes over; allotmenteers are always glad to dig up a bit and get rid of it to willing recipients. Some grocers also have “fresh” roots – generally wrapped in plastic like a dirty cucumber. A good jar of cream of horseradish would do fine, but not the ones combined with mayonnaise or cream.
Serves 6 Timings: 30 minutes
Drop the prawns into cold water, bring to the boil, simmer for 1 minute and leave for 5 minutes to poach fully before draining and running under cold water to stop cooking. Drain and keep in the fridge until ready to serve. You can add a little extra flavour by adding a glass of white wine, some peppercorns and some herbs to the cooking water, but that’s optional.
Make the sauce: blend the tomatoes in their juice with the grated horseradish and the chopped chilli. Push through a sieve to remove the seeds and any stringy bits of root. Stir the sauce and add a generous splash of Worcester sauce, a good squeeze of lemon, the sugar and a couple of pinches of salt and black pepper. Stir, taste and adjust the seasoning – how much salt you need depends on the brand of tomatoes you used. Keep in a jar in the fridge for at least an hour before serving to chill and to develop the flavour. It will keep a couple of weeks in the fridge if you have made a lot and can be added to tomato soup or pasta sauces to give a little extra zing.
Arrange the prawns over a little lettuce and spoon the sauce over. Your guests can squeeze a bit more lemon over if liked. A slice of good bread would help mop up the juice.
Pepper Crusted Tuna Steak & Lemon Butter Sauce
A favourite weeknight treat, quick to get on the table. I usually serve it with oven-cooked thick chips and a simple vegetable such as lightly cooked green beans or sprouting broccoli. The lemon and butter combine with the juices from the meaty tuna to make a lovely tangy sauce, and the peppercorns give a mild warmth, not too hot. Tuna is an expensive food, I know, but there is no waste. If there's any left over, you can use it the next day to top a salad or flake into a sandwich with some mayo.
Serves 4 Timings: 30 minutes
Get the tuna out of the fridge about half an hour before cooking.
In a pestle and mortar, grind the peppercorns coarsely. You could use a spice grinder but be careful, you are looking for a gritty texture rather than finely ground.
Coat the tuna steaks evenly in the ground gritty pepper and leave to set for 10 minutes.
Heat your deep frying pan and use a little oil. Fry the tuna steaks for about 5 minutes per side, depending on the thickness and how you like your fish done. You can poke the steaks with a sharp knife to see how done they are – they will cook a little more as you make the sauce so have them a little under rather than a little overdone to keep them juicy.
When you are nearly done, add the butter and let it foam up, then add the lemon juice. Swirl the pan to coat the steaks and serve straight away.
Goujons of Dover Sole, with Minted Peas and Tartare Sauce
This is so delicious, light and crispy that it will convert even a fish-refuser, but Dover Sole isn’t cheap, so feel free to substitute another delicate white fish, such as lemon sole. One reason Dover Sole is expensive is that it doesn’t have that fishy background some people don’t like, so it can be worth it as a treat, and used in a recipe like this one that makes a medium fish go a long way.
Home-made tartare sauce beats the bottled stuff hands down, do give it a go, it isn’t at all difficult and might even reduce the kids’ tomato ketchup consumption slightly! If you don’t like capers generally, leave them out, but you don’t taste them strongly in the sauce, so be brave and try. Some recipes give garlic in the tartare sauce – I think this would overwhelm the delicate fish so I prefer it without, but try it if you think it would suit your more robust tastes.
Minted peas are a joy. I’m a fan of frozen peas anyway but jazz them up with some shallots, mint and a bit of a change of texture, and you have something that makes the family go “yum, I’ll have more of these please.”
Serves 4 Timings: 30 minutes
Using scissors, cut each fillet into three pieces and then cut thin strips lengthways. Dip each strip into the seasoned flour, then into the egg and then into the breadcrumbs. Put them on a baking tray to firm up while you make the sauce and peas.
For the sauce: combine all the ingredients. Check the seasoning, adjust as needed – you might need a bit more lemon juice or a little more mayonnaise depending on the sharpness of the pickled gherkins and capers you are using.
For the peas: fry the shallots very gently in a little butter for a few minutes, until transparent - don’t brown them. Add half the peas and mash them in the pan with a fork, breaking up the texture but not making them into a puree. Add the other half of the peas and the teaspoonful of mint sauce, the fresh mint, and warm through over a low heat while you cook the fish.
In a deep fryer or large flat frying pan, heat the oil. The goujons are so slender that you can probably fit the whole fish into one large frying pan in one layer, this is your aim. Fry the goujons in bubbling oil for about 2 minutes, turn over and fry the other side. When nicely browned, remove from the pan and drain on kitchen towel.
Serve with the peas, the sauce, a slice of lemon and possibly some good chips or fried potatoes.
Paddy’s Mussels – Mussels with Wild Garlic
Well, if St. Patrick didn’t eat this, I’d be surprised. Both ingredients are found in abundance in Ireland and it’s a super-delicious combination. The new leaves of wild garlic, or ramsons, are the culinary harbingers of Spring, poking up in the woodland or hedgerows, growing into aromatic clumps with the white drumstick flowers held above. Gorgeous to look at and to eat. Please pick sensibly: from clean patches where dogs don’t squat, and never take all the leaves from one plant or denude an entire patch. Do check you’re picking the right plant – you can’t mistake the garlic scent when a leaf is crushed. I’ve never seen it for sale in the UK, but it’s sold in Europe as “bear-leeks”, and eaten everywhere, in soup, sauces and salads.
Don’t be nervous about cooking fresh mussels – they’re as simple as 1,2,3. If you’ve enjoyed them in a restaurant, do try them at home. Oddly, children often like them very much – maybe it’s the messy fun of scooping them from the shells. Or maybe it’s that they go with chips so brilliantly.
Marry the light garlic savour with fresh salty mussels in a white wine and shallot broth; scoop up the juices with good bread, serve a plateful of crisp chips on the side and enjoy while you toast St. Patrick’s Day.
Serves 4 Timings: 30 minutes
Prepare and clean your mussels. Wash under running cold water – discard any that don’t close when tapped or after handling. Scrub them well and pull out any stringy beardy bits. Leave in a sieve until ready to cook.
Fry the shallots gently in a little vegetable oil or butter in a large pan until soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the white wine and let it bubble down and cook down to about half the volume, takes only a couple of minutes.
Add the wild garlic to the pan, let it cook for only a few seconds and add the mussels. Put the lid on the pan and let the natural juices steam-cook the mussels for 3-4 minutes until they are all open and have absorbed the garlic taste.
Scoop into bowls and eat with good tangy sourdough bread or some chips, or both.
Crispy Chilli Squid
Although happy to eat calamari in a restaurant, we can be wary of cooking squid; it’s unfamiliar and quite expensive. But it is very easy, there are two rules: fast or slow, but nothing in between. If you cook it fast and hot, deep fried, you get that lovely chewy texture with a crisp coating and a subtle flavour. If you have a good fishmonger, you can get fresh Cornish squid, which is sustainable and low environmental impact. Tastes great and good for the planet, how can you get better than that?
Just watch out with the frying – the squid can spit in the hot oil, so I use a splatter shield on my frying pan, as I don’t have a deep fat fryer.
Serves 2 as a light lunch Timings: 10 minutes preparation, 5 minutes cooking
Clean up the squid, removing any membranes. Dip the squid into the egg and then into the breadcrumbs, patting them on. Place the pieces on a baking tray to dry slightly – they can be left like this for an hour or so.
Heat up the oil. I use a deep sided frying pan and have about ½ cm oil in it – you need to get all the pieces of squid in one layer if possible. If you are cooking for more people, then cook in batches and keep the cooked squid in a warm oven until the final batch is done. When the oil is shimmering, add the spring onions and chilli pieces, stir, then add the squid. Add the rings first, give them a minute and turn them over, then add the more tender tentacles.
Fry for another 2-3 minutes turning the pieces over and watching out for the spitting oil.
Scoop out onto kitchen paper and serve straight away with some nice bread, garlic mayonnaise, a lemon quarter to squeeze over and a simple green salad.
Spanish Croquetas - Smoked Haddock or Crispy Ham (vegetarian optional as choice of filling)
In Spain, they serve a variety of croquetas as part of your tapas spread – salt cod, spinach, mushroom, ham flavours. Take yourself to Malaga, looking at the sea, sipping your cold sherry and eating these lovely creamy-but-crispy bites. They are actually quite substantial, due to the rich bechamel and generous filling, so you could certainly have them for a good warming lunch alongside some green salad and zingy lemon mayonnaise. A tapas or starter portion would be one of each type, a lunch portion might be two of each type – so this recipe makes enough to feed quite a few people. Once you’ve got a feel for the consistency of the bechamel required, you can make these in smaller quantities and using pretty much anything for the filling – leftover chicken, cooked vegetables (but make sure they aren’t watery at all), something spicy?
Makes 12-14 croquetas of each type. Timings – 30 minutes on Day 1, 60 minutes on Day 2.
For each type you will need an additional 40g butter, 40ml olive oil and 65g plain flour
First, make your fillings:
Poach the haddock fillet in the milk and water with the bay leaf for about 10 minutes until the fish is cooked. Let it cool for a few minutes, then take out the fish and strain the liquid into a jug – you will use this for the sauce later. Remove the skin from the fish and flake the flesh well with a fork, taking out any bones you see. Keep the fish in a bowl.
Fry the pancetta in a little oil until crispy, drain on kitchen towel. Cut the prosciutto finely with a sharp knife.
Make each bechamel in the same way – I did one after the other in the same pan, as you need a fairly heavy bottomed saucepan. Melt the butter and the oil together, add the flour and stir over a gentle heat, cooking the flour without letting it burn. Add the liquid and keep stirring. It will thicken as you stir, and keep adding the liquid to make a very thick bechamel sauce. You need to keep stirring and cooking for a while to make sure any flouriness is cooked out, and the sauce is creamy. Add the filling and taste for seasoning. Add the grated nutmeg to the ham one. You probably don’t need to add salt to either of these, although you would if you were making spinach or mushroom croquetas. A generous grinding of pepper lifts the flavour.
Line a container with cling film – I try to avoid using cling film these days but I have tried other things and the sauce sticks and you waste a lot, so I do use cling film for this. Pour the bechamel into your container and wrap the cling film over the top to stop a hard skin forming. Place in the fridge for 24 hours to chill thoroughly and set firm.
Make the second bechamel if you are making two flavours of croquetas and do the same, so you have both flavours chilling overnight.
Next day, prepare a flat bowl with beaten egg and another one with breadcrumbs. Working on a floured baking tray, take a dessert spoonful of the set bechamel mixture and roll it in the flour, using flour to stop your hands sticking too. Form it into a cylinder about as long as your thumb and a bit thicker. Make all the croquetas of one type to this stage in one go. Then drop two at a time into the egg mixture, then into the breadcrumbs, firmly pressing the breadcrumbs onto the eggy surface. They should stick and make a firm dry coating. Put the completed croquetas on a plate to set again, while you do the other flavour.
It is fiddly, and it takes a while – it might be easier if you have a production line of helpers assisting you with this.
When the croquetas have had a few minutes to set, heat 2cm of oil in a heavy pan, or fire up your deep fat fryer. Fry the croquetas quite briefly in medium hot oil – the filling is already cooked, so you just want to warm it up and brown the breadcrumbs. Remove from the hot oil and serve as soon as you can – they do keep warm in the oven quite nicely if you are doing one flavour followed by another.
Eat with a simple green salad, a lemony mayonnaise for the fish one, and a tomato relish for the ham one, and imagine you're in Seville, sitting in a sunny courtyard.
Evocative, creamy – it feels like a holiday in California or Boston just thinking about this substantial seafood soup. There are so many recipes, the New England version which is mainly clams or the Pacific coast version which is more fishy. You can thicken the soup with potatoes or with a flour/milk mixture. I like to cook this soup for an easy weekend lunch – it’s tasty, filling but not too heavy, so you can go for a good walk with the family afterwards or have a board game if the weather’s bad, without your lunch making you drop off to sleep. I’m lucky enough to live near one of the UK’s best fishmongers (thanks, Evans of Didsbury!) so I can take my little containers down to the shop and ask for a handful of clams or mussels and a handful of fish pie mixture and get just what I want. But if you are reliant on a supermarket fish counter, don’t hesitate to ask, and don’t hesitate to substitute some types of fish for the others here. I prefer to save my smoked fish for a kedgeree rather than overpower the delicate fresh flavours but a robust smoked haddock chowder is also a classic so if you try it, let me know the recipe and I’ll use it on this page another time.
Serves 4. Timings 30 minutes.
Wash the clams well, scrubbing if they need it. Discard any that are already open. Put them in a pan of cold water to cover them plus a centimetre, and the pinch of saffron. Bring to the boil. The clams will have opened. Strain the liquid into a bowl, through a fine sieve or one you have lined with muslin – you don’t want any of the possible bits of sand in your soup. Take the clams out of their shells, discard the shells.
In a heavy pan, big enough for the whole soup (I use a Le Creuset casserole pan) fry the chopped shallots and leek for a few minutes until looking towards transparent and cooked. Add the liquid from the clams, and the potatoes. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are starting to go really soft and losing their edges. Add the chopped fish, stir in, and keep at a low simmer for a minute or so as the fish cooks. Add the clams and the scallops if using and cook for another minute to cook the scallops. Season carefully – the liquid from the clams will have been quite salty. Add a good squeeze of lemon.
Turn down the heat and add in the cream, stirring carefully and not letting the soup heat up again, you don’t want to curdle. Add the chopped fresh parsley and serve, maybe with another slice of lemon if people want to add their own.
Fragrant and fortifying!
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.