Homemade Tortilla Chips From Soft Tortilla Wraps

Commercial tortilla chips are good, but they are nothing like real tortilla chips (and they’re very salty). Real tortilla chips from real Mexican tortillas are notoriously tricky to make and almost always disappointing to our tastes. Recently, it is possible to buy tortillas specially made for frying online (but this is a hassle). If you want a quick fix for a more authentic tortilla chip then try this trick using widely available Mexican wraps from (UK) supermarkets.

If you’ve ever tried to deep fry soft wraps to make tortilla chips (and I have), you will know that it does not work. Same with light frying.

The trick is to dry them and then fry them – but fry them in the microwave. This provides two drying stages and an effective light frying in the microwave without drowning the tortillas in oil. If you can get the corn variety of tortilla, so much the better. Old El Paso do them and I have bought some from Tescos in the past. But even if you can only get flour tortillas it should still work – the texture is rather like a cracker – crisp and crunchy and but still quite like a tortilla chip. Ideally you need a bacon crisper for the microwave. (See my similar technique for making quesadillas.)

Makes 36 chips

Cut the tortillas into chips. Start by stacking 3 tortilla chips and cut in half. Then stack together and cut in half again.

Then stack together again and cut into 3.

Toss them all into a large dry frying pan (no oil) and cook on medium-high heat. Wait a couple minutes before start tossing the pan.

Then toss continuously until as evenly browned as possible.

Add two teaspoons of groundnut oil – or similar – and toss until all the chips are lightly coated.

Put onto a bacon crisper or rack and allow to cool for about 3-5 minutes. Put the crisper and chips in the microwave for 1 and a half to 2 minutes on full power. If you don’t have a bacon crisper you need to avoid direct contact with the chips and a flat plate – try scrunching up greaseproof paper as shown in the photo below, or if you do use a plate turn the chip over after 45 seconds.

Immediately put the chips onto scrunched up greaseproof paper or a rack to air and cool.

Serve with a salsa or dip of choice.

Salt + Sweet + Sour + Hot

Dad’s cooking secret: Top left salt (soy) – top right, sweet (palm sugar), bottom left, Sour (lime), bottom right, hot (la-yu oil) –

 

Salt, sweet, sour and hot – that’s it, my best cooking secret

Tom Kime’s cookbook, Exploring taste and flavour, demonstrates how the tastes of salt, sweet, sour and hot are so important in cooking.

We associate these four tastes most commonly in Oriental food. A Thai curry for example, will be flavoured with a balance of salty fish sauce, sweet palm sugar, sour lime and hot chillies. But Kime also suggests that the everyday BLT is a combination of these four essential flavours: bacon is salty; white bread is sweet; tomatoes are sour; and leaves such as rocket are hot and peppery.

We can imagine other foods working to the same principles. An American BBQ sauce is a taste sensation bigger than the sum of its parts, but those parts comprise salt, sweet, sour and hot.

Thinking about food through these four prisms of taste can open up new possibilities for seasoning and adding flavour to our food.

Not just salt and pepper

The four tastes can come in many forms – salt can come from cured meats, anchovies or hard and aged cheeses such as Parmesan, cooked onions are sweet, as are carrots, beetroot and other root vegetables, sour can come from citrus fruits but also vinegar, tamarind, yoghurt and creme fraiche and heat can come from pepper, but also chillies, ginger and mustard. So an apparently mild and nondescript cauliflower and cheese can be flavoured by a saute of sweet onions and a sauce of salty cheese and hot mustard, finished with a little creme fraiche or a squeeze of lemon – all four tastes again…

Surely, not all four flavours all the time?

True, not all food is balanced in this way. Pairs of flavours can work well. ‘Sweet and sour’ come together famously in the classic Chinese sauce – but also when sweet pork is paired with sour apples. ‘Salt and sour’ are an effective duo as in ‘salt & vinegar’ flavoured crisps.

Surprisingly, food rarely comes in the form of a single flavour. Even a bag of sweets can be a complex melange of flavours – usually including fruity or sour flavours. Bite into an apple and it will seem a perfect mouthful of sweet flavour. But in fact the fruit is both sweet and sharp. We may crave sweetness, but we also need a little sour to offset the cloying effect of sugars.

It appears our palate is designed to always seek other taste dimensions. If we add a piece of cheese to our apple we are pleased with the extra taste of salt. So we also add a pinch of salt or salty nuts to an apple crumple (or add salt to caramel or chocolate). And there are many fruit recipes which push the numbers of flaovurs, such as grilled plums or strawberries doused with acidic balsamic vinegar and a grating of pepper.

Separating the flavours…

Often the flavours are all present – but not in the same place. Chinese ‘salt and pepper’ prawns sound very happy with their two flavourings – but they are served with a ‘sweet and sour’ dipping sauce. In France they might serve a simple salad of sweet lettuce with a separate salty, sour and hot dressing. It is interesting to note that Mexican food is not ‘hot’ per se, dishes can be quite mild but are served with an assortment of hot salsas and relishes.

In Indian cuisine the flavours take on philosophical meanings and are considered essential to balancing the humours of the human metabolism. It is traditional therefore to provide meals with the flavours separated into different bowls or dishes, such as a spicy, salty curry, a sour yogurt dish, a hot and bitter pickle and a sweet chutney. It is also evident in fine dining kitchens that chefs will construct highly complex dishes with the flavours concentrated into individual elements. This is articulated in televised cookery competitions where the judges make their assessments: ‘The meat is well seasoned and is nicely balanced with the sweetness of the puree, acidity of the fruit and spiciness from the crisp vegetables…’

And don’t forget bitter and umami

And it does not stop with these four tastes. We can add bitter to the equation. Salty peanuts are perfectly balanced by bitter beer. Even chocolate has subtle bitter notes. However, bitter is the odd one out, when it comes to taste and flavour our palates are naturally suspicious of bitter tastes – a primordial indicator of toxins.

Most chefs now assume that there is a fifth taste: umami. Why is tomato ketchup so compellingly good? Apart from the distinct notes of all four tastes, there is also a satisfying savouriness and unctuousness that comes from the tomatoes – that’s umami. Chefs keen to enhance their food will work with foods rich in umami such as tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese, soy and even seaweed.

So when it comes to tasting our food and seasoning – there’s a lot more we can do than reaching for the salt and pepper…

How to Eat a Globe Artichoke

Eating your way through a globe artichoke is like a magical quest for hidden treasure…

Your task is to eat the flesh of the leaves until you reach the heart (the hidden treasure deep inside the artichoke). Your only tools are your teeth, a knife and a spoon. To assist your quest carry with you at all times a lubricating elixir of vinaigrette or melted butter and lemon. To extract the flesh gnash your teeth at each leaf until it surrenders its goodness. You are now ready to begin the quest…

  1. First, you must break through the tough and weathered outer ring of leaves. The flesh is stringy and hard but will whet your appetite for more.
  2. Proceed inward, foraging through more compliant and tasty middle-layer leaves. Stay here a while, there are rich pickings…
  3. Then venture onward, gnashing your teeth as you go, past the inner ring of delicate, purple-tinged leaves.
  4. Continue your passage until you reach a gossamer veil of petals covering the precious central core of the artichoke.
  5. To complete your quest you must lift the veil and remove the notorious and fearsome ‘choke’ – a spiky barrier protecting the tender heart below. Your challenge is to coerce the choke’s fibrous tendrils into releasing their tenacious hold on your prize. Using skillful manipulations of knife and spoon, you will soon discover where the weaknesses lie.
  6. Once the choke has been removed and conquered, your treasure will be revealed – the heart of the artichoke. The quest is complete.
  7. All that remains is to revel in the sensuous pleasure of devouring – piece by piece – the delicious heart…

See recipe for dressing and cooking method.

Do Chefs Eat Greens?

Do Chefs Eat their Greens?

So you’re sitting in a posh restaurant and the Côte de Agneau aux Morilles has been served – but wait, where are the greens?

It seems vegetables in restaurants are either non-existent or used as sparse scatterings to decorate a dish. This style of eating throws me – the staggered multiple courses together with a light hand on the vegetable box leaves me feeling bloated. What we need is a yin and yang approach – a little richness offset with loads of veg! Most restaurants will serve veg as a side dish – but ordering a side of vegetables invariably draws raised eyebrows from fellow diners – and certainly patronising smirks from the waiter – as if thinking, you silly man, you are eating in a fine dining room not a canteen…

Meat and seven veg

At home, I try to provide a balanced diet. That means two or three vegetables with each meal. In fact for a Sunday roast, the number of vegetables can rise exponentially: potatoes, parsnips, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, beans, peas, etc.

Most people think vegetables are bland, boring or pointless. This is not the case. Vegetables, can be full of flavour and texture – delicious even. They just need to be prepared and cooked carefully. Grey, mushy overcooked broccoli is spoiled as best used for soup.

I consider one of my best qualities as a home cook is to cook vegetables – it requires just as much attention and skill as any other aspect of cooking. The following is a quick guide to how I cook normal side-dish style vegetables:

Broccoli and beans: Like all green vegetables the most important thing is appearance. They should be bright green and attractive. The easiest way to ensure they look their best is not to overcook – err on the side of very slightly under-cooked. Boil in plenty of salted water, keep the heat on full-blast so that it quickly boils again and cook until just tender and still a bit firm – no more than 4 minutes or so. Then drain and keep warm uncovered and serve soon.

If you cannot cook your greens just before serving, try cooking as above but immediately plunge the drained greens in ice-cold water, then drain. Just before serving – reheat in a large frying pan with lid and a small amount of water or stock – butter is optional, but often finds its way into my green veg. This is a hangover from my childhood – but go easy on butter – it’s not to everyone’s taste.

My final method of cooking broccoli or beans is to steam in a wok or covered large sauce pan. Use a small amount of liquid – stock preferably and season with salt and pepper. I add might also add that small knob of ‘optional’ butter. This method keeps the nutrients in the veg, but they need to be served right away.

Carrots: More butter! But there is a scientific reason here… Vitamins and taste molecules are water soluble, so boiling carrots in water will drain the carrots of taste and goodness. Use a half & half method. Put carrots in a heavy-based sauce pan (Le Creuset is ideal), then add a good knob of butter and about 80ml of water or bone stock, season with salt and pepper. You can also add ground cumin or coriander or both. Some recipes will include sugar as in ‘Vichy’ or American ‘glazed’ carrots. But the carrots are really sweet enough as they are.

NB: Chopping carrots: I ring the changes: thin or thick discs, thick or thin or julienne, big or small chunks. A favourite cut is a 3D random rhomboid shape created by rotating the carrot and chopping at an angle.

Peas: It doesn’t matter how you cook frozen peas – just make sure they are not overcooked – a minute or two is good. Use frozen peas for a salad but boil just for 30 seconds or so.

Courgettes: We like these cut into discs and fried in a large pan. But as a side for another dish, steam in a wok or covered large saucepan using a small amount of water or stock. Season at this stage with very little salt and pepper – and perhaps that small knob of ‘optional’ butter.

Spinach and very fresh young kale:  It’s impossible to have too much spinach. Use as much as will fit in a large wok with a lid. Wash and drain well and cook on high heat, stirring every minute until it all the spinach has wilted. Drain and squeeze-out excess moisture. It then goes back in wok with a small amount of olive oil and butter (more science here – dairy in spinach helps avoid the metallic itchiness spinach can leave on the roof of the mouth). The spinach is then fried briefly on medium-high heat and excess liquid (and butter) drained.

Kale and cavalo nero (both types of kale): Avoid old kale or kale that is chopped. The stalks are virtually inedible – but in any case they are not nice to eat – so why producers put them in with the leaves in bags of chopped kale? Boil until tender without a lid to retain colour – this will take longer than you might imagine. Refresh kale in cold water for a salad or mix with a dressing whilst still warm. It can be braised with oil or butter – bring out of the boiling water just before it is completely cooked.

Cabbage: Cut a savoy or green cabbage into wedges keeping the root intact. Steam for a few minutes or until just tender then drain – then add a little butter (this time it is not optional) and braise briefly.

The microwave: The microwave turns out to be an excellent way to cook vegetables. Put vegetables in a bowl and cover with cling film or use a specially designed microwave cook bag (heed the warnings about opening – the steam is super-heated!). Vegetables in the microwave will never take more than a few minutes.

Onigiri 3 Ways

These rice balls are a revelation. So simple and so easy. Apparently, in Japan they are eaten in the same way we eat sandwiches. So, what makes them so good and so easy? The answer clearly is not that obvious – otherwise we would be eating them all the time. You have to put your mind to the physics of making rice stay in a ball, then it does become obvious – stickiness. And sushi rice is nothing if not sticky. The same property that ensures the rice stick to your hands – and makes it almost impossible to manipulate – now works in our favour by sticking to itself.

The revelations continue when you realise you can put just about anything in with the rice and that they can be cooked in differently styles. I immediately thought of arancini. The arancini version is particularly successful – and (ahem…) I have to admit an improvement upon the Italian versions (…sorry!) The size is more appealing and the ‘filling’ is much easier to work with.

 

1. Onigiri Rice Balls

ONIGRI-0722-3A recipe is not really necessary. It’s common sense really: take some cooked sushi rice (don’t add sushi dressing) and mix with other ingredients. Form into balls and serve with a dressing. I had a soup bowl full of leftover rice and I used 150g of shitaki mushrooms – this made about 10 onigiri. I put the chopped mushrooms in a wok with a lid and some oil and put the heat on low and waited for the moisture to be released from the mushrooms then I turned the heat up and fried and seasoned. I added a little chicken stock and cooked until absorbed in the mushrooms then I mixed in the rice. Form into balls using cling film – then moisten your hands and finish into a neat ball. Garnish with chives or other mini leaves or herbs or sesame seeds. They worked really well with simple soy sauce, but other Japanese dressings would also be good.

 

2/3. Onigiri with Panko Crumbs and Deep Fried

Then I fried some in oil and then coated others in flour/egg/panko crumbs and deep fried and served with a sweet chilli sauce.

onigiri-0751I shall continue to explore other variations…

3 Ways to Cook Octopus

Octopus three ways.

I recently ordered an octopus from my fishmongers. A week later it arrived in a solid frozen block. I went off with the octopus imagining how I might cook it. I settled on three ways. On my return to the fishmongers I mentioned that I cooked his octopus three ways, but because it had eight legs, it was a bit tricky dividing into three! We both laughed. I showed him photographs on my phone; octopus the first way then the second – and then put my phone away. Where’s the ‘third way’ he asked. I said it was in the freezer, as I couldn’t get my wife to eat octopus three nights in a row! We both laughed again. You see? Octopus not only tastes good, it’s also good for a laugh!

1. Spanish style (Galician)

Home Cooked Recipes - What Dad Cooked

This method first boils the octopus and then cooks it in a quick confit. Tradition has it that putting a wine bottle cork in the water will help to tenderise the octopus. I suspect the freezer will have had more to do with this claim than the cork. My 1080 Recipes, the classic Spanish cookbook also describes a way of plunging the octopus repeatedly into boiling water. We are also told that octopus should be bought with double suckers on the legs (a double-suckered octopus is reputed to have better flavour than the single-suckered type). Whether this kitchen myth or fact is difficult to prove.

Ingredients for 4

  • 1 large frozen octopus – roughly 1.5kg.
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 2 large onions, cut through the root into 4 segments each
  • Bunch of parsley
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 350ml olive oil
  • Sweet smoke paprika

Method

  1. First prepare the octopus. It should have been cleaned, but it may be necessary to remove the beak and the remainder of the eyes.
  2. Fill a large pan with water and bring to the boil. Add plenty of salt – some say as salty as the sea… but good large pinch should be fine. Add 6 onion segments and the bay leaves. Cook the octopus for an hour but check after 45 minutes to see if it is tender. It may take as long as 1 1/2 hours. The octopus should not be overcooked as it will lose its fresh taste and the suckers will fall away from the legs.
  3. Drain and dry the octopus. Chop the octopus into pieces. Discard the head – though it is still good to eat.
  4. In a small heat the olive oil with the garlic and onion on a low heat for 10 minutes. Strain and discard the garlic and onion. Pour the oil into a large frying pan and add the octopus. Warm on a low heat for 5 minutes.
  5. Drain the octopus and arrange on a platter or plates. Sprinkle over the paprika and garnish with chopped parsley.

2. Italian style

Italian octopus_d-0090

Italian octopus salad

This time the octopus is braised in it own juices i.e. without any additional liquid in the braising pot. Many chefs eulogise about how cooking without water is such a revelation.

Ingredients for 4

  • 1 large frozen octopus – roughly 1.5kg.
  • 1 chilli – de-seeded
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • One stick of celery roughly chopped
  • 2 small onions
  • 250g new potatoes
  • Bunch of parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Salad leaves
  • Chives

Method

  1. First prepare the octopus. It should have been cleaned, but it may be necessary to remove the beak and the remainder of the eyes. Freezing tenderizes the meat so there is no need to bat the octopus.
  2. Put the octopus in a large heavy cast iron pan along with the following: a good glug of olive oil, the sliced chilli, 3 cloves of garlic, one onion cut in quarters through the root (so they stay intact), the celery, the stalks from the parsley and the bay leaf. Put the lid on the pan and put on a low heat. The octopus cooks in its own juices, which will be considerable. Cook for up to 1 ½ hours. Check after a 45 minutes to see how it is doing. The octopus should not be overcooked as the suckers will fall away from the legs. Take off the heat when it is tender and leave to cool.
  3. Boil the potatoes until cooked. Peel the skins when the potatoes have cooled enough to handle. Cut the potatoes into smallish pieces – about the same size as the octopus will be when the legs are cut into sections.
  4. Whilst the potatoes are boiling, chop the onion finely and cook with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until soft and transparent but not coloured. Add the vinegar and reduce until evaporated.
  5. Add the potatoes to a bowl – spoon over the onions and mix. Cut the octopus into sections and add to the bowl. Add a good squeeze of lemon – to taste and check the seasoning.
  6. Squash ½ a garlic clove on a chopping board and add put a small handful of the parsley on top and chop to mix the parsley and the garlic. Put a couple of teaspoons of this onto the octopus and potatoes. Don’t swamp the mixture with parsley.
  7. Place a few salad leaves on each plate and spoon the octopus on top. Garnish with a sprinkle of chopped chives, and a wedge of lemon.

3. Daube

octopus daubeA-0092

Richard Olney in his book, Simple French food  suggests that an octopus would be very good cooked as a daube, i.e. as a French Provencal stew. I had some trepidation with the idea of octopus braised with aromatic vegetables, (as if it were neck of lamb or shin of beef), but in fact it is not that far removed from a zarzuela – or as Mr. Olney mentions, the rich tomato and garlic based sauces associated with seafood, such as a la Setoise, Nicoise or Provencal.

For the daube

  • 1 large frozen octopus – roughly 1.5kg
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 large sprig parsley
  • 300 ml red wine
  • 500g tomatoes
  • 1 tbs tomato paste

To finish

  • 500g potatoes
  • 300g green beans
  • 300g peas
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 small hand-full chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper

This is best cooked to eat the following day.

  1. Defrost the octopus and wash. Remove the beak and clean inside the head. Cut-up the octopus. The head can be cut into 4 and the body into sections of two legs each.
  2. Use a large earthenware casserole with a tight-fitting lid or similar enamel cast iron pot.
  3. Chop the celery, carrot and onions into small pieces, (they will be served with the stew). Slice the pepper into pieces. Crush the garlic cloves. Peel and de-seed the tomatoes.
  4. Place all the ingredients into the pot – add water to cover half way. Place in the oven at low heat – 150C gas 2. Cook for 2 hours. Check the octopus, if it is tender remove from the oven. If not continue to cook until it is tender then remove from the oven.
  5. Leave to cool and refrigerate overnight.
  6. Do not handle or stir the octopus roughly as the attractive purple coating will come off. Carefully remove the octopus pieces and discard the herbs and bay leaves. Heat the cooking sauce in a large pan, add additional fresh thyme leaves, and fresh bay leaf. Reduce the liquid if necessary to make a rich but generous sauce.
  7. Peel and cut the potatoes into serving-sized chunks. Chop the beans into 2cm lengths. Cook the potatoes peas and beans separately in boiling water until just tender. Drain and add to the stew.
  8. Carefully add the octopus to the stew and reheat gently.
  9. Season and serve in large pasta plates with plenty of crusty bread.

3 Ways to Eat Raw Salmon

1. Salmon Carpaccio

The widespread acceptance and enjoyment of sushi has changed our attitude to eating raw fish. We no longer consider it odd, distasteful or even unsafe – now we wolf down our sashimi and maki rolls as if we turned Japanese years ago…

With the sushi mold broken two other raw fish dishes have now appeared, both based on the familiar raw meat dishes carpaccio and steak tartare. The former is thin slices of raw flesh and the latter is either chopped or minced flesh, usually formed in a neat disc. In both cases the fish of choice is invariably tuna, probably because it has a robustness similar to beef. Salmon is more delicate than tuna, both in taste and texture. Marco Pierre White’s tuna carpaccio Niçoise, for instance, includes Mediterranean herbs, olives, capers, peppers and anchovies –  a mixture of tastes which is very good on tuna but over-powers the poor salmon.

My carpaccio allows the taste of the salmon to come through. In fact, this is a great example of sourcing not saucing. There are three key ingredients: basil flowers (Africa variety from Casanova & Daughters), Ravida olive oil, and top quality salmon. This recipe is brilliant and is a classic demonstration of how a simple preparation with the best ingredients can produce a stunning dish.

salmon carpaccio 2-0314-2

The three main ingredients with lemon zest and salt and pepper. The pastry brush is used to work the olive oil into the salmon. The basil flowers are inside the paper pack. Open the wide end and scrunch between palms to release the herbs. The basil flower variety has a fennel note, with a dry Mediterranean herb taste. A good alternative (tried and tested) is fresh tarragon and a little dried oregano.

salmon carpacio-0247

This salmon is from the top of a middle side of a fillet, with skin and dark meat removed (the remainder of my piece prepared for sushi – see below). It is about 138g in total – half will cover a normal dinner plate – so the whole piece will make an impressive starter for two.

My Japanese knife does the job beautifully and was a pleasure to use but this is not sushi and the fish will get bashed about later, so any good knife will work perfectly well here. Cut the fillet horizontally in half to make two equally-sized pieces

salmon carpacio-0253-2

Put one of the pieces on a large sheet of cling film, then lay another piece on top.

salmon carpacio-0258-2

Gently flatten the salmon with a meat hammer or rolling pin. It should expand to twice the surface area of the original piece. The principle is similar to making escalopes – hammer gently from the centre moving the hammer to the outside of the piece as you press down on the flesh – spreading as well as flattening.

salmon carpacio-0302

Carefully peel the cling from one side turn over the cling film and, very carefully, align the salmon in the centre of the plate and drop down. Again, very carefully, peel the cling away from the fish. NB: I have used the word ‘carefully’ three times because you only have one chance to get this right – the fish is too delicate to move around or preposition once it’s on the plate.

Next spread a good, rich but not too strong or grassy, olive oil over the salmon using a broad pastry knife (I used Ravida olive oil – an excellent oil with tomato, green leaves and apple taste notes). Sprinkle with basil flowers, a little lemon zest, chives, parsley salt and pepper. Serve with wedges of lemon and some good toasted crusty bread.

2. Salmon tartare

salmon tartare-0389

Based on the idea of raw chopped or minced beef. Steak tartare usually includes chopped cornichons, capers, and onion – often including mustard and Worcester sauce. It should always have a raw egg on top.

I started with steak tartar as a template and have adapted by taste to make my own version. I like the idea of shallot in the mix to give some texture. I soaked the shallots in water to take away the bitterness and sharp heat of a raw onion. Capers work very well with salmon but I did not want the mix to be overpowered with acid or salt taste so have soaked them as well. Cornichons add too much lingering dill pickle taste so I have omitted and used fresh cucumber int he garnish. Mustard is surprisingly good and even better with anchovy sauce. Lemon is tricky with a tartare. I need the freshness of lemon but do not want to cure the flesh as in a ceviche, so I use the zest and add a squeeze of lemon right at the end. I finish with a salad garnish.

salmon tartare-0344

The basic ingredients. For the tartare – (salmon), shallot, parsley, mustard, anchovy sauce, capers and lemon zest. For the garnish: tomato, roasted peppers from a jar, cucumber, chives and parsley. Worcester sauce is used in the egg garnish only (see below).

salmon tartare-0325

Chop the salad garnish and put in a bowl ready to mix with a vinaigrette dressing.

salmon tartare-0355

100g of good salmon. More than enough for a single starter portion.

salmon tartare-0364

Chop with the other ingredients. Mix these to taste. I cut back on the shallot.

salmon tartare-0332

Soak the capers in a couple changes of water squeezing out the water. Soak the shallot in water for 15 minutes and dry.

salmon tartare-0372

I was not keen on a raw egg on my salmon so I soft boiled my eggs, used the yolks only. Mix with a tablespoon of good thick creme fraîche. Season with salt and pepper, tabasco and Worcester sauce. Add a pinch of xanthan gum powder and form into a quenelle. (Yes, a home cook can use xanthan gum – it’s available at Lakeland.) touch over the egg.

salmon tartare-0409

The finished tartare. Form the chopped mix into a patty and add the egg yolk quenelle. Sprinkle unsmoked paprika as finishing touch for the egg. Arrange the salad garnish. Drizzle with extra olive oil and serve with lemon and a slice good crusty toasted bread. It’s really good.

3. Nigiri Style Sushi

sushi-0241

Raw fish in the form of sushi was once a esoteric rarity, only available to the travelling cognoscenti. But having been popularised by Yo! Sushi! it’s now omnipresent on the shelves of many fast food outlets such as Pret a Manger, Wasabi and Itsu, or even your local supermarket. There has also seen a rise in sushi bars and restaurants, from the accessible and reasonably priced Sushi Tetsu, to the exclusive and astronomically priced Nobo. But you know what? You don’t need to buy sushi from a chain or an expensive restaurant – you can make it at home.

sushi-0192

A few bits from your Japanese store cupboard is all that’s needed for sushi: sushi rice, soy, wasabi, rice vinegar, mooli, salt and sugar

sushi-0140

Start making the rice. First rinse the rice. The Japanese have a knack with this. It involves kneading, swishing and straining with the palm of the hand. I don’t get it, I’m afraid, so I use a whisk instead. Rinse the rice about 5 times until the water is clear, as in the photo. By volume I measured 200ml of rice in a measuring jug. This was enough rice for about 14 balls of rice.

sushi-0146

Let the rice drain for 30 minutes. This is actually allowing the water to penetrate the surface of the rice rather than ‘drying’.

Put the rice with 250ml water in a heavy pan with lid. Bring to the boil then immediately turn the heat down the lowest setting, put on the lid and cook for 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the rice steam for 10 minutes.

sushi-0174

Make a sushi dressing by gently heating 70ml rice vinegar, 45g sugar (yes – it does seem like a lot! – but you know how the Japanese like their sugar…) and 10g salt. Put the cooked rice in a bowl.

sushi-0186

Fold the dressing into the rice – add to taste (I did not use all the quantity I made). Then spread the rice out to cool. In a Japanese home or a sushi restaurant the rice is served ideally a little warm. But at home it is unlikely that we will have the ability to time to this exactitude. Instead, leave the rice until ready. NB: there is sufficient acid, sugar and salt in the dressing to prevent the breeding of harmful microbes in the rice. It will be safe to leave out of the fridge for an hour if necessary. Ideally, serve with cold fish on room temperature rice. Failing guests arriving on time – do use the fridge, especially to keep the fish fresh.

sushi-0207

Now the fun part. Making the little balls of rice for the sushi. Use cling film to begin with then form into squat sausage shapes. I find there is not other recourse than to use moistened clean hand – but keep the wetness to an absolute minimum. When you will finish you will know what they mean by ‘sticky’ rice!

sushi-0197

Make a mooli garnish while the rice is cooking. Peel the mooli and make julienne slices with a special julienne tool. Freshen the mooli in a bowl of cold water for 10 mins and drain well.

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Now the fish. I have used a middle cut of a side of salmon. This piece shows the portion that is suitable for raw fish. It is about 825g. I made all three raw dishes from this single piece – enough for raw starters for two from each recipe, a hot pasta dish from two from the remainder and even a dish of nice brown meat for the cat.

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Turn over the fillet and slice off the skin and remove the skin and dark meat – use your best stainless steel knife.
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Cut the fillet in half along the original length of the side of salmon. This leaves a thick top half of the filled. I don’t own a sujihiki slicing knife or a yanagiba sushi knife but I do have a Miyabi gyutoh – Western balanced – cooks knife. This knife is thinner and can be made sharper than any of my carbon steel knives. It is also stainless steel so the metal will not taint the delicate fish (which carbon can).

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This is much easier than it may seem. With the right knife the salmon cuts like butter. Make your sushi pieces and store in the fridge until ready to prepare.

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Form the balls of rice into the shapes shown above, put a little wasabi on the rice. Add the wasabi to taste, I have used quite a lot (!).

Put the fish on each and decorate with chopped chives.

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Add the mooli salad garnish and a dipping bowl of soy. All done. Now all you have to do is stop yourself eating it all before it’s ready to serve! Absolutely completely delicious…

3 Ways to Cure Salmon

1. Salmon ceviche

We’ve all heard of ceviche – you know, where the lime ‘cooks’ the fish – but why don’t we see more of it?

Ceviche is common way to eat fish in Mexico and Latin America. Could the climate and geography of these regions make it more palatable? Possibly. I can imagine if I travelled to the West coast of Mexico and was sitting in a cantina, basking in the tropical sun, gazing out over the Pacific Ocean while sipping an ice cold cerveza , the mahi-mahi ceviche would go down very well indeed.

Is this the reason ceviche cannot find traction in our cool and temperate land? Or are we just suspicious of the unfamiliar; happier to choose fish that is properly cooked – preferably deep-fried and coated in batter!

Well, what ever the reason, we should be eating this all the time – it really is very good. It’s no more trouble than making a taco and certainly much easier than making fish and chips. Make it as a starter – and use salmon, it works brilliantly.

As well as fish, you can ‘ceviche’ any kind of seafood, Mexicans are fond of using prawns, squid, clams and scallops.

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For this much fish (about 180g), I used half a lemon, half a lime, half a small blood orange, half a shallot and 2 tbs ginger beer. I used a good pinch of salt, pepper and sugar. The salmon is skinned and sliced thinly. Slice the shallot thinly, mix all the curing ingredients and pour over the fish. NB: I am using orange, and ginger beer to tone down the sharpness.

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Before and after. I cured the salmon for 2 hours. The effects of the cure can clearly be seen. The salmon is opaque all the way through, the slices have some bite and firmness to them and seem like a normal piece of cooked fish. However, it has a fresh and satin-soft texture which is deliciously satisfying.

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Drain the salmon and layer green salad leaves, avocado, skinned and cubed tomato, sliced roasted red peppers from a jar, a few of the shallots, chilli and cilantro. Taste and season. Drizzle over some olive oil and serve with lime.

2. Gravadlax

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From the tropics to the arctic! Gravadlax is a Scandinavian way of curing fish. Gravad means buried in Swedish and lax means salmon. We’re not talking rotten fermented year-old shark here, quite the opposite. A sophisticated delicacy on a par with traditional smoked salmon. The recipe is simply salted salmon. But the salting is halted after twelve hours to 2 days so that the fish does not loose all its moisture. I’ve used Tom Kime’s recipe in the past and it was good, so have used his ingredients and method here. One starts with salt and sugar – the traditional seasoning is dill and lemon – further aniseed notes are added with the fennel and the star anise – Juniper introduces a hint of Nordic pine . I might experiment with caraway and Juniper – but as you can see below the process is quite involved – so I only make gravadlax on a special occasion. This infrequency mitigates against too much experimentation. (If it’s not broken don’t fix it!)

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Ingredients for the cure and presentation. Juniper, star anise, fennel seed, pepper, sugar, dill, lemon and salt.

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I used about 200g of Malden salt, crushed the spices in a pestle and mortar and then blitzed the sugar, a quarter chopped lemon with a spoon of salt. Once this was blended I added the rest of the salt and blitzed for a second, then mixed by hand until all blended.

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The salmon after 12 hours of curing (and soaking). Discard the curing mixture and soak for 1 hour in cold water changing the water every 15 minutes.

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Press lemon rind and chopped dill and pepper into the salmon and cut into thin slices.

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Arrange on a cling film and cover with another sheet of cling film. Use a pan to flatten.

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Arrange on a plate. Serve as an hors-d’oeuvre or starter with rye sourdough bread, salad and lemon. You could use a thin mayonnaise and mustard dressing.

3. Escabeche

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This is rather similar to ceviche, but the fish is cooked before it is covered with curing liquid. The method is also used for pickling vegetables. In Mexican cooking en escabeche describes a ‘light’ style of pickling, famously used for purple pickled onions and jalapeno chillies (my recipe is based on a jalapeno chilli escabesche). I have recipes from Mexico for octopus and oyster escabeche and in Europe I have also seen it adopted with oily fish such as mackerel. Salmon is also oily and works a treat as an escabeche.

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The pickling ingredients: pepper, cloves, dried oregano and thyme, allspice, lime and bay leaves, cumin, salt and pepper, white wine vinegar (with chicken stock at twice the volume of the vinegar.

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Veg to go with the pickling liquid.

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First heat the stock and add the all the spices and herbs, sugar, salt and pepper and simmer for 5 minutes, then add the vinegar and simmer 2 minutes. Fry the carrots, cauliflower, pepper and garlic (3 cloves, peeled and left whole) for 3 minutes. Then add the shallots and chilli and fry a further 3 minutes. Then add the pickling liquid and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Adjust the timings to suit. We want crunchy vegetables – but cooked sufficiently to mellow the marinade and penetrate the veg.

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While the vegetable finish simmering, fry a lightly floured fillet in a pan on a medium high heat. Make sure there is some colouring on the salmon. It should be nearly cooked.

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Then transfer to a deep dish and pour over the hot vegetables and liquid to marinate. Leave to cool and refrigerate overnight.

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This is the finished the escabeche, marinated overnight. It’s wonderfully peppery, piquant and tangy, making it an ideal starter to stimulate the appetite for the roast dinner to come…

 

3 Ways To Marinate and Grill Salmon

Marinating and Grilling Fish

Grilled food is great to eat, it’s quick and easy and it gives an excellent char-grilled flavour to the food. It’s like campfire cooking or even upside-down barbecuing in the comfort of your own kitchen. There are some caveats: for those of us who do not have wall-mounted deluxe grills with commercial extractors, it can get a bit smoky, it can be difficult to see what is going on under the flames and it can be difficult to judge when something is cooked. Clearly these are significant caveats and perhaps the reason why I do not use the grill as much as I would like.

However, having decided to use it for these three marinades I am sold again with the idea of grilling. I would urge you to try one of these recipes, they are superior to almost all others in terms of imparting flavour and tenderness.

Marinades add flavour to food. Acid marinades can tenderise meat depending on the time they are left in the marinade, however, acids on fish will ‘cook’ or denature the fish, as in a ceviche. Adding salt to a marinade makes a brining solution – which will encourage the marinade to penetrate the flesh of meat. But over time salt – especially in higher concentrations – will will draw moisture from fish and cure it. Alcohol will also tenderise and flavour the flesh, but can also denatures the surface. For these fish marinades I have not used citrus or added salt. Alcohol has been used in small amounts.

 

1. Salmon Teriyaki

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Salmon teriyaki is a favourite. The marinade gives the fish a wonderful flavour and protects the fish from drying out under the grill. Teriyaki sauce is popular in America, where it has widely been widely adopted in restaurants and fast food outlets or as a barbecue marinade. I can’t help thinking of Larry David (the ‘teriyaki chicken guy’) in Curb Your Enthusiasm walking into his favourite restaurant with the waiters behind the counter mockingly flapping outstretched chicken-wing arms while singing with a heavy accent: ‘teriyaki chicken – teriyaki chicken!’

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The marinade for this is very simple, use 50ml soy to 1 tbs mirin to 1 tbs sugar. Mirin is a sweet sake. Mix the ingredients together until the sugar has dissolved.

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The best way to keep marinate the salmon is to put the marinade in a zip-lock plastic bag. Put in the fridge for an hour.

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This is what it looks like when it has marinated for an hour.

Put tin foil over the grill rack and grill for about 10 minutes (depending on your grill) turning once. Baste with teriyaki marinade as you grill. The salmon will be cooked if the flesh is opaque when prodded with the tip of a knife or when 60C is registered on a temperature probe. You will need to watch that the salmon does not burn too much – so adjust the position, height and temperature so that it cooks evenly. The marinade includes sugar and soy which easily burn. Check the residues on the tin foil do not catch under the grill. Adjust the heat as you cook allowing the salmon some time at a higher heat to give browning, but also at a lower heat to ensure the salmon is cooked all the way through.

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Here is my salmon. It may look overcooked or even burnt – but it is not – it was cooked perfectly. Teriyaki should have a bronzed glaze or lacquer finish (teri – referring to this effect – the yaki meaning to grill). As I mentioned above the sugar and soy will easily burn under a grill – but the odd caught bit is fine. (Think of it as the crispy browned and burnt skin on a piece of grilled chicken.)

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The finish salmon plated with brown Japanese rice, green beans and sesame seeds. Serve with a teriyaki sauce made from the marinade which has been heated and strained.

 

2. Herb and garlic marinade

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This is a simple a straight forward marinade for fish. There is no sugar in the marinade so it behaves itself under the grill and is not likely to burn as easily as the Japanese recipes here. It’s based on the flavours of Italian or Mediterranean herbs. For an easy grill recipe this is fairly foolproof.

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Herbs are chives, oregano, rosemary, thyme – all fresh. One clove chopped garlic and good olive oil.

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Marinate in the fridge for at least half an hour or an hour and more. The open flesh in fish allows marinade flavours to penetrate quicker than they do with meat.

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Put tin foil over the grill rack and grill for about 10 minutes (depending on your grill) turning once. The salmon will be cooked if the flesh is opaque when prodded with the tip of a knife or when 60C is registered on a temperature probe. I’ve left quite a bit of the herbs on the underside of the fillet, but only a few on the top in case the herbs and garlic burnt.

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Here is the finished fillet. Evenly browned and cooked.

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To re-introduce the flavours of the marinade, gently cook the remaining marinade for a few minutes – add more olive oil if necessary.

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Serve with a salad and sauté potatoes – drizzle over the strained marinade oil and finish with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

3. Miso marinated and grilled salmon

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This was inspired by a visit to a Hyper-Japan event at Earl’s Court. The event was full of Japanese foods, products, clothes, popular culture and entertainment. Apart from sampling some good food the biggest treat was enjoying the visitors themselves – most of whom dressed spectacularly in their favourite manga character. Even those that could only manage a pink or purple wig helped to keep a smile on your face. We came away with goodie bags, chop sticks, a bonsai (still surviving) and an Eat Japan recipe for miso marinated salmon…

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The miso marinade: 100ml white or other miso, 1 tbs mirin, 1 tbs sake, 1 tbs caster sugar.

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Mix it up in a bowl and transfer to a plastic zip-lock bag with the salmon fillet. Marinate overnight or up to two days.

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Here it is after marinating overnight.

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Put tin foil over the grill rack and grill for about 10 minutes (depending on your grill) turning once. Baste with miso marinade as you grill. The salmon will be cooked if the flesh is opaque when prodded with the tip of a knife or when 60C is registered on a temperature probe. You will need to watch that the salmon does not burn too much – so adjust the position, height and temperature so that it cooks evenly. The marinade includes sugar and miso which easily burn. Check the residues on the tin foil do not catch under the grill. Adjust the heat as you cook allowing the salmon some time at a higher heat to give browning, but also at a lower heat to ensure the salmon is cooked all the way through. The fish should also have a ‘bronzed’ look to it – some charring is fine. The fish will still be tender and moist. (Think of it as the crispy browned and burnt skin on a piece of grilled chicken.)

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Serve with edamame beans, mooli garnish and a side of rice. Serve with a soy and lemon sauce (soy with a little sugar and squeeze of lemon).

3 Ways To Fry Salmon


1. Stir-fried salmon

If frying another piece of salmon fillet is becoming predictable and too familiar, try cutting it up and stir-frying instead. It’s quick and easy – and you’ll find yourself with a highly versatile new ingredient. Stir-frying is a  good way to cook salmon – the salmon is robust enough to stay in whole pieces, it will brown in an appetizing manner and stays tender and tasty. Also stir-frying is more economic than frying single fillets as stir-fried fish can be stretched among other ingredients.

In this recipe I stir-fried the salmon as part of a warm Thai salad. You could add the stir-fried salmon to other types of warm salad, as I have in my salmon and spelt salad, or you could make an Italian tomato sauce or a creamy wine and tarragon sauce and serve it with pasta or rice.

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Here are the salad ingredients: pak choi (leaves separated from the stalks), carrots, cooked refreshed and drained pad Thai rice noodles, cooked refreshed and drained bean sprouts, pepper, celery, spring onion, ginger, chilli.

A note on bean sprouts. There was a time when we ate bean sprouts raw, however, it turns out that this is no longer considered safe. This is a shame because most of the appeal of a bean sprout is its crunch – which is quickly lost when cooked. The problem lies in our inability to generate sufficient heat at home to cook them quickly. Our only options are to drop them into a commercial vat of boiling water for 10 seconds, or to take them to the local Chinese takeaway and give them a quick stir-fry over their 250,000 BTU wok burner. However, I believe I have found a domestic solution to this conundrum: the microwave cooking bag. I microwaved my sprouts for a couple of minutes and then plunged them into cold water and drained. I can vouch that the sprouts were not only well-cooked but also crunchy. 

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Skin the salmon – allow about 200g-250 for two people. (This piece is about 180g.)

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Cut the salmon. I have cut the salmon differently for each of these three recipes. Here I am cutting into small cubes so they easily distribute through the salad.

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Stir-fry the salmon. The wok must be very hot. Then add a small amount of groundnut oil. A typical gas range can only manage a measly 6,000 BTU, so don’t shake, bang and toss the wok about like they do in the takeaway – instead let it sit without moving. After it has browned and coloured on the pan-facing side, stir and toss to redistribute the pieces in the wok. Then let it sit still again to brown and colour. Repeat this process once more. They will be cooked in about 4 minutes or so. Cut one of the pieces to see if it is cooked and then drain and keep warm on a plate.

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This fish is cooked perfectly. I might have drained off more fat or dried on kitchen towel – but as it will end up in a salad with an oil based dressing I have not worried. Stir-fying salmon as I shown here will keep the fish in neat pieces. The small fragments you can see are from a single piece that I broke to test for doneness.

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This warm salad starts life as a stir fry. Begin with the ginger, onion and chilli.

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Then add the salmon and stir to amalgamate the flavours. Set aside in a dish.

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Next briefly stir-fry the pepper, carrot and pak choi stalks put into a separate dish.

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Mix the dressing ingredients to taste: from top left, nam plah, groundnut oil, soy, chilli oil, lime, palm sugar. The ingredients reflect the sweet, sour, salt, hot combinations that are so characteristic of Thai cooking. NB: the palm sugar will need to dissolve into the dressing – use a small blender or mix ahead of time to allow it to dissolve. Start with a proportion of 3 parts soy, to 3 parts oil, to one part nam plah, to 1 part sugar, to 2 – 3 parts lime – finish with a couple drops of chilli oil if you like.

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Finally, toss all the ingredients in a bowl with the dressing and serve.

 

2. Shallow-fried salmon

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This method is a half-way house between stir-frying and deep-frying. The outcome makes perfect salmon nuggets for a fish taco. But the same nuggets could be served any number of ways and would be popular for young children.

Fish tacos are a famous export from Baja California in Mexico. The fish can be battered and deep-fried or grilled. My way is a bit of a cheat and uses only flour and egg – it is very effective and tasty and less oily and fatty than batter. The coating does not have the crispy crunchiness of the deep-fried salmon below, but this is fine as there is plenty of texture and taste – enough to imagine you’re on a Baja beach enjoying Mexican fish and chips!

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The basic ingredients are corn or flour tortillas, cabbage for a citrus slaw, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, avocado and creme fraiche, mayonnaise and lime for a lime mayo dressing.

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Chop and slice the salad ingredients. To make the citrus slaw marinade the cabbage with a good squeeze of lime juice, a large pinch of salt and a little sugar and leave for half an hour – or longer.

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The fish fillet does not need to be perfect.  You can easily get four good sized tacos from this piece (about 170g).

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Cut the fish into random small bits – these shapes suit the nature of tacos. They also make attractive asymmetrical ‘nuggets’ for children.

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The beauty of this recipe is the simplicity of preparation. The only ingredients you need are flour and beaten egg. Dip first in the flour and then the egg.

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Keep the fish in a bowl until you are ready to fry.

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Fry the fish in batches in a very shallow pool of groundnut oil.

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Turn when browned and brown on the other side.

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Drain on kitchen towels.

Make a lime mayo dressing by mixing equal parts creme fraiche and mayonnaise and add lime to taste.

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Make the tacos by heating the flour or corn tortillas in a hot pan (without oil) for a minute on each side. Fill with salad, then fish and then mayo dressing. Chillies are optional.

 

3. Deep-fried salmon

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This time you can imagine you are on holiday in Britain eating scampi and chips!

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Here is the tableau of ingredients.  I use panko breadcrumbs rather than a batter. It seems neater, and less fatty. Of course deep fried nuggets need something to dip into and tartar sauce is ideal. Finally, if you can go the extra distance, chips are the perfect accompaniment.

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Choose a piece of fish between 150g-200g for one person. The fish will go further when it is bread-crumbed (but then more of it is likely to be eaten!) It doesn’t need to be a perfect piece of fish as it will be cut-up and fried. Skin the fillet and cut into scampi-like shapes.

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Get four bowls ready with milk, flour, beaten egg, and breadcrumbs. Dip the fish into each bowl in the order listed (you will need larger bowls than those shown in the photo). Keep one hand for wet and one for dry, otherwise you will develop growing clumps of sticky crumbs on your fingertips.

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The bread-crumbed fish. These can be left quite happily in the fridge whilst getting on with the tartar sauce or chips.

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Heat a large deep pan with vegetable oil and heat up to 180C. Gently slide a few fish into the batter. Do this in batches. If too many are put in at once the temperature of the oil will drop, distorting cooking time and making the nuggets greasy.

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Dry the fish on kitchen towels and keep warm.

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Here are the ingredients for a tartar sauce. Chopped gherkins, capers, parsley. Creme fraiche, mayonnaise and lemon. When I mixed up the contents of these dishes I found I needed about the same again of mayo and creme fraiche. Some recipes call for shallots, but I find this can make the tartar sauce harsh and difficult to digest. Adding creme fraiche makes a lighter sauce.

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Serve the fish with chips and sauce.

 

Homemade Chicken Soup in 5 Minutes

Homemade Chicken Soup

I’m reminded again about why it’s a good idea keeping leftovers. I fancied some soup and checked the fridge. There was about half a breast of leftover chicken and rice – a no-brainer as far as soup goes… some chicken soup!

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I used chicken stock from a pot of concentrated powder (you can use a stock cube – but avoid those that are too salty or include MSG). I put 500ml hot water from the kettle in a pan, the chicken stock powder, the sliced chicken, a couple spoons of rice, a chopped spring onion, chopped parsley, dried oregano and ground pepper. I brought it to the boil and cooked for about 30 seconds. To finish I seasoned with a squeeze of lemon, some good olive oil and grated parmesan. All this took 5 minutes, and was enough for two. The final quality will depend on your stock, but either way it’s going to be way better than tinned soup.

3 Ways To Cook Salmon in the Oven

1. Cooking under foil

This is similar to cooking en papillote i.e. encasing in a sealed bag of paper or foil. This method creates steam in the bag and ensures flavours stay with the fish and any other flavouring or ingredients that are cooked with the fish. My way just does away with the bag idea – but still uses a foil seal over the fish to steam and trap flavour. In effect you make your own sauce as the fish cooks. Many recipes work with aniseed aromatics or vegetables and my method follows the same flavour trail.

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I’ve used a shallot, tarragon and wine. You could use and onion, parsley or stock as alternatives.

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Slice the shallot, and fennel as finely as possible and put into a baking dish with the herbs, wine and some butter. Season with salt and pepper.

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Wrap the dish tightly with foil. Give sauce a head start in the oven at 200C, Gas 6 for 10-15 minutes.

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It will be partially cooked. Generally, fish cooks much quicker than most vegetables in the oven, so it is a good idea to do this style of cooking in stages. Take a fillet of fish and cut off the skin (it will get soggy and slimy in the sauce if it is left on).

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Cover the fish with lemon. This is only for protecting the flesh and imparting flavour. Add butter on top of the lemon, again to flavour and moisten the fish. Add a little chicken stock (or water) and a little cream. (Yes, I know milk and acid don’t go – but despite any curdling it will eventually emulsify into a smooth sauce. Put the foil back on and put in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

NB: At 200C, Gas 6 – salmon is going to be done between 20-30 minutes depending on your oven and where you put the fish in the oven. The best way to test if the fish is done is to prod it open with a knife and ensure it is opaque and not raw. If you have a temperature probe the fish will be done at 60C.

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Here is the cooked salmon in the baking dish. If you have not over-cooked the fish it can sit here like this quite happily for 10-15 minutes (cover loosely with foil). To serve, remove the lemon and and plate. Whisk the sauce and pour over the fish. Simple boiled potatoes and a green vegetable will go very well with this. And the sauce is amazing by the way…

 

2. Open baked with Mediterranean vegetables

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This is a brilliant way to cook salmon. Like the method above it needs to be cooked in stages -the vegetables are cooked until until tender and then the fish is added. The flavours merge together through the cooking and leave an fantastic sauce. All it needs is some nice crusty bread.

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Start with Mediterranean vegetables and herbs. I’ve got red pepper and chilli, a courgette, tomatoes, shallot, garlic, olives, oregano and fresh basil.

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Slice up the vegetables and add to a dish – add olive oil, oregano and salt and pepper.

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Mix them up and put in an oven at 200C, Gas 6 for 20-25 minutes.

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This is how my veg looked after the first stage of cooking – a bit of burned is good, mix it up, add chopped basil and parsley and black olives. If it looks a little dry add a small amount of stock, wine or water.

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Put the descaled fish fillet in skin side up. Dry the flesh well and season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.

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Cook in the oven for another 20-25 minutes. If you have not over-cooked the fish it can sit here like this quite happily for 10-15 minutes (cover loosely with foil). To serve, put on a plate with the vegetables and juices. Serve with crusty bread.

NB: At 200C, Gas 6 – salmon is going to be done between 20-30 minutes depending on your oven and where you put the fish in the oven. The best way to test if the fish is done is to prod it open with a knife and ensure it is opaque and not raw. If you have a temperature probe the fish will be done at 60C.

 

3. Baked with a herb and parmesan crust

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This style of cooking is not only tasty but practical. The crust protects the fish from the heat of the oven and ensures it stay moist whilst the crust has some crunch.

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I’ve used fresh thyme, tarragon, chives and parsley – but just parsley would work fine. You need grated parmesan cheese, bread crumbs and butter.

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Chop the herbs, you could use a processor but I find this can make everything a green mush. I did this by hand and it gives a good texture and colour. The bread crumbs were bought – but otherwise blitz some stale bread in a a processor. Grate the parmesan. You could also add grated lemon rind.

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Mix it up and add some butter.

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Then mold into a crumbly clump and shape into the shape of the fillet.

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Add it onto the flesh side of the fillet. This was cooked in an oven at 200C, gas 6 for 20-25 minutes – adjust the timing according to how the fish is cooking in your oven. The best way to test if the fish is done is to prod it open with a knife and ensure it is opaque and not raw. If you have a temperature probe the fish will be done at 60C.

Serve with a simple salad and lots of lemon.

 

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cheat in 30 Minutes

Sticky Toffee Pudding in 30min

Most supermarkets have cheap packs of loaf cakes – they come in different flavours: date and walnut, chocolate, ginger, lemon drizzle etc. When I feel like a pudding but do not have the time or inclination for a full-on bake, I might pick-up one of these up and cheat a tasty dessert such as a sticky toffee pudding.

The cakes are always rather dry and uninteresting. The solution: make a quick a suitable sauce to pour over them.

A good combo to make a is a date and walnut-type loaf with a homemade sticky toffee sauce. Preheat the oven to 180C, Gas 4. Take a small frying pan and add a banana (especially one that has been knocking about for a bit and looks ready for the compost bin) a few chopped dates, a 1/4 cup or 60ml compacted molasses sugar, about 30g butter and 100g double cream. Heat and cook until well mixed and bubbling. Then cut the cake and put it into a baking dish and pour over the sauce.  Cook in the oven for about 20 minutes until heated through and bubbling on the top.

As the sauce makes its way around the cake it will turn some of it into a pudding consistency. The top of the cake will be hot, caramelised and crunchy and what’s left of the boring loaf cake is transformed by the heat and its new saucy coating.

Serve your sticky toffee pudding with cream or ice cream.

 

Some loaf cakes you can buy:

Sainsbury’s Walnut Loaf Cake

 

3 Ways To Cook Salmon in a Pan

1. Poaching Salmon

Poaching fish is easy. You might think that this method takes all the flavour from the fish – but it doesn’t, the fish is flavoursome and has a fresh and tender texture. Salmon is especially suited to poaching. It even has a special poaching pan, the ‘fish kettle’ – but unless you are catering for a wedding, a simple flat pan with a lid will work fine. You can serve poached salmon while it’s still hot, but is even better served warm or at room temperature.

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First prepare a ‘court bouillon’, an aciduated and aromatic liquor for poaching fish – this usually includes, carrot, celery, onion (often leek), bay, thyme, whole peppercorns, and vinegar.

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To speed-up the process, grate a small carrot and stick of celery, slice half an onion very thinly and put in a flat pan with lid. Crumple the bay leaves and add to the pan along with a sprig of thyme, a few whole peppercorns and a teaspoon of vinegar.

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Add water to fill the pan by three quarters. Bring the liquid to the boil, stir and then simmer with the lid on for 5 minutes.

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Place the salmon fillet in the poaching liquid, moving the vegetables so that it is nearly submerged.

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Poach the salmon for 7-10 minutes, testing with a knife to see how far it has cooked in the centre. (A temperature probe can be used – the fish will be fully cooked at 60C.)

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However, whilst the fish is still underdone, transfer it to a deep bowl, strain the poaching liquid over the fish and let the it cool in the liquid. The poaching liquid can be cooled and put in the freezer for poaching fish another time. (Note how the salmon split after testing for doneness with a knife – I didn’t worry to much as I knew it could be repaired in the presentation.)

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Take the fish out of the liquid and scrape off the skin (which is not nice to eat when poached). The brown fatty meat can also be removed.

The classic way to serve this is with dill and mayonnaise and a simple cucumber salad.

 

2. Steaming Salmon

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Many years ago I bought a fish from Chinatown. It was the freshest fish I’ve ever bought – I chose it while it was still swimming in the shop’s huge tank of live fish. I asked the fishmonger how I should cook it and he said steam it with ginger, spring onion and soy sauce. I knew about this classic trinity – but somehow I thought the authenticity of the fish shop would merit a more complicated and ‘authentic’ method. However, I am assured that this is as genuine as Chinese cooking gets and pass on the advice I was given – it’s an excellent way to cook fish. Again, don’t be put off by the idea of steaming, it’s actually very simple and makes a full-flavoured dish that is light and easy to eat. Special equipment is not necessary –  improvise a steamer if you don’t have one. I used a flan case and a bowl in a flat pan with lid. Try using scrunched-up tin foil, a trivet, or of course a proper bamboo steamer in a wok.

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The classic Chinese trinity.

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Use a steamer if you have one – or improvise…

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Put a bowl or dish in the ‘steamer’. Chop the spring onion and ginger, placing some under the fish and some on top. Pour over about a tablespoon of soy sauce.

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Steam for a good 10-15 minutes, checking for doneness with the tip of a knife or using a temperature probe (60C is done for fish).

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The steaming creates its own sauce, you can eat it straight from the steamer or serve with rice or noodles and greens.

 

3. Frying Salmon

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Frying fish is easy. Or is it? Perhaps not, if you think about the number of TV chefs who jump through hoops trying to explain their perfect technique for frying fish; or when you think about all the nightmare scenarios we have with fish. There’s the burnt and dried-out specimens that end up as cat food; or the patronising waiters who dismiss our concerns over the piece of raw-in-the-middle salmon, ‘surely sir has eaten sushi…’ or the endless failed attempts to make skin crisp.

So, perhaps it’s not that easy to fry fish after all. Here’s how I fried a piece of salmon in a metal frying pan.

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The finished fish is served in a butter and lemon sauce. This is an extension of a founding principle that guided all of my father’s cooking, based on a simple maxim: everything tastes good with either butter and salt, or cream and sugar. I have not tested this empirically, but I can vouch for the verity of the former when it comes to salmon. I used this method of cooking in the WDC recipe salmon in butter and lemon.

Most fish skin is good if it can be made crispy. But crispy skin only occurs under two conditions: 1). long slow cooking and finishing with high heat 2). dry fish skin.

So de-scale the skin, squeegee out the water with a knife blade and finally dry the skin with a kitchen towel, and rub with a little oil.

 

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I have used a steel pan for the sake of the photos. However, working with steel frying pans requires attaining a certain temperature to ensure food doesn’t stick (a higher temperature than is needed for a non-stick pan). I don’t know the science behind why food will not stick in a steel pan at a high temperature. Perhaps low temperatures allow the food to get-up close and comfortable with the metal, but then mingle too much, refusing to part. Whereas with a hot pan, the pan is so hot, the food decides to keep its distance.

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Heat the pan until a sprinkling of water does not fizz but turns into a scattering of spherical balls of water. Stop momentarily to marvel at what is happening and play with the balls – then turn the heat down to keep the pan at the lowest temperature point within this phenomenon’s range of temperatures.

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Lose the balls of water and replace with a light vegetable oil, tip the pan around to cover the base with oil and place the fish skin side down on the pan, pushing down with your hand (avoiding hot splatters) to ensure the fish stays flat on the pan surface.

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Then wait. Don’t poke or fiddle about with the fish but watch it closely. You will see that the translucent fish becomes opaque near the pan and that this plimsoll line of doneness travels up the side of the fillet. Continue cooking until the line is about three quarters up the fillet.

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At this point put a large knob of butter in the pan and baste the fillet , before turning over with a spatula.

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It will soon be cooked (test with knife – or 60C with temperature probe). It’s always good to take the fish off the heat just before it has reached the point of being fully cooked – it will continue to cook while resting.

Plate the salmon, discard the fat in the pan and wipe the pan clean. Add another knob of butter and a good squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt. Whisk this to an emulsion and pour over the fish.

Serve with new potatoes and greens.

NB: This pan may look like a rather fierce way to fry the fish, (remember a non-stick pan can be used at a lower temperature – especially for leaner fillets of fish) however, this fillet was very fatty, so the fish was still perfectly moist and delicious inside. You will notice that the skin has become crisp. This crispness represents the outcome of the skin protecting the flesh from the searing hot pan which allows the flesh to cook more gently. So we get better cooked fish and a crispy skin.

Quick Microwave Quesadillas

Quesadillas have always been a family favourite… So, ‘How to Make Quesadillas in the Microwave’

Like nachos, quesadillas are quick and easy to make in a microwave. But unlike nachos, quesadillas can end up floppy and full of rubbery cheese.

This is because we should not be using a microwave. Quesadillas are much better cooked like a grilled cheese sandwich in a hot griddle pan, similar to the way they are prepared in Mexico.

However, I have now developed a method that that resolves all the microwave issues and is just as good – if not better – than a pan-fried quesadilla.

The basic problem is the microwave. It turns the moisture in food into steam. This is good for cooking moisture-containing foods like vegetables, but not for food that is low in moisture. Therefore quesadillas become unnaturally soft and wet, especially when the inside contains extra moisture in the form of salsa or tomatoes. If you continue to cook the tortilla in the hope that it will dry out, it will turn into cardboard and the cheese will turn into inedible putty.

Two solutions:

1. Avoid trapped steam. The tortilla must not lie flat on the plate in a microwave – the steam builds up and returns to the tortilla making it wet. Invest in a bacon crisper or devise some other plastic surface which is perforated… The raised ridges on a bacon crisper allow the steam to escape and stop the tortilla becoming soggy.

2. Oil the tortilla and fry it in the microwave. This is one of my best tips. It completely changes the texture of the tortilla.

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But what type of tortilla? This is up to personal taste. I will always start with a corn tortilla. I buy my tortillas from Mex Grocer. They have several types – all of them good.

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Oil the tortilla. Do this on both sides on two tortillas.

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Cook the tortillas. Microwave them individually for 50 seconds each on high heat (900W). Don’t cut this part short, the tortilla may puff up, or look like it is under duress. This is normal – it’s being deep fried in its own oil! Dry the bacon crisper after each use.

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Drain the tortillas. Put each tortilla between kitchen paper towels and pat off excess oil.

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Choose and prepare your fillings.

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Build the tortilla. Use any type of cheese, tomatoes or salsa, fresh or bottled jalapeño chillies and salt and pepper.

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Cook the tortilla. Time for 50 seconds BUT stop the microwave at 20 seconds and turn the tortilla over. This may be a little fiddly, use a spatula to help flip. Return to the microwave for the remaining 30 seconds. (The turning distributes the steam and allows the cheese to melt into other ingredients.)

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Cut and serve the quesadilla. Let it rest for a minute – the insides may be very hot.

The above timings work on our old microwave. Adjust the timings according to the power of your microwave – or experiment to suit you own taste.

 

Best place to get your Mexican groceries are from our friends at Mex Grocer.
You can pick up a bacon crisper here too.