Friday, 28 August 2009

Salmon and Crab Chowder

The weather has taken a distinct turn for the worse this past week and after having images of a scorching hot August we are all resigned to the fact that the hotter days are over.

Far from being the pessimist I actually prefer it when it is a little cooler anyway. Exercise and sleep become easier and I can put my legs away for another year, which is always a plus for family and friends.

Food becomes more sustainable too and I love a good homemade soup or broth. A chowder is more of a complete meal than a soup, a kind children's food for adults if that makes any sense, what with chunks of half processed solids floating in a liquid. My 4 year old loves the stuff.

They can take on many forms, using a multitude of vegetables but generally always containing sweetcorn. Smoked fish works particularly well with a chowder, as does shellfish such as clams, mussels and crab.

So if it is feeling a tad nippier where you are in the world, warm yourself with good chowder. It is simple to make, perfect for the whole family and makes you feel a little bit better if you are British and you suspect that sun catching is over for another year...

Salmon and Crab Chowder

Feeds 4

3 rashers of smoked bacon, sliced (optional)
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large potatoes or the equivalent in new potatoes, cut into 2 cm chunks (skin on or off)
1 medium tin of sweetcorn or the fresh kernels of 2 cobs
500ml hot chicken or vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
100ml crème fraiche or double cream
2 pieces of fresh salmon, skinned and cut into chunks
The brown and white meat of 1 crab
A handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper

1 - Heat the oil in a large pan and add the bacon if using, the onion and celery. Cook for 10 minutes until softened and beginning to colour. Stir in the garlic.
2 - Add the potatoes, sweetcorn, bay and stock. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
3 - Take a handheld blender and blend for a short while until you have broken up some of the potatoes to thicken it, or remove half to a blender and do the same before adding back to the pan.
4 - Stir through the salmon and crabmeat and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the cream or crème fraiche and taste for seasoning. Serve with fresh parsley and some good crusty bread.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Devilled Mackerel with Tomato, Onion and Mint Salad

An early start today with a 6am rendezvous on South Shields pier with a spinning rod and a shiny spinner. Mackerel season is in full force and I love this fish with a passion. Cheap, delicious and plentiful, it is the fish for frugal times.

Trying to catch them is another matter. They should be the easiest fish in the ocean to catch when they are in season. 3 hours of spinning and 2 dropped mackerel later, I packed away veritably fishless. But thanks to a very generous Graham Slesser and his daughter, the best fishermen in the world, and a couple more generous chaps alongside me, I came home heavy laden with 8 fat mackerel. And before you ask, and despite the temptation to pretend to be the caveman returning with his meat for the family, I told the truth to my girls.

Now to the treatment - devilled mackerel. A beautifully rich fish to eat, the combination of spices in this recipe cuts through the oiliness to create the most delicious of fish suppers. Devilling is a combination of 'British spices' from our East India Trading days, and our Victorian ancestors utilised this combination of cayenne, mustard, paprika and coriander to perfection. It needs nothing other than a simple salad of tomatoes, onions and mint and a few crisped potatoes.

This is typical Rick Stein grub, the kind of simple pleasurable food that gets both of us excited and one that I am proud to reproduce with a few tweaks from his 'Seafood Lovers Guide' for your pleasure. But the main thanks go to real fishermen, Graham and his daughter who despite fighting out a 2-2 draw became true champions in my grateful and greedy eyes...

Devilled Mackerel with Tomato, Onion and Mint Salad
Feeds 4

4x mackerel, gutted, cleaned and trimmed
20g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp English mustard
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp teaspoon paprika
1 tsp teaspoon ground coriander
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

For the tomato and onion salad
4 onions, thinly sliced
1 small onion thinly sliced
A handful of mint
1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 - Heat a grill to high.
2 - Slash the mackerel skin at 1cm intervals from the head to the tail, ensuring you do not go through to the bone.
3 - Melt the butter in a shallow pan. Remove and stir in the sugar, spices, vinegar and plenty of salt and pepper to make a paste. Turn the mackerel in the paste ensuring it enters the slashes you made as well as the cavity.
4 - Transfer to the grill pan and grill for 5 minutes each side until blistered and fragrant.
5 - To make the tomato and onion salad, bash the mint in a pestle and mortar then stir in the olive oil, lemon juice and a little seasoning. Arrange the tomato and onion on a plate and pour over the dressing.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Off For a Dip

If you have children and they are anything like my nipper, they will love the fact that berries of all kinds are sprouting up right now over the summer.

My girl adores strawberries and raspberries. Nothing new or surprising there then but it is a bonus for a parent on the dessert front if your wee ones love fruit. A simple dessert can be knocked up in no time keeping them happy and contented until bed time.

Another thing children like to do is get messy and nothing becomes messier than the fondue concept of dipping solid edible things into warm gooey liquid. It is also highly satisfying. Not just for the children but people like me who should know better.

Melt some chocolate in a low oven (a mix of dark and milk), perhaps stir in a little grated orange, scatter a plate with strawberries and marshmallows, hand out the toothpicks and let the fun begin. I don't even need to give you a recipe. Delicious, simple and something everybody should do at least once a week whilst the berries are here.