Fish stew

Fish stew is one of those things that you either love or hate. I personally am one of those people who bring fish-smelling lunch foods to work and everyone complains about how it reeks out the office while I sit there and enjoy my fishy delight. It’s a surprise I have only recently discovered fish stew—at 10 Greek Street. It was my second visit there, and I wanted to try a fish dish. The offer of the day was Catalan fish stew. So delicious it was! The stew was tomato based with potato, white fish, clams, mussels and prawns. All I can say is it was a revelation, and I’ve been craving a good recipe every day since. Then I got myself a copy of Claudia Roden’s latest—The Food of Spain: A Celebration. Claudia Roden’s Arabesque was one of the first cookbooks I ever bought, and everything I tried was, beyond simply being a recipe, a work of food detectivism. Her new book is the ultimate book on Spanish cooking and contains some really amazing stuff. This recipe is adapted from ‘Pepa’s fish soup’. The best element of this recipe is the picada, a paste made from almonds, garlic and fresh parsley added to the broth to give it a lovely texture. Once you try this fish stew I know you’ll also be hankering for more. I adapted the recipe a bit as I wanted to replicate the one from 10 Greek Street, I think I got quite close, but I’ll have to try it out a few more times till I get it right …

Fish stew

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

1 large or 2 small tomatoes, peeled and chopped

500g waxy potatoes, cut into 1cm-thick slices

1 bulb of fennel, sliced

125ml white wine

350ml fish stock

a generous pinch of saffron

3/4 teaspoon sugar

250g firm white fish fillet (cod, haddock), cut into 2cm chunks

180g mussels

180g clams

200g raw peeled prawns

For the picada

10 blanched almonds

1 large garlic clove, peeled

1/2 tablespoon of olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Heat the oil in a casserole, add the garlic and the tomatoes. Cook stirring often over  a medium heat until the tomatoes are reduced (this should take almost 10 minutes).

2. Add the fennel along with the wine and the stock. Cook for 10 minutes. Then add the potatoes with the saffron, sugar and salt. Simmer, covered, over a low heat for 20 minutes, until the potatoes and fennel are tender. Don’t let the potatoes get too soft or they will disentergrate.

3. In the meantime, make the picada. Fry the almonds with the whole garlic clove in the oil until they look golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper. Add the parsley, fried almonds and garlic to a mortar and pestle and grind to a paste. Then add a ladleful of the stock to dilute it.

4. Put the fish into the stew and 3-4 minutes later add the clams, mussels and prawns and the picada. Cook over a low heat until the prawns are pink.

This recipe was adapted from Pepa’s fish soup from The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden (Michael Joseph, 2012)

Fish soup with dried limes

Fish soups are great. There is nothing like tucking into a hearty full-flavoured broth on a cold winter day. Living as we do in Shepherd’s Bush there is an array of Middle Eastern food and spices. I love exploring the local stores like Damas Gate or Al-Abas and reading the food labels, there are so many unfamiliar tastes and delights on offer. One ingredient I was intrigued by was dried limes. Although I had read about them, I hadn’t cooked with them before. Now that I have, I am really looking forward to trying more Iranian cooking as they feature a lot as a key ingredient. Dried limes have a really distinct taste, they are quite tangy, sweet at the same time and the flavour goes really well with fish. I could imagine a lot of people might hate the taste of dried limes, but I love it. They give this soup a fantastic, fragrant and perfumy aroma (don’t be put off!) but be careful as a little goes a long way. I wouldn’t recommend eating any kind of fish soup, let alone one with dried limes at work as, from experience,  it smelt out the whole office! oops. It tasted good though!

Fish soup with dried limes

4 Tablespoons olive oil

1 large red onion, finely chopped

2 celery stalks, sliced finely

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

3/4 teaspoon turmeric

1–2 dried limes, seeded, crushed and ground

1 x 400g tinned tomatoes

1 litre fish stock (make your own or use really good fresh fish stock)

1 teaspoon sugar

250g skinned white fish fillet, cut into 1cm slices

2 Tablespoons roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

sea salt and black pepper to taste

1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and soften the onion, celery and garlic for 20–25 minutes. Once sweet and translucent, stir in the tumeric and dried limes, cook for 1 minute.

2. Add the fish stock, bring up to the boil and add sugar, salt and pepper.

3. Stir in the fish and parsley, simmer for 1 minute to poach the fish and serve.

(Recipe from Moro: The Cookbook (Ebury Press))

A Mexican extravaganza

Summery weather makes me call for a good old bowl of guacamole. Recently I made guacamole in desperation with a not-so-ripe avocado—I don’t recommend it as in this case, the longer one can wait the better the reward. Mexican food is getting more and more trendy—similar to Nordic cooking, Mexican has recently emerged as one of those ‘it’ foodie trends. Thomasina Miers’ book, Mexican Food: made simple is an ingenious collection that just shows the diversity of Mexican food, and the recipes are extremely easy to make hence the title. We’re regulars at Wahaca and try to go there every time we are in London. The atmosphere at Wahaca is great, and the food is not only tasty but also a bargain, plus they have amazing mojitos. The introductory section of Mexican food is really informative and describes the chillies used. What’s more is that it is really accessible and dishes can be mind-blowingly good, the perfect reward after a hard day at work. The other day I made a quesadilla and literally only added one pinch of habanero chilli (dried) but my quesadilla was really spicy and almost made me vomit because it was so spicy! but it turned out okay, I added sugar which I find helps balance over-spicy food and then I lathered the quesidilla in guacamole. For the Mexican extravaganza, I tried to make my own tortillas out of maize flour. That was all I could find in Oxford! But it didn’t quite work out. I have now been to Borough market and have successfully bought some masa harina so I will have to have another go. I thought maize and corn were the same thing but for some reason this tortilla didn’t work well at all. The best discovery that has come out of this book so far has been the ceviche. It is now on my list of top ten best dishes ever. I couldn’t believe that lime juice could ‘cook’ fish. Basically the fish is marinated in lime juice (in the fridge), if you prefer your fish more cooked, marinate it for longer. I like mine half-raw and half-cooked as the result is a very tender but also sashimi-like texture. Made with wild sea bass it was absolutely amazing.

Coconut ceviche

2 tomatoes

225g sea bass fillet, skinned and diced into 1cm cubes

Juice of 5 limes

4 Tablespoons coconut milk

1 Tablespoon olive oil

pinch of sea salt

2 shallots or 1/2 small red onion finely diced

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

1 habanero chilli finely chopped (I used less as this is a tad too spicy for me)

a large handful of coriander leaves

To serve

avocado, peeled, diced

4 radishes, finely sliced

tortilla chips

Cover the tomatoes with boiling water and leave for 1 minute. Drain and pierce with a knife and skin the tomatoes. Deseed and dice. In a bowl, add fish, lime juice, coconut milk, olive oil, salt, onion, garlic and chilli. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or 4 hours if you want the fish to be completely cooked. Drain the fish from the marinade but keep it aside. Add the tomato and coriander to the fish and mix whilst adding some of the marinade back into the fish if it looks dry.

Sprinkle with coriander and radishes and diced avocado.

Recipe from Mexican Food: Made Simple (Hodder & Stoughton).