Chilli Fish with Tahini

I’m a sucker for big flavours, particularly Middle Eastern and South Asian, and I have a particular fondness for Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes for that very reason. He has a new book out, called Simple – there is much rejoicing in my house.

Life gets hectic from time to time, when it does I tend to turn to less-involved, reasonably quick recipes. So, when I spotted this in Simple I was a happy man. It’s big on flavour, not at all involved and inexpensive as well.

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RECIPE serves 4 

4 cod or hake (or other firm white fish), fillets, skinless and boneless

4 tbsp olive oil

2 red chillies, chopped into 2cm long chunks

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 tsp caraway seeds, plus ¼ tsp to serve

1 dried ancho chilli, trimmed, seeds discarded, torn into 5cm pieces (or 1 tsp sweet smoked paprika)

1 kg plum tomatoes, chopped into 1cm dice

2 tbsp tomato paste

½ tsp caster sugar

a small bunch of coriander leaves, roughly chopped, to serve

salt

For the tahini sauce:

50g tahini

1 tbsp lemon juice

60ml water

a small pinch of salt


METHOD

Lightly season the fish and set aside.

Put the oil into a large sauté pan, for which you have a lid (I use a risotto pan), and place on a medium high heat. Once hot, add the fresh chillies and fry for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic, caraway seeds and ancho chilli and continue to fry for 1 minute, until the garlic is starting to turn golden-brown. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar and ½ teaspoon of salt, then, once boiling, reduce the heat to medium and leave to simmer for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the sauce is thick. Add the fish, cover the pan and continue to cook for 10 minutes.

To make the tahini sauce, mix the tahini and lemon juice with 60ml of water and a small pinch of salt.

When ready to serve, if the fish has released a lot of liquid during the cooking and the sauce is runny, gently lift the fish out of the pan and set aside somewhere warm, increase the heat and let the sauce bubble away quickly until thick. Taste and add salt if needed, then return the fish to the pan.

To serve, sprinkle the  ¼ tsp of caraway seeds over the sauce, followed by the chopped coriander. Gently stir to combine then spoon a good ladleful of the sauce into wide bowls, topped with a fish fillet each.

The picture above, which is my preferred way of serving it, shows the tahini sauce drizzled over the dish in the pan. Some people may not like tahini though, if so have the tahini ready in a small bowl so people can drizzle their own over their serving.

Serve alongside couscous and some un-dressed rocket leaves.

Roasted Tilapia with Poor Man’s Potatoes

As the weather cools, my thoughts turn toward comfort food. The kind of food you look forward to on a chill evening when you want something filling, warming and satisfying.

I have been making this simple but delicious Spanish peasant food for years and it never feels to bring a satisfied hum to the table. I like to make a lot of it, far more than we will be able to eat at one sitting, because the leftovers make the base for a fantastic frittata or Spanish omelette for lunch the next day.

This is a very oily dish, and that is its secret. The secret to eating it is not to pour the oil on to your plate or dish, when serving use a slotted spoon to ensure excess oil drains away, leaving only a glistening coat of oil. The unctuous, rich, tomatoey oil that remains can be saved and used as a flavour base in another dish, or recycled as an indulgent salad dressing.

I like to use tilapia for this dish, but any firm-fleshed white fish works – cod, pollack, hake or, if you’re feeling indulgent, monkfish.

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RECIPE serves 4 

4 tilapia steaks or fillets

200ml olive oil

3 large onions, thinly sliced

6 cloves of garlic, peeled and thickly sliced

3 bell peppers, one each red, yellow and green, roughly chopped

4 fresh bay leaves

1kg firm, waxy-fleshed potatoes

a couple of generous handfuls of cherry tomatoes


METHOD

In a casserole, or similar large, heavy, lidded pan, heat 5 tbsp (75ml) of the olive oil over  a medium flame. Add the sliced onions with a little salt and cook gently for around 20 minutes until meltingly soft and translucent.

Add the garlic, the peppers and bay leaves. Cook on the same heat for a further 15 minutes.

Scrub the potatoes but leave the skins on. Cut them lengthways, then cut each half into two or three chunks. Sprinkle lightly with coarse sea salt.

Add the remaining oil to the pan, turn the heat up, and when the oil is hot add the potatoes and tomatoes to the pan. Toss so that everything is coated in oil, cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 40-50 minutes until the potatoes are soft and yielding but retain their shape.

When you first add the potatoes and tomatoes, there will not be a lot of liquid in the pan. By the time the cooking has ended the dish will be braising in the tomato juices and the oil, infusing everything with flavour.

Turn the oven on, to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

About 15 minutes before the potatoes are ready, lightly season the fish and rub both sides with a little oil.  Place onto a baking sheet and roast for 10-15 mins in the middle of the oven, until the fish is lightly golden and just starting to flake. The exact cooking time will depend on how thick the fish is, so keep a careful eye on it.

You can, if you wish, serve alongside a big bowl of rocket leaves but, really, this needs nothing else other than lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Grilled Snapper with Sweet Potato Bubble and Chilli Drizzle

I spotted this in an old Allegra McEvedy cookbook, and immediately sourced some red snapper to try it. It was lovely, but if you have trouble finding snapper it works equally well with the more easily-available salmon, sea bass or mackerel.

The sweet potato bubble and squeak is also handy to have in your back pocket when you’re short of ideas. I have specified making patties here, as does Allegra McEvedy, though you can cut out a little work by cooking the whole lot together in a big frying pan, making sure you get lots of charring to add big flavour and a little more texture.

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RECIPE serves 4 

800g orange-fleshed sweet potato (3 fairly large ones)

6 red chillies, whole

6 garlic cloves (3 peeled and roughly chopped, 3 crushed)

4 spring onions, finely sliced

1/4 of a savoy cabbage, cut into 1cm dice

50g fresh coriander, roughly chopped

2 tbsp plain flour

2 limes (one cut into 8 wedges, to serve)

4 red snapper fillets (or other oily fish fillets), skin on


METHOD

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/ gas 4.

Keep the sweet potatoes whole, bake them in the oven for approximately 50 minutes until soft.

Meanwhile, wrap the whole chillies and 3 chopped garlic cloves in a tightly sealed envelope of baking foil. Pop the packet in the oven for 20 minutes along with the sweet potatoes.

Allow the chillies and garlic to cool slightly, then open the packet and remove the chilli stalks. Pop the garlic and chilli into a food processor and add half the coriander, the zest and juice of one lime and a little extra-virgin olive oil. Process until it forms a smooth paste, adding a little more oil if necessary to take it to a consistency that will drizzle easily over the fish.

When the baked sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, slip off the skins and roughly mash the flesh with the spring onion, cabbage, the other half of the coriander, the remaining three garlic cloves (crushed) and the flour. Season generously and chill for 30 minutes. This is your bubble and squeak.

Form the bubble and squeak into 8 patties – I use crumpet rings for ease and convenience – and dust with a little flour. Heat 3 tbsp of oil in a large oven-proof frying pan until very hot and almost smoking, lay the patties in the pan (gently) and sizzle for a few minutes each side until well coloured. You may need to use two pans. Pop in a 180C oven for ten minutes to heat right through.

Alternatively, skip making the patties and instead cook all the bubble in a large frying pan over a very high heat. Allow the bottom to stick to the pan (lightly) before scraping off and mixing the charred bits back into the mix. No need to put this into the oven, just make sure it is hot all the way through.

To cook the fish: dry the fillets thoroughly using kitchen paper, then lightly oil the skin of the fish. Season both sides of the fillets then cook in a very hot, ridged griddle pan, skin side down, for around 4 minutes until the fish skin comes away from the pan without sticking. The skin will tell you when it is ready. Carefully flip the fillets over and flash for a further minute on the flesh side.

To serve: place the patties, or bubble, on a warmed plate and lay the fish on top. Drizzle with some of the chilli drizzle and serve alongside a simple green or rocket salad, sharpened with lemon or lime juice, with two lime wedges for each plate.

Grilled Fish Skewers with Hawayej & Parsley

Another from Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem”, this is a wonderful way to serve fish and is perfect for summer evenings in the garden.

Hawayej is a Yemeni spice mix which you will have to make yourself. It’s dead easy though, just a little grinding in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. The marinading stage is essential, try to allow 6 to 12 hours, though if you decide to make it late in the day then an hour will do.

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Image credit: Dev Wijewardane


RECIPE serves 4 to 6 depending on what you serve it with

Hawayej spice mix:

1 tsp black peppercorns

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds

4 whole cloves

1/2 tsp cardamom seeds

1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric

For the fish:

1kg firm-fleshed white fish (cod, hake, monkfish, tilapia etc)

two bunches of finely chopped flat leaf-parsley

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp fine sea salt

2 tbsp olive oil

lemon wedges to serve


METHOD

First, make the spice mix: place the whole spices in a spice grinder (I use a coffee grinder set aside for just this purpose) or a mortar and pestle, and work it until finely ground. Add the turmeric and mix well.

Remove the skin and any pin-bones from the fish, and chop into regular 2.5cm cubes.

Place the fish, parsley, garlic, chilli flakes, lemon juice and salt in a large bowl with the spice mix. Mix well with your hands, massaging the fish with the mixture until everything is well coated. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for a minimum of one hour and a maximum of twelve.

When it comes time to cook them, thread the fish chunks on to skewers (metal or wood, but if using wood then soak them for an hour beforehand to avoid them scorching) and brush each piece of fish lightly on all sides with a little olive oil.

To cook: either place on a very hot ridged griddle pan for around 90 seconds, before turning and cooking for 90 seconds on the other side, or: grill under a hot, pre-heated grill (broiler) for around 2 minutes each side until cooked through. You can also cook them on a barbecue, taking great care not to burn them.

Serve immediately with lemon wedges. These go brilliantly with fattoush, the creamy dressing of which tempers and complements the spice perfectly.

Sea Bass with Roasted Fennel and Tomato Agrodolce

I spotted this Italian sweet and sour dish in an old Jamie Oliver magazine a couple of weeks ago. It looked simple (it is), uses ingredients that I know work together, and looked like an interesting twist on tradition. If you know Italian food then you know, of course, that the sweet and sour agrodolce is indeed traditional. I looked it up and it is used in a similar way to a French gastrique, adding piquancy to a dish. 

That’s just one more thing that I love about cooking: there’s always something new to learn. More than that, every new thing I discover takes me off down other hitherto uncharted avenues.

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RECIPE serves 2

1 medium fennel bulb (around 200g after trimming), finely sliced

2 tbsp olive oil

150g very ripe cherry tomatoes

3 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped

6 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp runny honey

50g fresh pine nuts

2 sea bass fillets, pin-boned

2 tbsp raisins


METHOD

Heat your oven to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 7.

Remove the tough core from the fennel, trim off and reserve any fronds and slice it very finely, using a mandolin if you have one.

In a roasting pan. toss the sliced fennel in the oil with a little seasoning. Spread in a single layer in the roasting pan and roast for ten minutes.

Mix the vinegar and honey together, remove the pan from the oven and drizzle the vinegar over the fennel. Add the tomatoes, garlic and pine nuts, toss everything together and return to the oven for a further ten minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven again and switch the grill to high.

Using a very sharp knife, score the skin of the fish 4 or 5 times each, rub a little oil over the skin and season it lightly with sea salt. Toss the raisins into the roasting pan, lay the fish on top – skin side up – and grill for four or five minutes until the fish is just cooked through.

Take the roasting pan to the table and serve from it, alongside some crusty bread and a simple rocket salad.

Poor Man’s Potatoes with Roasted Cod Loins

This rich, oily, garlicky Spanish dish is the very definition of peasant food: a few simple ingredients gently introduced to each other over time to create something quite delicious.

You might baulk at the amount of olive oil used, but fear not. The deliciously aromatic oil is decanted before serving, leaving a heady gloss on the vegetables.

I use the decanted oily broth as a flavour base in soups and casseroles, just divide it into convenient portions and freeze until needed. It lifts anything it touches.

Amazingly, we had some leftovers when I made this last night. I intend to process the remains into a pulp to use as an aromatic thickener to the vegetable soup I am making today.

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RECIPE serves 4 

4 thick cod loins

225ml olive oil

3 large onions, thinly sliced

6 fat garlic cloves, thickly sliced

3 peppers, 1 each of red, yellow and green (often that’s how they are sold)

4 fresh bay leaves

1kg new potatoes (or firm, waxy potatoes if it is winter)

300g cherry tomatoes

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped (optional)


METHOD

In a very large, heavy bottomed casserole, heat 75ml of the olive oil over a gentle heat and when hot add the onions with a little salt and cook gently for about 20 minutes until soft and translucent.

Add the garlic, peppers and bay leaves (lightly crushed, to release their scent) and cook gently for a further 15 minutes.

Cut the potatoes into small chunks and salt them lightly. Pull the vegetables aside and add the remaining oil, when the oil is hot add the potatoes and tomatoes, stir thoroughly and leave to simmer for 45 minutes over a low heat under a lid. By this time the potatoes should be completely soft, but not mushy. The tomatoes will have pulped down and there will be a lot of liquid in which everything is braising.

While the potatoes are cooking, heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/ gas 6. Rub the cod loins lightly with oil and season with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Place the fish into a gratin dish and 10-15 minutes before serving roast in the oven. The fish should take around 12 minutes to cook through until the flesh just begins to flake, but keep an eye on it, there are few worse crimes than overcooked fish.

Warm a large serving dish, and using a spider, or a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked vegetables to it, leaving as much liquid behind as possible. Serve in bowls with the fish on top.

This dish stands all by itself, it needs no accompaniment other than a glass of sharp, dry white wine.

I like to stir a small bunch of chopped flat-leaf parsley through it just before serving, but this is entirely optional.

Sea Bass in Acqua Pazza

Life has a habit of getting in the way, as I have been reminded these past few weeks. Much of my cooking has been quick and simple, and I haven’t found the time to write about it.

Just because you’re short on time doesn’t mean that you can’t eat well, as this simple, quick and elegant dish illustrates.

Acqua Pazza translates as crazy water, the fresh and zingy poaching liquid which perfectly complements, and enhances, the soft white flesh of sea bass. You can make this with small whole fish (as the recipe below), a larger single fish, or fillets. Only the cooking time will change, just keep an eye on the fish and serve it as soon as the thickest part of the fish begins to flake.

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RECIPE serves 4 

4 small whole seabass, gutted, cleaned and scaled

75ml olive oil

2 thick garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced

1 red chilli, finely chopped

500g cherry tomatoes, halved

120ml dry vermouth

a small handful of capers, rinsed

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

a small handful of basil leaves, torn


METHOD

In a very large, high-sided pan (preferably one with a lid, if not you can use foil) heat the olive oil with the garlic, chilli and a pinch of salt over a medium heat and lay the fish in it side by side.

After four minutes, gently turn the fish over and add the tomatoes. Cook for another four minutes then add the vermouth and capers. Cover, simmer for a further four minutes or until the fish is just cooked.

Lay the fish onto warmed plates, add the parsley and basil to the pan, turn the heat up for a couple of minutes to reduce the sauce to a syrupy consistency, then spoon over the fish.

Serve with some steamed rice and a simple lemon-dressed rocket salad.

Garganelli with Salmon and Prawns

Two places you should never allow me to enter without somebody keeping a close eye on me: 1) a charity shop, and 2) a good delicatessen.

In the first I’m liable to walk out with an armful of old cookery books, and in the second I’m prone to loading myself up with obscure liqueurs (oh yes, I have a growing cocktail and aperitivi obsession) and obscure foodstuffs that catch my eye – like garganelli pasta (pictured below).

I never fail to be amazed at the way that plain old pasta can taste so different just because the shape of it is different. The shape and decoration of pasta can indeed offer a different ‘mouth feel’, fooling your palate somewhat*, but the real difference is that various shapes catch and hold sauce in different ways.

This recipe is a classic example of that. You can substitute penne for the garganelli if you don’t have a deli near you that stocks it, but it will be a very different dish. The quill shape of the garganelli catches and holds the seafood and tomato within it, while the external grooves allow the sauce to collect and stay attached while you bring it to your mouth.

Make it with penne, and while it is still delicious, you have to spend the effort of gathering all of the different elements together on your fork, for each and every mouthful. Even so, this is well worth making even if you only have penne – spend the effort, you will be rewarded.

Garganelli

* If you think this is mumbo-jumbo, there is a fascinating book – ‘Gastrophysics’ by Professor Charles Spence – which examines the ongoing research into how we actually experience flavour, and how inventive chefs such as Heston Blumenthal are using that science to enhance their food, without changing the food itself.


RECIPE serves 4 

350g salmon fillets

200ml dry white vermouth

a small handful of fresh basil leaves, plus extra for garnish

150ml double cream

6 ripe plum tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped

350g garganelli

125g king prawns


METHOD

Pour the vermouth into a wide, shallow pan with the basil leaves and some seasoning. Bring it to the boil, then put the salmon fillets – skin side up – into it, cover it and hold it at a very gentle simmer for four minutes. Carefully remove the fish and set aside to cool slightly.

Add the cream and tomatoes to the vermouth in the pan and bring back to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and leave it to reduce and thicken for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large saucepan of salted water at a rolling boil. Cook until the pasta is just al dente. My pasta takes just under ten minutes, so I set it going ten minutes into the sauce reduction time.

Just before the pasta is ready, check and adjust the seasoning of the sauce then put the raw prawns into the hot sauce to cook, and flake the salmon into large pieces then add that to the pan together with the drained pasta.

Toss well so everything is coated in everything else, scatter some more basil leaves over the top and serve immediately. This is best accompanied by a bowl of rocket dressed with a little lemon juice.

Pasta in Parchment with tuna, tomatoes and potatoes

Quite often, the deciding factor in my cooking a recipe I haven’t tried before is that it is in some way unusual, therefore offering a chance for me to learn something new. I spotted this recipe in Ursula Ferrigno’s ‘Truly, Madly, Pasta’ and the idea of cooking pasta in a paper bag was too intriguing to ignore.

You can’t really go wrong with Italian food, it is largely based on simplicity, using fresh ingredients and flavourful aromatic combinations. Pack all that into a paper bag, so all the flavours and aromas are locked in… well, how could it go wrong? Even if I did manage to somehow get it wrong, I would have a salvageable basis for another meal at the end of it.

My only real concern was the pasta. It is part-cooked before going into the paper, and once in the paper there is no way to test if it is done until you serve it, so I was totally reliant on the recipe-writer getting her timings right.

I needn’t have worried, the pasta was cooked perfectly, the only amendment I made to the original recipe was putting the tuna steaks in raw (Ursula Ferrigno pre-cooks those as well). As it stands now, this is a delicious, versatile, quick and easy midweek pasta recipe that also has the ‘wow!’ factor when you bring it to the table.

You can leave the potatoes out if you wish, they are primarily there to add textural interest, but with them left in this is a hearty dish indeed.

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RECIPE serves 4 

250g tuna steak, chopped into 2cm cubes

150ml dry vermouth

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

grated zest of one lemon

2 sprigs of rosemary, broken into pieces

8 new potatoes, peeled (or scrubbed) and cut into small dice

12 ripe plum tomatoes, deseeded and roughly chopped

handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped, plus more to serve

350g spaghetti

2 tbsp olive oil


METHOD

Place the tuna in a bowl with the vermouth, garlic, lemon zest, rosemary and some seasoning. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ Gas 6.

Towards the end of the marinating time, cook the diced potatoes in boiling salted water for approximately six minutes, until tender, and drain. Combine with the tomatoes and parsley.

At the same time, half-cook the spaghetti. Use just over half the time suggested on the packet, the brand I use is al dente in ten minutes, so I cooked it for six. Drain and set aside.

Also at the same as you cook the pasta, in a large frying pan, heat the oil until hot, remove the tuna from the marinade and set aside, and fry the marinade and its aromatic ingredients for a couple of minutes to burn off the alcohol and reduce slightly. Combine this sauce with the spaghetti, the raw marinated tuna, tomatoes and potato. Toss well.

Prepare four parcels with parchment paper, add one-quarter of the mixture to each and fold up loosely like an envelope. Fold in the edges and then fold over the top carefully to seal completely.

Place in the pre-heated oven for seven minutes. Serve at once, tearing open the bags at the table (while inhaling deeply!) and sprinkling with more chopped parsley.

Catalan Tuna and Potato Stew

This is a fabulously earthy stew that is so much more than the sum of its parts. I always find the best recipes invoke some kind of alchemy between a handful of carefully selected ingredients, and this one is pure magic.

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RECIPE serves 4

4 tbsp olive oil

2 red onions, peeled, halved and sliced

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

1 heaped tsp ground cumin

1 heaped tsp ground coriander

100ml dry white vermouth

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

400ml fish stock

700g new or baby potatoes, skin on, scrubbed and sliced into 5mm rounds

700g tuna fillet

1 200g jar of stuffed green olives (stuffing of your choice), rinsed


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large casserole over a medium heat, add the onions with a pinch of salt and sweat them under a lid for around ten minutes, adding the garlic and chilli flakes when you judge that there are around 4 minutes left until the onions are sufficiently softened.

Add the dried spices and stir thoroughly, ensuring that they don’t catch on the bottom of the pan and the other ingredients are carrying the spices. Add the vermouth and let it bubble off for a minute or so, then add the tinned tomatoes and the fish stock, season lightly and add the potatoes.

Bring to a simmer, cover and cook over a gentle heat for twenty minutes or so until the potatoes are just soft but retain their integrity.

If you are preparing this dish in advance, this is the perfect place to pause.

If not already portioned, cut the tuna into 6 steaks, around 2.5cm thick. Brush with a little olive oil and season lightly on both sides.

Heat a frying pan over a high heat and sear the tuna for around 30 seconds on each side, just to colour the surface. Pop the seared tuna into the simmering broth and gently cover each steak with the potatoes and broth so they are submerged. Simmer for a few minutes until the tuna is just cooked through, then add the olives, stir, check the seasoning and serve in warmed bowls.