Beautiful fresh shrimps simply heated through in olive oil and garlic until they turn pink.
They need nothing more. The celebration is the prawn. Twist the head. Suck out the contents (the best bit) then peel the shell.
For these the shell was so thin it was edible right to the tail.
Keep all the left overs – heads tails, garlic, oil – put in a pan with water, some chopped leek tops and some celery. Maybe a slice of onion. You will be rewarded with a lovely seafood stock. All you need do is strain it. Can be used for a seafood rice or get adventurous – coconut milk and red curry paste for a delicious oriental seafood soup.
As soon as something novel and exotic appears on a TV cookery show or in a glossy food magazine its on a supermarket shelf and being used in everything from fusion tacos to dessert.
A flavour that has eluded me since I first tasted it is Chadon Beni.
Let me give you the background.
Port of Spain. Trinidad. 2014. It was the week after the queen had visited and I was staying in the same hotel. Overlooking the savannah and the botanical gardens the hotel had just opened. It is now the Brix but it may have been under a different name back then.
Serendipity played her role. In that idle time between hotel check out and travel to the airport I decided to grab a bite to eat, more out of boredom than hunger.
The menu featured chick pea soup with Chadon Beni. It caught my eye. I’d enjoyed delicious food in the preceding days. Trinidad has an amazing and unique cuisine. It’s a cuisine of history and rich with the cultural heritage of the island. The Indian, South American and African flavours come together in doubles, roti, and chokas. These are street foods that zing with Indian flavours but present themselves as a reinvention. Reminders of their origins but definitely individual and definitely Trinidadian. [for any foodie adventurers Trinidad is a treasure trove – go get some Bake n Shark at Maracas Bay].
Back to the chickpea soup. It was a pretty simple affair. Nothing fancy. Chickpeas cooked to the point of fragmentation, a bit of sweetness and starch from some sweet potato and a touch of earthy cumin. But the shine out was from a new flavour. It stunned me. It was outside the glossary of flavours my tastebuds had stored up.
Green and herbaceous, but with a perfume that was low and deep. It definitely wasn’t coriander but it did have that pungency. I enquired about it. “What is this flavour?”
Chadon Beni was the obvious but unhelpful response.
It’s a Trini herb I was informed.
“Does it have another name?”
The waitress shrugged her shoulders and took away the now empty bowl.
In the taxi to the airport I wrote down the name whilst the flavour was still whizzing around my brain.
Back home I decided to recreate this soup. I had all the ingredients except Chadon Beni. I searched around my usual haunts. Indian stores and African green grocers. Nothing no one new what I was talking about. Even in Caribbean stores I was told it wasn’t available in the UK.
I searched my books to no avail.
The internet informed me that Chadon Beni, or Culantro is a herb used in the Caribbean, particularly Trinidad and Tobago. I chase culantro as a lead but usually ended up with Cilantro. I started to get suspicious that even my spellchecker was keeping it a secret from me.
I ordered seeds which never grew and eventually got to the point of realising that my only hope of tasting it again was back in Trinidad.
Having given up all hope I was in the Chinese supermarket and in the corner of my eye i caught a glimpse of some long green leaves with a serrated, sawtooth edge.
Labelled simply “stinking” on the label my heart raced with excitement. It looked like pictures I had seen. I recognised it and my extremely poor latin remembered the proper name Eryngium foetidum, hinted at bad smelling. Maybe thats where the name stinking comes from?
I grabbed two packs and whizzed home.
What I had bought was Thai parsley, also known as Stinking. Further searches took me to Long coriander, sawtooth coriander, ngo gai, bhandhania, Mexican coriander, Culantro and …Chadon Beni!
The flavour is not dissimilar to coriander but it is different. It is stated that Culantro is 7-10 time more pungent that coriander/cilantro. I don’t know how you measure that but for me the flavour is unique.
I don’t think pungent is the correct word as a lot of the flavour is subtle. It is almost a background flavour. The bassline of a tune rather than the solo. With chickpeas and other spices it seems to be a flavour enhancer, making the other flavours pronounced.
A good example Of this is the simple Trinidad green seasoning. Garlic, thyme, parsley, green onion, scotch bonnet chilli, salt and lime juice. A supercharged salsa verde that when added to a chickpea curry makes it sing.
I had to attempt to recreate the chick pea soup I had originally tasted.
Trying to keep things simple I added a few handfuls of soaked chickpeas with a chopped sweet potato to a chopped onion, garlic and ginger gently sautéed in the InstantPot. Covered in water and gave it 30 minutes.
Stirred in a tablespoon of coconut cream, a spoon of red curry paste and a teaspoon of dry pan warmed cumin.
Served it hot with a big dollop of green seasoning.
It was there. The synapses fired again with a taste memory as fresh as the soup I tasted that day. I hope that its a regular feature now in the Chinese supermarket. If not I at least I now know what I am looking even if it remains an elusive but magical herb.
The world has lots of fish cake recipes so why post another?
I’ve had good fishcakes and terrible ones (ditto with crab cakes). So for me what makes a bad fish cake.
1. Too solid and stodgy. I think a fish cake should be a delicate texture that allows the flakes of fish or lumps of crabmeat to shine through
2. Indistinguishable fish. It should be flakes and chunks of fish not a uniform paste. A solid blob of uniformity is a dumpling not a fish cake.
3. Too flavoured. The flavour of the fish/crab should be prominent.
4. Greasy. The purpose of frying is to seal and give a crunchy exterior. The inner workings should not be dripping with fat.
There are multiple ways to achieve this ideal but the following is a good guide. It is s great recipe for a lunch after grilling whole bone-in fish and works well with the meaty pickings left behind. The meat behind the head and the cheeks and the bits around the bones are especially good. just make sure there are no bones in there.
A bowl of left over cooked fish. Flaked grilled trout and white fish are ideal. I used tilapia and rainbow trout. Different sized flakes are good.
Cooked and crushed potato. Again ideal is some leftover boiled new potatoes which can be crushed not mashed. The crushing leaves some texture which adds to the lightness. As a guide about a quarter to a third volume potato to fish.
Eggs. Mix in 2-3 eggs as a binder. For each 2 cups of fish flakes use 1 egg.
Breadcrumbs. Panko breadcrumbs. Stir in a dessert spoon full for each 2 cups of fish flakes. A
Spices. Up to you. A teaspoon of mustard is good. curry powder is excellent although don’t overdo it. Chillies, chilli sauce, horseradish, tartare sauce…
Mix well with a fork and allow to stand for a half hour in the fridge to absorb and firm up.
Put extra panko on a plate and make a patty out of the mix. Don’t squeeze too hard, just enough to hold together. Coat in Panko and shallow fry in a light oil until golden on each side.
Serve as you wish but Sriracha, tartare sauce and chopped lettuce or watercress are my favourites.
(Do more than you think you will need. You will want more!)
What better name for a BBQ classic? I guess ATBs are up there in contention but lets stick to the legend that is the fatty.
What is a fatty? It’s really a bacon wrapped meatloaf extraordinaire. A bacon lattice encasing a layer of ground meat and wrapped around a filling of special things and more meat.
The potential is vast. Think about the cheese burger. The philliy cheese steak. Chicken fajitas. Christmas turkey…
I’ve gone for the Jalapeno cheese burger inspiration here.
1st the lattice. Take a pack of bacon lay down one rasher on a piece of foil or wrap. Then keep weaving them in and out until you have a lattice as below.
Using a ground beef mix (this was only 12% fat so I added some sausage meat) with your flavouring of choice. I had a jalapeno burger mix which I added. This is speread thinly over the bacon. On top of this a layer of fried onions and green bell pepper (with a bit of left over bacon). On top of this a handful of mozzarella. Another layer of meat and cheese with pickled jalapenos in the middle.
Then its time to roll it up. Just like rolling a burrito; roll it, tip it over and sqeeze it in towards the middle. The ends of the bacon are pushed in and you should have a tight roll with the bacon lattice looking good.
Take a length of butchers string and tie things in place to prevent unravelling whilst cooking. If you can loop it around the ends.
Put onto a baking tray and into the smoker (or oven) for 2-3 hours at 225-250F. Its difficult to get this wrong. If you feel extravagent baste and mop with a glaze of sweet chilli and garlic or a mop of your choice for the last half hour.
Serve sliced across the layers juicy and oozing out.
You can serve on a bun just like a burger but careful – that would be fattening!
French onion soup with its dark brown caramelised depths hidden beneath a melted cheese crouton is one of the worlds great dishes. Super simple ingredients but manipulated with technique to rise up as a culinary standard.
The onion is such an understated vegetable. It hides most of its life semi-buried behind a thick skin. It’s the introvert of the alliums.
As an ingredient it’s the backbone of so many dishes. Leave the onion out and there will be something missing. It’s the undercoat, the bass line. Defining the flavour of an onion is difficult. It’s well … oniony.
When raw it’s very oniony. Many don’t care much for the naked truth of the onion. Pungent, acrid and tear inducing. Hanging around on the breath and the fingers of the handler. Fried the smell spreads rapidly – the smell of fairgrounds and football matches.
Even when drowned and boiled to a soft mush the smell of canteens and school dinners leeches out. Treated gently and slowly caramelised is the necessity for onion soup. Slowly coaxing the sugars and flavours into a dark broth of sweet savoury richness. Classic recipes for french onion soup are readily available and as always I check out Felicity Cloake Perfect column. These great chefs and their customised versions use the standard approach but whilst I was smoking a chicken recently I had a flash of inspiration.
I love smoked onions. Often whilst doing any smoked meat I will loosely wrap an onion in foil and sneak it into a spare space on the grill. Low and slow the sugars caramelised and the smoke permeates. In itself it’s a thing of beauty to eat alone. It can be saved and chopped into rice or beans, acting like a bouquet garni of umami and gentle smoke. Puréed and mixed into sour cream or hummus.
I had never thought of using this as the base for a french onion soup though? So mission accepted next smoking session goal; Perfecting the smoked onion soup.
A mesquite smoked chicken done at around 275 degrees for 2-3 hours was the perfect setting. I had some sage and onion stuffing so did a stuffed onion at the same time but in the back of the smoker I put a chopped onion in some oil in. As all cast iron pan. Stirred a few times and so had beautiful smoked onion.
Let it cool. Next day in a casserole added the onion to some water and stock. I use concentrated frozen chicken stock but any good stock will do. Avoid stock cubes for this one. There are so few ingredients that the stock is a main player.
Got the whole thing to a simmer and let it bubble away and reduce a little. Threw in. A few thyme leaves and some pepper. A pinch of sugar and a splash of balsamic also assist with bringing the rich sweet savoury flavours out.
Serving is simple and classic. Ladle into an overproof bowl. Put a nice toasted crouton in the middle and cover with grated cheese, ideally gruyere.
Dangerous topic. Dangerous subject. Wild mushrooms are one of those russian roulette ingredients. Most of us would not be confident to go out and forage for them. The fear of organ failure, hallucinations and many other horrors generally keeps us safely away from going down this route. We have to trust in others and be grateful that our foraging is limited to uncovering a plastic box at the store.
Often these “wild” mushrooms are cultivated and there are instructions on how to do this on the internet .
Wherever you aquire them from there are so many ways thay can be used although they can get lost in some dishes. Probably my favorite wild mushroom (apart from the truffle) is the morel. Poulet de Bresse with a cream and morel sauce may be a death row meal!
Fresh Morels are not easy to come by but many supermarkets have a mixed selection of mushrooms. These ususally have a mix of japenese named ‘shrooms such as Shiitake, Eryngi (king oyster), Maitake, Shiro Shimeji, Enoki, and Buna Shimeji.
To bring out the best of these in both texture and taste my favourite way is simply saute with garlic and parlsey and serve on toast. A topping of blue cheese such as dolcelatte really brings this up to a wonderful lunch.