Fish cakes & Crab cakes

Best fishcakes 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…

Fish cakes & Crab cakes

Fish cakes & Crab cakes

Best fishcakes

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.

Recipe:

Ingredients

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!)

Best fishcakes …and sriracha
Best fishcakes (from leftovers)

Smoked Fatty

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.

Bacon cheese jalapeno fatty
Smoked fatty glazed with sweet chilli and garlic

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.

Bacon jalapeno cheese fatty with a sweet chilli garlic glaze

Serve sliced across the layers juicy and oozing out.

Smoked bacon jalapeno cheese fatty

You can serve on a bun just like a burger but careful – that would be fattening!

Bacon jalapeno cheese burger fatty with grilled baby gem lettuce and parmesan

Corn tortillas

I know I am breaking the rules here. It’s all about masa harina and nixtalization but getting hold of masa and ordering online results in an expensive product that is mainly paying for postage.

The question is can you make decent tortillas without masa? Of course you can stick with lovely soft wheat tortillas but I feel somewhat deprived if I can’t make something.

Thee are multiple recipes for corn tortillas assuming we all have a Mexican supermercado on the doorstep. Of course most of us don’t. What we do have readily available is corn meal. Not the white corn flour for thickening sauces but corn that’s been ground either coarse or fine. Either as polenta, corn meal or maize meal. This is usually found in the international section of supermarket shelves or in Asian or African stores.

Using it alone will not make good tortillas though. It’s dry and won’t stick together. To make it workable it needs some wheat flour and some fat/oil.

Take a 1/2 cup of cornmeal and 1/2 cup of white bread flour. Add a 1/4 tsp of salt and Mix together. Stir in 1 desert spoon of oil (or lard) and 1/2 cup of boiling water. And mix together until a solid ball stuck together. Allow to rest.

Corn Tortilla dough – when you can’t get Masa you can make a decent corn tortilla
texture of corn tortilla dough – it should hold together but not wet or sticky

A tortilla press is ideal but a rolling pin will do. Don’t go super thin – if you want really thin a wheat tortilla will be better.

Cook on a dry pan, cast iron ideally and wrap in a tea towel or tortilla warmer.

They don’t keep well although can be fried as tostadas the next day.

Corn Taco – cornmeal rather than masa harina can be used to make a corn tortilla
Pork belly “al pastor” with pinapple
Corn tortilla tacos (al pastor with pinapple salsa)

Smoked onion soup

Smoked onion soup

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.

Smoke some onions on the spare area of your grill. You won’t regret it

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.

Smoked onion soup – don’t scrimp on the cheese

Under the grill for 5-10. Ins and then serve.

Smoked onion soup with a crouton and cheese

Wild Mushrooms

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.

Pasta al a norma

Penne al a Norma

Who was Norma? I guess it is a reference to the Bellini opera but who cares. This is one of the best vegetarian pasta dishes in my opinion. Its easy to do well but also easy to do badly. As with all pasta sauces (and most good food) using minimal ingredients is better than lots.

This simply needs a finely chopped onion, crushed garlic, chopped tomatoes and an aubergine.

The aubergine is the dish and this is where the magic is. I like small dice, no more than a cm cube and slow cook in olive oil (not EVOO) until they are soft and starting to brown. Add the finely chopped onion and garlic. Cook until golden and add the tomatoes. Reduce down a little. Season.

As to pasta shapes with this I like Penne but spaghetti is often used. Make sure to add some pasta water to the sauce – it makes it thicken and adds body.

Add the pasta to the sauce and stir in and coat thoroughly. A grate of parmesan, a splash of EVOO and salt and pepper. (a sprinkle of dried pepper flakes is good but very non-traditional!)

Chorizo and white beans

This is super easy and tastes so good. Could be served as part of a Tapas supper or as a hearty winter dish.

Method:

Soften a finely chopped onion in olive oil until golden. Add crushed garlic and diced chorizo. The oil will turn a beautiful golden colour. Next add a tin of chopped tiomatoes and allow to boil and bubble and concentrate. A small pinch of sugar at this stage really lifts it.

Tip in a can of drained cannelini beans. Simmer a while and pour a glass of rustic red wine.

Serve with a coarse grind of black pepper and maybe a drizzle of good EVOO.

Chorizo and white bean stew

Squash and Carrot Tagine

Really simple vegetable dish but fantastic tasting. This is done in the InstantPot but could do in a slow cooker or stove top.

Roughly chop a butternut squash (or similar) into 1-2cm cubes. Same with an onion. Peel a carrot or two and chop in half longways then into 3 or 4 longways.

Put into pot and sauté briefly. Chop a few tablespoons of ginger and toss in.

Add a tablespoon (or 2) of honey and a table spoon of ras el Hanout. A broken cinammon stick and a half cup of water or stock.

Thats it. close the lid and cook as meat/stew 35mins.

Serve with cous cous

Squash and Carrot Tagine with ginger and honey

Chine of Beef

As meats go the flesh of the cow has always been held in high esteem. Grand titles have been bestowed on certain cuts. The Sirloin for example. The legend has it that it was knighted by Henry VIII although the etymology is more likely to be from the old French sur la longe, meaning above the loin.

The Baron of beef is probably a bit grander.The Penguin Companion to Food (2002),defines the Baron as “both sides of the rump together, with the back part of the sirloin attached”. in context that is a big bit of meat. Typically 100 to 200lb in weight it was popular in victorian times to feed large gatherings with reports of such events as the coronation of George IV feeding 700 children in Kingston and Queen Victoria rewarding veterans of the Boer war with a Roasted Baron.

Why a Baron? again from the french derivation for the lower round part or bas-rond.

Cuts of beef are confusing. From country to country different names for the same cuts exist. even if you work these out there can be regional differences within the same country.

A chine of beef generally refers to the backbone but may also refer to a bone in forerib. Samuel Pepys has multiple entries of dining on a chine of beef and his description sounds to be the latter.

On 30th December 1661 he states “I staid at the Mitre, whither I had invited all my old acquaintance of the Exchequer to a good chine of beef, which with three barrels of oysters and three pullets, and plenty of wine and mirth, was our dinner, and there was about twelve of us”. Multiple other references support his liking of such a cut.

A chine of beef

How to cook such a cut? Well pepys doesnt give us much idea but talking to butchers this is not a Rib of beef which can be served rare. This needs a long slow cook. Its a hard roking piece of muscle from tyhe from end with a thick fat but little marbling.

It needs a low oven at 140 (or 120 if fan oven). Quick sear to get a bit of maillard reaction. As its low and slow a rub or some mustard will create a great crust.  A decent sized joint will nedd 3-4 hours covered in foil then another hour or so to get a good bark-like crust.