Thursday, April 1, 2010
Spring has unsprung
Its the time of year when all the fashion magazines talk about transitional wardrobes ..........those clothes that one should be wearing between seasons.......clothes that will see you through the day........ whether a ‘summery’ spring day or a ‘wintery’ spring day. As far as I can gather the mainstay of advice seems to be buy a very expensive burberry trench coat! For the moment with my bank balance, I think I will just have to continue being unstylish ;-)
The weather here in Ireland this week has being transitional to the extreme - t- shirt weather on sunday , snow boot weather by wednesday ?!? So just as the fashion editors think we need transitional wardrobes, much more importantly, I think we need transitional cuisine. Food that takes us from the rib tickling, comfort stews and soups of winter to the lighter summer dishes of BBQs, salads and ice-creams. Those in-between days where you need something to warm you up but which also require a nod to the coming summer and a certain lightness of touch.
My friend Rosie dropped by for dinner yesterday with some delicious sea bass so we had an impromptu cooking lesson. She was ravenous as she had being outside all day in the brass -monkey- weather, cleaning her boat. I had made some spicy tomato, carrot, sweet potato and coconut soup earlier - it was a bit of a dustbin soup as I had some carrots and sweet potatoes to use up. I added some spices and coconut milk, red lentils, tin of tomatoes and some veggie stock and it turned out quite well. I made a crunch topping to sprinkle on top. Simply by crushing up some pistachio nuts, fresh coriander and some desiccated coconut and a couple of tablespoons of water and voila a slightly fancier soup to serve to the guest.
I had some lovely pink rhubarb which I simply chopped and roasted in the oven with some thinly sliced stem ginger, some of the lovely gingery syrup from the jar , the zest and juice of an orange and about a dessertspoon of brown sugar. I love rhubarb compote but roasting is a nice alternative and allows to rhubarb to keep its shape. I made a very basic custard (follow your favourite recipe) , I just added a few saffron strands and a crushed cardamom pod for a touch of the exotic and a hint of summer.
So then for the fish. I am a big fan of doing as little as possible to fish. One of my favourite (and also super healthy) ways of cooking fish is en papillote ( just fish cooked in the oven in a bag made of greaseproof paper) The tightly sealed bag creates a little steam room for the fish to cook - what a nice way to finish out your days - I like to think. You just add a few flavours in with the fish, cook it up and bring your fish parcel directly to the table. Absolutely none of the juices are lost and and you have a complete meal there in the bag. You can vary the flavours according to your mood.
This recipe is loosely adapted from a lovely book by Sally Schneider, an american food writer who I am quite a fan of. Ideally get a 800g fish to share but Irish fishmongers don’t always stock them at this size. The alternative is to get 2 smaller whole fish and you can each have your own individual fish parcel. Go with whatever you prefer. If you are going with the 2 fish just half the following ingredients between the two fish parcels. Fish cooked on the bone has much more flavour, I find. But I do use this method for fillets just as successfully.
Lightly curried ‘steam room’ fish with all the fennels, white wine and leeks
1 fennel bulb - very thinly sliced, keep the fennel fronds ( feathery green leaves) and chop coarsely
1 small leek - white part very thinly sliced
1/2 tsp of fennel seeds
1/2 tsp of a good quality curry powder
2 tsps of butter softened
2 tablespoons of white wine
salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 210C/400F/ Gas 6
2. Rinse the fish and pat dry, season the inside and outside of the fish with salt and pepper and then stuff the fish cavity with the fennel fronds. (If you are using 1 large fish - use a sharp knife to cut 2-3 diagonal cuts either side of the fish)
3. Chop the fennel seeds and mix with the curry powder and butter
4. Cut a square(s) of greaseproof paper large enough to make a parcel to enclose the/each fish. Approx. 40 cm by 40 cm - you may need larger squares for larger fish.
5. Rub a little olive oil on one half of the paper, then place half the fennel and half the leeks on the paper, dot with a little of the butter
6. Place the fish on this bed of leeks and fennel. Dot the fish with the remaining butter. Scatter more fennel and leeks on top of the fish.
7. Seal the fish in tightly almost all the way round by making little folded pleats starting at one corner. Continue nearly the whole way round, leaving just a small gap that you will close after adding the wine
8. Place the fish on a baking tray, pour the wine in the little gap and seal completely
9. Bake the 2 x 400g fish for about 18-20 mins, allow to rest for 2 minutes before serving. One large 800g fish will take 25 to 28 minutes and 4 minutes resting time.
I like to serve the fish in its bag at the table either individually or in the centre of the table depending on which size fish you have chosen. Use a scissors to cut open the fish , being careful of the escaping steam. But you can fillet it if you like and serve on plates. I find two spoons are the best tools for doing this.