Madras Fish Curry with Tomato and Tamarind

I’m an unabashed lover of curry, in all its forms from all over the world. For the vast majority of my life though I considered curried fish to be the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard of. Fish is delicious in its own right, why obscure those flavours with overpowering spice?

Maybe you’ve already figured out what I’m going to say next… yes, I was a fool. There are many ways to cook curry; some dishes improve immeasurably when allowed to stand for 24 hours or so before eating, others are best made fresh and quickly, and eaten immediately. This is one of the latter.

Use a well-flavoured fish: Rick Stein – from whose ‘India’ book this recipe hails – uses snapper, last night I used hake with great success, but I reckon that gurnard and monkfish would also be excellent with their flavours forming an important part of the overall tapestry. The tamarind water is used here to contribute intense bitterness, sourness and a peculiar sweetness – describing it is difficult but if you created a hybrid of grapefruit, apricots and dates you would call it tamarind. Tamarind pulp is widely available in compressed blocks either wet or dry, use either as it doesn’t really matter. You can use properly diluted tamarind concentrate from a bottle if you’re stuck, but nothing comes close to pulp for complexity of flavour.

Needless to say, since I realised my fish curry mistake I have been busy making and tasting as many different recipes as I can find. This is among the very best of them, it is quick, very easy, and put a smile on everyone’s face in my house.

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RECIPE serves 4

60ml vegetable oil

1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds

1 large onion, finely chopped

15g / 3 cloves garlic, finely crushed

30 fresh curry leaves

2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp turmeric

400g can of chopped tomatoes

tamarind liquid (see ingredients and method below)

2 green chillies, each sliced lengthways into 6 pieces, with seeds intact

1 tsp fine sea salt

700g fish fillets, cut into 5cm chunks

For the tamarind liquid:

60g tamarind pulp

120ml just-boiled water


METHOD

First, make the tamarind liquid. Take the tamarind pulp and put it in a bowl with the water. Leave to soak for 15 minutes, then work the paste with your fingers until it has broken down and the seeds have been released. Strain the slightly syrupy mixture through a fine sieve, rubbing it well against the sides of the sieve to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Discard the fibrous material and seeds left behind, set the liquid aside until ready to use.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. When hot, add the mustard seeds and fry for 30 seconds, then stir in the onion and fry gently for about 10 minutes until softened and lightly golden. Make a stiff paste from the chilli powder, coriander and turmeric by putting them in a small bowl with a little water and mixing thoroughly. Set aside until ready to use.

Add the garlic, curry leaves, chilli powder, coriander and turmeric and fry for around a minute, then stir in the tomatoes, tamarind liquid, green chillies and salt and simmer for about 10 minutes until rich and reduced. Add the fish, cook for a further 5 minutes or until just cooked through. Serve with plain basmati rice and roti.

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Sicilian Chips

When you have discovered that you like something a certain way, it can be a struggle to do it any other way. That’s certainly the case in my house; if we have chips then we have chips with fennel seeds. However, I spotted this recipe in Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi’s ‘Sicily’, and it looked too good not to make – so I didn’t tell anybody what I was making, presenting it as a fait accompli. It was a good move, this is absolutely delicious and I can see it being a regular request from now on.

Cut the chips small, about as thick as your little finger, don’t overdo the tomatoes (they release too much moisture in the oven, which hinders the chips from getting crunchy) and be generous with the black olives. Olives with the stones still in taste infinitely better that without, but don’t go the the effort of removing the stones – the cooked olive flesh is meltingly soft and comes off the stones easily so leave it to your dinner companions to do it themselves.

We had this with pan-fried sea bass fillets, but it would work well with any firm white fish (cod, hake, tilapia, even monkfish if you’re pushing the boat out) or salmon.

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RECIPE serves 4

750g floury potatoes (i.e. King Edwards, Roosters, Maris Piper), peeled and cut into chips

2 red onions, cut from root to tip and cut into wedges

2 tsp dried oregano

150g cherry tomatoes, cut in half around the equator

a generous handful (or two) of black olives

a generous glug of olive oil

sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ Gas 6.

Put the chips into a large pan of cold, lightly salted water and bring to the boil. When just boiling, reduce to a steady simmer and cook for two minutes. Drain in a colander, and allow most of the surface moisture to steam off.

Meanwhile, line a couple of large baking trays with parchment paper, toss all the ingredients together in a large bowl and divide between the two baking trays. Do not crowd the trays, allow plenty of room between the different elements so they can roast properly.

Cook for 35-45 minutes until you can’t resist the smell anymore, the chips are golden brown and the onions are just starting to catch and caramelise. Transfer to a warm serving dish and serve immediately alongside your choice of fish and a big pile of rocket leaves.

Ribollita

This soup has no right to be as good as it is, given that the ingredients are basically cabbage, beans and potato. That it is so good is down to the first cooking stage, the soffritto, which creates the heady flavour-base from which this traditional Italian peasant food sings.

It is a perfect winter soup: delicious, aromatic and filling. Served alongside toasted crusty bread it is a meal in itself, and it’s even better if made a day ahead. Though it may seem strange to use three different kinds of cabbage, the contrast between them is startling: the white cabbage is sweet, whereas the kale and cavolo nero are slightly bitter.

Served in a traditional Tuscan way, the soup is finished in the oven layered with bread. To serve it this way, slice some crusty farmhouse or sourdough bread as thick as your index finger, toast it lightly and rub each slice with a cut garlic clove. Using a casserole or similar ovenproof serving dish, ladle a layer of soup in the bottom of it, top with a few slices of bread followed by another layer of soup. Continue until both the soup and the bread is used up and cook in a 180C/ gas 4 oven for 20-30 minutes until the soup is piping hot and the bread has soaked up all the juices.

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RECIPE serves 6-8

For the soffritto:

6 tbsp olive oil

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 large celery stalk, finely chopped

4 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 tsp fine sea salt

a good grinding of black pepper

a large handful of flat-leaf parsley, leaves and stalks, finely chopped

the leaves from a sprig of rosemary, finely chopped

For the soup:

250g potatoes, any kind, chopped into 2cm dice

250g white cabbage, shredded

400g cavalo nero leaves (stalks removed)

100g curly kale (tough stalks removed)

2 tins of cannellini beans

1 litre chicken or vegetable stock, plus the water from the cannellini bean tins

To serve:

crusty farmhouse or sourdough bread, toasted and rubbed with garlic

6-8 spring onions, roughly chopped (optional)

a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil


METHOD

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, cook all the soffritto ingredients (except the garlic) over a medium heat for around 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until softened and aromatic, add the garlic for the final 2 or 3 minutes of cooking. Don’t be tempted to skimp on the oil, it seems a lot but it is crucial to the final flavour and texture, and only works out at a tablespoon per serving.

Add the potatoes and shredded white cabbage and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently, until the cabbage starts to wilt. Add the cavolo nero and kale to the dish and stir through.

Add the stock and water from the cannellini bean tins, bring to the boil then turn down to a steady simmer and cook for around 30 minutes until the vegetables are cooked through and the potato is just tender. Take one tin of the beans and set aside, the other tin should be mashed with a little of the cooking stock to form a thick paste.

When the soup is cooked, add the bean paste and the whole beans and cook for a further ten minutes to heat the beans through and thicken the soup. Correct the seasoning and either serve straight away alongside the bread, put it in the oven Tuscan-style (as above), or leave it to cool ready to eat the following day.

The chopped spring onions are a traditional Tuscan garnish, scattered over the top when serving, but you can omit them if you wish. Don’t omit the final swirl of extra-virgin olive oil over the top though, it adds a lush silkiness to the finished dish.

Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes, Chilli and Black Garlic

This used to be a lovely recipe, now it is incredible. The small difference, with a huge effect, between how I used to make it and how I make it now is down to just one ingredient: black garlic.

Black garlic is made by taking regular fresh garlic bulbs and heating them under controlled conditions for several weeks. This results in the breaking down of the enzymes which give garlic its characteristic flavour, mellowing and richening the flavour (and the colour) and imparting sweet and sour notes, resulting in something that tastes somewhere between the best aged balsamic and tamarind. It has a reputation in Asia of being a superfood, and the cloves can be eaten as a snack. They’re actually lovely eaten that way.

Here though, the substitution of regular garlic for black garlic results in a hugely complex flavour, full of umami and requiring real self-control if you’re going to avoid eating every last morsel of this dish.

The other trick to dish is to not skimp on the olive oil. It is central to making the sauce so unctuous as it combines with the tomato juices. It’s not one for dieters then, but as an occasional indulgence it’s a real treat.

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RECIPE serves 4 

1kg cherry tomatoes, halved around the equator (not pole-to-pole)

7 tbsp olive oil

5 black garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

350g shell pasta

the zest of a lemon

the juice of half a lemon

a handful of basil leaves

25g Parmesan, finely grated


METHOD

Heat your oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4.

Put the tomatoes, cut side up, in a roasting tray in which they will all fit in a single layer. Add the black garlic, dried chilli flakes and fresh chilli, and season generously with the salt and pepper. Drizzle with the oil and toss everything together. Arrange the tomatoes, ensuring the chilli and black garlic is sitting in the oil to protect it from burning.

Roast the tomatoes for 20-25 minutes until they are just starting to collapse and caramelise.

Meanwhile, cook the shell pasta in rapidly-boiling water per the packet instructions, until al dente. Shell pasta is best because it provides pockets to catch the sauce, but this dish also works well with thick strips of pasta (pappardelle). Time the pasta to be ready at the end of the tomato cooking time.

Drain the pasta, but don’t shake the colander too vigorously, leave a little of the water because it helps to thicken up and richen the sauce.

Add the lemon zest and juice to the tomatoes, together with the basil leaves. Stir so it is evenly distributed, then tip the pasta into the tomatoes and using two spoons (or tongs if using pappardelle) toss the pasta through the tomatoes. Finish with a fine grating of Parmesan and a good grind of black pepper. Serve alongside a salad of rocket and lettuce, simply dressed with the juice of the other half a lemon.

To make it suitable for a vegan, omit the Parmesan, or use a Vegan substitute.

Prawn and Spring Onion Stir-Fry

Every time I make a stir-fry I wonder why I don’t make them more often. They’re quick and easy to make, bursting with flavour and endlessly adaptable to whatever vegetables are in season.

prawnspring

RECIPE serves 4 

For the sauce:

2 tsp cornflour

4 tbsp rice wine

4 tbsp oyster sauce

2 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

For the stir-fry:

1 tbsp groundnut oil

2 fat garlic cloves, finely sliced

2 red chillies, finely sliced

A fat thumb of ginger, cut into matchsticks

400g raw, tail-off king prawns

your choice of small vegetables (baby sweetcorn, mangetout, tenderstem broccoli, fine green beans etc) chopped into bite-sized pieces

5 spring onions, chopped into 4cm pieces


METHOD

Prepare all the ingredients before you begin to cook. Things happen quickly when you stir-fry so you need to be organised.

Combine all the sauce ingredients and set aside for now.

Put the oil in a cold wok with the garlic, chillies and ginger and heat it up over a high heat – this will flavour the oil and protect the garlic from burning while it releases its flavour. When the garlic is golden, add the prawns and cook for a minute until they just start to turn pink, keeping things moving all the time. Remove from the heat and transfer everything out of the wok and onto a plate.

Without wiping out the wok, add another splash of oil and get it back over a high heat. When it is almost smoking, add your vegetables and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes, keeping it all moving, until they are hot and just cooked.

Add the prawns, garlic, ginger and chilli back into the wok, with the spring onion and the sauce. Keeping everything moving, cook on for a minute before serving immediately with steamed rice or your choice of noodles.

If I am serving it with noodles, I generally cook them separately until they’re just about done, then get them into the wok for a minute – after I have cooked the veg, but before I add the prawns, garlic, ginger and chilli back in.

Sweet Potato and Broccoli Soup

We nearly always have soup available in our house; you never know when somebody might drop in, or when hunger pangs will bite. There are times though when I get caught out and I have to whip up something delicious in a hurry.

I was introduced to this unpromising-sounding but actually quite delicious soup by my sister-in-law. It’s one of Jamie Oliver’s, and the secret is no secret at all: use the freshest ingredients you can get your hands on. Oh, and harissa. Harissa is THE ingredient that lifts that soup from run-of-the-mill to exceptional. Make your own if you can, my recipe is here and it’s far better than anything you can buy in a supermarket.

sweet-potato-soup

RECIPE serves 6, extremely generously

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, roughly chopped

2 fat garlic cloves, crushed

500g sweet potato, chopped into 2cm cubes

750ml (approx) chicken or vegetable stock

200g broccoli, stalk chopped and florets detached

2 tsp harissa


METHOD

In a large pan, gently fry the onion in the oil for ten minutes until lightly golden.

Add the garlic and cook for a further minute, then add the sweet potato and broccoli stalk. Stir thoroughly then add the stock, sufficient to cover everything. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes until everything is almost tender, then add the broccoli florets and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Using a stick blender (or a jug blender, but be careful of the hot liquid) blitz the soup until smooth, adding a little more water or stock to loosen it if necessary. Season to taste.

Stir the harissa through the soup just before serving, alongside crusty sourdough.

Christmas Brandy Mincemeat

I know Christmas is still ten weeks away, but you owe it to yourself to feast on the best food possible when it does come. The traditional British seasonal delights – Christmas cake (for my recipe see here, it’s time to make it!), Christmas pudding and, of course, mince pies – all benefit from being made well in advance to allow the flavours to deepen, mellow and meld together.

We make the best mince pies in our house – everybody says so, it must be true! The reason is that we make our own, and we use the best recipes, like this one from Nigel Slater. It’s rich, deeply flavoured and extremely moreish – we have to ration them!

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RECIPE makes about 1.5 kg, enough for LOTS of small mince pies

200g shredded vegetable suet

200g dark muscovado sugar

200g sultanas

200g currants

200g prunes, chopped

200g dried apricots, chopped

750g cooking apples, small dice

50g skinned almonds, chopped

the zest and juice of a large lemon

1 heaped tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves (freshly ground from whole)

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

100ml cooking brandy


METHOD

First, sterilise your jars and lids: heat the oven to 140C/ gas 1 and wash your jars and lids in hot soapy water, rinse and let them dry out in the warmed oven. When you take them out to use them, keep your grubby fingers away from the insides of the lids and jars or you will undo your good work.

In a large pan, add the suet, muscovado, sultanas, currants, prunes, apricots and apples. Place over a medium heat and slowly bring to a boil – doing it slowly allows the fat and sugar to melt and the fruits to give up their juices.

Add the almonds, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Cook at a gentle simmer for 15 minutes. Then, leave to cool for about ten minutes before adding the brandy and lemon juice. Stir thoroughly before decanting into your still-hot sterilised jars. Fill the jars to within 5mm of the top, place a wax disc on top and put the lid on. Allow it to cool completely; the warm air in the jar will contract as it cools and provide you with a sterile vacuum which allows the contents to last without spoiling.

This will keep for years in a cool, dark cupboard, but why would you?

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.

Tomato and Anchovy Risotto

This recipe was devised by Luke Holder, co-head chef (with Angela Hartnett) at a 5 star hotel in Hampshire. You would therefore expect it to be stunning, and it is. He calls it an ‘umami tsunami’ thanks to the intensity of the tomato, ramped up by the anchovy drizzle with which it is finished. The quality of the anchovies is key, so buy the best you can find, and afford.

I present it here exactly the way he wrote the recipe. It needs no embellishment.

This is high-end cooking, which is well within the reach of the home cook. Try it, you’ll be impressed with yourself!

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RECIPE serves 4 

For the risotto:

1 very large onion, finely diced
250ml of chicken or light vegetable stock
250g of risotto rice (I use carnaroli)
190ml of white wine (or vermouth)
500ml of passata
125g of butter, cubed
100g of Parmesan, grated
olive oil

For the drizzle:

12 top quality anchovies, chopped
50ml of Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar
50ml of extra virgin olive oil
2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped


METHOD

To make the risotto, add a glug of oil to a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook gently until softened but not coloured. Meanwhile, heat the stock in a pan over a low heat.

Add the rice to the onions and stir. Toast until the rice is extremely hot, then deglaze with the wine. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes.

Marinate the chopped anchovy fillets in the vinegar, garlic, olive oil and chopped parsley. Set aside.

Return the risotto to the heat, add 2 ladles of stock and bring to a simmer while stirring continuously, until the stock has been absorbed. Keep cooking like this, adding one ladle of stock at a time, until it is all soaked up.

Pour in all of the passata and continue cooking, adding a little more water if necessary, until it has been absorbed and the rice is cooked through. Beat in the cubed butter and grated Parmesan and remove from the heat – it should be nice and glossy. Cover with a lid and allow to settle for around for a few minutes. You will notice that no salt has been added; with the Parmesan and anchovies none is required.

Serve the risotto and pour the marinated anchovies all over the top – this will have a large amount of oil over the top but it is key to the finishing off the dish, so do not skimp!