Friday, 30 October 2009

Mole Poblano

With Day of the Dead upon us, what better thing to write about than my first ever attempt at cooking a mole. Those of you who still have nightmares about us eating ortolan, hare and squirrel needn’t duck behind the sofa. No. I’m talking about the Mexican sauce that is richly flavoured with chocolate and an array of chillies.

I had a look on Wikipedia to try to get my head around what a mole is. Apparently, “Mole can be best defined as a very thick, homogeneous sauce with complex flavors. This distinguishes it from most Mexican salsas which are watery, often raw, and contain fewer ingredients (usually nothing more than tomato, onion, garlic and chili pepper) in still-identifiable chunks.”

Naively I thought that mole was a dish in its own right. But it isn’t. Rather it’s a sauce that you use to pour over chicken, or use to smother an enchilada in. There are numerous regional versions with the most famous being from Puebla and almost as many stories and myths about where the concoction first originated. My favourite features a particularly well timed gust of wind. But sadly, none involve little mammals that burrow underground

Here’s how to make Mole Poblano

You will need:

1 Clean and orderly kitchen
1 Fully functioning extractor fan
1 Free afternoon
A sense of adventure
2 extra pairs of hands
1 Handful of chipotle chillies
1 Handful of dried ancho chillies
1 Handful of habanero chillies
Some Vegetable Oil
A few onions
A bulb of garlic
A couple of tomatoes
A Handful of nuts
A Handful of dried fruit
Teaspoon of allspice powder
4 cloves
A couple of star anise
½ stick cinnamon
A scattering of sesame seeds
A couple of corn tortillas
A smattering of oregano
A bar of dark chocolate
3 tbsp Demerara sugar
2 litres chicken stock
Salt and pepper
Chicken thighs and wings

Pop the onion in the oven along with garlic and tomatoes and give it a good roasting until the skin has begun to char. Set this aside and concentrate on the other stuff.

Skin and bone the chicken thighs. Reserve the lovely meat. Then make a proper stock from the chicken wings, thigh bones and skin. After an hour or two strain the liquid. Once cooled pick through the solids and salvage the meat from the wings – as you’ll add this to the mole later.

Grab your dried chillies and simmer them until they are soft. This dish depends on the correct layering of chilli flavours so you’ve got to get your hands on the right ones. All three types are important but it’s the chipotle that will make or break it. I’ve managed to find dried ancho, habanero and chipotle chillies in Brixton’s Tesco. (But if you don’t have such a fantastically stocked supermarket have a look at South Devon Chilli Company’s website.)Then, once they have softened put them to one side and move on to the nuts.

Fry the nuts in oil or lard to release their flavours. You want them to caramelise slightly and become super nutty. Remove them and add in the prunes and raisins so the kitchen starts to smell of a melting Fruit and Nut bar. Then fry the tortillas.

Fry the sesame seeds and then do the same with the allspice, cloves, star anise and cinnamon. Then make this into a paste using a spice grinder. By this time your kitchen should look like the Helmand Province.

Now amalgamate the softened chillies, fried fruit and nuts into a bowl, add some liquid and blitz. Then combine everything together and fry in a large pan for 5 minutes over a strong flame.

Then tip all of this into your slow cooker and add the roasted tomatoes, onions and garlic, 2 litres of chicken stock, the chicken thighs and wing meat, a bar of dark chocolate a handful or oregano, a few spoons of Demerara sugar and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Mole slow cooker

Allow this to bubble away for 5 hours or so. The finished mole is best left to mature overnight and then reheated the next day.

Mole in a bowl

The mole went down a storm at Cowie’s birthday party. No-one had tried it before, let alone made it. So they had nothing to compare it to. The chicken was moist and tender. And the spicing was fantastic. Although it was rammed for of chilli, the flavours were all layered. The chipotle gave it a smoky side, the ancho gave it a fruity dimension and the habanero delivered heat. The chocolate gave it a rich, dark sheen and the nuts and tortilla added thickness.

If you’ve got a spare Sunday and are keen to make a mess of your kitchen, then making a mole couldn’t be more ideal. You can freeze it and use it in countless way. I’ve now got the mole bug and am keen to learn more about how to cook Mexican food and use chillies properly.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Fish-Washer Salmon

It’s almost as if God designed the dishwasher to cook salmon in. Our Bosch dish washer even comes with a “cooking” setting. Dishwashers are ideal for cooking in. They’ve got a “nice rack” (couldn’t resist) on the top to place food on and a fool proof way of setting a constant temperature. They are also so cavernous you could cook enough fish to feed the thousands.

So, given that dishwashers are almost perfectly designed for cooking in, why don’t we do it more often? Especially when it creates such a stir at a dinner party. So if you want to see what you’ve been missing out on read on…

Salmon in foil

We marinated our salmon in a mixture of soy, ginger, chilli, coriander and shallots before wrapping them in neat parcels of strong foil which have been brushed with oil. Just make sure they are watertight by turning them over a few times.

Soy mix

Salmon for the dishwasher

Set the dishwasher on its highest setting (around 60’c) and let it work its magic for a full cycle. There’s clearly no need for any dishwasher powder or power balls. When it beeps peek inside and remove your silvery parcels. They should feel firm when they once felt limp.

Salmon in the dishwasher

Tear open the wrapping paper and serve with noodles and stir fried vegetables.

Salmon post dishwasher

The flesh flaked perfectly and was remarkably well cooked. The salmon was very juicy and tasted delicious. The only downside was that the skin was soggy. But if you wanted, or had time, you could crisp it up in a pan. However, I wouldn’t suggest using skinless fillets as the skin helps to hold the salmon together.

It’s a foolproof way of injecting some fun into a dinner party and is incredibly easy. You might want to play around with the marinade and possibly cooking with a whole salmon or possibly a trout. I’m keen to try this with sumac next, and then come the summertime, with cucumber with a lovely hollandaise sauce on the side.

I’m convinced that it must be possible to cook pork belly in the washing machine. But I haven’t plucked up the courage to give it a go yet. If you’ve got any more lateral approaches to cooking with things that aren’t intended for culinary use, let me know and I’ll try it out.

(Thanks to Helen for the name. I was going to call it "Bish, Bash, Bosch Salmon", but Fish-Washer Salmon is a million times better.)

Friday, 23 October 2009

Champor Champor (Guest Post)


(Anna's on the left and that's Edwin on the right)

Anna, has been a key part of the Paunch ever since it first started. She's been with us through the good times such as our amazing camping trips to Devon and "cottaging" in the Peak District but also through the low times such as the horrific Essex Serpent and near fatal catastrophe of the exploding fondue. She's also been a keen participant in sushi parties and pancake competitions. O. And she makes a mean mousakka.

Many moons ago I promised my dear friend Browny that I would contribute to his eminently impressive paunch as a special birthday present. So here goes… actually before I proceed, a quick warning… I am more of a ‘moodie’ than a ‘foodie’, which means that although I enjoy great food, I enjoy great atmosphere more, which is the very reason I have chosen Champor Champor as my first foray.

“Champor- Champor” is a Malay expression which loosely means ‘mix and match’ (not a lot of people know that!) and that is a perfect way to summarise the bohemian riot that welcomes you here (and it is really does welcome you, especially on a cold winters night, after a bit of trek under the arches at London Bridge).I would not be writing home based on the exterior or local environment but once inside the décor is sumptuous, hippy without being sleazy or seedy and every possible surface is scattered with artefacts or candles. The walls are covered in somewhat erotic artwork - one particular highlight adorns the toilet but I won’t spoil the surprise!

I was eating with a gaggle of girls on a Hen-do, and as we strutted in, I saw the relief of the fellow dinners, as we were lead to the private dining room downstairs. It was brilliant and entirely perfect for the occasion but next time I’m looking forward to eating in the main restaurant.

As I alluded to at the start I’m no foodie but in summary, the menu was striking and creative…... fusing traditional Malay village cooking with other eastern influences (apparently!) and I would say the result was immaculate. I wasn’t expecting to review and so didn’t make specific notes or photos, but the for starters - the hen, who opted for the crisp fried mackerel fillet on a nest lemongrass, was waxing lyrical, although I was a little disappointed with festive roast beef with Borneo green pepper; tamarind and chilli dip, the meat was a tad too tough for my liking.

My main course made up for it though, lotus root and aubergine koorma, tofu and young mango rojak with red pepper rice, it was rich with incredible flavours and depth and was quiet frankly fascinating!

Pud wise, they were all very tempting I didn’t try it on the night but would definitely look to try the black rice pudding on return.

The waiters were polite and unassuming and brought interesting extras such as the bread ‘offering’- which included a reassuringly dense banana loaf and tofu-skin bread (wafer thin and sprinkled with cumin).

The menus are, in my opinion, very reasonably priced, excellent value for money and fixed at two or three courses but also include optional ‘inter courses’ (cue hen party singgers) which we opted out of but in fact I would have welcomed something that cleansed my pallet.

Champor Champor may miss a trick or too and for some the décor may be more brothel than bohemia and detract from the food, I don’t know, but for me, it was truly unique and very memorable…. p.s. If there’s two of you, try to bag the mezzanine table when booking.

Thank you so much for my birthday present Anna. I'm looking forward to seeing something special from Edwin in due course.

This was a special guest post by Anna "Moodie not a Foodie" Railton.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Danger - Japonica Jelly

A while ago, I publicly pondered whether you could make jelly from Japonicas. I had an inkling that the pretty little things would make the basis of a very fine jelly. And having loved my jelly making last year decided to up the ante. Cowie’s Dad was less sure, mainly because he was worried I was going to attack the Japonica bush and strip it of its glorious bounty.

Luckily, a chap called Andy Murdock who’s got a PhD from Berkeley in this field got involved and helped me out having been sent my way by An American in London. He explained,

“Here's the story as I know it: Flowering quinces (aka. japonicas) are in the same subtribe of the rose family as true quinces (the 'maloids' that also includes apples and pears as well as less tasty things like Pyracantha, Cotoneaster, and Rhaphiolepis), but they're rather distantly related in this large group and, if anything, closer to pears. That being said, it seems like nearly everything in this group has been used for making jellies, even if some of them don't taste as good as others (and some are downright bitter).

The fruits of Chaenomeles (your flowering quince or japonica) are rock hard and quite bitter, although I haven't tried cooking them down and sweetening them. Others have though, like this blog that seems to report some good results in using them as quince replacements for jelly and quince paste.

There are a few other reports and recipes online, but no one jumping for joy over the results from what I can see, and it sounds like you need a lot of fruit to get a small amount of jelly. If you're interested in an experiment, go for it - you won't hurt anyone but it may not be worth the effort. I'd enjoy them for their flowers and then use some real quinces for making jellies and baking.”

When I asked whether the rumour of them being poisonous was true he laughed it off by saying, “I can't vouch for the complete chemical profile of Chaenomeles fruit, but my guess is that you'd mostly be dealing with large amounts of pectin and vitamin c (and however many pounds of sugar you add to make it more palatable).”

Vaguely re-assured, I ploughed on, feeling like a pioneer in the field of jelly making. I simply played around with an excellent recipe from Cottage Smallholder and had some fun. For full detail visit this site, because I’m just going to give a brief overview here.

Simply pick your fruit, without your girlfriend’s Dad getting upset. I deliberately chose fruit that wasn’t as attractive. I gathered around a kilo of fruit.

Cut your Japonicas in half with an extremely sharp knife. You’ll struggle because these suckers are like granite. Then add them to a large pot with enough water to cover the fruit. I lobbed in a couple of apple cores as well for good measure as they were about to make their way onto the compost heap.

Boil the fruit for several hours until the fruit has gone squishy and very soft. Then add a handful of chillies and allow to bubble away for another half an hour or so.

Then pour the contents of the pot into a jelly bag that is suspended above a very clean bowl. Leave overnight to drip. Drip. Drip. Don’t be tempted to give it a helping hand as this will lead to cloudy jelly.

In the morning measure the amount of liquid you’ve got an calculate how much sugar is required. For each pint of liquid you’ll need a pound of sugar.

Lob all this into a heavy duty pan and watch the alchemy take place. In the meantime sterilise as many jars as you think you’ll need. In this instance I only needed one large kilner jar because I only had a meagre pint of liquid. But that makes it even more special.

You’ll need to pay close attention when the juice and sugar turns to scorching hot syrup. Scum will come to the surface, so using a small side plate skim it off. Then when you’ve hit the setting point it’s time to pour the syrup into you sterilised jar and seal it up. Doing this will form a vacuum and ensure your precious jelly is safe from bugs and nasties.

We must have created a vacuum that Mr Hoover would have been proud of because it took several hours to break into our jar when the time came to eating it. Eventually, when we broke the seal with a crowbar (not kidding) we almost felt a wave of celestial calm. It was beautifully thick with a texture that was far stiffer than most jellies. The flavour was more citrus that quince jelly with a lovely warmth from the chillies that stayed with you like a hot water bottle after the hit of the jelly had gone. It is great with lamb, duck and game. And does a great job of adding a gloss to a reduction.

So the experiment was a success. It is official. Japonicas make excellent jelly. (And the internet is yet again, mindblowing.)

Monday, 19 October 2009

Where's My Pork Chop - Freshly Ironed Cheese Toasty

London was at its most grizzly. The sky was as grey as Poirot’s matter and the rain cascaded like Eureka’s bath tub. But for me it felt balmy and almost Mediterranean as I waited for Food Urchin on the steps of St. Paul’s. In my rucksack was a box. And in that box was an iron, a jar of home-made crabapple and chilli jelly, some of my Mum’s 2008 vintage chutney and a lovingly made Montgommery cheddar sandwich with cheese selected with expert advice from the La Fromagerie.

Given that Food Urchin and I share a passion for the bizarre cooking methods you’ll find in a book by Stefan Gates called Gastronaut, it made perfect sense to push the culinary boundaries of “Where’s my Pork Chop”. My theme picked up where the Sandwichist left off and tied in nicely with the crab apple jelly I made the previous weekend.

As I handed my package across to Food Urchin I giggled at the thought of him opening the box at work and realising that he was going to have to use his new, multi-purpose, iron as a toasty maker.

As it happened the fun all took place at home. I’ll let Food Urchin’s hilarious write up and photos do the talking…

After the fun of cooking in the bathtub, dishwasher salmon, cooking pizzas in our clay oven, beer can chicken and this experiment with ironing sandwiches, I’m massively excited about what to do next.

Salmon in the dishwasher

Avid watching

If you’ve got any suggestions such as cooking on a car engine let me know and we'll give it a go.

Bathtub salmon courtesy of Tiki Chris.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Otto-yummy-lenghi in Islington

It’s always fun to spontaneously treat yourself to dinner out on the town once in while, especially if it’s to somewhere you have been fantasising about for months.

Ottolengi is pretty much perfect in my eyes. Having bored Browny to tears with my endless chat about the deli in Belgravia after only a single visit, plus virtually numbing his taste buds with tons of recipes from the cook book, I was delighted when he took me up of the offer to visit the founding restaurant in Islington.

I am a massive fan of life south of the river, but I am increasing becoming drawn to the lights and excitements Upper Street up north. When we arrived at the restaurant I wasn’t surprised to see it was filled to bursting and relieved they managed to slot us in, despite a cock up on the booking.

A long, rectangular white box of a room, which accommodates long, thin wooden tables interspersed with mini ones, has all the potential to create a sterile, intrusive and noisy space to eat in. But here, they have been very crafty and managed to make this into a romantic, cosy and intimate eatery. The candles flicker, the voices and laughter seem to be magically absorbed and it’s vibrant yet relaxing.

The service was efficient, knowledgeable and delightful, but they did successfully manage to persuade us that Champagne and puddings were a good idea, when I had gone in with the firm intention to only share 3 or 4 main dishes. But when the quality of ingredients, cooking and presentation is this good, it is impossible to resist!

The bread basket was exciting enough. A variety of white, granary, nutty, fruity and cake-esque combos of bread arrived, along with pool of thick juicy extra virgin. It didn’t take long for these all to vanish and for Browny to get his mitts on seconds!

Following their recommendation, we decided to opt for 5 sharing plates to satisfy two hungry commuters after a hard day in the office. It was lovely to see the recipes which I have tried myself reproduced in front of us. The smoked aubergine salad with pomegranate seeds never disappoints and the fresh asparagus with crumbled pecorino was so refreshing it almost quenched my thirst.

The rare smoked pigeon salad with peppery leaves and shoots was balanced and autumnal. It almost echoed with woody flavours. The ginger beer battered monkfish with chorizo was very naughty - the crust had the crunch of a ginger nut biscuit and the inside flaked like a half hearted spy under interrogation. But the show stopper for us had to be the scallops with black pudding. The milky coloured flesh had a harsh char grilled edging. This delivered a wonderful smoky yet subtle flavour as well as creating exciting textures on the tongue.

The usual down side of sharing plates is that they often leave one corner of your belly feeling unloved. The only remedy for this was to order a vast raspberry cheesecake and also a basil and lemon ice cream. The cheesecake was, well, a cheesecake and somewhat uninspiring, but the fragrant ice cream on the other hand was one of the highlights of my summer.

This place is ace. Expensive. But truly inspiring.

By Cowie

All images are from the Ottolenghi blog which seems very interesting.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Za’atar Chicken


Za’atar is a middle eastern spice blend that I’ve recently developed quite a crush on. It’s dark green and is predominantly made from Thymbra spicata which is a slightly minty member of the oregano and thyme family. The blend is then made up of ground sumac, roasted sesame seeds and a variety of other green herbs. For full etymology and biblical references have a look at the Epicentre website.

Feeling bamboozled and not knowing quite what to do with it, but feeling adventurous and very much inspired by our Ottolenghi experiences recently, I decided to cobble together my own recipe for za’atar chicken to feed a dinner party of 10. If Nigella can do it, then so can I.

Here’s what to do…

Stir 5 large spoons of za’atar spice into enough olive oil to form a paste. Then add a dessertspoon of sumac and give it a taste. I’ve got to admit that my first impression was that I’d just created an oily, gritty mess. Not unlike mixing weed with lighter fuel. But I persevered. And encourage you to do the same.

Smear your paste over 20 chicken thighs and season with salt. After a brief discussion with Cowie, I then poured over a glass or two of white wine and a squeeze of lemon to give it some moisture and acidity. The chicken then got whacked in the oven for an hour at about 180’c, whereupon, with a bit of basting and turning, it transformed like a latter day Britney Spears from looking apologetic, anaemic and bland into a moist, exotic, showstopper.

Remove the chicken from the baking dish and put it in a fresh dish into the now cooling oven so the skin stays crisp and the meat gets a chance to rest. Then, to create a sauce, pour off the liquid and separate out the fat. Add the remaining cooking liquid back into the baking tray you cooked it in and place it on a high heat on the hob and reduce as if there is no tomorrow. Add a glug or two of pomegranate molasses and some honey and adjust the acidity by squeezing in lemon until it thickens and tastes right. (This bit was seriously ad-libbed but it worked out a treat.) We were left with a sticky, syrupy, savoury, sensational sauce that I never dreamed of ending up with when we started.

Serve with Israeli cous cous, studded with pine nuts and raisins along with the ever-popular Ottolgenhi classic of scorched broccoli to appreciative friends.

It worked out brilliantly. Next time I’m going to give the same treatment to a whole chicken and serve it as a Sunday roast.

Despite this not being directly influenced by the Ottolenghi cookbook, it certainly played a key role in inspiring us to experiment with new ingredients such as sumac, za’atar and pomegranate molasses. But I’m getting worried that our growing Ottolenghi addiction may result in us booking flights (that we can’t afford) to Damascus, Cairo or Beirut to get stuck into Middle Easter food first hand.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Mushroom and Chestnut Spelt Risotto

There can be few more perfect places to drink coffee and do some writing than at Rosie’s Deli Café in Brixton. I found myself tapping away on my keyboard, nursing smooth espressos and nibbling on moist brownies last Monday and realized it was my turn to cook.

Before I knew it my hands had picked up a packed of spelt, some dried ceps and a can of chestnuts and my brain had fixated itself upon making a risotto! I asked Rosie if I’d gone mad and she thought it might actually taste quite good…

I find myself making a lot of risottos. It might be because I’ve got a fantastic risotto book that has taught me the intricate details of what makes a good one. But it’s more likely the fact that the process of making one is the most cathartic thing you can do without a yoga mat.

I fried a large onion in a Hurcelean amount of butter, let down with olive oil until it was soft and then chucked in 3 cloves of chopped garlic. Then I poured in 250 grams of spelt and let it crackle in the hot oil. The nutty smell of the frying spelt was quite different to the aroma that wafts off Arborio rice. Then comes the fun bit as you slosh in a glass or two of wine and listen to the liquid vaporize and breath in the winey fumes. It’s the sort of sensory experience that makes me love cooking.

Then start to add your chicken stock enriched with the juice from the rehydrated mushrooms and a splash of mushroom essence. You’ll need a lot of stock because spelt takes a lot longer to cook than rice. Add the stock glug at a time from a large measuring jug until the spelt is softened and the no longer tense. This took the best part of an hour.

Then, as the spelt is absorbing the last lashings of stock, fry about 12 sliced mushrooms in very hot butter and olive oil and flambé in cognac. This will add a rich, warming depth that this super savoury dish others lacks. Do the same with around 10 chopped chestnuts and the rehydrated ceps before adding both to the spelt along with sage and thyme. The sage works brilliantly with the chestnuts.

Stir in butter, parmesan and roughly chopped spinach and allow to rest. You’ll see the risotto transform from brown ricey stuff to creamy, unctuous food porn before your eyes. To serve, ladle into a bowl and adorn with chopped parsley, more parmesan and plenty of pepper.

Although we had it on it’s own, it would be a great accompaniment to pheasant, pigeon or guinea fowl and reminded me of something I once ate at the Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow. Be warned however, that rumours of spelt being flatulence free are, in my experience, are nothing but hot air.

Mackerel Fishing in Salcombe

The prospect of a 2 hour sea fishing trip on a glorious August summer afternoon with 5 fantastic mates was extremely exciting. Apart from a spot of crab fishing aged 5 at Dittisham on the River Dart, it’s fair to say that my fishing experience to date is somewhat limited and the same certainly goes for Browny.

Anna had done her usual, by arranging our day trip with precision and superb execution. You could almost hear Austin Powers shouting out "nerd alert". Once all aboard, our skipper, who some might say, was a rather bored and grumpy old sea-dog, successfully navigated us out of the Kingsbridge estuary avoiding the dozens of infants whizzing around on dingies out into the open seawaters.



It didn’t take long for things to get interesting and soon big rollers were crashing against the side of our vessel, releasing a shower of sea water and spray over us. To say the conditions were rough would be a gross exaggeration, but for those with relatively weak sea leg likes myself and Anna this was pretty hairy.


“Just keep looking at the horizon and you’ll be fine” were the fine pearls of wisdom from Nick as Anna and I gradually turned the colour of a fresh avocado. It turned out, contrary to popular folklore, that singing sea shanties in a bid to avoid being sick, actually has the opposite effect!

We were exhilarated, bouncy and boisterous at the prospect of catching our own supper. There is something incredibly satisfying yet humbling about popping a line down, deep into the calm ecosystem below the surface in the expectation that something might just take. And when a fish is foolish enough to rook onto your line there is suddenly an extraordinary connection between man and fish, all through a piece of tough nylon.

Nick proved to a complete mackerel magnet and caught almost an entire school of fish in about 10 minutes, as well as cheeky gurnard for good measure. For the rest of us, we had moments of brilliance interspersed with fathoms of frustration. But needless to say we came home with more than enough mackerel to feed some very peckish campers. In fact we caught so many mackerel that the boys started to play with their supper...



We went back to our camp site at Higher Rew via Hope Cove where we marvelled at their amusing street signs before gutting our fish and feeding the innards to some scavenging and very appreciative gulls. It's crucial, apparently, to gut your mackerel within 30 minutes of catching them. And to make sure you rinse them in sea water.

Hope cove 2

Outer hope

Nick took charge of the mackerel cooking by simply grilling them over some hot coals. Whilst not undermining Nick's prodigious mackerel cooking skills, it seems all you have to do is turn them after a couple of minutes, squeeze a lemon over them and then get lauded as the greatest fish chef ever to grace a BBQ!

PB blowing

By Cowie

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Char Grilled Red Bream

Red bream

This isn’t much of a looker. So I’m sorry. But, considering the pitch black conditions it is a miracle we’ve got a photo at all. The light is from a head torch. This is a story, albeit a short one, about how to BBQ fish.

Our fishmonger from behind the Cob at Lyme Regis steered us away from the usual suspects such as mackerel, sea bass, and cod and into the unchartered waters of red bream. He dissuaded us from buying a variety of more expensive and exotic fish on the grounds that this was the freshest thing he had and wanted us to have it.

On arrival back at our camp site we landed up having to beg a few lit coals from a neighbouring group who turned out to be raving psychopaths. Having refused us any of their fire they then relented and tried to befriend us with offerings of horrific rabbit stew that couldn’t have been tougher if it had been sporting knuckle dusters and full facial tattoos.

With our fire alit I then scaled the fish and then coated it in seasoned flour to protect the flesh. We then put a handful of new potatoes in a foil parcel and sprinkled them with olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary. Once we’d devoured our scallops and groaned at the hazelnut butter we then set about grilling our fish.

To BBQ fish you have to be on your guard at all times. Like a spy deep inside enemy territory. It cooks very quickly and has a tendency to get stuck to the bars. So be armed with 2 spatulas, expert reflexes and a head torch.

Lightly oil the bars on your grill. Then place the fish skin down over indirect heat. The temperature should be hot enough for the skin to immediately make a sizzling noise. After a few minutes inspect the fish and use a finger to check if the skin in crisp or burning. If it feels crisp then it is time for the big moment. The flip.

Using both spatulas jab the fish from the side and in one motion turn the fish so that the skin is facing up. Then cook for a minute or so longer and you will be rewarded with flaking fish and crispy fish skin which are two of my all time favourite things.

Serve with char grilled aubergines, peppers and tomatoes and roasted new potatoes.

Barbecued Scallops with Hazelnut Butter

Its now been a month or so since we returned from our epic trip to the West, yet Browny and Rad are still talking about their favourite dish this year. It is always a bonus when a fishmonger not only sells you some sublimely fresh seafood, but when they also offer free advice and recommendations about how to cook the produce, it makes it taste even better.

Whilst I manned the car in the buzzing hub of Lyme Regis, Rad and Browny disappeared like two mischievous school boys in the Old Watch House fishmongers and returned with a ton of scallops and some red bream.

The chap in charge suggested that we grilled the scallops on the barbie and then, once on the verge of being cooked dip them into a homemade, warm toasted hazelnut butter (which you make by simply toasting some hazlenuts in a pan and then creating a beurre noisette) and squeeze on some lemon juice and sprinkle with salt.


We were in heaven. It doesn’t get much better than sitting round a camp fire with friends and loved ones in the heart of the stunning rural Dorset countryside, listening to chilled, classic tunes and indulging in beauties such as these.

By Cowie

If you need a more detailed recipe it seems James Martin has one which you can follow. But you don't need it really.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Salcombe Crab Risotto on a Campfire

I’m so pleased we’ve stumbled across Salcombe. We liked it so much earlier in the summer that we returned with Edwin and Anna who brought a beautiful old Alfa Romeo to the party and Nick and Harriet who are experts in fishing and outdoor living. So between the 6 of us we were well equipped for a long weekend of camping.

Anna and Edwin Alpha

Higher Rew campsite nestles South West of Salcombe, protected from the sea by Bolthead which is renowned for lending itself to spectacular walks. Cowie and I arrived early and secured a prime spot at the top of the hill, hidden from all the other tents and blessed with a view that would have made Thomas Hardy, hard.

Thanks to some local knowledge, sent our way by Chris Smith (who I don’t think is the outed Labour Minister), we knew to avoid the fishmonger in the centre of Salcombe and instead to pay a visit to Yeoward and Dowie which is a boatyard on Island Street. Not only are they experts in mending and chartering boats, but they sell live lobsters and crabs!

Local shellfish sign


We soon found the crab and lobster tank and were mesmerized by the shell clad beauties that jostled around like passengers in a Ryan Air queue. Lobster tentacles occasionally breached the water like U-boats erecting their periscopes.

Lobster basket

Crab tank

In order to feed 6 we decided to buy a couple of large crabs which they very kindly cooked for us and kept in the fridge until we returned from our mackerel fishing trip.

Crab scales

We returned back to our campsite with the sun beginning to think about turning in for the day and set about making what turned out to be a fantastic crab risotto using our cataplana pan.

First of all Edwin and Nick did a phenomenal job of picking as much meat out of our crabs as possible with the help of a large screw driver and Cowie’s tweezers!

Crab meat picking

We then made stock with the shell, with a vegetable stock cube lobbed in for good measure as well.

Crab stock and veg

Whilst the stock was bubbling away we also grilled a bunch of Cowie’s favourite vegetables which we added into the risotto towards the end to add some extra charry interest.

Chef Brown

Once the stock was ready we set it aside along with the veggies and nestled the cataplana into the hot coals. Once it was up to heat we fried 2 onions along with some garlic until soft. Then we poured in a bag of Arborio rice and listened to it crackle. This has to be one of my favourite sounds. It’s so reassuring and is synonmysous with being able to enjoy cooking at a leisurely pace. It’s a million miles from the clack of a toaster or ping of a microwave. It’s the sound of cooking for pleasure.

Once the sizzling had died down we threw a good glug of white wine and felt our faces dampen and numb slightly with wine fumes. Once the wine had whooshed away we then ladled in the crab stock and stirred, religiously, for the next hour.

Risotto stirring

Cataplana on the fire

As the heat waned we found that clamping the lid of the cataplana shut worked brilliantly to get the risotto bubbling again. After 45 minutes it had swelled and thickened, taking on a creamy quality that was impossible to see in the dark, but you could sense from the feel.

At this point we mixed in the char grilled peppers and aubergines before adding half of the crab meat. Plenty of salt, pepper and a nudge of chilli helped to add some seasoning. Spinach added colour. And a lashing of crème fraiche and knob of butter added gloss and luxury. We thhen added a topping of the remaining crab meat to each portion and a sprinkle of parsley.

We ate it in the pitch dark, in a scene reminiscent of an outdoor Dans le Noir, and sat back in bliss. Given the context it is without question the most memorable risotto I’ve ever eaten or cooked and has to go down as one of the year’s main highlights.

Cataplana Monkfish Tomato and Paprika Stew

Is it a bed pan? Is it a UFO? Don’t be ridiculous. It’s a copper Portuguese cooking vessel called a Cataplana of course!

It was an inspired present from Cowie for my birthday and had sat since April on my bedroom shelf taunting me. So I decided to take it with us on our trip around the South West. And I am delighted we did.

On a glorious evening sitting outside our tent at Higher Rew campsite just outside Salcombe, we looked out across a scene that deserved to be painted rather than waffled about. The heat of the day eased away and the whispy clouds puffed and the dew started to settle.

In the last light of day we lit our BBQ and grilled some aubergines, peppers, courgettes and tomatoes which had been seasoned and brushed with olive oil. Having achieved a delicate char with a beer in hand we set these aside and set the cataplana on the now glowing coals.

Veggie grilling


Fry two onions and a couple of chillies in some olive oil and then add plenty of garlic once you feel it’s not going to burn.

Frying onion and chilli

Then add a tube of tomato paste, some smoked paprika and cook for a minute or so. Then add a jar of pasatta, a slurp of red wine and then your monkfish tail. This dish works best with a firm fish like monkfish that can stand up to the strong flavours and robust cooking… but if you’ve got pollack or another flaky fish then just pop the fish in later on. Close up the cataplana and indulge in some well deserved wine.

Open the lid after 10 minutes to check how things are going and give the stew a stir so it doesn’t catch on the bottom. After 20 – 30 minutes it should be ready. Before serving throw the previously grilled veg and a handful of prawns into the stew and let it heat through.

We simply decanted the stew into a large bowl and tucked in. The combination of deep tomato, spicy paprika and flaky white fish is magnificent. It may not look brilliant in this photo, but you’ll just have to believe me when I say that it is the best thing we’ve cooked this year. It would have been even more awesome if we’d been able to find some good chorizo. But we’ll just have to save that for next time.

Monkfish stew

Cataplana image at the top is from the CataPlanas website, where I believe Cowie may have purchased it from.


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