Easy recipes for the newbie cook, the beginner in the kitchen, the nervous novice: we all had to start somewhere, and you can start right here.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Fishcakes – another easy recipe

How to Make Fishcakes

Fishcakes are very simple to make, and are tasty, filling and economical – and if you have found some bargains at the fishmongers, and loaded up on more fish than you can immediately use, make up a big batch of fishcakes, as they freeze really well.

You can use any fish; a single variety or combination.  Shellfish work well too; whatever you find at the market that is good value.  I’ve given a few delicious and tried-and-tested mixes after the basic recipe below.  All premium fish is probably best served plain and simple; for fishcakes you are still looking for spanking-fresh fish, but perhaps from those (often erroneously) considered to be the second division – pollack, coley, farmed salmon (ethically farmed, of course), ling, or the less-favoured (but well-flavoured) flatfish such as dab or megrim.  Mackerel and herring make good fishcakes, but usually don’t make it further than a simple grilling or frying in my kitchen, as they are so delicious.  Smoked fish is great in fishcakes: try smoked haddock, cod or even kippers.  Or, you could use up some smoked salmon trimmings, which are often available quite cheaply, perhaps in combination with some unsmoked fish.

For the starchy part of the fishcake, you need a good floury potato that mashes well.  You’ll need a good dose of seasoning: fish and potatoes will take a lot of salt and pepper, and use whatever herbs you like; dill, tarragon and parsley are obvious choices, and this is one of the rare occasions where dried herbs can often work as well, or even better, than fresh.

I like to give my fishcakes a crispy coating; use pinhead oats (often available at health-food stores) or good, very dry, breadcrumbs.  If you prefer your fishcakes uncoated, the choice is yours.

I think 120g/4oz is a good size for a fishcake, serving one or two per person depending on appetite and whatever you are eating on the side.  I use fifty/fifty fish to spud – so, for eight fishcakes you’ll need around a pound or just under half a kilo each of fish and mashed potato, both measured AFTER cooking, with skin and bones removed from the fish.

Fishcakes: Ingredients

Makes 8 fishcakes

480g/1 lb cooked fish, skin and bones removed
480g/1 lb mashed potato
Plenty of salt and pepper
Herbs of your choice – dried is fine in this recipe

For the coating:

A dish of plain/all purpose flour
A bowl of milk, beaten egg or a combination of the two
A dish of dry breadcrumbs or pinhead oats

(Quantity-wise, you’ll need around 220g/half pound of the flour and the oats/crumbs – you won’t use it all, but you need a good depth in your dish to get a good coating.)

Fishcakes: method

Poach, steam or microwave the fish until it is only just cooked.  Leave to drain, then gently flake with your fingers, making sure to remove any last bits of skin and bone.  Cook, drain and mash the potato as normal, and leave until cool enough to handle.  Thoroughly mix the fish and mashed potato; use your hands.  Add seasoning and herbs of your choice.  Taste, and adjust the seasoning and herbs if necessary.

Either using a set of scales, or by eye, split the mix into eight portions, roll into balls, and refrigerate for at least half an hour to allow them to firm up.

After they have firmed, have ready the dishes/bowls of flour, milk and/or egg, and breadcrumbs/pinhead oats.

Flatten each fishcake ball and round the sides until you have the shape you like – mine are around the shape and size of a small tuna can.  Dip each, in turn, coating thoroughly, into the flour, the milk/egg and then the crumbs.  If you desire a really crispy coating, repeat the process, so the fishcakes are double-coated – you’ll have to use egg, though, as milk usually won’t hold enough for a double-dip.  You will have very sticky hands after this, so be warned!

To cook the fishcakes:

You could gently fry or grill the fishcakes, turning from time to time, until ready, but I think the simplest and easiest way is to put them in a medium oven for around 20 – 25 minutes.  Use a skewer, or a temperature probe thermometer to make sure they are piping hot throughout.

Some tried-and-tested fishcake mixes – copy these, or use them as inspiration for your own experiments

Cod and Parsley
Salmon and Dill
Smoked Haddock (or kipper) and Horseradish
Crab and Coriander (with or without Chilli flakes)
Sea Bream and Mexican Seasoning (cumin, chilli, oregano, garlic, pinch cinnamon and ground cloves)
Smoked Mackerel with Citrus (use mainly the zest of lemon/lime/orange with only a touch of the juice, or the mix may go too sloppy)

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Onion Marmalade

Onion Marmalade

As promised in my last post for Caramelized Onions, here is the slightly fancier, but still easy recipe for Onion Marmalade or Marmelade d'oignons – basically a very similar recipe with a few tweaks and refinements.  You could actually take a finished batch of Caramelized Onions, and add the other flavourings and ingredients with a little further cooking, but I think you do get a better result if you start from scratch as here.

To the English speaking reader, more used to Seville Oranges, or other citrus fruits, in their marmalades, the whole idea of one made from onions may seem at once peculiar and somewhat exotic.  But onion marmalade, although having sweetness, is a savoury preserve, and ideal with charcuterie, cold meats and cheeses, rather than the citrus version intended for your breakfast toast.

This recipe is loosely adapted from one by the late, great Keith Floyd.

Onion Marmalade – Ingredients

2lb/1kg onions, peeled and finely sliced
4oz/125g caster/confectioners sugar
Half pint/10 fluid oz/290ml Tarragon Vinegar – if you do not have Tarragon Vinegar, use a good White Wine or Cider Vinegar, and add a tablespoon of fresh finely-chopped tarragon as given in the method below.
4 cloves
2 bayleaves, lightly scrunched up in the palm of your hand before use
A couple of good grinds of freshly milled black pepper
A good pinch of salt
2 tablespoons tomato puree
A good pinch of cayenne pepper, or one fresh cayenne (or similar) chilli, diced very finely

In reserve: a little olive oil, for use only if things start sticking

Onion Marmalade – Method

In a large pot, initially over a medium to hot flame, begin cooking down the sliced onion, stirring frequently.  Reduce the heat to low once the onions begin to melt and start to give up some juice – use the smallest possible amount of olive oil only if they keep sticking and begin to go too brown; ideally they will stew and caramelize in their own juices without the need for oil.  Once the majority of  the onions have become translucent, add the rest of the ingredients, cover loosely and continue to cook gently, stirring from time to time.

After an hour or so, taste, and add a little more seasoning and sugar if necessary.  This is also the time to add the chopped fresh tarragon if you have used plain vinegar.  Continue to cook until you have a result that is marmalade-like – if it is seeming to take forever, remove the cover and raise the heat a little, but watch like a hawk and stir frequently: burned = bitter.

If you have had to use oil, tip or drain it off before use.  If there is more Onion Marmalade than you can use within the next few days, store in sterilized, firmly-stoppered jars as for any pickling or preserve. 

Friday, 8 July 2011

Caramelized Onions

This is an extraordinarily simple recipe for Caramelized Onions – the only ingredient being onions!  It does, however, take some time; about ten minutes prep with a good knife, and an hour or two of cooking, with the occasional stir.  The golden brown result, with its sweet depth of flavour is a delicious reward for time well spent, and it's economical too.

I’m suggesting around 2lb/1kilo of onions: it is not really worth doing with less, as the onions reduce by about 80 percent when cooked – you end up with about a fifth of the volume you started with, or less, once the cooking-down and caramelization has completed, but the flavour and aroma means that a little goes a long way.  You could certainly double the quantity, or more, as the Caramelized Onions will keep for days in the fridge, or can be frozen in portions, and will reheat easily and well.  Your only limit is the size of your cooking vessel.

There are no other ingredients required, as the natural sugars present in the onions are all that are needed to produce the caramelization.

You will need a large, heavy based saucepan or pot if you are cooking on the hob/stovetop, or a large roasting pan or dish if you prefer to cook them in the oven.

Caramelised Onions – an easy and delicious onion recipe

Ingredients: 2lb/1kilo (or more, see above) of white, yellow, Spanish or similar onions.

Method: peel the onions and cut in half from stalk-end to root.  Slice the onions fairly finely into half-rings.  Put the onions into a large saucepan or pot over a medium heat, or into a roasting tin or tray into a medium oven.  Use no oil, water, stock, or any other ingredient than onions.  Stir from time to time to make sure the onions don’t catch and burn.  It will seem to take forever, but eventually the onions will begin to collapse as the water in their juices cook out – reduce the heat now, and you may need to stir more often to make sure they cook evenly.  Once the onions have completely collapsed and reached a deep golden brown they are ready.  These Caramelized Onions can be made well ahead of time and reheated when needed.

Caramelized Onions are great with sausages, burgers etc, alongside steaks, or stirred into casseroles, stir fries and curries, as the base for an onion or other soup or for an instant boost of onioney sweetness wherever you need it, such as in the gravy for your Sunday roast.

In the next blog, I shall be showing how the above recipe, adapted with only a few other ingredients, and with a slightly different method, can become the wonderful preserve, Onion Marmalade.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Samphire – Some Easy Recipes

There are several different edible plants carrying the name “Samphire”, but all share similar taste and characteristics and can be prepared the same way.  It is a salt tolerant plant that grows in coastal areas and in salt marshes, and all that salt is evident in the taste.  Sometimes called sea asparagus, it too has fleshy stems and leaves, although much thinner than true asparagus, and it does taste a little like it – mixed with a fresh grassy flavour, along with the saltiness mentioned above.

It is good value in the kitchen, as there is usually no waste, although later in the season it can become a little “woody” at the base of the stem, so these can either be trimmed, or the juices sucked and stripped of the stem through your teeth as you do with artichoke leaves.

Traditionally, in Britain, it is sold in fishmongers, partly because of its association with the sea, and because it is a great veg to have with fish – but it is a very useful all-rounder, and is very good with lamb in particular.

As with most vegetables, don’t overcook – you want to preserve the flavour and the texture, leaving a “bite” (al dente) so cook for the minimum time.

How to cook Samphire

Use it raw in salads etc – no cooking required, obviously, but if it is too salty for your palate (try a bit), then soak it in cold water for half an hour or so.

Boil – dropped into plenty of boiling (unsalted) water, for a minute or so, just until heated through.  You can, of course,  steam if you prefer – remembering that steaming usually takes a little longer.  Boiled or steamed samphire can be served plain, but why not try the traditional sauces for asparagus, such as hollandaise, or just simple melted butter poured over.

Sauted in butter – melt a knob of butter in a good pan, and tip in the samphire when the butter starts to foam, but before it begins to burn.  No salt required, but a grind or two of black pepper is good, as is a little minced or finely sliced garlic.

Add to a mixed stir fry - it adds a great taste and texture, and the saltiness seasons the whole dish.  Or, make it the feature of a stir fry, whisking it around the wok with a little fresh finely sliced or grated ginger, garlic, and maybe some cashew nuts.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Grilled Herring - Easy Fish Recipe

Grilled Herring.

If you are looking for an easy fish recipe, they don’t come much easier than this.  Grilled herring is a simple and quick way to enjoy this tasty fish.  Stocks have recovered from the lows of the 1970s in most waters, and are currently classified as sustainable, so buy yourself some herring, and get cooking.  Herring is one of those oily fish that we are supposed to eat more of due to the high omega-3 content and all the rest of the good stuff, but even better, they are delicious, and (at the time of writing) inexpensive.

Herring are best cooked whole and on the bone; obviously they will need to be gutted, and you can also take the heads off if you prefer – if you’re squeamish, ask the fishmonger to do this for you.  If you’d like to do it yourself, cut in with a sharp knife just on the body side of the pectoral fin (the one of the side nearest the head), then repeat on the other side.  If you do this carefully, you can sever the spine, and with a gentle tug remove the head with the guts attached.  This leaves the belly whole, and you can tuck some herbs and seasoning into the pouch.  If the guts don’t come away cleanly with the head, just slit the belly from the vent towards the head end, and remove all the nasty bits – note that at certain times of the year, the roes will be present, and for many people these are an extra tasty treat.

To Grill a Herring:

Preheat the grill/broiler – full heat with the grill pan low.

Depending on the size of the fish, make two or three slashes in the flesh on each side, going right down to the bone.  This helps the fish cook more evenly.  If the cleaning has left the belly whole, then stuff with any herbs and seasoning of your choice.  Rub a little oil onto the skin, and season generously with salt and pepper.

Grill for three to four minutes per side; when the skin has turned a golden brown, and the flesh feels firm to a prod of the finger (don’t burn yourself) it is done.

Serve with anything you like: some new potatoes and a salad, perhaps, or some rice or noodles and some stir-fried veg.  Horseradish is a great accompaniment to oily fish, either the classic horseradish sauce (home-made or from a jar) or the more fiery wasabi will work equally well – try smearing some on a warmed crusty baguette, and add the fish, removed from the bone, and broken up a little with a fork.

This grilling technique is also excellent for mackerel and other similar sized fish.