Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sardines for breakfast?

The poor man’s fish has never been more fashionable. I've seen it most recently gracing some of our very 'best' restaurants, and is as popular as it rightly should be. In mainland europe, the freshest, locally caught sardines have always been treated as a delicacy, and more often than not are at their best simply grilled or barbecued.

This said, the oily strength of the fresh sardine can cope with an abundance of amazing flavours. They can be fantastic marinated and can stand up to strong spices. They can also happily take sour and acidity which counters the oiliness of the sardines.

I was involved in a decent conversations with one of my closest ever friends a couple of days ago regarding his new menus for a restaurant opening he is in the final stages of. We were poring over his breakfast menus and racking our brains for something a little different but a bit of fun too.

We started talking about tinned pilchards in tomato sauce on toast, which evidently is a comfort snack to more than you'd imagine, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with tinned sardines on toast for a quick lunch on the hop. But I think we're going to look into putting freshly roasted sardines and slow roasted tomatoes with a hint of thyme and rosemary on top of griddled slices of ciabatta, and see where this takes us.
Something along these lines...which should be enough for 4

Breakfast sardines and tomatoes on ciabatta with parsley, thyme and rosemary
8 sardines, scaled and gutted
250g ripe tomatoes, cut into small wedges
Rock salt and freshly ground black pepper
A fist of flat parsley, ripped
3 sprigs thyme, leaves ripped off
1 sprig of rosemary, needles picked
Olive oil, for drizzling and brushing
4 thick or 8 thin slices of ciabatta
A handful of fresh greens such as peashoots

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Lay the sardines and tomatoes in a roasting tray; season with rock salt and freshly ground pepper. Scatter the parsley, thyme and rosemary over the sardines and tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil, toss to coat, then roast for 10 minutes or until the sardines are just cooked.

Heat a griddle pan until almost smoking. Brush the ciabatta lightly with olive oil then season with salt and pepper. Griddle on both sides until toasted and slightly charred.

Divide the ciabatta between plates; place the roasted tomatoes on top. Slice the heads off the sardines; serve whole or filleted on top of the tomatoes. Spoon over the pan juices and sprinkle a pinch of greenery and serve immediately. A good cup of tea and the morning's papers essential.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cockles, leeks and many spices

I recently had some okayish mussels, in a quite predictable setting with a rather pedestrian style but this time with an unexpected finale. Well, I guess if you're going to have them without an R in the month, a bit of time spent on the toilet is what you deserve.

This hasn't put me off. Foolishly we're now experimenting with cockles out of season, and I can assure that this number has been tried and tested in a few guises, thus far without the bathroom being a part of the recipe.. I recall first making a version of this as the soupy bit for a steamed turbot dish, but was so happy with the flavours that I thought it deserved its own moment of glory. 

Cockles are one of our more underused native shellfish, and it is a shame that they are more recognisable all crinkled up in the pain of a vinegar pickling by the seaside. Do try with cockles as I'm telling you to, but don't stop there with what our craggy shores offer. Maybe just wait till September or there abouts to throw all caution to the sea wind.

Cockles leeks and many spices
Serves about 6

800g leeks (you can use baby ones if you've got some)
2 tblsp olive oil
3 large red chillis, chopped
2 small green chillis, sliced into rounds
Pinch each of cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne and caraway seeds
1 lemon grass stalk sliced
1 thumb of ginger, peeled and sliced
500g fresh cockles (in the shell)
2 glasses white wine
300ml fish stock
100ml double cream
20g parsley (rough-chop the leaves, and discard the stalks)
20g thyme, chopped
70g butter (unsalted and at room temperature)
black pepper

Boil a pan of salted water. Trim the leeks, and blanch for 6-8 minutes until al dente. Run them immediately under cold water until they reach room temperature (they should feel neither hot nor cold), then cut into thick rounds, or if using baby leeks, into halves or thirds. In a deep frying pan heat the olive oil until nearly smoking. Chuck in all of the spices and aromats apart from half of the red chilli, and toss quickly for half a minute.

Throw in the cockles, then a minute later the white wine, and put the lid on. Cook for 3 minutes. Add the fish stock, toss in the leeks, and reduce the liquid by half. Lower the heat, stir in the double cream, rough-chopped parsley leaves and chopped thyme. Whisk in the butter in knobs and season with black pepper (it should not need any salt). Serve in shallow bowls, discarding any cockles that are not open. Sprinkle the remainder of the chilli and prop the bathroom window open to enjoy properly...