Articles in Fish

The ackee fruit's nutty taste combines with sharp salt cod to create Jamaica’s national dish. Credit: © 2014 by Ellen Silverman from

We all know the cliché that opposites attract and, in what could be called a fruitful marriage of opposites, two vastly different ingredients from opposite sides of the world are perfectly paired in Jamaica’s national dish, ackee and salt fish.

Ackee and salt fish is not just the national dish  —  it’s the favorite breakfast of every Jamaican across the globe. What makes this dish original and surprising is how well two distinct ingredients combine to create a dish that’s complex and simple, subtle and bold and, ultimately, delicious. The delicate nutty taste and soft texture of the fruit ackee tempers the sharp, saltiness and firm dry texture of salt fish.

With the addition of our standard “Jamaican seasonings”  — Scotch bonnet pepper, garlic, thyme, green peppers, onions and scallion, and served with a side of avocado, fried ripe plantain, steamed calalloo and “Johnny Cakes” or fried dumplings –  this extraordinary dish is a feast for the palate and a breakfast you won’t soon forget.

Although the pairing of ackee and salt fish makes for a beautiful union, some unions are not meant to be monogamous. As well as ackee and salt fish work together, we also love to cook them separately, pairing them with unexpected ingredients and flavors. For instance, ackee loves bacon, gets along very well with curry, has great synergy with Parmesan and has a seamless connection with coconut. Salt fish, while less gregarious, complements yam, parties well with lime and forms a perfect bond with cilantro and flour dumplings of any kind.

From West Africa to Jamaica on a slave ship

Ackee, for the uninitiated, is a savory fruit with a thick red skin that forms a sealed pod when unripe. Once ripened, the skin opens to reveal a beautiful petal-like shape containing three or four yellow pegs topped with a single black seed. Native to West Africa, the fruit originally came to Jamaica on a slave ship — it is believed that many slaves would carry the ackee seed as a talisman for good luck.

Unfortunately, ackee has a bit of a bad rap as the bad boy of Caribbean cuisine because it can potentially be poisonous if incorrectly prepared. For many years, like another famous Jamaican export, its importation to the United States was banned. Be assured, however, that it is perfectly safe to eat, although Jamaica seems to be one of the few countries in the world that dared to try to figure out how to do so — leaving us as the only island in the Caribbean where it’s part of the daily diet.

To render ackee safe for consumption, the skin must be open before picking. The pegs, once removed from the pod, are then prepared by removing the seed and a red ‘thread’ embedded in the flesh of the peg. (This is the poisonous part.) The fruit is then boiled in salted water.

Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau, right, collaborated on their cookbook.

Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau, right, collaborated on their cookbook. Credit: Courtesy of SKaan Media / 2 Sisters and a Meal

Outside of Jamaica, ackee is readily available in cans and can be found at online groceries and mainstream supermarkets throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Freshly cooked ackee is creamy and buttery with a mild nutty taste that’s neutral enough to absorb the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with. When raw it has a waxy texture but canned ackee, which is already cooked, has a more mushy consistency. In any of its forms, ackee is a great ingredient to have fun with in the kitchen as it can be prepared in many interesting and unexpected ways. For instance — ackee tacos?

Salt cod preparation takes time

Salt cod, known as salt fish in the islands, is cod that has been preserved by drying after salting. It is a staple in the cuisine of almost all Caribbean islands and can be prepared in a variety of ways. Salt cod was a part of the Triangular Trade that developed between Europe, Africa and the Americas, tying its history to that of sugar, slavery and rum in the islands.

High-quality North American cod was always sold in Europe. But traders also sold a lower-end product of poorly cured salt fish called “West India cure” to plantation owners in the Caribbean. The West Indian planters had no desire to dedicate any land to the production of food for their slaves and instead relied on imported salt cod as a cheap form of nourishment.

In exchange, European traders received sugar, molasses, rum, cotton, tobacco and salt, which they took back to North America and Europe. Trade in salt cod from Nova Scotia was so high that, in 1832, the Bank of Nova Scotia opened in Halifax to facilitate the thriving trans-Atlantic trade. By 1889 the Bank of Nova Scotia had become the first bank to expand outside of the United States or United Kingdom when it opened a branch in Kingston, Jamaica, to support the lucrative trading of rum, sugar and fish.

To prepare salt fish it must be soaked in fresh water for at least an hour; it is then boiled till the flesh of the fish flakes easily. If still too salty, it is boiled some more, drained, scraped of its skin, flaked with your hands and, only then, does the laborious task of picking out the bones begin. Although deboned and de-skinned cod is certainly available in many markets, in the Caribbean we still like to do it the old way — because it’s so much more fun.

In honor of this beloved Jamaican breakfast dish, we share two breakfast/brunch recipes, that celebrate each ingredient on its own. We encourage you to expand your breakfast horizons and give these a try — any time day or night.

Ackee and Bacon Quiche

Prep Time: 35 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings, 1 (8-inch) quiche

Ackee and Bacon Quiche

Credit: © 2014 by Ellen Silverman from "Caribbean Potluck," permission by Kyle Books

In this dish we combine a traditional quiche custard with pure Jamaican love by adding our national fruit (and popular breakfast item) ackee and crispy bacon. Throw in tons of flavor with the Scotch bonnet, scallion, tomato, garlic, thyme and Parmesan cheese, and you have a winning brunch. If you don’t have coconut milk on hand, use 1½ cups heavy cream instead of the cows and coconut milk mixture.

Ingredients

    For the quiche crust and custard:
  • ½ pound (2 sticks) chilled butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 pound all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling pinch of sea salt
  • Up to ¼ cup ice water
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup canned coconut milk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Dash of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Sea salt
  • For the Ackee and bacon filling:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped yellow onion
  • ½ Habanero pepper (Scotch bonnet), seeded and minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (8-ounce) package bacon, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sliced scallion
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme, chopped
  • ¼ cup finely chopped tomato
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped bell pepper
  • 1 (18-ounce) can ackee
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. To make the quiche crust, combine the butter, flour and salt in a bowl with your hands until crumbly. Add just enough ice water to form a dough and knead until it comes together. Form into a ball, then, on a floured surface, roll the dough into a round about 14 inches in diameter. Transfer to an 8-inch quiche pan and press the dough gently into the bottom and sides. Weigh down the dough with raw rice on a piece of waxed paper and prebake for 20 minutes. Set on wire rack to cool until ready to fill.
  3. Meanwhile, to make the custard, in a medium bowl combine the milk, coconut milk, eggs, mustard and nutmeg and whisk together thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside until ready to bake.
  4. To make the filling, heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Toss in the onion, Scotch bonnet and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the bacon and sauté for about 5 minutes. Spoon off the excess fat and stir in the scallion, thyme, tomato and bell pepper; cook another 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add the ackee,season with salt and pepper, and mix in the Parmesan. Let cool.
  5. To assemble the quiche, place the ackee and bacon filling in the pastry shell and smooth the top. Pour the custard over the filling, distributing it evenly with a fork. Return the quiches to the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until the custard has set. Cool slightly before serving.

Trini-Style Salt Fish and ‘Bake’

Prep Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Trini-Style Salt Fish and "Bake."© 2014 by Ellen Silverman from "Caribbean Potluck," permission by Kyle Books

Trini-Style Salt Fish and “Bake.” Credit: © 2014 by Ellen Silverman from “Caribbean Potluck,” permission by Kyle Books

All our islands cook salt fish (salt cod) in one way another for breakfast, lunch and even dinner. As our childhood years were spent in Trinidad we favor this Trini version known as “buljol.” Salt fish is often served alongside some kind of fried dumpling, some fluffy and large others smaller and more dense. In Jamaica we serve salt fish with Johnny Cakes, small round fried dumplings. Other countries such as Trinidad and Guyana call them bake. Here we pair this traditional Trini saltfish with our version of a bake — a hybrid recipe inspired by the bakes served in Trinidad, Guyana and Belize. If you have any left over, these little breads can be great topped with cheddar cheese and Guava jam or even just butter and jam.

Ingredients

For Trini-style salt fish (Buljol):
2 cups salt fish, boiled, picked and cleaned
½ cup chopped tomato
¼ cup chopped onion
1 Habanero pepper (Scotch bonnet), minced without seeds

Olive oil

1/4 cup cilantro

Salt and black pepper

For our version of bake:
2 cups flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup water
¼ cup milk + 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon
2 cups vegetable oil

Directions

1. Combine salt fish with tomato, onion and the Habanero pepper (Scotch bonnet) in a small bowl. Heat olive oil in a small pan. When very hot, pour it over the salt fish mixture. Add cilantro and season with salt and black pepper as required. Allow to rest at room temperature for about one hour.

2. Sieve together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Rub butter into flour until combined. Gradually add water and milk and mix well with hands until a dough or mass is formed. Knead for about five minutes until smooth.

3. Roll the dough into pieces the size of golf balls (should get about eight pieces of dough), and allow them to rest for about half an hour. Roll it out with a rolling pin or bottle to a 4-inch disk and slice a line in the middle so that it will cook more quickly. Fry in oil, turning over once. When it floats, it is ready.

4. Drain and serve with salt fish. These are also great paired with cheddar cheese and guava jam, or even just butter and jam.

Main photo: The ackee fruit’s nutty taste combines with sharp salt cod to create Jamaica’s national dish. Credit: © 2014 by Ellen Silverman from “Caribbean Potluck,” courtesy Kyle Books

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Baked swordfish with golden crust. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

One of the oddest questions I get when serving fish is, “Does this fish have bones?” My answer is always, “Assume it does.” I answer that way to encourage people to eat slowly, to eat as if it does have bones, because all fish have bones. Even when you buy a boneless fillet of fish, you can’t be sure it doesn’t have a stray bone.

For the most part all fish in this country, except fish from ethnic markets, is sold as fillets or steaks. Whole fish are hard to find and when you do find them, the selection often is limited to trout or sea bass. Most people who like fish are hesitant about buying and cooking whole fish because they’re not sure how to cook it and not sure they know how to eat it.

You’ll see evidence of this whenever a host or restaurant serves a fillet of fish with a fish knife. That’s silly because one does not need a fish knife with a fish fillet. One uses a fish knife only with whole fish. The purpose of a fish knife is to remove the flesh from the backbone and to scoop sauce on top of that flesh.

I also have noticed a lack of knowledge about fish species and a tendency for cooks to complicate a preparation. Fish can be cooked quite simply because when it is fresh, very little adornment, if any, is needed.

Here are three fish preparations that novices can make. The first is a baked fish  that includes a recipe because it is a bit more involved than the other two, but not hard. The second, a griddled fish, and the third, a fried fish, are so simple they don’t require recipes.

Baked Swordfish With Golden Crust

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds swordfish, in one piece, 3/4- to 1-inch thick, skin removed
  • ¾ cup dry bread crumbs
  • 8 anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley plus more for garnish
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Cut the swordfish into four pieces. Slice each piece horizontally, keeping the pieces matched. The reason you are doing this is because a layer of seasoning will be put between the two halves like frosting in a layer cake.
  2. In a bowl, prepare the seasoning by mixing together the bread crumbs, anchovies, garlic, oregano and parsley, and moisten with the olive oil. This bread-crumb coating should look like wet sand.
  3. Preheat the oven to 425 F.
  4. Lightly oil a 12-by-9-by-inch baking casserole. Arrange the four bottom pieces of the sliced swordfish in the casserole and coat them with half the bread crumb mixture. Lightly salt and pepper. Layer the four top pieces of swordfish over the bread-crumb coating and then lightly salt and pepper. Spread the remaining bread-crumb mixture on top of the top layer of swordfish. Drizzle a little olive oil over the top and put it into the oven until the crust is a golden brown and the fish is springy to the touch, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, transfer to a serving platter, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Griddled halibut. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Griddled halibut. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Griddled Halibut

You can make this with cod or red snapper too. Figure on 6 ounces per person. Preheat a cast iron griddle or skillet over medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Rub both sides of the fish with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place on the griddle and cook for 10 minutes, turning only once with a spatula, making sure you just leave the fish on the griddle without fiddling with it, touching it or turning it.

A good rule of thumb when cooking fish on the griddle is to cook at this heat for 10 minutes per inch of fish measured at the thickest part. Serve with a wedge of lemon and garnish with parsley.

Fried fish fillet. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Fried fish fillet. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Fried Fish

This can be made with any fish fillet. In a 10-inch cast iron skillet, heat ½ cup extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Dredge the fish fillets on both sides in fine dry bread crumbs. Carefully place into the skillet (so the oil doesn’t splash) and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 8 minutes in all. Serve with salt, pepper and a wedge of lemon.

Main photo: Baked swordfish with golden crust. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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Purple cauliflower, yellow sweet pepper and tomato salad. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Think of the platter as a palette, and your vegetables as swaths of paint that fill in the color of the canvas. This is what every August provides as our tomato plants and other garden vegetables are going crazy and this means we should be thinking colorful salads.

This is both an appetizing and beautiful way to present what usually becomes an accompaniment to grilled foods. Salads of heirloom tomatoes are a favorite this time of year. But remember there are lots of heirloom cultivars besides tomatoes such as purple cauliflower or yellow sweet peppers. And don’t ignore the non-heirloom tomatoes such as Big Boys or Early Girls because they have their uses too.

There are heirloom varieties of all vegetables, not just tomatoes, and there are plenty of hybrid accidents too. Colored varieties of cauliflower such as the purple one here called Graffiti are not genetically engineered but rather a blend of heirloom varieties, or naturally occurring accidents or hybrids grown from them. Purple cauliflower gets its color from anthocyanins, the antioxidant also found in red wine. It has a sweeter and nuttier taste than white cauliflower. The yellow sweet pepper called for below is usually the yellow version of the cultivar known as cubanelle, but use any yellow pepper you find.

The great thing about summer salads is that they are easily prepared since you’ll be letting the natural flavors and juices of the vegetables themselves tell the story rather than relying on a heavy load of seasoning or dressing. They can also be grilled first if you like and then served at room temperature later.

These platters of vegetables don’t really require recipes, although I do provide them as you could just assemble them following the photos and your inspiration. See the photographs for an idea of how they should look on the platter.

Mussel and tomato salad. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Mussel and Tomato Salad. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Mussel and Tomato Salad

Cultivated mussels are sold today already cleaned. You can save further time by hard-boiling and cooking the green beans at the same time in the same pot. This salad stands alone but can also accompany simple pasta or grilled meat.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

2 large eggs

16 green beans, trimmed and cut in ½-inch pieces

2 pounds mussels, debearded and rinsed

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Salt to taste

10 ripe but firm cherry tomatoes

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed (optional)

Directions

1. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil over high heat, then hard boil the eggs for exactly 10 minutes. After the water has been boiling for 3 minutes with the eggs, add the green beans, and drain both the eggs and green beans together at the 10 minute mark. Plunge the eggs into ice water and shell the eggs once they are cool and quarter lengthwise.

2. In a large pot with about ½ inch of water, steam the mussels over high heat until they open, about 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that remain firmly shut. Remove and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt to taste.

4. Put the tomatoes in a serving platter. Remove all but 8 of the mussels from their shells and scatter them over the tomatoes, tossing a bit. Scatter the green beans around the tomatoes. Sprinkle with the black pepper and pour on half of the dressing. Garnish the edge of the platter with the egg quarters and mussels in their shell. Place the anchovies, if desired, in the center of the platter, making two X shapes, and pour the remaining dressing on top. Serve immediately or within 2 hours, but do not refrigerate.

Tomato, eggplant and ricotta salad. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Tomato, Eggplant and Ricotta salad. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Tomatoes, Eggplant and Ricotta Salad

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

Olive oil for frying

One 1-pound eggplant, cut into ½-inch slices

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1½ teaspoons red wine vinegar

1 garlic clove, very finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 large tomatoes (about 1¼ pounds), sliced into rounds

½ pound fresh ricotta cheese

12 fresh basil leaves

1. Preheat the frying oil in a deep fryer or an 8-inch saucepan fitted with a basket insert to 375 degrees F.

2. Cook, turning once, the eggplant slices until golden brown, about 7 minutes. Remove and set aside to drain on a paper towel covered platter until cool.

3. In a small bowl or glass, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper.

4. Arrange the tomatoes in a shallow serving bowl or on a platter and arrange the eggplant arrange them. Drizzle the dressing over the vegetables and then garnish with dollops if ricotta cheese and basil leaves. Serve at room temperature.

Purple Cauliflower, Yellow Sweet Pepper, Tomato Salad

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

1½-pound head of purple cauliflower, trimmed

2 large and fleshy yellow sweet peppers (cubanelle)

4 ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1½ teaspoons white wine vinegar

1 garlic clove, very finely chopped garlic

Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

8 fresh basil leaves

Directions

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat then place the whole cauliflower in so the florets are not covered with water and will only steam. If they are submerged you will lose the beautiful purple color. Cook until a skewer can be pushed through the stem with a little resistance, about 10 minutes. Remove the cauliflower carefully so it doesn’t bread and set aside to cool. Cut off the largest and hardest part of the stem and discard.

2. Meanwhile, place the peppers on a wire rack over a burner on high heat and roast until their skins blister black on all sides, turning occasionally with tongs. Remove the peppers and place in a paper or heavy plastic bag to steam for 20 minutes, which will make them easier to peel. When cool enough to handle, rub off as much blackened peel as you can and remove the seeds by rubbing with a paper towel (to avoid washing away flavorful juices) or by rinsing under running water (to remove more easily).

3. Arrange the cauliflower in the center of a platter and surround with the roasted peppers and tomatoes. Drizzle with the olive oil, vinegar and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with basil leaves and serve at room temperature.

Main photo: Purple Cauliflower, Yellow Sweet Pepper and Tomato Salad. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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Fish and chips with mushy peas to go from Armstrong's Fish and Chips in Prestwich, Manchester. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

When it comes to national icons, the rest of the world thinks of Britain in terms of the changing of the guard, Shakespeare’s birthplace, Princess Di and good old fish and chips. And, now, the latter is taking to the skies. You could say they’re frying high, except it would be a terrible joke.

National airline British Airways has just introduced a “Flying Fish and Chip Supper” on board various short-haul flights from Heathrow Airport to destinations such as Athens, Greece, or St. Petersburg, Russia.

BA has linked up with the Quayside fish and chip shop (chippy as it is known in the vernacular) in Whitby, Yorkshire, which was recently awarded the prestigious title of “Best in Britain” in the 2014 National Fish & Chip Awards.

Three excellent fish and chip shops

Despite the sad truth that the standard of fish and chips has long been in decline throughout the UK, honored more in Pavlovian anticipation than the flabby and greasy actuality of stale oil, cheap vinegar and frozen potatoes, there are still some excellent fish and chip shops to be found around the country.

  • The Fish House in Fleetwood, Lancashire. The Richardsons are a family of former fish merchants with Marine Stewardship Council certification and superb fresh fish and chips.
  • Kingfisher in Plymouth, Devon. This restaurant is also a candidate for everyone’s ideal chippy with sustainable fish and fresh Maris Piper chips — fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside.
  • Frankie’s in Shetland Isles. This is Britain’s most northerly fish and chip cafe and takeaway where you can probably get the best haddock ever known to Scotsman. Chip shop dreams are made of this — and who am I to disagree?

Stuart Fusco, chef-director of Quayside, has been working with BA to give his expert opinion on its sustainable cod fillet and chunky chips. Fusco says in a business travel news release that “cooking up a good batter on board presents some unique challenges,” which may be something of an understatement, given that our ability to taste saltiness and sweetness is reduced by about 30 percent at high altitude.

BA’s menu development manager Sinead Ferguson explains they have to pre-fry both the fish fillets and the chips, “but the length of time we do this for is fundamental to giving the chips and batter that desired crunch.”

BA.fishandchips

BA.fishandchips
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Stuart Fusco, head chef at Quayside, which has been named "Best in Britain" in the 2014 National Fish and Chip Awards, is behind British Airways' effort to serve fish and chips onboard short-haul flights throughout August. Credit: Nick Morrish/British Airways

History of fish and chips

The technique of shallow-frying fish in oil, originally to be served cold, is thought to have been introduced by Sephardic Jews in 19th century London. At the time fresh fish was widely available from the North Sea, and traders realized that frying the fish helped prolong shelf-life as well as mask any less-than-fresh aromas.

Fried potato stalls were also popular in working-class areas, boosted by the advent of cheap cooking oils, cast iron industrial ranges and patented inventions such as automatic potato peelers.

The great moment when fish met chip, however, plunges us into hot controversy. Some say the East End, others claim Dundee, Bradford, Oldham or Mossley near Manchester as the birthplace of the nation’s chippy. Certainly the borderland between Lancashire and Yorkshire was fertile territory for this new street food: a strong tradition of potato eating; access from the ports via the new railway network; working families who needed cheap, quick and nutritious food.

Although things have never been quite the same since the hygiene police banned the use of traditional newsprint for wrapping paper (which effectively blotted up the fat without steaming the contents), a proper portion of fresh, well-made fish and chips can hit the spot like no other.

However, if there is one thing better, it is a chip butty. To construct, lavishly spread sliced white bread or barm cakes with butter. Fill to capacity with salted, well-vinegared chips, hot enough to melt the butter. Simply divine.

Four Fish Batters

Yield: Each of the following four recipes produces enough batter to deep-fry 4 pieces of fish

1. Dissolve one package of active dried yeast in ¼ cup of tepid water. Sieve 2 cups all-purpose flour and a teaspoon of salt into a bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in 1 cup of tepid water plus the yeast and water mixture; whisk well. Leave covered for a few hours before using.

2. Sift 1 cup self-rising flour with a pinch of salt, then add 1 egg, 1 tablespoon oil or melted butter and ⅔ cup milk to make a smooth batter.

3. Place ¾ cup all-purpose flour in a bowl, make a well. Add an egg yolk, 3 tablespoons beer and a little salt. Mix together. Combine 3 tablespoons milk and 2 tablespoons cold water. Gradually add to the first mixture. Rest for at least 30 minutes, then fold in 2 stiffly beaten egg whites.

4. To make a tempura batter, loosely whisk 1 cup of very cold water and a refrigerator-temperature egg with 1 cup all-purpose flour, ¼ cup cornstarch and a pinch of salt.

A Word About Mushy Peas

Mushy —  what a word! You couldn’t invent another that so aptly describes the texture and consistency of this northern delicacy that adds a touch of subtle color to the burnished palette of the fish and chip plate.

Old Cumbrian directions for Pease Pudding, aka Mushy Peas:

1. Soak two cups of dried marrowfat or split green peas overnight with a pinch of baking soda.

2. Drain and place into a pan with a sliced onion. Cover with water and simmer for 2 hours until soft and the water absorbed.

3. Purée until thick but still somewhat lumpy, then add 2 tablespoons butter, a beaten egg, salt, pepper and a little nutmeg. Reheat gently, stirring constantly.

Alternatively, buy a tin of Lockwood’s Mushy Peas (and tart up with a bit of fresh mint).

Main photo: Fish and chips with mushy peas to go from Armstrong’s Fish and Chips in Prestwich, Manchester. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

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Finnish chef Sami Tallberg is on a mission to make foraging part of the national way of life once more. Credit: Martin Thompson

Finns treasure their solitary excursions into the endless woods and forests that fringe the 187,888 lakes and 179,584 islands of their hauntingly beautiful countryside. Throughout the summer and autumn, they prefer to keep their meditations on the beauty of the natural world to themselves: They rarely go in large groups, privacy is valued, and the social code generally prohibits more than a brief nod to anyone they meet. And, of course, they sensibly like to keep their prized foraging spots to themselves.

Although Finns have always collected berries and mushrooms, other types of plant-hunting have become nearly forgotten skills. Foraging was associated with war-time hardship (dandelion roots, for example, were used as a substitute for coffee) and rejected in favor of status-symbol, shop-bought food. However, Helsinki-based chef  Sami Tallberg is on a mission to make foraging part of the national way of life once more. And it’s not just a way of finding food for free, but of celebrating healthy produce and enlightening minds.

As Tallberg says, “Once you understand where ingredients come from, you see their beauty and learn to respect their qualities with the minimum of processing.”

Catching the foraging bug

Tallberg got the foraging bug about 10 years ago when working in London. One day the legendary Kentish forager Miles Irving walked into the kitchen with a box of wild seakale.

“I was just knocked out when I tried it,” Tallberg recalled, “and when I came back to Finland, I realized I was living in a big green supermarket. The Everyman’s Rights Code allows anyone to pick anywhere except someone’s back garden or protected species.”

Tallberg does not consider wild plants as substitutes for cultivated vegetables and herbs, but as important ingredients in their own right, both in terms of taste and their nutritional qualities.

Taking advantage of one of Finland’s long summer days, Tallberg and I went foraging on a tiny island that lies within Helsinki’s city limits. We were surrounded by a surprisingly wide variety of edible plants: mild, strong, crunchy, coarse, fragrant, bulky, delicate. Less than an hour later, he served me the best salad I have ever eaten. And the cheapest.

Highlighting wild herbs and plants

The use of wild herbs and plants has become a hallmark of many modern restaurants in Finland and elsewhere — Noma in Copenhagen led the way with its version of the new Nordic Cuisine. But Tallberg wants to introduce (or re-introduce) wild plants to the home cook.

As we explored the thickets of greenery, Tallberg gave me a lesson in plant-hunting. The patches of wild strawberries, with tiny, twinkling fruit, were easy to spot and Tallberg showed me how to string them on a blade of grass to transport them safely home. Carpets of exquisite purple and yellow heartsease (Viola tricolor) were delicately perfumed with vanilla. And Japanese rose bushes (Rosa rugosa) were in bloom, their petals shocking pink against the dark green leaves.

After that, plant identification became trickier. Tallberg is adamant you should not eat or even pick any plant you cannot recognize with absolute certainty. If in doubt, leave it out, he advises.

“Start with the ones (plants) you already know to get you going,” he advised as he presented me with a bunch of sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetosella), which he describes as a smaller, more elegant version of common sorrel. “Many people think it’s a noxious weed, but it’s lovely with fish and shellfish or green asparagus.”

“When you find a new plant, stop and go back some 10 meters and walk towards the plants again. This way you will be able to make observations about some essential feature, such as color, height, leaf shape, scent and so on.”

foragingbag

foragingbag
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Mushroom forager's bag at Mikkeli Market, Finland. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

Unless you go out with an experienced forager, it helps immensely to consult a book, such as Tallberg’sWild Herb Cookbook,” or take a course about native plants at a local community college. Websites, such as NatureGate, are also helpful. But, as Tallberg says, “Be sensible: don’t go harvesting herbs or plants along highways, on areas sprayed with herbicides, or near factories. Also avoid foraging near golf courses or other areas where herbicides or other pesticides may have been used. Consider sustainability and don’t tear out all the roots. The tools you need are the same as used in gathering mushrooms: a basket and a small knife, although I also include scissors in my basic tool kit. If you’re picking nettles, wear gloves.”

Able to identify culinary plants

As he gathered samples of chickweed,  fat hen and sweet cicely, Tallberg said he could identify more than 80 varieties of culinary plants but was still learning.

“I get so excited when I’m out foraging — I imagine how lovely the violets will be with fish or how polypody (Polypodium) is a natural flavor enhancer for game or how I’m going to use pine needles like rosemary or deep-fry nettle leaves or lichen and flavor them with juniper salt. … And then I remember I’m still in Helsinki — it’s crazy! Foraging has given me a new angle on life, not just gastronomy,” he said.

Tallberg has built a business supplying wild ingredients to other chefs, has written several books on the subject and acts as a national consultant and Finnish food ambassador. He was awarded the prestigious Finland Prize for his work with food, nature and conservation.

As we meandered, Tallbert was a companionable and enthusiastic soundtrack, “There are many different types of dandelion. … Oh, look, there’s some orpine. They’ve got juicy, succulent leaves and tops, and you can use them like a salad leaf or toss into a jus. … Ooh, just found some Polypodium vulgare, that’s quite liquorish and good for fish and game. … A bit later in the year, this is where I’ll find bilberries, rowanberries, wild raspberries … Wild yarrow will bring herbal tones to a salad. … I use maple leaves, when they’re young and shiny, like vine leaves. … Chickweed are like pea shoots but milder and more mellow and add volume to a salad.”

Back at his flat, he explained the building blocks of wild salad making: “You’re looking for acidity, aroma and sweetness.”

To the haunting music of Aino Vena, we drank refreshing Nordic Koivu, birch sap water, as Tallberg made a vinaigrette with a splash of sea buckthorn juice. The salad was vivid and intense. I could feel myself getting healthier as I ate. Together with an omelette, local goat’s cheese and yogurt with wild strawberries, violets and bee pollen, it was the real taste of Finland.

Pork Chops With Fat Hen and Mustard*

Ingredients

  • Yield: 4 servings
  • Four 7-ounce pork chops (use first-class pork for this dish)
  • 2 handfuls of fat hen
  • 2 tablespoons strong mustard
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Olive oil
  • Freshly ground sea salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Season the pork chops with sea salt and pepper, brush with oil and fry on a hot cast-iron pan until just cooked.
  2. Cook the fat hen in water flavored with honey and salt for a couple of minutes, drain, toss with a drop of olive oil and serve with mustard.
  3. * This goes well with Carrots With Sweet Cicely

Carrots With Sweet Cicely

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

14 ounces small carrots

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons honey (brown sugar or treacle will do, too)

2½ cups water

half a handful of sweet cicely, finely chopped

2 ounces butter

Directions

1. Peel the carrots (unless you are using new season ones that have a thin peel containing plenty of flavor).

2. Place all the ingredients in a pot (apart from the sweet cicely), covering the carrots with water. Cook until almost all of the water has evaporated and a shiny butter glaze remains. Add the sweet cicely.

 

Steamed Fillet of Salmon With Ox-Eye Daisy Shoots

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 (4-ounce) pieces of salmon, boned

1 cucumber, sliced lengthways

4 tablespoons salad dressing*

Freshly ground sea salt and pepper

Directions

1. Season the salmon pieces with sea salt and pepper, steam them for about 3 minutes and leave to stand in room temperature for about 10 minutes, after which they will be ready.

2. Peel the cucumber, spoon out the seeds and cut the cucumber lengthwise into thin slices (with a cheese slicer or mandolin cutter).

3. Toss the shoots and cucumber in the salad dressing, season with sea salt and pepper and serve with the salmon at room temperature.

 

* Salad dressing

Ingredients

2 generous cups of cold-pressed olive oil

1¼ cup vegetable oil

¾ cup white wine vinegar

1½ tablespoon dried tarragon

4 medium-size garlic cloves, sliced

4 to 5 ounces Dijon-type mustard

Juice of half a lemon

Directions

1. Mix the ingredients in a jug blender or with a hand blender, and strain them by pressing through a strainer with a small ladle to ensure all aromas are captured.

Recipes are from: “Wild Herb Cookbook” by Sami Tallberg (2012), available in both Finnish- and English-language editions.

Main photo: Finnish chef Sami Tallberg is on a mission to make foraging part of the national way of life once more. Credit: Martin Thompson

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Grill fire ready for a four-course dinner. Credit: iStock/Keith Tsuji

Grilling takes effort. Lots of coal goes into building the fire; you wait for the coals to get hot; and the food cooks in about 15 minutes, if you’re having steaks, burgers, vegetables or hot dogs. And that’s it. The fire continues  burning, wasting away, while you eat. How about getting full use out of all those hot coals that are burning away for hours?

Here’s a game plan for a multi-course grill party that will be perfect for a summer weekend gathering that keeps different foods grilling for hours. Given the amount of food, you’ll probably want to have at least eight people joining you.

The courses you will serve are an appetizer, a first course, a main course, and a dessert. However, you can just keep throwing food onto the grill as you like, especially vegetables, because they can be chopped up later for a grilled salad.

Remember that the idea here is to get full use of your charcoal fire and not merely to cook quickly, although some foods will.

The summer night’s grill party menu and recipes.

When you build your fire, do so with a bit more coals than usual and with all the coals piled to one side of the firebox so that the other side will be cooler once the fire is going. Do not start cooking until all the coals are white with ash. All recipes assume the grill fire is ready to go.

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Grilled breaded swordfish. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Grilled Breaded Swordfish

Prep Time: 12 minutes

Cook Time: 8 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 4 servings as an appetizer

Note: Total time does not include time for the fire to be prepared.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated caciocavallo or pecorino cheese
  • 1¼ pounds swordfish, cubed
  • All-purpose flour for dredging
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Directions

  1. Mix the bread crumbs, oregano, salt, pepper, and cheese in a bowl.
  2. Dredge the swordfish in the flour and pat off any excess. Dip in the egg on both sides and then dredge again in the bread crumb mixture, coating both sides. Place on double skewers without touching each other.
  3. Drizzle the top of the swordfish with olive oil. Place the oiled side down on the grill and cook 4 minutes. Flip to the other side and grill another 4 minutes. Serve immediately.

Grilled Vegetables and Bruschetta

You should be able to get everything onto a 22-inch diameter Weber kettle grill. Cook in batches otherwise. The vegetables are eaten at room temperature after the main meat dish is cooked.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Note: Total time does not include time for the fire to be prepared.

Ingredients

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 large eggplants, peeled and cut lengthwise into ⅜ -inch-thick slices

4 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise into ⅜ -inch thick slices

4 bell peppers (various colors)

4 large portobello mushrooms

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Fresh basil leaves, to taste, whole, snipped, or chopped

Fresh or dried oregano to taste

8 (½-inch thick) slices Italian or French country bread (about ¾ pound)

Directions

1. Mix the garlic and olive oil in a bowl. Brush all the vegetables with olive oil. Place on the grill directly over the fire and cook until they are charred a bit. They can be set aside individually or mixed or chopped and mixed. Season with salt, pepper, and basil or oregano.

2. Brush the bread slices with the olive oil and grill until lightly toasted. Arrange all the vegetables attractively on a platter and serve.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin With Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary

Prep Time: 2 hours, including marinating

Cook Time: 25 to 30 minutes

Total Time: 2.5 hours

Yield: 8 servings

Note: Total time does not include time for the fire to be prepared.

Ingredients

4 pounds pork tenderloin (about 4 tenderloins in all)

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley

Directions

1. Place the pork tenderloins in a glass or ceramic baking dish and pour the olive oil and balsamic vinegar over them. Sprinkle with the garlic, onions, rosemary and black pepper and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours, turning several times.

2. Place the tenderloins on the grill (6 inches from the heat source for charcoal fires) and cook, uncovered, until golden brown, without turning or moving them, about 15 minutes. If your grilling grate is closer to the fire than 6 inches, grill the meat for less time or grill with indirect heat. Turn once and grill until the other side is golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle the parsley to coat a serving platter and arrange the grilled pork tenderloins on top and serve.

Grilled Bananas With Peach Schnapps and Cinnamon

Prep time: 0 minutes

Cook Time: About 12 minutes

Total Time: About 12 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Note: Total time does not include time for the fire to be prepared.

Ingredients

4 bananas, with their peels

4 tablespoons peach schnapps

Confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling

Ground cinnamon for sprinkling

Directions

1. Put the un-peeled bananas on the grill 1 to 2 inches from the source of the heat until they blacken on both sides.

2. Remove from the grill, slice the bananas open lengthwise, leaving them in their peels, and sprinkle a tablespoon of peach schnapps, a shake of powdered sugar and cinnamon on each and serve.

Main photo: Grill fire ready for a four-course dinner. Credit: iStock/Keith Tsuji

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Grilled skewers of scallops and shrimp. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Grilled shellfish always make the best appetizer. Once the grill fire is going there are a wide variety of things you can do with shellfish that cook quickly, make minimal mess, are wonderful for satisfying hungry party guests, are ridiculously easy and, most important, are delicious.

In these two examples, one with oysters and one with shrimp and scallops on skewers, everything is assembled simply. When planning portions, I generally figure on three oysters per person and one brochette of shrimp and scallops per person with one shrimp and one scallop on it. Remember, these are appetizers so there is no need for tons of food — that will come later. The instructions below assume you have made a grill fire first.

Shucking oysters

If you are not adept at shucking oysters (see my video) and if no one is around to open them you can cheat a bit by washing the oysters very well, which you should do in any case. Next, place them into a pot with a half-inch of water, cover, and turn the heat to high. All you are trying to do is get the oysters to relax a bit, not to open them or steam them, so this might take only a minute or two. Remove the oyster shells and, with an oyster knife or handle end of a spoon, pry them open completely, leaving the oyster in its shell, and then follow the recipe.

For the shrimp, the ideal size is medium, about 41- to 50-count per pound. Of course, if you have access to fresh shrimp with their heads (that is, never frozen shrimp) by all means use them, removing the shell but keeping the head on. Frozen shrimp should be defrosted in the refrigerator.

Oysters creole. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Oysters creole. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Too many people buy frozen shrimp as if all shrimp are the same. They’re not, so look at the package to see where they originate. My personal preference is large and extra large shrimp from India or Bangladesh. I’m not sure what they’re doing to make them taste better, but they do. Shrimp from Mexico, Vietnam, and Ecuador are pretty good, too, and I always love Florida rock shrimp but not for this preparation.

For the scallops, you’ll want to use the large sea scallops rather than the tiny bay scallops that cook too fast.

Oysters Creole

Yield: 6 appetizer servings

Ingredients

½ cup (1 stick) butter

2 tablespoons Creole seasoning, such as Tony Chachere’s or Paul Prudhomme’s

24 oysters, shucked

Directions

1. Melt the butter and stir in the Creole seasoning.

2. Shuck the oysters and arrange them on the grill. Spoon some seasoned butter over each and cover the grill. Grill until some of the butter is bubbling, then spoon the remainder on and continue grilling, covered, until the edges of the oysters begin to curl slightly. Remove and serve.

Grilled Skewers of Scallops and Shrimp

Make sure the scallops and shrimp on the skewer don’t touch.

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 pound medium shrimp, shelled

1 pound sea scallops

Juice of 1 orange

½ cup dry white wine

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup finely chopped fresh oregano or 1 tablespoon dried

Freshly ground black pepper

6 (10-inch) wooden skewers

Directions

1. Place the shrimp and scallops into a 9-by-12-inch ceramic or glass baking pan and add the orange juice, white wine, olive oil, oregano, and pepper to taste. Leave to marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 2 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 15 minutes before grilling.

2. Skewer the shrimp and scallops so they don’t touch, reserving the marinade. Place onto the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until the shrimp are orange and the scallops a light golden brown, about 20 minutes. Baste with the marinade during grilling. Serve hot.

Main photo: Grilled skewers of scallops and shrimp. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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Open oysters ready to eat. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

In “For Your Eyes Only,” British super-spy James Bond informs us that the best things in America are chipmunks and oyster stew. We can understand oyster stew on many levels, including its aphrodisiac properties. Like Bond, a gentleman should know how to open oysters for his girl. And a girl should know how to eat the oyster.

The best oysters are those whose life is controlled by a careful balance of estuaries, temperature, salinity and water flow. Opening an oyster requires an oyster knife, of course, and then finding the hinge in the oyster where the two shell halves meet. The knife is wedged in to the little groove of the joint and rather than push hard, which often leads to injury, it is important to twist the knife until you hear the “pop” of the shell halves releasing their grip.

Most people who injure themselves opening oysters do so not with the knife but on one of the sharp edges of the oyster shell itself. Once the pop has occurred, push gently to separate the shells and run the knife around the entire edge of the oyster to separate them entirely. Then the knife is run once again to separate the oyster meat from the adductor muscle that holds it to the shell. The oyster stays in the deeper shell half rather than the flatter shell half as it will hold all the oyster juice too.

When eating raw oysters, I belong to the school of thought that only a few drops of lemon juice are required, and it is best to serve them cold, ideally on ice. Oyster opening and eating is a messy affair and one done without utensils. Once the oyster is opened there’s all manner of ways of serving or cooking it from dipped into a mignonette to baked with a topping to deep-fried. However, the purest way to eat an oyster is to open one and eat it raw.

Advice varies about the proper way to eat an oyster, but the idea that you don’t chew and just let them slide down your throat doesn’t seem right to me. If you do that, I don’t believe you’re tasting anything. The whole point to taste is that you masticate.

The oyster shell with its oyster and liquor is used as the vehicle to bring the oyster to your mouth and you do indeed slide the oyster into your mouth. Then take a couple of bites and, in the words of one poet, you tickle the oyster to death.

The first oysters opened go to the lady friend, and then the shucker slides one down for himself.

Main photo: Open oysters ready to eat. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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