Wednesday, November 21

Devon Crab & Jerusalem Artichoke Risotto

You have probably never used these knobbly little root veg but they are sure to be hiding somewhere in your local greengrocers as they are bang in season. They taste nothing like the more common deli counter Italian artichoke and have a unique taste that is all their own. Sweet and earthy, they work brilliantly in soups, stews, in mashes or paired here with brown crab. 

They are a bit of a bugger to peel and you must immediately toss in acidulated water (lemon water) to stop them going black, but a few go a long way in flavour terms. At the greengrocers, try to pick out larger artichokes with less knobbles to make your peeling job easier. If you are less fussed at having flecks of skin in your risotto, you can just fastidiously scrub and boil in their skins. 

Your fishmonger should have some packs of 50/50 white and brown crab meat that are perfect for this recipe. Also ask if they have any crab or prawn shells kicking about. These can be tossed into the stock pot to intensify the flavour. For 2 to 3

1 leek, carrot, onion and 3 sticks of celery - washed and finely chopped
1 bay leaf
A palm full of black peppercorns
Jerusalem artichokes- 500g, peeled
Juice of 1 lemon
Milk to cover the artichokes
Risotto rice - 300g
Banana shallot - 1 large one, peeled and very finely chopped
Brown crab meat - 100g
White crab meat - 100g
White wine - 1 small glass (nothing too acidic, like a muscadet)
Parsley - 1 small bunch leaves separated from stems and finely chopped
Garlic - 1 small clove, finely chopped
Butter - 50g, cubed
Salt and white pepper

First make your stock. Boil a litre of water and simmer the leek, onion, celery, carrot, bay leaf, peppercorns and the crab/prawn shells if using. After 1/2 hour or so, drain the stock through a sieve pressing the detritus to extract all the flavour. Discard the veg - they have done their work.

Peel the artichokes then slice to the thickness of a pound coin. Toss immediately in a bowl of water and lemon juice - this stops them blackening. When you have peeled and chopped them all, drain the artichokes and transfer to a pan. Just cover with milk and bring gently to the simmer. Blip away until they are very soft, maybe 20 minutes. Drain, reserving the milk. Puree the artichokes in a blender with a little of the milk to allow the blender blades to catch. Set the puree and reserved milk aside. Return the vegetable stock to the simmer.

In a large pan gently fry the shallot and garlic in half the butter. When translucent but not browned, chuck in the rice and fry for a couple of minutes tossing the rice in the butter. Add the wine and bubble to nothing, then ladle in the reserved milk from the cooking of the artichokes and 2/3 the artichoke puree. Stirring continuously, the milk should begin to absorb into the rice. Season lightly with salt and pepper then add the hot stock - ladle by ladle - as it is absorbed. After about 20 minutes the rice should be almost cooked but sill have a little bite, you may not need all the stock. Take the risotto off the heat and add the brown crab meat and the remainder of the butter. Allow the risotto to rest for a few minutes. Give it a good stir and check the seasoning and flavour. You can add more artichoke puree if you feel it needs it. To check you have the correct consistency for the risotto, draw a spoon across the base of the pan to make a furrow in the risotto. A thick creamy juice should just ooze from the rice. Try to manage your stock ladling whilst cooking - little and often is the way to go.

Plate up in warm bowls topping with the white crab meat and parsley. 

Saturday, November 10

An interesting salad from the supermarket aisles

Whilst on holiday I have been gorging myself at some of the regions best restaurants and pubs - Mark Hix Oyster and Fish House and The Lord Poulet Arms to name but a few. Feeling bloated and corpulent I was in need of something healthy, something to balance my Yin and Yang. A salad suggested the missus.......? Sure, why not.

But I am on holiday and can't really be arsed to cook anything too fancy, let alone roast a beetroot for hours. So I am saying that it is ok to cheat on vacation, make life easy on yourself whilst taking it easy. Here is an interesting salad where the bulk of the prep effort is lifting the item and putting it in your shopping trolley. Ok, there is a little peeling and chopping but no pain no gain right?

A bag of lambs lettuce
A punnet of spicy cooked beetroot
Halloumi - half a pack
Grapes - a large handful
Conference pear - 1 large ripe one
Parsley - 1/2 a small pack, roughly picked
Tzatziki - 1/2 tub
Juice of half a lemon
Extra virgin olive oil

Halve the grapes.
Peel, core and finely slice the pear, toss in the lemon juice to stop it browning.
Slice the halloumi as thin as you can.
Artfull arrange all the fruit, vegetables and cheese on a nice plate.
Drizzle with the tzatziki and olive oil.
Eat with hot pitta breads.
Drink beer.

Roasted Plaice, Potted Shrimp Butter

It has been ages since I last wrote up a recipe, it's not that I've been abstaining from cooking, I just forgot my USB cable whilst on holiday in Devon......doh!

My philosophy on holiday cooking is not to plan meals, just keep your eyes open for great local ingredients and throw something together on the spur of the moment. I was down on the beach in a little fishing village when a boat came in with a box of still flapping plaice. I'm not sure I have ever bought a fish that was still alive but clearly it could not be fresher or more local - I had to have one. 

This is not a particularly innovative dish, I have seen this on the menu of more than one gastropub. It is however a winner - tasty, really easy to make and it allows the key ingredients to shine, namely the beautiful fresh fish. Brown shrimp have a wonderful flavour and are available in little packs in all large supermarkets - these are used in the famous Morecambe Bay potted shrimps, hence the title. For two:

Plaice - 1kg. Ask your fishmonger to gut it and remove the head and frills
Brown shrimp - 100g
Butter - 100g
Garlic - 1 small clove, peeled and finely grated
Cayenne Pepper - a good pinch
Ground mace - a good pinch
White pepper - a good pinch
Grated zest of half a lemon and a squeeze of the juice.
A small bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves picked from stems

Heat your oven to 220c. Give the fish a good wash, particularly the gut cavity. Remove any roe and scrape out any blood around the spine near where the head used to be. Place on an oven tray dark side up, and chuck it in the oven. No need to skin, as it is much easier to remove once the fish is cooked.

Melt the butter over a gentle heat and add the garlic, lemon zest, pepper and spices and a pinch of salt. Allow the flavours to warm and get to know one another, but don't boil the butter.

Depending on the size and thickness of the fish, it should take somewhere between 12 and 15 mins to cook. An easy way to check is to try and tease off a little flesh from the bone at the thickest part of the fish. If it comes away easily and the flesh at the bone is white and not translucent, then the fish is cooked. 

Quickly warm the shrimp in the butter - they are cooked already so don't over cook. The skin should have split and be starting to peel off, gently remove it then transfer the whole fish to a warmed serving plate. Top generously with the shrimp butter and a handful of parsley. Serve with some simply boiled potatoes and some seasonal green vegetables to soak up all that butter.