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Simple suppers volume 1

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I don’t really want to fall into the trap of short posts and unoriginal notes on the nature of dinner and cooking after work. We all understand. Some days you need something that will come together in 5 minutes or less; other days we just need a takeaway. When it’s the former and not the latter you could do worse than this cheeky little dish. Taken from stonesoup, a blog devoted to recipes with 5 ingredients or fewer (you’d be amazed how many recipes that encompasses), this is a nutritious dish that seems like random, healthy foods just thrown together, but when you eat it you realise you’ve unwittingly cooked yourself a proper meal. It’s fab. Perfect for those evenings when you’ve come in from tasting 30 19th century wines. Or something.

Lentil and smoked salmon hash
From stonesoup

250g (about 2/3 of a 400g can) of puy lentils, cooked if they’re dried
100g smoked salmon trimmings
100g rocket leaves
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Heat a drizzle of oil in a frying pan. Add the smoked salmon trimmings and cook for a couple of minutes, just until they turn opaque. Add the lentils and cook for another minute, or until warmed through.

2. Add the rocket leaves to the pan, then the vinegar and lemon juice. Toss so everything is mixed together, then serve immediately. Eat, enjoy, feel full, and marvel at how well you can feed yourself in a hurry.


Written by guffblog

7th September 2011 at 21:15

Utterly butterly

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Sometimes all a dish needs to make it pop, come alive and generally look a little more special than the normal is some flavoured butter. These are easily whipped up by mashing herbs, spices or citrus into softened butter, then chilling the butter again, but they seem very exotic, the sort of thing that should sit on its own little plate, with a tiny silver knife, on a white tablecloth in a posh restaurant. Melted over food they add flavour, fat and all round awesomeness, bringing the dry and mundane into the world of the moist and fun immediately. Plus they last a very long time in the fridge, always a bonus.

Prawns with orange saffron butter
From Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume

This recipe was supposed to be served with a swede and tahini mash, which sounded great. Lacking swede I decided to substitute carrots, and thought my beautiful purple carrots would be just the thing. Alas, after boiling the water was a vivid indigo and my carrots had turned a sort of murky brown colour, and still didn’t mash properly. I think I might just stick with swede next time.

1 tablespoon gin
4 threads saffron
Zest and juice of half an orange
1/2 teaspoon ground sumac
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1/4 teaspoon ground garlic powder
50g butter
250g king prawns, shelled and deveined

1. In a small bowl stir the saffron threads into the gin and leave to infuse for 3 minutes. Add the orange juice and zest, then stir in the sumac, cumin, chives and garlic powder. Beat in the softened butter; it will separate out, and then, when it is well mixed, come back together again. There may be a little liquid left in the bottom of the bowl; this is fine. Take the flavoured butter out of the bowl, plop it onto a piece of clingfilm, and roll it into a log. Twist the ends tightly closed and refrigerate for 3 hours, or freeze for an hour.

2. Heat a frying pan and add about a quarter of the butter. When it starts to sizzle, add the prawns. Toss to coat in the butter and cook over a high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add another quarter of the butter to the pan, allow it just to melt, and then serve the prawns, with the remaining chilled orange butter on the side. Serve with green leaves and swede and tahini mash.

Serves 2. I served this with a lovely Traminer from Bulgaria. Research suggests this could either be a Savagnin, or Gewürtztraminer. Alas, my Bulgarian isn’t good enough to permit me to discover which, and even if I could read all of the bottle, I suspect it still wouldn’t tell me. Either way, the fruity and strong floral notes matched the orange and saffron very nicely.

Written by guffblog

18th August 2011 at 12:52

Posted in Fish and seafood

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Good enough for Jehovah

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Remind me what the point of a fishmonger is who doesn’t actually prepare your fish for you? I do realise I should have got up early and trekked to a local fishmonger, arriving just after he had brought his catch in for the day, but truthfully at 6pm on a Friday evening in central London, the Waitrose fish counter was my best option. Only “fish counter” is really rather a loose term, since the very helpful young man who picked up the piece of fish, put it on the scale and read the number off the digital screen refused to fillet the fish for me. Sigh. Not that I don’t love an excuse to pull my boning knife out and hack away inexpertly at a piece of meat (I will find time to read that knife skills book, I will, I will), but, well, I rather assumed that was all part of the service at a fish counter. Apparently not. Anyway, rant over, but if you’re not au fait with halibut let me tell you now that the bone (erm, I’m going with spine and other assorted bony bits) in the centre of a big double fillet is actually quite large, so buy a little more than you think you’ll need if it’s not already filleted.

Green curry with halibut
Adapted just a smidge from Good Fish, via Gluten-Free Girl

This recipe is really very easy, despite the long ingredients list, as long as you have a food processor of some sort. I recently invested in a mini chopper, having made do with a pestle and mortar and an immersion blender for too long, and though I dislike buying kitchen gadgets that take up space and may have limited use, it was £25 very well spent. Unless you’re regularly making meals for 4 people or more, a wee baby chopper or mini blender is all you need and it will make sauces, pestos, curry blends and even grinding small quantities of flour (gf oat flour for example) possible. Hurrah!

1 shallot, roughly chopped into chunks
1 green birdseye chilli
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 small handful coriander, stalks and leaves, roughly torn
1 stalk lemongrass (about 3-4 inches long), chopped into 4 pieces
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 kaffir lime leaf
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons water
1 400-g can coconut milk
1/2 tablespoons (about 5 big drops) fish sauce
Zest of 1 lime
250g halibut, boned and skinned (when all this is done you’ll probably have closer to 175g, but that should be just enough for 2 people)

1 red birdseye chilli
1 shallot, cut into rings
1 lime, peeled and chopped into cubes
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1. Put the first 12 ingredients (shallot, chilli, garlic, coriander, lemongrass, ginger, ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, lime leaf, salt and water) into a food processor and blend for about 30 seconds or until a nearly smooth paste. (I left it with a few very small pieces of shallot and garlic in there, and pieces of coriander that you could see. A completely smooth paste will give a more uniform colour and taste; you may need to add a little more liquid to achieve this.)

2. In a small saucepan (so that the coconut milk, when added, comes a good inch or two up the sides of the pan) pour a drizzle of oil (vegetable or sunflower). Heat until sizzling, then add the curry paste you’ve just made. Fry this for 2-3 minutes, or until it starts to brown and smells freaking amazing. Then add the coconut milk, the lime zest and the fish sauce. Bring this mixture to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add the halibut and then take the saucepan off the heat. Put a lid on and let the residual heat cook the fish, leaving it nice and tender. Clever eh?

3. In the 5 minutes or less it will take the fish to cook put a frying pan over a high heat with a drizzle of oil. Add the red chilli, shallot rings and lime and fry quickly until they are blackened round the edges, about 2-3 minutes. Maybe open a window while you’re doing this. At the very least don’t stand near the pan and take a big sniff as I can confidently say that the steam/smoke from blackening birdseye chillies is very painful on the eyes, nose and throat.

4. Serve the curry over jasmine rice, topped with the fried shallots, chillies and lime and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

Serves 2. If you’ve read this far and you’re still puzzled as to where Jehovah comes in, please go and watch Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, then come back. Thank you.

Written by guffblog

30th June 2011 at 17:27

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This recipe as originally written was not long. It was not technical, or tedious, nor did it require any special equipment. However, in my drive to always reduce recipes to the lowest common denominator and strip out as many extra steps as possible I thought, in my wisdom, I could make it even easier. Toast the coconut, then tip it out of the pan onto some paper towel and add it back in at the end? What a fa-diddle. Far easier to just throw everything in together, I thought. And it was. Well, marginally easier anyway. But given I used a total of three saucepans for this meal, once the rice and spinach were cooked as well, and spent time carefully measuring out spices for the side dish, the extra step of toasting the coconut really wouldn’t have been too much effort. The result? I hesitate to say “ho-hum”, it was definitely better than that, but with crunchy coconut that actually tastes, well, of coconut, rather than slightly soggy coconut that tastes slightly soggy, it would have been even better.

Even without my mangling of the recipe this is a stupidly quick meal to prepare, almost criminally so, and if you keep a bag of frozen prawns in the freezer, one that can be thrown together (after the coconut’s been toasted I mean) without a trip to the shops.

Coconut shrimp with spicy spinach
Shrimp recipe adapted slightly from Steamy Kitchen Cookbook; Spinach recipe inspired by 101 Cookbooks

Use any kind of sweet spirit you have on hand for the shrimp, be it rum, brandy or even a splash of madeira (not technically a spirit, I know).

2 tablespoons desiccated coconut
250g prawns, deveined
3 spring onions, white and green bits, chopped
2 tablespoons brandy
1 tablespoon butter

Spicy spinach
1/4 teaspoon crushed chillies
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seed
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
400g spinach, rinsed and spun or patted dry

1. Set a frying pan over a high heat and add the desiccated coconut. Toast for about a minute, or until middling to dark brown. Don’t allow it to burn though, so give the pan a few good shakes while the coconut is cooking to make sure it gets evenly browned. Tip the coconut out of the pan and set aside.

2. In a small saucepan place the crushed chillies, cumin seeds and black mustard seeds. Toast over a medium heat for about 2 minutes, or until the mustard seeds start to pop. Don’t let the spices burn. Add the butter and the garlic to the pan, cook for another 30 seconds or until the butter is just melted and starting to bubble, then add the spinach and pat down with a spatula so as much of it is as close to the heat source as possible. Leave the spinach to cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally so the spices don’t burn on the bottom of the pan, until the spinach has just wilted down into what looks like a ridiculously small volume. Remove from the heat immediately.

3. Return the frying pan to the heat, add a drizzle of oil and when it starts to shimmer add the prawns. Cook quickly over the heat for about a minute, give the pan a shake to turn them over and cook for another minute. Add the spring onions to the pan, cook for a further 30 seconds then pour in the brandy. This should sizzle and steam and then bubble down into a sticky saucey glaze, in the space of about 30-45 seconds. Once the brandy has turned into said sticky, saucey glaze add the butter, give the pan a stir or a shake until the butter has melted, then add the toasted coconut back in. Give the pan one final shake and stir, so the coconut is well mixed in, then serve the shrimp immediately with jasmine rice, and the sticky, saucey glaze drizzled over the top, with the spicy spinach on the side.

Serves 2.

Written by guffblog

24th June 2011 at 18:43

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Why do pistachios not come shelled? That is the question I was asking myself last weekend, as my fingers became red, and raw, and sore and swollen, as I attempted to prise open another little green nut. It can’t be to do with freshness, as the shells are generally partially open; surely a shell partially open to the air is as useless as no shell at all? I would have thought so anyway. And shops can sell peanuts deshelled, and hazelnuts naked, so why not pistachios? Or was I simply looking in the wrong place? In any case, I discovered two things: one, shelling nuts ceases to be fun/glamorous/homemaker-esque after 5 minutes and simply becomes tedious and as I discovered, a little painful. Two, there are few things that can substitute for a nutcracker when you need one. This is indeed rare, as my pistachios were mainly half open, but those that weren’t were a problem. I eventually decided that my garlic crusher would make a good substitute nutcracker, which was, I think an inspired choice, only it was a little strong for such a delicate nut, and thus most of them opened this way ended up in crumbs all over the floor, shell and all. Not so helpful. Fortunately though the bits of nut, being a beautiful fresh yellowy-green colour were easy to distinguish from the bits of shell, and separate. Suggestions for a better method of shelling these in future on a postcard to the usual address please.

Pistachio and sumac-crumbed scallops with pistachio pesto
From Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume

The original recipe used 80g pistachios for the crumb coating which I was saddened to see, after so long shelling the sodding nuts, was far too much. Of course you could use the extra ground nuts for the pesto, though I would probably toast the mixture unless you’re happy with the origin of your seafood. I’ve cut the quantity here down to 50g, though I suspect that’ll still be too much.

50g shelled pistachios
1 teaspoon sumac
Pinch of salt
12 large scallops, roe removed
1 tablespoon butter, melted
150g mixed leaves (I used pea shoots and lambs lettuce)

100g pistachios, shelled
3 tablespoons parsley chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
50-100ml light olive oil

1. Place the 50g of shelled pistachios in a blender and grind to a medium-fine meal, a little coarser than polenta, with a few slightly larger pieces in there. Mix this with the sumac and salt and spread out on a small plate. Set aside.

2. Place the 100g remaining pistachios in a blender. Grind for 30 seconds or until a coarse meal. Add the parsley and lemon juice and about 50ml of the olive oil. Blend for another 30 seconds, or until a homogenous pesto is created. Check the seasoning and add a little more olive oil if you want a slightly looser sauce. Set aside.

3. Heat a large frying pan over a high heat. Take each scallop and brush with melted butter, then roll in the pistachio and sumac mixture until well coated. Cook over a high heat for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until the pistachios are browned and the scallops are opaque almost all the way through. Be careful when turning the scallops over that you don’t lose the pistachio coating. As you can probably see, my scallops ended up without much of their coats. Bless.

4. Serve with spoonfuls of the pistachio pesto and mixed leaves.

Serves 2.

Written by guffblog

6th June 2011 at 18:56


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When I was in Malaysia I ate an amazing array of delicious food (all gluten-free, of course), but one of the dishes that stuck with me the most was laksa. I like spicy food, but in the way that Westerners like spicy food; just enough heat to make me tear up a bit, but nothing that any Malaysian would notice. I gradually built up to the laksa during my time there, starting with congee minus the chillies for breakfast, moving through Hainanese chicken rice (which the Singaporeans claim as theirs), rendang (which the Indonesians claim as theirs) to nasi lemak (which nobody can deny is quintessentially Malaysian) and onwards. Through family gatherings where solicitous hostesses asked if the food was mild enough for me, telling me they had deliberately put no chilli in when they heard I was coming, as tears streamed down my face, to bowls of soup and fish balls which caused sweat beads to form on my forehead (though equally that could have been the 40-degree heat). Finally, on my last day, we went to an excellent restaurant, strangely enough hidden away in KLCC, the shopping complex below the Petronas towers. Tucked away on the sixth floor is a wonderful restaurant specialising in Penang cuisine and I finally ordered my very own laksa.

It was good, no, it was great, such simple flavours but so perfectly balanced, but oh my, was it hot. I refused to be defeated though. There is a photo of me somewhere sat in front of that empty bowl, spoon in hand, looking sweaty, exhausted and triumphant. It was well worth it. Since then I have not attempted to recreate my own laksa, as I knew it could never live up to that first one. However, it is such a delicious dish, and surprisingly easy to make, that it’s really worth a try.

This recipe is adapted from the Pahang laksa in the book, and is missing what is no doubt a vital ingredient, wolf herring soaked with pandan leaves. In fact the whole recipe is pared down (not least because the original served 8-10 people) and simplified, but the essence of the dish remains; the heat, the spice, the savouryness, the creaminess, and not to be forgotten, the freshness of the garnish, which sets the whole dish off.

Prawn laksa
Adapted, a lot, from The Complete Malaysian Cookbook

My one quibble with this recipe as I made it (and the fault is mine for being too timid) is it wasn’t nearly hot enough. Laksa should sear your mouth and make your eyeballs pop ever so slightly. Next time I’d use at least 3 fat red chillies, seeds and all, and perhaps even 4 to achieve the desired effect.

1/2 tablespoon fish curry powder (cumin, cayenne, anise, turmeric, pepper)
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
3 large chillies
1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger
1/2-inch piece of lemongrass
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons desiccated coconut
200g large prawns, deveined
400ml coconut milk
200ml water
1 teaspoon tamarind pulp
Half cucumber, shredded
Basil, chiffonaded
2 large handfuls of rice noodles, soaked in warm water until soft (according to packet instructions)

1. Finely chop the ginger and lemongrass. Heat a drizzle of oil in a large saucepan and add the fish curry powder, turmeric, onion powder, chillies, ginger and lemongrass. Fry until fragrant and the oil separates out, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the desiccated coconut and the prawns, along with the salt and sugar. Cook on medium-high heat for a further 3 minutes, or until the coconut is starting to brown.

3. Add the coconut milk and water, and the tamarind pulp. Bring the laksa to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the coconut doesn’t stick.

4. To serve, place the soft noodles in the bowls. Put the shredded cucumber and basil on top, and spoon the laksa on top of everything. Garnish with a little more cucumber and serve immediately.

Serves 2.

Written by guffblog

6th May 2011 at 21:00

Posted in Fish and seafood

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Mollusc. Funny word. Like moist, it’s slightly onomatopoeic, and not in a good way. It hints at squishiness and damp, with lurking tendencies. Scallops are by far my favourite mollusc, and by that I mean they’re the only ones I like. Mussels are so-so. Oysters are just plain nasty (and let’s be honest, if an oyster’s not good when it’s just been plucked from the lagoon a kilometre away and is served with local wine, it’s never going to be good, though I concede that it was more an issue of texture than taste). And snails, well, I’ve never tried them but they certainly don’t look too appetising. Scallops though are meaty and thus move up from the category of mollusc, and by association small, slimy and blech, to real food. Alas, real food or not, they’re ruinously expensive, at least when you buy hand-dived ones from the market, (even when the lovely fishmonger gives you a discount because he only counted out 10 the first time, and throws in the final 2 for free) so I don’t eat them all that often. Thus when I do I feel they deserve special treatment, and a dish in which they can play the starring role. Scallops with chorizo are lovely, but chorizo being the star that it is, it’s always going to eclipse whatever it’s put with. Here the scallops’ slightly minerally, slightly ocean-breezey taste is able to come through a little more.

Coriander scallops with orange and ginger dressing
From Bon Appetit, March 2011

12 medium scallops
2 teaspoons ground coriander
100g baby greens (watercress, spinach, rocket, whatever you like really)
1 large orange, supremed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1. Prepare the scallops; wash them, pat dry and remove the roe (weird orange bit). Season them thoroughly on both sides with salt and pepper, then sprinkle with the ground coriander.

2. Heat a drizzle of oil in a large frying pan until it shimmers. Place the scallops in the pan, taking care not to crowd them (cook them in two batches if necessary). Cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side, depending on the size, so they are crisp and golden on the outside and just barely translucent in the very centre.

3. Meanwhile prepare the salad. Wash the greens and arrange on two plates. Supreme the orange, saving the peel to make orange rice with. Dot the orange pieces on top of the salad greens.

4. To make the dressing, whisk together the oil, vinegar, orange juice and chopped ginger with a little salt and pepper.

5. To serve, lay the scallops on the bed of greens. Pour the dressing over the top. Serve with orange-scented rice (rice cooked with orange peel).

Serves 2. I paired this with a nicely chilled sauvignon blanc which was a perfect match.

Written by guffblog

15th April 2011 at 21:27

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