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Fresh white anchovies

Marinaded Fresh Anchovies

Fresh white anchovies

I think anchovies might be my favourite ingredient in the kitchen. Or at least the one I use the most. I don’t do a lot of vegan or veggie cooking but when I do the thing I always have to think about is not just adding something anchovy based into it.

Lea & Perrins, Gentleman’s Relish, Anchovy Essence or just whole fillets in oil, those little cured fish are a big way I season my food. The only thing you’ll ever hear me say I have in common with Ella Woodward is that it looks like, along with all my other ailments, I have the same chronic condition as her.

POTS or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome is very common in people with ME/CFS like me and causes faintness, low blood pressure and low blood volume amongst other symptoms. It means I need to drink vast amounts of fluid to help prevent worse fatigue or dizziness and it’s not unusual that I can put away 4 litres of fizzy water, 5-6 cups of peppermint tea, a few mugs of builders tea and all the fluid in my food each day.

This also means I need more salt in my diet than the average person. Salt helps raise my problematically low blood pressure and if you drink a lot of fluids, you need to replace salt even if you’re healthy. This is why I prefer fizzy water which has higher sodium levels than tap water, but I also need to add salty stuff to my food.

I get through a lot of good old basic sea salt, eat a fair bit of parmesan, love an olive or two but treat anchovies as medicine. I’m on my second Kilner jar of them from Lidl this year as I often chuck a couple of fillets on top of my morning eggs for an extra salty savoury kick to wake me up.

I also adore those little marinaded white anchovies you get in Italy and Spain as antipasti or tapas. That shimmering silvery sheen to their flesh with a  silky vinegary tang on your tongue. They were my absolute favourite treat on family holidays to Italy as a kid and now I love them with a dry sherry or crisp Cava on the side.

Sadly they are usually quite expensive to buy so a rare sunshiney summer treat for me, but when I went to my local fishmonger last week, she had fresh white anchovies for £1 per 100g. I had no idea what to do with them but came home with 200g all the same.

My friend Sherri from the fabulous Blue Jay in Brixton suggested I smoke them on a cedar plank to add an extra depth and that was my plan until I was invited to a friend’s for dinner and needed to bring something.

Then my attention turned to how one marinates an anchovy and I realised from Rachel Roddy’s expertise that it’s basically like ceviche but with more oil to stop the flesh going mealy from over-cooking in the acid. This seemed like my Saturday night level of cooking right now.

The anchovies were skinless and headless, but I needed to pull the spines out before marinating them. This was easy to do with my fingers and I laid the fillets in a dish and salted them well before adding the juice of three lemons, two tablespoons of white wine vinegar and two tablespoons of oilve oil and leaving them to sit at room temperature for three hours.

They were served up scattered with fresh parsley and some capers and some freshly ground pepper and we slithered them all sharp and oily into our mouths with our fingers in a very undignified fashion while sitting on the sofa gossiping. All they needed was some bubbles on the side and they were pretty much the perfect low maintenance, high salt starter.

If you get the chance to buy fresh white anchovies don’t pass it by. It’s testament to how much I like my friend that I shared them. The texture was much firmer and plumper and satisfying than the commercial ones I could easily have devoured the lot by myself they were so good. Plus there’s something so pleasurable about eating a whole tiny fish as a full sized human…

Dulse Tapenade: the Province meets Provence

dulse tapenade

When I was a child, I hadn’t yet discovered my high umami fascination. Olives didn’t tickle me, I only liked anchovies marinaded and one of the strongest memories of disliking a food in childhood came with one of the strongest flavours I tasted, in the shape of dulse. Dulse is a seaweed, very common around the coast of Ireland and particularly associated for us with the north coast town of Ballycastle and its famed Auld Lammas Fair. In an early adoption of the salt sweet craze, people bring Yellowman and dulse back from there as treats and it was this contrast that caused my long lasting reaction.

Yellowman is the sweetest crunchy thing you can imagine and dulse is intensely iron rich and seawater salty with a slightly rubbery texture and it is one extreme to the other for a five year old. I never eaten dulse since and the thought of it has always made me feel a bit queasy. But when I was back in Belfast last week, I went for lunch at the Belfast Barge and ordered their superb seafood platter and in with the spankingly fresh seafood and fish was a healthy sprinkling of dulse that would be hard to avoid.

Belfast Barge seafood platter

Bravely loading up my fork with some dulse, a caper or two and a marinaded anchovy, I tried it again, hoping the flavours I liked would hide the one I didn’t. I was very very surprised when I loved it. The flavours all went together like nobody’s business and appealed to my umami addiction utterly. It was so good that before I had finished the plate, I was asking my mum where I could get some dulse to bring home.

I wanted to combine those fishy and salty and savoury flavours to the fullest extent and my mind immediately went to tapenade, loaded up with olives, anchovies and capers and dulse. It needed something fresh and clean on the side and Felicity Cloake solved my dilemma by posting a ceviche recipe this week. Not only do I now know how to liven up a sea bream, but I’d found my perfect partner for the ultimate umami paste!

Dulse Tapanade: makes enough for two people

  • 20g dulse (mail order here or get from St George’s Market on a Saturday or the Bethany Fruit & Veg on the Cregagh Road)
  • 20 black olives, stoned
  • 2 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • squirt lemon juice
  • good handful parsley and fresh thyme

Check your dulse carefully for any small shells or crustaceans, then chop roughly. Add into a hand blender along with the olives, capers and anchovies, all of which should also been finely chopped. Blitz until mixed. (You could also use a pestle and mortar.)

Add the olive oil and lemon juice until you reach the desired consistency. Because this was a main course thing for me, I kept it drier and chunkier, but if you wanted to make it a dip add more until smooth. It’s super easy to make and should take about 5 minutes tops.

I served mine with boiled Charlotte potatoes (Sainsbury’s Basics Salad Potatoes are the less shapely Charlottes and are under a quid) and with the lime and salt rich ceviche on the side. This is not entry level umami. This is the equivalent of the 80s ads where the Tango man slaps you round the face with a salty fishy savoury explosion. It’s addictively good. I smothered my spuds in tapenade and when I ran out of carbs, ate it by dunking broccoli florets in it, revelling in every tantalisingly over the top mouthful, unable to get quite enough of it.

The sharp of tang of the soft fish (and Felicity’s recipe with sea bream was bang on) cuts through the oiliness of the tapenade perfectly while enhancing it completely. This was one of those meals that took less than 15 minutes to make, was utterly simple in its ingredients and was so good I could hardly believe it. Just perfect for these lingeringly warm autumnal days, I can hardly believe how much I’ve fallen for dulse. This must mean I’m a grown up now!

Dulse Tapenade

Breadfruit Caesar Salad

Breadfruit caesar salad

I was lucky enough to be offered a cookery masterclass at the hottest restaurant in South London, Bubba’s in Tulse Hill, a few weeks ago. Kitted out in proper whites and everything, I had the undivided attention of their Michelin trained chef, Anthony Cumberbatch who spent several hours talking me through a multitude of Caribbean classics and ingredients.

While the curry goat and oxtail stew simmered, I sampled the menu in the restaurant, loving every minute of the jerk pork belly and the tender trio of fish and seafood with a rich spice crust. The fried plantain with ginger compote was so good I may have run my finger round the bowl when no one was looking. The staff were incredibly friendly and helpful and the portions were so substantial, I could only manage the (excellent) sorbet selection of mango, melon and pineapple after my meal even though the other desserts such as mango strudel or the exotic fruit plate sounded great.

Jerk pork from Bubba's Tulse Hill

Back in the kitchen Anthony showed me a ingredient I had never even heard of, let alone cooked, in the shape of a breadfruit. Starchy, yet slightly spongy, this fruit absorbs flavour brilliantly, making it a fantastic side dish. It was delicious fried up with some jerk spices and even more than the okra and the goat, I felt inspired to cook with it after the class.

Whole breadfruit

This warm weather cries out for salad and there’s few that I love more than a Caesar salad with a umami rich dressing and crunchy croutons. Still fixated on the breadfruit, I wondered if instead of my usual sourdough croutons I could deep fry some chunks of the fruit and scatter them over crispy romaine lettuce. I had a feeling I’d enjoy finding out…

Breadfruit Caesar Salad: serves two

  • 1 romaine lettuce
  • quarter of a breadfruit (most stalls in the market will cut it as required)
  • 5 tablespoons breadcrumbs (I used panko)
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • Oil for frying (not olive)

For the dressing:

  • the remains of the egg from above
  • 1 egg yolk
  • juice of one lemon
  • 50g parmesan, shaved
  • teaspoon Worcester sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic (or heaped teaspoon garlic puree)
  • teaspoon capers
  • teaspoon mustard
  • 100ml olive oil
  • freshly ground pepper

Peel the knobbly skin off the breadfruit and remove the inner seeded core. The flesh should be slightly spongy but not soft. Cut into inch chunks and then dip in the beaten egg and then dredge in the breadcrumbs and parmesan until coated. Double dip if you like it really crispy and then fry in hot oil until golden brown and crunchy all over.

Mix the lemon juice, worcester sauce, smushed up capers and garlic and mustard together, add in to the remaining egg (this gets round the fact one egg is always too much when breadcrumbing things) and the egg yolk. Then pour in the olive oil as you would to make a mayonnaise and whisk until emulsified. If it doesn’t thicken, add a blob of mayo instead of panicking.

Drizzle the dressing over freshly washed romaine lettuce, chopped anchovy fillets (leave these out if unlike me you aren’t a member of Anchovies Anonymous) and slivers of parmesan and then add the crispy crunchy croutons. Add a bit more dressing for luck and plenty of pepper and tuck in.

The breadfruit is fluffy in the middle and gorgeously golden on the outside, like the perfect crouton combo. It works extraordinarily well with the anchovy rich dressing and the savoury parmesan. If you use just the parmesan or sub gluten free breadcrumbs you can still eat Caesar salad if you’re gluten intolerant. Try adding more capers and some nutritional yeast to substitute the Lea and Perrins and anchovies if you don’t eat fish. This meal is so good you’ll be serving it to everyone. In fact, it’s good enough to go on the menu at Bubba’s in my opinion!

 

Salade Niçoise with guinea fowl eggs

guinea_eggs-7

To be honest; until I started writing this post I didn’t know very much about guinea fowl (or guinea-fowl), never mind their eggs. I’ve bought guinea fowl on a few occasions, to make Ghanaian dishes like Nkatenkwan, as their flesh is almost gamey and really benefits from slow, moist, covered cooking methods. I also knew the bird originated in West African, hence their name, and have long been a favourite with chefs (Larousse suggests they’ve been domesticated since Roman times).

Guineafowl egg & duck egg

I’ve also spotted them pecking around farmyards on a few occasions, looking a little haughty and slightly out-of-place with their blue faces and wonderful op-art speckled plumage. Last week my friends from Porcus persuaded me to leave their farm with a selection of wonderful guinea fowl eggs (these are the same people who sated my quest to enjoy turkey eggs last year too)

Guinea fowl eggs

So I came home with six speckly guinea fowl eggs, undecided on how best to use them. I’d been warned they had thick shells, which could prove a bit of a challenge to break through, but I had an extra pair of hands in the form of our mum who was visiting. A quick search on the web threw up very few recipes specifically for guinea fowl eggs, but a friend suggested making a niçoise salad. This proved to be an inspired recommendation, as the diminutive hard-boiled eggs (sized somewhat between a quail and a bantam egg) looked gorgeous nestled against the other ingredients. Not that we needed an excuse to enjoy a classic summer salad (even when the sun is somewhat lacking) which manages to combine some of our favourite family ingredients.

In this case I followed an Antony Worrall Thompson recipe from the BBC website, deviating a little from some other versions, but ticked all the boxes in terms of fresh flavours. I started by marinating the tuna steaks for an hour or so in the vinaigrette mix while prepping the veg. These and the other ingredients filled a large salad bowl. Once the tuna was sufficiently soused it got seared on a very hot ridged griddle, then rested gently.

Meanwhile we boiled the guinea fowl eggs for six minutes, then cooled them off in cold water. They proved quite difficult to peel: the shell was indeed tough, and the inner membrane was equally resistant. Eventually we managed to de-shell and slice them, and were rewarded with sight of bright yellow yolks. They looked wonderfully pretty set against the rest of the salad. Once they were in place the tuna steaks were added, everything was drizzled with the vinaigrette, and we sat down to eat.

The whole thing looked and tasted wonderful: salty, smooth, crisp, sharp and rounded flavours contrasted just as you’d expect a salade niçoise to do. The eggs were creamy and more flavoured than hen’s eggs. The final verdict: great salad, and really tasty wee eggs. If you’re lucky enough to find guinea fowl eggs, don’t pass up on the opportunity to enjoy their delights. Cracking!

Baked eggs

Egg-tastic!

Miss South is doing some visiting for the next few days and rather than leave her housesitter* with a miserable looking selection of vegetable ends and a half empty egg box in the fridge, I decided to use up the various bits and bobs therein and make baked eggs and kale for dinner the night before departure.

The iron rich goodness of kale accompanies eggs just as well as spinach does in the classic eggs Florentine and this dish is like a more hearty, less tricky version of that classic. A bit of Googling to get the timings and temperature right on the eggs led me to this Jamie Oliver recipe with smoked fish and cream which would succesfully fill an egg and spinach shaped hole in your life if you can’t be bothered to make hollandaise. Being incredibly lazy after a day’s packing and cleaning, I opted to completely omit the creamy portion of the dish completely and stick to the basics of kale, eggs and anchovies to make a simple supper.

I sweated the kale down slightly with some butter and two or three chopped anchovy fillets until it was slightly softened, then added some tomatoes from the garden that needed using up to soften them a bit too. I then cracked the three remaining Burford Brown eggs from the fridge into the pan and popped the open pan into the oven at 180° for about 10 minutes…

I got slightly sidetracked for about an extra four minutes thanks to some high drama on Coronation Street, but when I got to the oven, the contents of the pan looked perfectly happy. The kale underneath the eggs was soft and tender, the tomatoes were just cooked enough to have the juice bursting out, but not enough to collapse. The kale on top was slightly crispy more like the wonder that are kale chips and the eggs were neatly swaddled by these lovely leaves, looking just perfectly set.

I scooped the whole panful out onto a plate, seasoned it well with pepper, but skipped the salt due to the anchovies and tucked in. It was delicious, light crispy kale tinged with salty savoury umami anchovies and soft creamy eggs merging together in sheer loveliness. The eggs were slightly less runny than I would have liked, but it was my own fault that they ended up a tad overdone. I’ll stick to no more than ten minutes in the oven in future.

Even with the slightly overdone eggs, this was a fantastic dinner. Quick, easy, cheap and only one pan of washing up to boot! It would be terrific with a bit of chorizo thrown in or some sausages or the smoked fish in the above recipe. In fact, it is just a fantastically adaptable recipe for any evening when you can’t quite be bothered to cook, but there’s a rather long queue in Sainsbury’s to buy a ready meal…

*the housesitter got left with two bottles of wine instead!