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Haddock Roe Pate

roe pate

I am incapable these days of passing up the opportunity to buy something new to me when I’m food shopping. About the only spontaneity I go for is impulse shopping with groceries. This is one of the perks of shopping locally and seasonally where this style of shopping rarely results in coming home with seventeen sorts of biscuits and a bigger bill, but a bag of economical cooking challenges.This week’s why not moment was when I called in at the fishmongers and saw these plump pink roes.

I’d recently rediscovered the joys of taramasalata which I thought was both delicious and glamourous back in the 80s when it adorned every dip selection going, but as my little girl love of pink things waned, I lost my taste for it despite loving those intensely savoury umami flavours it offers. But a few weeks ago, a dish of it came alongside some pitta bread I’d ordered for a light lunch and I fell in love with it all over again.

These haddock roes aren’t smoked like the tarama (or bottarga) of the Mediterranean but I thought they might have the same creaminess at least. A generous 300g portion set me back £1.50 and it didn’t seem to matter that I had no idea how to cook them. (I really must remember to ask the fishmonger these things in future!) A quick Google suggested poaching them and then blending into a pasta sauce, but I wanted something more reminiscent of the picnic style family lunches of my childhood so I made a pate style dip instead.

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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

Pork brain nuggets in panko breadcrumbs

Zombie Nuggets: or Brainsss!!

Pork brain nuggets in panko breadcrumbs

 

As you probably know from reading the blog, we seem to have unofficially become offal crazy. For me it’s partly because I’m on a tight budget and offal is cheap and partly because there’s an excellent stall at Brixton Farmers’ Market that sells all kinds of bits of wild boar and pork and I can play offal roulette while picking up some sausages or a roast. In fact, this is where I buy nearly all my meat these days and the woman who runs the stall often encourages me to try weird and wonderful bits (possibly to liven up her Sunday mornings). At my last visit, she slipped a package out from under the trestle and whispered brains in my direction. Or the most challenging thing I’ve ever been offered to eat.

She’d got them for me specially and I didn’t have the heart to refuse the little pink filled pouch. I asked what on earth one does with a bag of brains (if you don’t have a dog) and she told me that her Irish granny breaded and fried them and told them they were chicken nuggets. Wondering why I’m probably less scared of eating mechanically recovered meat than certain parts of fresh offal, I took them home to nugget up.

I don’t eat much in the way of nuggets or goujons or other crumbed things, but on a recent trip to Hawksmoor, I had some of their shortrib nuggets and was blown away by the melting interior and crispy crumby exterior all bound together with a tangy garlicky spicy kimchi dip on the side. I decided to steal the dip idea for my homemade nuggets, blending up some shopbought kimchi with a splash of vinegar and some ketchup til I got the right dippy texture.

Then I tackled the brains, cutting out some weird bits that didn’t look very edible, chopping them into fairly bite sized pieces, but not too small so they would burn on the outside before the middles were cooked. They were floured, egged and breadcrumbed in panko and fried til golden in hot oil. They looked lovely. All glisteningly crispy and very appetising indeed.

Turns out that fried breadcrumbs can make anything alluring and brain nuggets are as nice as you expected them to be…chewy, bouncy and very very offally in taste and texture, these were a bar too far even for me. I managed one, well dipped in kimchi ketchup and got no further. Pleased that I’d challenged myself this far, I regretfully threw the rest away feeling bad about wasting food and had a sandwich instead. My lesson is learned. If food makes you feel scared of it, you don’t have to eat it. Even if it makes a good blog post…