devilled sardines

1950s Devilled Sardines and Tomato Charlotte

devilled sardinesAs the entire world is now aware, I’ve got some food issues that make me feel very unwell at times. At home this is usually treated by undoing my top button and drinking cup after cup of peppermint tea.

But that doesn’t work in public so well and I rely on a variety of indigestion remedies so when Rennie got in touch with me about doing a blogger promotion I thought they knew about my habit of keeping boxes of them in each handbag and were going to give me a year’s supply!

Turns out they wanted to celebrate 70 years of soothing upset stomaches by cooking food from each of those decades and would I care to do something 50s based? Luckily the 50s pre-date garlic coming to the UK so I was in on this one.

Rummaging in my cookbook collection I found two pamphlets from the Ministry of Food from the post war rationing era and since rationing of butter and meat didn’t end until between 1952 and 1954 decided they might inspire.

I wanted to make a main meal so was delighted when two dishes caught my eye: devilled sardines and a tomato charlotte. I’ve only really heard of devilled things in relation to kidneys and they’ve never really appealed so this was my moment to branch out.

Fresh (or tinned) sardines were basted in a mix of sugar, mustard and vinegar and poached lightly while the tomato charlotte used stale bread and fresh tomatoes to make an easy economical side dish. The theory was great but would the food be as awful as people always say about the 50s?

Tomato Charlotte (serves 2)

  • 4 large tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or thyme
  • 2 slices stale bread, cubed
  • 50g breadcrumbs
  • 15g cold butter, cubed

I’ve given this recipe first as it can do its thing while you get the sardines ready. Slice the tomatoes about the thickness of a pound coin and drizzle with the olive oil (which isn’t at all 50s as you could only buy it in the chemists then) and season well with salt, pepper and the dried herbs. Allow to sit for 20 minutes.

Grease an ovenproof dish and layer with some sliced tomatoes. Put a layer of cubed stale bread on top. Add another layer of tomatoes. Repeat until the dish is full. Pour any liquid from the tomatoes over it all.

Mix the breadcrumbs (mine were panko but I suspect a 50s housewife made her own) with the cold butter and pile on top of the dish til the top layer of tomatoes are hidden. Bake for 25-30 minutes in a 180℃ oven.

Devilled Sardines (serves 2)

  • 8 fresh sardines, filleted or 2 tins in spring water
  • 2 tablespoons mustard powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 75ml water

I am lucky enough to have a fishmonger so I asked for my sardines to be filleted, but if you can only get whole cleaned ones, make sure to scrape the scales off, brush inside and out with the devilled mix and simply cook for 5 minutes longer.

Don’t panic at the amount of mustard specified here. It isn’t a typo honestly. Mix the dry ingredients with the vinegar to make a paste and brush it over the flesh side of the sardine fillets and roll them starting at the tail end.

Place each fillet in a saute pan which has a lid and brush the skin with any remaining mixture. Add the water to the pan and put the lid on and cook for 5-6 minutes on a medium heat.

If using tinned sardines, brush each side with the devilling mixture and grill for 2-3 minutes until the fish is hot and slightly crisping round the edges.

Serve the sardines with the tomato charlotte and some boiled potatoes. Mine were tossed with crushed capers, butter and a bit of lemon juice which is a bit edgier than the average 50s dinner table probably but nothing they hadn’t heard of at least.

Then I got stuck in and hoped for the best. And needn’t have worried because both dishes were absolutely delicious. The sardines had much more going on than just mustard and the charlotte turned some fairly meh tomatoes into something so good I ate enough for two people.

Ironically despite pigging out, I didn’t need any of my packets of Rennie at all…

vintage fish cookbook*This post has been supported by Rennie, but all thoughts are my own.

Sprats Escovitch

close up sprats

Sprats may not have the most appealing name, but they are well worth looking at twice (or naming twice like their Latin name of sprattus sprattus) especially if you make a point to eat seasonally or enjoy excellent value. Tiny shimmering silvery fish you eat whole, they are in season for the next few weeks and they still cost mere pennies to buy. I usually grill or fry them and serve a big plate of them with lemon and parsley and some good bread for a fantastic Saturday lunch. But with the weather as grey around the gills as the fish, I needed something more…

I decided to go with that Jamaican classic and serve them escovitch style, brightening the senses with brightly coloured vegetables and the fresh flavours of the sweet and sour marinade that covers them. It’s simple, delicious and very easy.

Originally published at Brixton Blog…

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Sloe cured salmon and slow cooked goose…

Christmas may be over for another year, but some memories linger on happily. A hot port in front of a roaring turf fire, a proper fry with Coca-Cola ham instead of bacon on Boxing Day and the revelation that was home made gravlaks or home cured salmon fillet. Economical, easy and above all, delicious, I can’t recommend it enough!

As you might have noticed, we at North/South Food have a soft spot for Scandinavian food due to the influence of having family friends in Norway, so it’s no surprise to hear that I got my paws of a copy of Scandilicious by Signe Johansen as soon as I could after it was published last year. Filled with mouthwatering recipes and beautiful photos, I almost didn’t know where to start with this book when on page 151, gravlaks with dill mustard sauce leapt out at me. It might have been September, but I knew what our Christmas Day starter was going to be already.

All the Scandinavian countries cure, pickle and salt fish to improve its taste and to preserve it. Having seen how easy it was to pickle rollmops, I couldn’t wait to get curing, especially when I saw how easy the process is. I used Signe’s recipe as a guide to get the sugar and salt proportions correct, but wanted to add a personal twist. She suggests oomphing up the cure with some aquavit, but I decided to use a family favourite and add a splash of sloe gin instead.

Along with those Norwegian influences, one of my strongest childhood memories is of my parents making sloe gin nearly every autumn. We’d go on family walks in the autumn near my grandmother’s farmhouse searching out blackberries and blackthorn bushes and pick as many of each as we can carry. Back home, everyone would join in the pricking of the sloes before the jars of gin were stashed in the cupboard to mature. It was one of the first tastes of alcohol I had and the sweet, yet sharp flavour made me the gin lover I am to this day. Mister North has carried this tradition on with his legendary damson gin and our mum resurrected it when she managed to get hold of some stunning sloes when housesitting for friends who live on the tip of the Ards Peninsula facing Strangford Lough. Plump, juicy and slightly infused with salt, they made superlative sloe gin. I couldn’t wait to infuse the cure and the salmon with a splash of it.

A salmon fillet was purchased from Tesco as Belfast, sadly, isn’t abundant with fishmongers. Since there were only two of us, we went for half of one side of salmon. We didn’t freeze it first, but this would be advised if you aren’t sure how fresh the fish is or if you’re serving children or anyone with a comprimised immune system. The actual work involved in gravlaks is minimal, but you’ll need to let it cure for up to 48 hours so plan ahead.

I covered a flat baking tray with foil, then covered the foil with clingfilm before laying the salmon on the clingfilm, skin side down and applying a mix of pink peppercorns, coriander seeds, home grown fennel seeds and dill from my mum’s garden to the flesh. I then mixed up the sugar and salt with just enough sloe gin to turn the mix pale pink and make a stiff paste. This went on top of the spiced fish before the clingfilm was used to parcel the fish up tightly. It was all wrapped in the foil and left on the tray to catch any brine and then weighted down well in the fridge, multi-tasking by using the goose we were having for Christmas dinner.

A gift from the same friends on the Peninsula as we sourced our sloes from, this beast rivalled Mister North’s spiced beef for best meat dish of the season. Raised in the family’s walled garden, this goose was free range and more. Killed and plucked especially for us, we’d been looking forward to it for months. Scalded, salted and simply roasted, first in a hot oven to crisp the skin and then on a low heat to cook through, it was plump and juicy and so bursting with flavour that we just couldn’t get enough of it even though there were just two of us.

But it was challenged as dish of the day by the salmon. We usually do a seafood supper on Christmas Eve and to accompany our Lidl lobsters, we had some of the gravlaks on the side. Brushed clean of the peppercorns, sliced thinly and served with some fresh wheaten bread, it was spectacular. So soft it melted in the mouth, unlike slices of packed smoked salmon that remain firmly rubbery, it was moreishly salty sweet and fresh with the aniseed of dill and fennel and we both loved it.

Extraordinarily easy to make and much better value than most smoked salmon, it made a perfect start to Christmas dinner and the ultimate cold cut after the big day, as wafer thing slices of it cried out to snaffled everytime the fridge door was opened. It would make a easy, but impressive centrepiece for a lunch anytime of the year, but after this, I can’t imagine our Christmas without it in future…


Salade Niçoise with guinea fowl eggs


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!

A Crab Hand…

Some of my happiest childhood memories involve trying to avoid the pincers of crabs, both on long lazy fishing trips in Norway with a bit of string and some bait and a beloved plastic toy one that I used to attack my Sindy dolls with when playing Killer Sea Creatures of an afternoon. However, I don’t have any great memories of cooking or eating crabs apart from burning myself on a soft shell number at Little Lamb last year, so when a crustacean caught my eye in Brixton Village at the weekend, I decided I had to rectify that and kill my own dinner for the first time.
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