A Scandi-style birthday supper

September 24, 2017

It’s my birthday today (happy birthday to me!), and to kick things off, I invited my best gals round for dinner last night. Most people look forward to being cooked for on their birthday, but for me cooking is such a pleasurable task, it makes my day if I have the time and space to make a really special meal for my really special friends.

As is often my way, I had one specific ingredient in mind around which I wanted to build the meal – and last night’s dinner was all about a jar of Danish pickled plums. Last week, I’d bought a punnet of bog-standard supermarket plums to make a cake with, but I ate one and it was so utterly tasteless, I couldn’t bring myself to use them. I didn’t want to waste them, though, so I dug around and found a Diana Henry recipe for Danish pickled prunes in her brilliant Salt Sugar Smoke book. I simply replaced the prunes with my plums, and followed the rest of her recipe. (I’ll definitely be making them again, so will post the recipe another time.)

I thought a fish dish would be suitably Scandi, and the gentle sweetness of smoked haddock would be a perfect match for the sharp pickle. Wanting to keep things relatively simple, I went for a one-pot recipe, and the result was baked smoked haddock and fennel, with lemon zest and chives.

I made a tomato and quick-pickled red onion salad for the side, plus some simply boiled baby purple potatoes (which I was very happy to spot at the veg shop, as they are utterly delicious).

Baked smoked haddock and fennel

Here’s the recipe for the fish:

Serves 4
600g smoked haddock (the natural stuff, if you can get it, in as large pieces as possible)
8 whole peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
400ml milk
4 bulbs fennel
zest of half a lemon
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
400ml fish stock
olive oil
1 small bunch chives

1 Put the haddock, with the skin still on, in a single layer in a large pot. Add the peppercorns, fennel seeds and bay leaf, and pour over enough milk to almost cover the fish. Put the lid on the pot, slowly bring to a gentle boil, then turn off the heat and leave to cool slightly in the liquid.

2 Heat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6. Trim the fennel bulbs, reserving any decent fronds. Quarter each bulb, then slice each quarter in half again. Place the fennel slices in a baking dish so they are tightly packed but in a single layer.

3 Scatter the lemon zest, chopped fennel fronds and garlic evenly over the fennel slices and grind some black pepper over. Strain 200ml of the milk the fish has been cooked in, and add to the fish stock, then pour this over the fennel. This should come to almost the top of the fennel. If you need more liquid, add some more of the fishy milk. Drizzle some olive oil evenly over the top of the fennel.

4 Bake in the oven for about 30-35 minutes – the liquid should have reduced by about half, and it should all be nicely browned – then place the whole pieces of haddock on top of the fennel. Drizzle a little more olive oil on the fish, and grind a little pepper over it. Taste the liquid in the dish, and if it needs it season with a little salt.

5 Bake in the oven for another 10 minutes, until the fish is starting to brown a little, then scatter with a good handful of snipped chives. Serve with boiled potatoes and your vegetable or salad of choice – and something pickled if you have it.

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At the risk of sounding like a broken record (okay, I’m showing my age – a scratched CD), as fantastic as the food markets are in Istanbul, the selection can get a little repetitive at times. So it’s always a bit of a surprise when I see something new – especially when it’s an item I just don’t associate with Turkish cuisine.

This week that item was jerusalem artichokes. They are currently in vast, knobbly abundance at every market stall and local greengrocer around here, so I’m assuming this is the season for them.

Now, I’m very fond of jerusalem artichokes, and, luckily, so is Süleyman, but what I really didn’t want to do with them was make a soup. That seems to be a surefire way of suffering those well-known side effects of this particular vegetable. (Parp.)

After some mulling, I came up with idea of combining them with potatoes and making a kind of rosti with them. So, I chopped up the artichokes and potatoes into large chunks and placed them in cold water along with plenty of salt, a couple of bay leaves, a few whole peppercorns and one roughly chopped onion.

The idea was to par-boil them before letting them cool, then grate them for the rosti. Unfortunately, I took my eye of the stove and let them cook a little longer than they should have been. So, when I got round to the grating bit, the veggies just crumbled into a slightly mushy mound.

Still, I wasn’t going to let that deter me. They’d just be patties instead. And, because of that, I decided to make a few individual patties, instead of the one big rosti that you usually see in recipes. Plus, I was making beefburgers to go with them, and thought they’d look nice on top of the patties. (Forget how they taste, as long as they look good, eh?)

So, that’s what we had for dinner. Jerusalem artichoke and potato patties, with homemade beefburgers, and a tomato and cornichon salad with a mustard and parsley dressing. The delicious nuttiness of the artichokes went very well with the comforting sweet flavour of the potatoes, while the burgers and tomato salad added just the right tangy taste and crunchy texture to make it the perfect winter supper.

And, I can confirm, with no unpleasant after-effects.