A feast for friends

July 25, 2010

It’s reached that point in my plans for leaving London where I’ve had to start saying goodbye to friends. Although I’m having a big party next week, it’s inevitable that, thanks to the summer holidays, some people won’t be able to come.

Last week, I invited my friends Lea and Nicky over for dinner, because they decided that going to Camp Bestival was more important than waving off their dear friend who’s going to a far and distant land and may never return… Okay, I’ll drop the drama queen act. It’s fine that they’re going away for my last weekend in London, really, it is.

Anyway, back to the point of all this – the food. I decided to cook my favourite saffron poached chicken for the meat-eaters, some grilled whiting sprinkled with pul biber for the pescatarians, plus a Moroccan vegetable stew (which included baby turnips, courgettes, carrots, red onions, chickpeas, turmeric, cumin, and lots of garlic) and couscous for all of us to eat.

This is a dish my mum made regularly when I was a child, and I would always eat far far too much of it. What is it about couscous that allows you to stuff your stomach so full of it? Well, this meal was no exception, and I was left groaning by the end of the evening.

For pudding, I made Dan Lepard’s chocolate honey meringues, which was in last week’s Guardian magazine. In his instructions, Dan said not to make one big one as it would collapse. However, I wanted to slather it with mascarpone and fresh figs, in the manner of a Pavlova, so decided to ignore Mr Lepard and make it whole.

The result was a rather soft, incredibly chewy, almost brownie-like meringue, which, in my humble opinion, was delicious. And the creamy, fruity topping made it extra special.

All in all, it was a pretty indulgent evening, and hopefully I have left Lea and Nicky with some happy foodie memories of me until we see each other again.

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I was back at my new favourite fish stall, Devon Fish, at Borough Market on Saturday. What I like about the produce there is that it’s complete pot luck as to what you’re going to find. Which, when you think about it, is as it should be, if you want locally caught fish. I’m a bit suspicious when I go to a fish shop and see almost every fish that exists on the planet out on display. I begin to wonder just how far it came and how long ago it was caught.

Anyway, this week’s goodies at Devon Fish included some lovely shiny big whiting. Cheap, fresh and local – what more could you want? When I got it home and looked it up in Sophie Grigson and William Black’s cookery book, Fish, I was amused to see it described as, “old bespectacled fish that sit under woolly shawls… being the archetypal invalid food, together with warm tea and Rich Tea biscuits.”

Yes, whiting may be a very mild, soft, white-fleshed fish, but to me that just makes it eminently suitable for eating with nice strong flavours. In the same book, I found a recipe for a fish stew, the elements of which I already had in my cupboards. And that was as far as I followed the recipe, instead making a very quick, simple sauce in which to poach the fish.

Into a deep frying pan with a lid went half a tin of tomatoes, a pinch of saffron that had been steeped for a few minutes in hot water, about a teaspoon of crushed cumin seeds, a sprig of thyme, a chopped clove of garlic, and some salt and pepper. I simmered this for a few minutes, until the garlic was soft, then added the fish.

A fish like whiting would cook very well whole in a sauce like this, but I sliced it into what I guess are technically called steaks. Whiting has a nice thick spine, with relatively few bones, so it is very easy to pull off the meat once cooked. And thanks to the smallish chunks, it only took about 5 minutes of simmering in the tomato sauce to cook it through.

On the side I had some Savoy cabbage, which I’d actually bought the week before but hadn’t had a chance to use yet. I braised it in some olive oil, adding a few crushed fennel seeds and a little salt and pepper.

The result was a flavourful, substantial fish supper, made in a matter of minutes.

Something fishy…

January 7, 2010

Yesterday was Süleyman’s birthday and, as he loves fish, we headed off to Kumkapi fish market to get something special for dinner. Kumkapı is probably Istanbul’s most well-known place to buy fish, but to be honest, wherever I’ve bought it here, it’s been exceptionally fresh and tasty.

Usually when we cook fish at home, we get a fairly large sea bream or bass each, but this time we decided to get several small ones so we could try something different. We ended up with red mullet, striped mullet and whiting. (The whiting, I was delighted to discover, were full of roe, which I cooked up into an omelette for breakfast this morning.)

I shallow-fried the fish in some olive oil and we ate it with a rocket salad and saffron potatoes – a favourite dish of mine from the first Moro cookbook. I’ll post the recipe when I get back to London – it really is a supremely delicious way to cook potatoes.