Sunday, 12 July 2015

Smoked haddock pilaf

A pilaf is something that I turn to often. When I've had a long day at work, or arrived home after a few days of hotel food and want something comforting, a pilaf is a quick and easy option. Once you have done the preparation, it looks after itself leaving me to unpack, have a shower, etc before dinner. Sometimes I use quorn chunks when I want a vegetarian alternative, but more often or not, it tends to be smoked haddock.

You can vary the recipe considerably. Nigella Lawson has a wonderful version containing chicken and nuts in her Nigella Summer book. Some people like to put hard boiled eggs into theirs, but that makes it more of a kedgeree. And you can vary the herbs too, if I have enough chives hanging about in the garden I tend to snip those in. If not then if I have some parsley or coriander in the fridge then that is what I'll use.

Now I'm not a keen egg eater. I use them in baking and general cooking of course, but generally it is a rare occasion when I will tuck into a fried egg or omlette. However my husband is partial to a soft poached egg, so I tend to add one to the top of the dish so that he can tear it open and allow the runny yolk to sink into the rice. If you wanted to do so, you could poach the eggs in advance, shock in cold water and then reheat on top of the dish during its' resting time.

My version is below. I hope you will give it a go and maybe even enjoy it. It's easy enough to scale up for more people, all you need is a bigger casserole dish.

For two people:

2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of garam masala
125 grams of basmati rice
1 bay leaf
Zest of half an unwaxed lemon, peeled
1 green chilli finely chopped, or quarter of a teaspoon of chilli flakes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
190ml of chicken or vegetable stock
250grams of smoked haddock, preferably undyed and skin on
half of a small bunch of spring onions, finely sliced, using all of the white parts and as much of the green as possible
1 tablespoon of chopped herbs of your choice - it could be chives, parsley or coriander
Lemon juice, to serve
1 soft poached egg per person

Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4

Start by heating the oil in a casserole dish. When the oil is warm, add the garam masala and gently cook for a couple of minutes. Add the rice and stir to ensure that all the grains are coated in the mixture.

Add bay leaf, lemon zest and chilli followed by the stock. Bring to a simmer and place the fish on top. You may need to cut the fish into pieces to fit in one layer. Push the fish into the stock, place a lid on a put in the oven for anywhere between 15 to 20 minutes. I tend to check after 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to stand, with the lid on for five minutes.

Take off the lid, skin the fish and break up into flakes. Gently stir in the spring onions, herbs and fish with a fork. What you do is ensure that the grains of rice remain separate. Place a clean tea towel over the dish, replace the lid and leave for another five minutes. This ensures that any excess moisture is absorbed and you are left with fluffy rice.

While the rice is resting bring a pan of water to a simmer. Add a drop of vinegar, stir with a fork to create a swirling motion and drop the eggs in, one at a time. When poached to your liking remove and drain.

Serve the pilaf in warm bowls and squeeze over some lemon juice. Top with the poached egg and serve.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

A new family favourite

I'm a big fan of Yotam Ottolenghi. Any chef who is a self-confessed meat lover and writes a book totally devoted to vegetarian recipes demands respect, when you consider that the likes of Gordon Ramsey has said that veggies should be shot. And a lot of top chefs seem reluctant to embrace a meat free lifestyle, even if it is only for the odd day or so.

I need to make a confession here, for the best part of 20 years I was a strict vegetarian. However numerous trips to France and getting sick of either omlette or salad for dinner meant that I had to think seriously about whether it was a viable full-time option. There was no moral reason behind it, I would regularly cook meat and fish for friends and family but not eat it myself.

Well I started dipping my toe into the flesh eating water, so to speak, with a delicious dish of perch baked in a salt crust, in a restaurant in Angouleme. And I was hooked. I then went on to seafood and then chicken, but red meat is something that I still do not eat or enjoy the taste of. That said I am still predominantly vegetarian, aided and abetted by my husband who made a conscious decision before I met him to decrease his meat consumption.

Anyway, back to Yotam. A couple of years ago I was given a copy of his book "Jerusalem" by my step-daughter as a Christmas present. So I started working my way through it. One recipe that caught the attention of my eye, and stomach, is roasted chicken with clementines and arak. It might sound strange, but the combination of aniseed and citrus works perfectly and makes for a wonderful one tray dinner. I do not add anything but you might want to serve with a salad or some couscous to mop up the juices. And the leftovers taste even better the next day.

If you don't have arak, don't worry, I don't either. What I have used is Ouzo which sits in our drinks cabinet, a gift from one on my husband's PhD students. You can also use pastis too, just make sure that the booze is aniseed flavoured.

I have also amended the recipe slightly, Yotam's recipe calls for a whole chicken, but as finding an organic whole one can prove problematical, I have started using either leg or thighs and drumsticks. If you can marinate overnight then that is preferable, if not then a couple of hours will be fine.

The recipe, courtesy of Mr Ottolenghi, and broadly reproduced from his book is below:

100ml of arak, ouzo, pastis etc
4 tbsp of olive oil
3 tbsp of freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tbsp of lemon juice
2 tbsp of grain mustard
3 tbsp of soft brown sugar
500 grams of fennel
1 organic chicken divided into eight pieces, or equivalent quantity of chicken legs or thighs and drumsticks. The total weight should be 1.3 kilos.
4 clementines, unpeeled and sliced into 0.5cm slices
1 tbsp of thyme leaves
2 1/2 tsp of fennel seeds, lightly crushed
salt and black pepper
chopped flat leaf parley to garnish

Start by combining the first six ingredients in a large bowl together with 2 teaspoons of salt and one and a half teaspoons of black pepper and whisk to mix.

Trim the fennel and slice in half lengthways, then cut each half into four, keeping the root on. Add to the marinade.

Add the chicken pieces, clementines, thyme, fennel seeds and mix well. Cover and leave to marinade in the fridge overnight if possible, but if you are short of time then a couple of hours will do.

When you are ready to cook, preheat an oven to 200c/200c fan or gas mark 7. Transfer the mixture to a roasting tray large enough to accommodate everything in a single layer. Make sure that the chicken is skin side up. Place in the oven and cook for between 35 and 45 minutes, until the chicken is coloured and cooked through.

Remove the chicken, fennel and clementines from the tray and place on a plate. Cover with foil and keep warm. Place the juices in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer until the mixture is reduced, you should be left with about 80ml. Pour the sauce over the chicken, garnish with parsley and serve.