Filleting Wrasse – Knowing this could save you a lot of money

Wrasse and Bream

Look at the two fish above.  Fairly similar size and weight, both caught within the last 24 hours, so about as fresh as you can get. But the price difference between the two is huge – the bream at the bottom cost £6.51 ($10.22), while the wrasse was £1.34 ($2.10)!  And bream isn’t really an expensive fish – if we were comparing Monkfish, it would be around 10 times more expensive per kg than the wrasse. Continue reading

A Life in Food – Ingredients – Salted Anchovies

Salted Anchovy next to an anchovy in oil

An unhappy brown anchovy in oil next to it’s bigger, pinker salted Bay of Biscay cousin

Opinions on anchovies are pretty much polarised – either loved to the point of obsession, or reviled and grimace-inducing at the mere mention.  I fall firmly into the first camp, but I really believe that most people can enjoy anchovies at least as an ingredient to bring out the flavour of other foods. Continue reading

A Life In Food – Recipes – Gluten Free Salmon Fishcakes with Beetroot & Radish Salsa

salmon fishcakes with beetroot salsa

Gluten Free Salmon Fishcakes with Beetroot & Radish Salsa

Better late than never!  Here is the promised second beetroot recipe, not exactly focused on beetroot but nevertheless, the little purple chaps are definitely in there somewhere.

This a variation on several Italian themed fishcake recipes using polenta.  I have seen a version that uses salt cod, also soaking the polenta in hot water and including in the main mix (in Maxine Clark’s Flavours of Tuscany). Nigella Lawson’s recipe recommends the use of tinned salmon over fresh fish, and let’s be honest, we should be grateful for some way of using the otherwise inedible pink tinned mush (though I’ve found it goes well on rye bread with watercress if you use just the first 6 ingredients below)… Continue reading

Paella Valenciana – The Original Paella, Not a Prawn in Sight…

Paella Valenciana

Paella Valenciana, L'Establiment, El Palmar nr Valencia

Most of us are familiar with the seafood or mixed paella served at tourists spots across Spain, but the original Valencia Paella is a far cry from these modern interpretations.

The paella that most of us are familiar with (and is served in tourist spots across Spain) consists either of a seafood paella or a ‘mixed paella’; bright yellow rice with pink prawns and mussel shells strewn across the surface of the rice, and perhaps the odd lemon segment mysteriously nestling amongst its fishy neighbours.  But the original Paella can be found in and around El Palmar, a village hidden among the rice fields south of Valencia, where the shellfish don’t get a look in…

Traditionaly cooked over orange wood fires that imparts a smokey flavour to the dish, the dish uses ingredients that could be found in the paddy fields and the canals that feed them – specifically rabbit, little stripy snails and duck (though chicken is an acceptable substitute, shown in the dish above), together with various types of beans.  This is the true definition of local sourcing –  measured in food metres, not miles!

The photo above shows a huge wagon wheel sized Paella (the name for the pan as well as the dish) from the L’Establiment on the north end of Paella.  The restaurant somehow manages to be stylish and yet unpretentious and welcoming, and if the weather is good (it wasn’t) you can sit outside by the canal and paddy fields that have provided your meal.  A good Paella is a real treat – intense rich flavours with buttery rice and a range of textures that can make sharing with your dining partners somewhat precarious (tradition says you should never cross over the invisible line into your neighbours section – fork rapped knuckles ensue).  Paella is only ever eaten at lunch in Spain – restaurants will serve it to you in the evening, but expect to be eating it on your own.

I would recommend phoning and ordering ahead (ours took an hour to cook), and remember that the Spanish lunch runs later than most – we arrived at 3pm, and people were still ordering food at 4 and eating at 5. If you can’t get to El Palmar, then look for restaurants that serve Paella for a minimum of two people – then you know it is being cooked fresh each time.

Given that this is a dish that has evolved and changed to become different dishes within its own country, I also think that we should all worry less about using traditional recipes when cooking it at home.  Look to the original spirit of the dish, and use what is in your immediate vicinity; think local game and seasonal vegetables if you’re inland, or native shellfish like oysters, mussels and langoustine if you’re by the coast.  Just ensure that you’re putting plenty of flavour into the dish, and maybe serve it to your diners on their own plates – then fork blows to the knuckles can be avoided…

Valencia Mercado Central – A Market for Seafood Lovers

Jamones, Valencia Mercado Central
  Jamon, and on and on…

I’ve just come back from a holiday in Valencia, and if you get the chance, I highly recommend a visit to the ‘Mercado Central‘ market in the city, one of the largest and longest running markets in Europe.  The food market is divided into sections, with areas for vegetables, fish and meat.  It’s great to see so many things that you just don’t see in British markets, from unusual cuts of meat (sheeps head anyone?) to fish stalls that resemble alien invasions.  The seafood really is the star of the show too – the Spanish allegedly eat more seafood per person than anyone else at the world, and the range is really startling.  I draw the line at the rather bloody live eel executions though…

razor clams
Razor Clams – thhpppthpth

Razor clams are generally available at larger fishmongers and markets in the UK, though they can be quite expensive.  Cook as you would mussels – butter, garlic or shallots,  white wine, parsley. Now for something completely different…

Clams, Murex and Percebe Tellina, Canailla and Percebe.

Admittedly these are the spanish names for these little chaps, but the English translations won’t help you much either:

Tellina: As far as I can make out, Tellina is a type of clam, but many English recipes just refer to it as a Tellina.  Widely used in Italy, they are sweet tasting and can be eaten raw, or cooked in a tomato sauce.

Canailla: This is definitely the spanish term – the English term is ‘Murex’.  Which doesn’t help much… It is a type of whelk, widely used in Malaysia – it can be boiled and served with chilli sauce.  Apparently they used to be harvested to make purple dye.

Percebe: Known to the English speaking world as goose or gooseneck barnacle, I know of these from my childhood rockpooling days, though I had no idea they were edible.  And if I knew how expensive they were (£100+ per kilo), I would have gathered up the 200 or so of them that were dumped on Summerleaze beach in Bude about a month ago.  They have a similar taste to Lobster and are becoming rare, hence the expense. Boil them, strip the skin from the stalk, and eat the flesh.

Red Prawns

The langoustines in the foreground seem like the standard fare we get in the UK, but of particular interest are the huge red prawns just behind them.  I can’t find anything about them online (they were labelled ‘Rojos Frescoes Especiales’), and I was already too laden down with food to buy them,  but if anyone knows what they are, please leave a comment! (EDIT: I think they are rose shrimp, Aristeus Antennatus, who knew there were so many kinds of prawn…)

 Mojama Time

This is another Spanish speciality – Mojama, or salt cured tuna fillets.  It takes like a cured ham, with slight fish undertones.  Not unpleasant, more surprising than anything else, it should be eaten finely sliced with good olive oil.

I’ve only included a sample of the food available at the market, round every corner there was something new and unusual, but hopefully this shows how you can really discover a lot about country and regional food from a visit to their markets.  And although we often think that we already get the best of a countries offering in our own supermarkets and markets, there really is a lot more to be discovered.

Steamed Mussels in Rich Tomato and Tarragon Sauce

Mussels in Tomato and Tarragon Sauce

Fresh mussels steamed in a tomato and tarragon broth – a heavenly rich dish dotted with little explosions of sweet tarragon and sharp capers.

Sometimes the best recipes come from an empty cupboard – and this is such a recipe.  I’d been planning to make the traditional moules marinieres with white wine and shallots, however I then remembered we’d drunk the white wine the night before. Ho hum. But what I did have was tomatoes, shallots and a bottle of tarragon vinegar demanding to be used…


All quantities are per person for a main course sized serving.

20-30 mussels, cleaned and debearded
A knob of unsalted butter (about 15g)
1 small shallot, finely chopped
Half a tin of tomatoes, chopped
1 sprig of lemon thyme
1 bay leaf
Bunch of chopped parsley
2 tbsp tarragon vinegar*
6 capers, roughly chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
Olive oil for dressing

1.  Rinse off the mussels and discard any that don’t close when tapped.

2. Heat the butter on a medium heat, then add the shallots and cook until they turn clear.

3. Add tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf, chopped parsley and seasoning (not too much salt though as the liquid in the mussels will be fairly salty), turn up the heat.  When mixture is bubbling fiercely, add the mussels and place a lid on the pan.

4.  Shake the pan occasionally, then after a couple of minutes take off the lid and douse with tarragon vinegar.  Put the lid back on and cook for 2 more minutes, still shaking occasionally.

5. Remove the lid, and pour the mussels and liquid into a serving bowl, discarding the thyme and bay leaf.  Scatter over the chopped capers, and dress with olive oil (about 1 tbsp).

This is a simple, rewarding dish that can be made in a few minutes with little fuss.  The tarragon vinegar sneaks inside some of the mussels so that you get occasional sweet bursts, combining well with the odd smidgen of sharp capers and the rich tomato sauce.  Obviously it would be a crime not to dip big chunks of crusty bread in the sauce. People say not to eat the mussels that are still partly closed, but I always crowbar them open and I’m still living to this day.

In the picture above I included whole capers, but found it a little too intense (and they all slid away into the sauce), hence the recommendation to chop them. Also, chuck a little bit of white wine in there if you like, why not, assuming you haven’t drunk it already…

*tarragon vinegar is pretty easy to make – stick a few sprigs of fresh tarragon into a bottle of white wine vinegar, wait a few weeks, voila – tarragon vinegar.