25th July 2010
IKEA Weekend
On my regular visit to my local fishmonger to inquire after sachets of squid ink I ended up settling for a brace of sea bass instead.
These formed the basis for a couple of tasty meals over a weekend of IKEA cupboard-building.
It was observed, quite fairly I thought, that the first dinner - Pan-Fried Sea Bass with Beetroot Rösti, Pak Choy and Lemon Grass Sauce took an absurd length of time to prepare. Ten hours does seem excessive. In my defence - this included several hours of sauce reduction, some messy fish cleaning and a great deal of rösti experimentation. I'm sure you could knock this out in a mere 6 hours or so!

Fortunately for the sanity of my audience, the second Sea Bassy meal with Apple-Mustard sauce and stuffed courgettes took only minutes.
About a hundred or so.

Pan-Fried Sea Bass with Beetroot Rösti, Pak Choy and Lemon Grass Sauce
main side fish
Thoroughly de-scale each sea bass with a sharp knife, then fillet them by slicing down each side along the rib bones from the spine. This gives two wide pieces with a line of bones down the middle. It's easiest if you split these pieces in half down this line, cutting out the bones to get two narrow fillets. You can then tidy these up, cutting away the thin white flaps along the bottom , then slice them diagonally into nice lozenge shapes. Rub their skin side with Maldon sea salt just before frying.

Prepare the lemon grass sauce, the stir-fry ingredients and the beetroot rösti mixture.
I also made a batch of tomato vanilla sauce and toasted coconut, but it didn't really go.
Unfortunately there's a lot of frying here, and you want to serve everything as quickly as possible, but especially the rösti which really don't keep well. So you'll just have to work fast.
Best if you first fry the salted Sea Bass Lozenges over a high heat in clarified butter though regular will do at a pinch. Cook them skin-side down until the skin is crispy and the flesh has whitened almost all the way through then flip them briefly to finish off the fleshy side.
Keep them warm in the oven while you fry the rösti and the stir fry.

Spoon a puddle of sauce onto each plate, stack a row of sea bass lozenges in the sauce, add a pile of rösti and a heap of stir-fry and serve.
If you want to try it you can place a cookie cutter (it doesn't have to be heart shaped) on the plate, fill it with the tomato vanilla sauce, lift off the cutter and then top with toasted coconut.
But I didn't think much of it.

Pan-Fried Sea Bass with Stuffed Courgettes, Mango Salad and Apple-Mustard Sauce
main side fish
Prepare the stuffed courgettes and then get them under the grill or in the oven.
Prepare the sea bass as above.
Prepare the Apple-Mustard sauce.
Make a simple mango salad - chop some mango, spring onions, cherry tomatoes, lettuce and mix together with a light dressing.
I also dressed the salad with a sprinkling of newly-retoasted toasted coconut. Which looked pretty, even if it added little in the way of flavour.

Fry the sea bass as above, spoon a puddle of the thick sauce on the plate, stack the sea bass lozenges nicely in it, then add a stuffed courgette and a pile of salad sprinkled with toasted coconut.

Job Done.

Tomato And Vanilla Sauce
sauce veg
Your tomatoes will reduce waaaaay down.

Serves 2

Soften the minced onion and garlic in a little butter.
If I'd been going for a more Italian-style sauce I would have used olive oil, herbs and probably fried some tomato purée too.
I've read an interesting suggestion for adding some halved, peeled carrots to the frying mixture for sweetness, then discarding them before using the sauce. Probably no need to combine this with the sweet pepper though.
Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water then peel and deseed them. Add to the pan.
Split the vanilla pod lengthwise and add it to the pot.
To be honest - releasing all the little vanilla seeds results in an unpleasantly gritty feel to the purée. I think it would probably be better not to slit the pod, as long as you can still get enough flavour to leach out.
Grill the pepper to char the skin, let it cool in a small plastic bag, then peel and deseed it. Chop the flesh. Add it to the pot

Simmer gently to reduce the tomatoes to a mushy pulp, then blend to a paste (using water sieved through the leftover tomato bits), and continue to simmer.
The sauce will thicken and should turn a deep red colour when its ready.

Remove the vanilla pod.
Pile the purée on the plates (use a cookie cutter - if the sauce has thickened enough) and decorate with toasted coconut.
I was really looking for a tart sauce to complement some pan-fried sea bass. But this wasn't it. It has a nice enough flavour, if a bit on the sweet side, (I did consider adding balsamic vinegar) and it's a lot of effort for only a little sauce. I'm not really sure about the toasted coconut either, you definitely can't leave the coconut sitting around for long if you want it to stay crispy.

If you wanted to use this as the base for a pizza or pasta sauce, you probably wouldn't bother blending the fried mixture.

Lemon Grass Sauce
oriental sauce veg
Serves 4

Make your coconut cream. Peel and grate your coconut flesh, pour in a cup or two of lukewarm water and then massage the coconut until you've extracted as much cream as possible, adding the coconut's water too if you like. Strain it through muslin.
Or buy it :)

Blend the other ingredients together, moistening with groundnut oil as necessary.
Fry the resulting paste in a smear of groundnut oil, until it colours, and the oil separates.
If the coconut cream has enough fat in it (e.g. came from a tin) you could probably use that to fry the paste.
I wasn't sure if the frying was necessary, however I noticed that until the paste had been thoroughly fried through the sauce retained a somewhat bitter flavour.
Then add the rest of the coconut cream (in smallish batches), reducing to a nice thick sauce.
Stir through sliced basil leaves just before serving.
The result is delicious, but very grainy.
I'd probably prefer just to boil the ingredients in coconut cream and then strain them out again. Question is - would we end up with the bitterness I noted above?
Perhaps I'd still need to fry up the (chopped) ingredients first, then strain them out again?

Toasted Coconut
ingredient veg vegan
Makes an acceptable topping for sauces or salads. If a little bland.

Hammer a screwdriver into the coconut eyes and turn the nut upside down on a glass to drain out the coconut water.
Put the coconut in a very hot oven for 5 minutes, then hold it in a towel and crack it sharply with a hammer - the shell should split nicely.
Peel the brown skin from the white coconut and finely grate the flesh.
Gently dry pan-fry the shredded coconut until it colours nicely and starts to crisp up. You'll need to watch it like a hawk and keep it moving to stop it burning though.
This has a reasonably pleasant, sweet nutty flavour, but is disappointingly mild and doesn't stay crispy long, so use it quick.
Maybe there's something it could be fried up with to make it a bit more entertaining?

Apple-Mustard Sauce
sauce veg
This is a really tasty if intriguing mixture of flavours, and goes terrifically well with, say, pan-fried Sea Bass.

I was rather under the impression that I had invented it, but to my chagrin, it turns out that other people have got there before me.
Just goes to show there's nothing new under the grill.

Serves 2

Peel, core and chop the apple.
Fry the pieces in a little butter until well coated and starting to soften (unless you've been shopping in a supermarket and ended up with an apple which is made of polystyrene).
Add a little brown sugar if the apple is very tart.
I imagine you could also soften some chopped onion or garlic with the apple - you'd either end up with a lumpier sauce or have to blend it though.
Cover the apple with water or you could try using lemon juice and simmer until the apple is completely mushy, crush, mash or blend, then stir in the mustard and gently reduce.
Since I bought my apple at a supermarket I had to resort to the potato masher.
When the sauce is thick and gloopy, whisk in a few knobs of butter until the sauce gets all glossy, then stir through the basil.
Season and serve.
You could also try finishing the sauce with cream, using sage instead of basil, and adding a little white wine or a dash of cognac.

Beetroot Rösti
side veg vegan experimental
Serves 2

Boil the potato and beetroot whole in their skins for about 10 minutes, until they just began to soften, but are still firm. Drain and allow to cool slightly before peeling and grating them into separate bowls.
Salt the roots generously.
Grate the coconut into another bowl.

I tried a few different ways of making up the röstis. I was hoping for nicely shaped patties, crispy on the outside, well cooked and tender on the inside.
  • Mix roughly half beetroot with half potato, press into patties and fry in a generous amount of butter until cooked.
    Works well, quite tasty, and you can crisp some of the sticky-out bits quite effectively, which do hold their crunch quite well, but it doesn't seem possible to get a whole crispy shell.
  • Mix pure grated beetroot with enough plain flour to coat, press into patties and fry in a generous amount of butter until cooked through.
    These fellows crisped up pretty well in the pan, and they taste nice enough, especially when mixed with the coconut, but just didn't seem to stay crispy for very long at all.

    Oh, and they definitely don't keep warm well in the oven.
  • Press grated beetroot into patties and fry in butter until cooked.
    No, no, no! Beetroot does not hold together on its own. Not enough starch I suppose.
Good taste to these röstis, also mixed with the coconut, but I wasn't really happy with any of their crunchiness. They were very nice served up for breakfast the next day with a fried egg on top, but their overnight stint in the fridge definitely didn't help the crisping up at all.

Opinions on making crunchy potato röstis vary, some use pre-cooked roots, and some raw. The raw suggestions all seem very keen to remove excess liquid from the grated potato, ranging from grating into a sieve, scattering with salt and pressing out with a spoon, to grating, scattering with salt and wringing out a couple of times in a tea towel.
Cookipedia suggests brushing the röstis all over with melted butter and baking them at the top of an oven preheated to 220°C/Gas 7/425°F. Bake for 15 minutes, flip, and bake the other side for another 10 minutes.

  • So, I tried the oven baking method:
    I par-boiled a potato and a beetroot (10 minutes for the potato, 20 for the beetroot) peeled and grated them together seasoned the mixture, pressed into 1"x3" patties, brushed both sides with an olive oil/melted butter mixture, then baked at Gas 8 (Gas 7 seemed to low) for 15 minutes, then flip and 10 minutes longer.
    Good taste, and a crunchy texture to the extremities, though still not exactly crisp over the entire outside.
    I did forget to sprinkle with flour as recommended - perhaps that would have helped.
    Oh, and they reheat in the oven pretty well too.
Still more work to do, but I'm liking the baking method.

Stuffed Courgettes
side main veg
I remember making these fellows ages ago, but now I can't seem to find my original recipe for them. Which is weird. I'm usually reasonably retentive of these things. I wonder if anyone has noticed?
Ah, here it is!

Serves 1 or 2 per courgette

Par-cook the courgettes whole in a steamer, or a small amount of water. Don't overdo it.
When they've cooled slightly, slice them in half lengthways and scoop out the seedy centre with a teaspoon. Chop the flesh.
Gently fry the onions and garlic in butter until soft, then add the courgette flesh and reduce it. Add mustard to taste. Grate about half the cheese into the mixture and a splash of wine if you fancy.
Lay the courgettes in a baking dish, fill them with the stuffing mixture, and grate over the remaining cheese.
Grill (or bake at 200°C) until the cheese melts nicely.
These are delicious - by the way.
I'm not really sure if the courgettes need par-cooking at all, but they do taste good when they're all squishy.
Perhaps you could achieve the same result by cooking the stuffed, cheese-covered courgettes entirely in the oven with a layer of water?

I liked the Dijon-Edam combination, though I'm sure you could go with strong cheddar.

Stir Fried Pak Choy
oriental side veg vegan
Mince the ginger
I grated mine, but it tends to clump up when you fry it, and you end up with unexpected mouthfuls of the stuff.
slice the spring onions on a diagonal, wash the pak choy.
Fry the ginger, followed by the spring onions then the pak choy.
Throw in the tempura dip to finish off, let it boil off and remove to a warmed serving dish.

Yeah, it's fine. Nothing to write home about.

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