My uni friends Chris and Cathy came by for dinner.
I was moored in Limehouse marina on the Isle of Dogs at the time - near Canary Wharf.
A surprisingly salubrious area considering its proximity to Tower Hamlets,
and walking distance from the new Billingsgate Fish Market
which moved there from the City of London in 1982 - handy for me!
Not so handy is the fact that you have to shop there between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. and though they do sell to the public,
they're not interested in cutting anything up.
So you can buy a whole lobster, a whole crab, a whole salmon, a half-dozen scallops in their shell or anything by the ton,
but if you want a few monkfish steaks you have to shop elsewhere; say the Canary Wharf branch of Waitrose, just around the corner.
My ex-skipper John kindly donated me a boat barbecue before I left Edinburgh - one of those which clamps onto your boat's stern rails.
I wasn't completely convinced that it wouldn't just swivel round and dump the entire contents of the barbecue into the sea.
Or worse, onto the hull and set fire to it.
But it tested out pretty well with a whole (un-burning) bag of charcoal sitting on the grill so considering the extremely favourable weather,
and having the approval of the marina, I decided that this was the time to crank it up. And it worked like a charm!
I'd originally been considering
- I was thinking of something like salt cod or monkfish with chorizo on a bed of carrots, flavoured with anise for Chris - the carnivore.
Plus a bag with salmon, asparagus, and vodka flavoured with liquorice or perhaps vanilla,
lines, for Cathy - the pesky tarian.
I thought I could do these on the barbecue easily enough,
but when I discovered that Billingsgate didn't sell fish by the piece I decided to mainly go with a whole-fish theme.
I also abandoned my plans
for panna cotta dessert - partly because it started to feel like overkill
and partly 'cos I couldn't be bothered figuring out how to substitute agar agar for the gelatine to suit someone strangely averse to boiled cows' hooves.
Given how hot it's been recently, and how hot it was forecast to be on Saturday, I thought it might be pleasant to have a couple of cold dishes too
- which gave me the perfect opportunity to try out a dish I've been wanting to take a bash at ever since eating it at Edinburgh's
Castle Terrace restaurant
a salmon tartar with puffed rice and wasabi ice cream
Popping the rice turned out not to be such a problem, having read up on how to do it.
Basically you cook some rice as normal (doesn't seem important what kind - I used Thai jasmine),
then dry it (I baked it in the oven), then you deep-fry it to make it pop.
That worked pretty well, though because the oil temperature has to be very high,
and the rice scooped out almost instantly, you can only really fry very small batches.
Fortunately this dish doesn't require very much puffed rice so that's not such an issue, and you can just pick out the grains which burn or don't pop.
The real problem for me was how to make ice cream on a boat with only a fridge!??
Well, since the temperature control knob in my fridge has seized up at arctic
the element freezes solid,
which means I can lay a small freezer bag of ice cream mixture on top of it, squidging the bag around occasionally to break up the ice crystals as it sets.
Fortunately this dish doesn't need much ice cream either.
I also threw in a new (to me) Nigel Slater recipe for chilled crab soup
Worried that my guests might not have enough to eat ,
or at least that they might like something to soak up all the garlic juices,
I had a Pyrex bowl of seasoned couscous standing by to which I'd added grated lemon peel and chopped parsley.
In the end no-one seemed desperate for more food and I didn't get around to making it.
It's a handy thing to have ready though - all you need to do is add water!
Beforehand I put two whole heads of garlic in the oven to bake for about 40 minutes in a moderate oven (160°C/Gas Mark 3) until they softened,
then squidged out the cloves into a bowl.
I mixed half the roast garlic with butter, chopped parsley and salt & pepper then warmed it in a small saucepan for brushing over the fish on the barbecue
The other garlic head I kept for filling aubergines.
I didn't want to bake the (smallish) aubergines from scratch on the barbecue as I figured it would take too long
and my barbecue is too small to dedicate so much space for so long.
So I pre-cooked them in the microwave for 2-3 minutes until they softened.
I also threw them in the oven with the steak to warm back up again
before cutting a slice out of the top of each, stuffing with garlic and crumbled feta cheese, and finishing them off on the barbecue.
The steak I also partly pre-cooked in the oven since it was so large I was afraid to burn the outside before warming it through on the barbecue,
and didn't want to cut it down first.
I made up three barbecue flavourings, the first I kept warm in a small saucepan and the latter two I poured into plastic squeezy bottles for ease of delivery:
And here's the result...
Salmon Tartar with Puffed Rice and Wasabi Ice Cream
I've been wanting to have a go at making this every since enjoying it at Edinburgh's Castle Terrace restaurant.
I was particularly fascinated by the puffed rice - would it be even possible to make it at home,
or would some kind of Alexander P Anderson
industrial cannon be required?
Well it turns out that you can quite easily make a reasonable facsimile of Rice Krispies® in your kitchen. If less puffy than theirs.
According to their waiter, the Castle Terrace's wasabi ice cream was also flavoured (coloured?) with chlorophyll (made from parsley?),
but I wasn't unhappy with my
green tea base.
They also served their tartar with a thick matchstick of pickled ginger - a kind of facsimile of sushi ginger (gari).
But hey, there's only so much room on a boat!
To shape the jellies and the cucumber onboard I cut the needle end off a syringe and used it to bore out the cucumber and scoop out plugs from the sheet of jelly.
You use what you have!
Speaking of boats - how, you ask, did I manage to make ice cream on a boat??
Well, it so happens that my fridge has an overactive cooling element (the temperature adjustment dial has seized into position, since you ask)
and it permanently freezes solid.
So what I did is make a small batch of ice cream then pour it into a small waterproof freezer bag and sit that on top of the element.
Every so often, as it froze, I would take it out and squidge the bag around to break up any ice crystals.
Eh voilà: boat ice cream!
- sushi grade salmon steaks, skinned, de-boned
- a small quantity of rice
- neutral (e.g. peanut) oil for deep frying
- black sesame seeds
- a small quantity of wasabi ice cream
- Hon Dashi powder or pellets
- soy sauce
- agar agar or gelatine
- rice vinegar
Follow my wasabi ice cream
but add a lot
more wasabi until the ice cream has a nice bite to it.
Here's what I did, though I think it could be improved:
I cut out fat cylinders of cucumber then put them in a bowl, covered with rice vinegar, for a few hours. I dried them off with kitchen paper to serve.
The problem with these fat hunks of cucumber is that they're awkward and not soft enough,
so you can no longer eat the whole dish with just a teaspoon and need to start using a knife.
It would have been much better to cut the cucumber into smaller dice and pickle more briefly, or dice up larger pieces of pre-pickled cucumber.
Mix a little Hon Dashi (Japanese bonito (tuna) stock powder) with warm water and flavour generously with soy sauce.
Sprinkle over enough agar to set (one teaspoon of agar flakes will set about 2/3 cup), bring to a simmer then whisk constantly until the agar dissolves.
Pour into a container so you get about an inch of depth or less, as you like, and put in the fridge to set.
First cook the rice as normal. You won't need very much - a few tablespoons will do.
I used Jasmine rice (though I have no reason to think any other variety would work differently) so I soaked it for an hour,
boiled it in a large quantity of fresh water for 10 minutes, then drained it.
Next dry the rice in the oven - spread it thinly in a single layer on an oven tray, breaking up any clumps,
and bake at in a low oven (135°C/Gas Mark 1) for 2-3 hours until it is dry, hard, and yellowing.
Heat an inch or two of peanut oil in a small pot until just smoking hot and drop small batches of the rice into the oil until they puff
(practically instantly) then remove immediately with a slotted spoon and lay on kitchen paper to drain.
The puffed rice should be bone white - avoid including any browned or burnt kernels.
Once the kitchen paper has soaked up excess oil, the puffed rice should stay crisp for days sealed in a freezer bag
(I put a sachet of silica in mine for good measure to keep it dry).
Dry-fry a teaspoon of sesame seeds in a dry frying pan until they become aromatic and taste light and crispier than usual.
Don't burn them.
You can keep them covered with clingfilm for a day before using.
Chop the salmon into small dice, but not mince - you want it to still have some texture:
cut a salmon steak into slices (about 3mm) across the grain, then the slices into sticks, then crossways into dice. Use a very sharp knife.
Cut out your soy jelly shapes (mine were cylinders from a cut-down syringe).
Use a mould to shape the salmon in the centre of a plate - a pastry cutter will do (if you live on a boat).
Gently press a layer of salmon into the mould, top with a covering of the puffed rice, then scatter over black sesame seeds and carefully lift off the mould.
Strategically place your cucumber and soy jelly shapes around the plate (two fat ones will be fine).
Shape a quenelle of wasabi ice cream using two teaspoons and place on top of the salmon centre-piece.
Chilled Crab and Cucumber Soup
There's something wrong with Nigel's recipe
- it's much too thick and yoghurty. More of a goop than a soup.
The only way to rescue it, that I can see, is to add some liquid to thin it out - so I used vodka and cucumber juice.
I made a half-quantity of his recipe and thinned it with a whole other (somewhat skinny) juiced cucumber,
so perhaps adding one juiced large cucumber would work for his full recipe. Adjust as required.
You can cook and pick your own crab if you like, or you can buy a dressed crab from your fishmonger.
Check that he's put pure crabmeat in there and hasn't mixed it with salad dressings or breadcrumbs.
Oh and you'd best work through the meat carefully yourself to make sure the fishmonger didn't throw in some small shards of shell for a laugh - they usually do!
- 2 large cucumbers
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 small clove garlic
- 500ml natural yogurt
- 1 small red chilli
- 1 tbsp wine vinegar
- couple glasses of vodka
- a small bunch of mint (to give about 4 tbsp chopped leaves)
- 100ml single cream
- a few sprigs of parsley
- 8 heaped tbsp cooked white and brown crabmeat
Peel the cucumbers, quarter them, slice out the seeds from their centres then chop one into very small dice.
Tip this diced cucumber into a colander, sprinkle liberally with a teaspoonful of salt, toss gently then leave in the sink for a good half hour.
Roughly chop and purée the second cucumber and press through a sieve , set aside the juice.
Peel and very finely crush the garlic and add to the yogurt. Seed and very finely chop the chilli then mix into the yogurt with the vinegar.
Remove the leaves from the mint and chop them finely – you will need about 4 lightly heaped tablespoons – then stir the chopped mint into the soup.
Stir in the diced cucumber – but not the liquid that has drained from it – and then the cream.
Add the vodka and enough cucumber juice until it is thin enough to drink.
Season with black pepper and chill in the fridge. It must be really cold if it is to be good.
Chop the parsley leaves and mix them with the crab, adding a little black pepper as you go.
Divide the soup between four bowls. Place 2 heaped tbsp of crabmeat in each bowl and serve immediately
(you might need to use a mould of some kind to keep it neat).