On a rainy day in February, when it seemed that half the country had turned into an inland sea, we unexpectedly found ourselves with over four kilos of incredibly fresh, top quality Skrei (line-caught Norwegian cod).

We’d been expecting a far smaller delivery but a miscommunication somewhere along the line resulted in “individual portions” being swapped out for “kilos”, and we were the happy if slightly bemused beneficiaries of the error. After an hour of carefully cutting three gargantuan sides of fish into portions, double wrapping them all in cling film, labelling them with their weight and squeezing all but a couple of them into an already groaningly-full freezer, I took to the web in search of cod recipes.

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My recipe

With the wind outside slamming never-ending needles of cold rain against the thankfully solid walls and windows, I yearned for something hearty, filling and cheering – the weather howled approval of my demand for punchy flavours, plenty of protein, comforting carbs and copious colour.

A recipe for baked cod with chorizo, potatoes and saffron fit the  bill.

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Original recipe

We liked this recipe a lot but agreed it needed quite a bit of tweaking. Against the strong flavours (and colour) of the chorizo, the saffron was lost; I decided it was superfluous. Our sauté pan is pretty large but the half kilo of sliced potatoes was difficult to move around the pan. The potatoes also made it difficult for the heat to reach and soften the leeks in the short time they had to cook before the liquid was added and came to a boil; I decided to cube the potatoes and add the leeks at a much earlier stage. Lastly, instead of plain oil, I used oil that I’d flavoured and coloured with the chorizo to drizzle over the fish before baking.

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My recipe

My new recipe was everything I hoped.

Cubing the potatoes made them cook more evenly, and also provided lots of edges and corners to crisp up a little in the oven. The softer leeks integrated much better into the chorizo and potato base. And the chorizo-infused oil gave the baked fish a little extra colour on the plate.

 

Baked Chorizo, Cod & Potatoes Recipe

Serves 2-3

Ingredients
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
120 grams soft Spanish chorizo*, cubed or thinly sliced
1 leek, white and pale green parts sliced into thin half-discs
500 grams potatoes, peeled and cubed
120 ml (half cup) water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
500 grams fresh skrei or cod fillet, cut into two or three portions as required
Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)

Note: Spanish chorizo can be purchased either as a fresh, soft sausage that requires cooking, or a harder and drier cured version which can be eaten as is. Make sure you buy the soft cooking chorizo.

Method

  • Preheat oven to 180 °C (fan).

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  • Heat three tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large oven-proof pan, add the chorizo and cook over a medium heat until the chorizo starts to change colour, about 2-3 minutes. The oil will take on plenty of colour from the chorizo spices.
  • Carefully retrieve a tablespoon of the cooking oil from the pan and set to one side.

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  • Add the leek and continue to cook for a few minutes, until the leek softens.

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  • Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for 12-15 minutes, until the potatoes soften a little around the edges.

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  • Add the water, salt and pepper and bring to the boil. As the pan is already hot, this should only take a few moments.

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  • Place the pieces of fish over the contents of the pan and drizzle with the reserved chorizo-flavoured oil.
  • Transfer pan to the oven and bake for 15 minutes, until the cod is opaque. If your fillets are much thicker or thinner than those shown, you may need to adjust cooking time by a couple of minutes in either direction.

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  • Either serve the pan to the table, family style, or plate individual portions. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

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This is a really simple dish to make. Prep (of chorizo, leeks and potatoes) doesn’t take very long and the entire cooking time is not much more than half an hour, so it’s ideal any day of the week.

 

Kavey Eats received samples of fresh skrei (line caught Norwegian cod) from the Norway Seafood Council.

Feb 062014
 

In December I was invited to a seafood cookery class hosted by my friend Signe Johansen (blogger, food writer and food anthropologist) on behalf of the Norwegian Seafood Council, to showcase the quality of Norwegian seafood and share some ideas for how to make the most of it. Having cooked several different dishes with the skrei they sent me last year – miso marinated cod, fish and egg pie, fish and chips and a cod and chive dish, I was keen to try some of the other seafood available.

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Signe and Hannah (her sous chef for the class)

Sig’s menu included prawn and crisp bread canapés, smoked salmon with horseradish crème fraiche, beetroot and pickled cucumbers, some deep fried cod fritters, a warming Norwegian seafood soup and a fantastic rice pudding with whipped cream and berry compote. There was warming gløgg too!

The recipe I’m sharing below is for the seafood soup, which Sig called a Norwegian chowder, in recognition of the American side of her family background. Unlike the American chowders I’ve had, it’s not thick – the soup is broth-like in consistency – but it does have a great depth of flavour and plenty of richness from the cream. Sig recommends serving with crisp bread but I enjoyed it with regular white bread to soak up the liquid.

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Signe’s Norwegian Fish Soup

Serves 6-7 as a starter, 3-4 as a main

Ingredients
For the chowder base
200g Norwegian cold water cooked prawns, shell on
1 small onion, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1 small fennel, finely diced (keep the fronds for garnish)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 bay leaf
2 litres fish stock
2 star anise
2 parsley stalks
2 threads saffron
5 allspice berries
For the soup
500g Norwegian salmon, sliced into bite-size chunks
300g cooked new potatoes, sliced in half
300ml double cream
100ml good cooking brandy
1 large leek, thinly sliced
Chives for garnish
300ml crème fraîche to garnish at the end (optional)
Salmon roe to garnish (optional)

Note: We didn’t have any prawns on the day, so these were omitted (which meant we didn’t need to strain the stock-flavouring vegetables out). We used a mix of salmon and other fish. We didn’t garnish with crème fraiche or salmon roe.

Method

  • Start by making the chowder base. Sauté the onion, carrot and fennel in a skillet or frying pan over a low heat until soft and translucent. This should take about 5-10 minutes depending on the pan.
  • Peel the prawns and keep the shells, adding the latter to the pan with the sautéed vegetables and fry for about 5 minutes (keep the prawns to one side to add as garnish to the chowder).
  • Transfer this mixture over to a medium-large saucepan along with the fish stock, allspice berries, star anise, parsley stalks, bay leaf and saffron. Simmer for 30 minutes until the stock turns a pale orange from the shells and saffron, and then sieve the stock into a slightly smaller saucepan. Throw away the prawn shells and other flavourings, as you don’t need these anymore.
  • Flambé the brandy or cook off the alcohol in a small saucepan and add this to the stock. Boil this soup base until it has reduced by half; if the base tastes bland at this stage, keep reducing until the flavour takes on a concentrated seafood note. Every fish stock is different, so judge to your taste.
  • Meanwhile sauté the leek in a little butter until soft and add to the stock, along with the double cream. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add all the salmon. Allow to cook for a further 3-5 minutes until the fish is pale pink and opaque.
  • Adjust the seasoning if necessary then add the cooked, sliced new potatoes, the prawns and serve while warm with a chive, fennel frond and salmon roe garnish. Rye bread complements this tasty chowder perfectly and a dollop of crème fraîche is an indulgent optional topping.

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Kavey Eats attended this cookery class as a guest of the Norwegian Seafood Council.

 

Although it’s been around for many years, the technique of cooking food sous vide (under vacuum) in a carefully temperature-controlled water bath has mainly been the preserve of chefs. Professionals have long appreciated the accuracy, consistency and sheer ease of a method that allows them to do the prep and (most of) the cooking of many dishes in advance. For example, they can portion, pack and cook steaks ahead of service, leave them in the water until needed, then quickly finish in a very hot pan to create an appealing brown crust, confident that the interiors will be cooked exactly as expected.

More recently, as the line between professional and domestic kitchens blurs, home cooks are investigating sous vide too.

The History of Sous Vide Cooking

Food historians attribute the idea of cooking under vacuum to Sir Benjamin Thompson, an 18th and 19th century physicist and inventor. Although he invented many items including a double boiler, an insulated drip coffee percolator and a new design of fireplace, he never actually created a sous vide machine, but he did document the idea of cooking under vacuum back in 1799, albeit using air as the heat transfer medium rather than water.

In a related development, the French navy prompted Parisian confectioner and chef Nicolas Appert to develop an industrially viable canning process in response to their competition, launched in 1795, seeking new methods of preserving food. Appert observed that food cooked inside a jar did not spoil unless the seal leaked. Boiling the jars in water killed harmful bacteria and yeasts; it also created a vacuum seal that kept jars airtight and stopped recontamination. After almost 15 years of work, the process he submitted won him a substantial 12,000 francs prize. Later, the method was applied to food sealed in tin cans, hence the process became known as canning.

Modern sous vide has been around since the 1960s, when French and American engineers mastered the process of making food-grade plastic films and pouches. Ingredients could be vacuum-sealed at sufficiently high pressures to compact textures and concentrate flavours. Sealing into such plastic is sometimes referred to as cryovacking after American company Cryovac Inc.

French chef Georges Pralus made the leap to using a sous vide water bath as a cooking technique when he was asked in 1974 by 3-Michelin-starred chef Pierre Troisgros to help find a way of cooking foie gras without losing so much of its weight during cooking. The foie gras, vacuum-sealed in food-grade plastic and cooked at a consistently applied specific temperature, not only loss far less fat during cooking, but had a more even texture too. The technique spread quickly and is now a common tool of many professional chefs.

Since then, there has been much more research and documentation of the effects of different cooking temperatures and times on different foods, with particular attention to food safety and food preservation. A pioneer in the food science of sous vide cooking is Bruno Goussault who presented a study on this very topic back in 1974. He and Pralus both went on to provide professional training in the technique for top chefs from around the world.

How Does it Work and What’s the Point?

Detractors often dismiss sous vide as nothing more than boil-in-the-bag in an attempt to associate it with those dreadful ready-made dinners of decades ago. Of course, there’s more to it than that: for sous vide cooking, raw food is vacuum-sealed in the bag – the removal of air allows heat to be transferred by the water outside the bag directly to the food inside, far more efficiently than when air gets in the way. The cooking temperature is far lower than boiling; accuracy of temperature is critical. Boil-in-the-bag food has already been cooked and pasteurised (at high heat) so the consumer is simply reheating by immersing in boiling water. Sous vide cooking involves cooking in a bag, in water, but it’s definitely not boil-in-the-bag!

When cooking food in a conventional oven (or in a pan on the stove top) the usual method is to set the temperature to high (we typically bake things at about 180 C) and leave the food in the oven (or on the stove) until it reaches the required internal temperature to transform from raw to cooked. The internal temperature the food needs to reach is far less than 180 C so the risk is that leaving the food cooking too long results in a continual rise in temperature, to the extent that the food becomes dried out or burnt. Of course, it’s also possible to underestimate the time needed, and remove a large item such as a roasting joint too soon, when it’s still raw at its centre. Temperature probes can help with this, but the cook still needs to ensure that the food is taken out at just the right time. Experience makes that less hit and miss, as does a temperature probe, but it’s still not an exact science given the different size and shape and moisture content of ingredients.

When cooking sous vide, the temperature of the water bath is set according to the internal temperature required to transform the food from raw to cooked. Of course, it’s still possible to remove the food too quickly, before the heat has transferred to the centre of the food. But the converse is not a problem – leaving the food in the water bath for longer doesn’t cause it to overcook, as it cannot become any hotter than the temperature of the water itself. This can benefit the home cook as much as the professional, as it allows the cooked food to be left in the water bath until such time as other elements of the dish are ready, or diners are ready to eat.

The accuracy of temperature achievable in a water bath means that meat can be cooked at precisely the right temperature to allow tough collagen to break down into soft gelatin, whilst avoiding the higher heats that denature protein and can make it tough. Choosing the right temperature allows the cook to target their preferred finish, whether that’s rare, medium rare, medium… Additionally, all the moisture is retained in the meat as it can neither evaporate nor drain away during cooking. When cooking fish such as salmon in a frying pan, it can be hard to apply heat evenly enough that the outer edges do not dry out before the centre is done, especially as this is a fish that is so good when it’s a touch under- rather than over-cooked. Using lower temperatures makes it easy to cook salmon evenly all the way through, and also avoid the unpleasant streaks of dried white albumen that are excreted when cooking fish at higher temperatures. There is less advantage over traditional methods when cooking vegetables, however adherents appreciate the intensity of flavours that cooking sous vide achieves.

Lastly, vacuum sealing the food means it can be stored (sealed and refrigerated) for longer after cooking, protected against oxidisation.

Limitations & Food Safety

The advantage of cooking, say, a steak or joint of meat in a hot oven or pan is that the exterior develops a caramelised brown crust, as the sugars and amino acids react to high heat – the Maillard reaction, as it’s known. And we love it – a beautifully seared chop with a tender, pink interior is surely the epitome of meat cooking!

Sous vide cannot achieve this, because the entire piece of meat, from exterior through to the centre, is heated only to the temperature needed to take it to medium rare, for example. So, a sous vide steak really needs to be finished briefly in a very hot pan, to sear the exterior and give us the crusted appearance, texture and taste we yearn for.

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That’s not an issue with all ingredients – salmon fillets are beautiful served straight out of the sous vide, evenly cooked all the way through. And foie gras, the ingredient that inspired the development of the modern technique, needs only to chill in the fridge before it’s sliced, plated and served.

Another issue to keep in mind is that of food safety, particularly for those with compromised immunity. The bacteria that is commonly found in food can be categorised into three groups – pathogens (which are harmful to us), spoilage (which, as the name implies spoil the taste and texture of food but are not, on their own, harmful to us) and friendly (which confer health benefits). Pathogens such as Clostridium botulinum (which produces the deadly toxin that causes botulism), Clostridium perfringens (one of the most common causes of food poisoning), Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes are all capable of growing in a vacuum. They can be eradicated by the application of minimum temperatures for sustained periods. Of course, for some ingredients, the temperature required to achieve a desirable texture in the food is not high enough to destroy any pathogens. In this case, it’s crucial to consider the source and quality of the raw ingredients and to observe strict hygiene practices. If storing food after sous vide cooking, it’s also advisable to reduce the temperature quickly, by immersing the sealed pouch into an iced water bath. Read more from sous vide expert Douglas Baldwin, here.

Sous Vide in a Domestic Setting

There are a number of brands that sell sous vide equipment to commercial kitchens. These are generally too expensive, and potentially too bulky, to be of interest to, or in the financial reach of, home cooks. Many have resorted to jury-rigging contraptions using digital thermometers and rice or slow cookers. Some even manage with the tap, a kettle and an insulated cool box! And a few have even attempted sous vide cooking on the stove top, necessitating constant addition of hot or cold water and minor adjustments of the heat level, to maintain the required temperature.

But for home cooks with a serious interest in the technique, and the budget to afford it, appliances aimed at the domestic market are now available.

One such brand is SousVide Supreme, founded by Doctors Michael and Mary Dan Eades. They were motivated to investigate the technique after enjoying a particularly excellent pork chop served by a Las Vegas hotel’s room service team, during a visit to attend a medical conference. The nutritionist couple promote a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet and also have a background in the restaurant trade, so when they realised there was a gap in the domestic market, they resolved to jump in and launched their domestic sous vide products in 2009.

Their range includes two vacuum sealer machines, two (different sizes of) sous vide water ovens and accessories including plastic pouches and cookery books.

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The SousVide Supreme Water Oven is currently available on Amazon for £354, the Vacuum Sealer is currently £99. Alternatively, a Promo Pack of water oven, vacuum sealer, basic sous vide cookery book and 50 vacuum pouches is currently £450.

Our SousVide Supreme equipment arrived shortly before Christmas and we’ve had it out a few times already since then. Thus far, Pete and I have made a foie gras terrine (our first project, in deference to the role of Georges Pralus) and we’ve cooked steak (plain) and chicken (with flavourings). We’ve been very pleased with how all three came out and we found the vacuum sealer and water oven very straightforward to use. I’ll be sharing some recipes and feedback with you going forward.

Do take note that the oven is large, and needs some strength to lift when full of water.

 

Kavey Eats received a SousVide Supreme Promo Pack in exchange for sharing four posts about SousVide Supreme and my experiences with the equipment. This is the first such post with more to follow in coming months. As usual, I will be 100% honest about my opinions, whether good or bad.

 

Thanks to a sample of Skrei from the Norwegian Seafood Council, we’ve been enjoying more fish, specifically cod, of late. One portion was stir-fried with mirin and chives, another was battered and deep fried and one smaller portion was stretched into a filling fish, leek and egg pie.

Next on the list was miso cod.

A signature dish for many restaurants all around the world, it’s probably most strongly associated with Nobu Matsuhisa who makes his recipe with black cod.

Black cod is part of the Notothenia genus whereas the species we’re more familiar with, such as Atlantic, Pacific or Greenland cod are from the Gadus genus. To confuse things further, Sablefish, an unrelated species, is often colloquially called black cod, as is Maori rockcod. If you are keen to recreate the Nobu black cod version of this dish, make sure you buy the right fish (Notothenia microlepidota) and be aware that it’s fattier and more fragile than Gadus cod.

Matsuhisa steeps the black cod in his marinade for a few days before cooking, but for my Skrei fillets, I was happy to make a far quicker version – mixing a simple marinade, smearing it generously over my cod fillets and grilling straight away, until the fish was cooked through and the miso marinade bubbling and charred.

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Miso is a key seasoning and ingredient in Japanese cooking. Produced by fermenting soybeans, grains and salt with a mould fungus, the result is a thick, intensely savoury paste which is high in protein and rich in vitamins and minerals.

There are many types of miso available in Japan, the most common two being red and white. Both are made with soybeans and rice, though white miso has a higher percentage of rice than its red counterpart. There are also other types that are made with different grains such as barley, buckwheat or rye. Miso also becomes darker with age, with some vintage red misos turning almost black in colour.

 

Simple Miso Cod

Serves 2

Ingredients
2 fillets of fresh cod (please buy sustainable fish)
2 tablespoons mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
2 tablespoons white miso paste
2 tablespoons sugar

Note: White miso has a slightly sweeter and milder flavour than the red version, which suits this recipe well. However, you can use red miso instead if you wish; you may want to use a touch less, in that case.

Method

  • Preheat your grill to a medium hot setting.
  • Heat the mirin, white miso paste and sugar in a small saucepan, over a gentle heat, until the sugar has completely dissolved.
  • Place the fillets of fish skin side down on a piece of foil.
  • Spread the paste generously over the surface of the fish, top side only.
  • Grill until the fish is cooked through and the paste is bubbling and starting to char. For these fairly thin fillets, this took about 4 minutes; for the thicker fillets we did the second time, they needed 7.

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Sesame Pak Choi

Serves 2

Ingredients
2 medium sized heads of pak choi
2-3 tablespoons of sesame oil

Note: Last time we made this we added a handful of wild garlic leaves into the stir fry too.

Method

  • Carefully pull all the leaves from the pak choi and wash thoroughly.
  • As you put your fish under the grill, heat some sesame oil in a wok or large frying pan.
  • Stir fry the pak choi for 2 to 3 minutes, until the dark green leaves have wilted and the harder stems have softened just a little.

 

I love this simple miso marinade – an earthy savoury flavour balanced with a touch of sweetness. And the same marinade can also be used on vegetables – indeed the popular dish, nasu dengaku, is made by spreading it onto halved aubergines, though you usually need to grill them a little first, before applying the marinade and grilling again.

Both the fish and the pak choi need minimal preparation, and take only a few minutes to cook, so this is an ideal dish to make when cooking time is short. If you keep miso paste, mirin and sesame oil in your store cupboard, you just need to pick up fresh fish and pak choi on the way home.

These days, many supermarkets stock both miso paste and mirin, but if you can’t find them, try online suppliers such as Japan Centre and Sous Chef.

 

With thanks to the Norwegian Seafood Council for the Norwegian skrei (cod) sample.

 

A nice, fresh but rather small fillet of fresh Norwegian skrei cod we were sent recently necessitated a recipe that could stretch it into a filling meal for two. Pete remembered the cookery book we bought after our day at The Billingsgate Seafood Training School and sure enough, their fish pie, bulked out with eggs and leeks, fit the bill.

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The fish is first poached in milk, with a bay leaf. The strained milk is set aside and the skin and any pin bones are removed from the fish. Sliced leek is cooked in butter to soften before flour, cayenne, nutmeg and mustard are added. The reserved milk is added and the sauce cooked until it has thickened. Hard boiled eggs, herbs and the fish (in pieces) are stirred into the sauce and the mixture is transferred into a large oven dish. Potatoes are mashed and blended with butter and milk before being spread over the filling. Some grated cheese is sprinkled over before the pie is baked until golden brown.

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This is a great recipe to make a piece of fish go a little further and is a comforting and warming dish.

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With thanks to the Norwegian Seafood Council for the Norwegian skrei (cod) sample.

 

I’d never heard of Skrei until I was contacted by the Norwegian Seafood Council about it. Apparently it’s “a very special type of cod, line caught, and a much loved Norwegian delicacy”. As far as I can tell, skrei is actually just the Norwegian word for cod, though I can’t work out whether it’s Atlantic Cod, Pacific Cod (unlikely), Greenland Cod or some other species entirely. It doesn’t help that Google Translate tells me that torsk is another Norwegian word for cod, but doesn’t differentiate between it and skrei.

Still, I’m hooked by the information that it’s line caught – which I know has a massively smaller environmental impact than trawling with massive nets, as there is less bycatch (of unwanted species and undersized fish). Of course, I’ve read that cod is one of the species that has been overfished and should therefore be avoided until stocks recover, but I’ve also read that sustainability depends on which region or fishery it comes from and some cod fisheries are alright. It’s confusing and makes it hard to know what the responsible choice is.

The press release also tells me that skrei annually migrate thousands of miles from the Barents Sea to the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway to reproduce, and this long journey through icy waters results in a “lean, bright white firm flesh [that] is rich in protein, vitamins and minerals”.

It goes on to boast that top chefs Mitch Tonks and Michel Roux Junior both love skrei, with the latter featuring it on his menu for the last two years. I complete the unstated suggestion – that if it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for me – and accept the kind offer to review a sample.

The cod fillets are firm, plump and a pleasingly subtle shade of ivory. As you’d expect from fresh fish, they have very little smell at all. They’ve not been pin boned very well so we make a slight mess of them trying to pull out a couple of large bones, before cooking.

We make three meals with the fish:

  • An adapted recipe from the Jekka’s Herbs Cookbook which calls for sea bass and garlic chives but tastes fabulous with cod and regular chives.
  • A fish pie recipe from the The Billingsgate Market Cookbook which bulks out a small piece of fish with hard boiled eggs and leeks, and is everything warm and comforting that a good fish pie should be.
  • And lastly, beer battered fish and chips, which we discover is an excellent way to appreciate the texture of the fish, as it stays moist and flaky inside its protective coating.

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Norwegian Cod & Chives Stir Fry

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Beer Battered Norwegian Cod and Chips

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Norwegian Cod Fish Pie

Whilst we really enjoyed all three meals, I’m not sure whether we would have noticed a huge difference had we used a different white fish such as hake, haddock or pollock.

Of course, as I said above, it’s not as simple as some species being ok and others not, but a case of taking fishing method and area into account too. The Marine Conservation Society’s website, Fish Online, is an excellent resource for anyone keen to eat great fish and protect our marine environment and wildlife.

if you are lucky enough to have access to a quality fishmonger, they should also be able to advise you on which fish you can use for a given recipe or cooking method, and all their produce should be sustainably sourced.

 

Kavey Eats received review samples of Norwegian skrei.

 

Addendum – following my original post, I was sent some additional information about Skrei, which I wanted to share with you. I’ve summarised it below:

Hundreds of millions of Norwegian cod make the migratory journey I described above but only a small percentage of all landed cad meet the standards to be branded as Skrei, which is a registered trademark.

To be classified as Skrei the fish needs to be caught fully grown (approximately five years old), have immaculate skin with no scratches, bruises or injuries, be packaged within 12 hours of being caught, be stored on ice between 0° and 4° Celsius and, if sold whole, have Skrei branding fastened to the dorsal fin.

It is fished in the Barents Sea, which can be classified as the North East Arctic, so not Pacific or Atlantic. All Norwegian cod is sustainable – indeed Norway has had cod quotas increased this year because stocks are so strong.

 

Burren Smokehouse are one of the wonderful Irish producers I met at Dublin’s Bloom In The Park last year.

Burren Smokehouse
Birgitta Curtin of Burren Smokehouse

This family business was set up by Birgitta & Peter Curtin back in 1989 and takes the best from the smoking traditions of both Ireland and Sweden to produce a high quality Irish product. Their salmon is sourced from Irish fish farms on the Atlantic coast. Once it arrives it is checked for quality, filleted, salted with pure sea salt to cure and then cold or hot smoked in oak smoke. Finally it’s vacuum-packed to maximise shelf-life.

It’s a quality product and tastes fabulous. I tried a number of the Burren products at Bloom and found them all excellent.

Burren Organic Salmon cropped

 

COMPETITION

Burren Smokehouse have generously offered a side of Irish organic smoked salmon, worth approximately £50, to one lucky Kavey Eats reader. The prize includes free delivery anywhere in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

 

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, sharing your favourite accompaniments to serve with smoked salmon.

Entry 2 – Facebook

Like the Kavey Eats Facebook and leave a (separate) comment on this blog post with your Facebook user name.

Entry 3 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter!
Then tweet the (exact) sentence below.
I’d love to win Burren Smokehouse products from Kavey Eats and @BurrenSalmon! http://goo.gl/Qos4K #KaveyEatsBurren
(Please do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track entries using the hashtag. And you don’t need to leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!”)

 

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 29th March 2013.
  • The winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • The prize is a side of Burren Smokehouse Irish organic smoked salmon and includes free delivery anywhere in the UK and Republic of Ireland.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by Burren Smokehouse.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Facebook entry per person only. You do not have to enter all three ways for your entries to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. For Facebook entries, winners must Like the Kavey Eats Facebook page at time of notification.
  • Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email, Twitter or Facebook. If no response is received within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received a sample of smoked salmon from Burren Smokehouse.

The winner for this competition was Rocky (Wildfood).

 

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I planned to make beetroot and lemon cured salmon for Christmas day.

I planned a great many things.

I planned to have a practice run a month or two in advance, trying out two different cures and choosing the one which worked best. No trial run happened. I planned to ask for more advice on recipe variations from expert friends. In the end I turned to recipes found on the internet and had a mild panic about which one to follow. I planned to order one enormous and gorgeous wild salmon fillet in advance. I failed to do so and went with what I could find in Waitrose at the last minute. But the wild Alaskan salmon they’d stocked a few weeks previously was nowhere to be seen, and the farmed salmon looked particularly insipid.

And that’s how I ended up buying two Loch Melfort trout fillets instead. The trout simply looked far more appealing and I decided, with no knowledge to back it up whatsoever, that it would work just as well as salmon for my purposes!

Having found a great many recipes for beetroot cured salmon online, I narrowed my choices down to Nigel, Jamie and Barney (from BBC Good Food).

All three offer fairly similar recipes and techniques featuring the salmon itself, salt, sugar and raw beetroot. Jamie and Nigel add citrus zest and vodka to theirs. Jamie and Barney include a little horseradish too. What varies most in their recipes are the proportions of beetroot, salt and sugar to salmon and how long to apply the cure. Jamie and Nigel both have almost the same salt to salmon ratio, but Nigel calls for more sugar and much more beetroot. Barney’s recipe calls for more sugar than salt and far less of everything against the salmon. Jamie recommends curing the fish for 48 hours, Nigel suggests 2 to 4 days and Barney stretches from 3 days up to a week.

I dithered between the three recipes for a frankly ridiculous number of hours before basing my ratios on the box size of salt I’d purchased, and what my trout and beetroot weighed!

I needn’t have worried so much. The finished trout was both beautiful and delicious. The purple-red and orange colours made it very festive for our Christmas day table but would also make this a lovely recipe to prepare for Valentine’s day.

 

Beetroot & Lemon Zest Home Cured Trout (or Salmon)

Ingredients
1.5 kg boned fillets of trout or salmon, skin on
350 grams coarse crystal sea salt
200 grams demerara sugar
900 grams raw beetroot
Zest of 2 lemons

Note: Scale the recipe up or down depending on the weight of your trout.

 

Method

  • Grate the raw beetroot; no need to remove the skin first. I used a food processor which seemed to release a lot of juice. If the beetroot is very wet, drain using a sieve, to remove excess liquid.

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  • Weigh the sugar and salt, and add the grated lemon zest. Combine with the grated beetroot and mix well.

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  • In a large dish, lay out a piece of cling film and spread a thin layer of the curing mix over it. Lay the fish, skin side down, on the cling film.

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  • Put a much thicker layer of the curing mix over the flesh side of the fillet, making sure all the flesh is covered. As I had two equally sized fillets, I laid the second one flesh side down over the first, and then added a last thin layer of curing mix over the skin of the second fillet. If you only have one fillet, divide your curing mix accordingly, using the majority on the flesh side of the fish.

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  • Wrap the cling film around the fish and add two or three further layers of cling film to ensure that the fish is securely wrapped.

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  • Weigh down the fish with a flat tray and something heavy on top and place in the fridge.

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  • Once a day, check the fish and pour away any liquid that has collected in the dish. You don’t need to unwrap the cling film – the liquid seems to find its way out. After draining, turn the fish over, replace the weights, and return to the fridge.
  • I allowed my fish to cure for 4 days. Based on Nigel, Jamie and Barney’s recipes for salmon, I’d imagine that a period of anywhere between 2 to 7 days would work.
  • Once the curing time is complete, unwrap the fish and scrape away the curing mix using your fingers and some (dry) kitchen towel.

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  • Once wiped clean, the final purple-red colouring of the cured trout will be revealed. Mine had a somewhat mottled effect where more or less colour from the beetroot had stained the flesh.

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  • Slice the fish just before serving. I did my best to cut reasonably thin and even slices, slicing the knife downwards at an angle and then along the skin.

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The beautiful purple-red staining had penetrated reasonably well into the flesh, and looked glorious against the bright orange.

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The trout was simply served with lemon wedges, sour cream and undressed rocket leaves.

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The second fillet, which was wiped clean at the same time of the first, then re-wrapped in cling film and left in the fridge for another day and a half, seemed to be even darker than the first, though they had both cured for the same length of time. Once back home, I removed the flesh from the skin in four pieces which were individually wrapped and frozen.

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I have wanted to cure my own fish for the longest time, but was always put off by worries of getting it wrong and ruining perfectly good fish. I’m glad that everyone I talked to about it encouraged me to have a go as it was very worthwhile and definitely rewarding. It was also far easier than I imagined!

Do have a go and let me know how you get on!

 

Since I started blogging a few years ago, I’ve not purchased many cookery books, as I’m fortunate to be sent new titles to review by several publishers. But I had a big sort out over the summer and gave several boxes of books, cookery ones included, to various charitable organisations.

After which I treated myself to a copy of Jekka’s Herb Cookbook (as well as Mma Ramotswe’s Cookbook: Nourishment for the Traditionally Built by Stuart Brown, still on the “To Read” pile).

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Jekka McVicar is the woman behind Jekka’s Herb Farm, a South Gloucestershire organic herbs nursery specialising in culinary, aromatic, decorative and medicinal herbs. The farm, which celebrated its silver jubilee this April, has over 650 varieties of rare, tropical and native species in its collection. Undoubtedly, Jekka McVicar is the queen of herbs and I’ve purchased some of her seeds for our garden over the years.

In this book she chooses fifty herbs that she loves to cook with and gives a description of each plant, advice for growing it, its history in cooking, any medicinal uses and of course, some recipes. The book doesn’t have any photographs; instead there are pretty illustrations are by her artistic daughter, Hannah McVicar.

Having flicked through when it arrived, it wasn’t until we visited my friend Monica for an August weekend of relaxing, cooking, eating and chatting that I had more time to devote to the book. I took a big bag of several books awaiting review, and popped this one in too as I was so keen to try some of the recipes.

In the end, we tried three recipes from the book over the weekend, and they were all fantastic.

I cooked Sea Bass with Chinese Garlic Chives. Except I couldn’t find any garlic chives so I bought regular chives, and not nearly the quantity specified in the recipe. Some of the pieces of fish broke up a little too much, with my clumsy pan skills, so it wasn’t a prettily presented dish. Nonetheless, the recipe was easy to make and we all really, really enjoyed it. The next time I see a large bunch of garlic chives on sale, I want to try this as Jekka envisaged it!

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Pete made Coriander, Mint and Pitta Salad, but instead of breaking our (freshly made) flatbreads up to add to the salad, he served then on the side. With soft tomatoes, crunchy cucumber, sweet sharp onion, the solidity of the chickpeas, my favourite green herb and a simple dressing, this was well balanced and tasty, and once again, very simple.

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And Monica made two loaves of Rosemary Bread. Fabulous, with a good crumb and lovely flavour from the rosemary, like the other two recipes, this is one that will be made again.

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Our experience with these three recipes gives me a strong faith in the rest of the book and there are many, many more dishes I want to try soon.

So much did we like these three recipes that we tweeted our delight (and photos of the dishes) to Jekka who responded with warm thanks for making her family recipes look so wonderful. (That was down to Monica’s camera skills, of course!)

And I was very happy to be able to give my thanks to Jekka in person when I visited her stall at the Abergavenny Food Festival.

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Photos by Kavey & Monica.

Jekka’s Herb Cookbook published by Ebury Press is currently available on Amazon UK for £17.50 (RRP £30).

 

In a recent post, I shared our cooking class with chef Lee Groves, during a seafood holiday to Cornwall.

Lee has kindly given this interview for Kavey Eats, and shares his recipe for Ray Wings in a Pepper Butter Sauce, below.

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Can you give us a little potted bio of chef Lee Groves? How did you get into cooking? What path has your career taken? How did you get to where you are now? And I remember you telling me that your 2010 Masterchef experience was hugely important to you because it came at a time when you were reevaluating where you were at and where you wanted to be. Can you tell us more about the experience itself and how it shaped what came next?

I always wanted to be a chef, i remember telling a friend at infants school!

I never sat on my Gran’s knee podding peas, or fly fished with my Grandfather, no one else in my family is in the trade, just something I always wanted to do. After 2 years at college, my first job cooking(age 17) was in the local pub, at which I had been working on the bar. But, I knew scampi, gammon and frozen lasagne wasn’t me! Then I was lucky enough to land a job at The Walnut Tree, Abergavenny, under the highly acclaimed Franco Taruschio, one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it was my building block. Three years later, after stints at Gidleigh Park and Gary Rhodes, I returned to Wales. It didn’t last long and at the age of 23 I landed my first Head Chef job in a busy seaside pub just outside Exeter, (I say landed, blagged morelike!).

After a couple of years, a new restaurant was looking for a Head Chef, in the same area…my first proper role in high end fine dining. Even though the accolades came in very soon, the restaurant wasn’t making enough money. That took me to Oxford, where I gained lots of recognition within prestigious guides, it was here I won my first Chef of the Year competition, and then I got the bug. After many competitions, and winning, I knew for definite the sky was the limit.

A few years later, and more accolades later, I found myself out of work, temping here and there was o.k., I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to continue cheffing and nearly left the industry, but I wanted to get my teeth into something. Then I watched Masterchef 2009, The Professionals, and thought to myself I can do that! So applied online, not knowing what to expect……Then the call came, I had been chosen for the last 36 to be filmed, (out of 10,000), and thought oh! here we go!

4 months later, after alot of blood, sweat, tears and overnight travelling, the fire was back! And I wanted to be better than ever.

Having found Scott & Julia on an advertising website, they were looking for a head chef in St. Ives, the rest as they say is history. After only being open for 18 months now we have won many accoldes and taken St. Ives by storm.

What is your cooking ethos and style?

My cooking ethos is use fresh, don’t accept rubbish ingredients, and half the battle is won. Alot of chefs mask the main ingredients with many sauces and flavours, yes be creative but have confidence in what you are using.

What’s your favourite comfort food or meal?

My favourite comfort food/meal, can vary, from a Fray Bentos pie, to a lovely roast dinner with all the trimmings, fish and chips or a good hot homemade curry.

And what would you cook for a special occasional meal, at home not in the restaurant?

At home I tend to experiment, but for a special meal, it would have to be game, in season, (can’t wait for my first Grouse next week, and the first Partridge in a couple of months time), or a piece of fresh Seabass.

I loved everything you showed us during our cookery classes. But as you know, I was particularly blown away by the ray wings in a pepper and brown butter sauce. Could you give me your recipe and any tips and tricks to achieve the best results?

There isn’t an exact recipe, it’s all about feeling and understanding the ingredients, flame control is very important too, as you don’t want that lovely buttery sauce to split.

So pan fry the freshest ray wing in hot olive oil, season, it should be golden brown, so about 4 minutes either side, add a spoonful of capers or soft mixed peppercorns, reduce the heat, add a good slug of balsamic vinegar, add 3 or 4 nuts of cold unsalted butter, and gently stir in and around the fish to form a glossy piquant dressing, the fish should still be slightly pink on the bone so it peels off into the lovely, meaty strands.

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Our visit to Cornwall was part of a week-long South West Tour courtesy of The Food Travel Company (and Riverford Organic Farms). They are a new company offering specialist trips for food (and drink) lovers, with group departures and customised itineraries available.

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