From the galley of a superyacht
These are just variations on the notion of a prawn cocktail - a little lighter and fruitier, and a great thrown-together pizzazz after an intense week on charter. Everyone presumes to know what a 'classic' cocktail entails, but so long as there is prawn somewhere, there's plenty of room to disguise the fact that it's a dish of dolled-up leftovers (note that none of these photos actually contain all the ingredients listed). I've served this over and over and over - it's a crowd-pleaser like no other.
2 packets prepared crabsticks
head iceberg lettuce
head lolla rosso, looseleaf or similar decorative lettuce
600g shelled and deveined prawns
1 red onion
200g pitted black olives
100g toasted walnuts
4 cloves fresh garlic, coarsely sliced
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce (forget the ketchup)
100 ml milk
50 ml water
paprika and salt to taste
pinch of salt and paprika
olive oil, mayonnaise for tossing
*pomegranate, pecans, pistacchios, and blueberries are also great substitutes.
Parmesan can add a decorative finish.
Prepare the salad base - wash and cut the lettuces and while damp toss them lightly in olive oil and a spoonful of mayonnaise before dividing them between the plates. Dice the crab sticks into symmetrical cubes, thinly slice the onion and avocado, slice and de-skin the oranges and distribute these over the base, interspersed with the olives and toasted nuts.
In a jug, thoroughly whisk together all the remaining dressing ingredients, adding salt to taste and ensuring that the mixture is completely emusified. There's no hiding a lumpy dressing.
Shell, devein, wash and thoroughly dry the prawns. Any residual moisture ruins their colour and prolongs the flash-fry to a sad-dry.
In a large frying pan, melt the butter over low heat and add the garlic chunks. Turn the heat to maximum, add the prawns, and allow them to brown and curl on one side for 1-2 minutes. At this stage, lower the heat a little, add a quarter-cup of cold water, a handful of de-stemmed parsley and flip them over. They will take between 5-7 minutes to turn golden-pink. Underdone prawns are also white on the inside, but a little explosive in texture. 'Buttery' and 'moist' are better words for better prawns.
Skewer or distribute the prawns over the centre of the plate, liberally dressing them without drowning them. Add a sprig of parsley or a slice of lemon and serve before the prawns cool. That, of course, is the challenge.
Alright. Here's the thing. The English eat bland.
Their food is so similar in taste and texture that they have become almost fanatical in its nomenclature, lest they confuse whatever stodgy mulch lands on their plate at dinner with what they previously had at lunch. It's the underpinning of that great British economy: by differentiating between mushy peas and mushy beans à la carte, your local pub manager can double his profits on half the ingredients given their similarity in taste and colour.
The fixation becomes even more confusing when it comes to that great English favourite: the meat pie. I thought things could be adequately encapsulated by a simple steak 'n kidney, but alas - Jamie Oliver set me straight on that misconception. Little did I know that cottage pie and shepard's pie are identical, except for the type of mince used as a base.
The inspiration for this dish was simple: I am a covert pescatarian whose stomach churns when I have to set foot into a butcher. My photo library is filled with photos sent to my father so that he can assist with the selection of the best cut while I stand outside avoiding looking in. My poor captain is regularly called from the bridge to give his opinion on even the simplest menus. This meal was the result of the fact that I had a single beautiful strip of tender lombata that had to feed eight, and mincing it into cottage pie did not sound fair to the beast that produced it. Deconstructed dishes are currently à la mode; height of haute cuisine, nest pas? Darn hope so.
The result was a tender, peppery, intensely fragrant dish. I've been told I make the 'best potatoes', which while flattering is a great irony given my unsubstantiated dislike for the poor things. There aren't many key features: just heaps of fresh rosemary, good meat, and a patience for grinding black pepper.
1,2 kg potatoes, peeled and diced
3 stalks of fresh rosemary
generous glug olive oil
1 tsp salt
paprika to taste
Peppery mushroom sauce
4 punnets white mushrooms, washed and sliced
3 cloves garlic
1 vegetable stock cube
250 ml cream
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp parsley
2 tbsp ground black pepper, or to taste
1 tsp salt
100 ml greek yoghurt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp dried rosemary
2 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic
The marinade can be prepared a day in advance by combining the ingredients in a ziplock and returning it to the fridge. Three hours before serving, remove the meat from the fridge and beat it vigorously to tenderise it. I only have a steel water bottle, but I believe meat mallets exist and are usually recommended for this task.
It's a lot of potatoes, but dice them nice and small. It reduces the boiling time and helps them absorb as much of the rosemary as possible. Heat a layer of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, add the rosemary, and stir continually as it crisps. The rosemary will sizzle slightly before browning. At this stage, reduce the heat, add the potatoes, and add enough boiling water to just cover them. Boil until able to mash my hand (approx. 20-35 minutes over low heat), add the spices and blend half smooth using a hand blender before finishing the remaining mixture by hand. Exercise restraint! Although a blender gives the mash its secret smoothness, the texture comes a little too close to paper maché if there aren't any homestyle chunks left.
In a small saucepan, brown the finely sliced onions and garlic before adding the stock and herbs. Toss the mushrooms in the oil before adding the cream, and allow the sauce to thicken over a low heat, adding the pepper and salt when it begins bubbling.
The final voilà comes after plating, and it all happens uncomfortably fast. Heat the plates in the oven, layer a round of mash in the centre and heat the sauce thoroughly. Cut the beef into symmetrical strips approx 2cm thick. Heat a frying pan containing crushed garlic and butter to maximum sizzle, turn off the gas and add the strips, allowing them to sizzle and brown before turning them over. Once they are cooked, but still rare on the inside, add a generous serving to each serving, smother in pepper sauce, and top with garnish. Given the opportunity to redo this dish, I would plate it with a topping of caramelised onion and a single browned mushroom.
a.k.a 'Curry in a hurry', or 'How I almost lost the plot'
Not a recipe. A survival method.
Yesterday, after a nightmare provisioning marathon, I was asked for 'a quick chicken curry'.
Curry, to my mind, isn't a 'quick' cook. I've always believed the development of wholesome flavours takes slow boiling, a lot of care, and a vast bouquet of spices to produce a fragrant dish. Nevertheless, it's not up to me, and though the chicken was frozen solid and I hadn't a single cumin pod in sight, into the fray we leap when bidden and confound the consequences as we coat the stovetop in splattered tomato.
I had to rely on a pre-bottled vindaloo paste and I boiled the dish to within an inch of ignition to reduce the tomatoes' acidity in time to serve dinner at a reasonable hour. Somehow, the guests loved it. So much so that the following evening they asked for the leftovers. By this stage, as fate would have it, the captain had eaten it all, and I was out of curry paste, limited on spices and a good hour from land with a ticking clock staring at me from above the galley door.
I managed, just, but am certainly greyer for the effort.
The basis of a good curry
A few months ago, I joined Chakra by Jaipur for a spice masterclass. Undertaking an Indian cooking lesson in Wicklow doesn't quite add up, but the experience proved to be a valuable one. The day was spent with many women (it seems we're more into that sort of thing than men) of all ages, and we stood in our hairnets gabbing and tasting and exchanging culinary ideas. Though most of the women were from Dublin or the surrounding areas, Dr Anuja Patwardhan of New Delhi quickly took me under her wing and told me what is what when it comes to curry. I had the privilege of joining her for a seven-course dinner at her home in Blackrock. We talked travel, India, and how to cook curry: the long and the short is, you feel it. You don't measure it.
The 'one clove' part pulled me up short. Considering how pungent a flavour it is, Chakra strictly bans its use unless in extreme moderation. A quarter of a clove into the pot then, followed by the vegetables and meat. It's important to time these additions: adding the meat too early can make it tough if the aim is to rapidly reduce the sauce.
When I'm racing the clock, I skip the potatoes and carrots because they take too long to soften. I add finely-diced zucchini and butternut to the tomatoes and turn the heat to high.
After about fifteen minutes, lower the heat and add the diced meat. When I have time to prepare ahead, I like to pre-marinade this for a few hours in full-cream Greek yoghurt with a tablespoon of paprika and cumin and a decent sprinkling of salt.
Curry-in-a-hurry can be sped up through steady boiling over medium heat for approximately thirty minutes. At this time, it's important to turn off the heat, add a decent grinding of salt, a spoonful of honey and a handful of freshly-chopped coriander leaves. It's worth doing a comparison tasting before and after. The little things make all the difference.
Just before serving, I stir in a freshly crushed clove of garlic, a grating of ginger, and around 150 ml of cream.
The plating is the trickiest part - it's invariably an absolute mess. Being a cook in a chef's apron usually leaves me feeling like that pug we all know for its bullmastiff-like attitude. Gotta keep trying though!
There is nothing that pleases a crowd like a good homemade custard. And on a yacht, it's a lifesaver. It can be whipped up using long-life cream (the stuff that doesn't whip) and is ready in a matter of minutes. It's easy, versatile, and is the perfect base for dressing up a simple dessert - like a twisted bread and butter pudding.
There are numerous recipes out there contending the use of cream vs milk. Cream makes the centre fluffier and denser than the characteristic smoothness of a fine custard. Both are delicious, and I'm still torn as to which I prefer. On a yacht however, cream works best. It reduces quicker and boils thicker.
4 egg yolks
2-3 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp plain flour
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise, or 1 1/2 tsp good quality extract
4 tbsp castor sugar (hints below)
300 ml milk
(Serves 4 as side pourer)
Sneaky dessert batch
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp castor sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp plain flour
1/3 vanilla pod or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Add 1-2 tbsp Cointreau or limoncello while reducing for a zesty citrus undertone. A spike of coffee or Tia Maria may also work a treat.
Heat the milk and vanilla over a low heat, stirring continually, until just boiled. Remove from the heat. In a separate bowl, thoroughly combine the remaining ingredients. Add the heated milk, stirring continually, and whisk over a medium heat while it boils/reduces (5-15 minutes). It will thicken a little further as it cools. Remove from the heat and cover. The crème can be refrigerated until it is ready to use.
The reducing time depends on the end product: the filling of a mille fueille will need to be a little thicker than a pouring sauce to accompany a pudding. The underlying principle, however, is the same.
I'll admit that this recipe is so simple it almost doesn't deserve its own post. I'll also admit I 'borrowed' the idea from the ever-goddess Nigella.
This morning, we were about to slip lines just as Skye, the bakery's delivery girl, cycled past. There was much rushing about and a loud kerfuffle, and when we did eventually pull out of the marina, it was with enough croissants to feed the boat three times over.
I hate seeing good pastry go to waste. I hate watching berries go limp. This is a quick fix for ageing leftovers, and as far as desserts go, it's diplomatic enough to have earned compliments both from both British and French traditionalists.
Homemade custard (recipe here)
2-4 leftover croissants, neatly torn
Handful of leftover berries
Sprinkling of cinammon
Arrange sections of the croissants in the pie dish. Fill the gaps with custard, and decorate with berries and a dust of powdered cinnamon. Add chocolate, coffee, amaretto or pistachios. Anything's a winner. Bake at 170ºC until the custard firms, approximately 20 minutes in a fanned oven.
I tried to avoid posting this, because it has something of the 'give me a decaf chai latte - hold the fat' stereotype to it. But finding myself snowed in, under the weather, perpetually cold and rather lethargic led me to give it a bash. I have worked with a raw food guru who starts her team each day on a hot mug of fresh turmeric tea. The thick brew took some getting used to, but starting the day off spicy never hurt.
As to whether the golden spice is a miracle spice - the verdict's still out on that one. Though curcumin, turmeric's active compound, is a powerful anti-inflammatory, it's pretty hard to absorb. So drink, enjoy, but don't expect to become a walking antioxidant overnight. It can dye your teeth yellow though. Nifty.
3cm strip of fresh turmeric
3cm strip of fresh ginger
1/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
2 cups hot water lightly steeped with chai teabag
1 tsp raw honey / coconut nectar
generous shake of cayenne pepper
Bring milk and water to the boil in a small saucepan. Grate the ginger and turmeric into the liquid, add the cinnamon and allow to thicken and reduce. This should take approximately 10-15 minutes. When ready to serve, blitz with a handblender, stir in your sweetener of choice and add a dash of cayenne pepper. Grab a ginger snap and enjoy.
This, for me, is comfort food. I'm not sure whether it is the chicken or the brinjal that does it. What I love about this recipe is that it sets the stage for the showdown between two unassuming and rather boring ingredients, producing a moreish combination of delicious Italian drama.
Brinjal is recalcitrant. It has the potential to turn bitter and fibrous (and watery) if cooked incorrectly. Shallow frying it the way the Italians like (yep, hot and fast) transforms the inside into a damn-near substitute for molten mozzarella. I'm nutty about rye, and call me biased, I find the darker flavour of the flour contributes to the richness of the melanzane.
According to the experts, there is a difference between parmesan, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano. They're all delicious, and I won't claim to have the finesse to know the difference. Any strong cheese, I say, and lots of it.
I mention this because I am writing this in front of the first episode of Chef's Table (highly recommended!), and am staggered by the patience and precision that goes into artisan cheesemaking, which produces strong contrasts in consistency and flavour with ageing. Perhaps one day I'll do a comparison, but for now, I'm really happy to watch Massimo Bottura serve five parmigiano on the same plate.
So please, all I am saying is this: be nice and generous with that grater.
2 free range chicken breasts
200 g tomato paste
2 cloves garlic
1 large brinjal (aubergine, eggplant, whatever)
1 free range egg
3 tbsp stoneground wholegrain rye flour
1-2 sprigs fresh basil
generous drizzle olive oil
freshly grated parmesan (to chef's [in]discretion)
handful of fresh rocket
Thinly slice the onion into lengths, and divide each garlic clove lengthwise into approximately eight pieces. Finely chop the basil, and combine all three with the tomato.
Place the chicken into a roasting dish and generously smother it in tomato. Cover the top with parmesan and don't hold back on the black pepper. Roast at 170°C for approximately 25 minutes, or until done. I like this dish because the chicken doesn't dry out, but the sauce can be used as a guideline. The tomato should be deep brick red, and the onions browned. (As a rule, 500 g chicken usually requires 30 minutes at 180°C.)
Meanwhile, thinly slice the aubergine and prepare its mixture. Beat the egg, and dip the brinjal first into this before lightly coating it in flour. 5 minutes before serving, heat the olive oil to boiling point in a large frying pan and drop in the aubergine slices, allowing the surface to crisp, brown and bubble. The longer you leave them before turning, the meltier the inside.
Plate the chicken and brinjal hot onto the rocket and garnish with a copious grating of fresh parmesan.
Napoletana. Neapolitana. Napoli sauce.
In Italy, 'traditional' methods are a constant cause for contention.
Big disclaimer here: I am not an Italian chef. I haven't been privy to the secrets of a Napoli nonna's trattoria. I would never presume to question the legacy of a pasta passed down generation to generation.
What I do know is my Dad's homemade pasta Napoletana, the first meal I learnt to make by sight.
This is my own recipe, likely resembling countless others, gleaned from the kitchen counter at age nine, and gradually changed though necessity (student budget) and aspiration (Italian friends).
The fantastic thing about Mediterranean eating is that everything is adaptable. This humble sauce has the versatility to dress pasta, chicken or tray-bake alike.
It could be a soup. It could base a pizza. It could fill an omelette. It could be dessert.
When made with ripe tomatoes and fresh herbs it is forever full-flavoured and moreish. It is never a side show. If I'm honest, it's on my plate in some form or another almost every day.
1 large onion, finely sliced
4 crushed cloves of fresh garlic
palm-sized portion finely chopped thyme
2 palm-sized portions finely chopped basil
drizzle of balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or chilli flakes
800 g fresh tomatoes (I like red vine tomatoes)
2 tins chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 cups of water
60 ml fresh cream
(Serves 4 generously)
Lightly brown the onion and fresh herbs in olive oil. Be sure to hold back half the basil - adding it later adds a wonderful freshness. Roughly chop and toss in the fresh tomatoes to roast. Reduce the temperature, add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and the chilli flakes, and continue stirring to prevent burning.
When the tomatoes are caramelised, crush the garlic into the pot and add a dash of water. Next in are the tinned tomatoes and the last of the water. Once boiling, add the remainder of the basil and maintain at a steady simmer for 20 - 30 minutes to sweeten and develop.
Thoroughly blend the sauce smooth. The addition of cream is decadent and utterly superb, although not necessary.
For pizza bases, I like to add an additional drizzle of cream to the sauce. Reheat this thoroughly while stirring, and serve. It's also good the next day, cold, from the fridge, just as it is. This sauce is so amenable I have reason to believe it would complement ice cream.
Ireland had some unseasonal weather while I was up north, meaning I had the luxury of experiencing not only the toe-numbing niceties of the 'Beast from the East', but also the chilly charm of the 'Pest from the West'. As the country battened down for the worst with beer and biscuits, I came to the realisation that getting enough greens can be pretty tricky in the cold. However comfort food can look this colourful and goes beautifully with crusty rolls.
Broccoli and peas make a fantastically creamy soup. The soft cheese doubles the effect.
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
1 head of broccoli
3 handfuls spinach leaves
1/3 cup peas
juice of 1 lemon
1,5 litre vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
generous grinding of black pepper
pinch of salt
1 handful basil, chopped
1 large tablespoon creamy blue cheese
parmesan to taste
Sauté the onions and one third of the basil in a tablespoon of olive oil. When browned, add a splash of stock to soften them, and add the garlic and chopped broccoli. Follow this with half a handful of spinach leaves. Adding garlic after the addition of water helps to prevent burning, which preserves the subtler flavours (garlic does actually have these).
Add water immediately after boiling to preserve the greenness. Allow the broccoli to soften at a simmer (approx. 15-20 minutes). Add the peas, lemon, spinach and the second third of the basil, and allow to boil for a further 10 minutes or so. Turn off the heat, and stir in the last of the basil and spices before allowing to cool. When hot but no longer bubbling, throughly blend and serve.