Vietnamese crab with tamarind sauce

I love reading cookery books, mainly to inspire rather than follow slavishly. Except when it’s a style of cooking that’s new to me or a cake recipe which generally needs the proportions of ingredients to be reproduced in balance with each other to achieve a good rise.

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I’ve had time recently to catch up on some tv watching and have been enjoying a series from about 2009, Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey. Coincidentally, I was also given a copy of the book which a pal passed on to me. Serendipity or what? I was particularly interested in the first two chapters, Cambodia and Vietnam. They are not countries I’ve ever visited, and apart from an amazing vegetarian Vietnamese meal many years ago eaten with some friends on a trip to Melbourne,  I don’t know very much at all about the food.

I was surprised by the simplicity of some of the recipes,  using few spices or flavourings, but all looking like they would really pack a punch in terms of flavour.  My mum and I decided to cook together and after buying a huge cooked crab from the local fishmonger, we made this beautiful crab with tamarind sauce. When I make it again (and it won’t be long) I’ll use 2 or 3 large crab claws per person rather than whole crab as the type we get here was perhaps not the best suited to this dish. Much as I love eating with my hands and slurping, a lot of the meat in the body cavity was lost in the sauce during the brief cooking and the spindly legs were fun but don’t have a lot of meat. The flavour however was incredible and I’d imagine it would be great too made with large prawns or even scallops.

Ingredients (serves 2 generously)

  • 1kg raw or cooked whole crab, broken up into pieces
  • Vegetable oil for shallow frying
  • 1 tbsp tamarind concentrate
  • 2 tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1 hot red chilli, finely chopped (or to taste)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of jaggery  (use soft brown sugar if you can’t get hold of it)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of fish sauce
  • Some crushed or ground white pepper
  • About three spring onions cut into 2.5cm lengths

If your crab is raw you’ll need to shallow or deep fry it for a minute or so until the flesh changes colour. Drain on kitchen towel.

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We’re still picking the last few runner beans from our little garden

Mix the tamarind, rice wine and about 6 tablespoons of water together and set aside.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a wok or large pan. Add the chili and garlic and9 stir fry for about 30 seconds then add the crab, the tamarind mixture, the sugar, the fish sauce and the white pepper. Stir well,  cover and simmer for about 4 or 5 minutes.  Add the spring onions, cover and cook gently for another minute then put it all onto a large serving platter (we served straight from the wok garnished with more spring onion) and get ready to get messy and enjoy!

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Feeling Fishy…

Regardless of where we are, Up the Mountain or Down by the Sea, we have access to fantastic seafood. Like many other folk we want to take a few weeks of eating menus that are a little lighter, and going down the fish and vegetable route works for us. We already enjoy pulses, so many meals are meat free, like our much loved lentils (minus the chorizo, or maybe just a little as we’re not being super strict, just making an effort!).

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New Year’s Eve was a very luxurious lobster and prawn platter with bubbles. Grapes and cava, Spanish style at 11pm to ring in the Spanish midnight and champagne and fireworks from London’s South Bank at midnight.

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Skate with prawns, capers and lemons featured another night (we just combined two favourite ways of cooking it…skate with capers and skate with prawns). Absolutely delicious and so quick and easy.

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Tonight was a version of a Spanish dish of prawns with mushrooms with plenty of garlic. Gambas y setas con ajos (setas are oyster mushrooms, but I used chestnut mushrooms this time). Chop your favourite mushrooms into bite sized pieces and stir fry quickly in some olive oil (I cooked in my wok) when they are just turning brown add some peeled, sliced garlic and a little chopped fresh parsley.  When the garlic starts to take on some colour, add some raw, peeled prawns. As soon as they have turned pink, season with coarse sea salt and a little pimentón and add a splash of white wine. Another 30 seconds in the hot pan and you are ready to dish up. Sprinkle with more parsley and serve with some lovely crusty bread to mop up the delicious juices.

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Whatever your plans for this month are, be happy! Don’t be hard on yourself if you break those resolutions made in a moment of madness, better still…throw them out the window and celebrate the fact that we’ve made it into another year…and let’s see what it brings. Happy New Year to you all.

There’s (almost) no such thing as a free lunch….

So, here we are, back in Spain. The sun is shining, the horrible hot wind we get in southern Spain (El Terral) has finally died down and we’ve caught our breath from the long drive.  We’re very lucky to have two lovely homes, but when you get back to a house that has been shut up for a few months, you find that the dust monsters have been to visit. We managed avoidance tactics for a few days with a combination of going out to catch up with people, and staying in feeling grumpy and full of cold (me)/Man Flu (Big Man) germs.

Finally the day came when we couldn’t ignore The Big Clean Up any more and today we made a start. Mrs and Mrs Mop began a vaguely systematic attack on the house and garden and, while there is still plenty more to be done, we felt satisfied that we deserved a nice lunch in the garden. Spring and autumn are perfect for outdoor lunchtime dining. Sometimes you get a lovely warm day in winter or a cool summer day which also permit al fresco lunches…but you definitely make the most of those perfect days.

In Spanish terms, it was almost dangerously vegetarian (well, apart from the seafood and salami). We didn’t worry, the village fiesta is upon us and we know we’ll be eating our own body weight in grilled meat and pinchitos (little kebabs) over the next few days. What did make us smile was the fact that pretty much everything we were eating had been gifted to us by kindly friends and family, or recycled from another meal. It’s good to be a frugal houseperson when the food is this good!

Lunch included:

Salmorejo (my very favourite cold soup) made from stale bread and tomatoes given to us by kindly brother-in-law. These are the ripe and ugly tomatoes which are used for soups and sauces

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Garnished with hard boiled eggs from kindly neighbour who adopted our chickens and jamon (bought from local butcher)

Salad made with leftover prawns and squid which had been barbecued the night before and avocados from kindly neighbour who also keeps us supplied with oranges later in the year to make marmalade.

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Tomato, mint and onion salad made with “tomates para picar” (tomatoes for chopping up!), again from kindly brother-in-law and mint from our garden.

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Salads dressed with our own olive oil and juice from our lemons

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Cheese and salchichon (salami). Salchichon given to us by kindly local bar owner as a welcome home present.

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Dessert was figs from our tree and apple sorbet made with apples from kindly cousin. Inspired by Rosemary’s ice cream making, I dug out my own ice-cream maker. To serve 2 people – 500g apples (peeled and cored), cooked with 2 tablespoons of sugar, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice then blended, cooled and churned in my machine. Maybe I should make more Apple Roses – I certainly have enough fruit!

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I drank a glass (or two) of Spanish wine, but Big Man was clearly feeling a bit nostalgic for England and opened a bottle of English beer.

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I thought we’d bought those beers with us as gifts for kindly friends and family. Ooops!

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PS. You know we hate waste here….the prawn shells are now bubbling away to make stock…maybe we’ll have an “arroz caldoso” in the next few days…

Fideuá de Pescado y Mariscos – Fish and Seafood Noodles

If Paella and Arroz Caldoso are half sisters to the Italian Risotto, then Paella and Fideuá are first cousins. The famous Paella is known to most of us, a delicious rice and seafood (or meat) dish which comes from the Valencia region of North East Spain. Less well known, outside of Spain at least, is its cousin…the Fideuá. It´s very similar to a paella but made with Fideos (short noodles). Fideos come in different sizes in Spain from very thin (called Angel Hair pasta) for dropping into broth right through to almost the thickness of spaghetti. This dish tends to use the ones at the thicker end of the scale, as they need to stand up to a little while cooking in the delicious broth.

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Amounts used are flexible, use what you have, and play around with the ingredients. Like arroz caldoso, it’s quicker to cook than a paella and is a typical everyday lunch dish, for tucking into with a spoon (a plato de cuchara – a “spoon” dish), with lemon juice squeezed over and plenty of delicious bread. We can’t decide if we prefer arroz caldoso or fideuá caldosa – try them both and let me know what you think! I know Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial enjoys making Arroz Caldoso for her family…Celia, I hope you like this version too!

Approximate Ingredients for 4 people (as a main dish)

  • 250g prawns (less if already peeled) – if they have the shells on peel them and use them to make a fish stock, if not use water or a cube
  • About 250g of mixed fish and shellfish (I used some white fish fillets but when I have mussels or clams I add them in too)
  • Half a red pepper finely chopped
  • A thin green pepper, finely chopped
  • A couple of tablespoons of peas
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large tomato peeled and finely chopped or half a cup of tomato conserva
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato purée
  • 1 teaspoon of sweet pimentón
  • A pinch of saffron
  • Seasoning
  • Olive oil
  • Approx 400g Fideos

Start by making a sofrito or tomato sauce. Lightly fry the garlic until soft then add the peppers and peas. Add the pimentón and saffron, cover the pan and let everything sweat gently until soft then add the tomato. Simmer for another 10 minutes.

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For 4 people (and a soupy fideuá) add about 1.5 litres of stock and simmer for a further 10 minutes. If you have a paella pan, cazuela or a deep frying pan that you can use to serve, transfer the liquid to this. Now add your fideos – about 100g per person, but follow any guidelines on the packet. When they are about half cooked, add the fish (biggest chunks first) then the shellfish. Taste and season as necessary.

For a thick, dryer dish (more the consistency of a paella) you may need to use less liquid or just cook this way and spoon out some of the liquid at the end (save it for a light soup with some thin fideos thrown in!). Equally, if it looks a little dry as you are cooking it, just add a ladleful or two of hot stock.

Serve like paella with lemon juice, crusty bread and wine. A spoonful of alioli is also great with this dish.

Like a paella, you can vary the ingredients to make your fideuá according to what you have available. Make it veggie, or use meat instead of fish. It may not be absolutely authentic, but the influence will be there and the taste will be just as good!

Lemon and Chilli Mussels with Langoustines

Oh it’s so easy to slip comfortably back into our Spanish life. Friends and family keep asking us “which is better, Spain or England?”. We answer, absolutely sincerely, “we love them both, they’re different, you can’t compare, we make the most of each country and enjoy all the good things they each have to offer”.

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Fish Man seems to have disappeared from our route, but the supermarkets here have an amazing choice at good prices. Mostly fresh and local (or at least, from Spain) too. The other day I bought a kilo of mussels which came from near Pontevedra in the North of Spain. It’s famous for the mussel beds and we ate plenty on our trip there a few years back.

We ate SO many...the trays full of steamed mussels just kept coming!
We ate SO many…the trays full of steamed mussels just kept coming!

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I also bought some fresh langoustines but forgot to ask where they came from. Peppers, tomatoes and onions grown down on the coast and a rosé wine from Rueda were pretty much all the ingredients I needed to make this simple but delicious lunch dish. Oh yes, a lemon from our tree…

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Ingredients (for 2 people)

  • 1kg cleaned mussels
  • 8 langoustines
  • Half a small red and green pepper, finely diced
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped into small pieces
  • 1 medium tomato, finely chopped
  • A small glass of wine (whatever colour you like!)
  • Half a lemon cut into small chunks (and I also added half a teaspoon of my lemon myrtle)
  • Half a teaspoon of hot pimentón or chilli powder (or to taste)
  • Olive oil

I used a lidded cazuela to make this dish but a deep frying pan with a lid or a saucepan would also work.

On a low heat, warm the olive oil and add the garlic and peppers. Cover and sweat until soft. Add the tomato, wine and spices and cook for a few minutes. You can now turn this off if you’re not ready to eat and then just warm the sauce up a few minutes beforehand to finish the dish off, or continue to the last stage.

Add the mussels, prawns and fresh lemon, stir and cover. Cook for a few minutes until all the mussels are open. Don’t eat any that won’t open!

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Garnish with some freshly chopped parsley. Unless of course, Big Man has been gardening all morning and cleared all your herbs thinking they were weeds. Oh my, kitchen unexpectedness, I laugh in your face. Pour a glass of wine, and enjoy your lovely lunch with plenty of bread to mop up the juices and perhaps (as we did) a salad of tomatoes, olives, garlic and onion. No herbs though, obviously.

Crispy Prawns with Lemon Myrtle – Long Distance Herby Loveliness

I think many of us, regardless of whether we’ve been blogging for months or years, will understand the friendships that can grow up through the connections we’ve made via our blogs. People leave lovely comments, ideas, share in the ups and downs of whatever we choose to discuss on our blogs. Some very kind folk go as far as sharing gifts and giveaways, allowing us the opportunity to try something from their country which we otherwise would never have come across.

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Recently the lovely Margot over at Gather and Graze hosted a giveaway of some herbs from her home country of Australia, Lemon Myrtle and Wattleseed. Have you heard of them? I certainly hadn’t. Lemon Myrtle is (and I’m quoting from the packet here) “a fragrant Australian native plant which bears leaves with an intense lemon fragrance”. The packet of ground lemon myrtle really does explode with a beautiful refreshing lemony aroma.

The Wattleseed (which is roasted and ground) comes from the seeds of a species of Australian native acacia which have a roasted coffee-like aroma. It works beautifully with chocolate, and I’ll soon be sharing a recipe with you.

If you can’t get hold of Ground Lemon Myrtle (and I’m guessing a lot of you can’t), I’d suggest substituting the same quantity of finely grated lemon zest. I know it won’t be quite the same, but perhaps a good approximation.

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The recipe comes from the packet sent to me (thanks again Margot!) and I served it with a salad and a lemon vinaigrette as a starter. I did change the quantities from the original recipe as I scaled the recipe down a little.

Ingredients (to serve 4 as a starter)

  • 16 large peeled and deveined langoustines
  • ½ cup of rice flour (use plain flour otherwise, but the rice flour does give a wonderful crunch)
  • ¾ tablespoon of ground lemon myrtle
  • ¾ teaspoon of smoked paprika (I used pimentón)
  • A pinch of chilli powder
  • Salt
  • ½ cup of cooking oil (I used olive oil)
  • 2 fresh chillies finely chopped

Mix the flour with the spices and toss the prawns in the mixture. Heat the oil over a high heat and cook the prawns quickly (they probably only need a minute or so on each side) until they have turned pink and crispy.

Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt and add the fresh chilli. Enjoy!

To see how Margot used her Lemon Myrtle, hop on over and check out her delicious Australian Apple Crumble recipe!

Summer Seafood Salad

As a child celebrations were always marked with great big meals for friends and family. Starters were a giant “antipasto” – the dish before the main meal. This became more elaborate the bigger the crowd and the grander the celebration.

Of course, the temptation was to fill up on the antipasti and then bemoan the fact that we were too full to enjoy the pasta, the meat, the fish, the cheese and salad and the desserts that followed. A lucky predicament to be in.

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My mum was great at pickling and grilling vegetables, a mainstay on the Italian table. But for me the highlight was always her seafood salad. Back in the day it wasn’t as easy to buy affordable, fresh seafood as it is nowadays. And to be honest, even now it’s still a luxury and for many people, living far from the coast, it’s not always available. This great thing about this dish is that, as you’re packing it full of so many fresh and zingy flavours, frozen seafood is fine. Yes, you heard it here, don’t be ashamed of making your seafood salad with frozen seafood – just be sure you defrost and cook with care and store chilled until serving. No one will be any the wiser!

Another great thing about this dish is that quantities are not important. If you can’t get squid, add octopus, if you can’t find mussels, leave them out or add a few more prawns. It’s up to you, so this is not really a recipe, just an inspiration for you to mix it up your way. What is important is to make it ahead, at least a few hours, or even overnight to allow the dressing to soak into the seafood and the flavours to develop.

Ingredients

  • For the seafood mix, use peeled king prawns, small prawns, sliced squid or baby squid and mussels. Ensure all the fish is cleaned and defrosted and well drained if necessary. Chop up a couple of cloves of garlic and reserve.
  • For the dressing make up a vinaigrette with two thirds extra virgin olive oil, one third acid (I use part lemon juice and part white wine vinegar), a sprinkle of sugar, half a teaspoon of made up mustard (or ¼ teaspoon of dried mustard powder) and salt and pepper. Put it all into a jar and shake it up well.
  • As a main course for 2 people, one tin of drained cannellini beans and two sticks of celery finely chopped.
  • For the salad a mix of finely chopped lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, red onions, and flat leaf parsley. For garnish and flavour at the end, some finely sliced hot chilli pepper and the zest of a lemon.

Keep the seafood separated out (each item takes a slightly different time to cook). In a wok or large frying pan add some olive oil and the garlic. Heat the oil gently and add the king prawns. Cook until the prawns have turned pink and the garlic is just starting to turn brown. Spoon out the prawns and garlic into a large bowl. Add more oil if necessary (no more garlic) and stir fry each of the seafood ingredients and add to the bowl. Mix the seafood together and allow to cool. Don’t worry if you are left with some lovely fish flavoured juices at the bottom of the bowl, these will add flavour to the dressing. If you are using pre cooked seafood, just mix it all together and move onto the next stage.

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After the seafood has cooled down, add the celery and beans and pour over the dressing. Mix well and chill for a few hours or overnight.

When you are ready to eat, bring the seafood and beans back to almost room temperature and add your salad ingredients. Mix, taste and adjust the seasoning. Plate up and garnish with the chilli and lemon zest.

Perfect as a filling main course, a special starter or as part of a celebration antipasto. Buon appetito!

Dover Sole with Scallops, Prawns and Samphire

Special occasion food should be all about what you love most, shared with the people you love most. And sometimes it’s also about spending time with those loved ones enjoying the occasion and not spending too long in the kitchen preparing the food and being away from your guests. Don’t misunderstand me, I love spending hours and even days preparing a special meal, but this is one for when you don’t want to be in the kitchen for too long.

Dover Sole with Scallops, Prawns and Samphire (1)

Ingredients (per person)

  • 1 small Dover Sole (or other small flat fish)
  • 4 large prawns (peeled and the heads removed but the tails left on to make eating them with your fingers much easier!)
  • 2 scallops
  • About 2 tablespoons of fresh samphire (or use a few stalks of fresh, blanched asparagus chopped into smaller pieces)
  • Olive oil
  • Butter
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt & Pepper

Warm a little olive oil and butter in a large frying pan and heat. When the oil is hot, put the fish in, skin side down and cook for about 2 or 3 minutes until the skin starts to become crispy.

Turn the heat down to medium and turn the fish over. Add the scallops and prawns and cook them on each side for about a minute or two (the prawns will turn pink and the scallops will lose their opacity).

Remove the fish, prawns and scallops to a serving plate (keeping the oil in the pan). Squeeze in a little lemon juice to taste and add the samphire. Stir fry on a high heat for less than a minute, just to heat it through and spoon the samphire and juices over the fish. Season to taste (it probably won’t need much salt) and serve with a small wedge of lemon.

Pour glasses of wine for you and your loved ones and enjoy the moment.

Monkfish and Prawn Curry

Monkfish is an “oh so ugly but oh so good” fish. If you’ve ever seen it at the fishmonger before it’s been prepared it’s the one with the enormous gargoyle mouth and scary teeth and a body that looks a bit out of proportion with the head. It can also be an expensive fish, but like other luxuries such as fillet steak, you don’t need much.

Monkfish & Prawn Curry (1)

My lovely Bexhill fishmonger had some beautiful monkfish recently and I bought a tail. From this I made two separate meals for two people, so I really managed to make the most of it!

First up is a curry recipe I came across which I think is now going to be my “go to” curry recipe. It was so easy, it didn’t have a huge long list of ingredients and the flavour was amazing. If, like me, you’re a curry fan (and if you’re not, perhaps I can convert you – this one is about balancing delicate flavours rather than smacking you around the chops with burning hot chilli), do give this a try!

INGREDIENTS

  • About 250g monkfish cut into bite size pieces and about 10 raw, peeled langoustines or large prawns
  • The juice of two limes
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 Tablespoon turmeric
  • 3 Tablespoons ghee or clarified butter (or use a light vegetable oil)
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic smashed into a fine paste
  • 2 inch piece of ginger smashed into a fine paste
  • 1 chilli pepper finely chopped
  • 1 chilli pepper halved
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin powder
  • 1 Tablespoon coriander powder
  • 12 cherry tomatoes – halved
  • 1 small bunch fresh coriander – finely chopped
  • 400ml coconut milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

Place the cubed monkfish and peeled prawns into a bowl with the lime juice, salt and turmeric. Allow to marinade for about 30 minutes.

In a large pan or wok, melt the fat or heat the oil. Add the chopped onions and fry until translucent and lightly browned. Now add the garlic and ginger pastes along with the chopped chilli pepper and fry for a couple of minutes.

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Pour in the coconut milk and bring to a bubble then add the cumin and coriander powder and stir to combine then add the halved chilli. Finally, add the marinated monkfish, prawns and the tomatoes. Stir it all into the mixture. Allow the monkfish to cook gently in the sauce for about 5 minutes. Taste and season if necessary and sprinkle over the chopped coriander to serve. Perfect with plain boiled rice and/or naan bread.

Smoked Haddock and Prawn Chowder

Oh the deliciousness of a beautiful piece of perfectly smoked fish, haddock in this case, a dish I cooked in England before we headed back to Spain. Simple, quick to cook and oh so satisfying.

Smoked Haddock & Prawn Chowder (3)

Ingredients (to serve 2 as a main course or 4 as a starter)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 600ml milk
  • 400ml fish stock (can be made with 1 Fish Stock cube)
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and finely diced
  • 450g traditionally smoked haddock fillet, skinned
  • 225g raw peeled prawns
  • About a cup of creamed sweetcorn (I used tinned corn which I blended with the stick blender)
  • Lemon juice, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

Heat the oil in a large heavy pan. Add the onion and cook gently for 10 minutes until soft. Add the milk and stock and bring to simmering point.

Add the potatoes and simmer for about 10 minutes or until they are soft. Keep the heat gentle as you do this.

Cut the haddock into bite-sized pieces and add to the pan. Cook very gently for 2 minutes, then add the prawns, creamed corn, lemon juice and pepper. Cook for a further 2-3 minutes, taste and season, stir in the parsley and serve.

If you enjoy chowder, take a look at my Smoked Prawn and Bacon Chowder recipe.