The Emperor’s New Clothes – Red Emperor (Snapper), Pargo Rojo

In our little seaside town of Bexhill-on-Sea we are now lucky enough to have two wonderful fishmongers. As lovers of fish and shellfish we are spoilt for choice. This weekend I decided to try out the new shop, which goes by the enchanting name of The Angry Whelk.

Big Man and I decided to avoid the Valentine’s Day menus in local restaurants. Not from a “bah humbug” point of view, we just decided that we’d rather have a relaxed Sunday at home with the pups and a meal of our choice.

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The fishmonger had a fantastic display of fish but what really caught my eye was a beautiful red monster. A red snapper, or Red Emperor. It really was huge, far too big for the two of us, but unable to resist a bargain or a challenge I was soon heading home with the beast which weighed about 2kg.

A quick check on the internet told me that if I wanted to cook it whole, it was best to keep it simple with a sauce or something interesting on the side. Am so glad I followed this advice as the cooked dish was incredible. The fish has a meaty texture (perfect for anyone who does not like to grapple with fish bones) and a delicate (not very fishy) flavour. My monster fish would easily have fed 6, so today we’ll be eating leftovers lightly pan fried in olive oil just to warm them through and I’ve also frozen the rest to make a lovely fishy fideua another day.

Red Emperor Pargo (1)

Ingredients (depends on the size of your fish as to how many it will serve)

  • 1 Red Emperor
  • 1 lemon thinly sliced
  • A handful of flat leaf parsley
  • Salt flakes (I used Maldon)
  • Olive oil
  • Freshly ground pepper

To serve

  • 2 slices of slightly stale sourdough bread (or similar)
  • 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • The grated zest of an unwaxed lemon
  • About 2 tablespoons of finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. If your fishmonger has not already cleaned and gutted your fish, you’ll need to do this. I kept the head on as I think it adds flavour but this is personal choice. pat the fish dry with kitchen paper.

Line a large oven dish or tin with aluminium foil – enough to allow you to make a tent around the fish. Drizzle a little olive oil over the foil and rub and place the fish on top.

Season the cavity with salt and pepper and fill it with the lemon slices and the handful of parsley. Season the top of the fish and rub a little olive oil all over it before sealing it up loosely in a parcel.

Cooking time will depend on the size of the fish, mine took just over an hour but you can check that it’s cooked by pulling gently on the fin which is on the side of the body (it will be facing up towards you). As soon as you can pull this away easily, you’re done.

While the fish is cooking make the crouton/gremolata. Cut the bread into small croutons and fry in the olive oil until it is just starting to brown. Add the garlic at this stage and fry until the bread and garlic are golden. Allow to cool slightly and mix with the lemon zest and parsley.

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When you are ready to serve, peel back the skin from the fish (it is thick and although I generally eat the skin on fish, this time the dish was better without). The fish comes away from the bones easily in large chunks. Serve with the garlicky, lemon croutons and an extra drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

Simple to prepare, you’ll dine like royalty….go on, be an Emperor or an Empress in your own lunchtime!

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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.

Fideua de Mariscos (7)

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.

Fideua de Mariscos (6)

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!

Arroz Caldoso con Cangrejo – or Holidays, Romance and Crabs

Any of you who have followed my blog since way back when may recall a trip we made a few years back to the north of Spain. To Galicia and Asturias more precisely. An insanely beautiful part of the country, lush and green. Lush and green because, like in Scotland or the English Lake District, it rains a lot. And rain (and rain) it did. Which left us plenty of time for eating and drinking. Always look on the bright side, I say.

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I don’t know why it surprised us that it rained, even though it was only the tail end of summer, as holidays and special occasions are generally a complete disaster for Big Man and me.

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Our anniversary falls on 11th November so aside from the fact a lot of folk are quite rightly marking a very solemn memorial to all those who lost their lives in conflict, it’s a dreadful time of year for good weather in the Northern Hemisphere. Christmas and Birthdays generally involve some sort of disaster or a member of the extended family falling ill so we’ve now accepted that we’ll not get ourselves too worked up over celebrations and holidays and just enjoy the everyday joys.

There is a point to all this reminiscing. Today I bought two cooked and dressed crabs at the local fishmonger intending to boil some potatoes, make a salad and call it lunch. Big Man began to talk about an amazing meal we’d had on our trip to the north of Spain. The rain poured down, the wind howled and the first hotel we stayed in was nice but miles out of town. After a long, long drive we decided to do something we rarely do and EAT IN THE HOTEL RESTAURANT. What a good decision that was. The food was incredible and we made the most of it, ordering their speciality of Arroz Caldoso con Bogavante (which translates as brothy rice with lobster) for our last night there. Why didn’t I make “brothy” rice with crab he asked? Why not indeed, so I did, and absolutely wonderful it was too.

If you have an earthenware cazuela to make and serve this in, use it (Celia, I’m talking about you!). It really makes a difference to the flavour and is more authentic.

Ingredients (to serve 4)

  • The meat from 2 cooked crabs (white and brown) which will weigh about 260g – although you can use raw too but will need to cook them first
  • About 1.2l of fish stock made from the crab shells and any other bits of fish you can beg from your fishmonger and with a few strands of saffron added
  • 400g paella rice
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 200g chopped, peeled tomatoes (if using tinned, and why wouldn’t you, make sure to drain them first)
  • A splash of brandy
  • Salt & Pepper
  • A lemon, quartered
  • Some finely chopped parsley to serve
  • Olive oil

Gently fry the onion in a little olive oil until it is softened but not browned then add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes and cook gently for about 10 minutes and add the splash of brandy. Next add the rice and stock.

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(A little reminder, if you’re making paella you’ll need 100g of rice per person approximately and for every 100g of rice you need about 210ml of liquid. For brothy rice you need the same amount of rice but 3 times the amount of liquid, so approx 300ml to every 100g of rice.)

Cook gently, half covered until the rice is almost done, add more stock if it’s drying out too much, then add the cooked crab meat, stir and taste and add seasoning if necessary at this point. Turn the heat off, cover the pan and let the rice rest for at least 5 minutes and to let the rice finish cooking. Serve with a little parsley sprinkled over and wedges of lemon to squeeze over the food.

This is a dish made with a few ingredients but which lets them shine, it tastes luxurious and decadent. Which made me think it would be good for a Valentines meal – very romantic. Unless you happen to be us and also have Valentine’s Disasters…but more of that in a few days.

If you want to see more of the North of Spain, do check out the links at the start of the post, which I hope you’ll enjoy.

Eek – Bad Photo Warning, but Good Food!

So, you’d think I’d have learned by now that if you want a decent photo of food in a restaurant you have to eat at mid day, take a camera, not dig in first and ensure the light is good.

Oh dear, most of our best meals in Jersey were eaten at night, in dimly lit restaurants, with the photos taken on the phone and only after we had started eating and then remembered “ooh, must take a snap of this”!

But…being an honest Chica and wanting to share the experience with you, here are the photos in all their awful glory. Suspend your reaction to the bad photos and imagine the deliciousness of the actual food. Buen provecho!

Oysters featured frequently – and often at mid day with a glass of wine, so this photo is not too bad…

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Mussels in white wine and Jersey cream…

DSCF4251A beautiful carpaccio of beef

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Duck spring rolls in a home-made pastry…

DSCF4237Lamb shank…

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Blueberry creme brulee…

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There was also a wild mushroom and puff pastry tart, a bacon hock with borlotti beans, panna cotta, cheese boards, fish pie, fruits de mer, scallops…but if I tell you that the photos above are the best of a truly bad bunch…well, you get the picture.

So…I’ll leave you with a few more scenic shots and we’ll move on back to the cooking in the next post.

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Over the County Line to Kent

Bexhill on Sea sits in the county of East Sussex.  Not too far away is the county of Kent, often known as The Garden of England because so much of the UKs fruit and vegetables (not to mention hops for beer making) is grown here.

A few weekends ago we celebrated our 7th anniversary. It actually falls on 11th November which many people here in the UK know as Remembrance Day or Armistice Day in honour of those who died in action and to commemorate the end of the First World War (the War to End All Wars…if only) at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.  A notable date for many reasons.

We headed over from East Sussex to Kent to stay in the beautiful fishing village of Whitstable, famous in particular for its Whitstable oysters.

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On the morning of 11th we went to nearby Canterbury, a beautiful medieval city and saw some moving Remembrance Day ceremonies.

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We even managed to get into the Cathedral during the service, but it was packed so we retreated to admire from the outside.

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We had two beautiful meals in local restaurants.

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We ate oysters out in the cold winter sunshine.

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Look, they recycle their shells, how clever is that? Not sure what they do with them though!

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We walked along the sea walk to the harbor.

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Admired the beautiful choice of fish for sale.

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Of course, Big Man enjoyed a pint of the local beer.

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And we ate a curiously quirky but wonderfully delicious dessert of Blue Cheese Ice Cream. I´m determined to work out how to make it (unless anyone has a recipe) as I imagine it would be incredible with walnuts, honey, figs, dates etc as an alternative to Christmas pudding.

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Of course, all good things must come to an end. Back to work Chica and Big Man!

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