Last week’s wind and rain was a stark contrast to the sunniest spring since records began. That amazing run of gorgeous spring sunshine was transformed, as though someone had flicked a switch, into high winds and torrential rain, and the temperature dropped accordingly. Good for the garden, bad for the soul 🙂
The greatest happiness was that on the previous Friday Dai had managed to land an awful lot of skate, which is a fairly unusual catch in these waters. Skate is one of my favourite fish, its flavour distinctive but delicate, its texture superb, and easily cooked. It is perfect when floured and fried in butter, with the tips of the wings slightly caramelized. Mackerel and sea bass are in short supply this year, but the skate more than made up for it, and Dai had huss and plaice too. Unfortunately the poor weather for most of last week means that he couldn’t go out, so my skate and huss purchases will have to last me a while.
Half a skate wing with black butter sauce and capers. Skate is one of my favourite things on the planet. Someone mentioned to me that it was a so-and-so to fillet for serving, which seriously surprised me. There is no need to fillet it. The wing is made of parallel lines of cartilage, not bone, and you merely scrape the fish gently away from it. No bones, no mess. Delicious. As a family, our favourite way of cooking it was always in black butter sauce with capers. Dai (of Dai’s Shed) had been out in his boat, and returned with a good catch of skate, which he had prepared ready for cooking. I bought two large ones, and when I got home halved them, put two of the halves in the freezer and put the other two in the fridge for eating.
Black butter sauce is very simple, but it does need watching like a hawk. Butter is heated in the pan and the skate is cooked through, basted regularly, about five minutes on each side. You can flour it first if preferred, which I did (just dredge it in a plate with a shallow scattering of flour in it). Once the skate is heated through, remove from the pan and keep warm. Add more butter, turn up the heat and wait until it is brown, but not black (which would be burned) and add lemon juice and capers. Heat all the way through and serve the skate with the sauce poured over the top. Some people scatter over parsley, but I like it as is. I served it with asparagus tips and shallow-fried potato discs.
I did far too much, and some of the cooked spuds and asparagus that I couldn’t eat were kept and added later in the week to a home made soup.
Ham horns with feta salad. This is an old favourite, which I’ve posted about before. The thin-sliced ham, which I had in the freezer, is stuffed with a mixture of chopped hard-boiled egg, mayonnaise and whatever suitable herb or salad greens you have to hand – parsley, coriander, chives or spring onions all work really well, and a sprinkling of cayenne or paprika goes well. Black pepper is a must. It is accompanied here by little gem lettuce leaves filled with tomato, lovage, oregano, green olive, capers, cucumber and feta cheese, with a French vinaigrette. It is a simple dish, and deserves the best ham and feta available. The Co-Ops thin-sliced porchetta is good, or the Spar’s home-cooked ham at the deli counter is thicker but has excellent flavour. Unfortunately, the locally available feta is decidedly third rate, but it is better than nothing.
Skate Grenobloise. I used the other half of the skate wing from Dai’s Shed to try to reproduce a skate wing (aile de raie) dish that I had in Lyon several years ago, on a truly superb gastronomic holiday. If you cannot eat well in Lyon, you’re doing something terribly wrong. I looked up the recipe on my return, and this was the nearest I could find to my notes.
The skate was quickly pan-fried and then poached in a fish, wild fennel and white wine stock, and served with diced lemon, diced tomato, capers and diced spring onions and, in this recipe (but not in the version I had in Lyon) diced cucumber, all gently heated through but not cooked in the poaching liquid. It was served in Lyon with samphire, but I cannot get hold of that and my recipe recommended spinach. Spinach turned out to be a stunning accompaniment. Both the restaurant and the recipe agreed on peeled new potatoes cooked in chicken stock. I had only tiny baby new potatoes, and peeling them felt almost cruel, but I am glad I did as recommended, because it was excellent. My original Lyon dish had croutons, as did the recipe, but I forgot to add them! Next time I would add the croutons but leave out the cucumber. The diced lemon pieces give this a wonderfully concentrated citrus hit that is quite unlike merely squeezing lemon juice over the top.
Spinach, watercress, rocket, wild garlic, frozen pea, asparagus and potato soup with a grated cheddar topping. A couple of weeks ago I made myself a spinach, watercress, rocket, wild garlic and pea soup, consumed some of it and put the rest in the freezer in batches. When I had some leftover cooked asparagus and potatoes, I dug one of the boxes out of the freezer, whizzed up the spuds and asparagus in the food processor with a little water and stirred it into the defrosted soup with a squeeze of lemon juice, a hint of nutmeg, a bit of sea salt and a lot of black pepper. Once heated through, I stirred in a spoon of sour cream, and grated some Somerset cheddar over the top. Bags of flavour, a good use of leftovers, and so easy.
Leftover aubergine, olives and tomatoes with a courgette and cheese topping. I had some leftover aubergine and tomato mix in the freezer, which needed using up to make room for other items. In the fridge, my experimental purchase of mozzarella slices were also in urgent need of a swift solution, and there was a single piece of Parma ham and a rather wrinkled courgette. There always seems to be a rather wrinkled courgette in my fridge. The happy solution was to bung them all together, layered in a harmonious marriage of flavours.
I heated the aubergine mix in a saucepan and put it in a small pre-heated earthenware dish, topped it with a few slices of courgette, added a patchwork of torn slices of mozzarella and Emmenthal, and tore up the slice of Parma ham and scattered that over the top. It all went into the oven for 15 minutes before being browned under the grill. A few oregano leaves finished the ensemble, and it worked really well, slightly bigger than a tapas dish but easily scaled up for a bigger meal if required.
Chicken Caesar Salad Plus. This started out as a simple chicken Caesar salad, but I hadn’t eaten a thing all day and was starving, so it became a rather more elaborate affair. I had run out of anchovies (sacrilege) but had plenty of little gem, some excellent cut-and-come-again lettuce, some cherry tomatoes, a small hard boiled egg, some faux crutons (diced toasted sourdough bread, painted with garlic-infused olive oil) and some cold chicken that I had barbecued and frozen down especially for salads. The slightly charred smokiness of the barbecued chicken is always delightful. To add some of the salty hit of the anchovies I used capers instead, and they worked wonderfully. I had been unable to buy a wedge of parmesan, but fortunately my illustrious parent was able to help out with a bag of an excellent grated version. Grated parmesan can be very dry, but this was really excellent. I didn’t have the energy to make my own sauce, so used the tried and tested Cardini bottled sauce, which is mercifully not over-sweet, and has bags of flavour.
Roast lamb with mint sauce, runner beans, mashed carrot and swede, roasties and rosemary gravy. There’s not a lot to say about a roast. I bought a small leg of lamb, and my father and I shared it between us. In other words, in these times of lockdown, when I pitched up at his house with the fortnightly food parcel, I waited outside, stealing herbs and lettuces from his garden, whilst he sawed it in half and I cooked one half here in Aberdovey and he had the other half at his home near Chester. I simply cannot wait until we can actually eat in the same house once again! The utterly divine runner beans were also supplied by the parent, but everything else came from Aberdovey. I grow my own mint for the mint sauce, the spuds were Maris Pipers, the leek is an essential accompaniement to lamb, and the pile of orange stuff is a mash of carrot and swede. I don’t like swede on its own, am unexcited by carrots, but when the two are mashed together with butter and black pepper, nothing makes me happier. I made the gravy on the hoof with a home made vegetable stock, a lamb stock cube and the juices from the roast itself.
I haven’t much to add this week to any of my previous comments. The novelty of the fresh fish was superb, but the old favourites like chicken Caesar salad, home made soup and ham horns are always welcome.
My parsley has bolted (gone to seed), which means that my supply of parsley will soon be dependent on shops until I can purchase a new plant. Potted parsley only lasts for a couple of years, and both my plants are two years old, so I bear them no ill-will, but in the future I will make sure that I buy a new one each year, so that when one bolts, another one will still be going strong.
If your parsley does bolt, and you are left with just a few leaves and some big, coarse stalks, you can use the whole plant to make parsley sauce. Take off all the leaves and chop as usual. Cut the stalks low, chop them into saucepan sized pieces and simmer them gently for half an hour or so with a stock cube, and you will have a wonderful parsley-infused stock as a base for a parsley sauce (made with a velouté base rather than a béchamel) or a base for stews and casseroles.