Category Archives: Local Produce

A three day fish-fest thanks to Dai’s Shed and my freezer

On Wednesday I floured and pan-fried a terrific chunk of Dai’s seabass that I had in the freezer from a couple of weeks ago. Seabass freezes beautifully for short periods and this was a gorgeous piece of fish, in terms of both texture and flavour.  I served it very simply with a sauce made of capers, diced tomato, finely diced banana shallot and finely chopped herbs (Thai basil, thyme, ordinary basil, parsley, oregano, lovage and just a little mint) in virgin olive oil and lemon juice, served with griddled courgette discs, sautéed potatoes and accompanied by lemon slices. It is super to be able to use herbs from the garden whilst they last, and the Thai basil, a new addition to my outdoor herb collection, came over particularly well.  It is amazing how long the herbs are lasting – I was expecting most of them to be well on their way out by now.  I will particularly miss the lovage, which I use in huge quantities in salad and fish sauces, as it is simply unavailable even in big supermarkets.

Yesterday the flavours in my fish tagine were a bit more complicated but it was also a doddle to prepare.  Again from the freezer, I had a piece of huss that I cut into chunks, that I marinated in a mix of fresh coriander from my garden, paprika, cumin, cayenne, lemon and olive oil.  This was then cooked, complete with the marinade, in puréed fresh tomato, cumin, garlic, onion, with fresh chillis and parsley (both from my garden), grated carrot, preserved lemons and okra, with a little home made fish stock.  I sprinkled mint over the top and served it with lime and coriander cous cous.  The latter was a cheat – a pack from Ainsley Harriott, but it is so good that I never feel guilty about not making it myself.  Huss is brilliant for this type of cooking because it retains its shape, and has enough flavour of its own to stand up to all the herbs and spices.  Like the seabass, it is a good choice for the freezer, and it is blissfully easy to fillet.  I make the tomato, onion and garlic base in huge batches for the freezer, partly for convenience but mainly because I absolutely detest peeling tomatoes and prefer to confine the suffering to single large sessions.  As I really don’t like the harsh sweetness of tinned toms (I’m a bit of a fussy eater) it is seriously worth the effort.

Today I was at the excellent community lunch, about which more on a future post, so there was no need for an evening meal, but I used some fish stock that I made yesterday from a freezer bag of fish bits (heads, tails, bones etc) left over from preparing and filleting fish to make myself a fish soup.  To give it a bit of body and flavour I recruited some onions, some fennel that needed using up, garlic cloves, chilli from the garden and skinned fresh toms, all whizzed up in the blender.  In a somewhat extravagant mood I lobbed in rather a lot of saffron for that extra bit of Mediterranean luxury, seasoned it with sea salt and pepper and sprinkled over a bit of coarsely chopped parsley.  It was supposed to be basil but I wasn’t about to go outside to pick some in pouring rain and a gale (thanks Storm Callum) when I had some parsley in the fridge!  Grabbed a spoon and bowl and it was Job done. There was loads left over for the freezer, a blessed fall-back for when I don’t feel like cooking.

Bass and Mullet from Dai’s Shed. Happy.

Oh the multiple joys of the dry weather!  A gloriously sunny day yesterday.  A long, lazy walk down the estuary was followed by a trip to Dai’s shed to see what he might have available. The blackboard said bass and mullet.  Woo hoo!  Jill was in charge, as Dai was bringing in the lobster pots.  I asked for one of each, and was staggered at the size of them!  Super fresh.  Each over a foot long, bright of eye, and beautifully silver-grey, stunning.  She only had two mullets left, so I was lucky.  I hate de-scaling fish – I always end up covered in scales – but Jill did the job in double-quick time and gutted them both for me as well.  As I watched the process with envy at her speed another customer arrived.  A nice little exchange:
[Clock showing 3.20pm].
Customer:  “What time do you close?”
Jill, smiling and looking at the clock: “2 O’clock!”
Customer, also laughing:  “I better not come back a bit later then!”

When I left, he was still waiting patiently in line and I hope that he enjoyed his fish as much as I enjoyed mine.  Whilst I was there, the owners of Proper Gander came in to pick up seafood for the restaurant as Dai returned with his lobster pots and the day’s catch.  Couldn’t have been fresher!

Mullet at top, bass at bottom. Heaven on a plate.

The ideal way to serve the fish would have been whole, but even if I starved myself for a couple of days that wasn’t going to work :-).  I’ve never tried filleting a raw fish, so I cut the fish into chunks when I got home, the first chunk for last night, the others put in the freezer, with heads and tails also frozen for a future fish stock.

I have been indulging in a bit of a North African and Middle Eastern phase, having been reunited with my tagine and my spice collection, but I chose to keep things perfectly simple.  I floured my piece of mullet, fried it in a mix of butter and olive oil and served it with something mid way between chermoula and a sauce vierge.  It was composed of fine-diced tomato, capers and banana shallot, finely chopped mint, parsley, lovage, and oregano in a virgin olive oil and a big squeeze of lemon juice, with some minced garlic thrown in for fun, livened up with with a punch of Berbere spices (a blend that I found in the Co-op pin Tywyn).  I also sautéed some spuds and threw a couple of baby courgettes on the griddle.  The herbs all came from my garden except for the oregano that I spotted growing all along the estuary walk – a nice, bijou little forage!  I do wish that I could grow coriander, but it goes straight to seed.

Mullet turns out to be a stunning fish.  I had never had it before and was told that if caught in estuary waters it could taste very muddy but this was caught out at sea and was anything but muddy.  It had a clean, fresh taste, beautifully white and full of flavour.  It is often compared with sea bass, but of the two I prefer the mullet.  It has better flavour and a much better texture.  The fresh and clean flavours of the fish, the herbs and the spices all worked well together.

Dai’s Shed is open til the end of October, so if you’re hoping for some excellent locally caught fish, you need to get your skates on.

Eating Out: Proper Gander, High Street, Tywyn

On the last day of his visit, on 12th September, my father and I went into Tywyn to eat at a restaurant called Proper Gander.  A quirky name.  I had picked up a leaflet for it in Dai’s Shed and checked out the website and the menu looked splendid, emphasizing that most of the produce used is sourced locally.  The Welsh lamb, beef and pork come from the Aberdovey butcher in Chapel Square.  The sea bass, lobster and crab are from Dai’s Shed in Aberdovey or from an alternative source in Tywyn, and the Menai scallops and oysters are from Pwllheli.   There is also a wine bar downstairs selling Welsh ales, ciders, whiskey, gin and vodka.  I am amazed that Proper Gander has been there for five seasons and I have only just noticed it.  It has taken me a few days to write it up because I’ve been busy, but it was a great evening.

Proper Gander is a beautifully presented restaurant with a lovely warm atmosphere, recently redecorated, and can sit up to 45 covers.  It was by no means full when we pitched up at 6.30 at the end of the season, but by the time we left five other tables were occupied.

Lam Adobo. Photograph from the Proper Gander website at http://propergandertywyn.com/about/

There were two menus, the standard menu, which includes an imaginative selection of vegetarian options, and a steak menu, and two wine menus from two different suppliers, one of which is based on Dolgellau.  I was seriously tempted by the steak menu, but in the end went for a more adventurous choice.   The food was divine.  I chose grilled halloumi and za’tar with harissa-infused yogurt on a bed of tiny salad leaves with pomegranate to start, followed by lamb adobo, described on the menu as pancetta-wrapped lamb stuffed with a filling of Porcini mushrooms, fresh oregano, mint, parsley, garlic and shallots, and served with with peppers, courgettes, tiny diced red onion, creamed mash and a wonderfully fresh chimichurri sauce.  My father chose pear and stilton pate with a pear chutney followed by squid ink risotto and hake with asparagus, sugarsnaps and samphire.  It was all cooked to perfection.  My father waxed particularly lyrical about the cooking of the hake, but it was all gorgeous, and beautifully presented.  The wine was excellent and didn’t bankrupt us. Other meals that were going past also looked stunning, and next time I go I will be torn between some of their wonderful seafood choices or diving headlong into the steak menu.

The Boer War memorial showing Proper Gander at far right.  Photograph by Arthur C. Harris, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

We were welcomed warmly and were served with friendly professionalism.  We had lots of questions to ask about the restaurant and how long it had been there, and it was great to be able to chat.  When we left, we said goodbye to the chef and returned home feeling very pleased with a great, celebratory evening.

If you are looking for the restaurant on a first visit, it is at the opposite end of the High Street from the railway station, immediately opposite Neptune Road and the memorial to the Boer War.  There is plenty of parking at this time of year.  Enjoy!

Proper Gander can be found at:

4 High Street
Tywyn
Gwynedd
LL36 9AA
01654 712169
www.propergandertywyn.com

Glorious huss from Dai’s Shed

Last week Dai had caught some huss so I bought a small piece and put it in the freezer.  I had never cooked it before.  Huss, also known as rock salmon, was my standard purchase from my favourite fish and chip shop when I lived in London, so I knew that it was full of flavour.   I made it into a fish stew.

I skinned and cooked some tomatoes, lightly fried onion and garlic in olive oil, sprinkled over a little smoked paprika and whizzed it all up in the food processor.  I added herbs, ground fennel, a seriously good pinch of saffron and a big spoonful of piri-piri for a good hit of heat.  A little fish stock, a little white wine and a small glug of brandy completed the mix.   I sliced the huss into chunks, fried them quickly in olive oil, and then removed them from the pan.  Next, the components of a pack of frozen shellfish from the Chester Waitrose went into the same pan, and those too were removed once they had heated through.  Into the fishy juices I poured the tomato mixture and reduced it down.  The huss went back into the pan first and then the shellfish, all topped with clams in their shells to warm through.  It was accessorized with a fresh coriander gremolata over the top, and served with a grilled slice of crusty Welsh bread with a clove of garlic rubbed over it for dipping in the juices.  A delectable glass of Sancerre to accompany it wrapped things up perfectly.   Not as glamorous or authentic as a French bouillabaisse or as delectable as a Spanish zarzuela, but my simple Algarve-inspired fish stew was a lot quicker to produce and required much less fish!

The huss was absolutely divine.  It holds its shape, retains its gorgeous flavour and has a wonderful texture.  It would make a brilliant substitute in recipes that demand the much more expensive monkfish.  I popped down into Aberdovey and bought an even bigger bit this morning, given that it freezes so well.  Dai says that the weather is too rough to go out for the next couple of days, so no dressed crab or mackerel for the time being.  I am still not quite up to dealing with a live lobster.

Another feast from Dai’s Shed

My father is visiting and I promised him fresh mackerel.  There were only small ones left at Dai’s Shed, so we took six and treated them like large sardines, oiling them, barbecuing them and serving them with a Greek-inspired salad.  My Greek salad is rather more extravagant than a normal Greek salad.  As well as loads of feta, capers and olives, and a good amount of diced tomato, I chuck in some finely sliced spring onion, shredded little gem lettuce and, from the garden, finely chopped giant chives, mint and lovage leaves.  It was accompanied by baby new potatoes boiled and tossed in Welsh Dragon butter, chives and flat-leaf parsley from the garden and the whole lot was served with chunks of lemon.

Oh those little mackerel were divine!  Firm, moist and full of flavour, and they folded off the bone perfectly.  I am going to go into mourning when Dai shuts up the shed in October.

I grow my giant chives from spring onions.  When I buy a bunch of spring onions with the white roots still attached, I cut off about 3cm of the spring onion at the root and put it in water for a couple of days, until the roots start to grow and produce new white tendrils and then stick them in a pot of compost, with the top just sticking out.  Job done.  They start to grow immediately and within a couple of weeks you have a healthy crop – one giant chive per spring onion.  And by giant, I mean that the ones I have out there at the moment, which are about a month old, are now nearly 2ft tall.   The ones shown in this photograph were exactly two weeks old.

 

Experimenting with Glamorgan sausages

I’ve never made Glamorgan sausages before, and there’s a good argument for saying that I haven’t made them today either.  I walked down into Aberdovey, expecting the Bank Holiday Monday to be bedlam, but at 1045 it was surprisingly quiet, perhaps because the weather was unencouraging, but perhaps because a lot of people were driving back home after their holiday.  I had a look around the craft fair, which was in the marquee by the Information Centre, and then went to do some odds and ends of shopping.

My first port of call was the lovely Aberdovey Butcher where I bought a lamb steak for the stew that I was planning, and then went to collect what I needed for my Glamorgan Sausages.  Having sourced a leek earlier in the week, I walked with great confidence into the delicatessen, Coast Deli and Dining, on the corner of Copper Hill Street and Sea View Terrace, and stopped dead.  Disaster!  The cheese counter had gone!  No Caerphilly for the Glamorgan sausages, and no Perl Wen for me (but the lunches looked seriously wonderful, so I’ll be back!).  This meant that my Glamorgan sausages were destined to be stuffed with cheese leftovers from the fridge, including Cheshire, Cheddar and fresh flaked Parmesan.  I also, unaccountably, had no English mustard, so used wholegrain French instead.

I read several recipes and took what I wanted from them, adding an extra stage to all of them.  Whilst some recipes went straight from manufacture to rolling in egg and breadcrumbs and then straight into a pan of hot oil or butter, others added a 30 minute period in the refrigerator after rolling and before cooking.  I added an additional 30 minute period in the fridge between making the sausages and rolling them, because mine were rather on the wet side.  The 30 minutes did the trick delightfully.  I rolled them in the egg and then the breadcrumbs, and put them back in the fridge until they were needed.  The photos show the three stages in the process of completion:

  • top – the newly manufactured sausage;
  • middle – 30 minutes later rolled in egg and breadcrumbs;
  • bottom – cooked after another long spell in the fridge and then left out to reach room temperature.

They were far too big to eat three, so one ended up on my plate and I’ll experiment with reheating the other two, seeing if they are viable cold and finding out whether they can be reheated whole or mashed into potato.

The ersatz Glamorgan sausage  was accompanied by chopped lamb steaks from the Aberdovey Butcher, who raises his own sheep, which I had cooked for an hour in a pan with carrots, shallots and mushrooms, some home made lamb stock, a slosh of red wine to add richness rather than flavour, and a lot of fresh thyme.  Some tender stem broccoli finished the plate.  Great fun.  Having eaten the local lamb many times before, I knew that that would be excellent and it was.  The sausages were rather strongly flavoured in the cheese department, unsurprisingly given the Cheddar and Parmesan, but they worked well enough, although for some reason they were a little angular rather than tubular!  Next time, it will definitely be Caerphilly, which will give them just the right balance between flavour and subtlety.

Dai’s Shed and the Aberdyfi Village Stores

I had a lovely little shopping spree at Dai’s Shed on the wharf this morning. I bought a tub of cockles in vinegar, a beautifully prepared dressed crab (I was presented with a huge tray and allowed to pick one out)  and a gorgeous fresh mackerel, an absolute beauty.   I always gut my own fish just before cooking because I think that it helps to retain both shape and flavour, but I seriously appreciated the offer to do it for me.  I always cook mackerel on the day I buy it, but was contemplating a second one for the freezer.  However, the chap in the shop (Dai Hughes himself perhaps?) told me that, like strawberries, mackerel turns to mush in the freezer.  Very welcome advice.  I still haven’t psyched myself up to coping with a live lobster, but it will have to be done.   Aberdovey fisherman Dai Hughes catches the fish himself in his boat Santa Fe. The shop will be open this year until the end of October.

I went afterwards into the Aberdyfi Village Stores at 4 Seaview Terrace, and was so impressed by what I found.  It has a Costcutter logo over the window so I wasn’t expecting much, but it is a little treasure trove of very good quality products on wooden shelves and fresh goods in refrigerated units, many Welsh and some with a distinctly continental twist.  There is a nicely presented vegetable selection with good, fresh produce.  The asparagus that I bought looks really super – fit healthy spears – and the fresh bread is gorgeous, the best I have found so far in either Aberdovey or Tywyn,  My other purchases included fresh double cream, natural yogurt, a pack of couscous, a jar of Welsh Lady Hell’s Mouth Mustard that has paprika, garlic and chilli to liven it up (yet to try it but wow), a pack of dried juniper berries in the excellent Green Cuisine range and some eggs.  A great mix of the basics as well as a generous supply of some more exotic items in tins and jars.  Impressive too that they are open til 8pm on Monday to Thursday, 9pm on Friday and Saturday and 6pm on a Sunday.

Some of today’s haul from Dai’s Shed and the Aberdyfi Village Stores in Aberdovey

The expedition was somewhat tainted by the £3.30 minimum charge for parking in the big car park on the seafront for over three hours.  There’s not much choice at this time of year when it is so busy and all the short-term parking spaces are taken.  Why does Gwynedd Council not provide a 1-hour charge for quick visits?  Such a heavy fee just to dump the car for half an hour doesn’t really offer much incentive for local people to shop in Aberdovey when parking at the Spar and Co-Op in Tywyn are free.  It is like imposing a penalty fee for using local shops.  All very well to take exercise and enjoy the view by walking down into the village on a dry day, but it was chucking down when I left the house.

Here’s what I did with the mackerel from Dai’s Shed:  Gutted it, cut slits in it on both sides, rubbed in a mixture of garlic, paprika and olive oil and baked it stuffed with lemon slices in foil painted with olive oil in the oven.  I served it with lemon slices (should have been limes, but I didn’t have any), the juices from the foil poured over the top and a salad made of diced purple onion, mint leaves from my garden, diced salad tomatoes, capers, shredded little gem lettuce, giant chives from the garden, a home made mustard vinaigrette and a good shake each of salt, pepper and piri piri.  Spot the deliberate mistake with the layout of the cutlery 🙂  Couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it until I started trying to eat!