Fish, Fish and more fish

By | Australia, Fish | No Comments

I thought if I kept posting photos of the beach you might stop reading. Even if you continued I might have stopped writing. The perfect beaches made me wish I had stayed in Australia, where although the autumn has started, it is a lot warmer than Toronto. Here it is supposedly spring, but the temperatures are still in the basement and there is nothing green in the garden. We even had snow flurries yesterday!

One of the many delights of my Australian visit was the seafood, I ate it at almost every meal and was spoiled for choice. I ate snapper, barramundi, garfish, oysters, prawns (shrimp to North American readers), but my favourite were the sardines pictured above. I love sardines, fresh or canned. We often think of canned fish as some how less than fresh, but it’s not true.

Canned fish was once a luxury, but it has lost much of its appeal. However, in France where canning began, canned sardine are often millésimé, like wine with a vintage date stamped on them. These cans are carefully stored for up to twenty-five years, during which time their contents turns into a rich paste that sardine aficionados relish. I have some in my basement in Paris and turn them every 6 months.

Canned fish also take pride of place in tapas bars in Spain, and elsewhere, check Bar Raval in Toronto. I always have canned fish in my pantry, it makes a quick meal. Canned sardines, not millésimé, were the fast food of my childhood and I remember opening them with the big key attached to the bottom of the tin. Now they have a ring pull, more practical perhaps, but not nearly as much fun. Here, from Bones: Recipes, History, and Lore is that childhood dish, improved with experience.

Serves 2

One 100 g can good quality sardines, packed in olive oil of course

4 not-too-thick slices country bread

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons chopped dill

Fleur de sel

A lemon

Preheat the broiler.

Toast the bread under the broiler: well on one side and lightly on the other, so that it is dry and just colored. Spread the lightly toasted sides of the bread with the mustard. Arrange the sardines on top, then drizzle with olive oil from the can. Place on a baking sheet and broil until the sardines are hot and the bread is darkening on the edges.

Sprinkle with the chopped dill, and a little salt. Give them a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and serve with a lightly dressed salad of frisée or arugula, a little bitter to balance the oily sardines.

If you need more ideas on how to cook with canned fish you should check out my friend Barbara-jo’s book Tin Fish Gourmet: Great Seafood from Cupboard to Table.



By | Gooseberries | 3 Comments

Back in April, before leaving for Paris, I posted about what to eat. Early summer brings vegetables to southern Ontario but there is not much fruit. This year some water logged over ripe strawberries are the only choice until the local stone fruits arrive. The first to plant to fruit in my garden is the gooseberry bush. I don’t have to worry about anyone helping themselves because most people aren’t familiar with gooseberries and their tart taste sends them scurrying.

The French call gooseberries groseilles à maquereaux to distinguish them from red and white currants called groseilles. The translation is mackerel currants, an odd name if you don’t know that gooseberry sauce was a popular accompaniment for grilled mackerel both in France and England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

You can leave your gooseberries on the bush until they turn dark maroon, and become soft and sweeter but gooseberries are best hard and green. It’s their acidity that makes them the perfect foil for oily fish and their summer arrival coincides with the appearance of mackerel and sardines in the market.

Gooseberry sauce is simple to make, but first you must brave the vicious gooseberry thorns and then the tedious, but mindless task of topping and tailing them. Do it sitting outside with a G & T or while watching TV and use a pair of scissors, it’s easier and safer than a knife. You can skip this step but you’ll have to puree the sauce at the end and then sieve it – more work and the texture will be smooth not a thick lumpy sauce that is preferable. Plus do you really want to have to clean a blender and a sieve?

The recipe comes from Bones.

Grilled Sardines with Gooseberry Sauce.
Serves 4 as an appetizer

12 ounces/1 dry pint /325 g green gooseberries, topped and tailed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
2 green cardamom pods, crushed
Grated zest and juice 1 orange
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
16 whole sardines, cleaned
1 tablespoon olive oil

Rinse the gooseberries under cold running water, then drop them into a frying pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Add the butter, sugar, cardamom, and orange zest and juice and cook, covered, over medium-low heat until the berries become pale and are soft when touched, about 5 minutes. Remove the lid and raise the heat. Continue to cook, stirring until the sauce is thick and just starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, 3 to 5 minutes, then season with salt and pepper. You can make the sauce ahead and reheat it or serve it at room temperature my preference.

Preheat the grill to high. Rinse and pat dry the sardines and season with salt and pepper Clean and brush the grill with the olive oil. Grill the fish over high heat for 4 to 5 minutes on each side or until cooked.
Can’t find gooseberries, replace them with an equal amount of trimmed rhubarb. Cut the rinsed rhubarb stalks into 1/2-inch /1-cm dice, and use only 1 teaspoon sugar.

Prefer sweetened gooseberries? Then try this pie from Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes and don’t forget to use good quality rendered lard, leaf lard if you can.

Gooseberry Pie with Lard Pastry

6 cups / 2 pounds / 900 g gooseberries
1 recipe Leaf Lard Pastry, recipe follows
Lard, for greasing
1 cup / 7 ounces / 200 g granulated sugar
Pinch of sea salt
1 egg white
3 tablespoons brandy
3 tablespoons / 25 g cornstarch
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, diced
1 tablespoon superfine (caster) sugar

Preheat the oven to 425°F / 220°C.

To prepare the gooseberries, cut off their stems and tails using scissors and rinse them. Remove the pastry from the refrigerator. Lightly grease a 9 1/2-inch / 24-cm pie dish with lard and set aside.
Place the gooseberries in a large bowl, add the granulated sugar and salt, and toss to mix. Divide the pastry in half, and form each half into a disk. On a floured surface, roll 1 pastry disk into an 11-inch / 28-cm circle and line the pie dish.

Whisk the egg white with 1/2 teaspoon of the brandy and brush the mixture on the pastry in the pie dish. Pour the gooseberries into the pie dish, piling in the center. Mix the cornstarch with the remaining brandy until smooth and pour over the fruit, then dot with the butter. Brush the edges of the pastry with more of the egg white mixture.

Roll out the second pastry disk into an 11 1/2-inch / 29-cm circle and cover the pie. Trim and seal the edges well. Cut a slit in the center of the pie, brush the top with the egg white, and sprinkle with the superfine sugar. Place the pie on a baking sheet.
Bake the pie for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375°F / 190°C and bake until the pastry is golden and the fruit is bubbling, another 35 to 40 minutes. If the pastry starts to brown too much, cover the top of the pie with a piece of aluminum foil.
Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool. Serve at room temperature.

Leaf Lard Pastry

2 cups / 8 3/4 ounces /250 g flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2/3 cup / 4 1/2 ounces / 125 g chilled lard diced
1/3 cup / 75 ml ice-cold water

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a food processor and pulse to mix. Add the lard and pulse until the lard is reduced to pea-sized pieces, about 15 seconds. Turn the mixture into a bowl.
Pour the water over the flour and lard mixture and mix with a fork. Squeeze a bit of the mixture between your fingers. If it holds together transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface; if not, add another couple of teaspoons of ice water and test again. Gently knead the dough into a ball. Divide the pastry in half and flatten into 2 disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using.