Monthly Archives: March 2015

Fish Stock


Making fish pie today so plenty of grisly remains, in particular, prawn heads, which are The Best Thing Ever for making fish stock. I had twelve “large” prawns which weighed around 350g in total. (Yes, I know, in certain parts of the world, these would be considered tiny, but hey ho.)


So, heads cut off, shells removed, and into a medium saucepan. The meat was butterflied (use a small pair of scissors to do this) to remove the vein (well, the gastrointestinal tract) and reserved for the fish pie.


Meanwhile, the grisly remains were given a good rinse, and I added: half an onion, salt, a few black peppercorns, and a bay leaf. Oh, and since I was skinning a cod fillet, I threw the skin in as well. (I was also skinning a smoked haddock fillet, but didn’t use that skin as the stock would have tasted of nothing but smoked haddock. The salmon skin was too oily, so also discarded.)


Topped up with cold water to 2L, and the whole lot brought to a gentle simmer for twenty minutes, and then strained through a fine sieve.


The resulting liquid was allowed to settle, disgorging quite a large amount of sediment.


The saucepan was given a perfunctory rinse, and the liquid carefully poured back, so the sediment stayed in the bowl. Finally, brought back to the boil briefly, and the small amount of scum skimmed off. Final yield: one litre of fishy goodness.


Upside Down Fish Pie

I love fish pie, but I think baking in white sauce doesn’t show off nice fish to best effect, and it’s better steamed on top of the potato. If you’ve never tried the combination of chilli, garlic, cream and basil, then hold on to your hat.

To feed four greedy people plus leftovers, you will need:

  • 1kg potato (any variety)
  • 1kg fish (see below)
  • 350mL stock (fish, vegetable, or just hot water)
  • 150mL cream
  • one head garlic (peeled and chopped)
  • one bunch fresh basil (30g if you’re feeling precise, but you’ll only need the leaves)
  • 2tsp chilli flakes (more if you dare, or fresh hot chilli)
  • 15mL vegetable oil + 25g butter

For the fish I use a mix of cod, salmon, smoked haddock, and prawns; the fillets skinned and chopped into chunks. Check for bones and remove if necessary. Avoid heavily smoked or cured fish: tuna and mackerel would be out of place. If the prawns are whole, you can make quite nice stock with the shells and heads.

Peel and chop the potato into pieces no more than half an inch thick. If you’re using baby potatoes, don’t bother peeling, and just halve them.

Heat a large shallow casserole, and melt the butter in the oil, and fry the chilli flakes for around a minute, add the garlic, and keep frying until a pale gold colour. Add a generous pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper. Tip in the potatoes and continue to fry until they’re lightly coloured; probably a few more minutes. Pour over the stock and the cream, but don’t fret if there’s no stock to hand, just use water from a freshly boiled kettle. Crucially, try and arrange the potato pieces in a single layer and make sure there’s enough liquid in the pot for them to be mainly submerged but not drowned.

Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and let the potato cook, stirring from time to time. Depending on the species of potato they will exude some starch and thicken the liquid. You may also need to top up the liquid from the kettle if it’s getting too low.

Once the potatoes are done – test by piercing a piece with a sharp knife; it should offer no resistance – fold in the basil leaves and layer the fish on top. Reduce the heat and cover. The fish should take around ten minutes to steam, but do keep an eye on it. A sure sign is that the cod is starting to separate into flakes.

Serve the whole thing at the table, with some steamed kale and bread to mop up the highly addictive juices.

You could, I suppose, do this with coconut cream, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, purple basil, and a blob of red curry paste.

Addendum, May 2015: unsure about the timing of guests’ arrival, so steamed potatoes first until they were done. One guest was on low FODMAP diet, so garlic and chilli fried in separate pan, and the oil reserved for cooking. (Three birds eye chillis verging on too hot.)


The following quantities make four naan.

  • 250g strong white flour
  • 2.5g salt
  • 1tsp dried yeast
  • 200mL warm water
  • optionally, 3tbsp plain yoghurt and/or a knob of melted butter and/or some vegetable oil; up to you

Mix dough as usual. It is much harder to measure 3tbsp of yoghurt than it sounds, so don’t worry too much about exact quantities, and the dough may need more/less water depending on the flour. Knead for 5 minutes, rise for 90 minutes, knock down, divide into four balls, roll out and cook in hot heavy pan (no oil) for a couple of minutes a side.

Saag Paneer

For four as a side.

  • 300g paneer, cubed – the shop bought stuff is best
  • 300g tin of spinach, and by this I mean a tin that yields 300g drained
  • 1tbsp vegetable oil
  • 25g butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly diced
  • as much as chilli you fancy, 1tsp cumin seeds, 1 clove, 1 cardamom pod, salt, black pepper
  • as much grated ginger as you dare (fine to use the stuff in jars, in which case at least one tablespoon)

Not much to say. Bash up the spices in a mortar. Melt the butter in the oil in a large pan on a medium heat. Add the spices and fry for a minute. Add the garlic and fry for a minute. Add the paneer, and fry until lightly golden, stirring gently. Add the ginger and fry for another minute. Tip in the spinach, turn down the heat and stir until combined and the spinach is hot.

Don’t try and make your own paneer; too much pain. You could also brown a sliced up onion to the point of collapse before adding the paneer.  Tinned spinach won’t hurt, and will be more reminiscent of an English curry house, but you could obviously wilt down some fresh spinach on top of the fried paneer instead.

Spuds of Shame I

These are a little naughty, and will have your guests licking their plates. To serve four people as a side dish you will need…

  • 1 kilo potatoes (any variety, I use baby potatoes)
  • 10g butter
  • 1tbsp vegetable oil
  • as much garlic as you dare (four very fat cloves or half a head, peeled and finely sliced or chopped)
  • as much chilli as you dare (2tsp chilli flakes)
  • 150mL cream (single, double, doesn’t matter)

…and then…

  1. Hack up the potatoes into pieces of roughly equal thickness, maybe an inch or so; peel them if they have thick skins. When I use baby potatoes I just halve them down the long axis.
  2. Pop the spuds into a steamer and, well, steam them, until they’re done, which will probably be around 20 minutes. Check that they’re tender when pierced with a sharp knife or skewer.
  3. Just as the spuds are finishing, melt the butter in a large pan, with the vegetable oil to stop it burning, and fry the garlic and chilli, until the garlic is translucent and golden.
  4. Tip in the potatoes and combine well, adding a generous sprinkle of salt and a thorough grind of black pepper. There’s no need to sauté the spuds.
  5. Finally, add the cream, combine well, wait for it to boil, and turn off the heat.

You could add more cream, more chilli and more garlic. Some finely chopped fresh basil leaves won’t hurt either, but don’t bother with dried for this dish.

Saag Aloo


A useful side dish, or weeknight main. The following quantities will produce sides for four people or mains for two.

  • 800g potato
  • one small onion
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • one tin spinach (yes! a tin!)
  • spices, namely
    • ½ tsp cumin seeds
    • ½ tsp mustard seeds
    • ½ tsp chilli flakes
    • 2 cloves, bashed
    • ½ tsp turmeric

Finely slice the onion and pop in a large heavy pan with a smear of vegetable oil, and a generous pinch of salt, on a low heat to colour. Don’t let it burn.

Meanwhile, peel and dice the potato, keeping an eye on the onion. Don’t let it burn. Peel and chop the garlic. Boil the kettle.

When you’ve finished the potato, the onion will be done, if not, be patient. Push the onion to one side, and fry the garlic, adding more oil as necessary. When it’s slightly translucent, shove it to one side, and add the spices, except for the turmeric. Toast them for a minute or so, and then add the potato and the turmeric, mixing everything up.

Finally, arrange the potato in a single layer, and pour over enough boiled water to almost cover. Bring the whole lot to the boil, and then reduce to a simmer.

The potatoes will cook in their own darned time, which will be around 25 minutes, and as they cook they will exude starch, thickening the liquid, which is also reducing. So. Don’t forget to stir occasionally and, if it starts to stick to the bottom, add a splash more water from the kettle.

Finally, when the spuds are done, add the tinned spinach (casually, but not exhaustively drained) and stir well, to combine. Another minute or so, and it’s ready to serve, although may need more salt.