Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Crabshakk, Glasgow

On a blustery November evening splattered with hard pellets of rain, heaven is a place called Crabshakk.

Arriving windswept and forlorn, all thoughts of the unrelenting Northern chill were banished with the arrival of bisque.

I was told that lobster, langoustine and crab shells are slow roasted to produce a caramel-like marine marmite that is the basis of this deep, ruddy brown soup, enriched with tomatoes and vegetable stock. Wafer thin slices of crisp baguette also arrived alongside a pot of garlicky aioli, for dunking and floating. And like treasure at the bottom of the ocean the sweetest nuggets of lobster meat lay waiting to be unearthed. It was a cockle warming revival after a long cold day, and a magnificent start to dinner.

Next came delicate little white and brown meat crab cakes spiked with a little chilli and parsley, bound with mayonnaise and a sprinkling of panko crumbs, which seemed to disappear to form the crisp pan fried crust.

Finally, a dish of scallops and their roe, seared and served bubbling in a bath of anchovy butter with lemon and bread to dress and mop.

If you are ever in Glasgow any day except Monday (all good restaurants have to close sometime) try to go.

1114 Argyle Street, Finneston, Glasgow G3 8TD

Monday, 21 November 2011

Romantic romanesco

This alien looking vegetable a joy to photograph, but even more importantly it is absolutely delicious. Several years ago I first saw these trifid-esque brassicas in New York at the Union Square farmers market. Their delicate, pale green spirals caught my attention and started an unrequited love affair. I say unrequited because the things are so darn hard to find here in the UK! I can't wait to have a go at growing my own.

For the mathematicians or the trance kids among us romanesco is fascinating because the vegetable actually approximates a natural fractal. Each of the 'cones' are arranged in a classic logarithmic spiral and each 'cone' itself is composed on smaller buds arranged in the same formation. Like galaxies, hurricanes and nautilus shells, the romanesco's spiraling formation is really quite beautiful to look at. I was not entirely surprised when I found jewellery made from romanesco casts on display at the Collect exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery earlier this year.

My favourite way to eat romanesco is one of the simplest. Try to find a hard, sharp pecorino cheese, ideally a pecorino Sardo, but a creamier pecorino Toscano will still be delicious.

a romanesco
pecorino cheese
half a lemon
a really good quality extra virgin olive oil
sea salt flakes and black pepper

Bring a small pan of water to the boil. While you wait, break off individual cones from the romanesco and then slice them quite thinly from top to bottom. I like making lots of weird yet lovely shapes and leaving some of the tips whole so they look like little trees in profile.

When the water is boiling, throw in a couple good pinches of salt and then add the slices of romanesco. Cover the pan and keep the heat high. As soon as you can hear the water coming to the boil again immediately take it off the heat and drain under cold running water to stop further cooking. You could be super professional and dunk the drained slices into a bowl of iced water, but a cold tap will also do fine.

Scatter the romanesco over a large wide plate and squeeze lemon juice all over. Drizzle liberally with olive oil. Top everything off with shavings of pecorino cheese. You can use a vegetable peeler to peel off thin shavings of cheese, or just grate it finely with a microplane.

Season with salt and pepper and tuck in, probably with your fingers.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Prawn and pork sesame cakes

When its cold and wet outside I feel like there are two very clear, very different options for what to eat. Either it's some serious comfort food, a good book, and a warm, enveloping duvet, or it has to be something with a good kick of chilli heat to drive the damp chill out of my bones. In the deepest darkest winters in New York I used to make a bowl of rice noodles each morning with coriander, bean sprouts and steaming hot beef broth, piled high with sliced bird's eye chillies. This was rocket fuel for the trip from my little downtown studio flat to the relative warmth of the subway and finally the office. Here in London the cold seems less bitter, but somehow wetter and I find adding something fried and crispy to the chilli mix is the perfect remedy.

200g raw shelled prawns
60g streaky unsmoked bacon, the fattier the better
two small shallots
two tablespoons of dried shrimp
one or two small bird's eye chillies
a pinch of flaked dried chilli
a tablespoon of fish sauce
plenty of ground white pepper
black and white sesame seeds
coriander leaves, to garnish

If you have a food processor, blend together all of the ingredients except the prawns and sesame seeds. Mince the prawns by hand (so they end up with a slightly coarser texture than everything else) and then mix well with the processed paste.

Have a bowl of water handy to dip your hands into every now and then. Take a small handful of the paste and roll it into a vague ball shape before pressing them into small, two-bite sized cakes. The water helps stop the mix from sticking to your hands. Ready a bowl with a shallow layer of the black and white sesame seeds. Heat a frying pan with about a centimetre of oil but don't let it smoke. Take a little cake, pop it on the sesame seeds and then add to the oil seed side down. It should sizzle gently, if not, turn up/down the heat. Continue with the rest of the cakes and fry each for a minute or two on each side until deep golden brown and beginning to crisp at the edges.

Drain the cakes on some kitchen roll before them piling onto a plate and scatter over some coriander leaves. Serve with the spicy lemongrass dipping sauce below.

Spicy lemongrass dipping sauce

You may decide to tone up or down the amount of chilli and chilli oil in this recipe depending on your taste. I find mine change with my mood and the weather, so I take a tiny lick of a sliced chilli and decide then how much to add.

three cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
a stalk of lemongrass, finely sliced and quickly chopped
the juice from a lemon
50ml rice wine vinegar
a tablespoon of fish sauce
two small bird's eye chillies, thinly sliced
a tablespoon of chilli oil, the Chinese kind with dark roasted chilli flakes
a tablespoon of palm sugar
two tablespoons of water
a good handful each of chopped parsley and either coriander or mint
ground black pepper

Mix together all the ingredients and taste, adding more palm sugar, water, chilli, lemon or anything else that you feel needs more representation in the sauce. It should taste additively sweet, tangy, hot and salty.