Fish sauce

Fiskekaker (Norwegian fish cakes)

Norwegian fish cakes

It may seem perverse to come back from holiday and attempt to recreate dishes that you didn’t even try whilst there, but that is exactly what I’ve done this week. I saw these fishcakes for sale in Bergen, and I really wanted to try them, but I didn’t because my penny pinching reflexes kicked in and I couldn’t bear to part with £££s for them.

On another note, I’ve been lusting after newly published cookbooks recently, but for before-said miserly tendencies I’ve made a resolution to revisit cookbooks that I currently own but never use instead. So I was reading Elisabeth Luard’s ‘European Peasant Cookery’ (which is a great hulk of a book, which I put on my birthday list 7 years ago, received and then promptly ignored) and one of the first recipes in the book was for Norwegian fish cakes, or fiskekaker. This tweaked my interest having been in Norway recently and I decided to try making them.

I wish I had tried the authentic version to compare them with, but what I can say is that mine (or rather Elisabeth’s) were delicious in a subtle, comforting way – almost like nursery food. I make fish cakes a lot but these are refreshingly simple with fish being the star of the show. Unsurprisingly my children loved them and I think they will become a regular feature on our weekly menu.

Fiskekaker (Norwegian fish cakes)

From Elisabeth Luard’s ‘European Peasant Cookery’

Makes about 12

  • 500g of filleted white fish (haddock or cod will do but make sure it’s as fresh as possible)
  • 1 small cooked potato, mashed, or 1 tablespoon of flour
  • 6 tablespoons of single cream or full cream milk
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of sea salt
  • A good grinding of white pepper
  • Butter for frying

Skin the fish and remove any pin bones. Roughly chop the fish flesh and pound this either with a pestle and mortar (hard work but traditional) or finely mince in a food processor. Stir in the potato, cream and seasoning. Beat until you have a smooth doughy mixture.

Melt a good dollop of butter in a frying pan and heat to medium.

Using a dessert spoon dipped in water, scoop out a spoonful of the fish mixture and add it to the pan. Press it down with the back of the spoon. Alternatively shape into small cakes with wet hands. Continue until the pan is full. Brown on one side before flipping over to cook the other, about 5 minutes on each side. Keep warm in a low oven while you cook the others.

I served mine with dill butter, a beetroot salad and rice. More traditional would be to eat them just for themselves or with boiled potatoes.

Pork with cashew nuts, lime and mint

pork lime cashews

I was rather mean about Nigel Slater in a recent blog post and it’s been bothering me. Being horrible doesn’t sit well with me – I was just trying (and failing) to be clever and cutting like many journalists (forgetting that I am not clever, or indeed a journalist). So I’m sorry Nigel, as I constantly remind my children, how someone looks should never be important.

And my view that Nigel is a really good food writer was strengthened recently when I picked up his recipe book ‘Real Food’ in a charity shop. It was written 16 years ago and it’s brilliant. A no nonsense cookbook, full of straightforward recipes with big flavours – just the sort of food I like. It also includes several Nigella recipes (from the time before she was on the telly).

I’ve tried a few recipes but so far this ‘pork with cashews, lime and mint’ is my favourite. It’s punchy, refreshing and just perfect for a Sunday evening when you’ve drunk a little too much over the weekend. If you like powerful flavours and a feeling that you’ve in some way cleansed your body then you should definitely give this dish a go.

Nigel Slater’s pork with cashew nuts, lime and mint (in my own words)

Serves 2

  • 400g of pork fillet (trim off as much fat as possible, then cut into 1/2 inch thick medallions and cut these into thin strips)
  • 5 tablespoons of groundnut oil
  • 90g of cashew nuts (finely chopped with a knife or roughly crushed in a pestle and mortar)
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • a 4cm knob of ginger, finely shredded
  • 4 small red chillies, finely chopped, (or I use 1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes)
  • The zest and juice of 3 limes
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • a handful of mint leaves, chopped
  • a handful of basil leaves, torn

Pour three tablespoons of oil into a really hot wok and stir fry the pork for three or four minutes, keeping the heat high and stirring from time to time so that it browns nicely. Tip the meat into a bowl along with any juices.

Return the wok to the heat and add the remaining oil. Add the spring onions, garlic, ginger and chillies and fry for a minute, stirring constantly so that they don’t stick or burn.

Then add the nuts and stir fry for another minute.

Add the meat back to the pan, along with any juices and stir in the lime zest and juice and fish sauce. Fry for a couple of minutes and then stir in the herbs.

Serve with plain rice.

Thai fish cakes with cucumber dipping sauce

thai fish cakes

My children are back at school and so I’m back to recipe blogging with a vengeance. My youngest has just started this week so I’m holding back the tears whilst writing this and using it as an excuse to avoid cleaning the house or look for a proper job  (both of which are inevitable).

I’ve been carefully nurturing three French bean plants at the allotment just to make this dish. Most were annihilated by rodents and slugs and so I built little fortresses around the remaining three and they just about survived.  You may think I’m a mad woman but I refused to just buy some from Tesco. And the waiting did make the tasting all the sweeter which is what I love about growing your own vegetables and eating seasonally.

Thai fish cakes don’t exactly spring to mind when you think of French beans but they are an essential part of this dish (although to be truly authentic you would use Chinese long beans). This recipe is another from the little pink Chiang Mai Cookery School cookbook (with a few minor alterations).

Thai fish cakes with cucumber dipping sauce

For the fish cakes

  • 500g of white fish (I used Cornish Ling but you can use any cheap white fish. My fishmonger tells me that the lady from an un-named local Thai restaurant requests only the smelliest fish which is on the verge of going off, but I don’t go that far to achieve authenticity)
  • 2 tablespoons of red curry paste (I use the Mae Ploy one which they sell in most supermarkets these days)
  • 4 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of cornflour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon of palm sugar (or I use soft brown sugar)
  • 10 kaffir lime leaves (or I use 1 tablespoon of lime juice instead)
  • 8 French beans, finely chopped
  • ground nut oil for frying

For the cucumber dipping sauce

  • 6 tablespoons of water
  • 6 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
  • 1 chilli
  • 2 tablespoons of roasted peanuts chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of cucumber cut into small chunks
  • a handful of chopped coriander

For the fish cakes, first chop the fish into large chunks and pulse in a mini food processor until roughly minced. Add all the other ingredients (except the French beans) and then pulse again in the food processor until well combined. Tip into a bowl and add the French beans and mush in. Then using wet hands shape into small flat cakes about 4cm in diameter and no more than 1 cm thick. This amount makes about 18 – 20.

In a large frying pan heat about 1/2 cm of groundnut oil until very hot. Add the fish cakes to the pan and fry for about 3 minutes on each side until golden brown – you may need to turn the heat down after a while if they start to go too brown too quickly. Don’t overcrowd the pan – you will probably need to fry in 2 or 3 batches and you can keep the cakes warm in a low oven while waiting for the others to cook.

For the dipping sauce, put the water, sugar and vinegar into a pan and dissolve the sugar over a low heat. Once the sugar has dissolved bring the water to the boil and leave to bubble for 4 to 5 minutes until the mixture has thickened but not caramelised. Turn off the heat and allow to cool. Before serving add the chilli, peanuts, cucumber and coriander and stir well. Don’t mix together too far in advance or the cucumber makes the sauce to watery and the peanuts go soft.

Other Thai dishes on this blog

Thai marinated steak
Pad Thai
Mmmm curry – Red curry with pork from the Chiang Mai Cookery School

Stir fried chicken with cashew nuts

chicken with cashew nuts

I had a plan to try and feed my family on my butcher’s £20 meat for a week pack (which is really only designed for two people) and post the recipes on this blog. That was my middle class idea of tightening my belt and jumping on the economical cooking bandwagon.

But I was bought down to earth when I read about Jack Monroe’s attempt to live on £1 a day for the ‘Live Below the Line 2014’ challenge*. Now I like to think that I can produce tasty dishes even with cheap ingredients, but reading Jack’s shopping list and diary of meals it made me realise how much I rely on my store cupboard of spices, oils and sauces to make inexpensive ingredients taste good.

Jack Monroe was only able to afford lemon curd, stock cubes, chicken paste and tomato puree to liven up her meager dishes and some of the combinations she came up with in desperation sound truly disgusting. Like soup made with vegetable stock, chicken paste, rice, egg and lemon curd. I thought about the things I would use without thinking…oil, salt, pepper…but these would eat massively into a £1 a day budget.

I think if I had to live off such a tiny amount I’d lose heart with trying to concoct anything tasty (or healthy) and just eat plain rice and smart price baked beans.

Now I’m not like Nigella with her walk in store cupboard of Za’atar, lavender herb mix and pumpkin puree. And I do try to keep the cost of my store cupboard down. For example, I’ve just been on my biennial trip to the oriental hypermarket where you can buy huge bottles of store cupboard essentials like soy sauce and fish sauce for the same price as a tiny bottle in Tesco.

In light of the Jack Monroe piece I’m not sure this is in the best possible taste, but here’s a quick stir fry dish that celebrates my newly replenished store cupboard and makes me feel truly grateful that I don’t have to cook on a budget of just £1 a day.

PS. To appease my guilt I’m going to start contributing to a food bank every time I do a Tesco shop. This is my written pledge.

*For the full article see http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2014/may/01/jack-monroe-one-pound-a-day-below-the-line

Chicken with cashew nuts

This is based on a recipe in my little Chiang Mai Cookery School book but it’s actually Chinese in origin.

  • 2 chicken breasts (approximately 350g), trimmed of any fat or sinew and sliced thinly
  • 100g cashew nuts
  • 200ml of groundnut or other flavourless oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • A pinch of chilli flakes or 1 fresh red chilli
  • 125ml of chicken stock or water
  • 4 spring onions or welsh onions (which I have growing wild in my herb bed)

Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons of oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of palm or brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of whisky (Don’t leave this out, it’s only a teaspoon but it really enhances the dish. You don’t need a fine single malt just whatever you have to hand or can buy cheaply from the supermarket)

First of all shallow fry the cashew nuts by placing in a frying pan with 200ml of groundnut oil heated to a medium heat. Put the cashew nuts in the pan and stir until they turn a golden brown (this should only take a minute). Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with some kitchen roll to absorb any excess oil. Set aside.*

Put two tablespoons of the oil you used to fry the cashews into a wok and place over a high heat. Add the garlic and fry for a few seconds then add the chicken and sliced onions. Stir fry for about 3 minutes stirring regularly until the chicken and onions start to brown and the chicken is nearly cooked through.

Add the water/stock and sauce ingredients and boil for another 2 to 3 minutes until the liquid has reduced by about a half.

Add the cashew nuts and spring/welsh onions and stir well.

Finally, remove from the heat and stir in the whisky.

Serve with plain rice.

*Don’t waste the oil, you’ll need two tablespoons to cook the chicken but the rest can be strained and used for other dishes.

storecupboard

Thai marinated steak

thai steak and rice

I’ve been eating lots of very basic food in January – baked potatoes with cheese, home-made wedges with a fried egg on top, dhal (as in my last post) – that sort of thing. There’s not been much meat involved which is fine but I can’t keep it up for any extended period and it’s not long before I crave a giant juicy steak.

This is a perfect recipe for a spicy, meaty, Friday-night feast. I wouldn’t use cuts like sirloin or rib-eye (which in my view are best simply cooked with no sauce or marinade to hide their delicate flavour), but it works tremendously well with rump steak which is cheaper and a little less flavoursome. Do still try to buy decent rump steak from your butcher if you can, or the best that the supermarket has to offer.

Served with salad I wondered whether this recipe might be good if you’re cutting out carbohydrates, only then I realised that the dressing has 2 teaspoons of sugar in it (which of course is the most evil carb of all, or so I’ve been reminded almost every-day this year). Perhaps though you could use some sugar substitute which I’m sure they sell in Holland and Barrett.

This dish also works well as a dinner party starter. Steak is really difficult to cook for a larger group (unless you have multiple griddle pans) but with this recipe one large steak, cut thinly, can stretch to serve up to 8 people as a starter or as one of a number of dishes in a banquet.

Thai marinated steak over rice or salad

Serves 2 as a main course or 4-8 as a sharing starter

  • A large piece of best rump steak (enough for two as a main course)

Marinade

  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • A small bunch of coriander stalks
  • ½ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2-3 tablespoons of oil

Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 fresh red chilli, or 1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoons of soft brown sugar

Combine the marinade ingredients in a mini chopper or food processor and blend well. You can also do this in a pestle and mortar. Spread the mixture over the steak and leave to marinade in the fridge for a few hours.

When you are ready to cook the steak, remove as much of the marinade from the steak as you can while you heat a griddle or frying pan over a high heat. You will not need to add any additional oil if you are using a griddle but if you are using a frying pan then add a tablespoon of oil to the pan before adding the steak.

Cook the steak for about 3-4 minutes on either side. Keep the heat really high and don’t move the steak around the pan during cooking and turn just once.

Remove the steak from the pan, cover with foil and leave to rest while you make the dressing.

Mix all the dressing ingredients together and stir well.

With rice

If you are serving with rice then cut the steak up into thin strips, place over the cooked rice (to cook see my post Nice Rice) and spoon over the dressing. Add some chopped coriander (and extra chilli if you like) to garnish.

With salad
Make a salad using one small soft leaf lettuce, ½ a cucumber (chopped into small chunks), a handful of cherry tomatoes (halved) and 4 spring onions (chopped). Slice the steak thinly and place over the prepared salad. Spoon over the dressing and add some chopped coriander (and extra chilli if you like) to garnish.

Pad Thai

pad thai

This is another gem from my little pink Thai cookbook. It has become one of our favourite mid-week suppers.

When we were travelling in Thailand we ate Pad Thai (basically Thai fried noodles) an awful lot. As we were often off the beaten track and not able to speak the language this was the one thing we could both pronounce and rely on to be cheap and delicious. While it is ubiquitous in Thailand it seems as though every food place has its own slightly different recipe therefore you don’t feel as though you’re being too boring.

There was one occasion though when it let me down. We had walked to a road side restaurant in Kamphaeng Phet (a town not used to tourists). The waiter was unable to understand our few Thai words and so produced an old English/Thai dictionary. I looked up and pointed to the English word ‘noodle’ where upon the gentleman in question looked at me with a very puzzled expression. It was only then that I realised that I’d actually tried to order ‘a simpleton’. We ended up letting the waiter just bring us the dish of the day, a crab dish. It was delicious and proved that being adventurous often does pay off.

This dish is very simple to make. Once you’ve done the chopping and mixed up the sauce it takes about 5 minutes to cook. It does taste very good with home-made noodles but if you don’t have time for this then the ones you can buy ready to use (like Amoy ‘straight to wok’) are fine.

Pad Thai (Thai fried noodles)

Serves 2 generously

  • About 500g of fresh rice noodles, or cooked dried noodles, or home-made fresh noodles cooked (see my post Home-made pasta). This is the prepared weight
  • 2 tablespoons of groundnut oil
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon roasted peanuts, chopped
  • A good handful of chives or the green tops of spring onions, chopped (you can use the whites of the spring onion as a garnish on top)
  • Fresh vegetables, I generally use cabbage (finely chopped) and carrot (shavings made with a peeler so that they cook really quickly). In the photo I used kale which was fine. Bean sprouts are good too.
  • Lime wedges (optional)
  • Red chilli (optional)

Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce (or you can use Golden Mountain sauce as a vegetarian alternative)
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1-3 tablespoons of light brown or granulated sugar (the original recipe uses 3 tablespoons but I just can’t bring myself to use that amount of sugar so I tend to use about 1 ½ and it tastes fine)
  • 2 tablespoons of tamarind juice (or you can use lime juice as an alternative)

Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

Put 1 tablespoon of oil into a very hot wok and fry the garlic for a few seconds (only until golden brown) then add the noodles and vegetables. Fry for a couple of minutes to combine and then add the sauce and stir again until heated through.

Move the noodles to one side of the pan and add another tablespoon of oil into the clear space and add the eggs stirring briefly to mix the yolk and white.

Now leave until the underside of the egg mixture is cooked then spread the noodles over the top and leave briefly. Then give everything a good stir – you want to separate the egg a little whilst still leaving some larger chunks. Add the chives or spring onions and stir again.

Serve with a sprinkle of peanuts, lime wedges (if you have some) and rough chopped red chilli (if you like a little heat).

You can also add dried shrimps, fresh prawns, chicken or tofu to this dish. I would add these at the start with the garlic. Personally I prefer to keep it a simple vegetable only affair.

Vegetarians will need to use a vegetarian version of fish sauce for this dish.

NoodlesDSCN1672

Being good – kale and chickpea curry

kale and chickpea curry

I have to tell you about this fantastic recipe which has become one of my husband’s specialities. It is rather a rarity because not only is it very healthy (involving 3 of your 5 a day – if you believe in that nonsense) but it’s also genuinely delicious. Please do try it. I personally would have turned my nose up on reading the recipe because it does sound a bit too ‘good for you’ but luckily it was thrust upon me by my husband keen to use up a glut of kale.

A word of warning though – as it does contain three ingredients known for their wind inducing properties you may not want to cook this if you’re in a new relationship or if you have important business to conduct the next day.

I thought it would be a good dish to serve my vegetarian friends but then I remembered the fish sauce. Apparently Thai ‘Golden Mountain’ sauce is a good vegetarian substitute.

Kale and chickpea curry

Serves 2-4 (depending on appetite, this serves 2 in our household)

  • 1 small onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 x 400g can of chickpeas
  • 8-10 medium sized kale leaves (I use cavolo nero)
  • 125g button mushrooms halved
  • 200ml coconut milk (1/2 a 400ml tin)
  • 1 teaspoon of medium curry powder
  • A thumb sized nugget of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce (or use ‘Golden Mountain’ sauce)
  • A large handful of coriander
  • Oil
  • Salt and pepper

Fry the onion and garlic in a dash of oil until soft. Add the curry powder, fresh ginger, chilli, salt and pepper and stir.

Drain the chickpeas and add them to the pan along with the coconut milk, mushrooms and lime juice. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the mushrooms are soft and the sauce has reduced and thickened.

Remove the stems from the kale and chop the leaves into strips. Steam for 5 minutes and then add to the chickpea mixture.

To finish stir in the soy and fish sauces and scatter with chopped coriander.

Serve with rice or flat bread.

Related posts: