Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Octopus - No more excuses

Fresh octopus is not the most common sight in the UK and when spotted it can be a little daunting spread across the ice of the fishmonger’s slab. The countries surrounding the Mediterranean swear by baby octopuses, but such an item is not available at quality to us Brits. However do not fear as the good old South West has a large number of fisheries that yield excellent octopus.

When you purchase your octopus it may need a rigorous clean. Your fishmonger might gut it for you and skin it if you’re lucky, but the ink will also needs washing from the suckers on each of the legs. Make sure the beak is also removed. At this stage you can bag and freeze your cleaned octopus for up to two weeks which will help to tenderise it.

Pickled Octopus
1kg of Octopus
Approx 150ml olive oil
Approx 150ml red wine Vinegar
4 cloves garlic
salt and pepper
fresh thyme

Place the body and tentacles in a pan with 8 tablespoons of water. Cover and simmer for 1 hour on a very low heat. Drain off excess liquid. When cooled cut into pieces and pack loosely into a screw top jar with some sprigs of fresh thyme.

Mix the oil, vinegar and garlic together, season, an then pour into the jar until the octopus is completely immersed. Now the hard part – the wait. Seal the jar and leave for five days turning occasionally. Before use give the jar a number of rotations as the vinegar would have settled to the bottom with the majority of the octopus.

Commonly picked octopus is eaten cold in a salad, but one of my favorite ways is adding it to a tomato based pasta dish. Add plenty of fresh time and crushed garlic to the olive oil whilst softening a number of fresh cherry tomatoes. Drain the octopus before adding to the pasta as too much vinager makes the dish very sharp, almost too sharp. And here you have it:

Thursday, 15 April 2010

That painting on the wall

Last night i visited a restaurant in Soho, a restaurant that held a special connection with me. The purpose of my visit was not really the food, but to see a painting. For a number of months a very nice lady by the name of Haidee Becker was coming to the shop in search for fish to paint. I spent much time with her trying to find interesting subjects that would make her paintings special. After a while she explained that the pictures were for the wall off her son and chef Jacob Kenedy's restaurant Bocca di lupo (mouth of the wolf). Such fish as the greater weaver fish, silver dory and a painted ray were featured in the painting along with more common species like lobster, squid and mackerel. I was delighted to see the picture and managed to take some snaps before dinner. Whilst searching my photos i found pictures of the actual ray and silver dory used by Haidee in the painting.

I feel i should also mention the dining experience. We started with a raw fish starter which incorporated a langoustine tail, that was very tasty, two small prawns, a slice of bream and a slither of scallop. We also had a Roman starter of Tripe with guanciale, chilli and tomato which had a great texture an some rich flavors. Our mains were a simple clams with cannellini beans, tomato and basil with a side of Agretti - monksbeard with butter and lemon and my pal had roast suckling pig and cicoria. We washed all this down with two half litres of cheerful Pinot Grigio.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Fillet a Sole the Mongers Way

It can be very rewarding to buy your fish, take it home, then prepare it yourself. The majority of home and professional chefs are taught to fillet flat fish such as Turbot, Sole and Plaice into quarters. This is the easiest and quickest way to produce fillets, however, it will only ever yield quarter fillets. On many occasions the whole fillet, which does look more impressive, is needed for certain dishes especially those that require rolled finishes. I used whole plaice when self teaching myself to fillet flatfish and would suggest this species as a great option as it is generally the cheapest available. The example below is with a lemon sole which is as easy to fillet as a plaice. Personally i would say Dover Sole are the most difficult of the flats to work with as they have the softest of bones.

After removing the head place the fish white skin down on your chopping board. The topside of a flat fish is thicker than the underside and as they are not square by nature this means it will lay flatter on your board. Insert the point of your knife above the bone and gently insert.

With your spare thumb lift the fillet to expose the bone which will allow you to see where you are cutting and then continue to caress the knife all the way along the skeleton until the point appears by the tail.

Now the hard bit that isn't required if quarter filleting. Gently roll the point over the raised centre bone at either head or tail end, which ever you feel comfortable with, then run the knife from one end to the other.

Remove the knife, turn it in your hand so it will run flat to the bone, then in one sweep run your blade over the skeleton.

So we have a Lemon Sole with the top side fillet removed. You can now see the ridge that runs down the centre.

The fish is then turned over and the same process is followed on the B-side. Do take care as the underside is up to a third thinner so requires a little more care when rolling over the centre ridge.

So there you have two clean fillets of Lemon Sole. These can be trimmed tighter to the flesh and/or skinned quite easily with a flexible blade. This fish had a little roe so the trimming was minimal.