Monday, 21 May 2012

Monkfish Kebabs

Cooked over charcoal embers

Planning a dinner party for pesco-vegetarian guests was a bit of a treat. We probably don't eat enough fish in this household so this was a perfect excuse to do something about it. Fire was to play a part too as it looked like we were in for some dry (relief!) and mild weather for a change. Having had the wettest April since records began, May hadn't been much better, so we were determined to make the most of it.

During the previous manic working week, I had been thinking about the meal in the background but it wasn't until the Saturday morning, the day of the dinner party, that I was able to plan it properly. I started by grabbing a dozen or so of my favourite cookbooks and sat in bed checking all the indexes for fish recipies ideal for the barbecue. It wasn't too long before I was seduced by a photograph in Jamies Kitchen of some gorgeous looking fish kebabs. I checked out the recipe and it got even better. Marinated in ginger, lemon, chilli, mint, yogurt, garlic and turmeric, these were guaranteed to be a winner.

Grinding the herbs and spices in the yogurt

Jamie's kebabs also had boiled new potatoes and were skewered onto sprigs of rosemary. I omitted the potatoes as I was already serving roasted chipped potatoes with the main course. The rosemary sprigs were very pretty in the photo, but at the end of the day they'd just get burnt to a cinder, so I thought my rosemary was best left on the bush, and I used stainless steel skewers instead. I was also particularly taken by the shaved zucchini 'zig-zags' in the photo. A nice bit of colour and creative presentation I thought.

The zucchini 'zig zags' were made with a veggie peeler

Monkfish is one of the few fish that is firm enough to be skewered and barbecued. Unlike most fish, it doesn't flake apart when cooked. Jamie's recipe (and the seductive photo) is available on line as I found later when I Googled 'monkfish kebabs' before writing this article, just to see what else was out there. Lo and behold, Jaimie's recipe came up at position no. 1.

I had some frozen king prawns in the freezer, so they went on the barbecue too

Once the menu was decided I made a frantic call to my local Waitrose to make sure I could actually get hold of some Monkfish. Luckily they had some and put about 800g aside for me. Had they not, I'd have had to make a trip into Oxford for it. And that I would have done.

These little pots worked a treat

My 'Go Anywhere Weber' came out of the garage as it was the perfect size to grill the kebabs without wasting too much fuel. I used fast burning English charcoal as these things would only take about 5-10 minutes to cook.

The first course I've been doing fairly frequently lately since my sister-in-law prepared it for us on a recent visit. Little pots with smoked trout, horseradish, cream cheese and chives served with mini hot Yorkshire puddings. It's great because the pots can be prepared in advance leaving just the Yorkies to be baked before serving. This one also came from a Jamie Oliver book: Jamie's Great Britain.

Our lovely guests, Jo and David

For desert there was home made pavlova, and I even made fresh custard with the left over egg yolks (in the past I've been struggling to think of what to do with them, but from now on it's sorted).

We had a fabulous evening with Jo and David. After the main course, I used the coals left over from the barbecue to start a proper fire with some of my treasured foraged oak branches. We were blessed with a cool, still, dry evening and spent hours chatting around the fire and gazing into the embers.

...chatting around the fire...

... and gazing into the embers.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Cockerel au Vin - A Tale of Two Cockerels

I never had the pleasure of meeting Bushman, or his brother for that matter. Well, that was until one of them met the fate of the big black pot. I'd been looking forward to this meal for some time. When my South African foodie friend Ben said he had a 3.5 kg cockerel in the freezer and was saving it for our next visit I felt honoured. Each time we visit he makes such a special effort and this was no exception.

Bushman's brother was nameless for a reason. He was destined for the pot. Bushman however was to meet a bizarre fate of his own. The two brothers were offered to the Van Vuuren family by their local tree surgeon and with five beautiful hens in need of a 'man', they could not resist. The cockerels were delivered, Bushman got the girls, and shortly after was the slaughter. It was a ritualised family event, involving their kids and Ben's wife Tersia as executioner's assistant. I'd been grilling Ben in advance of our visit to his enviable place in Herefordshire as I knew this would be a good story to tell, so he emailed me his own touching and entertaining version of the event (see link below).

Two weeks after Bushman's brother found his new home in the freezer, Ben was decorating their new kitchen and heard a shriek coming from the orchard. Tersia had discovered poor Bushman who had fallen into an old cast iron bath filled with water and had drowned. Miraculously, after some CPR and mouth to mouth (I kid you not), Bushman actually came back to life and started walking around. But his second life was to be an even shorter one. Minutes later he coughed and spluttered his way back to oblivion, and with no hope of return. Ben mercifully finished him off, and he was honoured with a proper family burial and funeral. Unlike his brother.

0 hrs 10 mins
So, back to the coq au vin. This was a big bird and and worthy of one of the most famous French provincial dishes around. The recipe was created for exactly this. 'Coq' in French means cockerel, not chicken yet we have become so used to what is probably 'chicken' au vin. In this context, the extended marination in red wine, garlic and herbs starts to make some sense. It's brown meat all the way, even the breast and can really only be eaten like this, cooked long and slow in a rich and aromatic marinade. The recipe and method is uncannily similar to 'bouffe Bourguignon', right down to the shallots, bay leaf and bacon lardons, as both have the intention of delivering meltingly tender results.

0 hrs 15 mins
Ben researched long and hard and came up with a hybrid of all the best recipes around. He started with the overnight marination in red wine, garlic, thyme, bay and onion, then the high temperature browning off of the cockerel. With the cockerel temporarily removed from the pot, onions, carrots and more thyme were then sauted, and the cockerel returned to the pot with about a litre of stock made from the back bone and wing tips.

1 hr 0 mins
From then it was just time, and lots of it (3-4 hours ideally) on a gentle simmer. Ben sauted the shallots and bacon lardons and added them to the pot about 30 minutes before the end. A handful of fresh thyme, parsley, minced garlic and grated lemon zest before serving and there you have it.

1 hr 25 mins, our amazing seafood starter hits the table
There was more to the meal than the coq of course. Ben amazed us with a seared mixed seafood starter and Tersia prepared some amazing chocolate meringues with Kahlua cream. As always, we had a fabulous time and before long, they'll be coming to us so time to get thinking about what to serve. Fire will be involved. I promise.

All Roads Could Lead to Coq au Vin (by Ben Van Vuuren)

Five lovely ladies (the widows)

3 hrs 30 mins - Totally worth the wait

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