Smoked Haddock Fishcakes with Tartare Sauce

Tintin may still make the odd appearance in French shop windows following Spielberg’s film, but I’m frankly fascinated by Captain Haddock’s nose. It reminds me of a one-liner by Steve Martin in the film, Roxanne (based on the French story of Cyrano de Bergérac by Rostand) referring to ze nose:
“Do you have a license for that?”

Photos are all over the supermarkets to promote the film!

My handsome French teacher at school back in the 80s was also embellished with a nose – or nez, or even pif to be familiar – that was so spectacular that a group of us in class wrote a piece entitled, “Why do Frenchmen have big noses?” We could not have been serious. I was eventually punished for that one when I broke my nose 4 years ago, falling with my complete weight on the hooter. Now I’m constantly reminded of my lesson in this freezing weather when my nose lights up à la Rudolf with its license to glow in the cold.

Do you remember Gérard Depardieu’s legendary nose in Cyrano de Bergerac? As Depardieu’s name suggests, he is a dieu on stage. I saw him larger than life in person recently at the première in Paris of his new Telefilm, Rasputin (in French and Russian). Hang on to your seats, folks. This film is spine-tingling. I can’t think of anyone who could play the part of Rasputin as well as Gérard. You can smell it will be a hit.

I wonder if Captain Archibald Haddock could sniff out these Scottish fishcakes from The Black Island? Although it’s more of a weekday family supper, serving mini portions as a Scottish starter has been a surprising hit with French friends at weekends. I love the smokiness of the fish but what really makes it? The simple, homemade tartare sauce. You know what’s coming, don’t you? It’s another handy recipe to use up your egg yolks for making macarons!

églefin fumé or haddock, please?

You can use any smoked fish or a combination of smoked and plain fish but I personally love making it all with smoked haddock. It took me a while to get the tongue around the French word for haddock: églefin; but did you know that églefin fumé can result in funny looks at the poissonerie? I stand corrected as they say that smoked haddock is just known as…

‘Haddock’ (with a French accent, please.)

 

Recipe: Smoked Haddock Fishcakes and Tartare Sauce

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Chilling Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Fishcakes

300g smoked haddock
2 bay leaves
milk
500g potatoes, cooked
zest of an untreated lemon
1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp chopped chives
2 tsp horseradish sauce
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp capers, chopped
1 egg
oat flour (to shape) or plain flour
100g breadcrumbs or panko

Tartare Sauce

2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
200ml olive oil
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp gherkins, finely chopped
1 tbsp capers, chopped
1 tbsp dill, chopped
1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon

Poach the smoked haddock

1. Poach the fish in milk (just enough to cover up to 1/3 of the fish) with the bay leaves for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool, then strain, skin and flake the fish to ensure there are no bones.

2. Mash the potatoes, mixing in the mustard, horseradish, lemon zest, capers and herbs. Season well then add the flaked fish.

3. Divide the fish mixture into small patty cakes (about 2.5 cm thick for starter/hors d’oeuvres size). Form into a shape then roll into the flour. Beat the egg in a separate bowl, dip the patties into it, then cover in the breadcrumbs or panko.

4. Chill for at least 30 minutes in the fridge until needed – this is when I make the tartare sauce. You could freeze the fishcakes at this point, placing them openly on a baking sheet. When frozen, transfer to containers and freeze for up to 3 months.

5. Fry in batches in hot olive oil for 5 minutes on each side until golden and crispy. Keep them warm until serving with the tartare sauce.

Make the tartare sauce. Ensure your ingredients are at room temperature to make the perfect sauce. This sauce can keep for 3 days in an airtight jar in the fridge, so it’s handy to make this in advance.

  1. Whisk the egg yolks, salt and mustard with a metallic whisk in a glass bowl. Gradually add the olive oil, dribbling it finely and regularly, whisking all the time. Once the mixture starts to thicken, add the white wine vinegar (use a good quality one.)
  2. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well.

I wonder how on earth the Tartare sauce formed the map of Corsica? It wasn’t the Black Island but the ‘Island of Beauty’, as my Corsican husband calls it.

Who nose?

Corsican Stuffed Courgettes-Zucchini with Mint

Mamma Mia! It’s Coriscan Stuffed Courgettes (Zucchini) on the menu here. When Manu asked me to guest post, my adoration for Italy kicked in again.  I adore all the tempting treats that Manu serves us on her Menu and especially all of the beautifully authentic Italian delicacies, complete with her famous step-by-step immaculate instructions and gorgeous photos. For those that follow le blog here, you’ll remember that Manu shared her Genovese Ericine Sicilian speciality for the egg yolk recipe series.

What could I serve on her guest menu that would be authentic from France? To help me pick something, Manu and I have a number of things in common: we both followed our hearts to another land with another language and settled into another culture.  I came to France from Scotland and although it’s not far compared with Manu, the culture difference was pretty mind-boggling.  I didn’t just marry a Frenchman; I married a Corsican.

The island of Corsica has been in and out of so many hands in history but although it’s closer to Italy than France, geographically – it is politically part of France. Their culture is a real mix of Italian and French.  I could go on but basically the Corsicans and the Scots have plenty in common when it comes to their feelings of independence!

One of Corsica’s popular dishes is stuffed courgettes. They come alive with the taste of the Corsican speciality cheese, Brocciu, which is made from unpasturised goat’s or ewe’s milk. Either way, it’s fresh and fabulously creamy – a bit like Italian ricotta but it’s not. It’s just brocciu (pronounced ‘broach‘.)

 This is so simple and a favourite when we visit my husband’s family in their remote mountain village.  I have a few family recipes for this classic but each one is different: this one is my own adaptation since the best ones I have tasted on the island use mint rather than parsley or basil.

Corsican Stuffed Courgettes

Corsican Stuffed Courgettes

Corsican Stuffed Courgettes (Zucchini) with Mint & Ricotta

Serves 4

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes

8 glossy courgettes (zucchini)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
2 slices mixed grain bread (or plain if you prefer), mixed to breadcrumbs
250g fresh Corsican Brocciu cheese or tub of ricotta
20g parmesan, finely grated
1 egg yolk
 2 tbsps pine nuts

1.  Drop the courgettes into a large pot of salted boiling water and leave them to soften for 5 minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool while preparing the other ingredients. Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Have you heard the latest Corsican scoop?

2. Trim off the ends then halve each of them lengthwise.  Using a small spoon (I love to use a grapefruit spoon as it has more control), hollow out the flesh leaving a shell about 1cm thick.  Chop up the removed courgette pulp.

3.  Fry the chopped courgette pulp in some olive oil over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly or until the courgettes are no longer giving off any more liquid.  Add the garlic and mint and continue to stir over the heat for another couple of minutes.  Set aside to cool and season with salt and pepper.

4. Using a blender, blitz the bread into crumbs.  In a bowl, mix the cheeses, egg yolk, pine nuts, breadcrumbs and add the cooked courgette mixture.

5.  Dry the courgette shells with kitchen paper then stuff each one generously.  Place them in a single layer on an oiled baking dish.

6. Bake for about 40 minutes, until browned.

Serve hot on their own and a chilled glass of white Patrimonio Corsican wine just sets the mood. I love Vermentino – do you?

Corsican Stuffed Courgettes

Corsican Stuffed Courgettes

This post was published as part of my guest post over at Manu’s Menu and so comments were closed in favour of posting on Manu’s site. I’ve opened this up for comments now so please don’t be shy – try out the recipe!

Crispy Papaya Nests, Prawns, and Skinny Sweet Potato Fries

I’m not into fried foods. It’s like an unspoken rule to avoid them at home since we try to eat healthily, s’il vous plaît. But who needs rules when you have a dish presented before you like this one?  When it came to Chef Ton’s Crispy Papaya Salad on holiday in Thailand, we took a different view on fried foods.  Things changed back home in our kitchen and the deep frier was no longer a hidden appliance in the corner.

thai fried prawns

Staying at Bain Sairee on Koh Samui island, we were surrounded by such lush vegetation. These papayas were picked when still green – not left to ripen into the sweet, orangey flesh as we know it.

papaya trees

As you can see, the papaya’s flesh was still white.  The other ingredients Ton used were so simple: a couple of tomatoes, limes, some unsalted cashew nuts, giant prawns, tamarind sauce and some tempura flour.

The papaya was shredded finely and tossed lightly in the tempura flour.  At the local Tesco Lotus supermarket up the road, tempura flour was so easy to find – ready prepared. No water was added, just a light dusting was all it took.

Then the papaya strands were deep fried for just a few minutes – keeping a eye on them until they reached a beautiful golden colour – then drained on kitchen paper.

The prawns were then given exactly the same treatment.

prawns in tempura batter

Chef Ton’s smile, as you can see, was contagious.

Thailand chefs

Then to finish up while the prawns were draining, Ton prepared the quickest, tangy sauce to serve alongside it.  Pounding the tomato in a mortar, he squeezed in the juice of the limes and added the tamarind sauce.

thai tomato sauce

This was so quick to prepare and definitely something I wanted to try as soon as we returned home – so here I got to it!

Papaya, however, was the problem to find here.  Instead, I substituted it with sweet potato.  I tried them Ton’s way, coating in the tempura flour – then another time without it.  They worked out great even on their own, as the sweet potato was drier.

My prawns were nothing like the same size as Ton’s Thai versions.  Mine were so small that to compensate, I threw in some onion rings and coated them in the tempura flour to add that extra taste..

And for the sauce, mortar-fied I couldn’t find the right tamarind sauce in a hurry, I added some fresh coriander (cilantro), some fish sauce, a good pinch of sugar, and some finely chopped spring onions.

Makes a change from French fries

Delicious! Now we’re hooked on these sweet potato ‘skinny fries’. They form a nest with marinaded curried chicken served with a cucumber salsa.  There’s only one thing missing….

thai red curry mad macarons

Thai red curry macarons. Fab with a G&T

A curry macaron would have gone perfectly with this, Thai green or red?  The recipe is in the Mad Macs savoury chapter in Mad About Macarons …

Herb-Hugging John Dory with Smoked Tea Beurre Blanc

The signs were all there.  First this one, rue St Pierre – or St Peter’s Street- looked down on me as my keys dropped to the ground.

Was I heading for the Pearly Gates to say b-b-b-onjour?

Thankfully to my relief, the sign appeared again a few minutes’ later at the local market in St Germain-en-Laye. Saint Pierre – or John Dory – was laid out beautifully chez le poissonier. Taking it as the real sign, it was high time to do something with this gorgeously thick fish fillet.

I couldn’t just fry it and shove it on a plate with lemon and parsley.  No. This was for Alchemy in the Kitchen, so it needed some transformation with some simple ingredients, as Hester puts it so well.

I found a French recipe by chef Vincent David but adapted it.  The result?  I’m making it again and again for my French guests. Sounds très posh? It’s so simple yet sophisticated and delicious. The topping is referred to as à la viennoise. It’s when you coat it with breadcrumbs and fry it.  Here, the topping is added at the last minute and quickly finished off under the grill.

Update: I’ve discovered the topping freezes well, especially as you’ll have some left over.  Cut the topping into fillet portions and stack each slice between baking parchment and seal in a container in the freezer.  Use just at the last minute when needed, grilling just a minute longer.  It’s one less thing to worry about if you’re entertaining guests!

Herb-hugging John Dory with Smoked Beurre Blanc Recipe

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time:
40 minutes

Serves 4

4 John Dory fillets

Viennoise Topping

100g butter
100g breadcrumbs
100g block of parmesan,
freshly grated
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh lemon thyme

1.  Melt the butter in a saucepan and mix in the breadcrumbs, parmesan and garlic.   Here I added  a tablespoon of dried seaweed (found in Asian supermarkets) but you can add freshly chopped herbs if you prefer.

2.  Spread the mixture out on to a baking sheet lined with baking parchment.

3.  Top with another baking parchment sheet and roll it out until it’s flat and even (about 3mm thickness).  Place in the fridge to set.

Smoked Tea Beurre Blanc Sauce

50g shallots
40cl dry white wine
25cl single cream
90g butter
1 Lapsang Souchong teabag

4. Using some of the butter, sweat the shallots for about 5 minutes until translucent (don’t brown).  Add the wine and leave on a medium heat for about 10 minutes, until reduced by half.

5.  Add the cream and stir until boiling.  Take off the heat, whisk in the rest of the butter until it melts then add the teabag and leave the tea to infuse for about 10 minutes.

6.  Meanwhile, prepare some vegetables of your choice.  Here I cooked some green beans, added some fried mushrooms and sautéed them together with a touch of lemon juice.

7.  Filter the sauce into another saucepan and keep on a low heat.

8. Season the fish fillets and fry in some olive oil and butter gently until just cooked; no more than 5 minutes, depending on thickness.

Keep bathing the fish in the butter

9. The viennoise topping is now ready to cut. If you have any extra, cut them into portions, place each between the paper and freeze until needed.

Place the fish in a roasting tin, layer the topping on top of it and melt it under the grill for a couple of minutes.

Just placing it under the grill gives a magical effect: the topping just hugs the fish like they were meant to be together.

Viennoise topping hugging the fish

Serve on a bed of vegetables and surround with the sauce and enjoy with a chilled glass of white Burgundy.

Santé! Slàinte!

This recipe was published as a guest post over at Alchemy in the Kitchen.
Hop on over to Hester’s blog if you would like to leave a comment.

Cherry Tomato, Wild Strawberry & Rocket Salad

When Mum came to visit recently, she left an enticing pile of magazines from the UK.  It’s a real treat to read magazines in English every so often – even if I no longer recognise some faces that go with the gossip – is that what happens after being in France for so long? Flicking through the YOU Magazine, this inspiring salad of tomatoes with strawberries by Lucas Hollweg had been earmarked by Mum – I think it was something I was supposed to make when she was over. Sorry, Mum.  I’m a bit late but voilà, here it is for you to make it!

cherry tomato strawberry rocket salad

cherry tomato strawberry rocket salad

I discovered this “Spicy Globe” basil plant a few years’ ago.  The leaves are so small that there’s no need to chop them up for cooking.  They are also particularly powerful and, when added to a salad like this one, it adds a touch of peppery spice to it. Speaking of peppery spice, the rocket leaves (or arugula for my American friends) balance out the sweetness of the strawberries.

spicy globe basil

Spicy Globe Basil

Perfect on a sizzling summer day, this is sheer bliss with a glass of chilled rosé, a soft-on-the-inside and freckled, crusty-on-the-outside French baguette, listening to Strawberry Fields forever. I could eat this forever with its fresh, fruity and savoury flavours. Here, I also tossed in a few pre-cooked asparagus spears (7 mins in boiling water) since I was surprised to find them still at this late stage at the market.

cherry tomato strawberry rocket salad

cherry tomato strawberry rocket salad

Cherry Tomato Strawberry & Rocket Salad

Adapted from Lucas Hollweg’s recipe for Tomato and Strawberry Salad
(YOU Magazine from the Sunday Times
.)

Serves 4

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

300g / 11oz cherry tomatoes, halved
200g / 7oz rocket salad 100g strawberries, hulled & quartered
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 tsp balsamic vinegar
100g / 3.5oz parmesan reggiano (ensure it’s shaved, especially for good company)
a few asparagus spears, cooked (optional)
a handful of small basil leaves sea salt & ground peppercorns, to taste
a handful of wild strawberries

Mix together the olive oil with balsamic, season and toss all the ingredients together gently.

Serve immediately, adding the wild strawberries as a decoration.

Sweet Garden Herb Macarons

Why not accompany it with a garden herb macaron from my first book, Mad About Macarons?

Bon appétit!

Warm Goat Cheese Salad (salade de chèvre chaud)

My husband refuses to eat salad as a main dish.  C’est comme ça. In Antoine’s book, if a main meal is served cold, it’s not dinner – even when the temperatures soar to a sweltering 37°C like it did this week in Paris.

The Corsicans have a reputation of being stubborn and as just-as-stubborn a Scot, in our 20 years together, we always reach some kind of a compromise. For a salad, this delicious exception to his cold salad rule is a salade de chèvre chaud, since the goat’s cheese is melted under the grill.

French goats cheese salad

 

When I first tasted this salad as a student in a Parisian brasserie, it was a far cry from the one I later learned to make in Provence.  Alas, many brasseries use the horrid plastic-tasting, pasturised goat cheese which can be pretty nasty.

The best goat cheese to use is Crottin de Chavignol. The French are normally so poetic but when it came to officially naming this cheese, they somehow lost their romantic charm: it literally means goat’s droppings. I’m swiftly passing this part by, as it couldn’t be further from the amazing flavour of this lait cru (raw milk) cheese.

crottin de chavignol French goats cheese

As a student, Antoine introduced me to some of his friends in Provence.  I hardly spoke a word, apart from Je m’appelle Jill with the most attrocious Scottish accent. On top of that, their typical twangy southern accents had me even more bewildered: ‘du pain’ is pronounced ‘du paing’, ‘du vin’ is ‘du vaing’, and so on.  Even when they swear it has a song to it.

As the men sat around – catching up on gossip on the terrasse – the girls took me under their wings in the kitchen.  We didn’t need much conversation: everything was self-explanatory as the most fresh and flavoursome produce lay in front of us on an ancient oak table.

goat-cheese-salad

There’s nothing to this salad and it’s not even a recipe, really.  (If you would prefer me to write it out, please say, otherwise I’m just leaving it like this.)

The most important lesson I learned from them was to put a simple bay leaf on top of each slice of crusty baguette which had been dribbled with olive oil before laying the slice of chèvre, walnuts, rosemary (or herbes de provence) on top and dribbled with more olive oil before toasting in the oven.  What’s the big deal with the bay leaf?  Well, when you taste it this way you don’t want your salad any other way again.

warm goats cheese French salad

Serve on top of a mesclun salad, topped with a good dose of  lardons (bacon bits), a dash of fresh thyme and plenty of chopped garlic (don’t forget to remove the core first, as it’s easier to digest) that have been pre-fried together.  Toss the salad in some vinaigrette dressing.

Just remember to take out the bay leaf before eating: you’ll see just how it’s all beautifully fragranced;  oh-là-là, summer, Provence, and with a glass of chilled rosé amongst friends; and time for the girls to join in the gossip.

Warm goat cheese salad chèvre chaud recipe

This week’s soaring temperatures reminded me of when we lived in Paris, just 5 minutes’ walk from the Eiffel Tower.  Being in an apartment that was south facing with no air conditioning was a challenge at times in summer: it’s no wonder we used to just stoodge about in our swimming gear.

laurier bay leaf tree

Now that we’re out in the suburbs with a house, kids and garden, we can sit out and enjoy the shade of the laurel bay tree – thinking of our next salade de chèvre chaud.  But there are still the heat challenges: the metal on our front gate had expanded so much, that we couldn’t get out. Now, that’s certainly a new excuse for being late for school!

goat cheese melon watermelon salad

After our recent trip to the Loire, I’m craving more goat cheese.  This is what I had this week for lunch while it was 37°C  – and no, Antoine didn’t have this cold stuff. Roughly chopped cucumber, watermelon, melon de Cavaillon, goat cheese, chives – all tossed in olive oil and lemon juice (or mix olive oil and limoncello for something more adult) and served with a crusty baguette.