I noticed recently that I’ve been mentioned once or twice in the course of this blog (a most sneaky way to check that your nearest and dearest are reading your writing and not just claiming to, Ms Pinchbeck). Subsequently, I feel that I have been painted in a rather unfair light. A bossy, perfectionistic, overly-critical love-child of Greg Wallace and a disdainful Home Economics teacher kind of light. Every time an unusual combination of ingredients is listed, I am cited as being very likely to disapprove. Now, I am not suggesting for one wee minute that I don’t disapprove, but in the spirit of fairness, I feel it is only right that I should be able to give my (not at all bossy) side of the story…
In the tradition of this most excellent foodie blog (and because I feel Victoria is more likely to publish if I stick to formula) I’m going to start by sharing a recipe with you. I’ve even included photos (admittedly not up to the blog’s usual standard, but hey ho). In line with Ms P’s own creations, it is simple, wholesome and flavourful, and doesn’t require lots of fancy gadgets or difficult to come by ingredients. I think it was originally one of Jamie Oliver’s recipes – credit where credit is due – although it has been so adapted over the years that it probably bears very little resemblance to the original, and it may not even have been his in the first place…
Mixed fish – either 2 packs of (defrosted) frozen fish pie mix and a bag of raw king prawns, or a couple of packs of whatever fish you fancy from the refrigerated section and the aforementioned prawns.
A grated carrot
Half a chilli (a mild one)
A biggish block of cheese, grated
3/4 of a tub of half fat crème fraiche
Zest and juice of a lemon
Some whole cherry tomatoes – half a little tub will suffice
A couple of generous handfuls of fresh spinach
Some fresh parsley (if you have some – it’s not vital)
Enough mashed potato to cover the top of a lasagne dish
Salt and pepper
So basically what you do is bung all the ingredients except the potato into a big bowl and mix it around a bit, making sure you keep a smidgeon of cheese back for sprinkling over the top/snacking on whilst you wait for the pie to cook. You are probably thinking at this point that I am not a weird and perfectionistic chef at all (I clearly never measure stuff) and that Pinchbeck has got it wrong, I encourage you to read on…
I tend to make this as a mid-week staple so like to minimise all possible stress and excessive exertion. For that reason, I always buy packs of fish pie mix which saves me wrestling the skin from fresh fillets, and I often use those big packs of supermarket mash (the fresh stuff, not Smash, I hasten to add!). If you read the ingredients, there’s nothing nasty in there and it saves you a whole lot of work/washing up. Listen to me trying to justify myself and my lazy ways…
One ingredient that was in the original and which I miss out altogether is celery. I don’t have anything against the stringy sticks, but the BF claims to be able to taste it through any dish and I can’t be bothered to chop it up into teeny pieces of an undetectable size. If you’re not a fusspot, are partial to a bit of celery and want to add it, by all means do (see, there I go again being all easy-oasy).
What I love about this recipe is how easy it is – the only rubbish bit is the carrot grating (I tend to just whizz it up in my mini chopper as the rule in my household is that the chef doesn’t wash up so I feel justified in dirtying as many implements as possible…) If you have a kitchen loiterer – you know the type, pretending they want to help but really just trying to determine when dinner’s going to be ready whilst simultaneously attempting to swipe bits of cheese – then grating the carrot is a very good job to delegate to said person. If you buy fish fillets despite my advice to the contrary, skinning the fish is another good job to pass on; better that they have malodorous fingers for the duration of the evening than you do, and it might teach them not to loiter with intent again…
Once it’s all mixed together, slop it into a lasagne dish (or individual dishes if you’re feeling fancy), spread the mash over the top (if you prefer your mash creamier, you can stir in the remainder of the crème fraiche), sprinkle with cheese and black pepper and stick in the oven at about 200 degrees for around 40 minutes – basically until the top is a little browned. Done!
What is great about this recipe is the simplicity of it – the fish doesn’t need a plethora of sauces, emulsions, glazes or rubs, no jus or foam required, just nice basic flavours. I serve it with green things – any combination of peas, samphire, broccoli, asparagus and curly kale. What I don’t do, however, is stir weird things into the peas, Pinchbeck-style… Often when serving peas, I add a generous spoonful of mint sauce. What I don’t add is a dollop of horseradish, a squeeze of sriracha or a squirt of HP sauce. And the reason for this is that some foods are not MEANT to be served together! I now have a little rhyme that my sister and I used to recite as kids stuck in my head…
I eat my peas with honey,
I’ve done it all my life.
It makes the peas tasty funny,
But it keeps them on the knife!
Pairing peas with honey is EXACTLY the kind of thing that I imagine Victoria would enjoy experimenting with (and it is probably me making suggestions like this that encouraged her to mention me in Pinchypops – eats in the first place…). It’s not that I am particularly conservative when it comes to food choices – on the contrary, I’ll try anything once. What I do have a problem with, however, is weird combinations. Now, if Vicky were to make the above fish pie, I know without a shadow of a doubt that she would not be able to resist making additions to that minimalist list of ingredients. I think some chorizo would definitely get thrown in, some paprika and probably a little mustard (grainy AND smooth if she has both handy), maybe a little Worcester sauce and some balsamic…Possibly some curry powder or chilli flakes. I like to think that the line would be drawn at the coconut, chilli and lemongrass glaze, but I can’t be entirely sure…
I’m probably coming across as a weird old fuddy-duddy but surely I can’t be alone in this belief that certain foods simply don’t go together? Some things shouldn’t work but do (bacon and maple syrup, apple and cheddar, or strawberries and black pepper to name three), but unusual combinations are generally unusual for a reason. Obviously, that reason being that they don’t complement each other and taste ODD.
It is an irrefutable fact that certain things are more delicious when they are not combined. In much the manner that I wouldn’t choose to listen to, say, Belle and Sebastian supporting the Foo Fighters, I don’t want to eat coconut, egg and horseradish in the same mouthful. Just as both bands put on amazing shows, each individual flavour I just mentioned is fantastic. I simply don’t think that they belong on the same bill.
Something must have made me this way, and I’ve racked my brain trying to think of an event in my formative years that may have had some influence, but nothing jumps out at me. Maybe it was the time I ate an olive thinking it was a grape, or the time a ‘chef’ (I use the word loosely) at the pub I work in presented me with a chicken, bamboo shoot and bean sprout curry for my dinner (he thought the frozen ‘Chinese veg mix’ would go down a treat, and even went on the serve it to paying customers). Maybe it was the chicken and prune mixture that an old flatmate concocted, or the turkey curry my dad once made using all the Xmas leftovers (gravy, Brussels sprouts and roast parsnips included…) I’m not sure.
Whatever the reasons, it remains the case that I am rather dubious whenever Victoria describes one of her more unusual flavour combinations – call me old-fashioned (because I am), but I find it hard to believe that a brie and chicken pastry is going to taste any better than the tried-and tested brie and cranberry combo (or chicken, tomato, mozzarella and basil, if you want to opt for the chicken). I also don’t think that a sandwich needs a fishcake AND chilli sauce AND a cheese slice (they’ve been getting ‘used up’ for a fair wee while now…) AND Mexican hummus AND chilli flakes AND avocado AND an egg fried in coconut oil AND some squirty cream (ok, I lied about the last one but the rest was a real sandwich!) I was going to state that even McDonald’s don’t put a cheese slice on their Filet-o-Fishes and Googled it just to make sure that was an accurate statement… Well, didn’t that open a whole can of worms? It turns out that they do contain a cheese slice, but only half of one per filet and there is a surprising amount of internet space taken up with folk discussing why it isn’t a whole slice. Anyway, it doesn’t matter that I was wrong, one shouldn’t be taking sandwich inspiration from McD’s in the first place!
I’m probably missing out on all kinds of tasty treats due to my lack of open-mindedness. Only last week, I was invited to casa Pinchbeck to dine upon her own take on kedgeree and I can honestly say that it was the best kedgeree that I have ever tasted in my whole entire life (and I even managed not to screw my face up when she told me that she planned to replace tried-and-tested smoked haddock with the far oilier mackerel).
So, in conclusion, what I think I am trying to say in my characteristically long-winded manner is that Victoria, your food is amazing, but I have a simple palate so go easy on me! I promise to taste whatever you put in front of me and try not to wince when you mention the words egg and horseradish in the same sentence – it’ll be good practice for when the BF and I go to Heston’s pub for his birthday – Mr Blunenthal ain’t got nothing on you when it comes to flavour experimentation! But you in turn have to vow that you will never, ever, for as long as we both do live, serve me a salmon fillet with a side of baked beans (see previous post). I think that’s a fair compromise.
I’m going to finish here with a most excellent photograph, but please don’t be fooled by their apparent chumminess. I am a hundred percent certain that Greg would agree with me that some flavours are simply not meant to be served on the same plate!
If you would like to read my rants on a variety of other topics, you can find me here: https://caththebruce.wordpress.com/author/caththebruce/ The next time VP is a bottle of Prosecco down, I’m going to insist she returns the favour and writes me a post.