Roasted Sea Bass in Hot, Sweet and Sour Sauce

After the excesses of the festive season often we crave something simple, healthy and light. Yet with the cold and blustery weather we yearn for comfort too. In the Comida y Vida household this means we often head east for some asian spice.

The most used and “abused” cookbook from my Bookshelf that features recipes for this region is Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey. This book was published back in 2009 to accompany one of this chef’s many tv series’. I purchased the book some time ago but have never written about it here on CYV, but it’s going to be the first post in my series of posts called My Cookbook Collection where I will share a few recipes and reviews of the cookbooks from my collection.

Rick Stein's Far Eastern OdysseyI love food from the east and where time and access to ingredients permit will happily spend hours toasting and grinding spices, pounding garlic and ginger into a paste and all the other detailed preparation that many asian recipes require. The time invested into making your own curry pastes is something I definitely consider to be worth it when you taste the final dish – such depth of flavour. That’s not to say that ready prepared pastes don’t feature in my store cupboard for when time is limited – we all  need a little convenience in our lives.

That is kind of how this book feels too, if you have time to leisurely prepare the dishes and access to the wealth of ingredients needed you will be rewarded with some fabulous food. For me, whilst it is possible to stock up on the dried spices and condiments from trips into Birmingham to Wing Yip, getting hold of the fresh ingredients like galangal, kaffir lime leaves and pea aubergines in local supermarkets is nigh on impossible, so creating dishes from this book takes a bit more planning.

The recipes give you the ability to reproduce the true taste of dishes from this region and travel through SE Asia from the comfort of your kitchen. There are 7 chapters, each one devoted to a different country: Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Bali, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Every dish cooked so far has not disappointed, the Beef Kofta Curry is simply delicious and very moreish, the Babi Kecap is devine to name a couple of my favourites. Now I share with you the latest recipe I’ve tried.

Roasted Seabass with Hot, Sweet Sour Sauce

Roasted Sea Bass with Hot, Sour and Sweet Sauce

2 seabass – gutted, scaled and trimmed
37ml of fish sauce
25g shallots, finely sliced
15g garlic, thinly sliced
1 bird’s eye chilli, thinly sliced
25g palm sugar
15g tamarind pulp

Preheat the oven to 220C. Make 3 slashes on each side of the fish and place in a shallow dish. Pour over the fish sauce and rub into the slashes.. Pour the excess into a small pan – should be about 25ml. 

Heat 1cm oil in a frying pan and once hot, fry the sliced onions/shallots until crisp and golden. Lift out with slotted spoon and leave to drain. Add the garlic to the oil and repeat the same process. Finely do the same with the chilli. 

Add the sugar, tamarind and 2 tablespoons of water to the pan of fish sauce. Bring to the boil and simmer for 1 minute till thickened. 

Place the fish in a roasting dish and cook in the oven for 12 minutes until it is done – when the flesh flakes away. Reheat the sauce and stir in the fried shallots, garlic and chilli. Place the fish onto the plate, spoon over the sauce and scatter over the fried elements. Serve with rice and bok choi. 


I used onions due to not having shallots, only 30ml of fish sauce and tamarind paste which I find a useful time-saver ingredient. If using tamarind pulp you will need to sieve the sauce before serving.

The delicate fish against the flavoursome sauce is just sublime. The sauce delivers all the usual hits to the tastebuds from this corner of the world – sweet, salty, sour and hot. It was the perfect dish to feel healthy and yet comforting too.

If you want a cookbook to give you a a true taste of SE Asia then I think this is the one. I’d advise it is not for a novice though and you would definitely need to invest into a few key store cupboard ingredients.

Hasta la proxima / until next time

Jamie’s America– Jambalaya

The need for yummy one pot dishes goes quite high with an eight week old baby in the household. One pot cooking offers the ability to delay serving time should your little one suddenly demand some attention (Grace seems to have an aptitude for getting hungry just as our dinner is ready!!!). It allows ease of serving when you’re tired and worn out from sleepless nights. It generates hearty portions so there’s always some for leftovers the next day – a welcome benefit when you’re home alone with the baby. Last but not least one pot cooking leads to minimal washing up duties – which can never be a bad thing!

My repertoire of recipes includes a few good one pot dishes but eager to expand the collection I scoured my recipe book collection for something new. I happened across Jamie’s America, a book that was purchased as a bargain addition from an order with The Book People, but not one I was desperate to own.

I have to admit I didn’t watch the TV series (an unusual occurrence in itself) and wasn’t sure how much I would actually like the recipes, but will gladly admit I was pleasantly surprised.

The book is laid out like a scrapbook of his travels, filled with stories and photos of the people he met and how he came across the recipes. This has it’s benefits in that you get a true taste of America and the food that real American’s eat/ The downside to this is that not all ingredients are readily available as I don’t think Tesco’s has started stocking alligator yet?! Therefore it’s not the most practical of cookbooks, but it does give you a good understanding of the culture and food of various areas of America. It’s recipe collection is very meat orientated so I wouldn’t recommend it to any vegetarians.

One of the recipes I highlighted in my first flick through the book was the Chicken, Sausage and Prawn Jambalaya. I think this appealed due to the similar ingredients it has to my Spanish paella and what’s more it’s all prepared in one pot.

Chicken, Sausage & Prawn Jambalaya 

8 Chicken Thighs and Drumsticks
Sea Salt and Black Pepper
Cayenne Pepper
Olive Oil
300g Chorizo, skin removed, cut in 1cm slices
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 green & 1 red pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped
4 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
4 bay leaves
2 red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1.5 ltrs of chicken stock
700g long grain rice
16-20 raw king prawns, peeled and deveined

Season the chicken with salt, pepper and cayenne. Brown the chicken in a large casserole pan with a couple of glugs of olive oil and the sliced sausage over a medium hear. Add your onion, peppers and celery, bay and thyme as well as some more seasoning. Stir, then fry on medium hear for 10-12 minutes stirring occasionally.

Once the vegetables have softened, add your garlic and chillies, stir for a minute, then add stock and tinned tomatoes. Bring to the boil and then turn the heat down, pop on a lid and leave to simmer for half an hour. When the meat is can be pulled off the bone, it is ready. You can remove the bones at this point if you so like – we kept our meat on the bone. Now add the rice, stir and replace the lid. Stir every few minutes, scraping the goodness of the bottom of the pan. Cook for about 15-20 minutes until the rice is done. Stir in the prawns and water if it needs it, the consistency should be porridge like. Pop back on for 4-5 minutes then stir through some chopped parsley and serve.

As this dish resembles a paella, I couldn’t help but enjoy it. Full of flavour and with a chilli kick you don’t get from it’s Spanish cousin, I thought it was perfect for either a mid week dinner or a leisurely evening in with friends. It’s definitely a dish that will be a firm favourite in this household.

Enjoy / Disfrutas!

Mexican Made Simple

I am an avid watcher of Masterchef and can’t wait for it to return to our screens next week (BBC 1, Wednesday 16th February, 9.00pm).


The first series in the current format, aired in 2005, was won by Thomasina Miers, who has since gone on to write cook books, open restaurants and film a few cooking tv programmes.  I have followed her career with interest since Masterchef as a fellow “spanglofile” and absolutely loved her “Cook’s Tour of Spain”, as predictable as that was!

In December 2009, on my first trip to London in many years I had Wahaca, the chain of Mexican cantina restaurants opened by Thomasina, top of the list to visit, and enjoyed a fabulous lunch at the Covent Garden establishment.

When I heard that there was a book to be published “Mexican Food Made Simple” it was ordered immediately. Released last year and with a tv show to follow this May on Channel 5, it has been a firm favourite in this household during the past few months.

The book has a good introduction to give you some insight into Thomasina’s love of the country and it’s food, followed by an overview of the key ingredients to make authentic Mexican cuisine accessible to everyone. There is a wide range of recipes included in the book with 11 chapters covering everything from sauces and salsas and nibbles to soups and salads. Main’s are categorised between street food, cheesy things, slow cooked mains, from the grill, or soul food, and there is a selection of puddings and drinks.

The first recipe I cooked first from this book has become a firm favourite in our household. The strange thing is that it’s not a Mexican dish but one that is frequently associated with the cuisine – Chile Con Carne.

Easy, Speedy Chile Con Carne

1kg stewing steak cut into large pieces (4-5)
3 onions
4 cloves of garlic
olive oil
300g spicy cooking chorizo
2 tsp ground cumin
2tsp ground allspice
1 tsp cloves
1 large cinammon stick
3 bay leaves
2 tsp dried oregano (3 tbsp fresh)
2 ancho chillies – or I have used 1 large one
2 chiles de arbol
2 tsp sea salt
black pepper
3 tbsp cider or balsamic vinegar
2 x 400g tins plum tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 tbsp muscovado sugar
2 x 400g tins borlotti beans

Pulse in a food processor or chop very finely the onions and garlic. Heat 2tbsp of olive oil in a pan and sear the meat on all sides. Set to one side and another glug of oil to brown the chorizo. Remove and add the onion and garlic, spices, herbs and chillies and cook until soft. Season with salt and pepper and add vinegar tomatoes, ketchup and sugar.

Put all the meat back in and add 400ml of water (or red wine if you prefer) bring to a simmer and cook in a low oven for 2 hours. Add the beans and cook for a further hour. Alternatively as I did, put the mix into the slow cooker on a medium heat for 5 hours, and added the beans for a further hour. It’s ready when the meat falls apart when pulled with a pair of forks.

Depending on the acidity of the tinned tomatoes you made need to add a little extra sugar as I did.

Now I always thought I made a mean Chile Con Carne, and had happily fed friends and family my faithful recipe until I tasted this one. The addition of the range of other spices and the vinegar and sugar creates a taste-bud exploding experience that no chilli I’ve ever had before delivers.

I’ve made it without the chorizo and it’s still good. I’ve made it with minced beef and it’s still good.  In this one I added one tin of borlotti beans and one tin of kidney beans. We had it served with simple boiled rice (eaten and devoured before a picture was taken, oops!) and it tasted even better the next day with a jacket potato.

So thanks to Thomasina for revamping a family favourite of ours, I will never go back to my original recipe now. This is so easy to do and hits all the right spots.

I’ve also tried a few other recipes from the book, and even did a Mexican Dinner Party for 8 with a selection of dishes which went down a storm.


Tortillas with Squash and Chorizo – simple but so tasty


Tamarind and Chilli Infused Belly of Pork – a melt in the mouth roast pork with a rich tangy gravy.

Chicken Adobado – chicken pieces marinated in a smoky and sweet sauce.


Fresh Tomato Salsa – fresh and fiery, perfect with some tortillas.

Guacamole – with and without coriander as hubby doesn’t do coriander

Frijoles refritos – refried beans, made at home these taste so much better than any shop bought equivalent. Definitely worth the effort.

With 7 other hungry mouths to feed there was no opportunity to take photo’s of the finished dishes but here’s the pork before it’s marinated and after. That colour change signifies a lot of flavour.

Pork Belly Pork Belly

There are lots of other recipes that I have earmarked and from those I’ve tried and tasted so far I’m sure this will continue to be a well used book from my cookbook collection.

The recipes do include a few Mexican ingredients which may not be readily available from your local supermarket but there is a handy suppliers page at the back of the book which gives you a large selection of shops and online stores to buy from. My chillies were sourced from Mexgrocer who I can’t fault for service or quality of product. The main effort before trying some of the recipes is to make the Chipotles en Adobo, a chilli puree that is added to some of the dishes, but once made it keeps for months.

If you want to get a taste of authentic Mexican cuisine, and aren’t able to pop into Wahaca for a meal, then this is most definitely the way to do it. A practical, well written and inspiring book.
Mexican Food Made Simple, published by Hodder & Stoughton