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

Food and Family – Part 1

Oh my goodness …. where does the time go? I can’t believe it has been a month since I last posted; I have been so busy I don’t know where the weeks have gone. Last night though I managed some quality me time and reflected on the recent hectic times. (Apologies now for the rambling nature and length of this post!! ;-))

Since having Baby G my focus on food has changed completely. Gone are the days of spending hours in the kitchen preparing feasts for family and friends, or a romantic meal for two. The feeding of Baby G became the main priority.

For the first six months I was the main source of Baby G’s nourishment, I had wanted to breastfeed from the start and initially set myself the goal of her first 3 months. I loved the special bond this gave us but it sure does mean life revolves around feeding, leaving little time for anything else to begin with. The 3 month milestone came and went and we continued on with breastfeeding, though as we approached 5 months I began to try and get Baby G to feed from a bottle, something she had done when she was just a few weeks old when times had required it. Then we struck a problem, it would seem that as she was now “older and wiser” she just flat out refused it – breast was most certainly best in her eyes!

So followed a stressful, tense and emotional few weeks trying all manner of times, cups, bottles and techniques to get Baby G to drink from anything other than me, all resulting in crying fits from my little girl. With a night out looming I got so stressed out at the thought of her going without nourishment when she wasn’t with me to the point where I was in floods of tears ……. in the end I went out and she was fine. It seemed she learned how to do without and just stock up before and after my time away from her. So for a few weeks we muddled through and then it became time to wean onto solid foods.

As a foodie I was so looking forward to introducing food to Baby G. I read up on how best to introduce solids to her diet. The River Cottage Baby & Toddler Cookbook, kindly given to me by Jo of Jo’s Kitchen as a present, gives you the information on all aspects of feeding including breast and bottle feeding, purees and Baby-led Weaning (BLW) in a clear and engaging way.

I was really interested in the Baby-led weaning method, where food is offered at “non-hungry” times and the baby literally feeds themselves. The benefits of this include allowing baby to experience a range of textures from day one, giving them control of how much they eat and aiding their development as they learn how to grip and pick up things. It sounded like the best way to develop Baby G’s relationship with food.

The first solid food Baby G tried was a piece of cucumber ….. mmmmm tasty!  Not so much a planned meal time for her, but she was sat on my knee whilst I was eating a salad and she just leant forward mouth open as I was eating …. a sure sign she was interested in food!

We tried a few other finger foods as per the BLW way, but at just 6 months old picking up food and hand to mouth co-ordination is certainly a challenge. The downside to this method is you never know exactly how much they eat, but because the fruit and veg have not been puréed their nutritional value is far greater. So we tried BLW but with the clock ticking for me to go back to work, it seemed impossible as it relies on milk as a back up and so with our current problem in getting Baby G to take milk from other sources I decided (and was advised by health visitors) to start introducing purées and spoon fed food so that Baby G would become less dependent on me, and dad, the childminder and grandparents could feed her whilst I was away from her.

We began with baby porridge and yoghurts and then introduced a variety of fruit and vegetable purées. The acceptance of these varied on a daily basis, one day pear might be devoured with glee, next time Baby G pulled a face like you were trying to feed her tripe! For a couple of weeks the only way we got her to eat fruit was by hiding it in her yoghurt – something she never refused. First a couple of spoonfuls of yoghurt, then a 70/30 mix with fruit purée, slowly reducing the amount of yoghurt on the spoon until we even sneaked a couple of spoonfuls of 100% fruit. Shhhhh … don’t tell Baby G!!

Spoon Feeding

It took a couple of weeks but soon we were in full flow with a range of fruit and veg purees without the need for a yoghurty disguise. And so began her foodie journey!

How did you find weaning? Any tips or tricks you’d like to pass on?

I’ll be back soon to tell you how we’ve progressed.

Hasta la proxima / until next time

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).

Masterchef

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.


Starters:

Tortillas with Squash and Chorizo – simple but so tasty

Mains:

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.

Sides:

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.
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Mexican Food Made Simple, published by Hodder & Stoughton