Hake with pimentón

Hake is a fish that is not often found on menus, or in shops in Britain, but in Spain it is both everyday and special. In the fish markets in Andalucia, it is possibly one of the most common species you will see displayed, and everyone seems to be buying it in great quantities, but it is also one of the few that is sold as a speciality: some stalls sell only hake (merluza) and make a virtue of putting just one or two gorgeous specimens out at a time, their red gills displayed to show off their freshness. Continue reading

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How Europe educated my palate and why it matters

I had a post all ready for this weekend, I was planning to upload it on Friday and then, well, then we know what happened. I don’t think I have ever been more shocked by a piece of news since my dad died. That may sound melodramatic, and maybe it is, but, then, as now, it feels as if I have walked through a door from one world into the next and there is no going back.

Like most people of my generation, I have gained an awful lot from being part of Europe, more perhaps than I can describe. When I started learning French aged 11, I had no sense that this would enable me to live in France for 2½ years, or that it would give me lifelong friends in another country. It was just another subject. I learnt German for the same reason, then Italian, neither of which I managed to keep up. Then, as an adult, long past exams, I lived in North America and, via friends I made there, who inspired me to go and visit, I discovered Spain and Spanish, both of which I’ve flirted with for years. Continue reading

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Diana Henry’s chicken with morcilla

After our choir trip to Sevilla and Córdoba a month ago, with a side trip to Jerez, I have been somewhat obsessed with all things Spanish: sherry, coffee in glasses, pan con tomate. It’s not helped by the fact that I have been working very closely on the Brindisa cookbook, due out in the autumn, which is adding delicious fuel to my already rather greedy fire.

So it’s not surprising that the first dish that I cooked from Diana Henry’s wonderfully comprehensive A Bird in the Hand, a book all about chicken, was chicken with sherry and morcilla (Spanish black pudding), a fine example of shove-it-in-one-pan cooking that gives much more than it asks of you. Continue reading

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Tortillitas de camarones

There are some foods that are unforgettable and legendary, ones that are marked by time and place in such a way that they stay with you forever. These little fritters are one such legend. I first encountered them on a meandering trip through Spain fifteen years ago in a small town called Sanlúcar de Barrameda, on the Guadalquivir estuary. Most famous for being the only place in the world that makes manzanilla, easily my favourite drink on a summer’s evening, I caught a bus there to try it in situ and, by chance, discovered these at the same time. Great lacy discs of prawns and chickpea flour arrived in a towering pile and I ate as many as I could before I had to catch the last bus back to Jerez.

It took me another fifteen years to find the recipe, in the Morito cookbook and, though the results aren’t quite as perfect as the ones you might find in a rammed bar in a Spanish square, they are really worth your time. Fast, simple, gluten-free (oh yes), they take minutes to make and give, it seems, years of pleasure. Continue reading

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Bavette: not just for the French

A menu fixe steak-frites, usually preceded by salade de chèvre chaud and followed by mousse au chocolat, is probably one of many people’s first experiences of eating out in France. The steak, in most instances, is often bavette, or onglet (more of that another day), a cut which until quite recently was not widely available in the UK, certainly not in supermarkets. But, ah, that is changing; I recently found it on sale in Waitrose and I now know why it is always on those lunchtime menus: it’s so cheap! Continue reading

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Morito mackerel kebabs

The word kebab is often a little tarnished. But, since the Friday-night kebabs of my youth, the reality of what a kebab is, or what is on sale has changed somewhat. Anyone who has tried Greek souvlaki or a Lebanese chicken shawarma will know that a combination of roasted or grilled meat, with a sharp, spicy dressing and a crunchy salad, wrapped in pitta, tortilla or lavash is a great pleasure. And one that is extremely easy to replicate at home. Continue reading

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How to feel rich for a quid: peanut-sesame noodles

There aren’t many foods I miss from childhood, nothing remarkable or special to my family anyway. My grandma’s apple pie, perhaps, because we had it, without fail, every time we went to visit. Tuppence-worth of hot chips on a cold night on the way home from Brownies, because the contrast of temperatures, and the vinegary-saltiness, was so delicious. Lemon and sugar pancakes, on Shrove Tuesday, because we never had pancakes any other day. Not much, then. And it’s rare that I have a Proustian, food-related moment, because none of the food I ate was memorable. Continue reading

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