Smoked haddock, chilli, coriander and ginger pilaf

There are three things that make cooking go well in my opinion: a complete immersion in, and love for the process, the best ingredients and the sort of hunger that allows you to appreciate and wait for the results, rather than eat whatever you can shove into your mouth. On that basis last night’s showing should have been a disaster: I’d been cooking all week for friends so was a bit half-hearted about making something just for me; I was using up stuff from my fridge defrost and leftovers which are never particularly inspiring; and, whilst trying to think of what to cook, I’d consumed half a bag of salted pretzels. The fact that this dish wasn’t, then, the aforementioned disaster, and that it actually taught me something (how to put together flavours that I would never have thought of combining), suggest that this is definitely one for the family album.

Smoked haddock is, in my kitchen, a central component of wintry soups and fish pies, lovely poached in milk and mashed for fishcakes and an ideal companion for potatoes, eggs and bacon. Until now I would not have imagined that it had any kind of affinity with fresh green spices and chilli. How wrong I was. You could say that this is a kedgeree for Thai food lovers but that makes it sound too much of a mishmash. This is no mishmash. The smoked fish, rice, ginger and coriander, with that bite of chilli, belong together like old friends. Even with my ‘can’t-be-bothered-but-need-to-use-stuff-up-before-it-goes-off’ head on, even quartering the ingredients rather haphazardly, even after all those pretzels, I still devoured it. Highly recommended and dead easy.

Smoked haddock pilaf (adapted from Simon Hopkinson’s The Good Cook)
(Please note: in the book he says this recipe makes enough for two whereas on the BBC site he says the same amount is for four. Having made it I’d say the BBC is right so my measurements, below, are the book’s divided by two. I therefore cooked my one-portion version in the oven for about 12 minutes, not his 20; with double the ingredients, but not quadruple, I’d say 15 minutes is about right.)

For two good-sized portions you will need:

Cupboard (or things you may already have)
butter, 20g
garam masala, 1 tsp (I made my own, again rather haphazardly; see below)
chicken stock, 190ml (in the spirit of using up leftovers I used duck stock)
egg
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Shopping list
basmati rice, 125g
lemon, ½, zest and juice
small Thai green chilli
fresh ginger, a piece about a couple of centimetres long
undyed smoked haddock, 200g
spring onion
fresh coriander, a small handful

How to
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan-assisted/gas 4.
2. Zest the ½ lemon (probably easiest to do this when it’s still whole…), trim the stalk off the chilli and chop it (or snip it with scissors) and peel and finely chop the ginger. Make up the stock if need be, cut the fish into two pieces and, again if need be, skin it too.
3. In an ovenproof, lidded casserole dish/large saucepan melt the butter then add the garam masala.
4. Add the rice to the casserole, stir around (risotto-style) to make sure all the grains are coated in butter then add the stock, lemon zest, green chilli, ginger and a little salt and pepper.
5. Put the fish into the casserole, make sure that it is covered in liquid (I added a spoonful more stock at this point), then put on the lid and put it in the oven for 15 minutes.
6. Whilst the fish is cooking, hard-boil the egg, trim and finely slice the spring onion and, if necessary, rinse the coriander before roughly chopping it. Once the egg is cooked, rinse it under cold water to cool then peel and chop into small pieces.
7. When the 15 minutes’ cooking time is up, remove the pan from the oven without lifting the lid and leave the pilaf to stand for another 5-7 minutes without disturbing it.
8. Remove the lid, stir in the chopped egg, spring onion and coriander then mix everything together, taking care to break the fish into flakes at the same time.
9. Cover the pan with a clean tea-towel, then replace the lid again and leave for another 5 minutes to allow any remaining steam to evaporate.
10. Serve immediately with, if you want an extra bit of tang, a squeeze of lemon juice.

Fast homemade garam masala
I looked this up on the ‘net and the recipe made a small mountain of the stuff. This is a very approximate attempt at a much more manageable amount and it tasted just right.

You will need:
whole coriander seeds, 1 tsp
whole cumin seeds, 1 tsp
cardamon pods, 2-3
small cinnamon stick
whole cloves, a pinch
whole black peppercorns, a pinch
freshly grated nutmeg, a pinch or the same of ground

How to
1. Put all the spices in a dry frying-pan and toast until fragrant.
2. Leave to cool slightly then grind to a rough powder in a pestle and mortar, a coffee-grinder or in a mini-food processor.

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