Sunday, 14 July 2013

Food finds for hot days

Tuna griddled, with salad, samphire and aïoli
Sitting in a cupboard in the kitchen, buried under various odds and ends – including the vast fork and tongs and stuff for outdoor cooking – is a cast iron Typhoon griddle pan.

I can’t remember exactly when we bought it, but it was one of those seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time purchases from one of the housing stores on Tottenham Court Road.

It was also, as well as my memory is able to recall, either early in my cooking days – or maybe even before them.

You’re not supposed to wash it, but merely to wipe it out and, if necessary, re-season with a dab of oil.

I have rarely used it. In fact, I certainly haven’t used it since we finally got the ceramic hob installed to replace the rusting old ones.

And to be frank, I don’t think I really I’d quite ‘got it’ before then.

So it’s been filling space and gathering dust.

But on Tuesday, a stroll up Broadway Market had produced two small tuna steaks – ideal for this weather – and as I contemplated exactly what I was going to do with them, the griddle pan sprang to mind.

One of the differences, since we bought it, is that I’ve got a little more used to cooking with cast iron – the increase of Le Creuset pots and pans bears testimony to this.

So I knew rather more about what it means to get the thing hot – not rapidly, but over a decent time – and then how it will hold the heat.

So, once heated, the tuna was placed on it for a minute, rotated 90˚ for a further minute and then turned over, and the same process applied.

While the lines were nicely symmetrical, they weren’t perhaps as dark as I’d have hoped for, but the fish itself was beautifully cooked; still moist, which is the difficult bit with tuna; it’s easy to dry out.

It was served with a salad of orange segments and pickled beetroot, a garnish of samphire, and some aïoli – the sort made of just garlic and salt.

You don’t need much salt – that’s the easiest mistake to make. I took a few cloves of quite fresh garlic, minced them and then used the mortar and pestle to blend in a little salt and mix to a paste.

It seems astonishing to realise just how much we are trapped culturally in ways of cooking and eating. As an aside, I’m not sure why it should be so surprising, but it remains so.

It’s obvious that there are reasons that certain types of diet grow up in any country/culture – largely because of climate ands, from that, what grows locally.

But globalisation has had a massive impact on this in the UK, where we no longer have to think just in terms of what is available at any given time of the year.

That, however, has downsides. First, the flavour is never as good if something is flown half way around the world after being picked.

And second, there are a variety of environmental consequences – and this is without mentioning food miles.

Take just three products.

Fine beans grown in Kenya take a staggering four litres of potable water to produce a single fine bean in Kenya, which is quite some cost. Thanks to John Walker for his excellent work on this.

And then there’s quinoa, the ‘miracle grain’ so beloved of trendy eaters. Grown in Peru and Bolivia (experiments to grow it have have, thus far, failed), Joanna Blythman reports that export has pushed up domestic prices to customers in those countries for whom it is a staple of their diet.

None of these are what ‘the global market’ is supposed to do, and all illustrate unintended consequences.

Given the general state of British food, it’s perhaps hardly surprising that:

a) people are out of touch with seasonal eating in this part of the world; and are

b) so ready to look elsewhere.

Add to this, of course, the rise to high levels of dominance of the food chain and grocery retail by a remarkably small number of big businesses, and you have a situation where it can feel difficult to take back control.
Sussex Fish

It’s easier if you have some space to grow some of your own food – even just a few herbs in a window box can make a difference.

It’s easier if you have local, independent shops that sell a variety of quality produce – and it’s helped if those are open at hours that fit in with the standard working day.

This is happening increasingly in the UK, as it does in France – particularly among younger businesses.

It does mean effort on our part – and an element of that comes in investing in the time to think about what we want to eat, and to plan.

But it is also becoming easier as more people create more young food businesses, producing more quality produce, and more markets appear to sell it.

At Borough Market the other day, I found a ‘new’ fish stall – Sussex Fish. They’ve been moved around quite a bit over the three years they’ve been at the market, which is why, on the rare occasions I’m down there, I’ve missed them.

Fresh, lovely fish – and the provenance is clear too. So for instance, the cod that I bought is sustainable, since it comes from the Channel.

This offered a delightful range of fresh fish, but also something as quirky as smoked bass. And why not, indeed?

Discovery of the trip, however, was Cannon & Cannon Fine Foods, with produce artisan British charcuterie, ethically and sustainably produced. Now this is seriously classy food.

Cod, Dorset coppa, lettuce, asparagus and dressing
Some Dorset coppa I bought as part of a three-for-a-tenner deal was utterly delightful, the air-dried pork loin is a joy and there’s still some air-dried venison to come. The company hopes to be launching an online shop soon.

I was served by a charming young man called Fabio, who observed that, as an Italian, he’d been skeptical at first, but was now a firm believer in this excellent British produce.

We’ve always been able to produce good meat; what’s been added in recent years are the skills to make that into fine charcuterie.

One of the specific things that I’d been on the lookout for was late-season asparagus and, sure enough, I found some.

And before leaving the flat, I’d pulled a small jar of chicken stock out of the freezer to defrost.

What I had in mind was a version of a French dish from Rick Stein’s Seafood Odyssey.

First, salt your cod fillet and leave for 20-30 minutes.

Take your stock, add a clove or two of garlic and some tarragon, and reduce.

Strain and allow to cool a little before whisking in olive oil and wine vinegar to taste.

Then pre-heat your grill to high.

Rinse your cod and pat dry. Place on a lightly oiled baking tray and lightly brush the fish with oil. Pop under the grill for approximately 10-12 minutes, until it's golden.

Top the fish with some prosciutto – or in this case, Dorset coppa – and give it another couple of minutes under the grill.

In the meantime, boil some asparagus spears and quarter some lettuces.

Serve the fish, topped with charcuterie, alongside lettuce and asparagus, drizzled with the dressing.

Simple and zingy and fresh. Perfect for these sweltering days.


  1. How interesting...and very tasty looking! Lovely. I try to go seasonal with a local veg box and coincidentally I have just blogged myself about local, high welfare standard meat often being better environmentally than flown in food, whatever variety. We're so used to having choice though even when it doesn't taste that great. For instance, I guess we should probably only eat citrus during the european season... But what about all those recipes which call for lemon? aaagh, that would be hard ;)

    1. That would be hard! But perhaps not as much so outside summer. Right now - impossible!