A quick hello from me today, to share this recipe for turmeric fishcake bánh mì with lemongrass pickled fennel (as promised on Instagram).

I’m a huge fan of the bánh mì as you’ve probably gathered from the number of recipes on this site (grilled pork bánh mì; turmeric fish bánh mì; SPAM mì; crab num pang) because I think it demonstrates what a great sandwich is all about, which is lots of contrasting flavours and textures.

Here, the fishcakes are fragrant with galangal, fresh turmeric and lime leaves and the sliced beans add pops of crunch. There’s acidity from pickled vegetables, an absolute truck tonne of herbs and one of my favourite bánh mì additions: sweet chilli sauce. It’s there for sweetness – I garnish with extra chilli for actual heat.

Spicy, crunchy, fragrant, sour, sweet and just a little creamy with mayo. The bánh mì is brilliant because it’s endlessly variable, and I see it as a lifelong project.

Recipe: Turmeric Fish Cake Bánh Mì

There are quite a few ingredients here but you could easily leave something out if you can’t find it or leave a comment and I will reply with thoughts! As I said, this is a sandwich to play around with.

This makes 12-14 fish cakes, which is enough for 3-4 banh mi (depending on the size of your baguettes). 

For the fish cakes 

500g skinless white fish
40g rice flour
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
4 cloves garlic
1.5 inches fresh turmeric root, peeled and grated (or use a teaspoon of ground turmeric)
60g green beans, sliced 1cm thick
8 lime leaves, finely chopped
1 inch galangal, grated
Pinch salt
Vegetable or groundnut oil for frying

For the lemongrass pickles 

1 bulb fennel, finely sliced
1 carrot, peeled and cut into fine strips or grated
200ml rice vinegar
100ml water
80g caster sugar
8g sea salt
1 star anise
1 slice galangal (or ginger if you can’t find it)
2 lemongrass stalks, outer casing removed and bashed
A few white peppercorns
A few Szechuan peppercorns (optional but good)

To make the banh mi

Baguettes
Mayonnaise
Sweet chilli sauce
Herbs (Thai basil, mint, coriander)
Cucumber
Birdseye chilli

Make the pickle by combining all the ingredients except the vegetables in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to the boil to dissolve the sugar and salt then pour over the vegetables. Set aside.

Make the fish cakes by combining all the ingredients except the green beans and vegetable oil in a blender and blending to a fine paste. You want this mixture to appear ‘bouncy’. Stir in the beans.

Heat a frying pan and fry off a small piece of the fish cake mix to check the seasoning. If you’re happy, shape the fish cakes into balls then flatten into little cakes.

Fry the fish cakes in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable or groundnut oil – they won’t take long, a few mins each side, depending on thickness.

Assemble the bánh mì by stuffing everything into a baguette!

Those of you who follow me on Instagram will know I was in Belize in Central America a couple of weeks ago. I can’t write much about that trip now because it will all be published in a magazine later this year but I came back feeling very inspired by the food, and I wanted to create something which incorporated Caribbean ingredients. Longtime followers will know that the food of the Caribbean has always attracted me and I learnt lots in Belize, where the cuisine combines many culinary influences.

I’ve used achiote in this soup – an earthy flavouring made from ground annatto seeds, also popular as a colouring agent. I was already familiar with it as an ingredient in Mexican pork pibil recipes but using it to flavour soups and stews was new to me. I added it to a base of homemade fish stock with pierced scotch bonnet chilli and some cassava – a total revelation. To be honest, I’d always dismissed cassava as a boring starchy root but it has a really interesting nutty flavour and the texture of a very waxy potato.

I used cod cheeks because they’re really good value and hold their bouncy texture well in soup, and splashed out on some massive, meaty prawns. On the side, I made fry jacks, which are deep-fried dough dumplings served with pretty much anything in Belize – eggs, refried beans and cheese are all popular toppings. I’ve added wild garlic to mine, which brings me just about to the end of the bin bag of wild garlic I’ve been working through for the past week.

This is a stunner of a recipe (even if I do say so myself) with deep flavour from the fish stock but a lightness, too. The corn brings pops of sweetness and the scotch bonnet a background buzz of tropical heat. The jacks were a perfect accompaniment while still warm – crisp on the outside, fluffy and garlicky inside and ready to soak up that soup. Heaven.

Belizean Inspired Fish Soup with Wild Garlic Fry Jacks Recipe

Serves 4

For the fish stock

1kg fish heads and scraps
1.5 litres water
Small bunch parsley stalks
1 sprig thyme
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
Large knob of butter

For the soup

600g cod cheeks
8 raw, shell-on king prawns (you could shell these if you want to make the eating easier but I like to get messy and suck the heads once cooked)
2 scotch bonnet chillies, pierced and left whole
300g cassava, peeled, woody core removed and diced
1 teaspoon achiote powder
Handful wild garlic leaves washed and sliced
2 corn cobs, kernels sliced off (or you could use a tin)
Handful coriander

For the fry jacks

250g plain flour
30g butter
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
50g wild garlic leaves washed and finely chopped
Oil for deep frying

First, make the fish stock. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and fry the onion for a few minutes. Add the fish heads and scraps and fry a few minutes longer. Add the water, herbs and a pinch of salt and bring to the boil, skimming off the scum. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, then strain. This is the base of your soup.

Make the dough for your fry jacks by mixing the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and mix with your fingers until it resembles crumbs. Add the wild garlic and milk and mix to a dough. Knead 30 seconds until smooth, then separate into 8 balls.

Add the stock to a large saucepan. Mix a tablespoon or so of the stock with the achiote powder until you have a red paste. Add this back to the soup with the cassava chunks and allow to simmer while you make your fry jacks.

Heat a couple of inches of oil to 180C in a heavy cast iron skillet or another suitable pan. Roll each ball out into a circle on a lightly floured surface and cut each circle in half. Make a slit in the centre of each (see photo to see what I mean). Deep fry each piece for a couple of minutes, then carefully flip over. They’re ready when puffed and golden. Drain on kitchen paper.

Once the jacks are done, finish the soup by dropping in the corn, wild garlic, cod cheeks and prawns and cooking gently for 4-5 minutes. Season. Finish with the coriander and serve with the jacks.

They’re called radiatori because they look like little radiators! I hope that pleases you as much as it does me. They’re also the perfect shape for grabbing onto a crumbly ‘sauce’ like this one, or a more traditional pesto. This smoosh of toasted walnuts, anchovies, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley and lemon bound with olive oil makes a luxurious, wintry pasta sauce and also an excellent stuffing for fish on the BBQ – particularly mackerel.

I’ve served it on a swirl of fluffy ricotta (given a little more sharpness with natural yoghurt) so there’s a lovely hot-cold contrast going on and the cheese brings some creaminess. Serve with purple sprouting broccoli, chilli flakes and a flurry of Parmesan shavings for a pasta dish that will bust through any amount of miserable, drizzly weather.

Radiatori with Walnuts, Ricotta and Broccoli Recipe

Serves 2 very generously (i.e. greedily)

For the pesto

Makes enough for 6-8 servings of pasta (keep leftovers in a jar in the fridge, covered in olive oil)

200g walnuts, toasted in a dry pan
80g wholemeal breadcrumbs (or regular white crumbs)
4 cloves garlic
12 anchovy fillets
Handful parsley leaves
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
Olive oil

To serve

300g radiatori (I bought mine in Sainsbury’s!)
Large handful purple sprouting broccoli
125g ricotta
Heaped tablespoon natural yoghurt
Parmesan
Chilli flakes

Make the pesto by blitzing the walnuts in a blender until finely chopped but stop before they turn to a powder/paste. Mix with the breadcrumbs. Bash the garlic and anchovies to a paste in a pestle and mortar and mix with the breadcrumbs, parsley and lemon juice. Add a slug of olive oil until you’ve got a pesto-ish mixture.

Cook the pasta until al dente, reserving a little pasta water. Cook the broccoli until al dente and drain – not long just a few minutes.

Gently whip the ricotta and yoghurt together and divide between two large bowls. When the pasta is cooked lob in as much ‘pesto’ as you like and stir with a little of the pasta water to loosen. Crumble extra ‘pesto’ on top. Serve on the ricotta with the broccoli, Parmesan and chilli flakes.

Anchovy and bottarga pasta

I know, you’re never going to remember the name of that pasta shape but don’t worry, this is freakin’ fabulous with basically any pasta – I know this from extensive experience. A great choice would be orecchiette or ‘little ears’ which is what they use down in Puglia when they make their famous broccoli and anchovy arrangement.

As I said on Instagram when I posted a snap, this recipe is proof that with the best ingredients you can make incredible food in no time at all. It uses really excellent bottarga and anchovies both from Lina Stores in Soho, part of a hamper they sent me before Christmas as a promotional effort. If you’ve never been then really, get over there – I’m a long-time customer as it’s a real goldmine of Italian ingredients and one of the very best delis in London, full stop.

This is such a simple dish. You gently cook garlic in butter (olive oil would be more traditional but I love the richness of butter on pasta), then melt in those beautiful anchovies. Next add some blanched and roughly chopped Tenderstem broccoli, chilli flakes and a good squeeze of lemon juice and let it sizzle for a few minutes. The hot pasta is added in one steamy swoop and the lot stirred together and slipped into bowls before topping with crisp crumbs and a shower of golden roe.

It’s probably my favourite pasta dish of all time, actually. Anchovies are one of the world’s greatest ingredients and the quality of these was outstanding – you’ll need to gently tease the flesh from the whole fish (easy) before melting them into the sauce because they’re packed as whole fish, not teeny, aggressive fillets. It’s got everything: garlic, chilli heat, salty fish and lemon plus CARBS. You’ll always be able to rely on Food Stories for carbs, guys, no matter what happens.

Fusillata Casareccia with Anchovies, Broccoli and Bottarga Recipe

Pasta of your choice for 2 people
200g Tenderstem broccoli
4 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
Chilli flakes, to taste
8-10 anchovy fillets (or to taste)
Juice of half a lemon
Handful breadcrumbs, toasted until golden
Bottarga
Butter or olive oil

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente.

Put the Tenderstem into a pan of boiling water. When it comes back to the boil, drain.

Heat a knob of butter or splash of olive oil in a frying pan and gently cook the garlic for a minute or so, stirring. Melt in the anchovies. Add chilli flakes and the broccoli. Stir to coat and add lemon juice.

Once pasta is cooked, drain reserving a splash of cooking water. Add both to the frying pan. Stir well.

Transfer to bowls then grate over bottarga and add crumbs. Yeah, it’s really simple.

Barbecued Plaice with an Oxidised Wine and Caper Sauce

Bear with me because I know the title of this post is ridiculous. I was supposed to be going for dinner this evening, and not just any dinner – a CRAB dinner. I have been denied that opportunity thanks to a bathroom emergency and I don’t mean anything to do with me (ew), I mean an emergency which has had a plumber in there with an angle grinder for the past hour and counting. As I write this he is swearing because the job is proving so difficult and I’m too scared to go in there so I’m sitting here, telling you about this fish and its sauce instead.

This all started with a bottle of wine that had gone a bit wonky. We have lots of bits of wine hanging about in this house because of Donald’s job, which is – wait for it – in wine. He’s a sommelier/consultant/winemaker/general wine dude and you can see how that leads to lots of samples and other bits being thrown our way. Hard life, poor us, etc. Some of it gets oxidised in the bottle which means it goes a bit ‘off’ and tastes all sorts of wrong like someone just peed in it. I imagine.

Barbecued Plaice with an Oxidised Wine and Caper Sauce

To me, these flavours have a lot in common with natural wine but I guess that’s a rant for another day. I’ve drunk a lot of natural wine in my time because lots of my mates are wine people and Donald is, well, Donald. I am also obviously curious when it comes to these things. I have run the full spectrum from actually quite enjoying natural wine to absolutely f*cking hating the stuff and right now I’m closer to the latter end of the spectrum. This may change again, who knows. At the moment I like a glass of something that’s had a shit load of stuff added in to stabilise it and make it taste better and I have made my peace with that, thanks very much.

Anyway, we couldn’t help but wonder (*Carrie Bradshaw moment*) whether these ‘orrible oxidised bits of wine might be useful in cooking, somehow. That was when Donald hit upon the idea of the sauce. It tasted too grim to drink but some of those qualities we don’t like in the glass might actually be nice in a sauce, we reckoned. On its own, the wine tastes stale but in the pan, it turns to a sort of intense sherried nuttiness, especially with a load of butter lobbed in because… BUTTER.

Barbecued Plaice with an Oxidised Wine and Caper Sauce

We grilled the fish whole on the barbecue because I obviously like to realise my full barbecue potential whenever possible (#bestself #goals) and it was brilliant. We had a tomato salad alongside, which is something we eat with practically every meal in summer and then potatoes because something needs to be mashed into the sauce (and eaten cold the next day). About the potatoes: they’re covered in an expert-level amount of garlic and all the herbs. Give the potatoes, and the people, what they want.

Barbecued Plaice with an Oxidised Wine and Caper Sauce

1 large plaice
3 shallots, very finely chopped
100g butter
2 large glasses of Kalin Cellars 1995 Chardonnay that was opened one month earlier and then left in a fridge (or, y’know, whatever you have)
2 tablespoons capers, washed then roughly chopped
Olive oil

Heat a barbecue for direct grilling. Pat the fish dry, rub it with a bit of olive oil, season and place (LOL) into one of those barbecue fish cages. It’ll only need around 5 minutes each side as it’s a flat fish.

To make the sauce, melt the butter and gently soften the shallots. Add the wine, whisk it to emulsify it a bit then reduce by half. Add the capers.

When the fish is done, pour some of the sauce over and serve the rest on the side.

The Perfect Fish Finger Sandwich Recipe
I am bracing myself for the comeback on this one because everyone (or at least, everyone in the UK) has an opinion on what makes the perfect fish finger sandwich. Does it need ketchup, mayo or fancy pants tartare? Should the bread be toasted or soft? Surely you agree that it must be white. Should the fish fingers be home made or from the beardy man box? These are all important questions.

I had my own views and they were strong but you know what? Every time I made a fish finger sandwich it didn’t quite hit the spot. It didn’t blow my mind and that bothered me because as y’all know I pride myself on my sandwich-making abilities.

The perfect fish finger sandwich recipe

And then it happened. I experienced an education in saucing that led to other improvements and before I knew it there it was, right in my mouth – the perfect fish finger sandwich. What did I change? You won’t believe it, guys. You may want to get one hand ready to clamp your jaw shut because I’m about to tell you that the answer is to use both a mayonnaise-based sauce AND ketchup.

I know. You are reeling. The reason it works is because the ketchup offers something I was always missing in the fish finger sandwich: sweetness. People tend to go OTT on the acidity, I find, adding lemon juice, capers, vinegar et al but let me tell you once more – double-sauce is where it’s at. All credit for this discovery must go my pal and fellow sandwich fancier, Gavin.

This led to a complete re-thinking of all the elements, and no matter which way I tried it, those old orange friends from Bird’s Eye no longer made the grade. I will always love you strange, uniform cod sticks but once I upgraded to these (frankly excellent, say so myself) homemade versions I didn’t look back.

The Perfect Fish Finger Sandwich Recipe

There are many reasons why these fish fingers are so good. Firstly, the fish is salted for half an hour before coating to firm up the texture, so what you get is really satisfying flakes of well-seasoned fish, not mushiness. The crumb is also important and its made from panko and cayenne pepper, so super crisp with just a tiny bit of warmth. We also added a titchy pinch of MSG because we like to live on the edge in this house. That’s totally optional, just as long as you know that being scared of MSG is pointless.

So, there you have it: the perfect fish finger sandwich. There is one problem with it, actually, and that is the fact that it has ruined regular fish finger sandwiches for me, forever. I’ll never be able to enjoy a hastily slapped together hangover special again. Maybe.

The Perfect Fish Finger Sandwich Recipe

This makes 4 sandwiches but is easily cut in half.

270g cod (2 fillets)
270g haddock (2 fillets)
15g Maldon or other good sea salt
120g panko breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon MSG (optional but fun)
Plain flour, for dredging
2 eggs, lightly whisked

8 slices white bread (I use a white loaf from my local bakery, The Hill – you need something soft and white that won’t fall apart too easily but equally you don’t want a hardcore sourdough)
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 tablespoons chopped sweet pickled gherkins
Ketchup
Shredded iceberg lettuce
A few drops malt vinegar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Cut the fillets in half lengthways (or whichever way works for the shape of your bread).

Coat them with the salt, cover and leave for 30 minutes in the fridge. After this time, wash the salt off the filets and pat dry with paper towel.

Mix the panko, paprika, cayenne and MSG (if using).

Spread one plate with a little flour, put the eggs in a shallow bowl and spread the crumbs on another plate. Dip the fish first into flour, then egg, then crumbs. Arrange on a baking sheet and cook for 20 minutes, turning halfway through.

To assemble each sandwich, spread one piece of bread with ketchup. Mix the mayo and gherkins and spread some on the other piece. Top with lettuce then fish fingers. Close the sandwich and taste. Add a few drops malt vinegar if you feel it needs it.

People get worked up about bánh mi, don’t they? All spittle-mouthed and red around their Pob-like cheeks. A major point of contention is the bread because the bánh mi is a product of French colonial rule in Vietnam, when the baguette was adopted but made lighter, somehow, with a famous, crackly crust and aerated crumb. People argue about how this baguette is made.

Some say lightness comes from the use of rice flour, but many argue this is rubbish because hardly any Vietnamese recipes contain rice flour and those that do never work. Also there’s the question of humidity, with many claiming the bread gets its texture due to high atmospheric humidity (and goodness knows it IS humid there, I have frizzy hair photos to prove it) but really, it’s more likely down to humidity levels in the oven during baking.

I say this as someone who isn’t a baker, so what the hell do I know anyway? I also didn’t eat any bánh mi when I was in Vietnam, because a) I was only there for 24 hours, and b) I was at the wrong end of the country (it’s a Southern thing) and my guide told me the bánh mi in Hanoi are ‘all shit and just for tourists, so don’t bother’.

What I do know about bánh mi, is that they’re a lesson in the perfect sandwich. There’s something crunchy, something soft, something pickled, something creamy or fatty… there’s heat and herbs and it’s all brilliant, providing you don’t expect it to blow your mind, in which case it will definitely blow your mind. In any case, it’s just a freakin’ sandwich. Here are three bánh mi experiences I can remember as I write this:

Best Bánh Mi Experience: Banh Mi Hoi An in Hackney. This place sells some of the best bánh mi in London and trust me, I have put the work in. Get the pork special or whatever it’s actually called. You’ll know when you get there. There isn’t really any seating and it’s cramped (unless it goes downstairs? I can’t remember) so be prepared for a takeaway situation.

Worst Bánh Mi Experience: Somewhere in the Vietnamese bit of Melbourne. Someone told me about this incredible bánh mi I just had to have so I did another ‘mad sandwich dash before the airport’ thing and by sheer brutal bad luck got a taxi driver who was total clown shoes. He got lost three times and chucked me out on a massive freeway after we had a disagreement. Anyway, I found it, ordered it, ate it, and it was shit. Then I couldn’t get a taxi back because it was a weird area and so I had to walk for two miles and got vicious sunburn.

Best ‘Bad but Good’ Bánh Mi Experience: Viet Café, Camberwell. You just know I go back for this all the time and I don’t even care who knows. The bánh mi is objectively Not Good with its pappy, part-baked baguette, overcooked pucks of ‘chicken satay’ and – wait for it – sweet chilli sauce but damn, does it hit the spot. The sweet chilli sauce makes the whole thing work, it’s sweet-hot gloopiness both lubing the dry chicken and bringing its own special brushstroke of filth.

Arguments aside, the bánh mi is quite simple, really, and anyway, if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to make a good sandwich. I made this as backup when a mate came around for lunch and I was recipe testing something else I knew wasn’t going work (but had to be done that way anyway for completeness) and he liked it, so I made it again, but better. This would be fantastic with fresh turmeric which is usually available EVEN IN MORRISSON’S in south London but did they have it this time? Of course they didn’t. Still, that makes the recipe a bit more accessible, I guess. Just use the ingredients you have to hand, guys; that’s what the Vietnamese did.

Turmeric Fish Banh Mi

This makes 3 sandwiches, or I guess one massive baguette which you could portion up. You want to find a light baguette for this, so leave sourdough out of it, because that won’t work at all (if you’re local, I bought these at Ayre’s Bakery in Nunhead). Also, it’s best if you cut the veg into thin sticks by hand – I have used a fancy julienne peeler in the past and it makes the strips too thin so they just flop in the pickling liquid and lose their crunch.

For the pickled vegetables

1 large carrot, cut into thin sticks
1/4 daikon, cut into thin sticks
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons caster sugar
Large pinch salt

Dissolve the sugar and salt in the vinegar over heat and pour over the vegetables in a shallow dish. Leave while you make everything else, stirring occasionally.

For the fish

300g firm white fish, cubed (I used haddock). Don’t be an arse – make sure it’s sustainably sourced.
1-inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated (grating leaves behind the nasty fibrous bits)
3-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed (yup, much more towards the 5 end of the scale myself)
2 tablespoons fish sauce (I used Three Crabs brand)
Zest of 1 lime
2 teaspoons turmeric powder

Mix the ginger, garlic, fish sauce, turmeric and lime zest and smother all over the fish. Leave for 20 minutes or so. Brush off any excess marinade, thread onto skewers then cook under a moderate grill for a few minutes each side (this depends on the size of your chunks, obviously).

For the sandwiches

3 small, soft, white ‘torpedo’ baguettes
1/2 cucumber, deseeded and cut into long strips
1 red chilli, finely sliced
Coriander leaves
Mint leaves
Mayonnaise

Assemble by splitting the baguettes and pulling out some of the crumb (yes, I forgot), spreading with mayo, adding pickled veg, herbs, chilli, cucumber. Add the fish by putting the whole skewer into the sandwich, clutching the bread, then removing the skewer. You may want a squeeze of lime juice, but see how you go.

Hake with Parsley and Wild Garlic Sauce

I often enjoy popping my rose-tinted glasses on and having a look back at the food I grew up with in the 80’s. Perhaps many of you have stories about grannies and apron strings but what I have is memories of things that came in boxes marked Findus or Bird’s Eye. Fond memories. In the wake of the horsemeat scandal I was delighted to trot down memory lane and revisit the Findus Crispy Pancake, which I filled with 100% horse and coated in crumb the colour of cheesy Wotsits. Yesterday, it was the turn of boil in the bag cod in parsley sauce.

I expect many of you remember this delicacy of cod and sauce ready combined inside a flappy plastic bag, which your mum simply plopped into the water and served up 15 minutes later with peas and mashed potato. It was a personal favourite of mine and so we decided to have a bash at recreating it, with some more modern-day high falutin changes, natch.

I’m a big fan of Farmdrop, which is why I had these hake fillets in the fridge, but also why I didn’t have any wild garlic, since it had failed to arrive from their supplier. I thought it would be so lovely in the sauce that I became a touch obsessed with finding some, spending two hours traipsing around local woodland with no luck; in the end, I bought some in Borough Market for the very reasonable price of ten million pounds per kilo.

Hake in Parsley and Wild Garlic Sauce

It’s very simple this recipe. Just make the sauce, cool it a bit and whack it in sandwich bags with the fish. Is it ok to cook things in sandwich bags? Apparently. I wanted to do this recipe so I didn’t ask too many questions. It’s basically like sous vide except sous vide fish is gross and slimy so we just poached it at a slightly higher temperature (using a thermometer). You could, of course, poach it separately or fry and serve with the sauce but really, you’d be letting the team down.

The mash is lumpy yes, thanks for asking. The reason for this is because we poshed it up by doing half spud, half salsify, and the latter broke our crappy potato ricer (because I bought it in Khan’s). What you see there, then, is lovely smooth mash with chopped salsify in it. We also forgot the peas.

All in all, a resounding success.

Hake with Parsley & Wild Garlic Sauce (in the style of Bird’s Eye)

This is actually incredibly delicious and there’s no reason at all for you to stuff up your mash or forget the peas. 

2 hake fillets (sorry, didn’t weigh them)
1 small onion finely chopped
2 bay leaves
5 black peppercorns
550 ml milk
30g butter
40g flour
Small handful parsley, chopped
Small handful wild garlic, chopped
The heaviest duty zip lock freezer bags you can find
You’ll also need a thermometer

Bring the milk to the boil with the onions, bay and peppercorns, then turn off and leave for 10 minutes. Strain.

In a clean saucepan, melt the butter, then add the flour to the pan, stirring constantly until it’s combined into a light brown paste. Slowly add the milk bit by bit, stirring until each addition is incorporated in the sauce. The sauce should coat the spoon, leaving a clean area for a second on the base of the pan after swiping with a spatula.

Cover with cling film, laying the film directly on the surface of the sauce. Leave to cool a bit.

When cool (you just don’t want it too hot), add the parsley and wild garlic and season to taste (it’ll take quite a bit of salt as it’s rich and creamy).

Put one hake fillet in each bag then spoon in the sauce. Bring a large pan of water up to about 40C, then push the open bags gently into the water allowing the water pressure to force the air out of the bags, once the surface of the water is just over the zip lock line, seal the bag. Bring the water up to about 56C and cook on the lowest heat for 15 mins. When ours were done the water was about 64C, so the fish was cooked through and still super moist.

Serve with mash, peas and a heavy dose of nostaglia.

Baccala

My friend Lizzie and I recently went to check out the new menu at Polpetto and fell head over heels for a blob of salt cod whippy fun called Baccalà Mantecato. The cod had been transformed into a very light, mousse-like paste and we enjoyed trying and failing to guess how it had been made. The revelation was that it had been beaten with oil, in the same way as one would make mayonnaise. “It’s very labour intensive” we were warned but on holiday in Spain with so much salt cod at our fingertips we just couldn’t resist having a go.

We bought pre-prepped fish to skip the soaking/water-changing faff part then pounded it up in a pestle and mortar with garlic and parsley. Oil was added in a steady stream while the other person emulsified furiously then, when we had a good thick mixture, a couple of tablespoons of milk was used to loosen.

It was a lot more rugged than the Polpetto version but the taste was definitely there; smeared on bread it was the perfect sunshine snack.

Baccalà Mantecato

250gr salt cod, rehydrated. I think this involves a lot of soaking and changing of water over several days – we bought ours already soaked.
A pinch of salt – the salt cod once soaked isn’t super salty
1 fat clove of garlic
A handful of parsley
2 tbsp milk
A squeeze of lemon juice

Oil, for emulsifying (we used vegetable as that’s what we had to hand; groundnut would also work but don’t, whatever you do, use extra virgin olive oil as it will overwhelm the cod)

Simmer the cod in water for 5 minutes, then leave to cool. While warm, break into pieces as small as possible.

In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and parsley into a paste. Add the cod and mix vigorously. Roll back your sleeves and get pounding and smooshing as someone else dribbles the oil in, until you get a thick, smooth paste. It needs quite a bit of oil. Add just a squeeze of lemon juice, then loosen with the milk – add on tbsp at a time until it is incorporated – if you feel it’s necessary. Serve with toasted bread.