Sunday 30 May 2010

Got My Mojo Working

I've never been to the Canary Islands. But my wife went there on holiday with her sister a few years ago. She brought back with her an amazing alchemical secret contained within a tiny and unassuming paperback: Mojo.

Mojo is a garlic sauce which is ubiquitous throughout the Canaries. It's provided as a dip along with snacks in cafes, bars and restaurants. You may have tried it cooked in the red version of it used in Spanish Tapas recipes, such as "Polo con Mojo de Ajo".

I called it "alchemical" because of the way it can transform the flavour of a dish. Whether used as a marinade for grilled fish or chicken; or dolloped in with some pan-fried seafood; it instantly adds mouthwatering garlicky umami-ness.

Let's get something straight here: you have to like garlic a lot to love this stuff. It's very easy to make: the peeled cloves from a whole bulb of garlic; olive oil; vinegar (I usually use cider vinegar); teaspoon of salt; big bunch of parsley and one avocado. Chuck the whole lot in a blender and whizz (adding more oil or vinegar if required) until smooth and creamy.

I've mentioned some of the uses in cooking but I prefer it in its raw state. We had some yesterday, to accompany pan-fried prawns. Crusty bread along with that: instant, tasty, reeking dinner!

My favourite is the green version, as described above. But there are many different varieties, including ones with nuts and oranges. You can make a red one using paprika and/or red peppers and/or red chillies instead of parsley and avocado. Just don't scrimp on the garlic.

There is an important pact which must be entered into when eating fresh mojo: everyone in the household must partake at the same time. For some reason you don't seem to notice the smell when all garlic-stenching to the same degree.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Silver Bream Machine

Slightly chilly but bright and clear day today. From my desk I can hear a Cuckoo and also, in the distance, the sound of a neighbour's Guineafowl screeching: I swear that sounds like someone trying to cut through old fence wire with a rusty hacksaw.

My wife and I were away for the day yesterday, so I thought I would pick up some "different" fish from the supermarket. We'd only ever had Sea Bream (Seabream) in restaurants, so I thought I would give that a go. The woman at the fish counter was clueless (I asked her about the fish and she said it was "popular") so I just bought the two fish whole. It looked like Black Seabream rather than the Red variety.

We got home later than expected and I proceeded to fillet the fish, which I haven't done very often, with completely the wrong sort of knife. The result was four ragged "fillets" which I seasoned and slathered with olive oil and fresh herbs from the garden: marjoram, chives, rosemary and sage I think. Lots anyway. Oh, and some freshly-squeezed lime juice for zing.

I cooked the Bream, skin up, under a hot grill for a few minutes and served it with purple sprouting broccoli and "crushed" herby potatoes. A very late but rather satisfying meal.

As we were finishing our dinner my wife suddenly leapt to her feet and pointed out a couple of deer on the shore, being pursued by a large dog. They bounded over the road and up the hill leaving the panting dog in their wake.

I must get myself a fish filleting knife. One that's sleek; strong-handled; sharp; flexible: let's call it a Silver Bream Machine.

Thursday 20 May 2010

Sea Clearly Now?

A rather damp and misty day to be starting my new life but I don't care. I've freed myself from a load of work-related stress that was (literally) damaging my brain.

It's so misty that the mountains on the mainland have been entirely blotted out. I suppose it's a fine "soft" day. All sound is deadened by the moisture in the air. The grass is long and growing at an incredible rate but there's no prospect of mowing it when it's this damp. Soft, verdant, fecund, moist and other rude-sounding words all apply to the scene.

Lacklustre tides at the moment with this middling moon.

Oystercatchers are circling the bay. Their high-pitched cries cut through the muffled air.

Monday 17 May 2010

Fish Out Of Water

Just back from a business trip to Glasgow. Stayed in a swish hotel by the Clyde; watched the sun set over the river from my sumptuous eighth-floor room; wandered over the footbridges and along to the Science Tower in the evening sunshine; ate trendy food in city restaurants. City life is OK for a break, but it's good to be back. It's a beautiful day; I'm back home with my wife; and the sea is here, right where I left it.

The closest I got to "gastrobeaching" in Glasgow was some very tasty but ridiculously hot Thai monkfish. Finely sliced raw red chillies sprinkled liberally over it.

I travelled back up the coast by train. Spent the journey alternating between enjoying the stunning views and reading a fascinating book about the history of neurofeedback. The last leg of my journey was by ferry. Calmac are a reassuringly old-fashioned and unglamourous ferry operator. They haven't changed anything much since I was a kid: the same dour uniforms and "workmanlike" customer service. A Scottish institution.

The Shelducks are back in the bay: four of them this time; pure white against the steel blue sea. Didn't see any ducks on the Clyde. But perhaps I wasn't really looking.

Tuesday 11 May 2010

The Crystal Ship

I was woken up last night by the sound of the slates clicking on the roof. That always means that the temperature is rising back above zero, after having dropped below. It doesn't usually get so cold here in May. Maybe it will kill off some burgeoning midges.

I wandered downstairs and sat on the sofa for a while, looking out towards the bay. I left the lights out, so as not to spoil my dark adaption. The clicking from the roof subsided and it all became tranquil. The sea was flat calm. A pale glow in the sky heralded the (too) imminent arrival of dawn.

A ship heaved into view beyond the headland. It was probably just a large fishing vessel but it seemed garlanded with light, which spilled onto the mirror surface of the water. There's something about looking out to sea at that drowsy hour of the morning. A chance to get things in perspective, perhaps.

I imagined myself standing sleepily on the ship's illuminated deck, peering back at the darkened houses in the bay, wondering if anyone was awake in there.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Weed Weekend

I experimented with oven-dried seaweed this weekend.

On Saturday I collected Gutweed and Green Laver. I rinsed the sand off the seaweed and dried it in the oven at around 60 degrees (Celsius) until it went crispy. I put a little sugar on the Gutweed. I happily munched into the experiments: the Gutweed was certainly crunchy, although mostly because of the sand inside it; the Green Laver had a strong and evocative seashore smell but tasted strongly of iodine at the back of the mouth. The quick rinsing had done nothing to ameliorate the saltiness. My wife wasn't too fond of either of them. However, she conceded that some very finely crumbled Green Laver might work as a seasoning in seafood dishes; so I put some in a jar to save for the right recipe.

We spent most of Sunday weeding the garden. Later in the day, just as the tide was turning, we braved the bracing wind for a stroll along the shore. I, of course, turned it into a seaweed-foraging stroll in my determination to find some more Sugar Kelp. Just as we were about to head home I was rewarded with a few slimy fronds of the prize.

I rinsed the Kelp and tore it into small pieces, then placed them on a baking tray with a little olive oil. The Sugar Kelp crisped up nicely and I presented it to my wife as a snack, along with a glass of sherry. She asked if we were out of Twiglets. I responded that Twiglets were like small, salty pieces of driftwood anyway.

To her credit she tried the "Kelp crisps" and didn't wince too visibly. The sherry must have washed the flavour away. I thought they were good: delicately crunchy, almost sweet at first, then back to salty and iodic. My wife suggested deep-frying them next time, and I agreed that might work better.

I found some more Twiglets in the cupboard and we munched them with the remainder of our sherry.

Monday 3 May 2010

Where's Your Head? Ate?

When I was about four years old my family and I lived close to another beach, not far from here. It was different to this one: sandier and more full of jellyfish.

My brothers and I would go paddling in the often-chilly water and feel small Flounders skittering under our feet: a slightly alarming sensation at first; at least until the fun of the chase took over. The idea was to trap the tiny, camouflaged flatfish under our feet and claim them from their sandy home.

The first time I tried it I asked my older brother why we were doing this. He told me we could eat them. So, thus enthused, I almost immediately managed to trap one. No easy feat (sic) either: my brothers were duly impressed. I claimed my prize, flapping, from beneath the sun-dappled waves and bit its crunchy head off. The body flapped on a little (not much) longer.

I wasn't much impressed with the flavour and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. I was used to raw, crunchy food at that age. How was I to know we were supposed to cook the fish first?