#141 Warm Skate Salad with Shaun Hill’s Dressing

Another fish dish. Skate is one of my favourite fish and liked the idea of having it in warm salad – perfect for this time of year when the weather is often bright and sunny but will a chill still in the air. Classically, skate is poached or fried and served with either a beurre noisette or capers, so I thought having it in strips with warm vinaigrette would be a new thing that might jazz up this tasty, though bland, fish.

Start off by preparing your skate wings (one per person). Rinse each one under the tap or soak in a change or two of water – take heed of this advice, this gets rid of the taste of ammonia found in fresh skate. I didn’t know this, even though I’ve cooked it many times, it’s never been ponged of ammonia. However, this time it was different (for one of us anyway!). Dry the wings and fry them in a little olive oil until cooked through – a few minutes a side, you can tell they’re cooked as the flesh starts to raise itself up from the cartilaginous bones. Whilst you are waiting, wash and dry some green salad leaves (I used watercress to be seasonal) and place a pile of them in the centre of each plate.

Now make the dressing. Set up a bowl over some simmering water. Add three tablespoons of fish stock and around 6 tablespoons of olive oil to the bowl. Chop up a handful of parsley leaves with a shallot and a small clove of garlic. Add this and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Remove the cooked skate from the pan and strip the meat of the wings with a fork. Pile the stripped fish on the salad leaves and sprinkle the whole thing with the dressing. Do this for each plate. Serve immediately.

FYI: Shaun Hill is still a chef, working at The Walnut Tree Inn in Wales. Here’s an article about him.

#141 Warm Skate Salad with Shaun Hill’s Dressing – 5/10. What a weird dish this turned out to be. None of the ingredients were bad , they just didn’t do together. The skate was nice and moist and gelatinous, but it’s delicate flavour was completely drowned out by the dressing with its strong garlic, shallot and olive flavours –delicious that it was. The ammonia was a cause for concern – it obviously doesn’t happen every time one cooks it, otherwise I’d have noticed before, but it’s worth bearing in mind in the future. Overall, I prefer my skate the old-fashioned way… Skate was very popular, but recipes like this won’t be doing it many favours in making it popular again.

#140 Crab Tart

I’ve mentioned before that a much ignored chapter in English Food is the Fish chapter (I must tell you what the chapters actually are, so you know where the seemingly random recipes fit). The fish that are in season during May and are in the book are salmon and crab. A quick phone call to Butters to help me decide which fish/crustacean to try first was required – I’ve never cooked with crab other than tinned, and salmon isn’t my favourite. We went for the crab. There’s a few crab recipes but this one seemed relatively straight-forward.

It seems the oceans were a much more plentiful place in the 1970s compared to now (though we knew that already!). The original recipe asks for a boiled crab weighing 2 pounds or one kilogram. Fat chance of that says the fishmonger, however I asked for the biggest one and it wasn’t too far off. It only cost a fiver! I was well happy there – a tiny tin of it cost about 3 quid. Bargin. In fact I noticed the fishmonger was stocked with loads of nice things at the minute…

Butters gets a crab infestation. Again

To make a crab tart, start off by making (or buying) some shortcrust pastry and lining an 8 to 9 inch flan or tart tin with it. Bake the pastry blind in a hot oven – 220°C – for 10-15 minutes. Do this by lining it with greaseproof paper or foil and pouring in some baking beans. For the final couple of minutes remove the beans so that the base can crisp and dry out a little.

Now you have to pay the boiled crab some considerable attention. It’s quite an arduous task but quite satisfyingly so. I won’t go through how to remove the meat here, but I’ll instead send you to this link to Deliaonline, which I followed and it did the job. In fact go to that website if there’s any techniques you want to reference. Once you’ve extracted as much meat as your patience will allow mix the white and brown meats together and season well with sea salt, black or white pepper and Cayenne pepper. Stir in one whole egg and two egg yolks (keep the whites) and 8 fluid ounces of whipping cream. Now add a tablespoon each of Cheddar and Parmesan cheese and stir in. Whisk the two egg whites until firm of peak and fold it into the crab mixture. Pour the whole thing into the case and bake at 220°C for 5 minutes and then turn the heat down to 190°C and bake for a further 25-40 minutes. The tart is ready when it has set and lost its eggy wobbliness.

Not the most photogenic of tarts, I know, but tasted lovely.

Griggers says to serve straight away with brown bread and butter, but to be extra-seasonal, I made a quick salad from rocket, sliced radishes, olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper. It went very well.

#140 Crab Tart 7/10. I really enjoyed cooking with and then eating crab. The brown meat dissolved into the cream and eggs making it deliciously sweet and moist and the white meat gave the whole thing good texture. The genius of the dish was the whisked egg whites, which lifted to so well. A definite success that really made me feel Spring is finally here! Great stuff.

Getting Seasonal

It’s tricky to choose recipes to cook when there are still so many to choose from in the book – plus, many ingredients are unknown to me, and because of a certain amount of trepidation I’ve ignored some. I have decided that the best thing to do here is to follow the seasons more closely (I try to do this as much as I can anyway). This means that anything new to me as a cook, should be in tip-top shape and therefore be much less likely to go wrong. At least that’s the theory. So, after a little bit of research on the internet, here’s a list of meat, fish, vegetables and fruits that are in season and/or at their peak in May. Not all are used in English Food, but I’ve included them for completeness. We shall see how many I can do this Maytime:

Sea trout
Sea bass
Cabbage (all kinds)
Samphire (I don’t know where I’m going to get thhis from! Help anybody?)
Jersey Royal potatoes
Spring onions