A fish tart with soft smoky filling, flecked with spinach; a plump little prawn cake eaten like a burger; a tangle of crab pasta with a sauce made from its shells; and a bright salmon salad with the piquancy of rhubarb. Here are just some of the fish recipes that have been in my kitchen already this spring.
Salmon with pickled rhubarb and samphire
The marriage of salmon with rhubarb should come as no surprise, the astringency of the rhubarb contrasting with the oily quality of the fish. In this salad, the fish is sliced no thicker than a pound coin, then tossed briefly with the rhubarb and its dressing. You could marinate the fish, in which case, leave it for no longer than 30 minutes.
Serves 3 as a starter or a light main course
white wine vinegar 150ml
golden caster sugar 1 tbsp
black peppercorns 10
coriander seeds 1 tsp
fennel seeds ½ tsp
pea shoots 2 handfuls
olive oil 2 tbsp
Combine the white wine vinegar, sugar, whole peppercorns, coriander and fennel seeds in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and set aside. Cut the rhubarb into thin slices then put in a jar or bowl, pour over the hot marinade and set aside to cool. Refrigerate for three or four hours before using.
Rinse the samphire, dry it carefully then put it into a bowl together with the pea shoots and dress with the olive oil (no seasoning). Divide between the plates. Slice the salmon very thinly, each slice no more than ½cm thick, toss briefly with the rhubarb and its marinade then pile on top of the salad leaves and serve immediately.
Prawn cakes, coriander mayonnaise
Prawns take so well to south-east Asian flavours such as chillies, coriander and fish sauce, and never more so than in a neat little fish cake. Sometimes I sandwich the crisply fried prawn cakes in a soft, flour-dusted bun; other times I eat them between a couple of slices of hot toast. Either way, they need a spoonful of herb-flecked mayonnaise.
red onions 2
olive oil 3 tbsp
golden caster sugar 1 tbsp
balsamic vinegar 1 tbsp
For the prawn cakes
prawns 200g, shelled weight
spring onions 3
fish sauce 3 tsp
chilli 1 small, hot
groundnut oil 2 tbsp
bread 8 thin slices
chopped coriander 2 tbsp
mayonnaise 3 tbsp
Peel the onions, halve them, then cut each half into thin segments. Warm the oil in a saucepan, add the onions then let them cook over a low heat until soft and translucent. They shouldn’t brown. Stir in the sugar and continue cooking until it starts to darken and caramelise. Add the balsamic vinegar and set aside.
Tip the prawns into the bowl of a food processor, add the coriander, spring onions, fish sauce and chilli and process briefly to combine. The texture should be soft enough to hold together when lightly pressed, but not so well mixed as to be paste-like. Remove the mixture from the bowl and shape into four small patties.
Warm the groundnut oil in a shallow pan then add the patties and let them cook for three or four minutes till lightly browned. Turn them carefully and cook the other side. Toast the bread. Chop the coriander and stir into the mayonnaise and check the seasoning. Place a spoonful of the onions and another of the coriander mayonnaise on top of each patty, then sandwich between the hot toasts.
Fried whitebait, asparagus and whipped feta
I find light, rustling little whitebait with their seasoning of nostalgia all too easy to eat. I have updated the classic tartare sauce for a peppery, piquant dip of feta, rocket and yogurt. Good as they are on the own their own, try tossing the crunchy fish with asparagus for a change of texture. The asparagus will take a minute or two longer to cook than the whitebait. Try to time it so they are ready at the same time.
natural yogurt 200ml
groundnut oil for deep frying
frozen whitebait 250g
milk a little
plain flour 50g
Put the yogurt in a mixing bowl, crumble in the feta and beat lightly with a fork or small whisk until soft and creamy. Finely chop the rocket leaves and stir in. You will need neither salt nor pepper.
Bring a pan of water to the boil in which to cook the asparagus. Trim the spears, cutting them into short pieces – about the same length as the whitebait. Boil the asparagus for 3 or 4 minutes until bright green and tender then drain.
Warm the oil in a deep sided pan to a temperature of 160-180C. Toss the whitebait in a little milk. Put the flour into a plastic bag and season with salt and black pepper. Add the whitebait and toss gently to finely coat the fish. Fry the fish for 4 or 5 minutes until crisp, remove from the oil and drain briefly on kitchen paper.
Toss the asparagus and fish together and serve with the feta cream.
Smoked haddock and spinach tart
The important thing here, crucial actually, is to make certain the pastry case has no cracks or tears. The base will be crisper if you place the tart on a preheated baking sheet or pizza stone while it bakes.
For the pastry
plain flour 190g
thyme leaves 1 tbsp
egg yolk 1
a little water
For the filling
smoked haddock 450g
bay leaves 2
whole black peppercorns 6
spring onions 3
eggs 3, plus an extra yolk
double cream 225g
creme fraiche 125g
You will need a shallow 22cm tart tin with a removable base. Place the haddock in a shallow pan, then add the milk with enough water to just cover the fish, then the bay and lightly cracked peppercorns. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, then leave to cook for five minutes before turning off the heat and covering tightly with a lid.
Make the pastry. Rub the flour and butter together until they are the texture of fine breadcrumbs, either with your fingertips or using a food processor. Add the thyme leaves, a pinch of salt, then the egg yolk. Combine thoroughly then pour in enough water, a couple of tablespoons or so, to bring the dough to a firm but rollable consistency.
Roll the pastry out on a floured board then use to line the tart case, pushing the pastry well into the corners. Trim the edges then place in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest. If you fail to do this, your pastry will shrink.
Heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6 and place a metal baking sheet in the oven. Line the pastry case with baking parchment or foil weighed down with baking beans and bake for 20 minutes on the preheated baking sheet. Lift out the foil and beans, carefully, to avoid tearing the pastry, then return to the oven for a few minutes until the pastry is dry to the touch.
Wash the spinach thoroughly then place in a pan, tightly lidded, over a moderate heat. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes until the leaves have wilted, turning once. Remove from the heat and plunge into iced water. Drain, squeeze firmly in your fist to remove as much water as possible, then roughly chop and set aside. Finely slice the spring onions.
Drain the haddock, remove the skin (it should pull away easily), then break the fish into large chunks. Put these into the pastry case. Add the spinach and spring onions.
Lightly beat the eggs in a mixing bowl, then beat in the cream and creme fraiche. Season with salt and pepper then pour into the pastry case, taking great care not to let it spill over the edge.
Bake the tart for 20-25 minutes until the filling is lightly set. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 20 minutes before slicing.
You could dress your own crab, but this is a quicker version using ready dressed one. The shells and claws that usually accompany the meat contain a considerable amount of flavour, enough to make it worth smashing them up and infusing with the cream.
dressed crab on the shell 160g
double cream 500ml
banana shallot 1 medium, peeled and halved
black peppercorns 8
bay leaves 2
dill a handful
sprouted seeds a handful, such as beetroot or radish
Remove the crab meat from the shells, separating white and brown meat into two bowls. Break the shells into pieces with a heavy weight, then put them in a deep saucepan with the cream, shallot, cloves, peppercorns and bay, then bring to the boil. Remove from the heat immediately the cream starts to bubble, before it rises up the sides of the pan, then cover and set aside for 30 minutes.
Cook the pasta in deep, generously salted, boiling water for a few minutes or until tender. While the pasta cooks, cut the radishes into four and finely chop the dill. Pour the infused cream through a sieve, discarding the shells and aromatics, then check the seasoning, grinding in a little pepper and salt to your taste.
Drain the pasta then toss with the crab meat, crab-infused cream, the radishes and the chopped dill. Finish, if you wish, with a little bunch of sprouted seeds.