Pineapple and Prawn Curry

I know… I know…. it’s been so long since I wrote anything but there’s been so much going on. We’ve had guests staying and we’ve been on trips abroad and time just slips on by. It didn’t help that twice I wrote out this recipe and twice something went wrong. I saved everything, both times, but half of the post still went missing. Technology, eh?

So, I’ll start again. Things have changed a lot since we moved in here with just a couple of suitcases. While we waited for the container to arrive, I did go and buy us the bare minimum of stuff to see us through…

And when I say the bare minimum, that’s what I mean.Thank goodness for IKEA. That balcony table and chairs were all we had to eat at unless we wanted to sit on the bed, which was the only other thing we had. Mind you, that gave me time to think about what I really wanted…

Having friends round to eat with us is a big part of our life. We love to share evenings and food with people and  we wanted to make sure that when we did get a table, we’d get the perfect table.

We wanted a square table because if we got a rectangular one, it meant there was someone sitting at the head of that table and for us, there’s no head of the table. Everyone eating around it is equal. We also didn’t want legs either, as someone on the corner (me, usually) always ended up banging knees on the legs. But finding the perfect table… well, that was the hard part.  I looked everywhere and there was nothing I could find that was right for us.

And then I found Teakia, where all they asked was what was it that I wanted…. square? Yes, certainly. Five feet square should be large enough? A central pedestal? Of course, what carving would I like on the pedestal? Teak? Naturally. Chairs? Try this chair… or that? What suits you? Ten chairs would fit round that perfectly.

You have no idea how happy I was. Everything made to my specification. This was the ultimate customer service.

And then it arrived…. the beautiful, solid, central pedestal

.. the square table top

… and ten lovely chairs!

No excuse now… I had to cook for our friends. I wanted us to sit down together, laughing, eating and drinking; celebrating our new start in Malaysia.

One of the first things I cooked was something I’d had a local restaurant – pineapple and prawn curry. I don’t think I’d had anything like that before but it was the most lovely dish – the pineapple was sweet and sharp while the prawns added a salty savouriness to a spicy sauce.

I went and got a big bag of prawns ( weighing them, cleaned and peeled later, they came to about 300g) ; a pineapple (you could use a tin of good pineapple in its own juice); a stalk of lemongrass, some mild red chillies, a piece of turmeric root, although ground turmeric will work as well; shallots; garlic; dried shrimp paste; coriander seeds and coconut cream. I can buy coconut cream, freshly squeezed in bags but if you don’t have access to that, a can will do just as well.


First of all, peel and de-vein the prawns, running a knife down their backs and pulling out the black cord of their intestines.  Put them into the fridge to keep cool, as you will add them at the end of the cooking.

The next thing to do is also something that will be needed later but it makes sense to do it straightaway and besides, you will need the pestle and mortar to do other stuff…. so, grind three tablespoons of coriander seeds and put them to one side. I’m quite fond of pounding away with a pestle and mortar as it gets the tension out of me….. If you have no tension, you could, of course, use ground coriander. Maybe three teaspoons would do.

Now, chop all of the other ingredients  – the lemongrass stalk; the shallots (maybe five or six); three or so cloves of garlic; about an inch or so or turmeric root ( a teaspoon and a half if you used ground powder) and three or four red chillies. This makes them easier to pound… or grind if you want to blitz them.


Once everything is in a smoothish paste  add in chopped soaked, dried chillies and pound some more. Remove the seeds from the chillies first and they add a lovely soft and rich taste to the spice mix, without overpowering everything. Using a pestle and mortar gives you a rougher mix than if you blitz it all,  and I like the difference in textures, but a  quick blitz will give the same results.

Then, heat a frying pan and add some oil – you have to fry the spice mix for a few minutes to let all the flavours blend properly

Adding some of the coconut cream, maybe half of the can, if that is what you are using, and it will stop it burning.

Add in the ground coriander and a quarter or half teaspoon of dried shrimp paste and stir it round gently before adding the rest of the coconut cream

Look at how it all swirls together. It smells really good, too.

The pineapple goes in now and needs to cook  gently so it softens.

Some Maldon salt needs to be added to balance the flavour

Then… throw in those fresh prawns, Grey now, because they are raw, but stir gently and watch them turn a beautiful rosy pink.

Five more minutes of simmering and then it will be ready

All we needed was some rice and to get up to the table

Dinner was served.

The sweet sharpness of the pineapple was balanced by the rich smoothness of the coconut cream and the salty, savoury prawns in that spicy gravy made it into a perfect supper dish.

Perfect dish at a perfect table. It was worth the wait.


Sambal santan udang… probably the best prawn curry in the world

When I first met the Bear, I knew he was pretty special. I knew, in that deep down way, that he was someone I wanted to spend my life with. There was this sense of recognition. I know people always say you will KNOW when you meet the right person, but I suppose I never really believed them…. except, it’s true. I knew when I met him that he was the one for me. He was perfect.

Well…. almost perfect. He had some pretty fixed ideas about food……and that didn’t suit me. Broccoli? He’d get a stubborn look on his face and turn his head away. Shellfish? Nope. He wouldn’t eat that either.

Well, ask yourself, do you really think I was going to let him get away with that? I was determined that my life’s mission would be to make him truly omnivorous. I wanted him to know how wonderful fresh and tasty prawns were… what about the joy of eating oysters fresh off the boat? By refusing shellfish he was refusing so much.

I had a plan… and it was a plan that worked, too. He said he would refuse broccoli forever but when I made Broccoli that a Bear will eat  he not only ate it without complaint but actually asked for it at other times. The Broccoli and Stilton Pastryless Pie was a winner in his eyes and he liked having it in his lunchbox to take to work. When I made Baked Polenta Pie he loved it…..and all of those dishes had broccoli in them. How did I get round his stubborn refusal? I suppose you could say that I hid the broccoli. Whenever I served the dreaded vegetable it was covered in either a deliciously light creamy sauce, or baked into other delicious stuff. It got him to eat broccoli and while he still won’t eat plain, steamed broccoli, he will eat it without complaint and a certain enjoyment. Maybe that’s what you will have to do if you have equally stubborn food-faddists.

So, I had success on the broccoli front. What I needed to work on was shellfish. We started by making him eat one prawn – just one – whenever I ordered prawns. He admitted that he was missing out on stuff and if we ever ended up living somewhere where shellfish was freely available then it would be a waste if he didn’t try.  He wasn’t really enjoying it at first but he persevered. One prawn at a time. Then one day, he ‘phoned me from a trip abroad to say that he had eaten a prawn, voluntarily without me having to make him do it….. he was on the way to liking prawns!

He still wasn’t really convinced though… and then we moved here, to Malaysia. Here I can buy beautifully fresh king prawns for very little and so I started, in earnest, searching for the perfect prawn recipe that would make him love prawns. And you know what? I found it.

I’d bought a marvellous little recipe book by Betty Saw, a really well known Malaysian cook and writer, called ‘Malaysian’. It’s where I found that recipe for rendang that everyone likes. In it was this recipe for sambal santan udang, or prawn curry… it sounded delicious.

I bought 600g of king prawns (that’s 1lb 5½ ounces) and they needed to be cleaned and peeled.  That’s simple enough, just tear off the head and peel off the shell

… and then once that’s done, take a sharp knife and run it down the curved back of the prawn and pull out the black vein… you can see it there. That’s the intestinal tract and you don’t want that in there.

Then, put them in a bowl in the fridge and get on with the rest of the preparation. Of course, if you can’t get fresh prawns, use prepared frozen ones. And if this makes it too expensive for an everyday meal, save this for a special occasion. You’ll thank me for it later.

As with all Malaysian cooking, the next bit involves ingredients to be ground.

The recipe book said two onions, but as a couple of mine were really small, I used three of them.  Five chillies needed to be deseeded and sliced, four fat cloves of garlic had to be peeled along with four stems of lemongrass and one inch pieces of ginger and turmeric needed to be peeled. The turmeric is the bright orange piece in the middle there…. it looks like a piece of carrot.


When I first bought some, I thought it was just a differently coloured ginger… I mean, it’s not as if the label suggests anything else, is it? Anyway… if you can get some, I’d suggest you wear gloves when preparing it. Otherwise, your fingers, like mine, will turn a bright yellow and stay like that for days. If you can’t get fresh turmeric, you’ll have to use dried… maybe just under a teaspoonful will do it.

The other ingredient is belacan, which is dried shrimp or prawn paste. I know you can get this in the UK, so there’s no excuse for not getting some. I think the Malaysian belacan is a bit milder, so whereas I am using a half inch square piece, you may want to use a quarter of a teaspoon or so.


And then, as they say, have at it with a pestle and mortar. Or, if you want to, give it all a quick whizz with a blender, but don’t reduce it to a smooth paste… you need it to still have bits. (Remember, you can do this quickly and easily if you use the jars of ready prepared spices)

Now you are ready….


Start by frying the ground ingredients in three tablespoons of oil. This will take five minutes or so and you’ll smell everything coming together and the oil separates.

Pour in a can of coconut milk and stir everything round, bringing it to the boil.


Now, if you were to taste the creamy coconut and spice sauce you’d like it, but what it needs is something to lift it… and you get that from tamarind. Here, I buy tamarind paste that still has seeds in it and what I have to do is mix a dessertspoonful of the paste with four tablespoons of water and then strain it out. You might be able to get paste without seeds, so that makes it a bit easier.

The sharpness fromn the tamarind really brightens the taste of the sauce… it is still rich and delicious but it isn’t cloying.

Then… add the prawns….chuck in a pinch of salt….simmer for five minutes….and you’re done. The best prawn curry ever.


I served it over basmati rice that I’d added a handful of grated coconut to. I do that because I like it and because I can. Served over plain rice this would be just as delicious.

And that was it. Simple and quick. The finished curry is not mouth searingly hot, but well spiced. The flavour is rich and creamy but not cloying. In fact, it is delicious.

So delicious that Bear is now a convert to prawns. And he’d said it couldn’t be done…..all I have to work on now is spinach.






Meatfree Monday – Monkfish in a cream, vermouth and pea sauce.

The weather has been really good this year. Proper weather, if you know what I mean. In the winter it was cold and snowy (OK so I was moaning about the interminable snow when it stretched on, week after week, but looking back? Well… it was fun at times, wasn’t it?) and now we are into the summer and we have had sun!

This is England, you know. We do damp and cool very well indeed. Having sun when we are supposed to get it it is break from tradition.

Of course, I can moan about the sun being too hot (because it’s no real fun when I am at work behind glass, steaming gently like an heirloom tomato in a greenhouse… all red,shiny and strangely misshapen) but generally I am happy. Everything I am growing on the balcony is benefitting from the gorgeous weather and it is lovely to come out from work into sunshine.

It makes you want to have light and fresh foods. Not just salad, of course, though that’s good and refreshing, but tasty and light suppers that still feel rather special.

I had a fancy for fish and called in at the fishmongers on the way home from work. There, on ice, were monkfish cheeks at £4.99 a kilo. Monkfish!   For those of you who don’t recognise the name “monkfish”, it is apparently known as goosefish on the eastern coast of North America.

I adore monkfish! The tails are very expensive, but the cheeks are the cheapest part of the fish. Monkfish are possibly the ugliest fish in the oceans, with an enormous head – but it is their tails that are the prized part. In days gone by, unscrupulous people would use monkfish tails instead of lobster as they taste very similar – sweet and meaty- and were very cheap. Now, with the amount of overfishing that goes on monkfish are becoming as expensive, often costing as much, if not more, than lobster, at times.

But the head… that great big, goggly eyed, enormous mouthed and whiskered head, well, that would often be just chopped off and thrown out. Nowadays though, more care is taken and the cheeks are cut off. They taste the same – sweet and delicious – but they are, of course, by necessity, just small pieces of fish. Which is why they are sold for so much less… and why they are an ideal quick and easy and very cost concious option for supper!

I bought six cheeks for £2

It’s such pretty, pinky white  flesh when you have stripped off the tough grey outer skin, but be aware there’s an almost translucent grey membranous layer that needs to be removed as well. You will spot it and it is easy to get off but be warned, it is still very tough.

I decided that if I were to do the cheeks in an aromatic sauce and serve them with rice it would make a really lovely supper…. but I needed to see what I had in the apartment that I could use.

I found some sweet onions and the remains of a pot of cream in the fridge. There were some frozen garden peas in the freezer that I thought would add a nice sweet touch and a lovely almost popping surprise in terms of the overall texture. I knew I had some vermouth that would lighten it and give a fresh taste so that could go in too.

I started by chopping the sweet white onion and started it off in a saute pan.

Adding salt to the onion makes it sweat more, keeping it white, rather than browning. I wanted this to look appetisingly pale.

A good splash of vermouth once the onions were softened helps make the start of a flavourful sauce. I always use Noilly Prat because that is the vermouth I have always used, but any good dry vermouth will do.  Just remember that it is the dry vermouth and don’t go throwing in the sweet red!

While that was gently bubbling away, I started some basmati rice – using one mug of rice with one and a half mugs of water (if it is real basmati it needs less water than other long grain rice) and let that boil softly until the water was mostly absorbed. Once the rice was nearly perfect and the water, in the main, absorbed, I take it off the heat and put a clean tea towel over the top of the pan and put a lid on top of that.

That is the most marvellous way to make sure that the rice is perfectly cooked and fluffy – the tea towel absorbs all the excess steam and moisture.

Once the alcohol had lost its almost raw smell and the aromatics of the vermouth remained, I added what was left of the cream to softem the sauce

A few handfuls of frozen garden peas were added so they could defrost in the sauce (frozen peas really are the only way anyone can have sweet peas if they haven’t got them growing outside their kitchen door!)

And then the cheeks, sliced into bite size bits…

A few minutes is all they need.

Just watch as the soft pink turns to a pure white coloured flesh.

And that, served on top of basmati rice is a truly delicious supper.

It was quick – under 25 minutes. It was cheap – maybe £3 or so in total and it made the two of us feel as if we had had a luxurious meal. Pretty good, eh?

The Bear loved it and that is what counts, isn’t it?

Noodles and Prawns

As part of the Bear’s training process ( in order to be truly omnivorous, he must learn to eat everything… and that includes shellfish) I am trying out various prawn recipes on him. He used to  get a very stubborn look on his face when I suggested shellfish and shake his head fiercely but he is getting used to me insisting he tries a mouthful, at least. These tactics are beginning to pay off. 

He not only ate his salt and pepper prawns but actively enjoyed them and would have eaten more but for the fact I insisted I had my fair share. I moved onto the next step in my plan….

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I knew he had liked the savouriness of the salt and pepper prawns and I wanted to give a hint of that when cooking this next lot. I decided that a marinade would boost things up, so I mixed a bowl, using Chinese cooking wine, some sweet soy sauce, some sweet chilli sauce and some sunflower oil. A squeeze of lemon would sharpen up what would be a sweetly savoury spicy marinade.

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 In went the prawns and I got on with other stuff. I thought noodles and vegetables would be good to go with it

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I had an orange pepper, some spring onions, a carrot, some garlic and ginger and some Chinese leaves. They would give a lovely crunch to the dish and be a good contrast to the softness of the noodles. I got some ready (because this is so quick to do, you need to have everything ready before you start cooking)

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With some hot oil in my largest frying pan (I really should get a wok, you know, but our kitchen is tiny and there isn’t another square inch of space to put anything and the benches are full already)

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I started by frying some garlic and ginger with a splash of sweet soy

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and then started frying the pepper, carrot and spring onion

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then the shredded bits of chinese leaves

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Put the noodles in and stir fry quickly.

Next step….prawns. By now they will have been doused in the marinade

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Squeeze a lime – roll it first to get the juice going .. you will need that to squeeze over the cooking prawns

 and then take out the noodles and vegetables – you are going to need that pan for the prawns

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Pour in the marinade as well – there is oil in there… just look how quickly they go from grey to pink….

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And serve. Some finely chopped spring onions scattered over the top just sets things off.

And was it eaten? Yes it was, by a person who says he hates shellfish. Well that’s two lots he has eaten now…. and it’s not as if he left any. Was it enjoyed? Draw your own conclusions.

Salt and pepper prawns

I can always be tempted by salt and pepper dishes from our local Chinese restaurant and when the Bear returned home clutching  raw king prawns and a bottle of rose it seemed that this would be the night to make salt and pepper prawns. I didn’t want to do a deep fried dish (lovely though that is) so I decided on a more or less dry fried way of cooking so I could at least say I was giving a nod towards healthy eating.

The rose went into the fridge to chill – that lovely pink fruitiness goes so well with spicy seafood – and I started on the spice coating.

All you need is salt, black peppercorns and Chinese five spice powder. Well, actually you should use Sichuan pepper as well, but I didn’t have any.

Actually, I didn’t have ordinary salt, either, which meant I had to crush some….

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So, about 2 tablespoons of salt are put into a dry frying pan and toasted…. you will see the salt change colour slightly

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In the meantime, crush a  teaspoon or so of black pepper corns

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And then pour in a teaspoon of Chinese 5 Spice powder and stir it well. If you had the pink Sichuan peppercorns then add a teaspoon of them and grind them

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Once everything is smooth and fine, add the spice mix to the salt and toast. Again you will see a colour change

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You can see it smoking in the pan… a word of warning – aromatic though that is, it doesn’t half make you cough if you breathe it in

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Leave it to cool and then remove it from the pan and get your prawns out. A spring onion, finely chopped and a squeeze of lemon juice will set them off beautifully.

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You can see they are grey and raw…

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put the minimum of oil in and get it hot and then throw them in

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Thirty or so seconds later they are pink and opaque.

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Scatter over some of the salt and spice mix

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………………….then serve with a scattering of spring onions and a squirt of lemon juice

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And the chilled rose is just perfect along side it.

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The Bear, who has always been hesitant about prawns and only bought them to please me… ate his portion with gusto and decided he liked prawns after all. I’m not sure that is such a great result.. on the one hand, it is lovely that we both like prawns but on the other… well, I have had to share!


I was cooking for some friends recently and bought monkfish tails. I didn’t use all the monkfish so I froze a tail fillet knowing that it would come in handy one night as a quick supper for the two of us.

That night was Friday night.

I had a few tomatoes and the last bit of a pot of cream.  It was cold and grey outside so I wanted  something bright to look at and there’s nothing more cheery than saffron added to food, with its lovely golden colour and that gorgeous deep tang of its flavour.

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This wouldn’t take long so I thought rice would be good. Basmati cooks really quickly and all you need to do is measure the rice then add the same amount of water and maybe a tablespoon extra.

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Just put that on the heat with a pinch of salt and get cracking on the rest of the supper…

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Start by chopping up a small onion and gently sauteing it in some butter till it softens and sweetens . Add a good pinch of saffron

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And some finely chopped tomatoes

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Stir it round and then pour in a good old slug of vermouth… maybe a cup full, add some salt and pepper..

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Stir that round and let it bubble down a bit.  The alcohol will cook off so don’t expect to get lashed on the sauce 😉  and don’t worry, you can give it to youngsters!

Get the monkfish and cut it into rounds.  Check the rice… has the water all been absorbed in? Is it tender? If it needs a drop more then add that but keep your eye on it. If it is ready, take it off the heat and put a tea towel over the top and then put the lid on to absorb the extra steam. By now the tomatoey sauce will be coming together. Add a knob of butter and stir round then carefully put the monkfish slices in

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Let it gently, very gently, bubble away for about 5 or so minutes until the fish is cooked.

Take the fish out and put on one side because you are now going to make the most delicious sauce…

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Pour in some cream and stir it in then turn up the heat so the sauce can reduce and thicken

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See how it is still a sauce but it has thickened?

Now pile up the rice in a bowl and add the monkfish

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Doesn’t it look gorgeous?

Then pour the sauce over

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And settle down to eat….


I do so love a good breakfast and when breakfast almost turns into lunch that’s even better. That means you are up later so you missed breakfast and  you are hungry but it’s too early for lunch. That’s why they call it brunch.

Weekends and lazy days. like today (our anniversary)  are perfect times for relaxing, celebrating and enjoying cooking and eating  food and one of the perfect things to make on days like this? Kedgeree 

So get some basmati rice, an onion, some curry powder (yes, I know, but this is one recipe that just needs it…no need for grinding lots of spices), maybe some ground cumin (but no need to worry if you don’t have it) some eggs, some smoked haddock, coriander leaves and a red chilli and some cream. I have a mix of natural undyed smoked haddock and some smoked cod there. Not for any reason other than  there was only a small bit of smoked haddock available when I went shopping, so I had to get some extra fish…. You have to do that sometimes. Just be flexible and don’t worry.

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First of all, in a large frying pan, gently cook some chopped onion in some oil and butter. This softens the onion nicely . If you like coriander as much as I do then chop in some of the coriander stems as well.

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While that is gently cooking, put your smoked fish in another pan with some water and poach at a soft simmer. I was going to say a gentle simmer but I realised I had said “gently” far too many times already. There again, I suppose it is a theme of the day…. this is the sort of breakfast that goes with a relaxed mood.

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Put 4 eggs in a pan and start boiling them for 4 minutes. As soon as the time is up, put the pan under a cold tap and run the water to cool them quickly. This will stop them cooking, keeping them just slightly soft and making sure there’s no horrible black rings round them.

Measure your basmati rice – for four people, I use 1 mug of rice, and add a mug and a little bit of water. Bring this to the boil then turn the heat down. Basmati rice cooks quickly so keep your eye on it. If you have measured the water then it should all have absorbed

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Thing is, it won’t be perfectly fluffy rice just yet. What you need to do is to get a clean tea towel and put that over the pan (taking it off the heat, of course) and then put the lid on top…. this absorbs the last bit of steam

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While that is on one side, the onion will have softened so stir in a teaspoon of curry powder, a pinch or so of cumin (if you are going to add it)  and a knob of butter. This deepens the flavour and makes it taste rich and delicious.

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By now the fish will have poached so take it out carefully with a fish slice and let it cool enough so you can remove the skin and flake it into bits.

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And, when you peek under the tea towel,  the rice will be perfectly fluffy

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Your eggs will be cooled so peel and quarter them.

Now? Now you start to put everything together…… First, the rice gets stirred into the oniony mixture in the frying pan

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Then, if you have cream, stir in a couple of tablespoons of cream… or failing that, some mayonnaise. Not too much, just enough to smooth out the flavours of the curry powder and onion and rice

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Then, carefully (you don’t want to break the fish into shreds and you have, I know,  flaked it so carefully) fold the fish into the rice mix

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Then… add the eggs

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Chop the coriander leaves and scatter over the top

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Smell that……. maybe a quick squeeze of lemon juice to sharpen things up and then…. into a bowl

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Doesn’t that look delicious? I always chop a bit of chilli to scatter over the top – very finely chopped chilli, not too much, just enough to leave tiny red specks of heat in the occasional mouthful

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If you haven’t made it before… try it. Honest, it’s good.

A perfect brunch on a perfect day.

Fish and crisps

Fish is brain food, or so people say.

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What could be better than a nice piece of fish, in a crispy crumb, baked to perfection?  We got some line caught cod as a treat and I set about making a crunchy covering for it.

I started to think about what to  do for the crispy crumb… breadcrumbs? Passe, my dear, so passe. Also, I have to admit, I didn’t have any bread to make crumbs from. So that ruled that out.

I did have cornmeal (polenta) and I did have a bag of crisps… well, Sunbites. They are wholemeal snacks that are crunchy and tasty. They would do. They would have to.

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I crushed them, inside the bag, so they were roughly crumbed and mixed the bits with a couple of tablespoons of cornmeal and a teaspoon of salt.

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On a plate, I roughly whisked, with a fork, a small egg and some milk.

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I put an oven tray, with a silicon sheet on, into the oven and set the temperature to 180 degrees. The tray needs to be hot when you put the fish on it so the bottom gets cooked as well, without being too soggy.

Drying the cod – or at least, patting it dry with kitchen roll – means that when you dip it in the eggy milk mixture, it gets a good coating…

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Which makes the crumb mixture stick to it. Put the fish onto the crumbs and pat them into the fish. It’s a bit sticky on the fingers but worth it, so don’t complain. I sprayed it with some oil spray so that the heat of the oven would crisp things up

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Doesn’t that look good? And it isn’t even cooked yet. Get it onto that hot oven tray and into the oven.

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15 to 20 minutes and it has crisped up to perfection. The fish flesh is brilliantly white and flakes perfectly.

I made some couscous flavoured with lemon zest and juice and some lemon and garlic mayonnaise to go with it

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What a lovely mouthful……

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There you go…. easy crispy coating made in seconds and twenty minutes in the oven and you have delicious fish… and crisps!

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