Fish for beginners
Fish doesn't have to be overly expensive or complicated, as Katy McGuinness shows with these three delicious, nutritious and affordable recipes
For an island nation, we eat surprisingly little fish. Many of us order fish when eating out, but never think to cook it at home. That's a pity, because fish dishes can be healthy, simple to prepare and good value. Rather than sticking to the same type of fish each time, try experimenting with different types. Lesser-known fish are often considerably cheaper, so instead of cod or monkfish, which can be pricy, perhaps try hake or ling, which are versatile fish with good flavour and texture.
Here are three recipes using less expensive fish. Mackerel is one of the best value fish there is, and plentiful in Irish waters. Be sure to buy it really fresh, though. Instead of cooking the fish, you seal it in a pan and marinate it for a few hours to make this tasty salad.
Squid is best cooked either very quickly, or very slowly. This recipe is plundered from an old Rick Stein favourite; the potatoes are an addition to his original recipe but turn it into a one-pot wonder that's perfect for a chilly autumn evening. It cooks at a gentle pace for a couple of hours while you get on with something else, and is rich and delicious.
Finally, the hake dish is a simple supper that you can have on the table within a short while of coming in from work. Mustard and fish doesn't sound like an obvious combination, but this is inspired. Trust me.
As ever, the shopping list assumes that you have some basic ingredients, but do check your cupboards to be sure.
Roast Hake With Mustard
Small knob of butter
4 x 200g fillets of hake
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
250g crème fraîche
3 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp whole-grain mustard
2 shallots, chopped finely
2 tsp capers
Preheat the oven to 220/Fan 200/Gas 7. Grease an ovenproof baking dish with a knob of butter and place the fish fillets skin side down in the dish. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Combine the crème fraîche, Dijon mustard, wholegrain mustard, shallots, capers, a pinch of salt, and a few grinds of black pepper in a small bowl. Spoon the sauce evenly over the fish, covering it completely. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, until it's just cooked.
Test that it's cooked by inserting the tines of a fork into the thickest part of the fish and placing them against your lip. If the metal is hot as opposed to warm, the fish is cooked through. This would be good with some short grain brown rice and steamed green vegetables.
100ml sherry vinegar
100ml red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
A few bay leaves
Large pinch salt
A few parsley stalks
A few black peppercorns
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 mackerel, filleted
2 bulbs of fennel
Large bunch of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
To make the marinade, put the vinegars, sugar, bay leaves, salt, parsley stalks, peppercorns, and water into a saucepan, bring to the boil and immediately remove from the heat. Leave to one side to cool.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the mackerel fillets, skin-side up, for about 30 seconds. Put the fillets into a shallow dish, add the sliced onion and pour over the marinade. Put in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
Trim and slice the fennel and radishes finely. Peel the oranges and remove the pith, cut in half and slice thinly. Combine the fennel, orange, radish, and parsley, and dress with the olive oil.
Take the skin off the fish with your hands and flake the fish on top of the salad before serving.
Squid and Potato Stew
750g squid (cleaned weight)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
150ml red wine
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
800g potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Clean the squid or ask the fishmonger to do it for you. Cut the bodies into rings and separate the tentacles into manageable pieces.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the squid and cook over a high heat until lightly browned.
Turn down the heat, add the onion and garlic and cook for about five minutes until softened. Add the tomatoes, red wine, water and thyme, cover and simmer gently over a very low heat for two hours.
Add the potatoes for the last half hour, making sure they are tender and cooked through. Season with salt and pepper and serve with a green salad.
Taste Test: Vanilla Ice-cream
It's tempting to discount vanilla ice-cream as bland and boring, the various brands indistinguishable. Usually they are just there on the side, to add an element of coldness in juxtaposition to a hot pudding. Vanilla ice cream used to consist of just cream, sugar, eggs and vanilla, but these days you can expect a much longer ingredient list. In general, the ice-creams with the fewest ingredients were the most popular, the Lidl version is an exception.
Haagen-Dazs Vanilla, 500ml/€6.77 8/10
Haagen-Dazs prides itself on using only five ingredients (fresh cream, condensed skimmed milk, sugar, egg yolk and natural vanilla flavouring) and, while it doesn't taste home-made, it's comforting and has no synthetic aftertaste.
Gelatelli Bourbon Vanilla (Lidl), 1 litre/€2.39 7/10
This product from Lidl describes itself as an 'ice dessert'. The ingredients include cream, sugar and natural bourbon vanilla flavouring, but also stabilisers such as carrageenan and carotenes for colour. Despite the additives, this one was a popular hit, with a flavour of burnt caramel that was quite different to all the others tested.
Marks & Spencer Madagascan Vanilla Ice Cream, 500ml/€6.89 6/10
A comforting ingredient list (whole milk, clotted cream, sugar, dried skimmed milk, pasteurised free range egg, vanilla extract and vanilla bean seeds) and pleasant appearance was let down by a bland flavour. There's nothing wrong with this one, just nothing to get too excited about.
Supervalu Madagascan Vanilla Ice Cream, 500ml/€3 6/10
A good smell of vanilla and lots of comforting little black specks in the mixture, the SuperValu candidate had a creamy texture and was well-liked despite the presence of stabilisers and emulsifiers.
Tesco Madagascan Vanilla Ice Cream, 500ml/€3 5/10
Made with fresh Irish cream boasts the label, but also dried glucose syrup, stabilisers and emulsifiers. This tasted 'very sweet' and the appearance was a disconcerting bright white with specks of vanilla.
Carte D'Or Vanilla, 900ml/€2.50 (half-price offer, usually €5) 3/10
This yellow coloured ice-cream has a marshmallow texture and our testers found it 'too rich' and 'synthetic- tasting'. Yes it has hand-picked vanilla from Madagascar, but also lots of other ingredients that don't sound as appealing.