Le Serre Nuove – Thoughts from Glasshouses

Food Stories and Recollections

Tag Archives: seafood

Welsh Curiosity

There are certain things that the forces of nurture impress upon you. Growing up with a Welsh Dad, and with members of family still living in Cardiff, for me that was alcohol, socialism, rugby and laverbread. Being Welsh or more specifically scouse born, home county raised, half Welsh, these things were unescapable,  as they were traits that emerged at certain times of the year. Most obviously whenever the six nations came about (particularly 1993 and Ieuan Evans’ try), they would lurk in the background and shoot at me when I least expect it. During my student days too, I would invariably get packets in the post from my Gran containing a whole heap of goodies – predominantly her Welsh Cakes. They are unequalled. Period.

Talking of my Gran, she used to threaten me with laverbread whenever I came to stay. Laver is seaweed found on the Gower coast plucked from the rocks at low tide. To make Laverbread it is boiled for several hours and then minced. I think the notion of eating seaweed would always put me off, and that it looks like black mush. Then she cooked me a traditional Welsh breakfast (you get it with cockles nowadays but this is a traditional South Wales miners breakfast) of laverbread, bacon, mushrooms and sausages, when I was about 18 and boy did I realise how good it is. I was amazed about how fresh it tasted and how it tasted like the sea. I found it quite salty, but it compliments the meat really well. With seaweed being increasing popular with the rise of sushi and the significant health benefits it brings, it is a great thing to cook with and something that I really enjoy, particularly when I now go down to the Valleys. Steven Terry is a big fan (from the Hardwick Inn) and here is a great recipe of his here. Below is a great dish I have made a couple of times and I think helps show how versatile the dish is, and what a curiosity it is.

Monkfish & Laverbread Cakes

Monkfish fillets
100g fresh or tinned laverbread
35g fine oatmeal
10g Parsley
6 rashers of bacon (keep the fat)

Grill the bacon over a medium heat, ensuring you keep the fat, until cooked.  Place on a paper towel to remove excess fat. Dice the cooked bacon, and combine the laverbread, parsley and oatmeal in a bowl. Shape into 6 small cakes, about 5cm wide and 2cm thick.  Heat the bacon fat in a frying pan (or use the same pan as you cooked the bacon in), and gently slide the cakes into the hot fry, turning occasionally until crisp on both sides. Drizzle with some lemon juice just before serving if you wish.

To roast the monkfish, season the fillets with salt and pepper, heat a large ovenproof frying pan with some olive oil, and fry the fillets in the pan for 2 minutes. Turn them over and put the pan in a preheated oven (about 220°C) for 6 to 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets. Serve with the laverbread cakes.

Yr un peth eto, os gwelwch yn dda.

Log fires and Seafood – The Three Chimneys

Probably one of my favourite places in the whole world is the Isle of Skye. It is a mystical place. Rugged, wind-swept, beautiful and enchanting that often lifts me onto a different emotional plain. Sometimes you really don’t know what is on your doorstep. That was certainly true when I first went there, because there are elements to it that really blew me away, like going to Florence for the first time or walking along the Inca trail and stumbling upon Machu Picchu, and seeing landscapes in their natural beauty. The Three Chimneys is nestled in a village whose population would not even fill the restaurant – with a view overlooking the sea, the surroundings wild, bleak and sparse.

Yet, despite the location, you have a venue in the Three Chimneys that has been known to receive traveling visitors to the helipad (i.e. the patch of grass opposite) for lunch and a reputation that belies its rural out-posting. Its reputation built upon the local seafood that surrounds the isle, all of which identified on the menu with the landing site for the catch. The traditional stone croft cottage has been transformed and is now incredibly intimate, to a degree that you are almost dining with the table next to you. A very reasonable wine list, heavy on white wine, led us into a white Burgundy from Nuits Saint George. I had conflicting thoughts about the menu, (unbalanced maybe?), but I was there to eat the seafood: Hake, skate and razor clams to start, halibut and squid to follow.

Gigha Halibut, Squid, Fennel. Caviar sauce.

I have always been a bit skeptical of taking pictures of restaurant food, however beautiful it is (I am more in the Giles Cohen school), and I would probably annoy my wife exponentially by getting out my DSLR: filters, flashes, tripods and all. But in honour to all you bloggers that do, there is a little photo to the right (done with my iphone).

It was a dish that typified our experience. Some parts phenomenal, some parts average. The squid was overcooked and not particularly enjoyable whilst the potatoes did not really bring anything to the dish against the fennel or the sauce. That said however, the gigha halibut was absolutely fabulous. It alone was worth the entry fee (if you had one). I probably do not have the linguistic capabilities to really express my delight at how good it was and how much I enjoyed it. With the caviar sauce, it was simply sensational. The anise and slight nuttiness of the fennel was also not too overpowering and added subtlety. That alone would have been sufficient for me. It was a BIG portion. My starter, equally, was the same. The hake was fabulous, as were the clams, but I struggled against the saffron potatoes and I could not taste the skate. My wife really enjoyed her partridge starter, but her monkfish in Ayrshire bacon was very salty (which may in part be of course due to the nature of the bacon). The scallop accompaniment however, made the dish. As soft and delicate as you can get.

The deserts, the warm almond cake and the dark chocolate mousse with ginger, were both excellent, although the ginger was served separately so balancing the flavours proved problematic. The sommelier was suitably impressed by my wife’s origami with the napkins (she turns it into a chicken) that he gave us some complimentary dessert wines which was a nice touch, and typified the excellent service. The Three Chimneys is renowned for its marmalade soufflé, and judging by fellow diners’ reactions it was proving to a massive hit. It was pertinent to wash everything down with a Talisker, and all its smokey goodness.

Walking out of the restaurant the view is simply stunning, and if you hit it at the right time of year the sunset phenomenal. This is what contributes to the magic that is the Three Chimneys. The food is good, but there are elements you would not expect if it was in say, London. Ironically it has been outstripped by Kinloch Lodge (which has been awarded a Michelin Star, and dining there really does feel like you are enjoying dinner in Laird MacDonald’s house) as THE location restaurant within Skye. That competition can only be a good thing, because it will help drive the Three Chimneys on it bigger and better things. I will remember that Halibut for a long while; next time you hope everything is as good.

We slowly drove back down the single track lane back to our apartment, to a wonderful log fire and yet another night-cap. The raw majestic qualities of Skye will never fail to dazzle me.

Crustaceans and Crabshakk

Is there anything more delectable that lobster? My mind was cast by the story of  3.4 KG lobster that was caught in the Forth, (http://news.scotsman.com/scotland/Now-that39s-pot-luck.6584570.jp) and auctioned at my local fishmongers, Armstrong’s in Stockbridge, recently. In my haste, I completely forgot to go down and check it out, maybe even bid, but I was through in Glasgow on the Friday and lobster cravings gave way to thinking of the tiny chaos of Crabshakk.

It’s been open for nearly two years and received quite a lot of press attention last year for its stripped back approach to shellfish. I first ventured there for lunch about a year ago, and I was intrigued to see how it had changed. There is no doubt there will be things that won’t be for everybody: it is incredibly crammed (if you get a table by the fire it’s about half the size of single school desk), and the menu is not extensive (although you can get a steak – or fish suppers if you don’t like shellfish), but its creates the sort of buzz and hustle and bustle that is more Bleecker Street than Argyle Street.

Whenever my dad would take me to the pub growing up I always wanted a bag of Scampi Fries. I had no idea what they were, but they were incredibly tangy in flavour, and moreish. They smelled fishy, but I didn’t taste like it and the were way better than cheese and onion crisps. I had soon moved on to the breaded variety at the chippie, as I hated soggy fried fish (still do), and still didn’t know what ‘Scampi’ was and only knew it by association. Dublin prawns was what my dad would call them (always forgetting the bay part), but I never had a real Langoustines until I moved to Scotland. The dramatic rise in their popularity (from revenues of about £68m in 2002 to £200m this year), due in part to their the supposed stock levels and the environmental impact of overfishing, has seen them become almost ubiquitous in menus.

I lost count of the amount they served me (12 I believe). They were all perfectly cooked, lightly grilled and coated in garlic butter. Even in Paris, it is supposedly acceptable that you use your hands to take the meat out of the shell, and use the finger bowl, and it is certainly the way you are expected to do it here. It’s just impossible not to get shells everywhere. I know people who like to suck the brains out like crayfish, and I doubt it would be frowned upon, but that’s not something for me. I really don’t like the mess. It goes with the territory, and if you do order these things you should tolerate it. But that can be forgiven. I think I could still be there given how succulent they were. The crab cakes too, were small perfectly formed, no potato filler, just white crab meat and tender and delicate. I probably soured the event by washing it all down with Italian lager; it didn’t add anything, and is just quite boring. Sides too were pointless, unless you needed a carb fix.

The freshness and quality of the produce used is second to none; Crabshakk lets them speak for themselves with the minimum of fuss. By and large they had maintained the standards that they had set last year. Crabshakk may be awkward and cramped, and can feel like a roadside diner (no doubt it is the point), but it is certainly worth it.

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