Sometimes work can be a full-on, stress-inducing, head-scrambling, giant waking nightmare – like when I’ve been delayed by sub-standard transport infrastructures and forced to throw together a cooking demo mis-en-place in thirty seconds – just before knocking up a three course dinner in front of a hundred people in thirty minutes; or when I’m planning a computer admin day combined with a number of copy deadlines and my dodgy internet has decided to take a day off to go surfing – or wherever it goes when it’s not my house.

This weekend in Dorset was none of those things. This weekend in Dorset was why I do what I do. Firstly, the sun shone like a giant beacon of love, caressing all involved in a huge embrace of warm reassurance for the marathon that lay ahead. The organisers’ pre-event briefing documents – requiring constant attention prior to the event, and which at times, to a tired old hack such as myself, had seemed a little over-zealous – revealed their true worth. Even cynical, event-jaded techies seemed to have the skip of a spring lamb in their step. The signs were good.

But above all, the great and the good that came on down in their droves, displaying a passion, enthusiasm and a love for the whole fish fest of an affair were down right inspiring. Football folk talk about the crowd being the twelfth man; musicians – in pub or stadium – gain a live performance edge generated by the energy of the crowd, and so it was on this sun-soaked Dorset beach front location that I, fuelled by the pure, wanton, inhibition-free gastro-revellers felt able to let rip with a verve and freedom that I last remember in a sweat-soaked basement club of an 80’s house party. While the following recipes were written and rehearsed in the more controlled environment of my practice kitchen, I have made a few tweaks to the originals based on the creative buzz gifted to me by the generous supporters of the 2017 Dorset seafood festival. Thank you to all.

Steamed Pollack, cauliflower and fennel couscous

Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil

80g butter

140g fennel, cut into small dice: (save the excess from 1 bulb for fish stock)

1/2 banana shallot, finely chopped

350g cauliflower (about 1/2 a cauliflower)

1 tsp garlic paste

Zest of 1 lemon

Juice of 1/2 lemon (reserve the remaining half lemon)

110g peas, cooked

3 tbsp capers

2 tbsp chopped parsley

50ml extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

600g pollack loin, skin on, cut into 4 pieces

40g butter (cut into thin slivers)

4 bay leaves

100 ml white wine

Salt and pepper

Heat 1 tbsp of the oil and 40g of the butter in a frying pan over a low to medium heat and add the fennel and shallot. Cook for several minutes, adding the garlic after about five minutes, and cook until the fennel has started to soften. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon zest and leave to stand for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, cut the cauliflower in 2cm thick slices from florets down to stalk so that it looks like a cross section of a tree. Heat the remaining 1 tbsp of the oil and 40g of the butter in a wide, heavy based saucepan. Place the cauliflower flat side down, plus any additional florets that have fallen off into the pan and cook for a few minutes until golden brown. Turn over and repeat on the other side. Turn the loose florets as necessary, so they are evenly browned too. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper. Cut the large pieces down into smaller pieces, and put these, along with the florets into a food processor and blitz to the consistency of a coarse couscous. Put the cauliflower crumble in a large bowl. Drain the fennel mix on kitchen paper and add that to the cauliflower along with the lemon juice, peas, capers, parsley, olive oil and seasoning. Set aside.

Bring a pan of water to the boil, turn down to a simmer and set a steamer with a lid over it. Take four large rectangles of kitchen parchment paper, large enough to form a loose parcel completely around each fish fillet. Place each of the fish fillets in the centre of each paper and bring up the sides, scrunching them together to form a bag in which the fish is now sitting. Season the fillets well with salt and pepper. Place the slivers of butter over each fillet and top each fillet with a bay leaf. Pour the white wine over the fish and seal the parcels by scrunching the paper along the top. Carefully place each parcel in the steamer over the simmering water. Put on the lid and steam for ten minutes, or until the fish is just cooked.

While the fish is cooking, cut the remaining half lemon into four wedges and cook on a pre-heated griddle pan on all sides until nicely charred.

Carefully remove the fish parcels and pour the cooking liquor from each parcel over the cauliflower mix. Stir well to combine.

To serve, spoon a portion of the cauliflower mix onto a plate and top with a piece if fish and a wedge of char-grilled lemon.

 

Garlic & herb grilled mussels

about 24 grilled mussels

500g live mussels, cleaned and de-bearded

60g butter

2 tsp garlic paste

65g fresh breadcrumbs

2 tbsp chopped parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

To make the garlic paste, simply blend 175g of skinned garlic cloves with 75ml of water. You can keep this in the freezer in an ice-cube tray and simply take out and de-frost what you need as required for any dish requiring crushed garlic.

Discard any mussels that don’t close when tapped on a hard surface. Pre-heat a heavy based pan with a tight-fitting lid over a high heat for a minute or so. Add the mussels, put on the lid and steam for a few minutes until they have opened. Drain in a colander and leave until cool enough to handle. Remove each mussel from its half shell and discard the shell half that the mussel was attached to. Save the other half shells. Discard any mussels that are still completely closed.

To make the garlic and parsley crust, melt the butter with the garlic. Add the parsley to the breadcrumbs and then combine thoroughly and evenly with the melted butter and garlic, and season to taste.

Place a mussel in a half shell and cover completely with a heaped teaspoon of the mixture. To serve, place the mussels on a baking tray and grill for three or four minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately.

 

Fish Tagine, cous cous, flat bread

Serves 4

Fish stock:

1 tbsp olive oil

Fennel trimmings from 1 bulb

¼ celery stick, chopped

¼ leek, white only, chopped

½ banana shallot, sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled

400g white fish bones & heads, gilld removed & cleaned well in cold water and roughly chopped

1 sprig parsley

1 thin slice lemon

400ml water

2tbsp olive oil

2 onions, sliced

1 tbsp ginger paste

1 tbsp garlic paste

1 tbsp tomato puree

1/4 tsp flakes

½ tsp turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 cinnamon stick

Generous pinch saffron threads 2 tbsp honey

Juice of ½ lemon

500g firm white fish fillet, cut in large chunks (Monkfish, Pollack, Gurnard are perfect)

200g mussels, cleaned and de-bearded

1 handful chopped fresh coriander

2 tbsp flaked toasted almonds

To make the fish stock, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a wide saucepan. Add the fennel, celery, leek, shallot and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes over a low to medium heat until softened but without colour. Add the fish bones, cooking gently for a further couple of minutes and turning regularly. Add the water and bring to a simmer. Skim off any scum and discard and then add the lemon and parsley. Simmer gently for twenty minutes. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine seive and add the saffron strands.

Meanwhile, in a deep sided frying pan, heat the 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add the onion and fry over a low/medium heat until softened and slightly caramelised (about twenty minutes). Add the ginger and garlic and fry gently for a minute before adding the dry spices. Stir well and fry gently for a further couple of minutes. Add the tomato puree and cook for another minute or so, stirring constantly to avoid sticking. Add the saffron-infused stock to the onion mix and stir well. Bring to the boil and uimmediately turn doen to a gently simmer. Add the lemon juiice and honey, and maintain the simmer.

Add the chunks of fish and cook gently for a couple of minutes. Add the mussels and continue cooking at a constant simmer until the mussels open.

Remove from the heat and sprinkle over the fresh coriander and toasted flaked almonds.

Serve with the couscous and flat bread.

 

Lemon and pea couscous

1 red onion, finely diced

250ml couscous

Zest of 1 lemon

250ml boiling water

1 cup garden peas (defrosted frozen peas)

A good slug of extra virgin olive oil

A good handful of parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

To make the couscous, heat a tbsp of oil in a saucepan (which has a tight fitting lid). Add the red onion and lemon zest and cook gently for a few minutes until softened but without colour. Add the couscous and coat well with the red onion mixture. Bring the water to the boil and add to the couscous. Bring back to the boil, put on the lid and immediately turn off the heat. Leave to stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Once cooked, remove the lid; add the remaining couscous ingredients and combine well, fluffing up with a fork as you do.

 

Roast garlic & fennel seed flat bread

250g SR flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 bulb roasted garlic

150g full fat Greek yoghurt

1 tbsp fennel seeds

Oil for frying

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and then knead for two or three minutes until soft and smooth. Add a little more flour if the mixture is too sticky and a little water if too dry. Leave to rest, covered for about twenty minutes. When ready to cook, divide the mixture into 8 equal size balls. On a lightly oiled surface, roll out each one as thinly as possible. Carefully place over a direct heat on the pre-heated barbecue and cook for three or four minutes on each side until bar-marked and dark brown. It doesn’t matter if they blacken and blister a little – in fact so much the better.