Thursday, 6 October 2011

Portuguese Seafood Stew with Aioli and An Apple and Walnut Cake

 I had lots of fun cooking this week’s dinner. Funny because it made me realise how much I obviously hadn’t been having fun with the other things I had been cooking. I think I had been so adept at concentrating and wanting to get things right that I forgot just to do it and see what happens. You know, take the more light-hearted approach. It wasn’t as if this week’s meal was a cop-out, I still chose to do something I haven’t tried before, but I don’t know, I just never seemed to worry or panic this time about the outcome. Maybe after reading a few recipes I just had faith that it would all turn out ok.
After a few rays of sunshine showed themselves that day I opted out of my original plan to do shepherd’s pie and went for seafood stew instead. A place I used to work at had it on the menu at one time and everyone seemed to get very excited by it. So I thought I’d have a go at getting excited by it too. The general gist of a Portuguese stew is to have your base of onions, garlic, peppers, tomato, and to add the various fish and seafood in layers on top of this so it all steams and infuses and becomes a big pot of hot juicy tasty goodness. I chose to add chorizo to the base for a bit of spiciness and smokeyness, as well as the usual aromatics: peppercorns, bay, white wine. Oh and some parsley. Now in the past I haven’t actually ventured far into the seafood section at the market, mainly out of fear and inexperience, but it was nice to by-pass the loins and hanging carcasses in the butchery aisles and go instead to those fishy stalls nearby. With seafood it seems that you certainly get what you pay for and I wasn’t keen on going for the cheap and cheerful option and choosing fish that wasn’t going to add any flavour to the dish, or that was going to fall apart when you stuck your fork in it. It cost a bit more, but in the end I bought a selection of basa fillet, swordfish, prawns, mussels and clams. I think variety is key to a good seafood stew and I thought each of those would combine nicely in the pot.  

With potatoes in the dish the starch component was spoken for, but I recalled that a good bit of crunchy toast with aioli was a good accompaniment with the fish so decided to make a batch of the heart-stopping condiment. I haven’t made much of my own mayonnaise so far, even though it’s one of the first things they teach you how to do at school. But bringing out the magi-mix instead of the bowl and whisk made things a lot easier and faster, and in the end it looked the part. I may have gone a little overboard on the garlic however... tasting it I literally did a bit of a ‘woah there’. Funnily enough though when it came to eating the stew most of the compliments from the guests involved the infamous spread. Turns out you can’t have too much of a good thing after all. 

With the main event happening in a pot (or two actually – it was optimistic to think all that fish was going to fit in one) the remaining element was dessert. Sweets following on from seafood was a tricky decision, nothing to rich or creamy I thought. So I decided to do something with apple seeing as they are in season, and make an apple and walnut crumble cake. It involved making a crumble mixture from butter, sugar, flour and walnuts and then dispersing that in layers throughout the cake batter, with cinnamon apples on top. It all looked pretty good coming together though I really didn’t have enough batter to get the layers going, and unfortunately I made a school boy error and over cooked it. I thought and hour and a half seemed a bit excessive but trusted the recipe instead of my instincts. Hmm, lesson learnt there.
It was great to finally attempt a seafood dish and see that it turned out well. I may actually consider trying more dished involving mussels and clams and all those other crazy things from the sea. Funny how you can be scared of something even though you’ve never actually tried and failed, but just never tried. What is it about the fear of failure that stops even a first go being attempted. Silly really.