I’m writing for a new website called www.fishonfriday.org.uk It’s brilliantly informative about all things fish, with recipes, techniques, and buckets of information about sustainability.
This month I’m looking at Hake, asparagus, strawberries, May pole punch, and al fresco dining with a recipe for drunken prawn ceviche.
It’s hot enough to sunbathe, gardens are blooming and the evenings are long: perfect for al fresco cocktails and dining late into the night. All this, and the month begins with a holiday too: May Day, a festival that celebrates fertility in all its forms, from the soil to the sea.
Underscoring the arrival of summer, May marks the beginning of the season for strawberries – a versatile fruit that can do much more than just be served with cream. Try mixing with red onion, lemon and black pepper for a great salsa: delicious served with cold seafood, prawns, squid and mussels or wrapped inside a fish taco.
Strawberries are a vital ingredient in a May Pole Punch too. Here’s how to make enough for four. Mix two glasses of white wine with a spoon of honey and a slosh of brandy. Add a few sprigs of sweet woodruff (a common weed that has a natural sweetness and smells of fresh cut hay and vanilla), or add a smidgen of vanilla essence. Add two glasses of sparkling wine or carbonated water and stir. Fill four glasses with ice, a few halves of strawberries and some edible flowers – nasturtiums, marigolds or even dandelions will do. Then top with the punch.
The start of summer’s abundance is also reflected in the wealth of seafood available, including Atlantic cod, flounder, pouting, hake and pollock. Pouting is a by-catch and rarely sought after, therefore very affordable and a great sustainable choice. Its flesh is a little soft, so firm it up by salting it lightly for 15 minutes before roasting. Hake is also a good choice with healthy, well-monitored stocks (in fact, it was recently named the UK’s most sustainable fish: more on this next week). Try grilling hake steaks on the barbecue with rosemary and salt: very yummy indeed.
A lot of fish are still spawning at this time of year (dab, Dover sole, grey gurnard, lemon sole, mackerel, sardines, red mullet and sea bass). Although fish are plump and the quality generally high, it’s best to avoid fish caught during their spawning season, to allow them to multiply.
For my recipe this month, I’ve gone for cold-water prawns, or shrimps, as the feature ingredient in a ceviche: Peru’s national dish. Ceviche is normally made with raw fish or shellfish, which has been marinated in lime juice – an alternative to cooking, which turns the flesh firm and opaque, while keeping its flavours fresh and adding a citrus zing too. Although cold-water prawns are sold cooked, they work just as well and keep longer too: “raw” ceviche really has to be made with absolutely fresh seafood.
A reliably sustainable choice that’s available all year round, North Atlantic prawns still somehow come into their own in the sunshine. Buy prawns with the shell on: they have so much more flavour. If you buy them frozen, make sure you allow time for them to defrost: break them apart, and they’ll be ready in no time. Running them under cold water loses all their flavour, washing it down the sink. Make sure you keep the heads and shells for a quick yet divine stock (see recipe below), which you can freeze until you need it.
As an extra seasonal touch, I’ve added asparagus to the ceviche. The season for this highly desirable spring vegetable and well-known aphrodisiac is now in full swing, so the price has dropped a little, making it more affordable. Its delicate and sublime flavours make it a perfect accompaniment to fish, and steaming is a great way to cook both, leaving their flavours intact. Steam a 180g fillet of line-line caught pollock per person for five minutes before adding some asparagus to the same pot and finishing them off together for three more minutes. Serve simply, doused in a good extra virgin olive oil with a wedge of lemon, and some buttery new potatoes on the side.
Drunken prawn ceviche with asparagus and radishes
Ceviche is exhilaratingly fresh, perfect for lazy, sunny days, with a beer in hand. Drenched in lime and spiced with fresh chillies, it will sock you with a sour twang and flaming heat, awakening your tastebuds to a real culinary sensation. Ceviche is made widely across Latin America. Fishmongers preserve their fish in this way in big jars, allowing for another day’s sale at the market, a practice that has been going since ancient Incan times.