Naturally smoked haddock with a spicy sauce

Every cook understands, not everything goes to plan and sometimes, by circumstance or availability, that creative improvisation can create surprises.

I live in a small apartment with limited facilities, right in the centre of a city. Fresh food is a priority and, when possible, it should be priced reasonably. There are two weekly farmers’ markets but the choice of produce is often limited and quite often, outside my price range.

All these things in mind, I took a walk to Meath St, where there’s a fish shop, a pork butchers, a bakery and a butcher shop. Starting at the fish shop, they had a special offer of an entire fillet of naturally smoked haddock for a very reasonable €2. So that was my dinner dish decided.

Now, I live just a five minute walk away, so I put on some slow cooking pig’s ears before I left my apartment. My intention was to simmer them, over four hours, in a stock with onion, celery, garlic, carrots, parsnip, ginger, star anise, cinnamon and a drop of soy sauce.

The haddock deal was too good to ignore, though, so I figured I could still use the pig’s ear but cut in strips, coated in flour and flash fried and eaten cold, later, as a snack with some hot sauce.

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So back to the shopping at hand, I dropped in to the pork butchers and ordered four pig’s cheeks for tomorrow, then into Jack Roche’s greengrocer’s, where I bought pears, apples and oranges. Hey, I was low on fruit and no visit to Meath St is worthwhile without dropping in to see Jack. First, there’s always some good music playing – Jack loves to listen to classical crooners like Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Tony Bennett – and Jack is also a local community activist as well as an entertaining raconteur.

And that’s the sheer pleasure of living in a community where everyone says hello and passes the time of day with you, as you do your daily shopping. That’s even more ironic when you think this is the same area where the funeral of a murdered drug gangster was held the day before.

When I got home, I checked my pig’s ears, put my shopping away and sat down to do some writing. Here’s another irony; two schools, many businesses and at least six bars in the neighbourhood closed down yesterday because of this gangster’s funeral and fear of reprisals from the rival gang who will bury one of their own tomorrow and what am I writing? Crime fiction, that’s what and more than fifty times a day, I ask myself, why?

Writing does help me relax, though. I checked on my pig’s ears and they were soft and tender so I took them out of the stock and put them aside to cool. Time was moving on so now it was time to get the dinner on the show.

So here’s what I did. First, I put on some water to boil to which I added potatoes. Now I favour baby new potatoes because they have a low glycaemic index (G.I.) rating which is good for diabetics. After five minutes, I put a colander on top of the pot with the boiling potatoes so I could steam, first, the baby carrots, then trimmed French beans and finally, a couple of meaty chunks of the smoked haddock.

Now I had a sauce to think and what better than the stock from the pig’s ears. First, I added some chilli and let that cook for a while then I whizzed it all down to a smooth-ish sauce; it had been cooking so long before, it had reduced and only traces of the chilli remained intact. A quick taste, mmmm, and it was all ready to plate up.

Oh, and naturally smoked haddock is far more preferable than the usual smoked haddock available in many fish shops; y’know, the luridly yellow stuff that looks like it could light up a geiger counter, like jackpot day in Las Vegas.

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And there’s plenty of haddock left; more than enough for a traditional kedgeree for breakfast.

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