Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Hooked in Takoradi

 Captain Hook's Legendary Fish Platter

Long journeys suck. Long journeys in the heat suck even more. Long journeys in the heat on endlessly bumpy roads suck the most. But when a long journey in the heat on endlessly bumpy roads have a pit stop at Captain Hooks… well, that's a journey worth making.

Since I started coming to Ghana a couple of years ago, I have grown to love the local fare, and have found the best food to be outside the capital, especially along the coast. The one thing I really look forward to is our visit to Captain Hook. This normally happens on the way to Axim or Cape Cost (West coast of Ghana). The journey can take anywhere from six to nine hours, and because of this we tend to start our trip early in the morning. By lunchtime we’re lagging, cranky and bored of hearing the loop on the World Service. The only thing saving our sanity is to know we have a Captain Hook fish platter to look forward to. A Burger King at a service station on the M1 in no match for what is probably the best pit stop lunch there is. A no frills indoor/outdoor establishment, the restaurant is popular with South African expats working in the mining and oil industry that dominates the port city of Takoradi. For that reason the menu is very South African friendly, with such brands such as Red, Savana Dry, Castle and Amstel dominating the drinks menu.

South African Friendly Menu

The fish platter is ordered and the wait begins. This is not for the impatient. We have waited up to an hour before. Beer after beer after cider after beer, the wait is agonising. It’s almost temping to order a few things to nibble on, but one has to remember the immensity of what is about to bestow the table. Before the platter emerges from the kitchen, selections of condiments are placed before us, almost as a test of willpower. Trust me when I say, it is futile, and a great waste of suspicious pink liquid. The only condiment worth really paying any attention to is probably the chilli salsa, but then again that's a given for a chilli lover.

Condiments for the Platter

The platter is a thing of beauty. It is hard to describe the feeling you get when seeing all the fish cooked in a variety of ways and served in such a generous manor. I suppose a rough sense of emotions can be described as: overwhelmed, hungry and a little bit delirious! I’m a great fan of seafood platters, and have had ordered many over the years, but I have never had a platter that I’ve been in awe of. The variety on the platter gets me excited and a little confused, because I just don't know where to start! The rice and potatoes are a nice little addition, but honestly, I feel are as pointless and as much of a waste of space as the condiments. So this is what goes on a Captain Hook Fish Platter:

1.     Grilled rock lobster with garlic and parsley butter
2.     Grilled Chab Mackerel
3.     Grilled Tilapia with Tomato
4.     Red Snapper in a spiced batter
5.     Potatoes & Rice
6.     Curried Grouper and peppers
7.     Steamed Fish in butter, garlic and ginger
8.     Steamed Snapper in a garlic butter sauce
9.     Tempura Prawns

I thought it'd be interesting to show the before and after of a Captain Hook Platter. It gives an idea of what is most enjoyed… but also shows how gluttonous two people can be over a four person platter:


A Captain Hook Fish Platter leaves one feeling stuffed, happy, and well…. still delirious. Finishing the last leg of the journey is easier, mainly because we’ve fallen asleep, and know that when we wake up it will be to a beautiful golden coast beach like this one.

Cape Coast 

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Woburn Venison

I personally think it’s shameful when British supermarkets import ingredients that are perfectly available in the UK and then sell them for a high price. The ingredient, or rather the meat that’s got my blood boiling is the humble venison. Gaining popularity and growing in demand with the health conscious foodie: venison is lean, packed full of iron and an unconventional but safe meat to impress dinner guests. Supermarkets have obviously picked up on this, and for a few years now have been stocking a range of venison products… from New Zealand! Yes, even though we have an ample amount of deer running around the British countryside, we still import the meat from New Zealand. It boggles my mind as to how this could be a cheaper option, but also, why there is no Bristish Venison on sale in our four largest British supermarkets.  

So the following recipe has been inspired by the seasonal ingredients available to us at this time of the year (even though it’s been rather rainy) and have all been sourced locally, just to prove seasonality isn’t always just about fruit and veg:

Peppered venison steak, roasted parsnip mash and field mushrooms, with a blackcurrent sauce

Seasonal ingredients have a great way of complimenting each other. The recipe isn’t fancy, but just a basic, great tasting combination of flavours. Initially I couldn't decide between roasted or pureed parsnips, so I decided to puree roasted parsnips and have the best of both: the roasted flavour and the pureed texture.

I can guarantee that most butchers or local farm shops will stock local venison. I decided to go the source and drove thirty minutes to Woburn, where I bought my venison from Woburn Country Foods. The deers came from the 3000acre of woodlands on the local Woburn Abbey Estate. The venison steaks were also half the price of New Zealand Venison steaks available at the supermarket… Go figure!? I’m unclear of the breed, but I was assured only seasonal meat is sold in the Farm Shop. 

1 Venison Steak
3 Large Parsnips, peeled
½ Potato, skin on
100g Field Mushrooms
Glass of good quality Red Wine (I used a Malbec for it’s smoky/fruity flavour)
2 tbsp Black Current Jam
2 Gloves of Garlic
½ Cup of Full Fat Milk
Few sprigs of Parsley
Salt & Pepper to taste
Olive Oil

Roasted parsnip mash:
Heat up a large pot of water.
Chop up the parsnips and potatoes into equal sizes, and once the water starts to boil, add the potatoes.  After five minuets, add the parsnips.
Meanwhile, turn the oven on to 200°c. Liberally oil a roasting tray, season, and add two whole roughly smashed garlic cloves still in their skins. Place in the hot oven.
Once the parsnips and potatoes begin to soften, drain and add to the hot oiled roasting tray and place back in the oven on the middle shelf.
After 40 minuets, the vegetables should be beautifully roasted.
Place the nips, tattys and the roasted garlic in a food processer, add some butter and milk then blitz till you reach your desired consistency. Be careful not to over work as this could result in a glutinous mash.
Add salt, pepper and parsley to taste

To cook the venison:
Turn the oven on to 180°c.
Heat up a frying pan, and add olive oil and some butter.
Once the pan starts to smoke, add the venison. It should only take a few minuets to brown on each side.
Once browned, place in the oven for about 15 minuets. This should give you a medium rare stake.
Leave for a further five minuets for a well-done steak. As venison is quite lean, it takes less time to cook compared to other red meats.
Leave the venison to rest under some foil before serving or slicing.

For the Sauce:
Add a glass of red wine to the pan the venison was cooked in whilst the pan is still hot. Reduce, then add the black current jam. Season and finally add a knob of butter if desired… I did.

Sautéed Field Mushrooms:
Add some butter to a hot pan. Add the mushrooms, careful not to crowd the pan. Season once the mushrooms turn brown.

It does require a bit of carful planning to get the timing right. I made the mash in advanced and heated it up just before serving. I had to add a little bit more milk, but the consistency was no different. The sauce and the mushrooms were made whilst the steak was resting. I slicing the steak as I thought it made the plate composition more appetising then plated up and served. I had a friend over for dinner, and as I always do after making something for the blog, I spend a good 10-15 minuets taking pictures form different angles, with different compositions, giving me about 40-50 images to look through. This time, because of my eagerness to tuck in, I only had five images…  I say no more. 

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Philippino Chicken Adobo

Chicken Adobo with Bean Sprout Salad and Garlic Rice

Since my return to the UK I haven’t actually made any Philippino dishes. It’s not that I haven't thought about it, it’s just that there is massive pressure to impress and choosing the right dish is crucially important to make the right impression for Pinoy food. So after much debate I thought I’d try to make what is probably the most popular Philippino dish there is, Adobo. Now for those unfamiliar with Philippino gastronomy, I think this recipe is a good starting point at understanding the main flavours of the cuisine: salty, sour and sweet. This is the national dish, and for that reason I think it represents Philippines on a plate. Always cooked in soy sauce and vinegar, the other components of the dish can vary depending on the type of meat you are Adoboing: different regions have their own take on the dish and every family in the country has their own recipe which has been passed down over generations. So as you can imagine there are a fair few adobos to try.

The following recipe is my version. I have taken the best bits of the recipes I have tried and have adapted a few things according to my taste. For example, the Lutong Bahay (home cooked) style stalls I used to visit for lunch every day had what I consider to be the best Adobo I have had the pleasure of tasting. The dark, sour, sweet sauce was lip smackingly delicious, but, as like most meats in the Pines, it was a little over cooked and tough. Now this is cultural thing, and I have the same issue when I go to Ghana. Salmonella is a huge problem, and cooking chicken/eggs within an inch of their lives is a sure way of avoiding the bowel destroying bacteria. I have tried to recreate this taste as best as I can, whilst retaining the dignity of the meat so I tenderised my chicken using a simple Chinese technique of marinating meat in soy and corn flour overnight.  Normally, the chicken would be cooked on the bone, but my animal loving/slightly delusional friend for whom I’m cooking for tonight, refuses to eat meat on the bone. Belly pork is a good substitute for chicken in this dish and is probably more “Philippino” then using chicken. But again, my friend is on a diet… gosh, the lengths I go to, to please!

Along with the adobo, I’m serving very traditional garlic rice. Although my bean sprout salad isn’t very traditional, it provides a fresh accompliment to the salty sauce. As you may notice there is quite a lot of garlic in all three dishes. I found this to be a popular ingredient in Philippino food. Many a time did I have the lingering taste of garlic in my mouth after a meal, or noticed others did…

I think the best thing about this dish is the simplicity of cooking it. Like most recipes, a fair bit of preparation goes in before hand, but all in all, this dish took me 40mins to put together… although I must admit I’m pretty organised in the kitchen.

Adobo Chicken:
400g Chicken pieces off or on the bone
4 White parts of the Spring Onion, sliced into thin rings
5 tbsp of rice vinegar
1 tbsp Honey
6 Peppercorns
1 Bay Leaf
2 tbsp Canola oil

For the marinade:
2 tbsp Corn flour
5 tbsp Dark Soy Sauce
4 tsp Crushed Garlic
2 tsp Crushed Black pepper
2 tsp Crushed Ginger

Firstly marinade my chicken pieces over night. This ensures a strong flavour, but also means you don't have to add extra soy during cooking.

Heat up a large wok and added the canola oil. Quickly but lightly fried off the whites of the spring onion. Whilst the wok was still hot, add the marinated chicken pieces and pour a quarter cup of water into the wok to prevent burning, then turn the heat down. cover and let cook for about five minuets. Once the chicken is has cooked, add the vinegar and cook off thoroughly. Add the honey, pepper corns and the bay leaf. Mix, then half cover and leave for a further 10 minuets for the flavours to mingle.

Bean Sprout Salad
100g Bean sprouts
100g The Greens of Spring Onions, sliced vertically into thin strips
1 Sliced large Green Chillies
2 tbsp Sesame Seeds, toasted
1 tsp Crushed garlic
5 tbsp Rice Vinegar
1 tbsp Sugar

Blanch the sprouts for no more then 30 minuets. Drain, and run under cold water to prevent further cooking. Mix with the greens of the spring onions. In a small frying pan, add the vinegar, sugar, chillies and garlic. Heat until the sharpness of the vinegar had cooked off. Pour over the salad and sprinkle over the sesame seeds. Place in the fridge, and eat cold.

Garlic Rice
450g Cooked Rice
3 Gloves of Garlic thinly sliced
2 tbsp Canola Oil
Crushed Pepper to taste

Heat up the oil in a wok. Add the garlic till it turns golden brown. Stir in the rice, mix and season with pepper.