Thursday, 14 September 2017

Sea Bream

Whole roast gilt head bream

The gilt head sea bream gets its name from, and is easily identified by, the gold colouring on the side of the head and the distinctive gold band between the eyes.

It is generally regarded as the best of the breams for eating, although I recall Rick Stein waxing lyrical about the dentex on one of his Mediterranean adventures, describing it as better than sea bass and saying that gilt head sea bream came close in flavour.  We have eaten dentex in Spain (dentón) and I don't wish to enter into the dentón versus dorada debate except to say they are both excellent! 

Gilt head sea bream is found in British waters and is readily available in the UK.  It is common throughout the Mediterranean - (dorada in Spanish, daurade in French and orata in Italian) and is farmed extensively in Greece.

All the breams can be successfully roasted, baked, grilled, poached whole or pan-fried when filleted.

On this occasion, I chose to roast in a parcel - you may see such recipes described as en papillote in French restaurants, al cartoccio in Italian.

I had some fresh tarragon in the garden, some recently harvested garlic from the allotment and a jar of home preserved lemons in salt. A perfect combination.


1 whole sea bream
bunch of fresh tarragon (preferably French tarragon)
3-4 cloves of garlic
half a preserved lemon
half a glass of dry white wine (or dry vermouth or dry sherry)


Gut, scale, trim the fish and remove gills - or ask the fishmonger to do this for you.

Cut a rectangle of grease-proof/baking paper slightly larger than the fish and place on a sheet of foil large enough to wrap round the fish.

Brush the baking paper lightly with olive oil, and place the fish on top

Make deep diagonal slashes on either side of the fish, down to the bone.

Peel and cut the garlic into thin slivers.  Remove flesh from the preserved lemons and discard. Rinse the peel well in running water and cut into thin slivers.  Stuff the slivers of garlic and lemon and tarragon leaves in the slits on both sides of the fish.

Place any remaining tarragon, garlic and lemon peel inside the body cavity and on top of the fish.

Fold up the sides of the foil and pour over half a glass of dry white wine

Fold the foil over the fish to make a neat sealed parcel, but do this loosely so the fish can steam as it is cooking and will remain moist.

Heat the oven to 180C. Place fish on a baking tray and cook for 15 minutes. You may wish to open the parcel for a few minutes towards the end of cooking - a) to check that the fish is cooked and b) to crisp up the skin.

The top fillets can easily be removed and placed on a serving dish, then the central bone can be easily removed to access the two remaining fillets.  

Pour over any juices from the parcel and serve.

John Austin

Hove August 2017 

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Game Terrine

Mixed Game Terrine

I consulted several recipes on the internet for game terrine and although they had differences in content and method, they all followed a general pattern. Some chefs added sausage meat or force meat, others did not; some layered the force meat and the game in several layers and some just laid it at the bottom of the terrine (which becomes the top when served) and on top. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall lightly fries the strips of pieces of game before adding to the terrine; John Torode does not. John Torode adds white wine; Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Woman's Weekly favour red.

Chefs also disagreed in their choice of herbs - it's thyme for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigel Slater and Woman's Weekly (the latter adding rosemary as well); rosemary and tarragon for Gordon Ramsey; sage for the Hairy Bikers; and sage and tarragon for Jamie Oliver. Gordon Ramsey and James Martin also add cream.

There seems to be a consensus that meat, garlic and brandy are the essential ingredients!

For my traditional Christmas pork paté de campagne I usually use a spice mixture including coriander, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and cinnamon but I decided to keep it simpler for this game terrine.

My advice would be to follow the basic pattern and method and use whatever ingredients you want or whatever is available.

Basically for a 1.5 - 2 litre terrine or loaf tin you will need around 1 - 1.5kg meat plus 300-400g sausage meat and 300-400g chicken or game livers. I could not find any game birds locally so I used a mixture of chicken and duck with some venison.

Using roughly the above quantities, I managed to fill two 1 litre containers - a loaf tin and a new porcelain terrine that I had received as a present.

My porcelain terrine includes a weight for pressing down the meat when cooked.

 and a lid for storing the finished article.

If you are using a normal loaf tin, you can cut a piece of cardboard or plastic slightly smaller than the tin, cover with foil and place on the finished cooked terrine and weigh down with jars or cans until cool. or if you have two loaf tins of similar size which fit into one another

you can place one on top of the terrine when cooked and weigh down with kitchen weights or jars or cans* (see below)

So here is my recipe..................

4x duck breasts - total 500g
300g Venison steaks
500g pork belly
250g chicken breast
12 rashers of smoked streak bacon
375g sausage meat
380g chicken livers
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp whole allspice
1 tsp juniper berries
1 tsp whole black pepper 
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
Leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 tbsp brandy
100ml dry vermouth
50mls chicken stock
1 egg
1 -2 slices of bread


Start preparations two days before you want to eat the terrine.

Remove the skin from the duck and reserve. Remove the skin from the pork belly and discard.

Roughly chop the duck skins and add with the chicken livers and half of the sausage meat to a food processor and process until smooth. Grind the allspice berries and peppercorns, chop the tarragon and thyme, chop or mince the garlic and add to the processed chicken livers with half the pork belly, one of the skinned duck breasts, and a quarter of the chicken breasts and pulse chop till you have a lumpy mixture.  Add one egg, lightly beaten, two tablespoons of brandy, 100mls dry vermouth (or white wine or dry sherry) and a handful of breadcrumbs and stir.  If the mixture seems too wet and sloppy add some more breadcrumbs.  This will be your forcemeat. 

Put in a bowl covered with cling film and leave for 2 - 3 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

After the forcemeat has marinated, take the venison steaks, chicken breasts, remaining duck breasts and pork belly and cut into long strips about 1 cm wide.

Lightly grease your terrine dish with butter or oil. Take the smoked bacon and beat lightly with a rolling pin to lengthen. Lay the bacon across the terrine, widthways overlapping the sides.  (With one of the tins, I laid the bacon lengthwise along the bottom and sides and similarly on top when I had finished)

Add a layer of force meat to the terrine and lay strips of the meat lengthwise. Add another layer of forcemeat and then a layer of meat.

You can make as many or as few layers as you wish but always start and finish with forcemeat. Always push down as you add the forcemeat as you don't want to leave air pockets.

When the terrine is full, fold over the bacon so the contents are fully covered.
If there is a gap, lay more bacon to fill.

Heat the oven to 160°C (150°C fan oven).  The terrine needs to be cooked in a bain marie. You will need one (or two) deep baking tins, large enough for the terrine to fit in comfortably. Cover the terrine with foil and place in the baking tin. Add boiling water to the baking tin to come halfway to two thirds up the terrine, and then place in the pre-heated oven for two hours.

For  best results you need to press the terrine as it cools. Remove the foil and press down with cardboard or plastic covered in foil or the weight (see above*). Pour off any excess fat.
Leave the terrine to cool in the bain marie, then remove and keep weighted down in a cool place for several hours.  

When cool, remove the weights, slide a knife around the edge of the finished terrine, invert on a plate and lift the tin. If the finished terrine doesn't slip out easily, place the terrine dish in hot water for a few minutes and try again.  It should slip out easily.

Place the finished terrine in the fridge until needed but remove from the fridge one hour before you want to eat it.  You should be able to slice it with a sharp knife.

Serve with crusty bread, a green salad and pickles or chutney.  Pickled gherkins and redcurrant jelly are good accompaniments

The terrine will keep for a week in the fridge. It can also be frozen and will keep, frozen for a couple of months.  If it has been frozen, defrost overnight in the refrigerator and take out one hour before serving.

John Austin

August 2017, Hove

Friday, 18 August 2017

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on the Weald - June 2017

The Weald June 2017

On our return from holiday we were pleased that our potatoes at Mile Oak had made good progress and should be ready for lifting next month.

But sadly all of our purple kale and cavolo nero had been totally destroyed by snails or slugs.  And later in the month the same fate came to most of our squashes.

Undaunted we cleared an area to plant out the French beans which we had grown in seed trays and pots at home.

Meanwhile back at The Weald, things were looking good.  The broad beans had delivered a heavy crop and were eaten on an almost daily basis and the freezer was filled to capacity.
As a result, we hadn't picked them all at their best and we were about to go on holiday.

 Coals to Newcastle!

We picked all the remaining broad beans,shelled them and took them with us to Spain! We were not sure how edible they would be as the outer skins were quite tough as you can see

- but we removed the outer skins, to reveal fresh bright green beans within

- and now we have a plentiful supply in the freezer in Spain

Towards the end of the month the garlic was ready for harvesting.

The beetroots are coming along nicely

 The seed strips seem to have paid off as both the carrots and parsnips look healthy...

.....and the potatoes are doing well.  We have had our first lifting of the Charlotte earlies and they were delicious. 

Earlier in the year we had sown some peas which Toby and Jane had saved from their crop in Northumberland last year - unfortunately we don't know what variety they are but they are obviously suited to Hove as they cropped well and were delicious too.

We will certainly look out for a late cropping variety and sow during the summer for an autumn crop.

In view of our friend Maurice's success in growing tromboncino in West London last year we have set up in competition and sown some from seed.  I have erected a frame to grow them over.

And if you haven't seen a tromboncino before, here is Maurice's effort last year....

I have also constructed a frame for our Spanish pepinos, ridge cucumbers, which we are growing from seed brought home from Spain. 

We are also trying to grow pimientos de padron from seed and they will be ready for planting out soon.  

Our cavolo nero, chard and perpetual spinach are looking good and ready for picking - they are great cut and come again vegetables and might last through the autumn. Some years they have gone through the winter.  The purple sprouting broccoli is looking strong and healthy and hopefully will provide a plentiful supply next March if we can protect it from the pigeons.

And we have also managed to save some redcurrants and raspberries from the bindweed at Mile Oak 

I have some autumn leeks in one of the raised beds, some grown from seed and some from plugs and they will soon be ready for planting out.  My next task is to lift a row of potatoes to make room for them.

It looks as though July will be a busy month..

John Austin

Hove June 2017

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on the Weald (and Mile Oak and Neville!) May 2017

May 2017

The year has not progressed as well as we had hoped. Two minor operations put me out of action for a bit in the early part of the year and this delayed some of the heavier physical work needed, including getting the shed up. Before we got the half-plot at The Weald we had been co-working Luke and Nicole's half plot at Mile Oak where there is a shed. As they now have a half plot at Neville, the idea was to give up Mile Oak but as we haven't yet managed to erect our shed at The Weald, we aren't able to clear the one at Mile Oak, so I started cultivating there again with crops which, fingers crossed, will be ready before autumn. Meanwhile, Luke has broken his ankle and is out of action so we are minding his plot at Neville too! Hopefully we will be sorted by the summer.

We have managed to plant garlic and shallots and sow some broad beans, beetroot and spinach at Neville and put in a couple of rows of potatoes. But the dry April weather has been a problem as we haven't managed to get up to water as often as needed. We did plant out some squashes there just before we disappeared for another break at the end of May....

Squash plants on Neville
and we have cleared a patch and planted some purple kale, cavolo Nero and potatoes at Mile Oak.

Mile Oak, 2 rows of potatoes planted

We have sown quite a few seeds indoors which are now hardening off in the garden at home and we had arranged for them to be watered whilst we were away, but May has been so wet it hasn't been necessary!

We have some French beans in trays which we can hopefully plant out in June and some courgettes and outdoor cucumbers in pots which hopefully we can plant out early June.

Before going away in May we did manage to plant out some cavolo nero and early purple sprouting broccoli at The Weald and to sow some carrots and parsnips. I have never been lucky with these in the past, so this year I decided to buy packs of seed strips, which are slightly more expensive but hopefully worth it. It looks as if the investment has paid off.

Our potatoes are coming along nicely. They had a bit of a setback because of the April drought but have now been well watered by our neighbours while we were away and are back to life.

We have also harvested our first broad beans at The Weald

and it looks as though we will have a bumper crop this year - so we need to make some room in the freezer.

Luke is very fond of his squashes but because of his ankle had not sown any. Fortunately, I saw an end of line offer at Sutton Seeds for "plugs" at 99p for three and went a bit over the top and bought a whole load for Luke and me to share. Under Luke's supervision we have planted several varieties on his plot and I have potted up the remainder ready for planting at The Weald when I get back.

I bought three different varieties of patty pan squash, dark green, light green and yellow. And we have three other different squashes - we will see later in the year if they look anything like the catalogue pictures (below) or live up to their reputation

Uchiki Kuri -

A teardrop-shaped Japanese squash. They say it's easy to grow and has a sweet and nutty flavour. Uchiki Kuri is supposed to set around four 1.5kg fruits per plant. We'll see if they live up to their reputation! They are said to be hardy and drought-tolerant;

Honey boat -

- which is advertised as "easier to grow, more productive and sweeter than a butternut squash" and said to produce "super sweet fruit with firm, deep orange flesh". It's claimed that they also keep well throughout winter; and

Crown Prince -

which is claimed to be an allotment grower's favourite. The blurb says "it has a nutty, honey-like depth and smooth, pudding-like flesh making it a superb choice for roasting". It is also one of the most long-storing of all squashes.

I have planted some patty pan squashes and a Crown Prince at Mile Oak as well as pumpkin.

Off to Samarkand. Fingers crossed that everything survives until we get home

John Austin

Hove, May 2017

Friday, 28 July 2017


Oven roasted whole brill

We live in the Wish area of Hove and a few hundred meters from the eastern end of Shoreham harbour. I recently discovered that "Wish" is a word deriving from Old English meaning a meadow or land liable to be flooded and read a fascinating history of the harbour which is now a thriving port 

I asked the fishmonger to clean and trim the fish.


1 whole Brill, about 1 - 2 kg, cleaned and trimmed 
2 sprigs of fresh oregano
2 bay leaves
1 lemon
Olive oil
75mls Dry white wine, dry sherry or dry vermouth
1 piece fresh ginger app 2-3 cms
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

* if you don’t have preserved lemons use the thinly pared peel of a fresh lemon or lime.


Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan oven)     

Make some diagonal incisions into the flesh of the fish. Take the preserved lemon, remove all the flesh and discard. Cut the peel into very thin slices. Slice the fresh ginger into thin matchstick strips and do the same with the garlic.  Insert the slivers of lemon, garlic and ginger into the slits in the fish and then season with salt** and freshly ground pepper

Heat the oven to 200C (Fan oven 180C)
Put the oregano bay leaves and some salt** and pepper in roasting tin with any remaining preserved lemon, garlic and herbs, reserving some to put in the body cavity of the fish.  If using fresh lemon, slice ½ lemon and add the slices to the tin.
Lay the fish on top of the oregano, bay and lemon and drizzle a little s olive oil over the skin.
Roast in the pre-heated oven for 10-12 minutes (15mins if it is a larger fish) Check that the fish is almost cooked and coming away from the bone.  Pour over the glass of wine and a squeeze of lemon juice over the fish and replace in the oven for 5 mins, a little longer if you want the skin crispy. (or crisp up for a couple of minutes under a hot grill). If you don’t want to eat the skin it will lift away from the flesh and the flesh will come away from the bone. You will have 4 good portions.

Put each serving of fish on a plate and pour over the juices from the tin.
Two of us ate three portions.  We saved the remaining portion to add to a seafood linguine dish the following day and boiled up the bones and remaining skin for a fish stock. 

Two of us ate three portions.  We saved the remaining portion to add to a seafood linguine dish the following day and boiled up the bones and remaining skin for a fish stock. 

**Go easy on the salt seasoning if using preserved lemons as they are very salty.

John Austin

Hove July 2017


Brill or turbot?

What's the difference between turbot and brill? About £3 - £4 a kilo.

Most chefs and cookery books suggest that the turbot is superior in flavour and the king of white fish and brill was once considered "the poor man's food". Well I was brought up a poor man but never encountered brill (but then the only fish in our house was cod, haddock or plaice, apart from sardines and salmon which came in a tin. We knew of skate and rock salmon (or Huss) from the chippie but it never crossed our threshold.

I don’t know what my Dad’s aversion was to rock salmon, but mine stems from my school days. I studied zoology for my A-levels and dogfish were a standard item for dissection, preserved in formaldehyde. I opted out of school but became reacquainted with the smell when I worked in a mortuary as a Pathology Laboratory Technician.  I’m sure dogfish are perfectly edible when fresh but I can’t look at them without being reminded of the slabs and the smell in the mortuary!

In happier times, I became acquainted with turbot in my late twenties in France - and a host of other fish, many found in British waters, that I had never come across - but it was another twenty years or more before I discovered the delights of brill, despite a plentiful supply off the English coast.

Brill (Rémol in Spanish and Barbue in French) is one of the most popular fish in Spain, especially in Galicia, Asturia and the Basque country. It is usually smaller than the turbot. (Just to add to the confusion over fish names, brill is called rodovalho in Portugal, almost the same as the Spanish name for turbot, rodaballo! So if you have eaten rodovalho in Portugal thinking it was turbot, think again.

Turbot and brill are both sinistral flatfish but brill has a smoother skin without the protuberances or “nails” that turbot has. In Turkey, brill is known as turbot without nails (çivisiz kalkan)

Any recipe for turbot will suit brill and vice versa. Turbot has the firmer flesh and whilst the turbotière was designed to poach whole turbot, larger fish are usually cut into steaks.  My usual recipes for brill are to cook itwhole, either roasted or baked in foil.

Monday, 5 June 2017

OUR ALLOTMENT Life on the Weald April 2017


A month of mixed fortunes

Before considering the allotment, its worth sharing some news from the garden at home. After a prolific display of daffodils from early March we had a magnificent display of tulips and anemones and our camelia flowered for the first time. Click to see the video here

The month on the allotment was one of mixed fortunes with bright sunny days turning into cold blustery ones.  Often the morning would start with bright sunshine when the allotment looked really inviting and it seemed spring was in the air.

But after a couple of hours the sky would cloud over or the wind would get up and it would feel more like February.  On one occasion we had a bright sunny morning followed by sleet and hailstones!
We have had some cold drizzle but no April showers and the soil is dry and brick hard. It has been one of the driest Aprils on record and farmers have been badly hit too.

Seedlings that I had taken out of the conservatory at home to harden off have been affected by wind-chill and are stunted and I doubt whether they will recover sufficiently.  As a safeguard I have ordered some plugs to try to ensure some crops later in the year.

But not all is gloom and doom.  The broad beans that were sown at the end of last year are in full flower and looking healthy

And I think we are assured of a good crop of garlic

 and shallots

Two rows of early potatoes are looking healthy, but have required a lot of watering, and we are waiting for the third row of second earlies to show.  

We have top-dressed the blueberries growing in pots and cleared much of the couch grass around the raspberries and fruit bushes.  Some of the gooseberry bushes are in bud and the blossom is just beginning to show on the plum trees which we inherited.

Just need to do lots more watering!

John Austin

Hove April 2017