Friday, 26 August 2016

JAPUTA (Ray's Bream) Roasted

Whole roast Japuta - (Palometa Negra) Ray's Bream


1 whole Japuta (scaled if you can)
Peel of half a preserved lemon (or thinly pared peel of a fresh lemon)
1 fresh lemon
1 teaspoon dried tarragon or a sprig of fresh
1 clove of garlic


The fishmonger and I tried to scale it as best we could but if roasting the skin forms its own "tin foil" covering.

Make deep diagonal slashes on either side of the fish.  Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper and rub skin with tarragon forcing some into each slit.  Put the remaining tarragon in the belly of the fish and insert a thin sliver of lemon peel into each slit.  Put the remaining lemon peel in the belly of the fish with a clove of garlic

Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan oven). Lightly oil a roasting dish with olive oil and lay the fish in. Drizzle with olive oil and the juice of half a lemon.  Cover with foil and roast for 15 minutes.

Remove the foil (add a little more oil and/or lemon juice if the fish is drying out) and baste with the juices in the dish.  Return to oven and continue cooking uncovered for 10-15 minutes until the skin is crispy and the flesh firm and white.

Remove from oven. Remove the top layer of skin. 
  1. Carefully lift the fish onto a serving plate and pour over the juices from the tin and any remaining lemon juice.
  1. To serve, cut down the middle of the fish from head to tail to the backbone, then release the fillets from the bones on either side of the backbone. Slide a fish slice under the fillets and lift off, then pull the bone from the bottom fillets; divide and serve.
John Austin
Santa Pola, August 2016

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

JAPUTA - Poached whole on the bone

JAPUTA (Palometa negra) RAY's BREAM


One whole Ray's bream, cleaned 
Sprig of fresh thyme
Two cloves of garlic
2 shallots or one small onion chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 glass white wine and equal quantity of water
Half teaspoon fennel seeds
Lemon peel
Splash of Anis Secco (Pastis/Ricard/Pernod)


After a determined effort to descale this fish, weighing just over 1kg, I seasoned the fish, inside and out with salt and freshly ground pepper and stuffed the belly with .
a sprig of fresh thyme and garlic and put to one side. 

Use a large saute pan with a lid. Gently fry the chopped onion in just enough olive oil to soften, add the chopped celery and fennel seeds and continue frying gently for a few minutes add the wine and water and simmer gently for a few minutes.

Make deep slashes on either side of the fish and insert slivers of lemon peel into the slashes. I used preserved lemons . : Place the whole fish in the poaching liquid, add a splash of Anis if you like the flavour, put on the lid and poach gently for 30 minutes.

John Austin
Santa Pola, Spain 
August 2015


Palometa negra

I first came across this fish in Carrefour in Elche, looking as if made of steel. It had a bream like appearance but I had no idea what it was and had to consult various books to find out.

I learned that its English name is Ray's bream (although it is not a member of the sea bream family) and is named after the 17th century English naturalist John Ray, but I have never seen it in England. I had also seen a fish in Spain called Palometa blanca which is Spanish for Pompano (palomino or palomète in French).

In Europe, Palometa blanca or pompano is sometimes called Asian or Mediterrranean pomfret.  I haven’t tried it but I have read that the Mediterranean variety are not worth eating so I will probably not bother. To add to confusion, Ray's bream, Palometa negra,  is known as pomfret in N America.

In some parts of Spain, Palometa negra may be known by its Catalan name, Castanyola and similarly castagna in Italy. In  France it is sometimes called brème, but in south eastern Spain it is usually sold as Japuta.  Once seen you cannot fail to recognise its distinctive steel-like appearance. 

In August 2015 they had some in Eroski in Santa Pola on offer at 4.95€ per kilo and as my son, Damien and family were staying with me I decided to give it a try.  My Spanish is none too good and I thought the fishmonger was asking if I wanted it skinned.  I said no, just cleaned, which normally includes scaling, so I was surprised when I got home to find that it had not been scaled.  A subsequent effort by Damien and myself, both with scaling tools and the chef's knife proved difficult and only partially successful.  The next time I bought it, in the summer of 2016, I specifically asked for it to be scaled - it was a Herculean task and not very well accomplished and required further effort on my part when I got it into the kitchen.  The scales are as tough as steel and are all strongly linked.

I didn't know anyone who had tried Ray's bream so I sought some advice on Facebook.  I am grateful to Steve Whitelegg for his reply
May 26 at 10:38pm

The post by 'Nepptune', about halfway down this fishing site thread, might be helpful even if you are not intending to cook it on a barbecue

Nepptune confirmed the impenetrable nature of the steely scales

Nepptune View Drop Down


Joined: 29 Nov 2007
Location: South Africa
Status: Offline
Points: 637
We get a ton of those out here off Cape Town too, in the canyons and YFT grounds.... big commercial market for them and marketed as "Angelfish" in Fishmarkets and Restaurants....
Damn good eating.... skin is tough as nails, but acts almost like tin foil on the BBQ.... just lay a fillet skin down on the Barbie, spices and such on the top, and cook with the cover over the BBQ..... skin keeps the whole bunch together, and peels off easy once done...
Alan  Davidson in Tio Pepe says "if you see it on the menu, opt for it".( The Tio Pepe Guide to the SEAFOOD of SPAIN and PORTUGAL
Alan Davidson 2002
ISBN 84-89954-21-6

Recipe books suggest poaching or roasting whole or frying fillets.  I have cooked it whole on two occasions poaching (2015) and roasting (2016) and have published the two methods on this blog.

John Austin
August 2016

Friday, 1 April 2016



Whilst the rise in global temperatures is truly alarming, as recent months have broken all records ( This February was the warmest in recorded history ), I have risked bringing forward my spring planting by a month.

The recommended planting time for my first early potatoes was end of March/April and second earlies April/May, but I planted a row of first earlies at the end of February and a second row at the beginning of March with some second earlies in mid-March. So, either I am looking forward to some very early new potatoes or a total disaster if we see a plummeting of temperature and late frost! 

With the disruption of building work at home, with our loft conversion, the allotment has not seen as much activity as it should but with a bit of help from Luke and Sylvi we have made some progress.

Although our allotment is on the chalky South Downs, we are in a hollow with a heavy layer of clay which is water logged in winter and hard as concrete in summer. 
the view from my patch

Digging in winter is a nightmare as the soil is so heavy and like modelling clay, which is why I have introduced a number of raised beds to which I have added a lot of organic matter - some from the wormery, into which all our kitchen waste goes, and some from the compost bin , together with partially composted lawn clippings and autumn leaves. I think I may need to start a second compost heap of leaves as they take longer to break down.

The area where I have planted potatoes, however, is open ground where I grew broad beans and kale last year.  When the area was cleared in late autumn I did spread some part rotted compost and contents of the wormery on the ground and covered with a tarpaulin over the winter.

We began to remove the tarpaulin, in late January and then gradually, row by row in February/March.

 Around the tarpaulin there was an uncleared area with substantial growth of couch grass which had spread its roots and stems under the tarpaulin to join the indigenous bindweed. 

hidden beneath the tarpaulin!

Clearing the area was a mammoth task, and the challenge now will be to keep it clear with regular weeding.  We are also plagued by dandelions which send down tap roots up to a foot in depth which usually break off as you uproot them which means they will grow again!  Thankfully, I was assisted by Sylvia and Luke in the digging and weeding.  To be fair, we gave Luke some help on his allotment - but quite a different task due to the soil.  Luke,s is fairly light soil and if you dig up couch grass or perennial weeds you can shake them and the soil falls off. On mine the heavy clay adheres and has to be removed by hand in lumps - it;s rather like molding potters' clay.

Having cleared the area we dug a very shallow trench - about 4-6 inches deep in which we planted the chitted seed potatoes and then covered them with some bought general garden potting compost, earthing them up with the soil removed from the trench.

In the last week of February, I planted a ten foot row of First Early Pentland Javelin and in the first week of March a similar row of Arran Pilot - ignoring the instructions that they were to be planted mid to late March.  I followed on in mid March with two rows of second earlies, one of Nicola and the other Charlotte. The recommended planting time for these was late March - April, so now it's fingers crossed!  When I visited the site in the last week of March, the growing tips of the Arran Pilot were showing through.

The Broad beans I had sown in November  ( a double row each of Aquadulce and the Sutton Dwarf) are about 6 - 8 inches high with some obvious gaps which I have filled with re-sowing.  I have also cleared an area next to the potatoes and sown a new double row of the dwarf Sutton and covered with a fleece tunnel.

and before you ask, that's Luke's dog, Kanami

My final act of March on the allotment was to clear one of the raised beds and sow some beetroot (Boltardy) and some Chard before seeking some sunshine in Spain to recharge the batteries before the April sowing season.

On my return I was tempted to start some indoor sowing in seed trays of leeks, cavolo nero, early purple sprouting broccoli, pumpkin and courgettes.  I am also trying out some rainbow chard (Bright Lights) sown in fibre pots in the cold conservatory.  I don't have a greenhouse - and neither does my nephew Bradley (any more); sadly his was taken away by the howling winds of Storm Kate!

On the last day in March, I went just for an inspection and was pleased that my tunnel had survived Storm Kate. I also noticed that the first early potatoes planted in February were just peeping through.

And the shallots - which had been uprooted on several occasions by birds and replanted - were also just coming into growth

And I picked a handful of sprouting broccoli from the last remaining plant - I think I might get one more picking

harvested 31 March 2016
This is quite a contrast from the previous season.  My broccoli has been sprouting since November and is now nearly finished, whereas the crop I sowed in 2014 did not start producing until April 2015 as the picture I posted a year ago on facebook shows

Which brings me back to where this blog started - climate change?

John Austin
1 April 2016, Hove

Saturday, 26 March 2016



Between the gales and sleet and rain, there were a few sunny days.  November was time to prepare the beds for the early sowing of broad beans and we managed two double rows - Aquadulce and Sutton's Dwarf .  They were up in weeks and I gave them some protection with a mulch of bark chippings.  By January they were looking good - I suppose I should have given them some added protection from frost (and the birds) with a fleece covering - noted for next year!
The Aquadulce (left) seem to be doing better than the Sutton's (right)
In November I had dug a trench where I will grow my runner beans

 and have been filling it with kitchen waste. As March approaches it is probably time to fill them in.  Any compostible material can be added, especially shredded newspaper.  Apart from providing nutrients to the soil, the material will aid water retention which is of major importance for growing runner beans.

bean trench filled with kitchen waste

I turned over a patch in November where I intended to grow potatoes and covered it with a tarpaulin - a) to reduce weed growth and b) to warm up the soil.  On a plot with clay soil the task of digging is a hard one especially after a very wet winter.  My allotment is on the South Downs but any thoughts that there might be bands of willing helpers quickly disappeared when the snow came down and there were no offers of help from this lot

Devil's Dyke was clearly a greater attraction and although there was plenty of energy for throwing snowballs, sadly none for digging.

On the odd dry day, I did manage to get to the allotment, but drawing back the tarpaulin revealed that the couch grass and bindweed had appreciated their cosy home underneath and so had to be removed

underneath the tarpaulin

Breaking up the compacted soil was hard work and I did it in two stages.  Firstly I turned it over and then left it to the weather (hoping for some frost to  kill off some of the weeds and bugs) and then enlisted support to dig it over again, carefully removing any couch grass and bindweed and their spreading roots as well as digging out dandelions whose tap roots sometimes go down 10-12 inches. And here's the end result

A big thank you to Sylvia and Luke for helping with the weed removal - their assistance was essential.  We did repay the effort, however, by assisting Luke on his allotment (which, thankfully, isn't clay!)

Thank you Luke!
It's not all gloom and doom.  There were still crops to be harvested. We finished off the beetroots in November but throughout December and January have had a steady supply of leeks, Jerusalem artichokes,chard and kale (cavolo nero) 

We also harvested our purple Brussel sprouts in January - small but beautiful

And in my view, the Brussel tops were even better!

John Austin
February 2016, Hove

Tuesday, 2 February 2016


Jerusalem artichoke recipes - Soups and  Starters

I had a couple of immediate responses to my blog onartichokes

Caroline Albery Love it! I had a lovely artichoke dish at Brindisi once, roasted & served with truffle oil & slithers of Manchego. Yum!
Sue Albery I made a very simple but delicious soup

I must try Caroline’s suggestion some time and await further suggestions.  In the meantime here are two recipes for starters which I tried this week.

Sauteéd artichokes with smokey bacon (serves 4)

½ kilo Jerusalem artichokes
2 rashers of smoked steaky bacon
Olive oil or butter
1 lemon
Chopped parsley for garnish

Peel  artichoke tubers (you can leave the skins on if you wish but make sure they are well scrubbed and any soil removed). Slice into  ¼ inch/½ cm thick rounds and immediately drop into a bowl of water to which you have added some lemon juice (to prevent discolouration).

Chop the streaky bacon and fry gently in a little olive oil or knob of butter.  After a few minutes add the drained artichokes and sautée until golden.  Season with salt, drain and serve sprinkled with lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper and garnished with chopped parsley.
(Fried sage leaves also go well with this dish – see next recipe)

Jerusalem artichoke and leek soup (serves 4 - 6)


½kilo Jerusalem artichokes
1 onion
2 medium leeks
2 cloves garlic
Olive oil
1 litre water / vegetable stock / chicken stock (more or less depending how thick you like your soup)
Handful of fresh sage leaves


Scrub the artichoke tubers to remove any dirt and cut off any hard bits or straggly root. Peel and quarter them (peeling is not absolutely necessary provided all soil has been removed by scrubbing) and drop them into a bowl of water that has had some lemon juice or cider vinegar added.

Gently fry the chopped onion in a little oil to soften but do not allow to brown. Add the chopped garlic and fry a little more to soften.  Wash and chop 2 leeks; rinse and drain the artichokes  and chopped leeks and artichokes to the saucepan and stir whilst continuing to cook gently for a few minutes.

Add the stock and simmer  until the artichokes are soft and begin to fall apart.  Allow to cool a little and then liquidise – it’s up to you how smooth to make it. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Whilst the soup is simmering, wash the sage leaves, pat dry and place between two sheets of kitchen roll to absorb any additional moisture and put a board on top to keep flat and set aside for later.

Return the liquidised mixture to the saucepan and reheat.  And here’s the controversial bit.  Some people would stir in some double cream at this stage – say 100ml – for a cream of artichoke soup.
I don’t. For me the soup has a creamy enough texture without the addition of cream.  Another possibility is to add a swirl of cream or crème fraîche to each bowl (for those who want it).

Whilst the soup is reheating, heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and when hot add the sage leaves, a few at a time, in batches.  Fry leaves for 5-10 seconds then turn over and fry a further 5 -10 seconds and then drain on kitchen paper and they will crisp up.  You can either float one or two on each bowl of soup or crumble them on top and serve.

The quantities in this recipe are quite arbitrary and you can use more or less artichokes and more or less leeks – or none at all.  The artichoke flavour will usually dominate. 

I described this as a starter but it is quite filling.  It makes a good and substantial winter lunch served with crusty bread.

Artichokes go well with other root vegetables so you can include swede/turnip, parsnip, carrot or potatoes, whatever you have to hand, such as squash, celery etc.  Try your own version – and artichokes go well with thyme as well as sage or you might like to add a little nutmeg or horseradish.

If you have a surfeit of artichokes (as anyone who grows them will) it’s a good idea to simply boil them and freeze the resulting mash or purée in small containers as a standby to be added to soups as and when you need it.

John Austin
Hove February 2016

Friday, 29 January 2016


Floundering over plaice names in Spain? 

Do you know your left from your right?

There is a wide variety of flatfish in Spain, many of which are not available in the UK and, to add to any confusion, they have different names in the various regions. Often the Spanish (Castellon) name will not be used and they will have different names in the Basque, Gallician, Catalan and Valencian languages as well as regional names for example in Andalusia or the Balearics.

So here I was in a flounder over plaice names, in a state of confusion, not knowing witch fish I was looking at.  I consulted some Spanish cookery books – and in reading one got a whiff that something was amiss. It was rather sinister and not quite right – or rather the reverse!  There was something wrong with this picture of a turbot which appears to be a mirror image – as it is facing the wrong way!

It could have been a fluke and this was a rare abnormality but I suspect it was the result of artistic licence or editorial freedom in order to portray all the fish on the page facing the same way:

The thing about flatfish is that, although they start out in life like most other fish, with a rounded body and one eye on each side of the head, at some stage, for some reason, they turn on to one side and spend the rest of their lives in this position. Some species turn on to their right side and others to their left.

Having done so, they swim along the bottom of the sea on their side and the downside skin becomes paler and paler and the uppermost side changes colour and darkens, often to mimic the surrounding seabed, providing camouflage.  At the same time the eye and the nostril on the underside gradually move and migrate to the uppermost side.

Species which turn on to their right hand side and have their eyes and nostrils on the left are called Sinistral and if drawn or photographed with the mouth up the right way would be swimming from right to left.  Those with their eyes and nostrils on the right are called Dextral and should be pictured swimming left to right.

This is how the turbot above should look.

Sinistral  flatfish which are common in the UK include turbot,
brill, and megrim sole (aka whiff  or sail-fluke).
Brill - Hove, Sussex June 2015

Dextral  flatfish common in the UK include (European) flounder*, Dover sole, Lemon sole, Torbay sole, plaice and dabs.
Lemon sole - Hove, Sussex October 2015

Plaice, trimmed and ready for the pan - Hove, Sussex May 2015

I have seen some references to John Dory and skate as flatfish.  They are not.  The John Dory has a flattened symmetrical body, with one eye on each side of the head and swims upright.  It is often included with true flatfish in cookery books as it can be treated in a similar way.  Skate is a member of the ray grouping, which have broad, flat, symmetrical bodies with large “wings”.  They live on the seabed and are cartilaginous (ie they have no bones but a skeleton made of cartilage). They are related to the sharks and dogfish. Normally only the wings are eaten.

Whatever the name, if they are on sale in Spain, whether at the fishmonger’s or in the supermarket, they will be good to eat and can mostly be treated the same way.  Price is usually a good indicator of their popularity (although also of scarcity). Fish which  are regarded as the best tasting are usually more expensive -  but taste is a matter of taste!  Turbot and Dover sole are regarded as top of the range and the most expensive, but I prefer brill to turbot and in Spain there are many varieties of true sole which I find just as good as those which we call Dover sole (lenguado)

In Spain I have also encountered lenguadina but have been unable to determine what it is (the name appears to be used quite widely to refer to different species). Dictionaries suggest that it is dab but I bought some which resembled megrim sole.  Dabs and lemon sole, however, are not  found in the Mediterranean and plaice are rare, but may be available in other parts of Spain.  I have not encountered witch in Spain - sometimes referred to as Torbay sole in the UK - also known as grey sole (plié grisé in France). The Spanish name appears to be mendo but as I have not seen it in Spain, nor found any reference to it in any books on Spanish or Mediterranean fish, I have not included it, or dabs, in the table below.

Halibut are also not found in the Mediterranean. They may venture as far south as the Bay of Biscay but are mostly caught from the south of Ireland northwards but are fairly expensive and not common in Spain.

Generally speaking the better quality fish can be pan fried, grilled, roasted or cooked  a la plancha (on a griddle) and inferior varieties are better baked with herbs/seasoning, or poached in a court-bouillon.

Rather than complicating my directory of fish names further, I have made a separate table for the flatfish and would welcome comments amendments and additions.

*The European flounder (Platichthys flesus) is usually dextral but it does occur from time to time in sinistral version.  In Spanish waters, however, there are other varieties of sinistral  fish called flounder in English, such as spotted flounderand the wide-eyed flounder.

Sinistral varieties
English (French)
(Fr Flétan)
(Fr Turbot)
Rémol de petxines
Erreboilo arrunt
Brill (Fr Barbue)
Erreboilo ezkatadun

(Fr Cardine)

Pelaia bruixa; Capellá
Spotted flounder
(Fr feuille)
Pelaia rosa;

Rombo de Arena
Wide-eyed flounder
(Fr Rombou podas)

(Fr Fausse limande)
Pelaia (rosa)
Oilar eskuin

Dextral varieties
Plaice (Fr Plie)

European flounder
(Fr Flet)
Rémol de riu

Platuxa latz
Solenette (Fr Petite sole jaune)
Wedge sole
(Fr Céteau)


Dover sole
(Fr Sole)
Falsa limanda
Lemon sole
(Fr Limande)
Limoi mihi

Lenguado Senegalés
Senegale sole

Lenguado de arena
Sand sole
(Fr Sole pole)
Hare lengoradu
Lenguado bravo
Thickback sole (Fr Sole perdrix
Lengoradu pintu
Lirpia raiada
Tambor real
Four-eyed sole (Fr Sole ocellée)

Whiskered sole
(Fr Sole velue)
Lenguado de fonera;
Peluda d’alga

Confused?  Try visiting the USA where they call a Sole a Flounder and a Flounder a sole! But that's a wholly different kettle of fish.

John Austin
Hove & Santa Pola, January 2016