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Thursday 31 May 2018

Experiments with Gousto #8: Wholesome Haddock & Apricot Tagine with Bulgur

And so we come to the penultimate post in this new round of Gousto recipes... and if there was a duffer in the selection, this would be it. Not that it was bad, just not as outstandingly good (or fun to prepare) as the others. This recipe also featured a couple of tasks that had to be kept on the go at the same time, which isn't something I find particularly easy in the kitchen. The daftest part, for me, was the opening instruction, which breaks down into three separate tasks: boil a kettle (the quantity of water isn't specified, but is more than my kettle can handle, for reasons I'll explain shortly), peel and chop the onion, peel and dice the carrot. Since I knew that peeling and chopping/dicing the veg would take more time that the boiling of a kettle, I did that - along with pretty much all the other chopping - before even filling the kettle, and feel that's the safest option. It's not as if step 2 (actually steps 4 and 5, if we're being fussy) makes use of the boiled water, and step 3 (AKA steps 6 and 7) doesn't start with "Meanwhile...", yet the actions in step 2 take 5-8 minutes. Thus, following the recipe to the letter would result in the water cooling off during that stage, throwing off the timing for the rest of the recipe.

Going from memory, I think I also prepared the vegetable stock before starting to cook the carrot and onion pieces, because step 4 (steps 8-11) includes making the stock as its last instruction before switching back to working on the onions and carrots in the pan.

I did, for a while, have the bulgur wheat and the early stages of the tagine cooking simultaneously, but the alarm going off for the wheat pretty much shattered my concentration. I also found that the full kettle of water I started out with wasn't sufficient for the 10-15 minutes cooking time... Not sure whether that means I cooked it for too long, or just that I need a bigger kettle (or to boil the water in the pan rather than using the kettle at all), but I had to boil the kettle again to top up the pan at about the halfway point, because it looked as though it would boil dry otherwise.

Like the previous recipe, the instructions say to add a lot of dry stuff to the pan ahead of the stock and, again, I find this counterintuitive. Not to say I didn't do it that way, or that I don't think it works, just that it doesn't make sense to me to add three lots of ground spices, chopped garlic and ginger and a relatively small quantity of tomato paste to a pan of onion and carrot, cooked in a drizzle of olive oil. Granted, the onions will start to sweat some of their fluids out, but it's still a fairy dry pan, and the spices will tend to clump. The next instruction is to cook "until fragrant"... which is tricky to follow, as I'm not sure I trust my nose in the kitchen... particularly with allergy season in full swing, and not long after chopping the onions...

Nevertheless, from here on, the recipe became much easier to follow, except inasmuch as I really need to figure out what constitutes 'low heat', 'medium heat' and 'high heat' on my hob... Its highest setting always seems a little too aggressive, but the general idea at this stage was to boil off some of the water to thicken up the sauce. That said, the instruction to aim for "a curry-like consistency" isn't especially helpful to one who doesn't tend to eat a lot of curry. I had a broad idea of what was meant, and did a fair job, I think, but still wasn't convinced by the finished product.

Probably the hardest part came when the fish was added, because ensuring white fish is cooked through when it's in a strongly-coloured sauce is a bit of a fine art - it needs to get to the stage where it flakes easily, but not so far along that it starts drying out. Since the instructions say to chop the coriander and mint at this late stage, I made sure to do it in advance to avoid any last-minute stress, or the risk of over-cooking the tagine.

Curiously, while the instructions say to "serve the haddock & apricot tagine over the bulgur wheat", all the photos show the two served side-by-side and very separately. The problem with following the instruction rather than the images is that the sauce is inclined to soak down into the wheat, so what I served up looks much less impressive... and not just because of my haphazard chopping of the coriander and the mint. It also seemed very anaemic - the photos depict a tagine that's bold and warm-looking, all browns and reds... mine ended up more beige and orange.

Now, I described this as the duffer of the set and should explain why. I liked this meal - as did my girlfriend, who actually had her share when she got back home late that evening - but the flavour wasn't as captivating as some of the other recipes. By comparison, I have to say I found it a little bland. It's worth noting that the recipe describes "diced apricots", but what was supplied was a bag of diced, dried apricot, so it's possible that working with fresh fruit would yield better results. Haddock doesn't have a particularly strong flavour of its own, but it didn't really pick up as much from the sauce as I'd hoped... and then the wheat was extremely plain. My girlfriend suggested some kind of seasoning for the wheat, so perhaps cooking it in another batch of vegetable stock would improve it... or, at the very least, adding more than just salt to the water.

With the end result of this being so underwhelming, I'm somewhat keen to try it again sometime - perhaps I missed something, perhaps the incredients weren't quite ideal in some way, perhaps I needed to chop the onion and carrot a little more finely. I'd also argue that, going by the photos on the recipe card, the quanity of mint and coriander supplied for the garnish was far in excess of requirement.

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