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Wednesday 26 September 2018

Experiments with Gousto #9: Mediterranean Fish Stew & Sunny Aioli

Here we are with the final entry in the current run of Gousto recipes, and any others will be appearing on Instagram, while my more 'experimental' efforts, or anything particularly fun or interesting, will continue to appear - sporadically - on this blog. This recipe is the one where I ended up eating both portions because my girlfried was away - I had one portion on the Friday, when I did the actual cooking, and the second for lunch on the Saturday.

This turned out to be a Very Good Thing as it didn't all go according to plan on the Friday.

As before, I got the chopping out of the way ahead of time, attempting to be clever and using the mandoline for the onion, but mistaking the 'julienne' attachment for the 'fries' attachment and consequently setting the blade too low. This still gave me sliced onion, but with deep grooves cut into it rather than allowing it to separate into nice, small chunks. I did the carrots the old-fashioned way and chopped the garlic as finely as I could (news flash - still not that fine), where I'd grated it for a couple of the previous recipes and got uncomfortably close to grating my fingers. I should, perhaps, have used the garlic press for broadly similar results, but that didn't occur to me at the time.

The second step of this recipe confused me: heating a frying pan with "a drizzle" of olive oil and 15g of butter. Why so vague with one measure and so specific with the other? And using oil and butter? Surely one or the other would be more usual? Nevertheless, I followed the instructions as described. The stew part of the fish stew was easy enough, but puzzling on at least one other point: the inclusion of star anise. Now, clearly, I'm no expert in culinary matters, but star anise is described online as "one of the central spices in Chinese cooking", and supposedly has a strong anise flavour - whatever that may be - and a licorice-like aroma. I'm a big fan of licorice, and I have to say there was no licorice aroma. I couldn't say whether its presence in the making of the stew had any effect on the final flavour, but it had none that was discernible to my palate. I'd have to try cooking this again without star anise to be certain.

As with the previous recipe, I started preparing the stock ahead of time as well, though this one required the addition of turmeric to turn it into the required "yellow stock". Turmeric may well be the bane of my existance, but we'll get into that shortly... For now, let's focus on the stew. Any recipe which can be completed in one frying pan or saucepan is always going to be a winner, so I really liked that every stage of preparing the stew was simply a case of adding the next thing to the frying pan. With the onions, carrots and garlic cooked to the point where the onion was softening, the tomato paste went in, followed shortly by the stock and the olive, and the whole thing was left to reduce on a low heat while I switched over to preparing the sunny aioli and baking the rolls, which I'll go into separately. The fish caused an interesting complication, in that I was preparing the stew in a frying pan which has no lid, so I had to improvise - upending a wok and balancing it on the rim of the pan for the few minutes required to cook the fish. The final stage was simple enough - add in some of the fresh parsley, remove the star anise (which took longer than expected because it had managed to disguise itself very successfully), then serve with more of the parsley as a garnish, a ciabatta and the sunny aioli...

...Which is where it went awry for me. It's not often, even with an amateur like me working in the kitchen, that a recipe goes so wrong that something actually breaks. Sure, I've had cheap-and-cheerful bits of kitchen equipment break (most recently the Ikea can opener that was part of my kitchen starter kit, basically dissolved thanks to its cheap, plastic construction... it's almost 10 years old, but barely used). The sunny aioli seemed to be going swimmingly, too, until I lost my grip on the bowl I was using to mix it, allowing it to tumble to the floor - trailing sunny aioli - break unrecoverably and spill what little of the sauce wasn't already staining the white plastic/rubber of my fridge. Hence, the first photo features no sunny aioli.

It's probably a good thing my girlfriend wasn't around for this one, because I came very close to losing my temper over the breakage and spillage, and spent the evening grumbling to myself and cursing the bowl for its slipperiness. It had all been going really well up until that point, so falling at the last hurdle was a huge disappointment.

My second attempt, for lunch the following day, went far better, and the sunny aioli really added to the overall flavour. I may have to figure out other ways to use a similar sauce. This is a really lovely fish stew, and I'd definitely like to try making it again... though I'm not quite sure what the ciabatta adds to the meal, other than being something to soak up the last few drops of the stew.

In retrospect, I'm puzzled by the instruction to drizzle olive oil over the ciabatta rolls before sticking them in the oven. I ended up doing one with and one without the oil and, yes, there's a massive difference in the result... but the one with oil ended up extremely tough and crusty, while the other was more like what you might buy in a shop. I'm not massively keen on super-crusty bread, but each to their own...

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