mardi, mars 21, 2006

Almejas al Pil Pil, Gambas a la Plancha, Cabillaud (Fresh Cod) Grillé et Purée de Pommes de Terre à l'Ail

We lived for one and a half years in the Andalusian city of Jaén in Spain.

Every morning I would visit the local wet market and would often leave with fish or shellfish of some sort e.g. sea bass, gilthead bream, tuna, sole, burbot, turbot, sardines, anchovies, clams, mussles, cockles, bay prawns, prawns...

The cuisine is very simple in the South of Spain and usually contains olive oil (the Province of Jaén is one of the largest olive oil-producing regions in the world) and garlic. In the evenings, adults usually gather in bars (both inside and outside) to have a drink (I usually order a Sangria or a Tinto de Verano) and eat a few tapas while children play near the tables till pretty late in the evening.

Some of my favourite tapas include gambas/cigalas/pescado/calamar a la plancha (grilled prawns/bay prawns/fish/squid), almejas al pil pil (clams in hot garlic-olive oil), chipirones/boquerones fritos (deep fried baby squids/anchovies), paella, zarzuelo de mariscos (spicy shellfish stew), fresh sardines grilled on a BBQ pit on the beach...which can all be eaten in larger portions as a main course, of course.

Almejas/Berberecho al Pil Pil is a lovely dish to serve. As an appetizer for 4, you'll need to wash and drain about 500g of live clams. Peel and slice 2-3 cloves of garlic. Devein 2-3 hot red chillies. Have ready 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1 dried chilli, 2 tbsp of white wine, sugar, Fleur de sel (big grained salt), pepper and parsley.

Preheat an oven at 200ºC. Dry roast the hot red chillies. Remove them from the heat, take out their seeds and slice them lengthwise into thin strips. Next, if you have one of those clay recipients (cazuela) the Spanish like to use (if not, just any baking dish), you arrange the chillies in it, place the garlic slices over them, add the olive oil and the dried chilli and put the dish in the hot oven.

When the oil starts to sizzle, take the dish out of the oven, sprinkle some sugar in the dish and add in the clams. Put the dish back into the oven and when the first clams start to open up, add in the white wine (optional), salt, pepper and the parsley. Once all the clams are opened up (do not overcook though), remove the dish from the oven. Serve hot with fresh bread, they are delicious.

You can of course choose to cook the dish in a pan on the stove and even replace the clams with peeled raw prawns or even fresh cod's cheeks.

My other favourite Spanish dish Gambas a la Plancha is something we miss a lot here in Stuttgart where seafood is hard to come by. But it's so easy to make there is no reason to stop enjoying it ;-).

For 4 persons, we'll just need about 24 nice meaty raw prawns (I like Black Tiger), some olive oil and Fleur de sel (or any big-grained salt). Just heat up an iron grill with some olive oil and when it is very hot, grill the prawns on it for about 3-4 minutes on each side. Sprinkle the salt on the prawns to taste and then pour 1/2 a cup of cold water in the grill. The grill has to be very hot so that the water will evaporate quickly and the steam will help keep the flesh of the prawns from drying up. Eat them hot!

Having mentioned the availability of fresh and cheap seafood in Spain, I must now reminisce about the wonderful Fish-mongers' in our ''home'' city of Paris. While prices are certainly not low in Paris, the huge variety helps make up for it. One is often spoilt for choice in a typical Parisien Fishmonger's : Coquille St Jacques (scallops), different types of oysters, crevettes roses (cooked prawns, very sweet), crevettes grises, torteaux (huge crabs), at least 10 sorts of fish (whole, in filet or in slices), live lobsters in tanks, clams, mussles and other types of shells, salted cod...

It is not easy to make the children eat fish, but I have a recipe inspired by the Portuguese Bacalao (salted Cod) that seems to be a hit with the family. I use fresh Cod instead since the salted version would need to be desalted like 12 hours or so in advance and is too much work. And I serve it with a garlicked potato purée or fried potatoes with garlic which is probably the reason why the kids love it.

We just need a decent Cod filet (Dos de Cabillaud) for each person, preferably not thin (min. 1 cm thick) and if you wish, with the skin on on one side. Just heat up some olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and once the oil is hot, start to grill the filets (the skin side 1st) for a few minutes on each side. We'll want to have the filets in one piece if possible, not all flaked up (but if it is all flaked up, that's not a problem, just flake them over the purée later on, like an Hachis Parmentier). If you want, you can also sprinkle some chopped mixed herbs like fennel, aniseed, dill, thyme and parsley over the fish. Add a generous amount of freshly ground salt and pepper and squeeze some lemon juice over the fish before serving.

To make the purée, we peel about 2 potatoes per person, cut them into quarters and cook them in salted boiling water for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside. In the same pot, heat up some olive oil, add in 2-3 cloves of chopped garlic and when they start to brown, put in the potatoes and mash them with a vegetable masher (if you don't have one, mash your potatoes with a fork before putting them back inside the pot), mix with the oil and garlic, then add in 1st 1 tbsp of butter and then enough milk to prevent the purée from drying up (though more milk = a smoothier purée, so it depends on whether you like it a little chunky or smooth). Finally add in some parsley, salt and pepper and voilà it's ready.

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