Wednesday, March 11, 2009

True love

I should let you in on a secret. Although I witter on about fantastic things like carrot cakes, butterscotch cakes, pumpkin scones and other things of that ilk, they are not my true passion. Give me the choice between a whole Victoria sandwich or a small plate of delicious seafood, seafood will win out every time.

I love it. Can never get enough of it. Like Barry White and that random girl’s love he croons about but better. A trip to the fish market in Deira is my own personal smelly paradise, complete with gunk that sticks to the bottom of your trousers has the neighbourhood strays (cats, dogs, sometimes people) following you round the block. It’s the only attention I get these days anyway.

So yesterday, when I found myself at a loose end in the evening and faced with an empty but full cupboard (full of useful things like nori seaweed, corned beef and baked beans yet curiously devoid of anything to make a meal you’re willing to eat), I knew what I had to do. I had to take a trip to the supermarket and stock the cupboard with beautiful things that work better than corned beef and treat myself to a decent home-cooked dinner.

From the outset, I had my mind on the prize, I’d pick up some cockles, squid, mussels and other piscine delights and make my favourite Thai-styled seafood broth, hot, steamy and bursting with delicate flavours.

When I got home, laden with products however, my sense of adventure kicked in. “What’s the point in eating the same old thing every day,” it taunted me. “Pooh pooh to your boring old seafood broth. Next thing it will be Ovaltine at 9.01pm every night after which you’ll have allotted reading time of 10 minutes followed by a prompt lights off at 9.15.”

In defiance of this dreary vision, I decided that I, Julianna Barnaby, would refuse to be tarred by the boring brush. Though reluctant to give up on the seafood idea, I would improvise – something off the cuff. Eyes alighting on the bottle of red wine by the cooker (handy in all kinds of food emergencies and life crises) it dawned on me that there was only one dish I should be making – a hearty seafood stew.

Think of this as your winter comfort food – rich and packed with chutzpah that makes your tongue tingle and your stomach purr in content but a lot lighter – it’s hot and filling but doesn’t drop to the bottom of your stomach like a brick. Best of all, it can be whipped up in half an hour.

Bourbon drinking squid, courtesy of

NB: I hate to preach but this I have to say. Overcooked squid rings are like control pants that are too tight – they could have been fantastic, but instead, they push your fat up to a disgusting roll which springs out under your boobs and you’d have been a lot better off going without them. Sound revolting and disappointing? Think of that the next time you contemplate leaving your squid in the pan for too long. For this recipe, one or two minutes will suffice.

Moans aside, here’s the recipe: I served it with some short-grain brown rice and salad on the side.

Seafood stew (serves 2)
500g mixed seafood of your choice – can be cockles, scallops, mussels, prawns (peeled), squid – anything
Olive oil infused with chilli (or normal olive oil)
Dried chilli flakes
1 glass of red wine
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin tuna in water (drained)
A few basil leaves torn
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Onion, finely chopped
½ clove garlic, minced

On a low heat, sautee the onions in the chilli oil after 10 minutes, add the minced garlic, basil leaves and tinned tuna – stir for a few minutes.
Add chopped tomatoes, red wine, chilli flakes and oregano and leave to simmer for 15 minutes.
Add mussels/ cockles/ clams/ scallops and simmer until they’re fully open. Discard any that do not open.
Turn heat up, when bubbling, add squid. Cook for a further minute or two. Remove from heat. Serve immediately.

This is also pretty tasty as a chilled leftover the next day. Think the cold cutting refreshment of a gazpacho but with a lot more substance.

Look out for the next post. If all goes to plan, it will be pretty exciting. If it doesn’t, there’ll be an amusing story in it I’m sure.