Hello, hope you’re all ok and enjoying the pleasant weather now we’re allowed to get out and about a bit more. Although things are some way off being back to normal, it’s nice to have a little more freedom and be able to see people even if it’s still only a couple at a time. Light at the end of the tunnel, for sure.
This is the first in a new series of newsletters, and over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at the ingredients you might find in Spice Mountain’s Summer Larder, and which spices work best with them. We start with seafood, taking in all our favourites from fish to prawns to squid, and we have some lovely ideas on how to make the best of the delicious foods we take from the sea. If you’re the type who doesn’t eat as much seafood as you should, this will hopefully get you on the right path!
I hope you enjoy this, and have a relaxing and peaceful Bank Holiday.
Until next time, stay safe!
Spice of the Week
North African/ Moroccan blend of herbs & spices that is usually used to flavour fish or seafood. This blend can be used as a simple seasoning for grilling fish & various types of meats, or it makes a juicy marinade simply by mixing with three basic ingredients; olive oil, crushed garlic and fresh lemon juice. Key notes are cumin, paprika and dried parsley. Try marinating some tiger prawns or cooking mussels with Chermoula for a delicious starter, or similarly adding a teaspoon to a pumpkin soup for something a little different.
Chermoula is often also used as a blackening spice. This is a method of cooking that involves applying a generous amount of spice over meat that has been dipped in melted butter, and then searing in a hot skillet until the outside of the meat turns into a crispy dark crust whilst keeping a juicy and tender centre. The flavour achieved by doing this is spicy, smokey & juicy.
Although fish and seafood are the traditional ingredients on which to use Chermoula, we’ve found that chicken and lamb also get fantastic results.
This Week's Recipes
The Deep South of the USA is the home of this style of cooking, where a food is coated with a dry rub of spice and then grilled or pan-fried on a high heat until the spice crust actually blackens. The process gives the food a wonderful smoky, caramelised flavour, full of garlic and paprika with the fish retaining its juiciness and flavour too. In the Deep South local red fish (similar to red mullet) are used, but we really like to use swordfish for this one. We find its meaty flavour and texture stand up to the cooking process really well. It can be made with any firm fish (salmon works really well) and it also works with big prawns if you prefer. If you like your food really spicy, feel free to add some extra Cayenne pepper to the spice rub.
This dish is a wonderful way to take advantage of seafood, mixing your favourites together in a piquant tomato sauce then using it to dress pasta. Straight from the Italian seaside, you can see yourself eating this on the seafront in Rimini rather than in the garden in Romford! You can use whichever seafood you prefer, and the mixed packs you can buy in the supermarket are fine – unless you have a good fishmonger handy, in which case the freshest is always the best. We’re using a combination of mussels, prawns, clams and squid, which give a nice texture and flavour to the dish. You can also use whichever is your favourite pasta, but the ‘long’ varieties are best and we prefer to use linguine for this dish.
Amok is a traditional Khmer dish, not a million miles away from a Thai red curry but with its own unique and distinctive character. Much of this comes from the cooking method whereby the dish is steamed in banana leaves rather than cooked on the hob (although this method can be used, the dish will not turn out so delicious!). In the absence of banana leaves, tin foil will work just as well and the aroma released when the foil is opened to reveal the amok is almost a meal in itself! We would recommend using sea bass or cod for this dish. It should also be noted that this dish should not be chilli hot, relying instead on fragrant and zesty flavours for its character.
When The Boat Comes In
Thou shalt have a fishy/On a little dishy/Thou shalt have a haddock/When the boat comes in
–old Tyneside folk song.
71% of the planet we live on is covered by water, and for many people the sea, lake or river provide their primary source of food. Fishing boats ply the sea from every coast, bringing home a vast variety of delicious and nourishing seafood which is then prepared in an equally vast variety of ways. There are fish of all sizes and shapes, shellfish concealing their tender treasure, crustaceans small and large, squid and octopus. The ways of preparing these foods almost always involves seasoning of some kind, from spices and herbs to simple salt and pepper. In this feature we focus on 20 of the most popular seafoods, and how you can give them the Spice Mountain touch, by matching each with a couple of our blends or seasonings. We’ve tried to choose things which are relatively easy to get hold of, so if you’re a seafood lover you’ll be able to experiment with the ideas at home.
Before we get onto specific items, there are some of our products which are like magic fairy dust for pretty much any seafood! So let’s deal with them first. From our range of salts, three stand out; first our Lemon Pyramid Salt from Cyprus (for a lovely citrus depth), second our Chipotle Salt (for a gentle, smoky kick) and third our Seaweed Salt (just for some extra sea!). We have a selection of dried citrus peels and zests, from orange through lemon to yuzu, and also those citrus leaves and stalks like lemon grass and kaffir lime. To give any seafood an instant Southeast Asian kick, our Nasi Goreng dried vegetable blend is perfect. Cajun seasoning blend will give seafood a smoky, garlicky zing. And finally here, our Moroccan Chermoula blend is a mixture of herb and spice which will lift any seafood.
Now, let’s visit the fishmonger and see what he’s got in today..
Cod – A firm, white fish with a distinctive but not powerful flavour, cod stands up well to spice. It gets on very well with chilli and garlic, so if you are baking the fish our Arrabbiata blend is ideal. The Basques do a lovely dish where they roast cod with garlic, olive oil and tiny little piripiri chillies, then at the last minute add a big handful of chopped flatleaf parsley. The powerful umami of Japanese Shichimi Togarishi is another blend which loves cod, as its mix of earthy, aromatic and spicy flavours is really taken on by the fish. Try adding a generous sprinkle to the fish before steaming it, adding a dash of soy sauce before serving with plain white rice for a healthy and nutritious lunch or supper.
Haddock – A popular fish in the UK, which is similar in taste and texture to cod but more delicate. Its most notable meeting with spice is in Kedgeree, a dish from the days of British rule in India. Smoked haddock is mixed with gently spiced rice then baked, and though it was originally a breakfast dish, it makes a lovely suppertime treat as well. Haddock is also much used in fishcakes, which can be a real playground for spice lovers. We like to use our Moroccan Chermoula, which is herby, spicy and slightly sweet at the same time, but this is a real chance to use your imagination.
Mackerel – Another fish which seems to be abundant everywhere, and a very tasty one too. Its flavour is strong enough to take bold spicing, In one interesting recipe the mackerel is coated with an aromatically spicy paste featuring our Mauritius Masala, then grilled until the spices sizzle. We’ll definitely be using this on the barbecue this Summer! Mackerel matches very well with our Harissa blend too, again used as a coating before grilling the fish, and served with some couscous this makes a beautiful lunchtime dish.
Tuna – This is one of the most widely enjoyed fish of all, but tuna comes into its own as the perfect fish to make Japanese sushi rolls with. The quality of the fish used means that it is the rice which is seasoned here, and our Furikake blend is perfect for this. It has the nuttiness of sesame, the umami of seaweed and the citrus of lemon salt, but used with caution it will not overpower the fresh flavour of the fish. At the other end of the scale, a simple tin of tuna can be used to make a quick and tasty pasta sauce; fry some onions and garlic till soft, add the tin of tuna along with a squirt of tomato puree, a good sprinkle of our Smoky Ragu blend and a squirt of lemon juice and saute for 5-10 minutes. The kids will love this one too!
Swordfish – A good swordfish steak simply dressed with olive oil, lemon and salt is a real pleasure, but swordfish is firm and meaty so it also gets on very well with spice. It makes great Cajun blackened fish – marinate the fish in our Cajun spice blend before frying or grilling on a high heat. This is a great dish for the barbecue. Swordfish is also great when treated like ‘real’ steak, cooked au naturel then served with a luxurious sauce. A pepper sauce made with Kampot Red Peppercorns does the job perfectly and another option is a butter sauce made with capers and Smoked Salt. And a sweet chilli sauce made with Kaffir lime leaf powder and de Arbol chilli flakes is a more guilty pleasure with swordfish.
Sardines – Ocean fresh sardines have a distinctive meaty flavour, and a real aroma of the sea. They are best when quickly grilled, so need a spice which cooks just as quickly. A good sprinkle of our Portuguese Chicken (PiriPiri) blend is perfect, and will give sardines a gentle chilli kick. Any combination of chilli and garlic will work. If you like it really spicy, try a Mexican way; season the sardines with our Mexican Chilli Lime blend. This gives the fish a much bigger kick, tempered with salt and lime for a nice citrus balance. Tomato and sardines are very good friends, so having some of our Crunchy Tomato slices to garnish the fish is always a good idea.
Monkfish – One of the kings of the sea when it comes to meaty fish flavour, so it needs spice which will take advantage of rather than overpower its taste. It is a great fish to use in a Moroccan tagine, where it will take on the citrus flavour of preserved lemon so well. A sprinkle of Harissa spice will lift the dish. Due to its meaty texture monkfish is very good for kebabs. Marinate the fish in our Tandoori marinade with a little lemon juice for an hour, then skewer the chunks and cook on the barbecue or under the grill. If you really want a treat, alternate the swordfish chunks with big king prawns for genuine spice luxury!
Red Mullet – As attractive in colour as it is in flavour, red mullet is very popular, especially around the Mediterranean. This could be because it is pretty easy and quick to cook, working well pan fried, grilled or baked. It has quite a strong flavour so can take bold spicing. You can multiply the colour factor by using a paprika-centric blend like our Patatas Bravas or Cajun blends, and that will give the fish an extra smokiness too. Or try something more aromatic and complex, maybe Moroccan Ras el Hanout (floral, warm and fragrant) or Mexican Holy Trinity (smoky, deep and lingering). Red mullet is a fish on which you really can use your imagination.
Salmon – The most popular fish in the UK, and a constant source of provenance-related debate. The majority of salmon eaten is farmed, and wild salmon is different in colour and flavour. They both favour fairly gentle seasoning, and we find they don’t get on too well with either curry or hot chilli. If you are grilling your salmon, try doing it with Beetroot & Apple sea salt, which has a fruity flavour perfect for the fish. For an Asian twist, use some Red Miso powder and a dash of rice vinegar. Our favourite way, however, is to grill the salmon with Lebanese Zatar, which has such vibrant flavours including sesame, sumac and thyme. Sumac alone is a simpler version which is also lovely, sharp and citrussy.
Sea Bass – There are sustainability issues involved when it comes to this fish, but it is undeniably delicious. It doesn’t need much spice, as you don’t want to overpower the natural delicate flavour of the fish. It does make very good ceviche, the South American dish where fish is ‘cooked’ in lime juice, and if you like it spicy a sprinkle of Peruvian Spice Rub will work very well. A nice way to cook sea bass is ‘en papilotte’, in foil, seasoned with herbs and ideally our Lemon Pyramid Salt. The Chinese steam sea bass with Five Spice powder plus plenty of fresh garlic, ginger and spring onions for a fresh and aromatic dish.
Prawns – We could write an entire book on what to do with prawns and spice, but if we have to pick our two favourites? Difficult, but here goes. A Thai Tomyum soup is a perfect home for fat, juicy prawns. The soup explodes with flavour, hot with chilli, fruity with lemon grass and kaffir lime, sour with lime juice. These just match so well with the sweet meatiness of the prawns. Our second choice is another spicy one – an Indian Jalfrezi, again with fat king prawns, quickly cooked to bring out the sweet, sour and hot flavour. The taste of a jalfrezi is so fresh and clean, and a perfect partner for the flavour of prawns.
Mussels – One of the ultimate finger foods; there are few things more satisfying than putting the shell to your mouth to bite out the sweet flesh, and slurp up the juices. Two ways of intensifying the pleasure by involving spice are, first; cooking the mussels with coconut milk, lemon grass, kaffir lime and red onion flakes, with a sprinkle of chilli. The briny flavour of the mussels works really well with the coconut and spice. The second is to play a bit with the classic Mariniere (shallots, white wine, parsley and cream) style. All of those essentials remain, but add a teaspoon of Smoked Garlic Granules and a teaspoon of Aleppo Pepper flakes and it will give this classic a real lift.
Clams – Clams have a clean and meaty flavour, and have a nice chew to them, so they get on very well with spice. The Portuguese make an amazing dish of pork and clams cooked together, and you can use our Patatas Bravas blend to make this unique take on surf and turf. Clams of course are very popular worldwide, and they do particularly nice things with them in Southeast Asia. A classic Singapore Laksa will always include shelled clams, and a popular dish around the region is clams stirfried with fresh garlic, chilli and spice. Try our Rendang curry blend for this one, it really works. Also you can make this into an actual curry simply by adding coconut milk
Oysters – It doesn’t pay to play around too much with a quality, fresh oyster. Just some chopped shallot and red wine vinegar works perfectly if you like your oyster as they come. In Southeast Asia oyster omelette is a very popular streetfood, the meatiness of the oysters matching really well with the creamy egg, spiced with white pepper, fish sauce, coriander leaf and garlic. Another interesting way to cook oysters is to leave them in the half shell, then to add butter, curry leaves and a discreet amount of Kashmiri chilli powder then bake them briefly in a hot oven. This looks as lovely as it tastes!
Scallops – These gorgeous shellfish need to be treated with the respect they deserve, but they are quite adaptable when it comes to spice, as long as fairly delicate flavours are used. A very mild and creamy curry sauce can work well, using our Korma blend and some ground almonds. You can pan-fry the scallops to get a little smokiness going on, then just pour the sauce over them at the table. And even more luxurious is serving them finished in a saffron cream sauce, fortified with white wine. This is an ideal starter for a celebration meal.
Squid – As an abundant seafood squid (and cuttlefish) is enjoyed in many places, and as it has a pretty neutral taste it needs bold seasoning. In Asia they like to stir fry squid, and a great way to do this is with our Japanese Shichimi Togarishi blend, which has lots of strong but balanced flavours that enhance the natural taste of the squid. In Europe it is enjoyed deep-fried kalamari style, and it is easy to give this the Spice Mountain touch to make it a bit more exotic – simply add a bit of spice to the flour coating. You can use pretty much any spice you like, but two good ideas are Korean chilli flakes (gochugaru) for a single, fiery hit or Chimichurri from Argentina, which is a more complex flavour with herbs and garlic.
Octopus – Probably due to availability octopus isn’t a menu staple in the UK but it is extremely popular in places from the Mediterranean to Thailand. As an ingredient which usually needs plenty of cooking and has a very neutral flavour, you can really go to town with the spice. Mexicans make an octopus escabeche (similar to ceviche but using vinegar instead of lime juice, so more of a pickle) spiced with Pasilla chilli, smoked paprika, cumin, aniseed, oregano and cinnamon – our Mexican Holy Trinity blend will do the same job. In Korea they use baby octopus to make a fiery stir fry or barbecue spiced with plenty of gochugaru chilli flakes and ginger, sweetened with a little sugar or syrup.
Crab – Invariably a messy business, but all the more tasty for it we think! If we’re going to get messy we like to do it properly, making a lovely crab curry with our Sri Lankan curry blend. Done with coconut milk to make plenty of spicy gravy and with lots of roti bread to mop it up with. And if you really can’t be doing with all the shell that’s fine, you can buy the meat alone. We like to mix the meat with our Cambodian Amok curry blend, which is very fragrant and citrussy and not at all hot, then make little cakes which we dip in flour and gently pan-fry till golden and crispy.
Lobster – Almost mythical because of its association with luxury and high living, lobster is a truly wonderful ingredient. Its beautiful flavour is only improved by the judicious use of spice. If you like to keep it fairly simple there is a lovely pasta dish, lobster linguine, spiced up with black pepper and peperoncino. The classic Lobster Thermidor always includes mustard in the sauce, but perhaps our favourite if we were splashing out would be the other classic, a l’Americain. Seasoned with tarragon, thyme, parsley and bayleaf, cooked with tomato and spiced with a pinch of Cayenne pepper, flambeed in Cognac, this just sort of defines luxury seafood in our view!
Anchovy – We finish our list with the tiny anchovy, not so much because it is a fish but because it could reasonably be called a spice too! This little fish (and others like it around the world) has been used, dried or fermented, as a seasoning since ancient times, and it is where the fifth element of flavour, umami, was first defined. It is a flavour enhancer as well as a flavour in itself, and turns up in surprising places such as an ingredient of Worcestershire Sauce. The tiniest of shrimp are used in Asia for the same purpose, known as Trassi once they are dried and powdered. These are a common ingredient in Southeast Asian curry powders.
Which means that in the end, we discover that seafood actually is spice! A perfect marriage indeed.