I love dishes that never change, that are solidly rooted in a place, which can even take you back to a particular time. When I go to Paris, I don’t want creative cuisine, I want gratin dauphinoise, pork terrine with cornichons and steak with bone marrow. These dishes don’t just represent the kind of bistro classics to be found there, they are also part of my dream of Paris. And at the French seaside I want fruits de mer, a flinty white wine and, later, as I stroll round the harbour, a packet of those caramelized nuts they cook on braziers, filing the air with the scent of toasted sugar.
At the British seaside, as soon as I smell the saltiness, the tang of seaweed, I want fish and chips and an ice-cream cone. Seaside food makes you feel relaxed, even if you’re not eating it at the seaside, we just associate the taste and smell so much with kicking off our shoes.
There’s a fish and chip shop near my home in London where I go when I want to be transported to an old-fashioned coastal resort – it has the old-fashioned furniture that hasn’t changed in two generations. Once I am splashing the vinegar on my chips I’m no longer in a parade of shops in urban London, I’m on my hols. I’m also ‘back at home’. I grew up on the coast and, even in winter, a trip to the nearest seaside town on a Sunday night for a ’99 or a warm parcel of fish and chips could make a rainy November day special.
You can always bring the seaside into your own home. It’s a bit of a palaver cooking fish and chips yourself – though I do it from to time, and very satisfying it is too. You could try my recipe for goujons of fish with mushy peas. No deep frying is required, all you have to do is provide a bowlful of mayo, to which you’ve added chopped shallots and gherkins.
Here’s a recipe for potted shrimps – another quintessentially British seaside treat – and one that is easier to make than fish and chips. Follow it with a crab salad. Tubs of crab meat are available in supermarkets these days, but they’re often pasteurised and lack that sea tang – go to a good fishmongers and get proper fresh stuff instead.
Round it off with an ice-cream slider. Remember sliders? A slice of vanilla ice-cream sandwiched between two wafers (a stick of flake down one side if you were lucky) wrapped in a rectangle of greaseproof paper to make eating less messy. (Askey’s still make the wafers.) Go on. Take a trip to the seaside.
It might seem a bit of a hassle to make your own potted shrimps, but they’re easy and a real treat (and much cheaper than bought ones). To make more of the dish, don’t just serve them with toast but with steamed asparagus too.
Gently melt the butter in a small saucepan. Then take the pan off the heat and leave it to sit for a few minutes.
Slowly and carefully, pour the golden ‘clarified’ butter off the top into a dish and leave behind the cloudy stuff at the bottom (discard this).
Reserve ¼ of the clarified butter. Put the rest into a frying pan with the spices and shrimps and heat through, but don’t let the mixture boil.
Remove the mace blade and divide the shrimps between 2 ramekins. Let the shrimps cool, then put into the fridge to set.
Pour the rest of the reserved clarified butter over the top (gently melt it if it has become too solid), making sure that you completely cover the shrimps, and put in the fridge to set once more.
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