Recipes for plaice ceviche and mussels in cider

PUBLISHED: 12:52 17 September 2020 | UPDATED: 12:52 17 September 2020

Ingredients for ceviche and buying plaice from Hampstead Seafoods

Ingredients for ceviche and buying plaice from Hampstead Seafoods

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Mussels cooked in cider and a fresh ceviche with slivers of mango are on the menu Chez Bissell as kids go back to school and ‘weekend food’ is no longer rolled out mid-week

Ingredients for ceviche and buying plaice from Hampstead SeafoodsIngredients for ceviche and buying plaice from Hampstead Seafoods

Food as nostalgia, food as a travel substitute, food for treats – I’ve cooked them all over the last few months. But it’s time for reality. We’re not on holiday – seeing children going back to school helps-we need to accept that this is how we will be living for the foreseeable. Chez Bissell, that means an end to choosing what I refer to as ‘weekend food’ on a Tuesday or Wednesday. As with clothes, so with food. No point saving my favourite garments ‘for best’, for who knows when I would wear them, so I wore them all summer. But time to rethink the wardrobe as well as the menu.

As we enter the game season there’s no way I will miss out on that as a Sunday lunch treat, especially grouse, as Patrick and Farida at Meat Naturally in the Hampstead Community Market have some fine young specimens for a week or so more. Then there will be partridge and pheasant to enjoy. When I cook game birds I use a heavy pair of scissors to cut out the backbone which allows the bird to roast much more evenly. Chicken, too, can be prepared in the same way, and the back used to make stock.

During the week, a favourite dish is pasta with ragú, for which there is only one recipe, Marcela Hazan’s. Sometimes I vary the meat, Tuscan sausage with minced Aberdeen Angus, or a mixture of veal, pork and beef (the same as my meat loaf mix), but there’s always the red wine, the chopped tomatoes, each boiled down and then the final, essential addition of milk, all simmered over a low heat for as long as possible. Make a large batch and freeze it in portions; well worth the effort.

That’s the meat taken care of, what about fish? Andy and his team at Hampstead Seafood have everything you could wish for: haddock and smoked haddock for fish pie, hake to serve with salsa verde, mackerel to grill with mustard or to make into piquant fish cakes, either with Thai or Indian spices. Plaice might not have the texture of a turbot or a John Dory, neither is it as expensive; and it is a most versatile fish, especially if you choose a large one, around a kilo or more and have it filleted. That will give you some thick pieces to simply bread and fry in olive oil, to serve with buttered spinach and boiled small waxy potatoes, usually sold as salad potatoes. That’s our favourite Wednesday dinner. But best of all is the ceviche I make with the thinner parts of the fillet. Over the years I have eaten many different versions; in Florida it comes with just about everything but the palm tree; in Colombia it is loaded with explosive chillies. Sometimes I serve it with cucumber salad or a roasted pepper salad; last night served it with thin slivers of mango and we liked this best of all. I like to keep my ceviche simple; fish, salt, lime, chillies and coriander, but green or red capsicum and some diced ripe tomato will also work. Very cold and fresh fino or manzanilla is the perfect accompaniment.

Ingredients for ceviche and buying plaice from Hampstead SeafoodsIngredients for ceviche and buying plaice from Hampstead Seafoods

I always try to keep the head and bones to make stock and freeze it for a paella, fish stew or risotto at some point in the future.

Mussels at this time of year are fabulous, quick to cook and excellent value – perfect in that risotto. A version of moules marinière was cooked in England in the Middle Ages using beer. I first cooked today’s dish when I was filming in the West Country; it works equally well with cider or scrumpy.

Ceviche (Serves 4-6)

Ingredients:

400g plaice fillet, skinned – see recipe

Fresh green or red chillies – see recipe

3 shallots, peeled and chopped

Several stalks of fresh coriander, chopped

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Juice and grated zest of 2 limes

Method:

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I used to make this 4 to 8 hours in advance, which gives good results, but I find it is even better made 24 hours before required. Plaice is not the only fish; you can use a mixture of white fish, such as haddock and halibut, and also include scallops, although that is moving more towards ‘weekend fish’!

For the chilli I prefer to use red; this way, it can easily be identified and removed by those less chilli-tolerant. Green chillies can get confused with the coriander leaves.

Cut the fillet into thin strips and then into small dice. Put the fish in a china or glass bowl. Slice the chilli, having first removed the seeds, and stir with the rest of the ingredients into the fish. Cover and refrigerate until required.

I like to serve ceviche on glass plates. In Miami you might find it served in half coconut shells with a strip or two of fried plantain.

West Country mussels (Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a starter)

Ingredients:

2 kg mussels

1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 celery stalks, trimmed and finely sliced

1 leek, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 carrot, peeled and grated

1/2 teaspoon pepper

300 ml dry or medium dry cider or scrumpy

Method:

Scrub the mussels well under cold running water, and remove the beards and any barnacles. Discard any open (dead) mussels.

Put the vegetables, pepper and cider in a heavy-lidded casserole, bring to the boil, cover, and simmer for a few minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Open the casserole, tip in the well-rinsed mussels, and put the lid back on. Give the casserole a vigorous shake or two to distribute the vegetables and seasoning.

Let the mussels steam for 5 minutes or so. Serve from the pot with bread to mop up the juices. A dollop of clotted cream can be added to enrich the sauce.

©Frances Bissell 2020. All rights reserved.


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