food for thought

by michelle

Archive for the ‘fish & seafood’ Category

spicy prawns + vegetables in coconut

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These two dishes use Belacan, a shrimp paste pressed into a block and sun-dried. It’s an essential ingredient in Malaysian cooking which adds a unique depth of flavour. Pre-roasting, a necessary step, reduces it’s very strong smell and flavour. Wrap a piece in foil and roast it over an open flame or in the oven until it has a pleasant roasted aroma. Now you can add it to your rempah, a paste which functions like a wet curry paste to begin your dish.

For the spicy prawns make a rempah of 1 onion, 6 dried chillies, 2 fresh chillies, 2 large cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon of laos (galangal) powder, 1 teaspoon of belacan and 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric. You can make this into a paste with a mortar and pestle, a small food processor or blender – add a little water if necessary. Heat 2 tablespoons of peanut oil in a large pan or wok and fry the rempah until it’s fragrant then add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 teaspoons of sugar and ¾ of a teaspoon of salt. Add 450g (1lb) of whole, unpeeled prawns, cover and simmer for 5 minutes or so until the prawns are just cooked. Garnish with fresh coriander (cilantro).

Vegetables in coconut are a sweet and mild foil for the spicy prawns. Make a rempah of 1 onion, 1 clove of garlic, 1 or 2 fresh green chillies, ½ a teaspoon of belacan and ½ a teaspoon of ground turmeric. Fry the rempah in a little oil then add 1½ cups of coconut milk, 2 strips of lemon rind and ¾ of a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer then add 3 or 4 cups of thinly sliced vegetables (I used cabbage, carrots and bok choy) and cook until tender. Remove from the heat and add lemon juice to taste.

*Adapted from recipes in The Curry Cookbook by Charmaine and Reuben Solomon.


Written by michelle picker

May 16, 2018 at 12:12 am

steamed fish with spicy sauce

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Here’s a spicy Sichuan-style sauce for any white fish.

This recipe is for 700g (1½ lbs) of fish fillets. Make a slurry of 1 tablespoon of water and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and set aside. Finely chop ½ an onion and mince 1 clove of garlic. Finely chop a few shiitake mushrooms and ¼ of a red pepper. Into a small bowl measure out 1 tablespoon of Shaoxing wine, 1 tablespoon of Doubanjan (spicy Sichuan bean paste), 1 teaspoon of hoisin sauce, ½ teaspoon of sesame oil, ½ a teaspoon of sugar, and ground white pepper to taste. Mix well and set aside. Prepare some chopped coriander (cilantro) and spring onion greens for garnishing. When you’re ready to cook the sauce, heat a wok to high heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the garlic and onion and cook for a minute, stirring constantly. Add the rest of the vegetables and cook for another minute. Now add the prepared sauce ingredients and ½ a cup of water and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat while you prepare the fish. To steam the fish, place it in a shallow bowl and season with a little soy sauce. Place the bowl into a steamer over boiling water and steam until the fish is cooked through and flaking apart. Use a slotted spoon to remove it to a serving plate. Reheat the sauce and add the cooking liquid from the fish. Thicken the sauce with the cornstarch slurry until it coats a spoon. Stir in another teaspoon of oil to finish and pour the sauce over the steamed fish. Garnish and serve with steamed white rice.

* recipe adapted from this recipe.

Written by michelle picker

January 31, 2018 at 12:41 am

turmeric chilli squid + belacan asparagus

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Fifi cooked up a storm when she stayed recently. This Malaysian squid dish includes ingredients popular throughout South-East Asia such as turmeric and kaffir lime leaves.

Place 700g (1½ lbs) of fresh squid rings in a non-reactive bowl and add 1½ teaspoons of ground turmeric, 1 tablespoon of chilli flakes, 1 finely minced clove of garlic, 3 finely sliced kaffir lime leaves, 1 tablespoon of grated palm sugar, 1 tablespoon of Shaoxing wine or dry sherry, the juice of ½ – 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground black pepper and 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Allow the squid to marinate for at least a few hours before cooking in a hot wok until just cooked through and still tender. Serve with steamed rice. 

Roasted shrimp paste or belacan is a common addition to Malaysian dishes. Here it adds amazing flavour to asparagus and zucchini.

Soak 1-2 tablespoons of dried shrimp to soften them a little. Wrap a small piece (approximately 2 teaspoons) of belacan in foil and roast it over a flame or in the oven – it’s done when it smells roasted. Chop a few brown shallots, a few cloves of garlic and some fresh red chillies and place them in a mortar and pestle (or a small food processor) with the shrimp and shrimp paste. Pound (or process) to a rough paste (rempah). Cut the asparagus and zucchini into similar sized pieces. Heat some oil in a wok until very hot and add the rempah, cooking until fragrant. Add the vegetables and stir constantly until just cooked. This dish shouldn’t require any seasoning as the belacan and dried shrimp are salty but check the seasoning just in case and serve hot.

Written by michelle picker

January 10, 2018 at 12:34 am

lobster tail

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Here’s a simple and delicious treat for a luxurious lunch. Christmas, perhaps?

Trim the lobster tails and cut down the middle of the inside with a pair of chicken shears. Now, with a heavy knife, cut through the middle of the tail just enough to allow it to open and still stay connected. Season with a generous amount of salt and freshly ground black pepper. When you’re ready to cook, heat a pan to medium, add a little olive oil and place the lobster tails in – shell side down. Cook for a few minutes (this will depend on size) until the shell is quite pink. Now add a good amount of butter and turn the lobster tails over. Cook for a few minutes more, allowing them to colour a little. Serve with a fresh green salad and a chilled white wine.

Written by michelle picker

December 6, 2017 at 12:18 am

snapper with beetroot and olives

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David has a way with fish. This amazingly colourful dish was not only stunning to look at but absolutely delicious too.

In a medium bowl combine 2 tablespoons of olive oil with 2 crushed cloves of garlic, a 5cm (2″) piece of finely grated fresh ginger, the finely grated zest of 1 lemon and the crushed seeds of 15 cardamom pods. Mix to a rough paste, then add 6 snapper fillets and coat them with the marinade. Cover and allow to marinate for at least an hour. Meanwhile bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add 3 beetroots and cook for 40 minutes (15 minutes in a pressure cooker) until soft. Drain and when the beetroot is cool enough to handle, peel and discard the skin, then chop the flesh into 1cm (⅓”) dice. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large fry pan over medium-high heat and fry one large finely diced shallot until it’s soft and caramelised. Add 6 cardamom pods and 1 teaspoon of ground cumin and fry briefly. Add the beetroot, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 10 pitted and halved black olives and ¼ of a teaspoon of salt. Combine well then remove from the heat and set aside in a warm place. Place 85g (3 oz) of flour in a bowl and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove the fish from it’s marinade, discarding the marinade, and toss it in the flour to coat it on all sides, shaking off any excess. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 30g (1 oz) of butter in a large fry-pan over medium-high heat. When the butter starts to foam, fry the fish flesh-side down for two minutes. Turn and fry for another two minutes until cooked through. Remove the fish from the pan and place it on a serving platter. Season with a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice. Spoon the beetroot mixture over the fish and garnish with parsley to serve.

*Adapted from a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe.

Written by michelle picker

September 27, 2017 at 12:21 am

spicy stir-fried squid + cabbage and bok choy with bean paste

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Now that I’m home I’m inspired to try some Korean cooking. Ojingeo bokkeum is a perennial favorite among Koreans and can be found on most restaurant menus. Like most Korean food it is hearty and spicy. This recipe is adapted from

In a large bowl mix together 1 tablespoon of minced garlic, 2 teaspoons of minced ginger, 1 tablespoon of gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, ¼ of a cup of gochujang (Korean red pepper paste). Clean and score 450g (1 lb) of squid (or use thawed frozen squid) and cut it into pieces. Add it to the sauce, making sure it is thoroughly coated, and allow it to marinate for 20 minutes. Heat some oil in a wok or large frypan over high heat. Add 5 stalks green onions (cut into lengths), 1 green chili pepper (thinly sliced) and 1 red pepper cut into pieces. Sauté until the onions start to wilt. Now add the marinated squid and cook for approximately 1½ – 2 minutes until cooked through (the squid will curl and become opaque). Remove from the heat and stir in 1 tabelspoon of sesame oil. Remove to a platter and garnish with sesame seeds and green onions.

This cabbage and bok choy recipe (adapted from is a great foil for the spicy squid.

Cut 300g (10½ oz) of cabbage into pieces and separate the leaves of 3 large bok choy. Blanch the cabbage in boiling water for approximately 5 minutes then add the bok choy for 1-2 minutes until the stems appear slightly less opaque. Strain the vegetables and rinse under cold running water to stop them cooking. In a bowl combine 1 minced garlic clove, 1 minced green onion, 2 tablespoons of doenjang (fermented soybean paste), 2 teaspoons of gochujang (hot pepper paste), a pinch of sugar and 2 teaspoons of sesame oil and mix well. Squeeze the cabbage and bok choy to remove excess water and add to the bowl, mixing well. Serve garnished with sesame seeds.

Written by michelle picker

July 20, 2017 at 5:42 am

sous vide salmon

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Another (very successful) sous vide experiment. Incredibly moist, tender and flaky!


You can achieve many different results cooking by this method. There’s an excellent article on what to expect when cooking salmon by this method at Serious Eats. I cooked mine at 49ºC (120ºF). The fillets had nothing but salt on them when I sealed them into a plastic bag. After 45 minutes in their water bath all they needed was a quick sear to brown the skin and give it some texture. Served with some mash and a fresh green salad – simple and delicious.

Written by michelle picker

April 29, 2017 at 6:02 am