Tag Archives: seafood

Posh Prawn Cocktail

Posh prawn cocktail

I’ve already mentioned my latest weekend of food and debauchery in my post about Brown Bread and Guinness Ice Cream, but that barely scraped the surface of our foodie shenanigans (in fact, I wouldn’t doubt if some of us were too drunk by the time the ice cream was served to remember if it was actually good – but take it from me, it’s badass).

Also on the food experiment list was this posh prawn cocktail. But before I go on, let me say a little bit more about our crew last weekend because they’re all part of the story…

It was me, Kavey from Kavey Eats, Pete from Pete Drinks and Marie from Lanyon Cottages. We met in Cornwall last June on a holiday organised by the Food Travel Company. Throughout the trip, we four were always the ones lingering around the dining table long after everyone had gone to sleep, and during those evenings of good drink and great food, we bonded. We affectionately call ourselves the “Fab Four”, and have now had two reunions here at the O.C. It’s hard to believe I’ve only known them since June – this a seriously rare case of instantly comfortable friendships, the kind where you can have these people over to your house for a weekend and never feel sick of each other, you don’t feel like you have to “entertain” and no one’s “in the way”. If Pete feels like taking a nap, he just goes and takes a nap. No body’s worried about anyone else’s well-being, because it’s all pretty clear that we’re totally at ease.

Posh prawn cocktail

Despite the lack of pressure to entertain, I got it in my head last weekend that I wanted to do something kind of retro-tastic, dinner party style for one of our meals. I wasn’t about to break out the cocktail dress, but cocktails sounded like a fun idea, and so did hors d’oeuvres.

Enter Great British Chefs recently posted their collection of Christmas recipes where I found Chris Horridge’s Prawn Cocktail. The recipe reminded me of my first and only prawn cocktail experience with Genie Cooks at The Bell at Sapperton just a few weeks ago. I think my recent foray into Jell-O molds and cheese balls in preparation for Thanksgiving has me jazzed about retro food (so weird!), so prawn cocktail has definitely appeal. Unfortunately, the prawn cocktail at The Bell was “rubbish” – crappy little prawns excessively splooged with the signature Marie Rose sauce (what we American would equate to Thousand Island Dressing) and with very little salad to speak of. Genie backed me up – this was not a great prawn cocktail:

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Ever since The Bell, I’ve been driven to make a prawn cocktail that I would actually eat. An opportunity was knocking!

The prawn cocktail recipe at Great British Chefs isn’t your traditional prawn cocktail, and you could argue that it isn’t really prawn cocktail at all. But with nice prawns and a freshly made creamy tomato sauce, it’s a pretty solid starter regardless. The sauce – at least as I made it – erred more on the tomato side than the mayo side, and actually worked just as well with the vegetarian version we made for prawn-hater Pete, subbing buffalo mozzarella for the prawns, and garnishing with basil instead of dill.

Prawn cocktail, the vegetarian version with buffalo mozzarella

There are a few other Christmas recipes in the Great British Chefs collection that I’d like to try, particularly the carrots with tarragon and garlic and the apricot stuffing (vegetarian-ised). And having tried the prawn cocktail recipe, I know to expect the unexpected, which I kind of like, especially during the holidays when you’re meant to kick things up a few measures from the norm. Perhaps The Bell, a pub which tries to convey the image of super posh, artisanal, fine-dining country Cotswolds bliss (it has “horse parking” for goodness sake) could learn a thing or two from this recipe.

Recipe: Prawn cocktail with homemade sauce

New Discovery: The Edible Seashore

Greedy for Orache

I’m kind of lousy at doing stuff. What I mean is, when an opportunity to do something new presents itself, my instant reaction is to go hide on the couch under a blanket. It’s just so much easier to stay at home. I like my home – it’s comfortable, quiet and peaceful. The outside world is scary, uncertain and requires driving. It just sounds so hard.

Enter the “ah-hah moment” of my summer: I was in Gascony, debating where to go next, and whether I should accept an invite to return to Manzac Ferme, where I’d met some cool people the week prior. Leave it to Kate Hill and Tim Clinch to deliver the Good Advice Bomb:

“If someone invites you into their home, take them up on it.”

I’m paraphrasing, but the point is this: if someone gives you an opportunity, take it (unless it’s totally weird or dangerous). Oddly I recalled advice that a big-wig executive gave me during my banking days: “always say yes” (I don’t normally listen to corporate big kahunas, but on this matter he had a point).

Foraging

So when Sharon Al-Momani (aka Genie Cooks) invited me to visit her in Essex for a day of sailing and seaside foraging last August, I fought my gut reaction – “Drive all the way to Essex? Face the English seaside and the possibility of getting wet and cold? Lose a day of precious work?” – and heeded the words of Tim, Kate and banker man: “let’s do it!”

Sharon has crabs...

I instantly warmed to Sharon the moment I met her. This woman is hard-core awesome, the type of person who personifies what the whole “SmarterFitter” ideal is all about. She’s strong, capable, adventurous, fun and a damned good cook. I’ve never been much of a sea-going type (I’m more of a “forests and lakes kinda gal”) so I can’t help but admire these qualities that come largely from a lifetime of seafaring. Plus, what’s not to admire about a badass sailboat like this?

Sun setting on the Genie

Here’s the down-low on the trip: it was me, Sharon and Jo, my buddy from The Food Travel Company. Our “coach”: Sharon’s boat, aptly called “Genie”. We met at Sharon’s dream-house style seaside abode at 8am, giving us time to set sail while the tides were in our favour. Sharon took us out to a “secret” island, where we anchored off shore and chilled out on the boat while waiting for the tides to go down (all this tide stuff – I have a newfound appreciation for the moon!).

Sea of samphire on our secret island

When the time was right, Sharon piled us all into a tiny dhingy and rowed us to the island’s shore. At first glance the island was a little drab and forlorn, but as soon as Sharon pointed out the veritable ocean of samphire, I knew we’d struck gold.

Edible seashore

Our island wander turned up samphire, orache (a spinach-like edible green, aka Atriplex), clams, cockles and oysters, plus some bonus blackberries I found while having a pee (odd, we never did eat those blackberries).

Good times with orache

When we’d gathered our fill, we headed back to the boat. Sharon graciously let me do the rowing, after which Jo asserted that I “now know how Olympic athletes must feel”. I don’t know about that, but I will say I’ve been hitting the rowing machine a whole lot more ever since.

Our haul of... everything

Back on board, Sharon broke out the cheese, wine and her homemade chutneys, thus proving that Sharon’s talents extend beyond the sea and into the pickle jar. Let’s face it: anyone who invents a pineapple and pecan chutney that actually tastes good is well worth knowing.

Snackage on the Genie

Confession time: by this point I was starting to see the appeal of “the seaside” and boat life. Snipping samphire and searching for clams is extraordinarily cathartic. Meanwhile, being on the boat, waiting for the tides, forces you to relax and just be. For all my worries about missing work, I realised this was exactly what I needed: a total escape. Plus, boats totally appeal to my camper’s mentality: here you’re in a small space with limited resources for preparing food, so you have to get creative. Plus, there are all the funny storage solutions and little chores that come with it.

Genie really does cook

Of course, the boat is a bit more pimp than my usual tent setup, and Sharon’s galley kitchen had everything she needed to cook us up a meal of spaghetti vongole with clams, cockles, samphire and orache. It was delicious, and so satisfying to eat a meal made with ingredients that we gathered ourselves just hours earlier.

Spaghetti Vongole!

Food and foraging aside, what I recall most is the fun. Sometimes all this foraging stuff gets a bit too serious, almost academic (has anyone else noticed this?). Such was not the case with the Genie. I laughed my cockles off.

Fun at the sea side

As the sun set and we headed back to shore, I experienced a sense of mental overwhelmingness. What a mad crazy day – seaside foraging is something I’ve never before done in my life. I just marvelled at this – how the hell did I wind up in Essex wading in seaweed, eating cheese and chutney, making raunchy jokes about cockles and clams, and rowing a dinghy like an idiot but having a blast all the while?

Sharon and Monica

Life is amazing. And it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t seize the opportunity and take Sharon up on her offer. If I interpreted Tim’s and Kate’s advice correctly, then that was their whole point: most offers are genuine, and taking people up on them can lead to wonderful experiences and great friendships.

Sun setting on Sharon

Thanks to Sharon for one of the best days of my whole summer.

For more information about Sharon and the Genie empire, visit her website genieparties.co.uk, find her on Twitter @GenieCooks, or check out her Facebook page.

Read Jo’s account of the day on her blog at The Food Travel Company.

Visit the Flickr photoset, or watch this nifty slideshow: