Monday, 11 May 2015

The Spicery Spicebox - Tunisian Fish Stew, Saffron Pannacotta with Rhubarb

By: Mr Robot

It was my Birthday recently, and Mrs Robot kindly gave me a 6-month subscription to The Spicery spiceboxes. This consists of pre-mixed spices, freshly ground (no stale cupboard dwellers!) and sent out each month, giving a couple of set recipes each time.

I came across The Spicery some time ago so was intrigued to try it. I confess I was a little ambivalent about the concept. I feared it straying too far towards the cake-mix / DIY ready-meal approach that we try to avoid: how far is it really from, say, a jar of curry paste or packet noodles? Not that they can't be wonderful things of course, but you're probably not going to develop much as a cook by using them.

On the other hand, if it's bringing just the required amount of an ingredient you won't use often, that can only be a good thing (especially since our spice cupboard is already a disaster zone). And since I don't control what I get, I could see it being a good way into things I might not choose to cook otherwise. Perhaps this would offer a jumping-off point into new worlds, or at least give me a bit of a nudge.

Fish / Rhubarb Klaxon!
So I signed up for the adventurously named Discoverer box, hoping to be pushed into new exciting areas and forced to try things I tend to skim past in the cookbooks.

Well it's a good job I took that approach. As regular readers may know, I'm generally underwhelmed by fish, and as a child was traumatised by Gran's indescribable rhubarb.

So my box turning up with the makings of a Tunisian Fish Stew and a Saffron Pannacotta with Rhubarb was a bit of a chin-scratcher.

Well, I wanted to be pushed...

The box contains nice little recipe cards with a variety of spice packets (plus a freebie Indian BBQ mix, ta muchly), and happily the fish recipe is more involved than I'd expected. This bodes well.

Fish lumps in chermoula
First up there's a chermoula seasoning to be rubbed into fish chunks before frying it off. Then there's a spice mix to go into the stew, started with onions, carrots, courgettes and tomato with olives and ultimately the fish added later.

Then there's a blend of herbs to flavour couscous and chickpeas, and finally harissa spices to be blitzed up with charred (and jarred) red peppers - though no doubt the truly dedicated could blowtorch their own at this point.

Harissa Hot-Hot-Hot
So that makes a decent-sized shopping list and to my mind takes it a fair way outside the ready-meal scenario, and importantly there's scope for the inept to knacker it up - not least effectively double-cooking the fish, which I'm pleased to say I managed with panache.

And you know what? It was really good. Rich and intense stew, and although I found the chickpea couscous slightly bland a good dollop of nose-burning harissa set everything right.

The Pannacotta was the real excitement though. As already noted it demanded the dreaded rhubarb (which, spookily, the vegbox had turned up a few days before), on top of which I've never tried making pannacotta and only rarely eaten it, since I tend towards the Brown And Sticky school of puddings.

New best friend

Well it was a delight. Extremely simple to make, this pack just had a few strands of saffron, and a mix of spices for the rhubarb.

The rhubarb was outstanding and all my fears evaporated. Heavily sugared (never thought I'd say this, but possibly too sweet? Just a smidge?) the spice mix was full of black pepper and cardamom, producing a loose jammy, intense, fragrant, fruity goo.

I loved it.

I loved it so much I've invented the word "rhuplay" for my new hobby.

The saffron pannacotta itself was just too easy, so will become a staple of mild showing off. Even allowing for my hamfisted delivery it looked sophisticated and was highly satisfying in the mouth. If there's any complaint here it's that the saffron got a bit lost in the face of that massive rhubarb, but that's very minor.

Needs practice, you say? Curses...
Undoubtedly there is a degree of cake-mix-cooking here, but it's significantly more engaging than that. There's a little effort, but only a little, for a very good result. It's (just about) possible to wrong, so there's pride to be had at the end. I can see it being great for the beginner, the nervous or the short of time.

Personally speaking, my hope for a bit of inspiration and a gentle hand to guide me off the path of habit have been entirely fulfilled. If the next five boxes are anything like this I'll be very happy indeed.

Top Tip: save serving blushes and turning-out-faffery by making your pannacotta in a nice cup

All images (c) PP Gettins

Note: We have no association with The Spicery and there are no freebies or favours - Mrs Robot paid for the subscription with her own hard-earned cash, though being a gentleman I couldn't tell you how much.

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