(*Before you all faint, that’s Nigerian Naira rather than GBP so actually £15)
At Gastrotastic we love a challenge, so when a close friend threw down the gauntlet that a two course seafood themed meal using fresh ingredients couldn’t be created for under £15 (or NGN5000 for my Nigerian readers), I was more than happy to accept. The stage was set in sunny Brighton, so this is a bit of a throwback, but the lesson was a universal one; does budget really affect flavour? Not only was the budget met, but also the cooking utensils (a disposable barbeque tray) and seating (a very handy mini picnic blanket) were also achieved in the sum above!
The key element was deciding on flavours that worked for BOTH courses, but didn’t result in similarly tasting dishes. This is especially important when you are working a budget. I decided to stay in the Mediterranean in terms of flavour and use only seasonal ingredients. Many health practitioners vouch for eating seasonally, research suggests it is what our body naturally wants to do anyway, but eating seasonally also means you avoid expensive items which may have to be imported from other parts of the world. As I went to the fishmongers, my first point of call, I opted for fish from the British Isles. As I was on the coast, I lucked out on some Black Bream; think the English Channel’s very own Sea Bass, well, sort of. Samphire was picked from the sea and Squid had been fished off the Cornish Coast. By having a fish and a mollusc I had avoided flavour and texture similarities with one deft stroke.
I opted for vegetables that were all grown in sunny East or West Sussex; which meant the longest they had travelled from soil to my plate would have been 50 miles, making them super fresh. The biggest spend was a truly tiny bottle of serious Olive Oil which took up a third of the budget but was essential as this brought all the flavours together, and hey, what is Mediterranean cuisine without Olive oil?
Chilli, Garlic and Lemon Barbequed Squid with a Tomato and Onion Salad
Difficulty rating: Super Simple
2 Beef Tomatoes
3 Cloves of Garlic
1 Red Chilli
Juice of Half a Lemon
1 Red Onion
3 Table Spoons of Olive Oil
Black Pepper (to taste)
Salt (to taste)
The simplicity of this dish stems from the cooking method, our one stop disposable barbeque tray, removing all the fussing and fiddling of conventional cooking. As Squid can easily go from fabulous to tyre texture, brevity on the barbeque is key, but the magic as ever, happens in the marinade.
Clean the squid fully, making sure you remove the ink filled beak. If you are a little squeamish, a good fishmonger will happily do this for you. Next cut into rings but do not cut the tentacles as they will create a different texture. Chop the garlic finely and the chili and add one table spoon of olive oil to the mixture and leave to marinade for several hours if you are super organised or at least 20 minutes if you are not.
Cut the beef tomatoes horizontally, so you get the widest surface area of the tomato. Beef tomatoes happened to be in season, but any other tomato can work, although you might have to increase quantities as beef tomatoes are particularly large.
Next Chop your red onion finely and add the remaining olive oil to them. Also stir in the juice of the lemon and a touch of salt and black pepper to taste. Put aside for later.
Light the disposable barbeque as per the instructions that are on the packaging. They are fairly quick to light and get hot but once the coals have started to colour whitish it is ready to use. Put the Squid on the barbeque and cook for no more than 90 seconds to two minutes to avoid the aforementioned tyre situation.
To assemble this dish, put your tomatoes on the plate first and then heap the squid on top, pour over the dressing and enjoy!
Black Bream with Yellow Courgettes, Samphire, Tomatoes and Basil
Difficulty Rating: Super Simple
2 Black Bream,
1 Beef Tomato
2 Yellow Courgettes
2 Cloves of Garlic
Juice of Half a Lemon
200 grams of Samphire
50 grams of Basil
4 Table Spoons of Olive Oil
Salt (to taste)
Chili Pepper (optional)
As with the squid, Sea Bream does not need a great deal to showcase its distinct flavour. Often forsaken in place of its more glamourous cousin, Sea Bass, this is a delicious firm fish, that works beautifully with most cuisines. If you are getting it from the fishmongers you can ask him to gut the fish for you and clean the cavity, but don’t fillet it for barbeque as it will dry out.
Chop the garlic finely and place in the cavity and around the Bream. Coat the fish with 2 table spoons of olive oil, half of the juice of the lemon and some salt and leave to marinade for 30 minutes minimum or longer if you have more time. I added some chilli pepper because I had some spare but this is not essential.
The barbeque will still be hot from the squid so place your bream and allow to cook for a minimum of 20 minutes. If you have slightly larger fish it will take longer. You can check if the fish is cooked by running a fork in the cavity, if fish flesh flakes off easily, the fish is done, if not leave for longer. Wrap the fish in foil when cooked so that they retain heat and moisture.
The courgettes are simply sliced, seasoned with salt and a dash of olive oil and put on the barbeque. Because courgettes have a high water content, they won’t take more than a few minutes so can be placed on the barbeque once the fish is cooked.
Keen readers will notice my slight obsession with Samphire, but in this instance it is really the best vegetable to accompany the dish. Normally it is sautéed in butter or olive oil and some restaurants offer deep fried renditions. If you ever do see it on a menu or in the supermarket, give it a try – it truly is a magical vegetable.
For this barbeque menu and so as not to overcook it is best wrapped in foil with two or three table spoons of water and placed on the barbeque for 6 minutes or so. You will know it is cooked because the Samphire takes on a shiny appearance.
To plate, put some samphire on the base of the plate and then the fish, slice the tomatoes horizontally and scatter with the yellow courgettes and basil around too, with a few samphire fronds strategically on top. As this is a picnic and essentially a relaxed cooking experience, it doesn’t have to be too tidy, but seeing a fish whole, always adds a sense of occasion. For the dressing, mix the remaining olive oil, lemon juice black pepper together and spoon over the dish and serve.
As I had done so well on the challenge, the drink accompaniments were very much in the blow the budget category: champagne followed by a light, distinct and super perfect with fish Gruner Vetiliner. Much noise is made about White Burgundy for all things piscatorial, but this gem from the Alsace is definitely worth it!