Starters + small plates

Starters + small plates

By
Rosie Birkett
Contains
12 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742709147
Photographer
Helen Cathcart

My love of fish and seafood, which features heavily in this chapter of smaller dishes, unquestionably harks back to childhood, and the warm, fuzzy memories I have of camping holidays in France.

Forget trailer tents or practical, user-friendly caravans: when the Birketts hit Europe, we did so with our Conway ‘Tardis’, a miraculous but eccentric towable fold-up caravan that no other campers ever seemed to have heard of or seen before.

In Brittany, where we returned year after year, following the laborious rigmarole of building and unpacking the ‘Tardis’, my parents would bolt to the nearest beach restaurant and spend hours over fruits de mer platters with bottles of cold white wine. My sister and I invariably wolfed our steak hachés and frites, and scuttled off to the beach. After lunch we’d take long walks when the tide was out, filling buckets with cockles we’d later steam open and eat with white pepper and vinegar back at camp. My parents always planned to retire to France, and, if my father hadn’t become very ill – for which years of treatment kept them in England – I believe that’s what they would have done.

Because of his demanding job, time with my dad was precious growing up, and I would snatch any moments I could with him, whether it was – at his suggestion – him timing me as I ran around the garden while he drank gin and tonics (nice one, Dad), or building Meccano with him out of his old rusty toolbox. We had a shallow river running through the bottom of the garden where some trout lived, and spending a few quiet, reflective hours down there in the dappled sunlight with my dad playing at fishing is something I’ll never forget.

A man of large appetites – for life, love, food and wine – it was he who introduced me to the nutty, creamy delights of crab. For a treat, or to celebrate a ‘good show’ of his articles in the paper, he would buy a big live brown crab from the fishmonger, boil and dress it himself; clearing our kitchen table, spreading it with yesterday’s newspaper, pouring himself a large drink, and mining the shell obsessively, a cigarette in the corner of his mouth and Radio 4 news blasting in the background. I would sit beside him, marvelling at the fearless way he cracked the claws with a hammer, and occasionally swiping bits of crab, much to his irritation. When he’d extracted all of the creature’s meat, he’d gently mix it with a touch of mayonnaise, lemon juice and cayenne pepper, and then serve it to us to eat on good toast with sliced spring onion and freshly ground black pepper.

There are a couple of crab recipes in this chapter, as well as some recipes that have been gleaned from my travels, like Mexican ceviche, Crispy tuna tacos and Dishoom’s Keema pau. Like most cooks, I love discovering new foods and dishes, and travelling is always a huge source of inspiration, and something I try and take the opportunity to do when I can. If I find a new dish or flavour that I really love, I’ll usually photograph it and try and figure out the recipe, either by talking to the chef or just by experimenting. Sometimes it’s just a question of taking flavours that you like and having a play.

I hope you enjoy these dishes, which are designed to be shared, and work as starters or light meals in their own right. Of course, there’s no reason why you couldn’t up the quantities and make them into the main event if you’re feeling greedy...

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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