There are a few pervasive myths around cooking and eating. One, that good food takes time to put together, a second, that cooking takes a lot of skill, and the third, that it is expensive. This dish proves that none of that is true, at least all of the time. We can all feed ourselves well and simply.
I am blessed to have a great local fishmonger. Yesterday, I whizzed down on my bicycle when I had a craving for something light and fresh. I was thinking that it might be nice to make a light aromatic Asian fish broth with rice noodles. Nothing complicated but a dish that was full of flavour and sparkling with health that didn’t rob my evening with the effort.
I couldn’t decide which fish it should be, and my eyes were drawn to a collision of small elegantly shaped fish bits huddling with their smooth faces pressed against the counter. I enquired as to what they were? Monkfish cheeks, the fishmonger said.
Monkfish cheeks! Oh now, they sound interesting. I love cod cheeks (I have had them many times, including on my trip last year to Newfoundland). They are cheaper than the regular cuts of monkfish, too. There were some gorgeous clams nearby and it seemed like the perfect match for dinner.
Monkfish cheeks and clams on one handlebar, and a chicken from the butcher on the other (I was still thinking about a broth), I was excited to get back to my kitchen and get started.
In the end, it all came about very quickly. I fried some streaky bacon over a medium heat in its own fat until it started to release it and was starting to brown. I had bought it unsliced and chopped until it was small, but still chunky. I pulled any skin off the cheeks, just with my fingers, and I quickly fried them, on both sides, with the bacon. The cheeks plumped up, all proud.
When they were starting to firm but were still tender, I turned up the heat, added the clams (which I had soaked in a few changes of tap water, to remove any grit before), a little chilli (I adore the fruity flavour and heat of a little finely chopped fresh habanero) and a glass of leftover sake, from the night before.
After 30 seconds or so, I put the lid on it and let the clams steam in the sake, releasing their gorgeous liquor as they did. The sweet sake (from my trip to Kyoto last year) was a perfect match for the gentle clam brine. After a few minutes the clams were open, and it was all ready. I gave it a quick and gentle stir, tasted it for seasoning, added a touch of sea salt, and served it immediately – just for me – in a bowl with a sprinkling of finely chopped flat leaf parsley and scallions.
It was perfect, and glorious in its simplicity. A reminder that we all too often over complicate things, and forget to just take it easy, enjoy great alternative produce, and savour our dinner.
DUBLINERS: I am visiting next week on April 30th to teach a bacon masterclass at Donnybrook Fair. I won’t be teaching another for a while, and will be sharing the secrets behind my popular bacon fudge and brownies. Also my bacon jam! It would be great to see you there. You can book your place on Eventbrite or through Donnybrook Fair.
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