Bloke in the Kitchen. Mackerel with chermoula


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking


Cooking a simple fish dish is the easiest thing in the world. You grill or fry it with a little butter and Bob’s your uncle. But it will only be delicious if the fish itself has flavor, and for me there can only be one winner: mackerel.

When I was a kid in Guernsey, some summer afternoons you would hear a small van driving slowly through the lanes with one man at the wheel and another hanging on at the back, shouting “Mackerel! Mackerel!” because they had suddenly got lucky and caught dozens of the shimmering blue-black-silver fish, and in those days such things were sold and eaten quickly rather than being frozen and kept for another day.

So every housewife on the route would take two or three, depending on how many mouths she had to feed. She would gut them, fillet them and fry them along with some potatoes and maybe some vegetables.

What she wouldn’t do was serve a green, fresh, tangy, herby cold sauce called chermoula with it – but that’s because she didn’t know any better and didn’t have access to foreign ideas and non-British herbs, as we do now. She might give you a wedge of lemon to squeeze over it, but probably not even that.

Mackerel is perfectly capable of looking after itself flavor-wise, but with chermoula it’s even better. Does a beautiful woman need a gorgeous dress and arousing perfume? No, but if she’s got them, why not?

mackerel 2
Mackerel fillets: No scales to worry about, and the brown bits are the tastiest of all

If you don’t have access to fresh mackerel fillets (the frozen steaks  from very big mackerel are nothing like it), there are several choices. First, you could move somewhere that does have fresh mackerel. Or you could talk to a local fishmonger and find out what the closest thing is where you are. Mackerel is an oily fish, and so is herring, so that’s a possibility.

I used barracuda once in the Caribbean and that was fun but very different: a group of us had just been out on a boat and caught it, so it was the occasion and the chermoula we enjoyed, rather than the flavor of the fish.

So, you’ve got the fish, which will probably be already cleaned and filleted, and there are no scales to worry about. All you do is fry it quickly in a small amount of oil, or grill it or put it in one of those medieval-looking barred cases and stick it on the barbecue. There is a strip of brown meat in there, but don’t discard that – it’s the best part.

And now the bit that lifts the whole thing: chermoula.

Green heaven: chermoula can elevate any fish to delicious


Cilantro (coriander leaves)

Garlic (crushed)

Olive oil

Fresh lemon or lime

Cumin powder

Paprika (sweet or hot)


(You can judge the quantities yourself. For four people you need a soup bowl-full of the sauce – maybe more if they like it a lot. Use plenty of cilantro, not too much garlic and use the oil for bulk, but be careful. It should be mainly herbs. If you run out of cilantro, top it up with flat-leaf parsley.)

Chop the cilantro and place in a small mixing bowl

Add the crushed garlic

Pour in a large slug of olive oil

Mix well

Squeeze in  half a lemon or lime

Sprinkle in some paprika

Grate in the zest of half the lemon or lime

Adjust the quantity with more cilantro, oil and juice, add a little salt and pepper, taste and add more spices if it needs it. As ever, a touch of something spicy-hot is an option

Serve with boiled new potatoes or shallow-fried potato wedges, and a green salad.

Place the chermoula bowl on the table so people can help themselves, either putting it straight on the fish or making a pool on the plate.

For the potatoes, check out a previous recipe (on the home page, click on the search tool and type Sea Flavoured Squid with Potato Wedges).

Bloke in the Kitchen. Beef Bourguignon


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

This is easy – it’s a stew, and anyone can make one of those. Make it right and it’s a delicious stew.

The most difficult part of this is pronouncing it: boorggee nyaw. All it means is it comes from the Bourgogne region of France. That’s what we call Burgundy, but it’s their country, and they can pronounce it how they like.

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“Hearty” is the word people tend to use about stews: they make you feel like they’re doing you good, or preparing you for a steamy French affair.

So, it’s a beef stew, and how do you make a stew? You put some meat in some sort of savoury liquid and cook it slowly in the oven. Can we all manage that, ladies and gentlemen? Of course we can.

So without further ado:


Stewing/braising steak

Onion (chopped)

A carrot (chopped to about a quarter of an inch rounds)

Red wine (burgundy if you can, just to be traditional)

Tomato puree


Bay leaf

Mushrooms (sliced)

Cocktail onions

Plain flour



If you can find something red with Bourgogne on the label, you’re in the right place. Or you could use a Pinot Noir from anywhere (pinot noir is the name of a grape widely used in Burgundy). Or you could use just about any dry red wine. In many countries including the UK, all the reds you see are dry, but some places have this strange liking for sweet stuff. In this case it would be like making stew and adding sugar – and you don’t want to do that. If you use cheap stuff, make sure it’s okay. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it.

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Here the carrot is chunkier and the onions have been added at the last minute. Great: it tastes pretty much the same


Fry the onion and carrot (preferably in butter) until the onion begins to brown, then add the chunks of meat and the mushrooms. Just fry the beef quickly to seal it on all sides, so there are no raw red faces.

Stir in two tablespoons of flour (this will thicken it later) and mix it all up well with a wooden spoon , then add a splat (or a good squirt) of tomato puree. Mix again. Pour in a long splash of wine and stir/scrape to get the good stuff off the base of the pan.

Transfer to a casserole dish, add the thyme and bayleaf and a few cocktail onions, plus half a bottle of wine. This might seem extravagant, but we’re using it instead of water, so there has to be plenty. You might even need more if there are more than two of you. And think how much tastier it is than H2O.

Put it in a medium oven for two hours.

Serve with boiled potatoes and green beans (or more carrots, mashed swede, peas – you’re in charge).




Bloke in the Kitchen. Arepas with tuna


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

The arepa (pronounced a–reh-pa) is the staple diet of Venezuela and Colombia, which means they use it like other nationalities use bread, and indeed it is a type of bread. It is made not with wheat flour but a kind of corn flour – not the very fine stuff you use for thickening sauces, but a more gritty grade. The best known is called Harina Pan and you may have to search for it; you won’t find it in many little supermarkets. But there are South Americans all over the world and they love this stuff.

When you find a packet of this, don’t just buy one – buy half a dozen

Having tracked down some Harina Pan, you’re on the road to a lifetime of easy meals.

It’s not like baking bread in the UK or US, where it has to rise and the whole thing seems difficult. This is a knack, not an art.

With arepas, the trick is in getting the consistency right – and that is all a matter of practice. We’re making this for two people, so just adjust the basic quantities according to how many people you’re catering for. If you make too much, you can put the excess in the fridge and use it a day or two later. If you don’t make enough you make some more.

Arepas are quite filling, so you may find one is enough. If you eat two or more for breakfast, you probably won’t need to have any lunch.

You can eat lots of things with them, from grated cheese to black beans. We’re going to do a tuna and onion salad.


Harina Pan




In a large mixing bowl, pour about a cupful of water (depends on the size of the cup, I know) and a sprinkling of salt. Then add Harina Pan, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it is a thick paste just the dry side of wet. Knead it with your hands like you would ordinary dough and you’ll get a feel for it. (One good thing is that it doesn’t stick to your fingers like wheat dough does.) Scoop out  a handful, roll it into a ball about the size of a tangerine and keep rolling it around until it’s solid. Then you start tossing it from hand to hand and it will gradually flatten itself against your palms.

If this doesn’t go too well at first, don’t worry. It’s the kind of thing a Venezuelan housewife can do with her eyes shut and she will always be better at it than any chef. But you will improve every time.

As the dough flattens, if it starts to crack around the edges, get a splash of water on your hands – just enough to dampen them – and fix the cracks.

When it is about one third of an inch thick and maybe four inches wide, you’re in business. The actual size is up to you. Bigger than four inches is harder to handle. Smaller ones are cute – they call them arepitas.

Heat a good, heavy frying  or griddle pan but don’t use any oil. Turn the heat down to about one-third and place the arepas on the hot surface for 20 minutes or so. Flip them and see if the surface is developing golden brown marks. Do both sides until they are like that.

When one load is done, put aside and cover with a tea towel. Arepas stay warm quite a long time.

The family cook’s best friend: the easy, versatile, filling arepa


Some people like to fry arepas, which can add flavor but also adds calories. You can also bake them in the oven.


One can of tuna in oil

An onion

A pepper (red, yellow or orange)

A tomato

Cilantro (coriander leaves) Half a handful.

A lime (or if you can’t find a lime, use a lemon)

Olive oil


Drain the oil from the can and put the tuna into a mixing bowl (Christmas pudding size). Chop the pepper, cilantro and onion and mix in. Squeeze the lime juice over the mixture. Add a small glug of olive oil (if it’s not still oily enough from the can). Sprinkle on a little salt and pepper.


Straight from the pan, arepas are very hot, so you may want to use a cloth to pick one up. Slice it open with a knife, working your way around the edge. Open it flat and spread some butter on, then spoon the tuna salad on. Pick it up with your hands or use a knife and fork if it’s too hot or messy for you.

What do you mean, messy? This is food, not art