Lenten tides

12 February 2016


LENT again, and a thousand things to do with fish. Starting so early this year, it truly overlaps with winter; the French dish brandade de morue is in order. It normally uses salt cod, and I once saw the advice this could be “flushed” regularly in a lavatory cistern. I think it best left there anyway. Also, I avoid cod because of overfished stocks, and opt instead for haddock. Cod is standard Lenten fare, and the particular method long-embraced by monks; so with good reason I call this Benedictine haddock.


450g (1 lb) smoked haddock

450g (1 lb) floury potatoes

2 cloves of garlic

200ml (7 fl. oz) good olive oil

200ml (7 fl. oz) milk

1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard

juice of one lemon

black pepper


Place the fish in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to the boil, and then take off the heat and poach for a few minutes. Remove and place on a plate. Peel and cut down the potatoes, and boil them until tender. Drain, and leave them to dry a little in the pan. Bash the garlic cloves with the heel of your hand, slough off the skins, and slice away the root.

In two different pans, gently heat the oil in one and the garlic with milk in the other. Scald the milk, then set aside; likewise, have the oil hot but not boiling. Drop the fish into a food processor with the mustard. Run the motor on slow, and through the funnel add alternately the warm oil and the garlic milk (but not the garlic itself). This will blend into a loose porridge.

Break down the potatoes with a fork, and slide these down the funnel. (Try not to over-blend, or you will get wallpaper paste.) Stir in the lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with toasted slices of baguette and spinach.


I am a great fan of self-saucing puddings, and have been tinkering with this recipe. The spices are almost medicinal, and I name it St John Leonardi sponge, in honour of the patron saint of pharmacists, who was canonised in 1938.


100g (3½ oz) light muscovado sugar

175g (6 oz) self-raising flour

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

60g (2 oz) unsalted butter, melted

125ml (4 fl. oz) milk

1 large egg


2 tablespoons golden syrup

1 tablespoon black treacle

250ml (9 fl. oz) boiling water

30g (1 oz) butter


Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/Gas 4; grease a 1.5 litre (3 pt) dish. In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, and three spices (mashing down the sugar with a fork if necessary).

Melt the butter, whisk it with the egg into the milk, then blend this into the flour mix, stirring well. Pour the batter mix into the prepared dish. Whisk together the boiling water with the syrup and treacle, and pour this on top, dicing the remaining butter over the top.

Place it in the oven for 45 minutes or so, until firm and springy to the touch. Cool it for a while, as underneath there will be a gingery, butterscotch sauce. Serve with cream or ice cream.

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