Tag: Peckham Rye

Food from the Rye: Salt Fish

December 2nd, 2009 — 9:43pm

Peckham’s Rye Lane is a right higgle piggle of shops. Traders pile on top of one another; get your mobile phone unlocked while you wait for the butcher to dice your goat meat. There are towers of unusual vegetables, mountains of scotch bonnet chillies, the odd box of African land snails and of course yams, yams and yet more yams  (just don’t look at the frozen fish or broiler chickens). There’s so much interesting stuff down there I just can’t get through it fast enough so I’ve set myself a little challenge. For the next few weeks, I’ll pick up a new ingredient every few days – something I’ve never used before and quite possibly something I won’t recognise. A new and exciting culinary adventure.

Things kicked things off on Sunday with salt fish – something I’ve eaten many times but never got around to cooking at home. A few quid bought me the chunks you see above. I’ve no idea what type of fish it is though and didn’t have much joy communicating with the shop keeper: “do you know what type of fish it is?” “£3,” was the reply. It went on like that for a while. We’ll get there.

When researching recipes I came across a few that recommended boiling the fish in several changes of water rather than soaking it overnight. I was tempted to try it as a time saving measure but feared the flesh not tenderising enough and so plunged the pieces into (several changes) of cold water for 24 hours. If anyone has tried the boiling method then please do let me know. The next stage was rather more arduous than anticipated as I wrestled with the still rather fibrous blocks in an attempt to remove the skin and tease out bones. Again, advice most welcome.

The chosen recipe was salt fish buljol: a traditional Trinidadian dish, apparently often eaten at breakfast. It ticked the right boxes for being simple (don’t run before you can walk) and because I had all the ingredients in anyway. The mixture is cooked until most of the moisture evaporates, leaving a rich amalgamation which celebrates the slightly chewy, meaty, unusual flaky texture of the fish. It is of course salty. We found more than we bargained for in this simple, yet deeply comforting dish.

The effort of preparation was definitely worth it then – salt fish is the bomb. I think maybe fritters are in the pipeline and Chris made some stonking fish cakes with the leftovers. A very encouraging start to my little experiment. Next on the list is a vegetable called Okazi; I’ve found a recipe for it I’m really rather excited about.

Salt Fish Buljol

About as much salt fish as you see at the top of this post (sorry, didn’t weigh it)
2/3 can chopped tomatoes
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 red peppers finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Black pepper
1/2 – 1 whole scotch bonnet chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
Lettuce, for serving (optional). Avocado slices are also a nice accompaniment, apparently
Oil for cooking

Soak the salt fish overnight in several changes of water then pull off the skin and flake the flesh. Heat the oil in a wide pan over a medium heat and add the onions, peppers, chilli and tomatoes (I thought it odd not to soften the onions and peppers first but it works out don’t worry). Let that cook for a few minutes then add the fish, half the lemon juice and a good sprinkling of black pepper.

Cook the mixture down on a low heat until the moisture is almost all gone. This probably takes about 15-20 minutes. Taste and add more lemon juice if you think it needs it. Allow to cool then arrange on top of the lettuce.

22 comments » | Fish, Food From The Rye, Gluten-free, Peckham

Ozzie’s Cafe, Peckham

November 29th, 2009 — 12:43pm

Last week I was invited to a free screening at Peckham Multiplex. The film, called Consume Peckham, was a project by students from Chelsea Art College and included 18 short films about local businesses and the people behind them (part of the I Love Peckham 2009 Development Project). The aim was to explore the complex link between culture and commercialism. Apparently the students were pretty disappointed when they found out they were coming to Peckham (as one shopkeeper said to me just yesterday, “we just can’t get away from Del Boy, and it wasn’t even filmed here”)  but soon became smitten with the warmth of the people and addictive buzzing energy of Rye Lane.

The short films focused on businesses like the many food shops, the local radio station, The Bussey Building (full of churches and artists), and my personal favourite, Ozzie’s Cafe. I’ve walked past the place nearly every day but never considered going in. The woman sat next to me in the cinema (Eileen Conn, the inspiring force behind Peckham Residents’ Network), told me she eats there all the time (egg and chips), and when I paid a visit on Saturday morning, I found people from all walks of life: students, pensioners, and of course, the hardcore regulars. One such long timer was interviewed by the students and caused much mirth in the cinema with his poetry recitations. I couldn’t help but feel that some of these people were lost souls, anchored to the community by a place like Ozzie’s. The students describe how, “customers come to sit and enjoy the company of others without even speaking a word.”

Peckham is often a place of division between the people. One of the most striking things about the film was how it so clearly portrayed the divide between the white, middle class residents and the large proportion of people (many Nigerian), who have moved here from other countries and who make up the majority of the population. Most of the well-to-do local art students for example will be found in Bar Story, Peckham’s trendiest bar, with one lamenting, “there is nowhere else to go.” We noted the same predominantly white audience in the screening and I commented that the same was apparent at Frank’s pop-up bar.

Ozzie’s is different. Ozzie’s is the kind of place everyone feels comfortable. This is the role of the local caff: all-welcoming, no pretensions, no frills, no-one hurrying you to leave. All of human life is here. The food at Ozzie’s is pretty rubbish to be honest – questionable mystery meat bangers, tinned mushrooms, cheap juice, you get the idea – but then that really isn’t the point. Places like this are part of a routine, ‘the poetic and mundane details of the everyday.’ They remind us that the world keeps turning, the caff keeps opening and life goes on, no matter what happens in individual lives, and that can be a very comforting thought.

8 comments » | Peckham

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