gourmet food for a fiver (spicy prawn cakes)
One wouldn’t immediately associate the former chef of Michelin-starred Maze with frugal cooking, but that is exactly the focus of Jason Atherton’s latest cookbook ‘Gourmet Food For a Fiver’. With the current economic climate driving everyone to tighten purse strings, this is a well-positioned book (albeit, one in the sea of many), especially as despite the dip in spending power, people still expect to eat adventurously, and well.
As the title suggests, the premise is that you can mix and match any of the mains with either a starter or dessert and it will cost no more than £5 per person for both courses. It would be great if that was so, but the Spicy Prawn Cake starter I tried ringed in at £3.80 a head alone, and that was under the assumption that condiments such dijon mustard and chilli sauce are already in the pantry. I wouldn’t dismiss the book entirely because of it though, as on the whole the dishes are pretty economical and Atherton shows that with careful ingredient selection (say, using the cheaper pollock instead of cod), it is possible to create exciting, vibrant food on a budget.
The selection is varied, with the starters ranging from a cheffy Mackerel Tartare with Pickled Mooli and Avocado Purée, to a more rustic Butternut Squash with Ricotta and Lemon Honey. There are also distinct Asian influences, for example in the mains of Baked Pollock with Ginger, Soy, Lime and Sticky Rice, and Chinese Spiced Roast Pork with Spring Onions and Pak Choi. Inevitably, there are a few uninspiring offerings, particularly in the desserts section, such as Strawberry Sundae and Poached Autumn Fruits, but there is also the intriguing Banana Cake with Lemongrass and Ginger Custard. I made the similarly unusual Vanilla Panna Cotta with Tomato and Passion Fruit Syrup recently, which elicited glowing reviews from the guests whom I served it to.
The Spicy Prawn Cakes I attempted were also a hit when I made them for a light weekday supper, accompanied by a simply dressed lambs lettuce salad (I omitted the spring onion garnish as I find the vegetable too pungent when eaten raw). The juicy patties were incredibly easy to throw together, and were sweet from the shellfish with a hint of spice and a citrus tang. I’m not sure how “gourmet” store-bought sweet chilli sauce is, but it does make an ideal companion to the bouncy prawn cakes. If you do make them I would advise you sear off the sides of the patties as I found just turning them doesn’t cook them through properly (you could also try deep-frying them).
Spicy Prawn Cakes with a Spring Onion Garnish
serves 4 (as a starter)
700g (1 1/2 lb) frozen peeled raw prawns, thawed
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
4 tsp hot chilli sauce (I used sriracha)
130g (1/3 lb) panko breadcrumbs*
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp olive oil
4 spring onions
sweet chilli sauce
Put about one third of the raw prawns into a food processor and pulse to a smooth paste. Transfer to a large bowl.
Chop the remaining prawns into 1cm pieces. Add to the prawn paste with the beaten eggs, chopped spring onions, mustard, lemon juice, chilli sauce, salt, a grinding of pepper and 50g of the breadcrumbs. Mix well with your hands until evenly combined.
Shape the mixture into 12 patties, about 7cm in diameter, and coat with the remaining breadcrumbs. Place on a tray, cover and chill for 1 hour to firm up.
Prepare the garnish. Slice the green part of the spring onions on the diagonal, then slit the white part lengthways to open it out slightly. Set aside.
Place a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. When hot, pan-fry the prawn cakes in two batches for about 4 minutes on each side until golden brown and cooked through. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm.
To serve, place 3 prawns cakes on each warm plate and scatter with the spring onions, coriander, dill, and a sprinkling of salt.
Enjoy with a squeeze of lime and your favourite chilli sauce.
* available at any Japanese grocer