Recipes from food stylist Nicolas Ghirlando: Fish fingers to Friday nights.

Polenta, lobster and squid ink tomatoes


Tinned fish is one of life’s simple pleasures, and for me tinned sardines have become a gateway drug to other, more eye-watering products. As well as coming in all kinds of lovely design, they make a healthy and immediate snack or light meal served with some good, dense toast.

A tin of scallops in ‘Viera sauce’ was the inspiration for this dish. That may not sound appetising or even real (no one I know has ever heard of Viera sauce), but not being one to shy away from trying things, I plunged in. It was inky and rich, like a loaded Mills and Boon hero and every mouthful was a delight. As long as you don’t imagine for a second it’s going to taste anything like a beautiful plump Scottish scallop and possibly don’t question too deeply the provenance, this is a tin worth investigating.

I wanted to make this at home and turn it into something more substantial and I happened, as you do, to have a couple of frozen, cooked lobster to hand. (If you’re not going to eat it fresh, then you can treat it a little more like frozen prawns, and not with the reverence that most people seem to attach to this grumpy bastard of the ocean.)

This, with the rich, silky polenta -which I see as a vehicle for holding together melted butter- and the deep iron sweetness of the sauce is an amazingly tasty dish and the liquid smoke adds a great hint of winter cosiness. Just make sure that for the sauce you use good sweet tomatoes like these. It takes little time to make (if you use instant polenta) and is very impressive when you’ve got people round for dinner. Or for when you eat it standing up at the kitchen bench wondering if it’s going to snow. Not bad for a miserable January lunchtime.

Ingredients
1 small lobster per person
300g Datterino tomatoes
100g polenta (I used instant polenta with a 5:1 ratio to water)
50g butter
A large pinch of saffron strands
1tbsp liquid smoke
500ml water
2tbsp squid ink
Olive oil
2 banana shallots, sliced thinly
1 clove of garlic, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
1tsp grated nutmeg
Some lemon thyme leaves

Method
Cook your lobster if fresh (this should take around 12-15 minutes in boiling water), plunge into cold water then gently take out the meat from the body and claws. Save the shell and innards to freeze for making bisque at a later date. For this I get into trouble. Part of our freezer is like Quincy’s lab, except with animal parts.

Cook the polenta with some saffron and five parts water. Soak it first for about fifteen minutes then season and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and stir often. When it’s cooked (and you may need to add a little more water if it’s getting too dry) whisk in the butter and taste to check the seasoning. The whole thing should be smooth, rich and not grainy.

Meanwhile, make the sauce by gently sautéing the shallots and garlic in olive oil, then add the tomatoes, nutmeg and balsamic. Simmer gently until the tomatoes break down and lose their rawness, about fifteen minutes. Taste and season.

Serve by smoothly dolloping the polenta on a plate, topping with the sauce and lobster and some of the thyme leaves. Finish with good olive oil.

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