Posted by: mikeydude | February 2, 2010

Seafood Paella

I admit a crushing defeat!!

Arggh… for a few months now I have boycotted that fishmongers monopoly Ashtons in Cardiff Central Market. I can’t stand their rude and arrogant staff who think they’re above everyone else just because they sell fresh seafood. The boss himself is an exception; he’s friendly enough, but the rest have some real attitude. And so for the past few months I’ve been trying to entertain myself with the likes of Morrisons (which serve some pretty fresh fish sometimes!) and Waitrose in Pontprennau (which has a reasonable albeit pricey seafood counter). On this occasion I bought my seafood from Waitrose to make myself a seafood paella. Unfortunately it just can’t match Ashtons in terms of freshness and quality of produce… sigh….

I’ve practised this dish a few times before. It’s simply irresistable if you have the key ingredients, which are; good quality seafood (argghhhhh!), home-made chicken stock, and the secret weapon Saffron. In many ways it’s similar to making risotto except the rice tastes lighter and less earthy than the risotto grain. You can use any mixture of seafood you like, but I bought a monkfish tail, some squid rings, and shell-on headless tiger prawns; all from Waitrose for about £15. The monkfish is a stonker at £7 for just over 200g!

The recipe is taken from Ramsay’s Passion for Seafood (I must say… great book!). The chicken stock I made 2 nights before was simmering in a saucepan. Vegetables consisting of peppers, onions, and leek were fine sliced and lightly fried in a deep wide frying pan with a little olive oil until softened. Bay Leaf (of which I only have dried) and saffron was added along with the rice and cooked until translucent. In a similar fashion to risotto, some dry white wine was added to the pan and allowed to soak through the rice. Also similarly to risotto, the stock was then added to the rice ladle by ladle to slowly cook the rice and infuse it with the chicken stock flavours. The aromas of the saffron are incredible!

Meanwhile the chopped up seafood was fried in a pan until nearly cooked before being added to the paella right at the end. A touch of seasoning as well as some paprika was a last minute touch. Now you’re supposed to sprinkle some chopped flat leaf parsley when serving on the plate but that was forgotten (!).

The result? Not a bad paella actually. I’ve had a lot worse in restaurants! Unfortunately though the quality of the produce was clearly evident as the seafood just wasn’t as tasty as the ones I used to buy from Ashtons (they do excellent shell-on frozen packs of ‘king prawns’). The rice was cooked well and I’ll always love the subtle saffron tastes that accompany the seafood. I could have done with more seafood too; some lobster meat as well as some mussels would have worked a treat! It’s during these times that I wish I was in places like Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore or Japan which have abundant fresh fish markets at competitive pricing!

Such a shame then…. it looks like one day I’ll have to return to Ashtons unless some bright spark decides to open up another reasonably priced fishmongers! 😦



  1. Ashtons Fishmarket was a place that I had to be dragged through as a child holding my nose, begging my mother not to stop in that area of cardiff Market as my lungs only had a certain capacity and could only hold my breath for so long.

    As I grew up and wised up on food, Ashtons is a Mecca for me every time I go into Cardiff centre. I love the whole layout which has barely changed since I was a child back in the 70s. It bustling always with people from suited execs to grandmothers who have been coming there for decades for their weekly kippers.

    As our city has become more diversified, Ashtons (and many other areas of Cardiff Market) stock the most amazing array of foreign produce and all of it fresh from the boat.

    My last purchase was a very large beautiful plump Mackerel which was expertly cleand and filleted for me. I also bought the most incredibly chunky salmon & asparagus fish cakes for less than a £1 each. I have never seen Mackerel or Fish cakes of this quality in any supermarket. To make it up to £10 so I could use my card, I added a large pot of cockles (which the fishmonger told me was the typical top up item).

    I was tempted by some razor clams, but I will be back for them next week. In the past I also picked up 3 lobster sized prawns for less than £10 that was a luxury starter for 3 people.

    Ashton’s prices are extremely reasonable for the quality of the items that you buy.
    More people should make use of local fishmongers as well as Butchers, Bakers and greengrocers before we lose them forever. You just don’t get the same good quality items at a supermarket.

    A quick recipe that I did with my mackerel which was thoroughly enjoyed by myself and my son.
    Garlic Pepper Mackerel with Salsa Verde & Cockle Popcorn

    The mackerel was dusted in a coating that consisted of – flour, black pepper, salt & garlic powder. I then pan fried this in Olive oil until the coating was lovely and crispy, frying a little longer on the skin side to crisp it up more. I then added all the cockles to the same dusting and fried them in olive oil until crispy to make cockle popcorn.

    Make some salsa verde to go with this

    25g of flat-leaf parsley, stalks removed and finely chopped
    10g basil leaves finely chopped
    10g mint leaves finely chopped
    2 garlic clove, finely chopped
    4 anchovy fillets, chopped
    2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
    1 teaspoon English mustard (Dijon for milder taste)
    Juice of ½ lemon, or to taste
    Black Pepper
    Extra Virgin Olive oil

    In a pestel and mortar put in the garlic, anchovies and capers and pound them into a coarse paste. You can use and sturdy bowl and the end of a rolling pin for this too. Scrape into a clean bowl and add the finely chopped herbs and mix well. To this add the mustard, lemon juice and black pepper to taste. Add then enough oil to make this into more of a sauce, but it shouldn’t be overly runny. No salt should be added to this as there should be plenty from the anchovies and capers.

    When ready to serve, plate the mackerel with a green side salad, spoon the salsa verde over the mackerel and sprinkle with the cockle popcorn.


    • Wow Rose,

      Didn’t expect such a response and a detailed recipe! Thanks for the tip! Oh and I’m sorry if I caused any offence in my disapproval of Ashtons. I had a rather bad experience there with a box of prawns which they sold me. I requested a large box of shell-on uncooked king prawns which I had bought there before and considered them good value. Anyway I went home and opened up the pack (fine I should have checked them there and then, but they were encased by a plastic sheath that required cutting!) and found they were the cooked shell-on standard prawns. Unfortunately I actually had a drink before going home and so a good hour had already passed. I took the prawns back and the guy behind the counter never acknowledged that he had sold me the wrong product, but was more concerned by the fact that he couldn’t resell the product. I’m sorry to be blunt, but that really pissed me off. In the end I managed to swap it for something else, but that was after a lot of persuasion and words with the manager, and it was that steel look I got from the counter guy as though it was all my fault that really got to me and put me off from going there again. And he wasn’t just the rookie new guy. He’s been there for years and I recognise him every time. Maybe I’m being petty, but a bad experience is a bad experience. I’ve found a much nicer chap now who has a stall at Riverside Market that I would recommend. He’s a fisherman and so knows his stuff. His stall is much smaller and is only available on Sundays, but it’s possible to pre-order what you want and just collect it on Sunday. For me that’s a whole lot better than standing in long queues at Cardiff Market only to be served by arrogant staff. Unfortunately though, and i did confess in my blog entry, you are right and the quality of the fish is very high at Ashtons.

  2. This is a fascinating blog! As someone who would far rather eat out with a drink, than merely ‘go on the lash’, and as a keen fan of some of your reviewed destinations, I have been looking for something like this blog for an age.
    Kudos, mikeydude. Bookmarked!

    • Thanks Jonathan, Unfortunately been bogged down with exams and babies to update blog recently, but should be back typing entries soon!

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