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Reader request: Spaghetti with anchovy sauce February 25, 2013

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Fish, Wolfe recipe.

A recent email has reminded me to let everyone know: I am more than happy taking requests for specific Wolfe dishes, so if there is something in particular you want to see, please let me know!

This recipe, while appearing in a Nero Wolfe story (Poison a la Carte, part of the Three at Wolfe’s Door trilogy), does not appear in the Nero Wolfe Cookbook. My thought is that this is because the dish was not cooked in Wolfe’s house, and perhaps was not fine enough to be included in the areas on the dishes that others prepare – which lean towards feasts and luxurious dishes, not day to day fare.

In the book, this dish is used in a setup to identify a murderer; the location is a neighbourhood Italian restaurant. In the A&E series, the location is moved to Rusterman’s Restaurant, and the spaghetti is even more important to the plot.

This is a simple recipe, which can literally be pulled together in minutes – but it is very tasty and will be on high rotation in this household. I can definitely see this being a popular dish with Archie if he’s not able to eat at the Brownstone. Since the recipe is not in the Nero Wolfe Cookbook, I offer up my own humble recipe at the end of the post – but this is a very flexible dish and worthy of a Wolfe-like experimentation session.

These are the basic sauce ingredients: diced garlic, chilis and anchovies. I used about 12 anchovies – they melt away in the sauce and give a great flavour, but don’t taste fishy.

I cooked the garlic and chili in a generous amount of olive oil, until they were softened but not browned.

I then added the anchovies, and stirred them in until they started to melt in the sauce. then added some breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs absorbed the oil and started to go crispy. The sauce was pretty much done.

I’d been boiling the spaghetti while the sauce was cooking, and now I drained it and reserved a bit of the cooking water. I added the pasta to the sauce, and added a few spoonfuls of the cooking water to loosen up the pasta.

To finish the spaghetti, I sprinkled it with chopped parsley and a few drops of lemon juice. I also added freshly grated parmesan cheese (can’t serve this spaghetti without parmesan!) and it was ready to serve.

This pasta is not going to give you lots of sloppy sauce but this does not mean it is short on flavour. The garlic and anchovy flavour came through well, with the breadcrumbs adding some crunch where they’d gone crispy. The pasta and lemon helped to give a freshness to the dish. I just hope that someone (even a police officer) managed to get a few bites of this spaghetti during Wolfe’s murder investigation as it would be a shame to waste this!

Spaghetti with anchovy sauce (good for catching murderers)
(Serves 2)

3-4 cloves garlic, diced
3 chilis, diced
10-15 anchovies, chopped fine
4 tablespoons breadcrumbs
5 tablespoons olive oil
Chopped parsley for garnish
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
Juice of 1/4-1/2 lemon
200g dried spaghetti or other pasta

Start by boiling your pasta in lightly salted water. Leave it to cook while you prepare the sauce.

Chop the garlic, chilis and anchovies. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic and chilis and cook until they soften, about 4 minutes.

Add the anchovies and stir, so they break down and mix into the sauce, where they will practically disappear.

Add the breadcrumbs and stir; some of them will start to fry and crisp up. Remove pan from the heat.

By now your pasta should be cooked. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the cooking water and drain the rest.

Add the pasta to the sauce. Turn to coat the pasta in the sauce. If needed, add a few spoonfuls of the cooking water to loosen the pasta as needed.

To serve, sprinkle on the chopped parsley, a few drops of the lemon juice, and then the parmesan. Serve immediately and hope that there are no murderers around to spoil your dinner.


  • Quantities of garlic, chilis and anchovies are up to you – add more if you like the flavour, less if you don’t. You could also add an onion along with the garlic.
  • You could also sprinkle more of the breadcrumbs on as a garnish if wished.
  • I’m convinced the sauce would make a fabulous addition to salads if you let the breadcrumbs fully absorb all the oil and cook them a bit longer so they all go quite crispy.

Nero Wolfe’s Salmon Mousse September 23, 2012

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Fish, Wolfe recipe.
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Readers, there’s something we need to discuss. While the recipes in The Nero Wolfe Cookbook are a little dated, on the whole they hold up – certainly in terms of flavour, but generally in terms of ingredients and technique too. However, some recipes are definitely products of their time, and while a passing reference in a story isn’t out of place, the recipe itself is of historical interest rather than contemporary appeal. By which I mean: salmon mousse has no place on a dining table outside of a Monty Python sketch.

I decided that if I was going to make a thing like salmon mousse, I might as well make as ‘of the era’ as I could. I contemplated making an entire salad in aspic, but thought that might be going a bit far. As with all Nero Wolfe recipes, this salmon mousse recipe called for good quality ingredients and plenty of time in the kitchen. To be perfectly honest, I would have preferred to eat the salmon without mushing it all up first, but I persisted.

I started by poaching some pieces of salmon in a court bullion of water, wine, onion, star anise, a bay leaf and some sprigs of thyme. When they were cooked, I removed the skin and bones, and flaked all the salmon into a bowl. I added lemon juice, bread crumbs, parsley and some capsicum and mixed it around again. I was essentially making a salmon meatloaf.

I should add, this still looked OK at this point. A bit mushed up, but separate pieces of salmon were still apparent. This did not last, however, as the next step was to take the liquid from cooking the salmon, strain it, reduce it, then thicken it by adding flour and butter. I then had to add this mixture to the salmon and then, in case it wasn’t goopy enough, add a couple of eggs.

There was no way to disguise how this looked. This was sad. Nevertheless I persisted and put the mixture into my bundt tin, figuring this would give me an appropriate shape for the mousse once cooked.

I put the bundt tin inside a larger oven tin and added warm water. I put the whole lot in the oven and baked it for about an hour. If you ever want to replicate this, I should note that while the recipe states that it takes 45 minutes-1 hour, it took at least an hour and even a bit more before it was firm to the touch.

While it was cooling, I made up a sauce to go with it, by mixing sour cream, dill, lemon juice, parsley and sauce. After the mousse was cool, I turned it out onto a plate, added the sauce in the middle and decorated it – appropriately…

It looked really depressing. It was really depressing – but also amusing. The thing is: despite appearances, it tasted really good. The salmon was nice and fresh, and was complimented by the herbs in the mousse as well as the dill sauce.

Honestly, this is probably not a Nero Wolfe recipe I’ll make again, but if you ever need a salmon mousse recipe, I’d certainly recommend it.

Fried snapper August 5, 2012

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Fish.
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Goodness gracious. One thing about fiction is that the heroes are rarely sick – except if it suits their plans when capturing a murderer. I’ll probably be corrected, but I cannot remember a single time when Nero Wolfe comes down with the flu or is otherwise incapacitated. I have not been so lucky. Unlike Nero Wolfe I have had all sorts of lurgies and coughs, and certainly no appetite for posting about food. Luckily I seem to finally be recovered, and food is once again interesting.

While I’ve cooked whole snapper many times before, I had not fried a whole fish. After buying some beautiful fresh snapper, I decided I wanted something with Asian flavours, and thought it might be a good opportunity to try frying a whole fish. I started by mixing garlic, ginger, soy sauce, lemon juice, spring onions and chili in my mortar and pestle until I had a smooth(ish) paste.

I put that aside and prepared the fish – which was really just a matter of patting it dry and making some cuts almost through to the bone.

I also rubbed some flour into the fish, just to make sure it was dry and assist with the frying process.

While I’m not an expert on frying, I thought I’d explain how I do my frying. I use grapeseed oil – or vegetable oil if I don’t have any grapeseed oil – as this has a high burn temperature and tends to not smell out the entire house with ‘fry’ smell. I use my candy thermometer to monitor the temperature and let the oil reach 180ºC before I put anything in. I fry in small batches if possible, again monitoring the temperature while the food is in there and maintain it at 180 as much as possible. I also let the oil heat back up to 180 in between batches.

Anyway, back to the fish. My wok wasn’t large enough to submerge the fish in one go, so I ended up moving it around a couple of times to ensure all parts were covered. Somewhat creepily, as I first lowered the fish into the oil, the heat caused the fin on the side of the fish to point straight up!

I also spooned the hot oil over the top of the fish while it was cooking, to help cook both sides of the fish.

After about 8 minutes, I moved the fish in the wok to cover all areas, and after about 15 minutes, I was able to take it out and declare it done. Since I had the oil all ready to go, I also cooked up some pieces of kohlrabi I’d also floured, to make the chips for my fish.

This is probably the closest I’ll get to Architect’s fish and chips and the result was certainly delicious. The fish was crispy on the outside and soft and flavoursome on the inside. It was contrasted nicely with the sauce, which was very strong and spicy on its own but worked really well with the fish. The chips were also much better than I expected, and were crispy enough to dip into the sauce.  All in all I was very pleased with my attempt at frying a whole fish, and it is certainly something I will attempt again.


Fish poached in cream March 22, 2012

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Fish.

A cookbook which provides me a lot of inspiration is Darina Allen’s The Forgotten Skills of Cooking. The book itself is beautiful, with photographs throughout, and the commentary surrounding the recipes provides as much inspiration as the recipes themselves. In this case, I found a deceptively simple recipe while flicking through the fish chapter, and decided to give it a go.

The recipe called for firm, white fish – I used blue grenadier. To start with, I sauteed an onion in butter, and when it was translucent, added the pieces of fish.

I poured in cream (and added a bit of milk), then added some bayleaves. The recipe had stated to cover the fish entirely with cream – as you see I didn’t have enough for that, so flipped the fish halfway through to make sure each side had its time in the sauce.

It didn’t take very long until the fish was done, and I removed it from the pan, leaving the creamy sauce behind. To serve with the fish, I chopped up some kale and cooked it in the sauce left in the pan. Because this clearly wasn’t rich enough already, I added some pieces of bacon too.

The kale also didn’t take very long, so in about 30 minutes (start to finish), I had some nicely poached fish with kale to go with it.

I know it looks quite plain and boring, but the fish was anything but. The sweetness of the onions had permeated the fish along with the delicious bayleaf tastes and the cream, resulting in fish that was soft, delicate and flavoursome. This was combined with the chewy kale in the cream sauce, which was a great accompaniment.

All in all, this was a comforting and simple meal, but one that was still complex in terms of flavours and textures. While I might not be great at following the recipes in the book exactly, it will continue to provide inspiration and new ideas for me.


Whitebait and stuffed jalapenos February 26, 2012

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Fish.
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This weekend has been one of the few super hot weekends we’ve had this summer. Like the whole world, it seems the seasons are not necessarily doing what we expect them to. While I think most people are relieved to not have a whole week of plus-40ºC temperatures, it is a little strange to have a summer when it’s barely hit 30. This weekend was the exception, and I wanted to make something which wouldn’t involve large amounts of heat in the kitchen.

I hadn’t yet decided what to make when I visited the fishmonger and saw some fabulous, super fresh whitebait. I decided to pair the whitebait with some jalapeno peppers I’d been given, and fry both the whitebait and the jalapenos. In case you were wondering what 500g of whitebait looks like, here you go.

Preparing the whitebait was extremely simple: I placed some flour, salt, pepper and paprika in a plastic bag. I patted the whitebait so they were dried, added them to the bag and shook them around until they were all coated with the flour mixture.

I then turned to the jalapenos. I made a stuffing mixture of tomatoes, bacon (my favourite homemade batch to date!), oregano, and egg and matzo meal to bind (I’d like to say there was a complicated smart reason I used matzo meal instead of breadcrumbs, but really, I was out of breadcrumbs).

I cut each jalapeno open and pulled out as much of the innards as I could. I stuffed the mixture into the now empty jalapenos, and rolled each one in egg, flour, egg and matzo meal.

I admit I wasn’t as careful as I should have been in ensuring that all parts of the jalapeno were covered by the matzo meal, which led to some falling off during the frying process.

Now for the actual fry. I admit I am not an experienced deep fryer, and have not deep fried much except for pig’s ears. This time, I used grapeseed oil, and used my candy thermometer to monitor the temperature of the oil so I was sure it was hot enough before I added the food. I have also learned to be more patient when frying, and not take the food out the second after it goes in – if the oil temperature is OK, the food won’t be absorbing much oil anyway.

I started with the jalapenos, cooking them for about 7 minutes, until the outside was golden brown and, where the mazto meal had fallen off, the jalapeno was dark green and wrinkled. I then cooked the whitebait in batches and these only took about 2 or 3 minutes per batch.

Unlike when frying pig’s ears, there was no spitting oil or exploding fat, and my kitchen remained oil spatter free! Amazing. After all the batches of whitebait were cooked, I served everything on a platter with some wedges of lemon.

The whitebait were crunchy and delicious, still tasting of the sea. The jalapenos were spicier than I was expecting, but I loved the contrast of the crunchy exterior, the spicy chili and the flavoursome stuffing.

This was a great meal for a hot day. The entire cooking time was about 10 or 15 minutes, and the whole meal was super easy to prepare. As well as being a good meal to prepare on a hot day, it was a good meal to eat on a hot day – we grabbed the whitebait with our fingers, squeezing on lemon as necessary. Having successfully deep fried both the fish and the jalapenos, I’m also more confident about deep frying more in the future.