Thursday, July 23, 2015

#412 Sea Kale


“It’s a shame that seakale, our one English contribution to the basic treasury of the best vegetables, should not be more eaten”, says Jane Grigson in her Vegetable Book, “it is not often in the shops, so you have to grow it yourself.”

Yes, this recipe had been vexing me somewhat and started to make some enquiries about getting hold of some for planting in my allotment. I did a little research into it, and it seems that it is quite a simple cropping plant to grow, though it does have to be forced, i.e. grown in the dark or buried so that as it grows through the soil no light penetrates, making the stems pale and tender. It has been compared to asparagus in its delicacy and mild but delicious flavour. Anyone who grows their own asparagus will know how much of a pain weeds can be, well it seems that in seakale the problem can be averted because you can simply mix sea salt into the soil, killing weeds and adding to the seakale’s vigour. It’s win-win. Indeed, so vigorous, this rare treat results in such ‘bulky crops’ that they are ‘greedily eaten by…livestock’, says The Country Gentleman’s Magazine of 1869.
Wild sea kale in its natural habitat (photo: dorsetlife.co.uk)

If growing is not your thing, then you could try and forage some for yourself. Wild seakale, or Crambe maritima to give its Latin name, is not a common plant; this is because of its rather specific gravel or stony beach habitat. There are not that many of those, except on the south coast of England and parts of Ireland. If you have holidayed in one of these areas, one of the things may have noticed is the total lack of plant life there. Unfortunately, the plants do get somewhat trampled over by people and their beach gear. According to John Wright in his very good book Edible Seashore (part of the River Cottage Handbook series) reckons you are best looking in the fringes of the beaches where the vegetation is less disturbed. If you do find one – remember where it is so the next January or February, you can pile on some gravel and force your own to collect in April.

After all the reading I did, I happened to ask my greengrocer if she ever saw any at market. She said she’d never even heard of it! That’s how much it has fallen out of fashion. Then, quite unexpectedly, she rang me the next day and said she had seen some. Before I knew it, I was clutching six precious packs of beautifully pale yellow fronds. As soon as I got home I cooked them, using Jane as my guide, of course. This is what she says:

Simply tie in bundles and cook it in boiling salted water or steam until just tender. Drain it well, and serve with melted butter, in the same way as asparagus.

I chose to boil tied bundles of it in just a centimetre of salted water for two minutes exactly, drained it, and then served it on thickly-cut hot buttered toast with a poached egg on top plus a twist or two of the salt and pepper grinder.

#412 Seakale. What a delight this rare treat was. It was of a very delicate flavour that was a little like asparagus, it certainly did not taste like kale or any other cabbage as you might expect. Cooking it very briefly, was definitely the way to go, such mild aromas would soon dissipate into the cooking liquid, and some books say to boil it for fifteen minutes! It cost a fair amount though, so I think I will have a go at trying to grow some on the allotment next year. 8/10

Monday, July 13, 2015

#411 Brains with Curry and Grape Sauce


Brains have never really been that popular in England, often banished to a messy tray, at least that’s when they could be found at all. They’ve made appearances in other British cook books but they are few and far between.

The final nail in the coffin for the brain in British cuisine was surely the BSE or ‘Mad Cow’ crisis of the 1990s where cows were infected by a prion which causes the disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). A prion is an infectious protein, and is therefore not alive, and cannot be denatured by regular heat-treatment. It may have been derived from the prion that causes the encephalopathy in sheep known as scrapie, but this link is unclear.

The BSE prion infects the CNS causing the brain to appear spongy under microscopic observation. The symptoms, unsurprisingly, are behavioural: infected individuals become solitary, aggressive and frenetic, they become anorexic and their milk yield drops dramatically. Eventually they lose all coordination. BSE is all-consuming, infecting not the just the CNS but the peripheral nervous system, bone, intestines, placenta and tonsils. It is also found in saliva and excrement, and can sit in the soil perfectly viable for years. I remember watching the pictures of the wretched stumbling beasts on the television news in shock and in horror as they were bulldozed into mass burning graves. A total of 4.4 million cattle were killed during the crisis.

The source of the outbreak was the cattle’s feed, where ground up cadavers of sheep and cows were included in their diet. Shockingly, this practise had been going on since the 1920s, so it was just a matter of time before infection spread. In retrospect, it beggars belief that it could ever have been considered a good idea to turn herbivores into not just carnivores, but cannibals

There was of course worry that BSE could be passed onto humans, not just in food but in bovine insulin for diabetics and in bone meal for gardeners. Though bovine-human transmission was possible, there was no real initial evidence to suggest it actually occurred. Nevertheless, in 1996 the EU banned the UK from exporting beef and beef products including semen, embryos, gelatine and fat. Within the UK sales of beef plummeted, the government blaming the media storm. Secretary of State, John Gummer, famously said it was the British public and not the cows that had gone mad. Douglas Hogg, the Minister of Agriculture, was adamant that there was no link between the new variant CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the equivalent disease in humans). In the Government’s desperation to calm the country and show just how safe British beef was, the Right Honourable Mr Gummer fed his little daughter a beef burger in front of TV cameras. Idiot.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation had been collecting data, and reckoned that nv-CJD was probably caused by the BSE prion. Hogg and Gummer had been desperately slow to act, but now the country had to tackle the crisis swiftly.

The most important and easily implemented regulation was the ‘over 30 months rule’, a simple ban on killing cattle for beef older than 30 months. When it came to using any part of the CNS for food, the cattle must be under 12 months old, with the same rule applying to sheep. Pigs are not considered a risk.

Simple rules such as this helped deal with the crisis swiftly. In 1992 there was 37 000 cases of BSE, in 2004 there was just 90. By 2006 the EU beef ban was completely lifted; now the UK is back in line with the rest of the EU

Now with all this behind us, you can get hold of them from a good butcher. Order well in advance though, and expect to have to buy in bulk.

First of all you need to prepare your brains – you’ll need around 1 ½ pounds of calves’ brains, which I reckon to be 2 sets, or thereabouts. For some advice on preparing and poaching brains, see this previous post. For this recipe, poach them in milk, as you’ll need it to make sauce.

Strain the milk into a jug and slice the brains on a large plate. Keep them warm as you get on with the sauce, a cross between a béchamel and a velouté.

Start by melting an ounce of butter in a saucepan, then stir in a rounded tablespoon of flour and a teaspoon of curry powder. Mix all around in the butter for a couple of minutes, then add ¼ pint of hot chicken stock, adding a little at a time to prevent lumps forming, then add the amount of the milk the brains were poached in. Simmer the sauce gently for 20 minutes, stirring every now and again, then add ¼ pint of double cream



Meanwhile, get on with preparing 8 ounces of peeled grapes. To do this put them in a bowl and pour over boiling water. Let them sit for a few seconds and then strain them. The skin should now peel away with relative ease. When the sauce is ready, season with salt and pepper and tip in the grapes, including any juice. The sauce is now ready, but if it seems a little thick – it should be the thickness of double cream – add a little more stock or milk.

Pour the sauce over the brains and tuck in triangles of bread fried in butter and serve.

#411 Brains with Curry and Grape Sauce. Well I am glad I cooked the other brain recipe first, as this monstrosity would have put me off for life! The sauce was simply horrible; cloying in such a way, that when in the mouth, you couldn’t tell where sauce started and brain finished. The grapes simply did not go with the sauce. Obviously a thing of its time. I enjoyed the fried bread. 1/10.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Chapter 1: Soups - Completed!


All 24 of the recipes within the Soup chapter are now complete and can join Stuffings in the done pile! I must say that many of them are but vague memories; most of them being cooked at the start of the project when I was a poor PhD student. All of the recipes are below in the order given in English Food with their score.

It was quite a mixed bag of recipes, though none were complete disasters or particularly horrible, with the lowest score being a quite good 4.5/10. Though I notice I have been rather generous in my scoring at the start! The average score for this chapter is a pretty decent 6.9, two whole points lower than the Stuffings section.
The first recipe I cooked for the blog: Finnan Haddock Soup

More importantly, there were some real stars that have become part of my regular repertoire, both at home and for the business, such as Green Pea Soup, June Pea Soup, Vegetable Soup, Cawl and Oyster (or Mussel) Soup.

So what have I learnt about English soups now that I have cooked so many? Well the main thing is that we love it – there are so many different kinds from simple hearty ones that are intended to be a complete meal such as Cawl or Mutton and Leek Broth to light and seasonal ones, delicious as a starter or light lunch like Tomato Soup and June Pea Soup. The final recipe to be cooked in the book – English Hare Soup – is just a single example of the very rich and darkly opulent soups you would have expected to be served in grander houses.
Tomato Soup

English soups are diverse and delicious, but one thing I do notice is that there are no complex soups that are loved, whose recipes are discussed and argued over between families and within households like the French Pot-au-Feu, Bouillabaisse and Cassoulet.

Soups and stews have evolved greatly from the few vegetables, herbs, cereals and scraps of meat and bone we simmered together in times past into an amazing array of delights, but the main thing I have learnt comes straight from those early pottage-makers – how to improvise with whatever you have to produce something nourishing and delicious.

























Sunday, July 5, 2015

#410 English Hare Soup


So here we are at the final recipe for the Soup chapter, ending on a blinder that couldn’t be more English, rich with claret and spiced with mace and Cayenne pepper.

I don’t really know why it took me so long to try this one; though rarely found in abundance, hare is not exactly difficult to find in season. Maybe I just kept missing the boat every year. The hare I used in this recipe I picked up from the excellent Northwest Game. So it’s not just the last soup recipe, but the last hare recipe too.

If you want to know more about hares have a look at this previous post.

This recipe comes from Antonin Carême, the legendary French chef, who worked himself from homeless child to probably the most influential cook ever. A genius patissier, he first attracted attention making elaborate edible sculptures to sit in the window of the patisserie. After some proper training he set down working on sauces, coming up with the classification of the four mother sauces, the base of all sauces in French cookery; a system still used to today. He spent quite some time working in Britain and was briefly chef to the Prince Regent. He’s appeared before on the blog, on recipe #317 Skuets, a dish comprised of sweetbreads, bacon and mushrooms cooked on a skewer, served with bread sauce.

To make the soup, heat 3 ounces of clarified butter in a flameproof casserole or large saucepan and fry until brown either a jointed young hare or the head and forequarters of an older, tougher hare. As it fries, toss in 4 ounces of diced unsmoked bacon or salt belly of pork


Once everything is a delicious brown, add a heaped tablespoon of plain flour, stir to cover the meat before add ½ bottle of red wine or claret and 1 ¾ pints of beef stock or consommé. On a medium heat, let the contents come to a bare simmer. As you wait for that to happen, pop in a large onion studded with a clove, a good pinch of Cayenne pepper, and ½ teaspoon each of ground mace and black pepper. Also toss in a decent bouquet garni, embellished with extra springs of parsley, rosemary and marjoram.

Simmer everything together very gently until the meat is tender and comes away from the bone easily. This can be anywhere between 1 ½ to 3 hours, depending on the vintage of the hare. Pass the soup through a strainer and fish out the joints, stripping the meat from the bone and cutting it into neat pieces. Salvage any pieces of the bacon and salt pork too. ‘Discard the remaining debris’, says Jane.

Return the strained soup to a cleaned pan, season with salt, and add 8 ounces of small mushrooms. Let them simmer for a few minutes before adding the hare meat and cured pork. If you like, add a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly.

#410 English Hare Soup. I think if I had cooked this soup at the beginning of this project, I wouldn’t have been able to take the gaminess of this dish. However, after eating my through several game recipes and species, I am a real convert to it and couldn’t recommend this soup highly enough (except perhaps to the uninitiated). It was beautifully rich – too rich as a starter – and I ate it over several days, where it became more and more delicious with every reheating. It’s a style of cooking game that has fallen out of favour recently, where game appears in more familiar settings such as burgers or warm salads. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, as it introduces a new generation of people to the wonders of game. Anyway, I digress. A great soup for a great evening in front of a roaring fire. 9/10.

Monday, June 29, 2015

#409 Calf's Brains with Black Butter


Many years ago when I began this blog, I winced in fear at prospect of eating brains but after scoffing sweetbreads, wood cock intestines, lamb’s head and jellied eel mousse, the prospect has become an exciting one. The only reason it’s taken me such a long time to cook the brain recipes in this book that you have to order a huge box of them – it’s how butchers buy them from their suppliers and they’re not going to be able to sell the rest of them after you have bought the one or two you need for your recipe. Of course, these days I do my pop up restaurants and so thought it’s about time they appeared on the menu. When it comes to recipe-testing, I always look to Jane first, so I cooked the two brain recipes in quite quick succession.

If you want to try and cook calves’ brains yourself, find a good butcher and ask for a box of brains. You’ll probably receive ten in all, but give him plenty of notice as it could take a couple of weeks for him to get his hands on them.

Before I go on with the recipe, a few words on the preparation of brains:

First, you need to get them ready for the pot by removing any pieces of bone and then gently peeling away the thin membranous network of blood vessels that surround the brain. To do this, you need to soak the brains in salted water for a few hours in the fridge, preferably overnight. This toughens up the membrane so that it peels without breaking so easily. This is a little fiddly to do, but you soon get the knack. You might find it easier to do it under a running tap. Large calves’ brains are difficult to hold in one hand, so cut them in half. Better have two, neat hemispheres than a dropped, destroyed whole. With a little perseverance, you should end up with a nice, milky-white very delicate brain ready for the next stage.

The prepped brains can now be very gently poached in milk for five minutes so they get nice firm (if going by Jane’s exact words, but a good court-bouillon is a good other option), then cut up appropriately.

For this recipe you’ll need 1 ½ pounds of calves’ brains (about two) that have been poached in milk and cut in slices about 1/3” thick.

Swiftly fry them in some butter over a quite high heat so that the brain browns nicely, whilst they remain nice and soft inside. Keep them warm in the oven as you make the sauce by first melting a good 3 or 4 ounces of butter. Soon it will start to sizzle and froth, but then it will go silent. This is the point at which all of the water has boiled away and the butter solids will soon start to change colour. Timing is critical now; ready yourself with 1 ½ tablespoons of white wine vinegar and wait for the pale solids to turn to a deep golden brown. As soon as they do, take the pan off the heat and pour in the vinegar, swirling the pan as you go. Add a heaped tablespoon of capers and level tablespoon of parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Jane suggests serving the sliced brains on a bed of cooked spinach with the sauce spooned over the top, surrounded by triangles of bread that have been fried in butter. 

The photographs are not really doing the process justice. I really need a better camera!

#409 Calf’s Brains with Black Butter. Well I must say this was absolutely delicious! The soft and slightly-sweet brains were contrasted excellently against the fried bread, and the piquant sauce provided the dish with plenty of oomph, which bland brains need I think. I cooked an adapted version of this for a pop up restaurant by making it into a warm salad; every single plate came back clean. What a shame they have gone out of favour these days, perhaps now that the shadow of BSE no longer looms too darkly, they will begin to sneak back into our butchers’ shops again? Get your hands on some and have a go; fun to cook with, and a true gastronomic experience! 9/10

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

#408 Little Cheese Soufflés


For a recent pop-up restaurant menu, I foolishly decided that one course should be soufflé. Now I must admit, I have had little trouble with Jane’s savoury soufflé recipes, but they were large soufflés with plenty of structure. What I wanted was little individuals ones which required even baking in my overworked and increasingly erratic oven. Luckily Jane had it covered – or so I thought – with this recipe for Little Cheese Soufflés.


This recipe appears to be far too good to be true; there is no béchamel sauce, no whipping of egg whites, no gentle folding and no ban Marie. All one has to do is mix the ingredients in the right order and bake! Obviously this was the one.


This mixture makes enough for 8 ramekins:


Grate 8 ounces of Lancashire cheese, setting a couple of tablespoons aside for later. Whisk together well 4 large eggs, and mix in ¼ pint each of single and double cream along with the cheese. Season with salt and both black and Cayenne peppers. Jane has a secret ingredient too; a rasp or two of freshly grated nutmeg.


Butter your ramekins and split the mixture between them, making sure there is a half-inch gap between mixture and ramekin rim. Mix together the cheese you put aside with two tablespoons of breadcrumbs and adorn each pot with the mixture.




Place on a baking tray and bake for 20-25 minutes at 200⁰C until risen and browned.

Griggers’ serving suggestion: ‘Serve immediately with thin slices of bread baked in the oven until crisp.

#408 Little Cheese Soufflés. Well what can I say? When Jane says ‘serve immediately’ she really does mean immediately! It took approximately 10 seconds for my risen soufflés to become sunken shells merely coating the inside of my ramekins. In her defence, these soufflé shells did taste good, though they certainly would not do for my pop up. As far as my understanding is, it seems that the mixture only rose because the eggs – technically – overbaked and therefore formed large bubbles. It seems the recipe was too good to be true after all. Hey ho. 3/10.
Here they are straight out of the oven. 10 seconds later, they weren't so appetising!


P.S. For the pop-up I simply used her basic soufflé recipe and added my own flavourings. They rose and stayed up, so Jane saved the day in the end.

Monday, May 11, 2015

#407 Seftons

The first Earl of Sefton

This recipe comes from the distinguished French Cook Louis Eustache Ude, chef to the Earl of Sefton. He came from good cooking stock himself; his father was chef to King Louis XVI.


Ude was quite a character, there’s a great story of him being hauled in front of a magistrate after he was found selling roast grouse on his menu before the 12th of August (the date from which the gamed season begins. See here for a post all about that). He was given a fine and sent on his way.


The next day, the Scottish Laird who had reported Ude to the police returned to Ude’s restaurant to make sure he was abiding by the rules. Pleased to see there wasn’t a morsel of the offending bird on the menu, he ordered Salami de fruit défendu, i.e. Salmi of Forbidden Fruit, which turned out – of course – to be grouse! The cheeky devil.


Louis Eustache Ude

There was none of this nonsense when he worked for the Earl of Sefton though as they goton like a house on fire, except for one day when he left his service because Ude spotted the Earl’s son adding salt to some soup he made. Offended by this, he turned on his heel and left.


This recipe is essentially a savoury custard. It could only work with a home-made stock though. I imagine it would be excellent nourishing food for someone that is ill. The little custards can be served in their ramekins or turned out onto a plate.


Jane suggests to use a veal stock, but any stock can be used. On the other blog I recently wrote up a recipe for such a stock. For these sorts of dishes where the stock is the star of the show, you need to make your own stock, otherwise you risk it tasting of Cuppa Soup.


Anyway, that’s enough waffle. On with the recipe!


Bring one pint of good, clear, home-made stock to a boil and whisk it into 6 beaten eggs just as you would with a regular custard. Add the grated zest of a lemon, ¼ tsp of ground mace and season with salt and Cayenne pepper, then and whisk in 4 tbs of clarified butter.






Place your ramekins – you’ll need 6 to 8, depending on size – in a deep roasting tin and pour the custard into them and cover with foil. Pour boiling water into the tin, technically turning it into a ban Marie, and carefully slide the tin into an oven already preheated to 180C and bake for 12 to 20 minutes, or until the custards are just set and still have a good wobble on them. Serve straight away with thin, crisp toast, says Good Lady Grigson.


#407 Seftons. These were great, light and satisfying, even though they sound a little odd. I’m thinking that should I ever get my premises, they will definitely go on the menu; they are delicious, light, subtle and very satisfying and could very easily made vegetarian. I imagine a good mushroom stock would work very well as an alternative to veal. 8/10