Monday, January 14, 2019

#435 Shellfish Puffs

Here’s quite an involved recipe from the book that requires several techniques, one of which is the making of choux pastry – the one pastry I can’t seem to get right. However, I was asked to cater for a recent dinner party, and I thought this one could work very well because the theme was ‘An Alternative Christmas Dinner’. Prawn cocktail is often served as a starter at Christmas and I thought this hot shellfish starter would be a good alternative. It was more 1970s than prawn cocktail, sounding like a dish you would see crop up in Fanny Cradock book, not in a Jane Grigson tome!

It’s not for the faint-hearted though, aside from the pastry there’s a complex sauce made from the shells, so that means you need to shell your fish yourself to make this one. If you have never done this before, I recommend choosing prawns. Here goes:
First of all, make your choux pastry. Bring to a boil in a pan ¼ pint of hot water, a shy teaspoon of sugar and 2 ½ ounces of butter. Meanwhile, sieve 4 ounces of plain or strong white flour into a bowl; I went for the latter as you get better expansion, though this is not necessarily a good thing, see below.
When everything is boiling, take the pan off the heat, pop in all the flour in one go and make a dough by mixing the whole lot together using a wooden spoon. Put the pan back on the heat again and beat the dough well with your spoon. The dough will soon become waxy and will come away from the bowl. This can take a few minutes, especially if you’re out of practise when it comes to beating thick doughs, as I was.

Let the mixture cool for 5 minutes and beat in 4 eggs one by one, waiting for the previous one to become fully incorporated before adding the next one. Use an electric stand mixer for this if you can, otherwise and electric hand whisk. The dough can be used straight away or covered and cooled and used later.
Prepare some baking trays by lining them with greaseproof paper. Now it’s time to pipe the pastry – Jane gives no indication as to how many we need or what size they should be. I scooped the paste into a piping bag fitted with a large round nozzle and made mounds around 1 inch in diameter. It’s important to raise the piping bag as you dispense the dough so your paste is very domed – you get a better and larger puff that way.
If your piped pastry has little spikes, press them down with a wet finger so they don’t burn and carefully drip on the tray (don’t sprinkle water on the pastry itself though).

Jane now says to bake them for 35 minutes at 230°C which is far too long and too hot as I quickly discovered! I found they baked best at 200°C, becoming golden brown at the 20-minute mark.
Once they are good brown colour, remove them from the oven and cut a slit or make a hole in their bottom with a skewer. Tip them on their side, return them to the oven and turn the heat down to 120°C so that the steam that puffed them up can escape to create a nice crisp interior. Cool on a rack.

As always, whenever I make choux buns, they turned out all different sizes, all looking like clouds rather than perfectly domed profiteroles. However, they were hollow so good enough for me.
Choux buns can be stored in an airtight tub for a week, so you can get all of this done way before the time you want to serve the course.
For the filling, you need a pound of prawns in their shell, or a 1 ½ pound lobster, or a 1 ½ to 2 pound crab (or crabs). I went for prawns as I couldn’t get hold of crab or lobster at either of my favourite fishmongers! In retrospect it was a good thing, as prawns are much easier to shell than lobsters and crabs. My prawns were raw, so I steamed them in a saucepan containing just a few tablespoons of water. This method yielded a delicious, sweet tasting bright-pink liquid. I kept it and added it to the sauce later.

The delicious pink prawn stock

Remove the meat from whatever shellfish you are using and refrigerate it. If using large prawns, as I did, don’t forget to de-vein the blighters. If using crab or lobster don’t forget the precious brown meat and roe (if any).

Now make a sauce with the shells by adding them to around ¾ pint of thin béchamel sauce – Jane doesn’t tell us how to make one, but I heated ¾ pint of milk containing a couple of bay leaves, a blade of mace, some old ends of nutmegs and some crushed black peppercorns. I then made a roux with ½ ounce each of butter and plain flour.
Add the shells to the sauce and allow the sauce to simmer away for 15 minutes. Loads of flavour comes out of the shells, and the sauce turns a beautiful salmon pink colour. Sieve ‘energetically’, says Jane, so I strained the whole thing through a conical sieve, pushing down hard with the underside of a sturdy ladle.

As the sauce simmers, fry 4 ounces of chopped mushrooms with a chopped clove of garlic in 3 ounces of butter.
Add to the sauce: the shellfish meat, the cooked mushrooms, 2 heaped tablespoons each of grated Lancashire cheese and double cream and two egg yolks. Heat the sauce, but don’t let it boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cut the choux buns in half crosswise and spoon some of the mixture into the bottom half. Deftly replace the lids and serve straight away.
#435 Shellfish Puffs. There were quite a few techniques required in this recipe, but I must say that it was absolutely delicious! The sauce was creamy, sweet and packed-full of umami flavours. Not too sure about the choux buns though, but the kitsch 1970s brief was definitely filled. Jane also suggests filling vol-au-vents with the mixture – I think this would work better than choux pastry, being more sturdy, but equally as old-fashioned. Nevertheless, that filling was great, whatever it was served in, so it gets a 8.5/10 from me.

Monday, December 3, 2018

#434 To Pot Ham with Chicken

This is a fairly straight-forward recipe from the book that I have only just got around to making as I have never had a situation where I had left over ham and chicken at the same time! In fact, I ran out of patience with myself and manufactured the situation.

This recipe is one of several taken from Elizabeth Raffauld’s 1769 classic The Experienced English Housekeeper. Back then, and right up to the early 20th Century, in more well-to-do houses, cold roast meats were served up for luncheon. The meat was left over from the previous evening’s roast. If the meats had to be kept longer, or eked out, they would be potted, i.e. made into a pâté. Follow this link to see all the potted meat & fish recipes cooked thus far (this is the tenth!).

Jane only gives an abridged version of the receipt, but here it is in full:
Take as much lean of a boiled ham as you please and half the quantity of fat. Cut it as thin as possible, beat it very fine in a mortar with a little oiled butter, beaten mace, pepper and salt, put part of it in a china pot. Then beat the white part of a fowl with a very little seasoning, it is to qualify the ham. Put a lay of chicken, then one of ham, then chicken at the top, press hard down, and when it is cold pour clarified butter over it. When you send it to the table cut out a thin slice in the form of half a diamond and lay it round the edge of your pot.

Jane also updates the recipe: she allows us to use an electric food processor, and she uses already ground mace. She also uses clarified butter to make the pâté, not just to seal it. 

She also suggests letting it sit for a few days before eating it, so that the flavours can develop.

If you’ve never potted your own meat or fish, this recipe is a good place to start. In fact, it more of a system than a recipe, and can be adapted easily for other meats. I’d just add that a smoked ham would work best here – I used a smoked ham hock – and that you should over-season everything ever-so-slightly. If you are using cold meats, add a tablespoon or two of boiling water when blending to produce a nice smooth paste.

At Christmastime, you’re more likely to have left over turkey than chicken and I think it would work just as well.
#434 To Pot Ham with Chicken. Rather a subtle one this one, but no worse for it. Many of the other recipes are quite strongly flavoured, so this is a good introduction. The combination of salty ham and bland chicken is a good one, and it was great spread on toast with a little medlar jelly. As mentioned above, a great way to use up left-over meat at Christmastime. 7/10

Friday, November 2, 2018

5.3: Pork - Completed!

Pigs and pork were – and still are – fundamental to life in Britain, Europe and many other places around the world. So easy they are to look after, and so unchoosy they are in what they eat, that most households kept a pig of their own for food. The family pig would be fed kitchen and table scraps and garden waste, quickly fattening ready for slaughter in early winter.

So dependent were people upon pork, that when folk moved into the cities, they brought with them their pigs to rear. There wasn’t enough space for absolutely everyone to keep a pig, many simply had to get their fix of pork from one of the many city piggeries.

Mediaeval pig slaugher
Pigs were often let out of their pens to have a good old rummage around the vicinity of the household, gobbling up scraps of food and other garbage; very useful in a time when waste wasn’t collected up and taken away like it is today. Inevitably, pigs escaped, and they could be seen on the city streets eating anything and everything they came across. It became a huge problem – they didn’t just eat rotting food, but also human excrement from gutters, as well as the blood and pus collected in barber-surgeons’ buckets. They became feral and ferocious, with reports of errant hogs eating babies! London’s Shepherd’s Bush was particularly overrun.

Saint Anthony
This problem was compounded by the fact that in many cities, pigs came under the protection of St Anthony, Patron Saint of pigs and swineherds. If you were unlucky enough to live in a city where Antonine monks also dwelled, it must have felt it was the pigs’ city not yours. In many households, the runt of the family pig’s litter was named St Anthony’s pig.
It didn’t take people long to realise that if pigs were eating diseased and rotten matter, then the pork from the pigs that we ate in turn would be very poor. Indeed, pork was teeming with parasites such as tapeworm and trichinosis. Parasites love pigs, it seems, and even with our modern hyper-strict food regulations, we have only recently been able to sell pork that can be cooked a little underdone safely.
When Jane wrote English Food in the 1970s, she complained bitterly of the state of pork products in the UK; sludgy sausages made from mechanically-retrieved meat and inert rusk, and grey pork pies were (and still are) standard fayre. However, these foods can be some of the most delicious produce in Britain, and when made properly, we excel. Luckily there are small-scale local butchers everywhere who make their own sausages and pork pies to a high standard, we just have to root them out like any self-respecting hog would.

Making Cumblerland Sausage
Although as a nation we consume a lot of pork, there are just eight recipes in the Pork section of the Meat, Poultry and Game chapter of the book, but this is not because Jane was shirking her responsibilities but because most of the pork we consume is in pie form is cured in some way, therefore most porcine recipes appear in other sections of the book. The mean score for the section is an impressive 8.1 – the second highest score so far – her recipe for #415 Cumberland Sausage is sublime and scored full marks from me, and she introduced me to the delights of #373 Faggots and #336 Brawn

Wrapping faggots in pig's caul
Jane managed to cover quite a lot of ground in just eight recipes, but it did mean that a few were missed out. If the book were to be reprinted, I’d like to see a few more cuts represented; pork belly, hand of pork, cheeks, chitterlings and pigs’ ears don’t get the look-in they deserve. What’s more, there are no recipes for sausage casserole, pork in cider, pulled pork (a British, not a U.S., invention!), Scotch eggs, pork scratchings, hog’s pudding or a good quality country pâté such as a nice pâté de campagne.

The gruesome initial step of brawn-making
As mentioned already, this section is a very high scorer with a mean score of 8.1 (and a median and mode of 7.5 and 7 respectively). There were no disasters, the lowest score being a 7, with classics such as #415 Cumberland Sausage (which scored full points), #290 Roast Pork with Crackling and #82 Toad-in-the-Hole driving up the final mark.
As usual I have listed the recipes ordered as they appear in the book, along with the scores I gave them and hyperlinks to the original posts.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

#433 Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

I hardly ever buy or eat prime cuts these days, going instead for the underused bits and bobs of cows, sheep and pigs, so it’s nice to have the excuse to indulge myself for this blog entry. The tenderloin is the fillet cut of a pig and runs down the length of the spine. These fillet cuts are very tender because the muscle controls the posture of the animal and is not used in high stress activities such as locomotion, toughening it up.

The pork tenderloin is less used in English cookery compared to its cow and sheep equivalents, but I think it is the best value of the three, they are pretty substantial, cheaper by the pound and not as prone to drying out in the cooking process these days now that British pork can officially be served medium.

Jane reckons that the best way to eat this cut is to roast or braise it, so here is her recipe which also involves ham and bacon! A porky trinity and no mistake. There’s also the unusual inclusion of crumbly Lancashire cheese. Pork, ham, bacon and cheese; that’s all of the major food groups, right?
Take two pork tenderloins and trim away any fat and sinew with a sharp knife, should there be any, then slit them lengthways, but not all the way through, so that you can open them out. Now beat them with a tenderiser or a rolling pin until they are much wider and flatter.
Next prepare the ingredients for the stuffing: take two large slices of ham and shred them finely, thinly slice three ounces of Lancashire cheese, then blanch eight sage leaves in boiling water for one minute, then half them. If you prefer, you could strip some thyme leaves and use those instead of the thyme, the bonus there being that no blanching is required.

Scatter the two opened tenderloins with the ham, then the cheese and sage (or thyme). Close and then tie with string and brown them quickly in a little butter.
Now, slice two large onions and scatter them on the base of an ovenproof dish and lie the tenderloins on top. Adorn them with two rashers of streaky bacon each, then pour over a quarter of a pint of brown sherry, Madeira or port.

Roast for 45 minutes at 190C.
Remove the tenderloins and keep them warm. Strain the juices and reduce them in a pan if you wish – I found there was no need, but it did need a seasoning with salt and pepper.
Remove the string from the tenderloins and serve immediately with the sauce and some seasonal vegetables.

#433 Stuffed Pork Tenderloins. Well this was a good one, though I did mess up a little bit as I forgot to beat out the tenderloins, and to tie them, AND to brown them in butter. Nevertheless, it was still delicious, though a little dry (probably because they weren’t tied up). Oh well, I can’t be expected to be perfect all the time, now can I? I’d certainly recommend you give it a go, though I’d check them after 30-35 minutes to see if they are done. The sauce – like most of Jane’s – was delicious. I give it a solid 7/10.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Chapter 8: Stuffings, Sauces & Preserves - Completed!

Well folks, another full chapter is complete!

This was a bit of an odds-and-ends one which was full of revelations for me because it covered a large area of cookery even most chefs don’t bother with these days.
#272 Melted Butter

It’s rather difficult to reflect upon what Jane thought directly, because Chapter 8 is the only one that does not benefit from a written introduction. It was obviously an important area for her though, as she really looks towards under-used ingredients and uses a variety of techniques, so it’s well worth having a look through yourself.
#343 Oyster Stuffing

I – unsurprisingly – split the chapter into the following sections:
8.1: Stuffings (5 recipes)
8.2: Sauces (19 recipes)
8.3: Preserves (21 recipes)
Giving a total of 35 recipes. Click on the hyperlinks to see my review of the individual sections.
The chapter scored an overall mean of 7.6, the highest score so far for a completed chapter, fuelled by three recipes receiving top marks and a lack of total disasters. For those who care (and I know none of you do), here’s a little bar chart showing the mean scores for the chapter as a whole and as separate sections with standard deviation bars.
The five Stuffing recipes are absolutely delicious, with #343 Oyster Stuffing being one of the most delicious things I have ever made. Growing up in a Paxo household meant I simply did not know how good a simple stuffing could be.

The Sauces were diverse and delicious, the simplest – #306 Mint Sauce – being the best, but there are other great recipes, such as #272 Melted Butter and #432 White Devil Sauce.

#109 Quince Comfits

There’s a huge variety in the Preserves section too, with Jane avoiding the obvious things like raspberry jam. Instead she uses ingredients like cornel cherries, medlars and sorbs, so you can make preserves you are very unlikely to find in any store or farmers’ market. There is variety too in the types of preserves; jams, jellies, chutneys, sugars, comfits, candies and liqueurs all make an appearance. #397 Herb Jelly is one of my favourites, as is #46 Rich Orangeade, and I have never found a better, or more simple, (#24) Seville Orange Marmalade recipe.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

8.2: Sauces - completed!

English food has a bad rep wherever you go, and our sauces infamously bad. Indeed, the French only officially recognise one English sauce, and that is custard, or crème Anglaise! The French also find our combination of mint sauce and lamb bizarre, which I cannot understand when, for me, it’s one of the most delicious things one can eat.

#272 Melted Butter

Our sauces are often made with too much flour and end up being rather cloying, plenty of butter and patience and only a little flour are what is required. Using recipes that cut corners, or the purchase of preparatory versions, mean we end up forgetting what many of these foods are supposed to taste like. Jane complains about this throughout the book (and yet still includes them herself; see #411 Calf’s Brains with Curry and Grape Sauce). The British butter sauce (aka #272 Good Melted Butter) is a case in point. My only experience of this sauce was the boil in the bag cod steaks in butter sauce I ate as a child with potatoes and tinned peas, it wasn’t until I made Jane’s version that I realised just how good it could be!
#123 Bread Sauce

All the other classics are here too: mint, bread, Cumberland, apple and all score well, with #306 Mint Sauce being the only sauce to score full marks.

One revelation was tasting home-made #93 Mayonnaise, until I made it for the blog I had never tried it before! It was so different to the bought stuff and just did not know what to make of it. I’ve become quite handy at making my own now, having tweaked Jane’s recipe a little to suit my own tastes, though I do still love the supermarket stuff!

There are only a few disappointing recipes: some of the apple sauce recipes were under par, #170 English Salad Sauce was basically salty cream, nothing like the salad cream I had expected. Not good. The mediaeval #347 Sawce Noyre was simply weird, a thick bread and chicken liver-based sauce that could have been trowelled onto the roast meat with which it was supposed to be served.

#332 Cherry Sauce

There was nothing really shocking though, and the section scored an average mark of 7.3 (and a median of 7.5 and mean of 7). There was a total of 19 recipes, all of which are listed below in the order they appear in the book, along with the scores I gave them and hyperlinks to the original post.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

#432 White Devil Sauce

I have made and experimented with many a devil sauce in my time, but this recipe was always annoyingly elusive due to the inclusion of a tricky-to-find ingredient called Harvey’s sauce. Up until the last couple of decades or so, Harvey’s sauce was widely available, but after searching both delis and the internet for years, I gave up. I managed to find recipes for Harvey’s sauce in Victorian cook books, but it was quite an effort and it is required to sit and mature for years before it is ready. The annoying thing is, only half a teaspoon is required to make this devil sauce! However, it used to be so popular in the 19th Century, I didn’t want to omit or substitute it (plus I would be going against the rules of the blog!).

Just a couple of weeks ago I did one final internet search and Bingo! I found what I was looking for. The reason it was so difficult was that it had had a name change. The original company that produced it – Lazenby’s – was bought out by iconic brand Crosse & Blackwell, which, in turn, was partially-bought out by Premier Foods, who sold it as Worcestershire sauce! Although it was no longer for general sale in the UK, it was still very popular in South Africa; and so, a few minutes and a few mouse clicks later I had ordered a bottle and it was getting shipped over to me. All I had to was wait one week for it to arrive.
In the end, Harvey’s sauce does taste pretty similar to Worcestershire sauce, so if you want to make it, just substitute it for the Lee & Perrins.
In a bowl or small jug mix together 1 teaspoon each of French mustard (Dijon or Moutarde de Meaux), anchovy sauce, wine vinegar, salt and sugar, along with ½ teaspoon each of Harvey’s sauce and Worcestershire sauce.
If you are using the sauce cold to go with cold meats, whip ¼ pint of double cream and fold in the above mixture.
Jane suggests spreading the pieces of cold meat with a little more mustard and pour over the sauce using unwhipped cream and pop into a hot oven until everything has heated through and is lightly browned.

I did neither, instead using the sauce to make devilled chicken livers. For this, get a frying pan or skillet very hot and thrown in a good knob of butter. As soon as the butter stops frothing, place the livers in the pan and leave undisturbed for 2 minutes before turning over and cooking 2 minutes more. Pour over the sauce and turn the livers over in it so that they get a good coating. Have some slices of toast ready and place the livers on top. If necessary, boil down the sauce to an appropriately delicious thickness and pour over the livers. Serve at once.

#432 White Devil Sauce. This was delicious, as devil sauces always are, it was highly seasoned but there wasn't enough devil in it for my tastes; I think it could have done with either a good pinch of Cayenne pepper or a good slug of Tabasco sauce. That said, it was horsed down, so it still gets a good score! 8/10.