Thursday, February 13, 2014

#391 Soft Roe Paste

The last of three recipes that use mackerel or herring roes.

There are two types of roe: hard and soft. The former comes from female fish and contains the egg, and the latter, sometimes called melts, are from the male fish and contain the sperm. This recipe, just like the other two, use soft roes. Eating the sperm sac of a fish might appear to be more of an ordeal than a pleasure, but they are tasty and can be picked up very cheaply at the fishmongers. Alternatively, when buying mackerel or herring, you can ask the fishmonger to keep behind any roes that might be present as he scales and guts them. At home, simply sequester them in a freezer bag until you have for a recipe. They are an acquired taste because they are very slightly bitter and so they lend themselves to creamy and buttery ingredients (for example see #159 Creamed Roe Loaves).
Jane makes a point for this recipe to try and buy nice neat matching pairs of roes, rather than just the cast offs that ‘have been flung on to a separate tray’. I would have thought that this recipe would be perfect for the roes that are so carelessly thrown onto the roe tray. Not that this happens anymore – because they are not so popular these days, you almost always have to buy frozen packs.

This recipe just shows how the British just loved to pot things: meat, fish, cheese. It can all be potted and preserved for a later date. In this case the roe paste will only last maybe 4 or 5 days in the fridge, but that’s a lot longer than raw roes would last.

To make your roe paste, first fry 7 ounces of soft herring or mackerel roes in an ounce of butter, then, Jane says, to pass them through a sieve.
 This was a tricky task, which was made much easier by the utilisation of my mouli-legumes. Beat the warm roes into 6 ounces of softened butter. Jane recommends using slightly salted butter, but I have to say, I prefer normal, salted, butter; after all you’ll only add more salt when it comes to seasoning later!
Next, mix in a tablespoon of double cream, then season with salt, Cayenne pepper and lemon juice. Finally add a little chopped parsley.

‘Serve chilled, but not chilled to hardness, with thin toast or baked sliced of bread.’

#391 Soft Roe Paste. I liked this paste, the bitter flavour of the roes was cut with the lemon, cream and parsley whilst still maintaining the roe flavour. However, it didn’t exactly make me do backflips. Good, but not great, and nowhere near the dizzy height of previous fishy pastes like #378 Elizabeth David’s Potted Crab. 5.5/10.

Friday, February 7, 2014

#390 Isle of Man Herring Pie

I’ve been putting this one off for ages because it starts with the sentence: “A very similar recipe to the [#133] Welsh Supper Herrings”. These were not good; pappy fishy cat food mush and raw potatoes. However, that was 5 years ago (5 YEARS!) and I like to think of myself as a better cook now than in those naïve days.
This recipe comes from a Mrs Suzanne Woolley who ran a restaurant called Mheillea (‘Harvest Man’) on the Isle of Man. Normally herrings would have been cooked with potatoes as in Wales, but she decided to make a pie of them. Aside from that, it’s pretty much the same as the Welsh Supper Herrings. This did not bode well.
Mrs Woolley's book - still avaialable!

First of all you need to make or buy some shortcrust pastry, large enough to line and lid a baking dish large enough to hold the ingredients of the pie. A small lasagne-style dish would be appropriate. Line the dish and keep it in the fridge. Reserve the pastry for the lid in the fridge too.
Next, prepare 6 herrings. You need to scale, gut and bone them. Or ask your fishmonger to do it. Boning herring is actually a pretty straight-forward job, as you need no filleting skills whatsoever. I can’t put it better than Jane herself:
Cut off heads, fins and tails and bone them: to do this, put the herring on a board, backbone up, spreading out the slit sides of the belly. Press gently along the backbone from neck to tail, until you feel the bone giving. Turn the herring over, and you will find you can pick out the backbone complete with most of the whiskery bones still attached (separate bones can be pulled out).
It’s worth mentioning that you need really fresh firm herrings for this. If they’re just a few days’ old, they will have started to go mushy, and the procedure described by Jane above will be most unsuccessful.
Next, season them on both sides with salt, black pepper and ground mace (about ½ a teaspoon should do it). Spread some softened butter over the base of the pie and arrange the herrings on top. Peel, core and slice 3 good-sized cooking apples and thinly slice 2 medium onions. Put the apple on next to forma layer, then the onions. Place dots of butter over the top, season again with salt and pepper, then sprinkle over 4 tablespoons of water
 Roll out the remainder of the pastry, sealing the pie with some beaten egg or cream. Make a hole in the middle of the pie so that steam can escape and brush the lid with your egg or cream.
Bake at 180-190⁰C for 40 minutes or so. “Check after 30 minutes”, says Grigson, “by pushing a larding needle or skewer through the central hole of the lid, so that it pierces the herring; you should be able to feel whether the herrings are cooked by the way the needle or skewer goes in.”
And there you have it. I assume the pie was supposed to be a self-contained meal, maybe a suitable salad could be served alongside it.
#390 Isle of Man Herring Pie. Well I have to say I’ve not had a really terrible recipe from English Food in quite a while, so I was well overdue. The herring just did not go with the apples at all; it would at least have ben palatable as an apple and onion pie. I cannot see how this recipe made it into any cookbook! Really bad. Went straight in the bin. 1/10.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

#389 Salmon Stewed in Seaweed with Dulse Hollandaise

Seaweed is not so popular in this country and this recipe requires two different kinds. The first is dulse and I have used it before to make #307 Mashed Potato with Dulse. There’s some information about dulse on that post, should you want it. 
However, the other seaweed – the one the fish is stewed in – is not so familiar. It is called fingerware, and according to the recipe, comes in ½ ounce (or 15g these days) packets. I could find no mention of fingerware in any of my books, or in shops. I did manage to find its Latin name in A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition by David A Bender, but that was all I found though. Here’s the full entry:
                fingerware Edible seaweed, Laminaria digitalia
This name sounded familiar (being an ecologist one picks up the Latin names to some organisms), and it turned out to be good-old kelp. Now I had something to try and order. Unsurprisingly, I was able to find it on Amazon, but only in massive triple packs. Hey-ho. It just had better be bloody nice!
Fingerware, Laminara digitalia, in situ
Now I had my two seaweeds I could cook the recipe, which, by the way, is one that Jane modified from a book from Karin Perry's Fish Book. Originally, halibut was used, but you could also use any round sea fish like sea bass, cod, or grey mullet.
 Fingerware how I received it.

Begin by preparing your whole salmon. According to Jane, it should weigh somewhere around 2 ½ pounds, mine was a little larger because the only salmon available to me was farmed, and they grow much larger than wild salmon. Anyway, give the salmon a rinse and pat it dry. Leave out in the kitchen for it to warm to room temperature for 30 minutes or so.
Next prepare the fingerware, you’ll need ½ ounce of it. I could only get it in huge sheets, so I cut out a piece and cut that into broad strips. Pour boiling water over it and leave it to rehydrate for 30 minutes.
While you wait, get the fish kettle ready: place two upturned ramekins inside end-to-end to act as a stage for the rack; the idea here is that the fish cooks in the steam rather than in the water. Lay the fingerware over the rack and then brush the upper side of the fish with some melted butter. Season it with salt and pepper, and then lay the fish butter-side-down on the rack. Brush the other side of the fish with more melted butter and season. Don’t forget to season inside the fish too. Lay the rest of the fingerware over the fish.
Next, get some hot water on ready to pour into the kettle. Cut a piece of kitchen foil large enough to cover the fish in its kettle; the lid cannot be used because of the ramekins. Pour in the hot water, then place the rack and fish inside the kettle. Cover with foil, put over two burners and steam for 15 minutes.

When the time is up, have a little look and see if the fish is done. You could use a knife to have a little inspection, or pull a fin; if ready the fin should pull out in a satisfying way. If not ready, leave another 5 minutes.
When done, take the kettle from the heat, but keep the foil over it for another 15 minutes. While you wait, prepare the hollandaise sauce.
Take 2 tablespoons of crumbled, dry dulse in a bowl and pour over it boiling water. Leave for 2 minutes, strain it in a sieve and refresh with cold water. Pat dry with kitchen paper.
Start by cutting 7 ounces of softened unsalted butter into small cubes. Place 3 egg yolks in a bowl along with a tablespoon of water. Whisk well and then place the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Then, whisking all the time, add one or two cubes of butter and when incorporated add a couple more cubes until all the cubes are used up. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice and stir in the dulse.
Transfer the salmon to a serving dish and pour the sauce into a jug.
When portioning out the fish, Jane suggests, giving each person a small piece of the fingerware. She also suggests to accompany it with boiled new potatoes and samphire or blanched cucumber or mange tout.
 #389 Salmon Stewed in Seaweed with Dulse Hollandaise. Hmmm. A tricky one to judge, this one. I thought the salmon was cooked very nicely and one cannot ever complain about hollandaise sauce. The problem was the seaweed didn’t seem to add anything at all to the dish. I think if I had used partially-dried dulse like you can get in Ireland, fried it to make it crispy and used that in the sauce, it would have made a world of difference. For that, it loses points, so let’s say 6/10.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

#388 Sweet Lamb Pie from Westmorland

Happy New Year Grigsoners!

There are no Christmas recipes in English Food left to cook, but this one is close, being a cross between a savoury lamb pie and a sweet mince pie. It’s a recipe that has no introduction from Jane Grigson, though I feel it should, as it is pretty strange-sounding: a pie with a minced lamb, dried fruit and apple filling. Though it hails from Westmorland (a now defunct northern English county now made up of bits of Cumberland, Lancashire and Yorkshire), it seems to me to be a very typical pie baked during the medieval period, where it was very common to cook meat with lots of dried fruit and spices.
The Westmorland Coat of Arms
Why was this done? After all it seems to be an odd combination. Many people say that it is because heavy use of fruit and spices masked the taste of rancid and rotten meat. This, however, is a total myth; the reason meat was combined with spice, dried fruit and sugar was because all of these ingredients were extremely expensive. It was all showing off. They are – in my past experience – also a good combination: previous recipes like #87 Mrs Beeton’s Traditional Mincemeat and #328 Salmon in Pastry, with a Herb Sauce follow the same principle.
By the time of the Victorian era, none of these ingredients were particularly expensive, and this sort of food fell from favour, the only surviving remnant being the now totally meat-free mince pie.
This pie is known as a ‘plate pie’, which is still commonly made in Northern England. It is simply a pie made, not in a tin, but on a plate. The plates can be of typical (ovenproof!) ceramic or formed from enamel. Whichever you use, make sure it is deepish. My Mum still makes both sweet and savoury plate pies.
To make the pie, start with the filling. Mince together 6 ounces of lean, boned lamb with 3 ounces of lamb fat (you can the butcher for fat trimmings or keep your own and freeze them until you have accrued enough). Mix these together along with 6 ounces of apples, any will do, but I used tart Bramleys, 4 ounces each of currants, raisins and sultanas, 2 ounces of candied peel, the juice of one orange and half a lemon, 2 ounces of blanched, slivered almonds, 4 tablespoons of rum, a good pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper, half a teaspoon each of mace and cinnamon and a quarter of a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg. Phew.
Once well-mixed, give it a little taste and add more seasoning and spices if you wish.
Next, roll out enough shortcrust pastry and line the plate with it. Scatter over the filling and cover with more pastry, sealing the edges with beaten egg or water. Trim the edges and crimp, before glazing with beaten egg in the usual way.  
Bake at 200⁰C for around 30 minutes.
Jane says that any remaining filling can be used to make small mince pies. I think I went one better however, and made sweet lamb Eccles cakes, which were such a success they ended up on my last Pop-Up Restaurant’s menu.
#388 Sweet Lamb Pie from Westmorland. I spotted this pie quite early, thinking it must be awful. Today I feel Jane Grigson has taught me well and I now knew this would be good. When you bite into it, you get the taste and aroma of lamb – so you know it is there – but the fruit and spice compliment it very well. There is no added sugar and the apples are still tart, so it is not sickly like a Christmas mince pie. Is it sweet? Is it savoury? It does not matter; these sorts of recipes are the crowning glory of English Food. Really lovely, go and make one. 8/10.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

#387 Pheasant Braised with Celery

The great thing about celery is that it is two vegetables and one spice all in one.
The large familiar swollen stems are actually greatly enlarged leaf stalks and make up most of the plant visible above the soil. The celery we know and love was selectively bred in 14th century Italy from the wild plant that is “rank, coarse, and…poisonous” according to the celery expert Theophilus Roessle. It is these stalks that join onions and carrots to produce the trinity of stock vegetables – indeed it is for stock, or for salads, that celery is commonly used, but it does make a great vegetable on its own. It was very popular to serve celery sauces with poultry, or served covered in a cream sauce with pheasant, which is what we have here for this recipe.
In Good Things, Jane Grigson gives us two valuable pieces of advice: firstly, that celery is a seasonal vegetable that is at its best from November and December. We have lost this seasonality and it is a shame, I expect few of us have eaten prime celery improved by the ‘first frost’. The second piece of advice is how to eat the vegetable raw; once you have procured your first-frosted celery, you should trim it and spread down the curved length of the stem good butter. Next, sprinkle with sea salt. “Avoid embellishments”, she says “a good way to start a meal.”
It is a myth that celery is calorie negative: a stick may only contain 10 calories, but it takes only 2 or 3 calories to chew, digest and process it. It is very low in calories, of course, and can help you lose weight, though "It's more of a gateway to cream cheese or peanut butter," says the nutritionist David Grotto. Indeed. In this case, it’s a gateway to bacon, port and two kinds of cream.
I plucked and drew my own pheasant, that way I could use its giblets for the sauce. For some reason, I decided that I should leave the feet on.
Start off by browning a pheasant in 3 ounces of butter along with a chopped onion in a frying pan. Place the pheasant breast side down with the onions in a casserole dish. Cut three strips of unsmoked bacon (aka green bacon) into thin strips and fry that in the pan briefly. Deglaze the pan with ¼ pint of port and a batch of giblet stock. See the now positively ancient post #122 Roast Pheasant for instructions on how to make some. Pour the stock, port and bacon into the casserole dish, cover tightly with a double layer of foil. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 180⁰C. At this point the legs of my pheasant stuck right out all flexed. At least there would be good handles when it came to the drumsticks.
Meanwhile, wash and slice a whole head of celery and when the 30 minutes is up, turn the bird the right way up and place celery around, under and within it. Season well with salt and pepper. Pop the foil lid back and give it another 30 minutes.
Remove the bird and place on a warmed serving plate, arranging the celery and bacon around it. Strain the cooking liquor into a small sauce pan. Whisk together a quarter-pint each of single cream and double cream along with a large egg yolk. Add this to the saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon over a low heat until it thickens slightly. Taste and check for seasoning and add a good squeeze of lemon juice. Lastly, scatter over some chopped parsley and serve with the sauce in a sauceboat.
#387 Pheasant Braised with Celery. This was a great recipe that was not anywhere near as rich as I expected it to be. The port wine cream sauce was so very tasty and complemented the still slightly crisp celery perfectly. It’s worth mentioning that you should use a nice deep-green organic head of celery – and not the intensively grown stuff you get at the supermarket. Hunt out a local supplier. The pheasant itself was nicely-flavoured, but a little on the dry-side. An hour’s cooking was too much for the tiny white lady pheasant I had procured from my butcher. Luckily, plenty of creamy sauce covered a multitude of sins and it didn’t spoil this first-class recipe. I didn't cover the claws though. 8/10.

Friday, November 15, 2013

#386 Herrings in Oatmeal

Herrings and oatmeal used to be staple foods in the North of England and Scotland, where the ‘silver darlings’ were plentiful and oats were pretty much the only cereal crop that could be grown in those inhospitable climes of The North. They were particularly enjoyed at breakfast. We don’t seem to eat fish at breakfasttime anymore, except for the rare kipper or a bit of smoked salmon stirred through scrambled egg, if we’re feeling posh.
Also, you don’t see recipes for this dish in older cookbooks, I assume it is because it’s so straightforward and was so commonplace that writing it down was simply not required. I cannot even find the phrase “herrings in oatmeal” before the 20th Century! More modern books include them of course, even if it just to remind us of the foods our forefathers ate.
Herring in general are quite ignored, I think, though their relative the mackerel is increasing in popularity. It’s strange that in the middle of the last century they were over-fished. It’s a shame they’ve fallen out of favour, as they are very nutritious and very cheap.
It is herring spawning season right now – they are bright-eyed, plump and have massive creamy roes in them, so if you want to try them, now is the right time
I confess, I have never eaten herrings in oatmeal, but I love herrings and I love oatmeal, so they couldn’t be bad.
This recipe is for six, but it is easy to see how it can be scaled up or down:

First of all, you need six fine herring. Ask the fishmonger to open the herring from the back as though they were kippers. Ask him to save the roes (they’re not required for the recipe but they should always be saved).
At home, season the fish and them press them into some medium or fine oatmeal that has been scattered over a plate; about 3 ounces should do it. Fry the herrings in butter until they are lovely and golden-brown. Do them in batches if need be, keeping the cooked ones warm in the oven on a bed of kitchen paper to keep them crisp. Serve with lemon wedges.

Jane tells us the best way to serve these is with simple boiled potatoes and bacon. I had the spuds, but swapped the bacon for a salad! Traditionally fatty bacon would be crisped and fried, and the herring would then be cooked in the bacon fat; next time (and there will be a next time) I’ll do the bacon thing.
#386 Herrings in Oatmeal. Well I have said it many times, but I’m going to say it again, the simple ones are the best. These were delicious, forgotten gems. The chewy oatmeal really complimented the mild herring perfectly. This sort of food has fallen so out of our collective consciousness that you just do not see it anywhere. I might be my new favourite thing. When my little restaurant opens, herrings in oatmeal will certainly be on the menu. 9/10.


Friday, November 8, 2013

#385 Apricot and Pineapple Jam

A recipe from the Preserves part of the final chapter of the book and a recipe that I have been putting off for a good while because it seemed like the most pointless preserve. The two main ingredients, you see, are tinned pineapples and dried apricots WHICH ARE ALREADY PRESERVED! What is the point of that!?

Jane tells us that her mother made this jam during the war, but lost the recipe, but then a stroke of luck; someone sent her a recipe, decades later. And here it is below. I suppose it makes a little bit of sense jazzing up the pineapple and apricots into a jam for high tea at a time of rationing.
The recipe uses not the dried apricots you typically find with the dried fruit in the supermarket, but the kind you find dried whole and rock-hard, with their stones inside. These are readily available at your local Asian grocers.
To begin, you need to soak a pound of the dried apricots in 2 ½ pints of cold water overnight. Take out the stones and crack them open to find the almond-scented kernels within. I find the best way to do this job is to put a dozen or so of the stones in a freezer bag and then swiftly crack them with a hammer. The bag stops the stones from flying everywhere, and a short swift crack with a hammer ensures that – in the main – the stones remain whole.
Put the soaking water along with the apricot flesh in a simmer gently for 30 minutes. Whilst they cook, drain a 12 ounce (375g) tin of pineapple, reserving the juice. Chop the pineapple quite small. Add the juice, the pineapple and kernels to the pan along with 3 pounds of sugar (granulated will do fine) and 4 ounces of blanched, slivered almonds. Bring to a rolling boil until setting point is reached using a sugar thermometer (104⁰C) or by the wrinkle test on a cold saucer.
Let the jam sit for 10 minutes before potting into hot, sterilised jars.
#385 Apricot and Pineapple Jam. This is a great-looking and great-tasting jam. It looks like bejewelled honey with those almonds and kernels floating in there. It doesn’t taste as sweet as I thought it would, and is delicious on toast or in jam tarts. It seems that, although the ingredients did not need further preservation, a jam was created that was greater than the sum of their parts. All art is useless, as Oscar Wilde said. Very good: 8/10.