Wednesday, December 30, 2009

#214 Meat Souffle

A quickie. I knew that we would have plenty of leftover Bradenham ham from Christmas so I knocked this one up. Follow the recipe for the cheese soufflé but use half the amount of cheese and fold about 8 ounces of chopped ham into it. Alternatively, soften a couple of ounces of onions in butter and add 8 ounces of blanched, minced sweetbreads or cooked brains if you like your offal. You might not wish to include cheese though. Make sure you add some herbs too.



#214 Meat Soufflé. The best way to use up some leftover ham, I reckon. The cheese- ham combo is a classic. The salty-sweet ham and cheese and the creamy egg were perfect. If you’ve never made a soufflé before have a go, they are not as scary as people make out. 8.5/10.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

#213 Boned Roast Sirloin

This Christmas – 2009 – was the year we did not have turkey. This was the first time ever, and I have to say it wasn’t missed (at least not by me, anyway). Instead it was roast pheasant and roast beef, not any roast beef though, but roast sirloin. Griggers says that if you cooking beef for a special occasion and you want to be sure of good beef, go for this cut. She suggests getting it from Harrods, but I didn’t go that far. Instead I went to a very good butcher’s shop in Pudsey, my home town, called Bentley’s. It’s won many an award so I thought I would mention them.

A roasting joint such as this needs little doing to it – place it in a roasting tin and season the fat with saltr and plenty of black pepper. Place in a very hot oven – turn the heat as high as possible and leave for 15 minutes, turn the oven down to 180⁰C and roast for 15 minutes a pound for rare meat. Serve with the usual horseradish etc.



FYI: I bought a meat thermometer so I could be absolutely sure of perfectly cooked meat. I did it medium, though I would have done it rare if it were just me eating it. If you have one then follow these temperatures: up to 60⁰C gives you rare beef, 60-70⁰C gives you medium and 70+⁰C gives you well-done beef.

FYI2: there is a common story about Henry VIII eating loin of beef at a banquet and thought it was so delicious that pronounced it ‘Sir Loin’. This is unfortunately a lot of nonsense, though I wish it were true. This cut of beef got its name is from the French sur loin, meaning above the loin.

#213 Boned Roast Sirloin. This was the best roast beef I’ve ever had in my life! It was as soft as butter and tasty and all the better for adding only salt and pepper. No messing about with extras here. It beat the rib of beef hands down. Absolutely gorgeous. Go cook some next time you have something special to celebrate – this is an order! 10/10

Thursday, December 24, 2009

#212 Bradenham Ham

Well here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody's having fun. Well we are here in Pudsey, Leeds because - as for most of the UK - we are having a proper white Christmas.

Hope all of you are having a good one.

The plan this year is to not have a turkey, but three different meats: ham, beef and pheasant. We all decided as a family to not do turkey, but now the time is here there are some that are having a bit of a complain. Well tough tits - you should have piped up at the time.

So the the first to report is the Bradenham ham from Dukeshill. I actually did this for Christmas Eve dinner and that's why it is being reported to you good fellows.

Bradenham ham is apparently the best of the dry cured hams - so good in fact that the Queen has it every year herself. It's quite pricey, but it is Christmas.

The story of the creation of the Bradenham cure is that the Lord of Bradenham invented it in 1781 - so it is pretty old - but his butler took umbrage saying he had invented it and nicked the recipe. What a card. Anyways, he stowed the recipe to Dukeshill and they still make it today. It is dry cured for 3 months in a briny bath of spice, molasses and cochineal of all things.


The hams can be bought whole or in halves. I went for the half ham as the whole one is absolutely huge and I had to buy a huge pan for the half one anyway. Griggers gives instructions for a whole ham so I had to go for the cooking times give by Dukeshill themselves.

Start off by soaking the ham in cold water for 2 days (Griggers reckons four, but since mine is half the size, I went with Dukeshill method. Put the ham in a large pot and cover with water. Add half a jar of mollases and half a hanful of pickling spices (double up, if a whole ham). Bring slowly to a bare simmer and then turn very low on the hob and allow to keep ticking over for 20 minutes per pound.

When done, remove tentatively from the opt and remove the black skin. Cover the sticky fat with breadcrumbs and bake in a medium oven until they go nice and brown. Allow to cool. Serve the ham sliced with nice mustard or Cumberland sauce.

#213 Bradenham Ham. Absolutely delicious; very salty and very sweet. The spices are sublime. When you eat it, your mouth waters. Alot. It may be pricey, but it is worth it. The only problem was that because I bought a half ham, some meat - rather than skin - was exposed to the water and dried out a little. However, anything behind fat or around bone was deliciously moist. If you buy one and you don't want a whole one, buy an already cooked one instead, I reckon. 8.5/10.

I have more to report over the rest of the festive period. Hope you are all having a great time and eating good food.

FYI: to make your own pickling spice mix use: 2 teaspoons each of black peppercorns, allspice berries, coriander seeds, cloves, mace as well as two dried chillies and two pieces of dried ginger.

Monday, December 21, 2009

#206 Orange Mincemeat Part 2; #211 Cumberland Rum Sauce

I have a few things up my sleeve for Christmas but for now I can only report on two things: the orange mincemeat I made last month and something to go on them (or your Christmas pud): Cumberland rum butter.

First up, the mincemeat. I have given the recipe for them already and also reported upon the Griggers way of making mince pies properly, which is how I make them now. All I have to do is give them a mark.

#206 Orange Mincemeat. Well, the orange mincemeat is ten times better than any bought stuff, the three types of booze must help. The mincemeat is not as orangey as I’d hoped, but still great. The best thing is, and it’s the same with the other recipe, is that it is not too sweet. Have a go, but the better is the Beeton. 6.5/10.


I have already made a brandy butter and it was good, but I thought I’d try this Cumberland rum butter – I had higher hopes for it as my favourite spirit is dark rum. Have a go at this, or the other brandy butter recipe, it’s very easy, just requiring some simple creaming and mixing.

Cream eight ounces of unsalted butter until pale and fluffy. Beat in six ounces of soft brown sugar, three tablespoons of rum and a good grate of nutmeg. That is it! Serve on mince pies or Christmas pudding, or even with warm oatcakes, which is how the folk of Cumberland served it, apparently.

#211 Cumberland Rum Butter. Really delicious. Not too sweet and sickly, the dark rum and dark sugar give it a bitter-sweet note. Great stuff. 7/10.

Monday, December 14, 2009

#210 Coarse Chicken Liver Pate

Hello there Grigsoners! I have had a brief hiatus from blogging of late – life has simply gotten in the way. I shall spare you the boring details. December has not been the productive month I hoped, but I did make this pâté. It was intended for the Evolution Group’s Christmas Party, but I was rather ill on the day and therefore had to eat this over several days afterwards. No mean feat seeing as it serves eight.

If you are thinking of having some pâté this Christmas, try making this one. The best thing about it is that you can make it around three days before you want to eat it. I am not going to make the glaringly obvious point that pâté is not English.

Start off by removing the gall bladders and stringy bits from 8 ounces of chicken livers. Keep aside half of the nicest looking ones and pass the rest through a mincer along with a small onion, a small clove of garlic and two rashers of streaky bacon. To the minced mixture, mix in 8 to 12 ounces of sausagemeat (the best thing to do is buy good sausages and peel them), a pinch each of thyme and oregano, some salt and some black and Cayenne peppers, plus 2 tablespoons each of sherry and brandy and a tablespoon of drained green peppercorns. When all is mixed in well, you can start putting the thing together in layers in an ovenproof pot, though you should taste the mixture first to check for seasoning (it sounds foul, but it really isn’t that bad). Start with some of the mixture, then half the reserved livers, then more mix, the rest of the livers, and a final layer of mixture. Cover with some back fat or pork skin and place in a roasting tin and pour in some boiling water. Place it in the oven for 45 minutes at 180⁰C, or until the pâté starts to come away from the edges of the pot. Once half cool, place some light weights on top and leave for two or three days before serving with toast or ‘good bread’.



#210 Coarse Chicken Liver Pâté. This was delicious and couldn’t get enough of it. I happy munched my way through the whole thing over four days. The herbs were delicate in flavour and complimented the creamy livers well. The booze made it sweet and moist, but the peppercorns made the whole thing sublime. A really delicious recipe – never buy your pâté again and have a go at this one! 8.5/10

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December Food

Well December is upon us and that means that it’s Crimbo time. It also means I’m bloody freezing cos those wintry northerly winds have already started a-blowing. I don’t mind it really as long as the weather a cold and dry as opposed to cold and wet. Although the in-season list is looking pretty slim for December there’s loads to look forward to that aren’t on the list – dried fruits, preserves and chutney reign supreme at the time. I must admit I wasn’t very prepared this summer and only made some mincemeat, but never mind. After the success of the steak and oyster pudding last month, I might try some more oyster-related recipes.

Vegetables: Jerusalem artichokes, beetroot, brussels tops and sprouts, cabbages, carrots, celeriac, celery, endive, spring and winter greens, kale, leeks, onions, parsnips, potatoes, swede, turnips.

Fruit: apples, forced rhubarb.

Fungi and nuts: chestnuts.

Fish and shellfish: cod, crab, mussels, oysters, sea bass, whiting.

Game: goose, grey squirrel, grouse, hare, mallard, pheasant, rabbit, venison, woodpigeon.

Monday, November 30, 2009

#209 Chicken and Leek Pie from Wales

During this rubbish weather (God, I am so English – all I do is talk about the weather) there is nothing like a good pie. The Farmers Market in Manchester Piccadilly Gardens just happened to be on as I was walking through and I saw a stall selling some very nice free range farm chickens and so I snapped one up. I then consulted the book for chicken recipes and decided on this. It seemed a little bit like the pork and apple pie I did a while ago in that there is no gravy or sauce per se but runny juices instead. I was slightly concerned about this as it was a major short-falling in the pork pie. Anyways, I have cook everything in this book whether I like it or not.

It is best to start this pie the day before you want to cook it, or at least in the morning. Start by placing a roasting or boiling chicken in a close-fitting pan along with a quartered, unpeeled onion, two tablespoons of chopped celery (a stalk, in other words), a bouquet garni and some salt and pepper. Place a close fitting lid on top, bring to a boil and simmer until cooked. The cooking time will be dependent upon the type of chicken you have – around 45 minutes for roasters, and at least an hour for boilers. Let the chicken cool in the stock (leave overnight if you want). Remove it and strip the carcass, cutting the meat into nice chunks. Skim the stock – if it seems a bit bland, add more seasoning or return the bones to the pot and simmer again. You could also reduce the stock after straining it too.


Arrange the pieces of chicken in a pie dish along with 4 ounces of sliced ox tongue that has been cut up. Next, wash, trim and slice a load of leeks – Griggers says eight in all, but I reckon that that it all depends on the size of your pie dish. Either way, blanch them for two minutes in salted water before draining and adding to the pie dish. Chop two tablespoons of parsley and sprinkle that over and then ladle the stock over the lot until it comes up about half way up the chicken and veg. Season well. Cover with shortcrust pastry (the amount will depend on the dimensions of your pie dish). To make sure you get a good seal, when you roll it out cut a strip of pastry and glue it around the rim of the dish with some beaten egg. Brush glued pastry with more egg and lay the pastry over. Press it down, make a central hole and brush the top with egg. Bake at 230⁰C for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 180-190⁰C for another 20. Allow to cool a little before you eat it. It had it with mash and peas.

#209 Chicken and Leek Pie from Wales. This was a really good pie – the stock was very flavoursome and ensured the chicken remained very moist. I’m not sure what the point of the tongue was though. It is also very nice cold – the stock cools to become a nice, rich jelly; though that kind of thing is not to everybody’s taste. Give it a crack! 7/10.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

#208 Cumberland Plate Tart

It seems that the further north you go in England, the more desserts and teatime treats using currants and raisins there are: Eccles cakes and Chorley cakes are the ones that spring to mind. I’ve never heard of one from Cumberland before; funny, since there are actually two recipes from there in English Food.

I think these things were popular because they are very comforting and definitely a wintertime food, and it is grim Up North, as we know. It has been particularly grim at the minute – particularly around the Cumberland area – so I thought I’d give one a go. The best thing about the recipe is that it is a very good store-cupboard pud – I didn’t have to buy anything, I had it all in! Tiny things please tiny minds.

First make some shrtcrust pastry using 2 ounces each of butter and lard, 8 ounces of plain flour and some milk. Roll out half and line a deep oven-proof plate. Now make the filling: weigh out 3 ½ ounces of golden syrup. To do this, put a saucepan on your scales and tare them before adding the syrup. Add an ounce of butter to the pan and warm though gently so that the butter melts and the syrup becomes runny. Now stir in 5 ounces of either raisins or currants (or a mixture, you devil), an ounce of chopped peel, an ounce of ground almonds, ¼ teaspoon each of ground nutmeg, allspice and salt and finally 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Use some egg white to brush around the edges of the pastry, roll out the last of the pastry and cover it. Crimp the edges, make a hole in the centre and then brush with more egg white and sprinkle with some caster sugar. Bake for 15 minutes at 220⁰C, then turn the oven down to 190⁰C and bake for a further 30 minutes. She don’t say, but serve it with some cream, innit.

#208 Cumberland Plate Tart. Just what the doctor ordered! I really like this sort of dessert, but many can’t abide currants and raisins and things like that these days, so they are going out of fashion which is a big shame. What can be bad about sweet fruit, moist almonds and good old golden syrup? Bring ‘em back I say. 6.5/10

Monday, November 23, 2009

#207 Sussex Stewed Steak

Stewed steak is one of the things that remind me of being a kid back home in Pudsey, Leeds. My Mum used to do stewed steak with dumplings sometimes and it was delicious. It’s odd, however, that I’ve never had it anywhere other then my Mum’s; nobody else seems to eat it. I don’t what it has to do with Sussex either. This recipe is pretty much exactly what my Mum did, except for two main differences: this uses one big piece of steak and has additional flavourings. This is a very easy recipe and perfect for these times of filthy weather that seems to keep your socks permanently soggy and your mind on sunnier times. Give it a go.

Start off with a nice two to two-and-a-half pound slice of either top rump or chuck steak. Make sure it is well trimmed. Season both sides well with salt and pepper and coat with flour. Place it a well fitting ovenproof dish, and cover with sliced onion; use a large one. Now add six tablespoons each of stout and port and two tablespoons of either mushroom ketchup or wine vinegar. Cover tightly with foil and place in an oven preheated to 140⁰C for three hours. That’s it! Serve with mashed potato and field mushrooms, says Griggers.


#207 Sussex Stewed Steak. This took me right back to my childhood. The delicious thin gravy with a hint of rich booze and wonderfully tender beef cooked slowly – it’s what rainy November evenings were made for. 8.5/10.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

#206 Orange Mincemeat

Christmas is a-coming! The consumerist nightmare has begun and there’s nothing like it to kill the Christmas spirit. The best way to counteract this is to make some lovely Christmas fayre. The Christmas cake is done and the only other necessity for the encroaching festivities is (in my opinion) mincemeat. I made Mrs Beeton’s recipe last year and gave a potted history of the foodstuff (see this post). This year I’m making orange mincemeat; it better be nice because I really liked Beeton’s. It should be good though; there’s plenty of orange juice and one of my favourite boozy drinks ever – Cointreau. Of course, we shall have to wait a while before I review them (although I’m sure I’ll crack a jar open well before Christmas).

If you want to make your own mincemeat, make sure that you make it at least two weeks before you want to use it as it needs that long to mature. If you’ve never made it, have a go, it really is very easy – there is no cooking involved, just some chopping, measuring and mixing.


This recipe makes absolutely loads of mincemeat – around ten jars – so reduce the quantities if you want to make less. To make it, simply mix together the following ingredients together in the following order in a huge bowl:

8 ounces of candied orange and lemon peel
2 pounds of apples, peeled, cored and chopped
One pound of chopped suet (use fresh, if you can)
One pounds each of raisins, currants and sultanas
One pound of dark brown sugar
1 freshly grated nutmeg
4 ounces of blanched slivered almonds
The juice and grated rind of two oranges
Four tablespoons of brandy
Eight tablespoons of orange liqueur (e.g. Cointreau)

Pack the mincemeat well into sterilised jars and leave for at least two weeks. (FYI to sterilise the jars, put them along with their lids on trays in an oven set to 110⁰C for 25 minutes, pot whilst they are still warm.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

#205 Potted Tongue

There are several recipes in English Food that involve tongue; a bit of the animal now much ignored by most, including me. It’s one of the few things I’ve never tried, so I thought I should make sure my first foray into tongue cookery a simple one. Potting is nice and easy as long as you have a food processor or blender, plus I always need sandwich fillings for work. It uses eight ounces of cooked tongue – this can be calf’s or ox tongue, pickled or fresh. The calf’s tongue that I got from Winter Tarn was exactly eight ounces in weight after it had been cooked and trimmed. However, if tongue is not your bag then you can use beef, salt beef, venison or any other game.

Chop the calf’s tongue and place in a blender or food processor – use a blender for a smooth finish, a food processor for a slightly coarse one – along with four or five ounces of clarified butter, some salt, pepper and mace (if you are potting a different meat, you could use a different spice or even a couple anchovy fillets). Blend until the right consistency and place in pots, making sure you pack them down well and leave flat surface. Pour more clarified butter over to form a seal.



#205 Potted Tongue. In Yorkshire, potted beef is still quite popular, but for me, the tongue did not work quite as well as I’d hoped. The tongue tasted okay when it had been cooked, but perhaps stronger tasting cured ox tongue would have been more appropriate. Oh well, never mind – you can’t win ‘em all. 4/10.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Preparing and Cooking a Calf's Tongue

Jane Grigson describes how to cook and prepare ox tongue in some detail in English Food as well as providing several recipes. Most use pickled ox tongue, but for some it is not specified and I had a calf tongue to use. Many recipes require a cooked, boiled tongue (including the next recipe), but there is no guidance on the preparation of calf tongue. I did a bit of reading and came up with my own method which I am now imparting upon you good people, natch.

The tongue before cooking


Start by soaking the tongue for six hours, changing the water a couple of times. Place it in a closely-filling pan with some cold water to just cover along with an onion studded with two cloves, a chopped carrot, a stick of celery, a bay leaf, a sprig of time, a bay leaf, some crushed peppercorns and a teaspoon of salt. Bring slowly to boil, skimming away any grey foam that may rise. Turn the heat as low as possible, cover, and simmer gently for an hour (I erred on the side caution and cooked it for best part of an hour and a half, but it was definitely over-cooked). Remove the tongue and as soon as it is cool enough to handle, peel the skin away and cut away any gristly bits and blood vessels. The tongue can then be used as required in your recipe.

Friday, November 13, 2009

#204 Minced Veal and Eggs

Here is another recipe from Alexis Soyer – the first celebrity chef and all-round (though slightly pompous) good guy. I have mentioned him before in previous posts. I thought I would try this recipe as a test for the veal I bought from Winter Tarn. This seemed like a good mid-week meal as it is quick to cook that seemed nice and satisfying; just what one needs of a Wednesday in rainy Manchester.

Begin by chopping a small onion and a clove of garlic and softening them in a generous ounce of butter. Once soft, turn up the heat to brown them slightly and then add 8 ounces of minced veal. Fry until it has browned slightly. Now add some seasonings, herbs and spices: a rounded teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of black pepper, a pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg and a teaspoon of thyme leaves. Next stir through a heaped teaspoon of flour and when that has browned slightly pour in a quarter of a pint of milk (full fat if you can!). Simmer very gently for fifteen to twenty minutes until the mince has become soft and unctuous in its now creamy sauce. Whilst that is happening poach an egg and fry a slice of bread per person. Taste the veal and add more seasonings and ‘sharpen it’ with some lemon juice or white wine vinegar.


Place a slice of fried bread on each plate, then a helping of the veal and finally a poached egg on top.

#204 Minced Veal and Eggs. What seems like a bizarre recipe turned out to be absolutely delicious, the delicate milky veal melds perfectly with the milk in the sauce and the fried bread and poached eggs added to the comfort food kick that I really required. Great stuff. Give it a go; quick and easy. 8/10.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Veal or no Veal?

Eating veal has something of a stigma these days; it is considered cruel by many. In English Food it appears quite often, either in veal recipes or as part of other recipes that you perhaps would not expect, for example, giblet gravy and chicken pie. Jane writes rather a long introduction to her Meat chapter discussing the problems of mass meat production and the decline of meat quality as well as those suppliers that try to produce good quality products. Nowhere in the introduction does she mention veal – beef, yes, at length, but not veal. I can only assume that in her opinion veal was always a good meat product (she has a poor opinion on the state of almost every other meat, and quite rightly). Indeed, it probably was, but certainly not from the poor veal calves’ point of view.

Rearing veal calves was notoriously cruel, and lumped together with fois gras production. The problem being that calves were kept in tiny darkened rooms to keep their meat white and tender. This practise is still common in many counties but is not allowed in the UK. Veal produced in British farms have a much higher standard in animal welfare; calves can eat grass after weaning and walk in the fields to produce rose veal – so-called due to the pale pink colour of the meat. This is obviously a good thing; I cannot see how anyone (vegetarians aside) can have issues with this. It is the same as eating lamb after all. For more information about the prevention of cruelty to animals in farms see the Farm Sanctuary website.


Veal production like this is still allowed in many countries


The point I would like to make is that NOT eating veal is cruel, or at least disrespectful. The dairy industry wants female cows for milk. Cows do not simply just produce milk all the time – which many people seem to think – like any mammal, they produce milk when they have given birth (or about to give birth) to calves. Female calves are a good thing for future milk production, but the poor old males are surplus to requirement and are generally killed. What a complete waste! A waste of food and a waste of life! People seem to coming round to the idea - even Marks and Spencer have a line in rose veal!




All British rose veal is produced with welfare in mind



I intend to tackle some of the veal recipes in the book – I have been biding my time because I want a good supplier. I believe I have found one too: Winter Tarn in Cumbria is an organic farm that produces cheese but have recently started selling veal though they don’t really mention it on their website. They attend many regional farmers’ markets. The quality of the meat is very good, and most importantly, I think, they don’t charge the Earth like many other organic veal suppliers seem to think they can do. Check out their website here.

My consignment arrived the other day, stewing veal, minced veal, tongue, kidney, liver and bones for stock. Not all of the items are for recipes from English Food, the offal is essentially just to cook anyway – veal offal is highly prized, but I have never tried it, so I seized the opportunity.
I shall keep you informed of my progress, natch.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Christmas is Becoming...

Yes I know it is only the beginning of November, but it is time to seriously think about starting to get some of the Christmas fayre ordered or made! I love Christmas, and I love making the cakes and mincemeat and everything. It definitely brings out the best in me.

Today I made the Christmas Cake (recipe here) - a definite Grigson favorite; it'll be the third year in a row I will have made the one from the book. Around a week before Christmas, I'll be making the marzipan and royal icing too (recipes here).

Also, later this week, I shall be making the mincemeat for the mince pies. Last year, I made a traditional Mrs Beeton recipe, but I'm going to make the other recipe in English Food this time - orange mincemeat.


After discussion with the family, we have decided to not do a turkey this year. Instead we are going to have roast beef (recipe here), roast pheasant (recipe here) and a Bradenham ham. I ordered that two weeks ago from their website. I am organised!


I shall be adding the recipes as I do them of course. Why not have a crack at one or two yourself? You know you wanna...


Ho ho ho!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

How to Make Game Stock

This is a recipe for a good game stock – it is a modified version of one that appears in Lindsey Bareham’s very excellent book A Celebration of Soup. If you have some game carcasses left over from a meal, turn them into stock – you can either freeze the stock, or the carcasses, for whenever you need them. You don’t need many either – I managed to make a pint of good stock from a single woodcock carcass.
The amount of vegetables and spices etc indicated here will do for up to 4 small birds or 2 larger ones. You may want to increase or decrease the amount of water added though – don’t forget, you can reduce a stock so you can be quite liberal with the water. If you want to make more, you can just increase the ingredients.

First chop the carcass(es) and place them in an ovenproof casserole dish and roast them in the oven for 20 minutes at 200⁰C. Remove them and add a little wine – red or white is fine – or a little water to deglaze the dish. Add some chopped stock vegetables: a carrot, an onion, a celery stick, 2 tomatoes and one or two cloves of garlic. Return to the oven for a further 5 to 10 minutes. Now add a spring of rosemary, a bay leaf, five or six peppercorns and between one and two pints of water, depending on the amount of stock you want. It also depends on the birds being used – small partridges, woodcock or grouse produce a stronger stock than, say, pheasant. The stock needs to be cooked uncovered for at least two hours very gently; you can do this on the hob or in a low oven. Strain the stock, reduce if required, season with salt, then skim after it has been allowed to cool. Easy peasy.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

#203 Partridge

One of the good things about my favourite fishmonger, Out of the Blue, is that – like any good fishmonger – they supply game during the season. It’s very well priced there and I picked up a couple of partridges for just £2.50 each. Great stuff. I’ve already done a stewed partridge recipe from the book. As well as specific recipes, Griggers goes through each game species with some advice on how to cook them. Here is what she says about partridge:

Roast: 30 minutes, 220⁰C;
Inside: chopped liver, chopped onion and butter, mushrooms chopped and stewed in butter;
Serve with: bread sauce, etc as for pheasant (see this recipe);
Braised: with chestnuts and cabbage and white wine (see this recipe).

So roast them I did. I filled them with onion and butter (the fillings used for game are there more to prevent them drying out than anything else, really). Before roasting I did make sure they were well-seasoned. To serve I thought I’d add some mashed potatoes – the bland creaminess goes well with strong metallic-scented game – and some kale with fried bacon lardons stirred through them. Lastly I made a sweet rich sauce from half a pint of strongly-flavoured game stock made from a woodcock carcass (see next entry, if I pull my finger out and write it!), a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly and the deglazed juices from the roasting pan (I used some port do to the deglazing).



#203 Partridge – 6/10. I liked the partridge, the leg meat was very gamey and the breast meat milder; a good combination. I am assuming that they were our own indigenous grey partridges because of their small size and strong flavour (there are two species in the UK, the other being the slightly larger and introduced red-legged partridge). There was a surprisingly large amount of meat on these little birds and one was certainly enough per one person. I would certainly recommend trying them if you haven’t before, though I’d go for the braised recipe rather than this roasted one.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

#202 Pressed Beef

A quickie this one.

I wanted to do a recipe from the cured meats section of the book as I haven’t done many of them and I didn’t want to start getting behind. This one appealed to me because it was similar to the salt beef recipe I had already done and I knew that the cold, pressed beef would keep me in sandwiches and snacks for the week, plus the cooking process would produce a nice stock which could be turned into a lovely soup. I also thought that you don’t really see salt beef these days in supermarkets etc, and then by total coincidence my workmates and I went to the very good café in the Whitworth Art Gallery (which makes up part of Manchester University’s campus) and what was on the menu? Salt beef sarnies! I may be some kind of soothsayer.

To make your own pressed beef you need a joint of silverside – go for somewhere between 2 and 3 ½ pounds in weight, I reckon. You can use either fresh or salted for this. If you want to do pressed salted beef, you can buy it from your butchers, but it is much better if you make your own. I did – follow the instructions on brining on this earlier post if you want to have a go. Next, you need to boil the beef joint – follow the instructions on this post here for how to do that (I love how the blog is becoming self-referential!) you can follow the same recipe if you’re using fresh beef too. Leave the beef to cool in the broth for a couple of hours before removing and wrapping well in cling-film or foil. It now needs to be pressed overnight; either use a tongue press or place it under some very heavy weights. I used an upturned loose-bottomed cake tin so I could precariously balance a cast-iron griddle pan, an earthenware jug and some tins of food on it with at least some attention to health and safety.


Next day, you can slice the beef as you need it. Make sandwiches using rye bread, pickled gherkins and horseradish sauce (I also added some mayonnaise). Alternatively serve with an avocado salad.

#202 Pressed Beef. This is absolutely delicious. So much more tasty and such better quality than any supermarket pre-sliced nonsense. I would really recommend trying the curing, cooking and pressing yourself, it’s doesn’t take much effort at all and the pay-off is great. The beef is firm and deliciously sweet and salty. The spices – particularly the mace – come through beautifully and compliment the beef so well without drowning out its flavour. 8.5/10.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

#201 Tea Cream

A good dessert to make if people are round because you can make it a couple of days in advance.

The tea in question for this tea cream recipe is green gunpowder tea. Green tea is a strange thing – I don’t ever drink it because it tastes of a combination of washing-up water and seaweed. Bleurgh. However, having it with cream and sugar did appeal slightly more; cream and sugar never taste bad, now do they!?

FYI: green tea comes from the same plant as our more familiar ‘black’ tea (e.g. PG Tips, Tetley, etc), but is unfermented thus retains its natural green colour, as opposed to black tea which turns its dark colour due to oxidisation during fermentation. Green tea is popular in China and Japan as we all know – but also in Muslim counties where it is forbidden to drink fermented tea. How bizarre. Anyone know why this is?

To make this tea cream mix together half a pint each of double and single cream in a jug. Pour around three-quarters of it into a small saucepan along with two tablespoons of sugar and an ounce of green gunpowder tea. Slowly bring to a boil, though keep on tasting it as you don’t want the tea to be ‘over-stewed’. Pour the hot cream into a bowl through a sieve. Taste again; if too strong add more cream. Use either a packet of powdered or five leaves of leaf gelatine to make the cream set. It’s best to follow the instructions on the packet at this point but generally you dissolve the powdered stuff in a little hot water and stir it into the cream, or soak leaf gelatine in cold water until soft and stir into the still-hot cream. Pour the whole lot into a mould – buy a fancy one if you can, I did. Cover with cling-film, allow to cool and then place in the fridge until needed. Turn it out onto a plate – you will need to dip the mould in hot water briefly to help loosen the jelly, I left it in too long and it went a little liquid around the edges. Serves five or six.


#201 Tea Cream. A funny one this one. I really liked the creaminess of the ‘jelly’, but the tea taste – though strong when hot, diminished greatly when chilled so I couldn’t really tell it was there. I certainly liked it enough to give it a second go at some point though. It did look very good in its fancy shape. 6/10.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

#200 Steak, Kidney and Oyster Pudding

As promised, a dish that is more English that roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, at least I think so anyway. It may be because I’m a Northerner, but I also think (and I could be wrong here) that although it is very English, it hasn’t travelled to other countries as well as, say, roast beef. In other words, it’s a sort of hidden gem. I have been saving this one for number 200 for a while, though I did change my mind a fair few times.

The seemingly unusual ingredient here is, of course, the oysters. The recipe is surprisingly recent: it appears as a steak pudding in a book by Eliza Acton in 1845 and the kidney turns up in Mrs Beeton’s Household Management nearly fifteen years later. In those days folks living near the coasts were falling over oysters – they diminished however due to a combination of an increased population eating them and the increased pollution created by all those extra people. No one wants a shitty oyster. However, before this, they were cheap and the preferred alternative to the very pricey mushrooms that the posh gentry would have enjoyed. It was only since around the Second World War that mushrooms have been cultivated on a large scale, before that they acquired by foraging: limited and very seasonal. Of course, these days it is the mushrooms that are ten-a-penny, and the oysters that break the bank. That said, native oysters are in season at the moment and the ones I bought from Out of the Blue in Chorlton were just sixty pence each.

This pudding is a pretty posh all-out one; giant, full of rump steak, red wine and extra beef stock plus both mushrooms and oysters:

To begin, make the filling: cut two pounds of trimmed rump steak into one inch cubes and then slice a pound of ox kidney (or veal, if you’re being really posh), removing any fat or gristly bits on the way. Toss these in two tablespoons of seasoned flour. Chop a large onion and fry it gently in two ounces of butter until nicely softened, remove with a slotted spoon, turn up the heat and then hard fry the beef and kidney. When brown transfer to a casserole dish (or, if you have a cast-iron one that goes on the hob you can keep it all in there. Deglaze the pan (or casserole dish) with either a pint of beef stock, or half-and-half stock and red wine. Now slice 8 ounces of mushrooms and fry them in an ounce of butter. Add these along with the cooked onions and a bouquet garni to the meat. Cover with a lid and cook in the oven for 1 ½ hours at 140-150⁰C. You can do all this the day before if need be.

Next, open the oysters: Griggers suggests 18-24 oysters, though makes them an optional ingredient for the pudding. I went for a dozen as I didn’t want to go bonkers with the spending. Add them, plus their liquor to the meat. I’ve written about opening oysters before.

To make the suet pastry, use a knife to mix together 10 ounces of self-raising flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, ¼ teaspoon of salt, ground white pepper, ¼ teaspoon of thyme and 5 ounces of chopped fresh suet (use the packet stuff if you can’t get hold of it). Now add cold water little by little to the mix, stirring with the knife. Use the minimum amount of water that will bring the pastry together, using your hands towards the end. If it seems too wet, add more flour. There’s enough pastry to line a three pint pudding basin, so roll it out in a circle large enough and remove a quarter of it (you’ll use this later). This’ll make it easy to line the basin – use water as glue to stick down the ‘hem’. Spoon in the mixture and then roll out the reserved quarter into a circle to make the lid. Place this on top and fold any surplus edging over it and glue it with more water. Secure the lid if using a plastic basin, or cover with buttered, pleated foil secured with string. Place in a steamer and cook for one and a half hours; don’t let it boil dry. Turn it out onto a plate and serve immediately.


#200 Steak, Kidney and Oyster Pudding. The poshest pudding in the world! It was very, very good though. The beef and kidneys were very tender and the gravy was good and rich. The real revelation was the oysters – at first I wasn’t very sure about them, but it was a taste that was acquired very quickly. They provided a mysterious iodine tang to the whole thing. The original surf ‘n’ turf! The only thing I would change is the amount of pastry - there was barely enough to line the basin, making it split open when it was turned out! 9/10.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Warm Lamb's Fry Salad

Well #200 was now upon me, so I got a few folks round to join me in scoffing it. The trouble was I couldn’t do starter from the book – otherwise that would be the big 200, and I didn’t want some little starter to be it. However, I decided that the food would have a theme: offal. All three courses would have some offal as part of it. You see, I knew that I had some lamb’s fries in the freezer that I bought a while ago from the Cheshire Smokehouse and this seemed like the perfect time to cook them. After a little internet research, I found that they weren’t that difficult to cook, it seemed that you could treat them the same as scallops. I decided on a warm salad. I just hoped they weren’t awful, and that people weren’t going to be squeamish.

It has been a while since I put one of my own recipes on here...

For six:

Heat some cooking oil in a frying pan until nice and hot. Throw in two cloves of garlic and a good pinch of chilli flakes. As soon as the garlic starts to brown, throw in seven sliced and previously seasoned lamb’s fries. Quickly stir fry them for around two or three minutes only, and then season with more salt and pepper if required plus a little sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir through some dressed spinach leaves and serve immediately. I forgot to take a picture. Oopsey!

The lamb’s fries were okay – very tender and rather bland. It was quite difficult to get excited by them. I think I’d would rather have had something bizarre and shocking, than something that was just okay. At least everyone that came can say they’ve tried them. And I can say that when I do testicles, they melt in your mouth! (F’nar!)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November

Well here we are in November, would you believe. When did this happen? I still keep thinking that 2009 happened recently, and now it is nearly over. November, though not full of vibrant fruit and vegetables, is still chock-packed with many of my favourites: the apples and pears are in abundance, and there are many, many varieties. Game is now probably at its very best now. I have bought some hare and mallard already for recipes this month, but at the game stall at the Farmers market at Hoghton there was grey squirrel. I didn’t buy any, but maybe next time.

FYI: The game man, who does allsorts of fantastic stuff, and has been very good to me by getting pheasant giblets for me. His company is called Shaw Meats and they are doing five-bird roasts for Christmas as well as other exciting things. He’s based in Cumbria, but does deliver. Check out the website.

Vegetables: Jerusalem artichokes, beetroot, brussels tops, cabbages, cardoons, carrots, celeriac, celery, chard, chicory, endive, spring and winter greens, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, onions, parsnips, potatoes, pumpkins and squashes, salsify, swede, turnips.

Fruit: apples, medlars, pears, quince, raspberries.

Wild greens and herbs: nettles, watercress.

Wild flowers and fruits: rosehips, sloes

Fungi and nuts: chestnuts, hedgehog fungus, horse mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, walnuts, blewits.

Fish and shellfish: cod, crab, lobster, mackerel, mussels, oysters, prawns, scallops, sea bass, sprats, squid, whiting.

Game: goose, grey squirrel, grouse, hare, mallard, partridge, pheasant rabbit, woodpigeon.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

#199 Apple Sauce III

Eagle-eyed followers of the blog will notice that there has been no Apple Sauce I or II. In English Food there four recipes for apple sauce, so I thought it best to get the ball rolling. I’ve made this one first because it is not a sauce for pork, but for chicken. I had a very nice-looking free range chicken that I bought from the poulterer Peter D Willacy at Houghton Farmers Market, you see. He has no website, but you can call him in 01253 883470. The best thing about their chickens is that they come with giblets; not something you see these days, not even in good butchers. I’m hoping to buy a capon from them soon. This sauce can also be served with veal.

Anyways, if you are roasting a chicken this weekend, try this very easy creamy and usual hot apple sauce:

Core, dice and peel a pound of Cox’s pippin apples (or a good equivalent) and fry them in some clarified butter. (If you don’t clarify your butter first, it may burn. Melt it slowly in a pan, blot away any solids on the surface with some kitchen paper, then decant the liquid butter away, leaving behind any other solids that sank to the bottom.) When they have softened and turned a little golden, remove the apple pieces with a slotted spoon, leaving behind the buttery juices. Add six tablespoons of white wine (or cider) to the juices to deglaze and reduce it all well. Lastly, stir through six tablespoons of double cream and sharpen with a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve hot.


#199 Apple Sauce III. A strange one this one because the sauce is essentially stewed apples and cream, which in my book is a pudding. That said, it did go surprisingly well with the chicken as there are no strong flavours to drown out the subtle chicken. 5.5/10.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Number 200 fast approaches...

Well who would’ve ever have thunk that I would still be doing this frankly stupid endeavour and be quickly approaching number 200. I have been pondering what to cook for it – I want to do something very English and/or grand and I think I have chosen something; it may not fit the latter criterior, but it is possibly more English than roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Can you guess what it is? Answers on a postcard….

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has read and commented on the blog – I am still flabbergasted than people read it and cook from it. My biggest thanks go to all my poor friends and family that have had t put up with some of these meals, which have been pretty far out of their comfort zone. Everyone has been great sports.

Thanks again, folks!

#198 Compote of Bonchretien Pears

I’ve been rather busy of late and not had much time for cooking or blogging. Oh well, we all have fallow periods. It seems like ages ago that I did the dinner party that was just a couple of weeks ago and I’ve only just gotten round to telling you about the dessert.

I wanted to do something that I could make ahead and was seasonal too. This pear compote was the obvious choice. A nice clean tart fruit after all that cream and fried bread from the previous courses. I was concerned that I wasn’t going to find any Bonchrétien pears though – I’d never heard of them. I turns out the Bon Chrétien (which translate as ‘good Christian’) pears are a type of Williams pear, the most common of the pears.

This recipe is another from Hannah Glasse, a book called The Complete Confectioner, published in 1790 – there are no specific weights and cooking times really, which is a good thing as there is a huge variation in sweetness and folks’ tastes too. Do buy good pears for this though; don’t worry if they are under-ripe.

Peel, core and slice your pears. Plunge them into a pan half-full with boiling water that has been acidulated with lemon juice. Bring to the boil and simmer for two minutes before draining and returning to the pan. If your pears are particularly hard, they may need a little more time; if they are soft, I probably wouldn’t simmer them at all. Gently stew the fruit with some sugar to taste for a few minutes, either over the hob or in the oven. Make sure the pan is covered well. To add extra flavour and interest add some pared lemon peel or a split vanilla pod (I went with the latter). Once tender, remove from the heat, squeeze some orange juice over the pears and leave to cool, covered. Griggers or Glasse make no suggestions for accompaniments, so I went with vanilla ice cream.

#198 Compote of Bonchrétien Pears. I don’t cook with pears very often and this is first time I’ve made a compote from them. They were are very good end to a rich meal, and the vanilla made them extra-delicious. I think that we should all swap our apples for pears whenever we think about making a crumble or pie this autumn or winter. 8/10

Friday, October 16, 2009

#197 Sedgemoor Eel Stew

The first of four eel-based recipes from the book (five if you include the elvers recipe) and hopefully the star turn for my dinner party. I chose this one first because I knew them some people would be squeamish about them and this one seemed the least scary. It’s called a stew, but really it’s poached fish in a parsley sauce; a dish that everyone’s had in some way or form before. It’s a classic Somerset recipe this, where there are eels in abundance (according to Griggers); this is not the case so much these days, certainly for Manchester. However, I did get them. Try your fishmonger and you never know; I got mine from Out of the Blue in Chorlton. Be warned – you do get them live, so be prepared to kill them and prepare them yourself. Read how I went about it here.

This serves six easily.

You need three to four pounds of clean and skinned freshwater eel for this recipe. Begin by cutting the eel(s) into even-sized portions of around two inches in length. Season them lightly. Make a stock from the eel heads and skin as well as the flat part of the tails: Place the trimmings in a pan and cover them with half-water, half-cider (use good dry cider). Bring to a boil and then cover and summer for twenty minutes.

Arrange the eel pieces in a shallow pan and pour over enough hot stock to barely cover the eels. Poach the eels for around fifteen minutes, until the eel meat starts to come away from the bones. Don’t let the stock come to a proper boil though – steady poaching is the key, and it may take longer with thicker eels. When cooked, remove the eel pieces and arrange them on a serving dish, cover them with cling film and keep them warm.

Now make the sauce by boiling down the cooking liquor until it tastes strongly and then add ¼ pint (i.e. a 150 ml pot) of clotted, Jersey or double cream and four tablespoons of chopped parsley. Season again if required. Pour the sauce over the eel and serve. She suggests serving this stew with toast or fried bread. As fried bread had already featured in the last two courses, I went for toast. I also served some broccoli too.

#197 Sedgemoor Eel Stew. This was really good; the sauce was both sharp and creamy due to the cider and fresh with grassy parsley. The flavours were robust, but not too strong to mask the eel itself. It was very delicate in flavour; you could tell that they had come from a very good river as it tasted of fresh springwater. It stayed beautifully moist due to the gelatinous nature of it too. Much superior to salmon or trout, I think. Now that people don’t eat eel, I feel I have found a real hidden gem. I just have to go through the rigmarole of killing and cleaning them! At least I can say that this was the freshest fish I've ever had! 8.5/10

FYI: delicious as eel maybe, beware if someone offers you raw eel, say as sashimi. Eel blood is toxic before it is cooked, so if you get given a bloody bit, it could be a bad man trying to do away with you.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

#196 Mange Tout Salad with Chicken Liver and Bacon

The starter to the dinner party. The problem with dinner parties is that unless you’re careful, you end up stressed out in the kitchen cooking away and not seeing or speaking to anyone. This warm salad seemed just the job, as long as everything was prepped beforehand; it takes only minutes to make. This recipe looked simple and very tasty indeed – anything with chicken livers and fried bread always gets my vote. I also like that in this recipe appears in the Vegetables chapter of the book!

FYI: although liver is both delicious and cheap – be warned of potential poisoning through an overdose of vitamin A. However, this only really applies to polar bear, seal and husky liver. But you have been warned, so don’t come crying to me when you’ve got serious hypervitaminosis.


This recipe serves four to six people:

Briefly boil 12 ounces of mange tout in salted water; just two minutes will do it. Don’t put a lid on (the same goes for any green vegetable) as it keeps them crisp and gives them a vibrant green colour. Drain them and keep them warm in a bowl in a low oven. Now cut six rashers of streaky bacon into strips and fry them in a little sunflower oil until crisp, remove, drain, add more oil, then fry 24 (ish; let’s no get too pernickety) bread cubes in the oil. When golden brown, drain and keep them and the bacon warm. Make a simple vinaigrette from some sunflower or hazelnut oil and some white wine vinegar. Use a ratio you prefer, though Griggers suggests 3:2 oil to vinegar. Stir this into the mange tout. Now fry the chicken livers: you need six – cube them and remove any gristly bits and gall bladders should there be any. Fry them quickly and briefly – they should be a little bit pink inside. Remove them from the heat. Carefully stir in the bacon and liver and serve straight away.

#196 Mange Tout Salad with Chicken Liver and Bacon. This was delicious. The salty and fatty bacon and rich metallic liver were perfectly balanced with the bland and sweet mange tout. The crispy croutons add extra textures too. I really love these simple recipes in the book (you’re not always sure which ones they are going to be). Minimum effort, maximum reward. Brilliant stuff 8.5/10

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

#195 Canapes a la Creme

The entrée for the dinner party. It’s one of those recipes that I’ve never got round to because – frankly – it’s never really seemed that interesting and a bit of a rigmarole to produce (there quite a few of these!). Grigson says that they are “[a] fine mixture of hot, rich, piquant and cold.” I don’t really know why this recipe is in English Food, I’m sure that there are other canapés in book Savouries à la Mode by Mrs de Salis she could’ve nabbed. Perhaps she chose this one because the ingredients are quite English. Anyways, here is the method, if you want to try and make some for yourself:

Cut some white bread in centimetre thick slices. Cut out circles and fry them in butter. Grigson doesn’t say how large they should be – I used a highball glass. Next put anchovy fillets on each slice – she says three, but that seemed excessive to me for the size of fried bread I'd cut out, so just added one. Finally add a spoonful of cold clotted cream to each canapé and serve straight away.

The canapes in production


#195 Canapés à la Crème. 3/10. They weren’t vile – all of the ingredients that go to produce this are among my favourite foods – they were just odd and uninspiring. There was not too much fattiness from the fried bread and cream, and the anchovies were too much (it’s a good job I didn’t add three!). I think they could’ve been improved if a cream cheese or crème fraiche mixed with chives as suggested on the night had been used rather than clotted cream. Still, they were easier to make than I thought – particularly when I had my army of sous chefs with me! Cheers guys.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

...Next, Simply Prepare Your Eels

So how do you kill and prepare an eel? Well, if you look in English Food, Griggers just says to ask your fishmonger to do the dirty work. The was not to be the case for me, for two main reasons: my fishmonger (and pretty much any fishmonger in the country, I hasten to add) had never dealt with them at all. Remember: fishmongers do not receive live fish, apart from the odd lobster or crab perhaps, so this was just as out of his comfort zone as mine. The second reason was that I felt it part of my duty as a meat-eater to do this. Every animal we have eaten has had to be killed. These days, however, the consumer hardly ever does this themselves. We are too far removed from our food these days and therefore disrespectful of it so some degree. This is a way of addressing this issue for me. I did not expect to find it easy. In fact I was very nervous; I had never killed anything in my life and I was not looking forward to it. I didn’t want it to be easy; I wanted it to be distressing (for me, not the eels). We take all this animal killing in our stride.


The eels await their fate in their little polystyrene prison



I have gone off on a tangent. Larousse Gastronomique gives you these instructions on how to prepare an eel. It sounded all so easy:

To kill an eel, simply seize it with a cloth and simply bang its head violently against a hard surface. To skin it, simply put a noose around the base and hang it up. Simply slit the skin in a circle just beneath the noose. Simply pull away a small portion of the skin, turn it back, take hold of it with a cloth and simply pull it down hard.

I added the “simply”s. Well it didn’t quite go like the description in Larousse. So here’s what we ended up doing:

First up, you need to have a couple of rums to help prepare you. That’s what Paul and I did and I think it helped. We fannied around a bit before Charlotte walked in from work, grabbed one in a cloth and gave it several massive thwacks again the wall. Job a good one? No. It was still alive! She gave it another couple and it went limp. This was not like killing a trout with a short, sharp crack on a stone. We felt quite distressed about the several hits that we had to give it to kill it – we didn’t want to cause any unnecessary suffering. So the new plan was to hit it once to knock the others out or slow them down, and then chop the heads off with a meat-cleaver. I know this might sound extreme but, it seemed like the best thing – plus I remember it being the method I remember seeing some chef doing on telly once. We did it, and guess what? They were still moving about! I took the two now headless eels to the, plus Charlotte’s to the skin to rinse, and revived Charlotte’s. Off with its head.

Before you get angry about any mistreatment here – it turns out that they were all dead quite early on. We worked this out because all three eel bodies were still seemingly happily snaking around in the sink a good 45 minutes post-beheading. It seems that much of their behaviour is down to instinct and their autonomic nervous system. Though I've no idea how this happens and why it's so different to other fishes. Below is the rather gruesome video of the headless eels I took when they were in the sink. I mentioned the whole episode to Matthew Cobb (who I work with at Manchester University) who said he'll put a link to this post on his z-letter. (FYI: The z-letter is weekly newsletter about all things zoological.) Hopefully I shall find out why they just don't conk out. Be warned before clicking on the video if you are squeamish, remember too though that they are dead. Also, I apologise for my rather camp commentary. Let me know if you can tell me anything about eels and their habit of moving and swimming long after death.

video

The next stage of preparation is to skin them. In our panic, thinking we hadn’t killed eels when we had, we cut off the heads so couldn’t do the noose trick outlined in Larousse. Instead, we tried to make slit down the base and peel the skin away some other way. Anthea had arrived by this point, to find us sweating, giggling and holding bloody carving knives, and she suggested using some salt as it would give grip against their very slimy skins. At first all this seemed to do was kick-start the wriggle reflex again, but eventually – with Anthea restraining the wriggling eel with yet more cloths – I managed to get a purchase on the eel and pull the skin off in one piece. Just two more to go.

The hard work was done, just the gutting to do. At last I was on familiar territory. I’ve gutted fish several times before. To do this, make a cut from its anus – you’ll see it, about halfway down – to the neck end and pull away any innards away from the rib cage. Give it a rinse and you are done.

Well I have to say it was a pretty distressing episode, it wasn’t as bad as we thought at the time. I now know that eels carry on a-moving quite a while after death. So, to sum up:

1. Holding a cloth, hit your eel several times very hard against a wall.
2. Whilst the eel is limp, quickly cut off its head with a cleaver or very sharp knife.
3. Using salt as an abrasive, pull the skin back – persevere here – until you have a good inch of skin eked away, then pull off like a big macabre witch stocking.
4. Gut and wash the eel.

It sounds so easy put into four sentences.

Monday, October 12, 2009

First, Catch Your Eels...

There are four eel recipes in English Food: fried eel, jellied eel, eel stew and eel pie. If I’ve any chance of cooking all the recipes in English Food, I realised that I really need to start sourcing the more unusual ingredients. I also needed to source people prepared to eat them. Eels were once very popular, particularly in South-Western England and London. They aren’t so much these days for two reasons – people are scared of eels, and the baby eel (elver) population has crashed, causing some concerns of the future of the European eel. I‘ve discussed the elver issue in an earlier post. The adult population has gone down as a knock-on effect, but not to dangerous levels. It is a shame that people don't want to eat them as they are tasty, but it is probably a good thing for their population. There's is nothing wrong with fishing for then in small numbers however.

Before preparing and cooking your eel, you have to get hold of some from somewhere, no mean feat, not for you, but for the poor fishmonger you talk into getting them for you.


The European Eel

Whilst shopping in Manchester, I popped into the Arndale Market to see if there was anything interesting on the off chance. There wasn’t, but I thought I’d enquire about eels. He said there’d be no problems, he just needed a bit of notice, so off I went and organised a dinner party and invited people round. When I rang up, the guy who answered said “sorry mate, but I’ve not seen eels for years, there’s no chance”. Oh dear. It seems that eel would be off the menu completely.

I didn’t give in, and as soon as I got to work, I rang the one place that I knew would find out for sure if eels are still available: Out of the Blue in Chorlton. Out of the Blue is a great fishmonger, and has won many an award. I used to use them all the time when I lived there. After a bit of detective work from their end, I got a phone call back a few days later and as if by magic, Dave Yarwood, the owner said he’s managed to get hold of some for me and they’d be ready by the Friday. Also – something I didn’t realise, you get them live. I knew the fishmonger would probably get them live, but I didn't know I'd have to do away with them myself.

Feeling rather nervous throughout the week, it was finally Friday and off I went to Chorlton full of trepidation. In the shop, Dave asked me to come behind the counter where there they were – three freshwater eels swimming around in a big water-filled box. I remained as calm outside; inside, I was bricking it. What the hell!? I’m going to have to do away with three eels. I’ve never killed anything in my life, houseflies aside. I’d like to point out that Dave Yarwood is a total star for this – the amount of effort he put into getting hold of these eels for outweighed the effort I put in prepping or cooking them. He had to drive all the way to Sandbach at some god-awful time in the morning only to get there to find no one around. He did find a note on the door saying the eels were in a bag in the stream round the back!




Out of the Blue, Chorlton

I got a taxi back home and put the box of eels in the backyard. I started to prep all the other food for the dinner party, looking outside every two minutes at the box. Time was getting on and I knew I had to do the deed soon. Luckily for me Paul was coming round to give me a hand… Though what was about to happen next was pretty distressing for me and the eels both! See here

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Dinner Party

I had a dinner party at the weekend and invited some folks from work. It’s good to cook for people, though for this one, the guests really went above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to helping me out in the kitchen, as people often do. The reason for this is that the main course was freshwater eel, though why this meant that folks went above and beyond the call of duty is a story for a separate posting. I’ll just say for now that you get them live. People are very squeamish about eel, in fact the English are pretty squeamish about fish in general these days, but Alex, Paul, Anthea and Simone all said they were up for it. Here’s them menu I came up with:

Entrée: #195 Canapés à la Crème
Starter: #196 Mange Tout Salad with Chicken Liver and Bacon
Main: #197 Sedgemoor Eel Stew
Dessert: #198 Compote of Bonchrétien Pears

Everything on the menu is either quick to make, or could have been made ahead, so that I wasn’t stood in the kitchen throughout. The really difficult thing was finding four courses that didn’t all contain cream and bread. As always with this project, I’m always a little worried about the recipe just being plain shite. I didn’t have to worry. There’s nothing else to say here really, I just wanted to add this entry with all the courses so that the next few postings make some sense…

Thursday, October 8, 2009

#194 Almond Soup (White Soup)

Yes, another soup...

This recipe is the very first one that appears in English Food. Although it may seem rather odd nowadays, it is one of the most historical recipes there is. Almond soup, or almond milk as it was originally called goes right back to the Middle Ages. It was made with almonds, onions, wine and spices. More recently, it diverged into two completely separate dishes: almond soup and blancmange.

Griggers reckons that one of the reasons (apart from it tasting good) that it’s remained popular is because the ingredients are easy to come by; most being found about the house. Well, it is popular no longer – I’d heard of it, but only vaguely. Not all the ingredients are easy to come by these days either – the main reason I’ve only got round to making this now is that I managed to finally get hold of the veal knuckle required for the stock.

I always really enjoy making these sorts of recipes in the book – I don’t even mind if they’re not that nice – it’s just interesting cooking and tasting these old, old recipes. I’ve said it before, but it is great that such books like English Food exist, it’s also great to see that many of these unfashionably historical recipes are tasty and interesting. Does this one fit into that category though..?

To make the soup, you need to start the day before and get on with the task of stock-making. Start off by placing a small gammon hock (I made one myself in the brine tub!) and a good meaty veal knuckle that has been cut into three pieces in a large pan or stockpot. Add four pints of cold water and slowly bring to the boil; the slower you do this, the clearer the stock will be. When it does come to the boil, skim away any scum and add a quartered onion, a quartered carrot, four chopped celery sticks, a teaspoon of lightly-crushed peppercorns, two blades of mace, a bay leaf and a tablespoon – no, I didn’t misread the book, tablespoon – of salt. Bring back to the boil and then turn the heat right down so that the stock simmers gently away for four hours. Strain and chill overnight and skim the fat off the top. Bring back to the boil and reduce the stock until there is around 2 ½ pints remaining. Alternatively, if you simply cannot be arsed with all of that, use a light beef stock!

For the soup, place 2 ounces of blanched almonds and an ounce of white bread (crusts removed) into a blender along with a couple of ladlefuls of stock and liquidise the lot. Push the gloop through a sieve into the reduced stock. Turn the heat off under the pan. Next, beat an egg yolk into ¼ each of double cream and soured cream and whisk it into the soup, reheat, making sure the stock is not boiling, to prevent the egg from cooking and curdling. Now season with white pepper, salt (!), Cayenne pepper and lemon juice. Serve with fried croutons or fried almonds.

#194 Almond Soup (White Soup). Certainly not one for those on a low salt or low fat diet. It was very salty and rich. I assume that the tablespoon of salt listed in the ingredients is a typo since a ham hock is also used for the stock. I’m not convinced that I actually liked this soup, it was certainly nicer the next day when the flavours had time to develop. It’s certainly a posh soup, but I think it could’ve been improved by using a less salty stock. Perhaps after all this time-biding, it would have been better if I’d simply used a light beef stock as suggested in the recipe. 4.5/10.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

#193 Kidney Soup

Kidney Soup was apparently a kitchen standby in households of times past – particularly in Scotland. Indeed, this recipe is taken from Florence B. Jack’s book Cookery for Every Household. Ms Jack was the principal of the Edinburgh School of Domestic Arts, and very austere she was too.

Now I know it sounds weird, but this is a classic recipe that is also cheap – cheap because it’s main ingredient is kidney, of course. We are being told that offal and the cheaper cuts of meats are suddenly becoming popular due to the recession, but I have not seen any evidence of really from the people that I speak to (though I have in butcher's shop windows). When saying I’ve been doing this recipe, there has been nothing but pulled faces and dry retching (the only exception being Anthea – frequent blog commenter – she ate it often as a child). I must admit, however, that as much as I love kidneys, I wasn’t quite sure about eating them in soup. However, this book is full of surprises.

To start with you need a whole ox kidney; cut away any fat and gristly bits and cut up the kidney into small pieces. Brown it in an ounce and a half of butter or dripping in a large saucepan along with a sliced onion. Pour over four pints of beef stock and stir, adding some salt. Bring the stock to a boil and skim any scum that rises to the top. Add a bouquet garni and some spices: 20 peppercorns, a blade of mace and a quarter teaspoon of celery seeds. Tie the bouquet and spices in a piece of muslin first. Simmer for 3 to 4 hours, covered on the hob or in the oven.

When ready, skim any fat from the surface and strain the soup. As with most soups and stews its best let it cool down completely – overnight is best – so that you be sure of getting rid of all the fat. Pick out the bits of kidney and give them a rinse. Heat up the soup again and add an ounce of flour that has first been slaked in a tablespoon of mushroom ketchup. (The recipe doesn’t actually say what kind of ketchup, but with this being beef, mushroom or tomato are the best to use.) let the soup thicken slightly and add the kidney pieces. Finally season with more salt and pepper if required, plus some lemon or orange juice and a dash of sherry to add complexity of the flavour.

FYI: the kidneys were thought to be the part of the body concerned with conscience and reflection. Apparently, God would inspect the kidneys to see how good someone had been. In fact, one kidney was responsible for good thoughts, the other evil. The Latin word renes, is used to describe anything of the kidney (e.g. renal), but also is the root word for reins too. So there you go; a choice nugget of factoid for you there.


#193 Kidney Soup. This was a really delicious soup! I loved it the slightly spiced beef consommé was light and tasty and complimented the strong metallic gamey taste of the kidneys. It requires a bit for forethought to make it, but it is worth it I reckon. Cheap, tasty and good for you. 6.5/10.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

#192 Elizabeth David's Prawn Paste

In days of yore, we English loved potted meats and fish. You don’t seem to see many potted foodstuffs around these days: though potted beef is still popular in Yorkshire. Pate does not count. This one at first sight seems a bit weird, and perhaps foul, but there are some interesting ingredients in there. One of the great things that Elizabeth David did in the sixties and seventies was introducing us to Mediterranean flavours, and she managed to sneak a few in here: olive oil instead of butter, basil instead of parsley, lime rather than lemon. She transformed our eating habits; along with Grigson, Floyd, et al. of course. It may seem odd these days – all those continental ingredients mashed up in a now-defunct method of preparing meat and fish – but there you go.

Place eight ounces of cooked, peeled prawns in a blender along with the juice of a lime and around six tablespoons of olive oil – use extra virgin if you have it since as it’s not going to be cooked. Blend until smooth and add half a teaspoon of dried basil and a heaped saltspoon (!) of crushed coriander seeds. Season with a little salt and some Cayenne pepper. Divide between some small ramekins, cover and refrigerate. Serve with hot, thin toast.

By the way, I don’t know the capacity of a saltspoon as I don’t own one, so don’t ask me. Actually, I’d not even heard of one. I guessed and added a quarter of a teaspoon. Also, don’t buy dried basil, as it has no flavour; dry your own in a cool oven for about 20 minutes until crumbly: much better.


#192 Elizabeth David’s Prawn Paste. It may have sounded like horrible soggy fish pap, but this was delicious. The prawns were sweet, the olive oil was fruity and the basil and coriander seeds combined with the lime juice provided a morish tang. Really good – go and make some. 7.5/10.

October Food

Here we are in Autumn proper, and although there’s still a decent ‘in season’ list, many of the really summery fruit and veg have started to dwindle. However, there is a plus – the fish and game is on the increase, and I really intend to get through a fair few recipes that involve them. I really wanted to cook eel last month and didn’t get a chance, so that is top of the list. I’m off to a farmers Market in a week or two as well – hopefully I’ll bag me a grouse!

Vegetables: beetroot, borlotti beans, broccoli, cabbages, cardoons, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chard, courgettes, cucumber, fennel, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, onions, peppers and chillies, potatoes, pumpkins and squashes, rocket, salsify, spinach, tomatoes, turnips.

Fruit: apples, grapes, greengages, medlars, pears, quince, raspberries.

Wild greens and herbs: nettles, watercress.

Wild flowers and fruits: bullace, crab apples, damsons, juniper berries, rosehips, rowan berries, sloes

Fungi and nuts: chanterelles, chestnuts, hedgehog fungus, horse mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, parasol mushrooms, puffballs, shaggy inkcap, summer truffles, walnuts, blewits.

Fish and shellfish: cod, crab, eels, lobster, mussels, oyster, mackerel, mussels, oysters, prawns, salmon, scallops, sea bass, sprats, squid, trout.

Game: goose, grey squirrel, grouse, hare, mallard, partridge, rabbit, woodpigeon.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

#191 Lamb with Plums

It was Butters’ birthday the other week, so naturally I did a bit cooking. He requested lamb as that is his favourite meat. This one is an interesting one – a leg of lamb pot roasted with wine and plums. Butters was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t a roast, you just can’t please some people, can you? I wanted to do this one because it used plums and they are in season and are nice and cheap to boot. I’m quite a fan of the English habit of eating rich meat with fruit; we have gotten out of this habit recently though. Another important thing: it’s also nice and easy.

Start off by browning a leg of lamb all over in butter. If it is very fatty, it would be a good idea to trim any excess off – it’ll prevent the dish becoming too greasy. Place the joint in a large ovenproof casserole and add two glasses of red wine, ten plums (leave them whole), a medium chopped onion, a chopped clove of garlic and a quarter teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and allspice (or nutmeg). Cover with the lid and place in an oven preheat to 200⁰C for around two hours. Remove the lamb, and keep it warm. Skim any fat from the juices in the casserole and pass it through a sieve to make a smooth sauce. Reheat it and add sugar – one or two teaspoons should do, you don’t want it too sweet, plus some extra spices if you like. Pour some sauce over the lamb, and serve the remainder in a jug or gravy boat. Griggers is strict with the accompaniments: “Potatoes are the only vegetable to serve with lamb cooked in this way.” That’s us told.


#191 Lamb with Plums. This was a really delicious, simple recipe. The lamb turned out to be very succulent and the tart, spicy plum sauce was really delicious. I’m not about just having spuds with it though, I like a bit of green with my tea. 8/10.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

#190 Finnan Haddock

A bit of a cop out this one as it it’s not really a recipe, though it is listed as one in the book. It’s actually more a bit of advice on good eating. There’s many like this in the book. Here, Griggers discusses the dos and don’ts of buying Finnan haddock, which is smoked haddock. We call it Finny haddock in Yorkshire. Findon, or Finnan is a small coastal village near Aberdeen in Scotland. It is there where the proper stuff is made. Griggers warns us of buying those ‘golden fillets’ that are that weird shiny orange colour like cheap sweaty spray-on tan, which I suppose it is but with added smoke flavour. Splarf. My mum used to buy them and they are vastly inferior to the proper stuff. There have been a few recipes so far in the book that has used Finnan haddock, and I think that I have mentioned all this before. However, if you want the really good shit, it is Arbroath that you need to travel to. There, Arbroath smokies are made. As I was in the fishmongers buying some prawns (see a later entry for what I wanted those for) there some were, just lying there. So I bought one, as you have to be opportunistic in this game.

So the recipe? “Heat briefly under the grill or in the oven, and eaten with plenty of butter and bread, or used for kedgeree.” So a brief grilling it was for my little smokie.


#190 Finnan Haddock. If you ever see those little Arbroath smokies in the fishmongers you have to buy some. The flesh was so succulent and sweet due to its protection by the now leathery skin, and the smoke flavour was nothing like anything I’ve tasted before: it was as though it had only just been taken out of the smokehouse and slipped onto my plate. The smoke flavour was sweet and acrid, not unlike a good cigar. Excellent. 8/10. If I catch any of you buying a golden fillet, I will come over personally and poke you in the eye with it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

#189 Mussel and Leek Rolypoly

“People sometimes shudder at the mention of roly-poly puddings” says the Grigson; er, no dear, just the idea of THIS one! Why on Earth is there no jam roly-poly pudding, please!? I’ve been putting off the more weird ones – like this – but they are building up now. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but Griggers really does big this one up. It is cheap though, at least when mussels are in season.

I have only recently been able to pluck up the courage to eat mussels; I’ve always been a bit squeamish with bivalves for some reason. However, I do love mussels now. The Romans loved them too, and they’ve been cultured in France since the late thirteenth century, ever since a shipwrecked Irishman called Patrick Walton was washed up on a French beach and noticed some mussels growing on the fishermen’s nets. I doubt he wrapped them in suet pasty though.

To begin you need to cook your mussels – 48 in all, says Grigson. Scrub them and remove their beards and any parasites. Place them in a hot, wide shallow pan and cover. As soon as the mussels open, take them off the heat. Don’t use any mussels that have not opened. Shell them, reserving any juices, and let them cool. Pass the juices through some muslin into a small pan.

Now make the rest of the stuffing: In a bowl, mix together 3 ounces of finely chopped onion, 2 trimmed and finely chopped leeks, 2 chopped rashers of streaky bacon, 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley and a little salt plus plenty of ground black pepper.

Suet pastry is the easiest pastry to make. Sieve 10 ounces of self-raising flour in a large bowl and mix in a pinch of salt and 5 ounces of shredded suet. Using a knife or your hands, mix in some cold water until a firm and light dough is formed.

You are now ready to construct the rolypoly pudding. Roll the dough into a rectangle and sprinkle over the leek mixture leaving a centimetre border around three sides, and then evenly sprinkle over the mussels. Brush the edges with water and roll up the pastry starting at the borderless end, lastly press down the sides to prevent any leakage from the sides. Wrap it in a tightly-sealed but baggy foil parcel and steam for two hours on a rack in a self-basting roaster. If you don’t have one – use a normal roaster and make a foil lid as I did. When ready, place in an ovenproof serving dish and crisp it up in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes - careful now, it might collapse (see pic!). Whilst that is happening, make the butter sauce. Boil down the reserved mussel liquor, take it off the heat, and whisk in 4 ounces of chilled, cubed butter, bit by bit. Season well, add some chopped parsley, and it is ready.


#189 Mussel and Leek Rolypoly 4.5/10. I though I liked this in the end, but then I wasn’t sure; it certainly wasn’t awful. I even had seconds. The mussels were soft and sweet, the leeks were cooked nicely and the pastry was crisp. The sauce was good too. I think it was too rich, and I ate too much. An unusual one, but I’m not sure I would recommend it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

#188 Ragout of Lamb

Another bargain from Orton Farmers’ market – a nice leg of lamb for a tenner. I love lamb, I do. Griggers actually half-inched this one from a chap called Michael Smith. I don’t know who he is. Anyway, I wanted to do this one because I got to use to use up a massive punnet of tomatoes that I also got from the market. This recipe is not worth making with those crappy old chlorosed supermarket thingies. Get some proper ones; if you grow them yourself, alls the better. It’s a nice recipe this one, a nice summery stew.

You need 2 pounds of leg of lamb that has been cubed for this recipe. If you get the butcher to bone it, don’t forget to ask for the bone – you’ve paid for it, make some stock out of it! Shake the cubed meat in a bag along with two tablespoons of well-seasoned flour. Brown them in a pan with a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil. Place the browned lamb in a casserole and then brown 2 diced carrots and half a head of celery that has also been diced in the pan. When done add those to the casserole. If you have a casserole that can go straight onto the hob, then you can do it all in one. Now add ½ teaspoon of Cayenne pepper, 2 crushed garlic cloves, a sprig of rosemary and the grated rind of a lemon to the meat and vegetables and pour over 1 ¼ pints of chicken stock. Bake in the oven for 1 ½ hours at 190⁰C.

At the mid-way point, you need to add around 18 caramelised spring or pickling onions. To make them prepare the onions: leave about 2 or 3 inches of green stalk on the spring onions. If it’s pickling onions, you are using, just peel them. Melt ½ an ounce of butter in a pan and add the onions, plus 1 ½ teaspoons of sugar. Cook until caramelised, making sure they all get coated and browned evenly.


The final stage of this recipe is to cook the tomatoes lightly – they are used as a topping: peel the tomatoes, halve them, scoop out the seeds and dice them up. Melt ½ an ounce of butter in a saucepan and cook the tomatoes lightly. Take the ragout out of the oven, skim it of fat, check for seasoning, place it in a bowl and place the tomatoes on top. Scatter with chopped basil. Serve with a baked potato.

#188 Ragout of Lamb. A really nice stew this one; the meat was beautifully tender and the chicken stock, tomatoes and basil really lifted and made it light and summery – it’s a shame we have no actual summer to speak of. The onions collapse into sweet, sweet mush too. Great stuff - 7.5/10.