Tuesday, October 27, 2009
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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!
Sunday, October 11, 2009
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
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
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
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.
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.