Thursday, February 16, 2012

#333 Lamb's Head and Barley, with Brain Sauce

My-oh-my! Where do I start with this one!? It is quite possible the most infamous recipe in the whole book. I must say it didn’t seem as daunting as it did when I first spotted it after I had decided to cook the whole book.
Lamb’s head was once rather popular – in particular during the nineteenth century. According to Grigson, Queen Victoria’s chef was a fan. Why has it that in the last few decades it has just simply disappeared from our food culture? It did hang on in Northern England and Scotland and it was one of Jane Grigson’s favourite meals and she emphasises that it is not “ungenteel…or even savage food”.
Still Life with Sheep's Head
by Francisco de Goya (c.1808-12)

Mrs Beeton gives a recipe for leek soup that requires a sheep’s head and also describes how to “dress a sheep’s head” with a very similar recipe to Jane’s, though the barley is replaced with oats (as it is in the Scottish fashion). And if lamb’s head with brain sauce makes your stomach turn, I found a recipe in Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book The Experienced English Housekeeper for lamb’s head and purtenances, which, to you and I, are the innards. Calf’s head was also very popular; it was the main ingredient in mock turtle soup, for example. So the heads of sheep, calf and, of course, wild boar have been enjoyed for centuries in pretty well-to-do houses, so they can’t be that bad, can they..?

If you are thinking of cooking this receipt, first of all you need to find somewhere that’ll sell you a lamb’s head. I managed to get hold of one opportunistically at Global Foods in St Louis. There they were, just piled up in the freezer aisle. It is very important that you find an organic or halal butcher, then you can be sure that the animal was fed only what lambs should. The prion that causes scrapie is a concern with lamb that comes from the high-intensive farms, or at least it was. You also need to find some guests willing to eat it. Three brave souls - Anna, Vincent and Michelle - came to certainly the most unusual Sunday dinner I've ever had...

“Ask the butcher to clean and split the head…” starts Jane with this one. I wasn’t lucky enough to have a butcher on hand so I had to do this myself with a meat cleaver and a hammer. It took a fair few whacks and cracks before it split, but I got there in the end. I felt a little like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Carefully remove the brain and keep it one side, whilst you soak the head in salted water for an hour before rinsing it and placing it in a pot.

Pour enough water to cover and bring to the boil slowly, skimming any grey scum that rises as you go. Now add the following: a bouquet garni that includes a good sprig of winter savory (which was the most difficult ingredient to find!); an onion studded with 3 cloves; 2 carrots and a parsnip, both peeled and halved, a small peeled turnip, a trimmed and cleaned leek, 8 ounces of pearl barley and a good seasoning of salt and pepper – at least a tablespoon of salt is required I would say. Let the broth tick away slowly on a bare simmer for 1 ½ hours.

Whilst the broth bubbles, prepare the brain ready for the sauce. Begin by carefully removing the loose membranous net of blood vessels and placing the brain in salted water for 30 minutes. Remove it from its brine onto a square of muslin and tie it up. Place the brain in with the head and let it poach for 10 minutes. The brain will now be cooked and become firm, unwrap it and chop the brain.

It is quite homogenous with no gristly bits, so don’t worry. Now make a simple béchamel sauce by melting an ounce of butter in a saucepan. When it bubbles, stir in an ounce of flour and cook for two minutes before gradually whisking in ¼ pint of milk. Thin the sauce to an appropriate consistency with some lamb stock from the pot and let it simmer for at least 10 minutes, adding more stock if it gets too thick. Stir in the chopped brain and some parsley if you wish. Season and add a squeeze of lemon juice.

When the head is cooked, remove it from the pot and start having a good rummage around to find the meaty bits. I couldn’t find very much to be honest. There were two cheeks containing some good moist meat and the tongue of course. Apart from that, it was slim pickings. I thought perhaps there might be some edible palate as I knew ox palate was popular in the eighteenth century. The only other place I found some was at the base where head meets neck. Anyway, serve up what meat you can extract on a plate or bowl and surround with some of the barley along with some rolled grilled rashers of bacon and some lemon quarters and pour the sauce into a sauceboat.

The stock makes “a marvellous soup”. If you want to be in the true peasant style, serve it as the starter. Jane recommends saving it for another meal; “[l]amb soup, then lamb’s head, is too much of a good thing.” I have five tubs of it in my freezer…

#333 Lamb’s Head and Barley, with Brain Sauce. Making this is in no way as macabre as you might expect, except for the part with the cleaver and hammer that is. There was very little meat, but what there was tasted delicious and was very tender and the barley broth was hearty. The brain sauce was also good – the brain itself was tender with a certain firmness that was quite appealing and had a very mild kidney or liver flavour. I think it could have done with a touch of Cayenne pepper. So overall, not bad at all, though the amount of meat was disappointing. The soup left over is delicious but needs a touch of sugar, as lamb and mutton broths often do… 6.5/10.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

#332 Cherry, Plum or Damson Sauce

This is a piquant and rich sauce that is traditionally served with game, venison and tongue that seems very Victorian and English to me – there are many others like it such as Cumberland and venison sauce that came most likely from Germany via the kings (and a queen) of the House of Hanover (Georges I to IV, William IV and Victoria). We don’t really eat much of these sorts of sauces anymore, and we shall see if we should bring them back.
This recipe makes good use of seasonal European fruits: the morello or amarelle cherry (or sour cherry), plums and damsons.
Morello and amarelle cherry trees (Prunus cerasus)are easy to cultivate, and yet it is getting increasingly difficult to find fresh British ones sold at markets, though you can find them frozen or canned pretty easily. The English cherry orchard is a feature of the country declining greatly, mainly because of the competition from cheap imported ones from the Middle East and places like that. The morello cherry was introduced in Britain by the Romans around 50AD and were very popular in Tudor times. Will the English cherry ever return? Because they are so easy to grow and take up little space I shall grow some upon my return to Britain (once I have a garden of course!).

Plums, like the cherry, are of Genus Prunus and there are around 20 species used in several different ways, the species used in Britain is P domestica which is actually a hybrid of two other species. P domestica has been bred into several varieties including my favourite, the greengage.

P domesticus also produced the damson, our third fruit for this recipe. Damsons to me are the most English of all three, though I have never tried them before. I shall have to rectify that.

Here is how to make the sauce, whichever Prunus you lay your hands on.

Stone 8 ounces of morello or amarelle cherries, plums or damsons. You can use canned cherries if you want, just make sure they are in water, not syrup. This is what I used. Put the fruit in a saucepan along with ¼ pint each of red wine and port, a tablespoon of sugar, 2 cloves and an inch-long piece of cinnamon. Bring to a boil and simmer for around 10 minutes until the fruit is nice and tender. If you want, you can sieve the damsons or plums if using, but I think it’s better to leave whole. Now add 2 good tablespoons of redcurrant jelly and the juice of 3 oranges and a lemon. Season with black pepper and, off the heat, stir in an ounce of butter. Taste and add more sugar if needed.

I made cherry sauce and served it with hot tongue.
#332 Cherry, Plum or Damson Sauce. I loved this sauce much more than Cumberland sauce. The rich wines and fruit were only just off-set with the sugar, fruit and spice. Very delicious, you could almost eat it on its own. We should certainly bring it back! 8.5/10.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

#331 Boiled Ox Tongue: to Serve Hot

I know what Othello needs; more tongue...

There was a time when I would shudder at the thought of eating some tongue, but now because of this blog, I look forward to it. After all it’s just a muscle like any other in the body, and no meat-eater turns their nose up at the muscle bits (although, as an aside, the tongue isn’t like any other muscle in body because it is the only one that isn’t attached at both ends).

In the earlier recipes, I wasn’t so good at boiling meat – I always had too high a flame burning beneath the stockpot. What any meat needs is a nice slow simmer – as slow as possible, the water should be scalding and letting up the tiniest gulping bubbles.

You can buy pre-pickled tongues from any good butcher quite cheaply; when I paid a visit to the butcher back in Manchester, I noticed they were selling them for just £2.50 each! If you want to do it from scratch, I have already written how to pickle an ox tongue (recipe #150) and how to boil and prepare one for Boiled Ox Tongue: to Serve Cold (recipe #258). So all I need to do for this post is tell you what you need to do to eat it hot…

Once it has been skinned and trimmed, Grigson gives her orders: ‘[s]lice the tongue whilst still hot and arrange it decoratively on a large shallow serving dish. Cover with a suitable sauce, boiling hot, place in the oven to heat through for about 10 minutes.

But what sauce? Jane says that the typical English way is to serve Madeira sauce, though strangely she does not give a recipe for it (I shall hunt one down and add it to the other blog in due course…). She does, however, give us an alternative and that is an “unusual” black cherry sauce, but you’ll have to see the next post for that recipe…

#331 Boiled Ox Tongue: to Serve Hot. This has got to be the best tongue recipe so far (there is only one more left) – it was so tender, hardly any chewing was required and the brine give a good, subtle curing. It reminds me of extra-succulent corned beef in fact. I know many turn their noses up at offal, but have a go, it is really good food and I have yet to eat a bit of animals I haven’t liked. 8.5/10.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

#330 Leek, Pea or Asparagus Sauce

“We’re well used to tomato sauces”, says Grigson, “I don’t know why we haven’t gone further along the road, using other vegetables in the same kind of way”. This has always confused me; the only tomato sauce I know is either the tomato sauce for pasta or the tomato sauce that comes in bottles as ketchup. The recipe is obviously for neither. I can’t find a tomato sauce recipe that seems even remotely similar – even during the nineteenth century, tomato sauces were made for macaroni, simply stewed with olive oil and garlic and some herbs as we do nowadays.

The recipe below is for a thick creamy sauce made from leeks, peas or asparagus – a green vegetable to cover all seasons: leeks for autumn and winter, asparagus for spring and peas for summertime. As it is winter at the moment, I plumped for leeks. But what to serve it with? I eventually came up with the idea of serving the sauce with some seared scallops and some bacon – something which would also work with the peas and asparagus too, I reckon. The sauce is easy to make and can be made in advance and reheated when needed.
First of all prepare your vegetables: wash, trim and chop your leeks or asparagus, or shell your peas. You need 12 ounces prepared weight. Plunge them in ¼ pint of light stock or water. It is important to add salt to the water or stock as it makes the green colour much vivid. Cover and simmer until just tender. Liquidise the vegetables in a blender, or if you are old school a mouli-legumes. Push through a sieve to exclude any woody or fibrous bits (this is especially important with larger asparagus spears). Add around 3 ½ fluid ounces of soured cream, reheat and stir.

Then stir through either 3 tablespoons of clotted cream or unsalted butter. If using butter don’t add it until the last minute. The resulting sauce should be quite thick. Don’t forget to season with salt and pepper.
My attempt at being all cheffy!

#330 Leek, Pea or Asparagus Sauce. Although I wasn’t sure what to do with this sauce, it turned out very well; the leeks were good and sweet, but made piquant by the sour cream. It went very well with the scallops and bacon, so I certainly recommend it for that. Strangely, I reckon it might be good stirred through some pasta with a some Parmesan cheese stirred through it…  7/10