Sunday, January 28, 2018

#426 Mushrooms in Snuffboxes

Life is too short to stuff a mushroom
Shirley Conran

Goodness knows what Shirley Conran would have thought of this recipe then! It’s the last one in the Vegetables chapter of the book and I have put it off since the beginning, because life’s definitely too short to build a bread snuffbox and stuff it with mushrooms.
A French gold snuffbox (Christie's)

Another reason I’ve put this one off is that Jane says it’s a ‘good recipe for stretching a few field mushrooms’, and I have been unlucky when it comes to foraging for this type of fungus. I either find just one or two miniscule specimens, or loads of shaggy inkcaps, which aren’t great and prone to decaying very quickly. Well I ran out of patience and bought some nice organic Portobello mushrooms from the excellent grocery store, Unicorn in Chorlton, Manchester.
This is a very calorific recipe: lots of butter, fried bread, cream and sherry. If you make it and next day wake up with gout, don’t run crying to me: you were warned.

Jane doesn’t say whether this a single course or an accompaniment to something else. I had mine with some bitter, dark kale to offset the richness.

She also doesn’t give us any amounts – ‘a system rather than a proper recipe’, she says. Here’s what I did:

I cut slices of bread from a tin loaf two inches thick and removed the crust. I reckoned I had enough mushrooms to fill two ‘snuffboxes’. I melted some butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and got to work frying the bread. It needs frying on all sides, so you may find you have to add more butter.

Take the giant croutons out of the pan, add more butter and fry a finely chopped onion until golden, then add your mushrooms, which can be sliced, halved or left whole, depending upon size. Season with salt and pepper. Some mushrooms let out a lot of juice, so get the heat turned up so it can evaporate, before turning back down to medium heat.

Whilst you wait for the mushrooms to cook, cut lids into your snuffboxes about half an inch deep. I wasn’t sure if she meant to cut a square from the top, or that you should just slice the top off, so I tried both to see which looked best. Remove the bread from the inside so that you have a box of fried bread; this was actually very easy to do, the bread within was hot and fluffy and just lifted out.

Keep them warm in the oven as you finish the mushroom mixture: mix in a teaspoon of flour, and once incorporated, plenty of double cream (I used a 150 ml pot) to form a smooth sauce. Add a dash of sherry if you like and check the seasoning. Spoon the mixture into the snuffboxes, replace the lids and serve.

#426 Mushrooms in Snuffboxes. As is often the case with the book English Food, the recipes one doesn’t want to cook, turn out to be the most delicious; and these snuffboxes were very delicious indeed. What’s more, they weren’t particularly difficult to make. It’s tricky to know what to serve them with. I suggest making them smaller and serving them with a watercress salad for a great first course. Alternatively, make large ones and serve alongside roast game for a family meal. 8/10

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

6.1 Beef & Veal - Completed!

#213 Boned Roast Sirloin

The National tendency has always been towards beef, the roast beef of old England.
Jane Grigson, English Food

 I have now completed the Beef & Veal section of the Meat, Poultry & Game chapter of English Food. It’s certainly had its highs and lows and has covered quite a broad set of dishes; introducing me to the delights of the underused cuts such as shin of beef, marrow bones and wonderful sweetbreads as well as the delectableness of the pairing of beef with oysters.
#319 Marrow-Bones

Britain has been a world leader in both producing and cooking beef; the British countryside being the perfect environment for cattle. We were experts at roasting beef on the spit, it was elevated to our national dish in the early 18th Century when beefsteak clubs were opened in London and we were Christened by the French as rosbifs.
Selective breeding to produce high-quality and high-yield breeds, such as Aberdeen Angus, began in earnest in the mid-18th Century, coinciding with the movement of folk from countryside into the cities to eke a living. In these places, most households couldn’t be self-sufficient and keep their own livestock.
A century later, the population had doubled and we as a country, had to import meat from other countries. It was this point, I believe we started on the road that has led us to pre-packaged meats in plastic trays, losing our connection with nature and our own food chain.
It is nigh on impossible to buy really good beef in a supermarket; carcasses are rarely hung for the three to four weeks required, and if they are, they end up getting vacuum packed, drawing out all the moisture. Good beef should be dark red (not supermarket pink!), dry with just a slight stickiness, marbled with fat and covered in ‘a good layer of fat’, according to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his Meat Book.

#204 Minced Veal & Eggs
Veal is slowly losing its standing as a taboo food; in the UK the crate system is illegal (unlike in mainland Europe and the USA). UK calves can walk around quite happily and because of this exercise, their meat is not white, but a pale pink and for that reason is called rosé veal. For more on this, read this clumsily-written early post.
Low point: the BSE crisis

Because of the BSE crisis at the end of the last century, and the safeguards put in place in its aftermath means it is very difficult to source UK calves’ brains, so I had to use a Dutch supplier to cook the two recipes that require them. See this post for more information on the BSE crisis.

Calves' brains

This section of the book covered quite a lot of ground in its sixteen recipes; there were prime cuts, underused cuts and offal recipes as well as two recipes for Yorkshire pudding. All the recipes from this section are listed below with hyperlinks and the scores I awarded them. It scored a mean mark of 7.4 (and a median and mode of 8.5, for those who like their stats), making it the third highest score for a section or chapter so far. It should have scored much higher because three recipes scored full marks! It’s great that a prime #213 Roast Sirloin can score the same as #41 Shin of Beef Stew – proof that ‘low status’ cuts are not poor quality. You really must try the high scoring recipes from this chapter.
The average was dragged down somewhat by the vileness of #411 Calves’ Brain with Curry and Grape Sauce. It really was bad, not because of the brains, but because of that awful cloying sauce. I don’t know what Jane was thinking when she decided to include that recipe in the book! My poor cooking of tougher cuts didn’t help the mean score either; #11 Braised Beef with Carrots being a case in point, I know now that one does not actually boil the meat, but very gently simmer it. The two Yorkshire pudding recipes weren’t great either. Hey ho.
I do notice some glaring omissions in the book – there are recipes using ox cheek or calves’ liver (tongue does appear in the Cured Meat section). Plus, there is no beef Wellington and I would have expected at least a mention of mock turtle soup. I would have liked to have seen some roast veal recipes too. Hey-ho, at least I have some subjects to write about on the other blog.
If you can think of any classic beef & veal dishes not listed below, please let me know in the comments section.

#51 Shin of Beef Stew part 1 & part 2 10/10

#317 Skuets 8.5/10

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

#425 The Prize-Winning Chinese Yorkshire Pudding

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to this one – it should have been low-hanging fruit really…
This recipe is the second of two Yorkshire pudding recipes in English Food; the first (#181 Yorkshire Pudding) was a bit of a disappointment, cooked in the early days of the blog when my skills were not quite a good as today. This one supposedly produces a huge, light and crisp pudding which “swell[s] to the height of a coronation crown.” Hmm, we’ll see about that!
The recipe comes from a Mr Tin Sung Chan a Hong Kong chef who skilfully beat five other British chefs at their own game in the ‘Great Yorkshire Pudding Contest’ which took place in the great Yorkshire city of Leeds circa 1970.
As we all know, there is nothing more British than roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and Yorkshire folk have naturally become very proud of their pud; it is certainly the most famous food in the Yorkshireman’s edible arsenal. Unfortunately, the pride is a little misplaced because there is nothing particularly Yorkshire about it. Batter puddings have been cooked around the country for centuries (and not always with beef either). The first recipe for such a pudding appears in the 1737 publication called The Whole Duty of Women where it was called a dripping pudding. However, a few decades later, in The Experienced English Housekeeper, we see it called Yorkshire pudding for the first time. 
In Yorkshire – like many things – the Yorkshire pudding is associated with thriftiness where is not customarily served with the roast but as a starter with gravy; the idea being that the family filled up on cheap pudding and therefore ate less meat!

A batter pudding made in the traditional way under spit-roasted meat (source:

The traditional way to cook a Yorkshire pudding was to lay a large tin called a dripping pan beneath the roasting meat so that it could heat up and catch some meat fat. Once a good layer of it had formed, the batter was quickly tipped into the pan. All of this could happen underneath a spit-roasted joint or within an proper oven (something to consider next time you cook a roast, perhaps..?).
One of the biggest points of conjecture between cooks is the method of cooking – just how does one ensure a good rise? I have had many arguments. What are the proportions? Plain or strong flour? Beef dripping or sunflower oil and just how hot should it be? For how long should you beat the batter and for how long should it rest? How much batter should be used and should it be chilled or at room temperature?
With all this fuss and debate, it is good to see that this recipe is pretty straight-forward:
In a bowl beat together half a pint of milk (I went for whole milk), four eggs, a scant half-teaspoon of salt, a little black pepper and half a teaspoon of tai luk sauce*. Let the mixture stand for 15 minutes and heat the oven up to 230°C. 

In another bowl sift eight ounces of plain flour. Make a well in the centre and pour in around a third of the milky mixture. Beat in with a whisk. Pour in the next third and whisk until smooth and then the last of it, beating again. This technique of adding the liquid in stages should give you a nice lump-free batter.

If you’ve just roasted a joint of meat, pour the dripping fat into a clean roasting tin. Alternatively, add your own lard, dripping or oil and heat in the oven or hob. Once good and hot, pour in the batter and pop in the oven for precisely 20 minutes and 52.2 seconds.

#425 The Prize-Winning Chinese Yorkshire Pudding 6/10. This was an okay Yorkshire pudding, but it certainly did not ‘swell to the height of a coronation crown’! I reckon my own recipe is pretty good and definitely beats it...unless of course, there is a nifty trick or two the Chinese chef did not divulge. (By the way, my current recipe is different to the one I posted on the blog many years ago, I need to update it I feel.)

*which does not exist: ‘For years’, says Jane, ‘I puzzled over tai luk sauce, asking at Chinese groceries without success. Then an enterprising niece found what seems to be the answer: her request for tai luk was greeted with much laughter: apparently it means ‘mainland’, i.e. ‘mainland China’. So tai luk was a kind of secret-ingredient joke, an amiable joke at the expense of Yorkshire patriotism.’