Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Lemon Posset and Ginger Shortbread

Two really easy peasy recipes from Richard Corrigan's great book, The Clatter of Forks & Spoons.  If you must drink wine with pudding then a sweet German or Austrian Riesling should cope with the lemon tartness.  Sauternes would match the richness.  Tokaji Aszu from Hungary is an oft overlooked wine with plenty of character and the sweetness (and acidity) to cope with many challenging puddings including this one.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Roast Guinea Fowl with apologies to Gordon Ramsay

There's nothing more I love than cooking something and making up the recipe as I go along.  For this supper video I admit I was inspired by a Gordon Ramsay article I'd read a few days beforehand.  But I couldn't find it when a guineafowl appeared in Abi's 'fridge.  So I stumbled through with what I could remember and with what ingredients were to hand and it ended up really delicious (if not quite 3 Michelin star quality).  Oh, and whilst waiting for it to cook we had an umami moment...

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Mexican Supper Club at Dock Kitchen

I heard on the grape vine that Thomasina Miers was helping out at a one off Mexican dinner at the pop-up restaurant Dock Kitchen.  She is something of an authority on the food of Mexico having cooked her way around the country and she now owns three restaurants in London (all called Wahaca).  So I put myself on the waiting list as I'd read that food in Mexico is as regionally diverse as it is in Italy, it's spicily interesting due to the vast range of chillies grown there and well, I wanted to be shown that authentic Mexican has nothing whatsover to do with the vile gloop that is Tex Mex. 

Dock Kitchen is run by the Moveable Kitchen company which previously specialised in popping up at odd locations all over London but now seems to be settling more permanently into this site overlooking the canal at the unsmart end of Ladbroke Grove (W10 rather than W11 for postcode snobs).  The front of house staff are sweet and polite and appear to be friends giving a hand rather than the pros the River Café trained owner chefs must be. The kitchen is open plan and very calm.  A set menu with everyone eating the same thing at the same time is easier to achieve than the multiple orders a normal restaurant copes with but the phlegm in the kitchen was noticeable.  It's a shame then that, given the relative lack of pressure, time was not afforded for a little introductory talk about Mexican cuisine especially as no written menus were available and the waiting staff were not drilled in the naming of dishes or ingredients.

We kicked off with what looked like a deconstructed, molecular After Eight but turned out to be (Tommi kindly sent me the menu a couple of days later) blue tortilla chips (quite brown actually) and octopus swimming in lime juice & chilli water ("Agua Chile").  This very sour northern Sinaloan recipe was a real palate sharpener and I realised that I was going to be drinking the beer I'd brought rather than the southern French red wine which was completely floored (Costières de Nîmes from Nicolas).  The very hoppy old fashioned India Pale Ale (from Meantime Brewery) coped deliciously with this assault (the restaurant doesn't yet have a license so is BYO; hopefully it will one day list this classic, full-bodied IPA).

After those palate fireworks, we had this soothing dish of vermicelli pasta, white crab meat, coriander, and smoked Jalapeno pepper sauce (according to the waitress but Chipotle according to Tommi's notes).  You needed to take quite a mouthful of crab to notice it (perhaps brown meat would have been better than white) and the chilli was quite strong, tasting as it did of a smokey Wurst, but overall an interesting, enjoyable dish,  and 'cooling' after the first course. The dish is called "Fideus" and comes from Veracruz on the east coast (whence certain Mediterranean influences like olives & capers). 

Next came slow cooked pork shoulder with achiote spice served with greens in crème fraîche and habanero salsa (from the Yucatan peninsula via a farm in Kent).  This was tender and tasty pork some of which had crispily caught on the sides of the pan.  The greens were a little underwhelming but we learned later that in Mexico they would be pepped up with chillies.  Perhaps the yellow chilli salsa was supposed to be mixed in with the veg. We were served some doughy tortillas; I'm not sure what these are for but Abi suggested I put bits of pork, greens and salsa into one and roll it up.  I remonstrated that this reminded me of a Tex Mex sarnie (fajita?) but I did it anyway so as not to offend her.

The India Pale Ale was so delicious that I forgot to snap the orange "nieve" ice which was like a grown up orange squash made with orange and tequila.  There followed these chocolate truffles.  One was almost savoury, its cocoa content in inverse proportion to its sugar content.  The other packed a really hot chilli punch; how nice not to end a meal on a sweet note whilst eating chocolate.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Seabass from Aldeburgh

I picked up some seabass caught that very morning by Dean Fryer off the beach at Aldeburgh.  You can watch me cook it somewhat cackhandedly in the short video.  I should have perhaps used some greaseproof paper or, better still, some baking parchment to stop the skin sticking to the foil.  Or, just been more thorough in oiling and salting the fish all over.  Seabass is not very firm so falls apart more easily than say bream.  It is delicious when fresh like this but isn't packed with flavour.  It deserves decent wine but something not too powerful.  A Meursault or good Mâcon might overpower it.  Perhaps a minerally Chablis 1er Cru would do the trick or something from Galicia like an Albarinho or Godello, both mineral again but also with a touch of peachy perfume to go with the ginger.  We drank a zesty young Sauvignon from Chile which worked but seabass deserves something classier (especially when it outprices the wine threefold).

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Larry Lobster bites the dust

One of the huge benefits of living on the coast in a place like Aldeburgh (in fact, the main benefit) is having a fisherman like Dean Fryer on your doorstep selling that day's catch.  Normally, when he catches lobsters in his pots he boils them and sells them pink and ready to devour cold with, say, mayonnaise.  If you catch him early (or phone him the day before) he'll have a lobster live for you which is what you want if you want to grill or fry and benefit from a secret ingredient within. 

To kill Larry humanely you chill him down gradually in the 'fridge (with a damp cloth over him) and then when he's pretty still you put him in the freezer to send him into a coma.  A couple of hours later when he's completely still you can cut him in half. He might wriggle a bit but that's just his overdeveloped nervous system whose sensibility is in inverse proportion to the size of his brain.  It doesn't hurt.

The secret ingredient you don't really notice (or might not eat) if you buy your lobster cooked and which is ignored also by most restaurants who use live lobsters is the tomalley which is the liver (above).  It is absolutely delicious just briefly fried in butter and spread on toast but a top chef like Anton Mosimann will be using it to enrich a complicated sauce to accompany the lobster.  On cooking it goes from a beige colour to green.  It doesn't taste remotely fishy.  It's a kind of foie gras from the sea.  Or for those of you who don't eat foie gras, perhaps it's similar to calf's brains.  I must say I did feel a little like Hannibal Lecter when scooping out the wobbly organ above.

Curiously, even lobster suppliers tend to ignore this delicacy.  Once the tomalley has been removed the lobster is ready to grill.  The inedible "dead men's fingers" or gills can be taken out now though it's probably easier to do this when the lobster is cooked.  Now is the time for the cook to have a break, prewarm the grill, make some toast, open the wine, spread the fried tomalley on the toast and test the wine.  By the time this is done the grill is hot enough to place Larry cut in half under the grill with a knob of butter on each half.  He only needs about 10 minutes when he'll have gone from jet black to a beautiful orangey pink.  He doesn't need seasoning because he's naturally pretty salty.  This gives the chef the time to appreciate the wine and decide whether the temperature is correct and whether the wine needs decanting to aerate it a bit if it's a bit too young.
Larry weighing in at about 1 1/2 pounds was a bit too high for my grill so I ended up frying him.
The tail meat is normally most highly prized by fans but I actually prefer the claw which is juicier and less firm.  But for me the real treat is the shell and crunching on the crunchy bits which have slightly caught under the grill or in the frying pan.  These bits are really sweet and exotic tasting, almost like a piece of pork crackling.  The best bits are the eyes. 
If just boiling a crustacean I prefer crab because I like the brown meat which has more taste and in a crab is more plentiful (and more easily accessible) than the white.  However, a grilled, or fried, lobster (or for that matter, langoustine) is the king and the reaction of dry heat (plus butter) against shell produces an incredible, complex sweetness which begs to be tempered by the very finest white wine.  The usual choice would be Burgundy but why not young, very cold Sauternes (especially if the shellfish is accompanied by a creamy sauce flavoured with saffron)?
 In my case, I couldn't stretch to the finest Burgundy though this Mâcon Cruzilles 1999 dom Guillot Broux did its best to impersonate something grand from the Côte d'Or with its smoky, nutty nose and buttery, rich albeit crisp palate.

A perk for the greedy chef is to mop the pan with a piece of bread.  The combination of caramelised shell juice and brown butter is the stuff made of (sweet) dreams.  Just make sure you use unsalted butter, preferably French.  Salted burns too easily.  And don't throw the empty shell away..... save for stock to make bisque or risotto.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Lunch at Hereford Road, Notting Hill

I received an email last week from an outfit called Taste Club of which I was apparently a 'member'.  It invited me to buy a place for a 'Taste Tuesday' lunch, proceeds of which (well, some of the profit I guess) would go to the StreetSmart charity.  The name Taste reminded me offputtingly of a glossy food magazine back in the 1980s featuring elaborate, often foreign recipes but the names Hereford Road and Tom Pemberton leapt out of the email and screamed 21st century back-to-basics, offally good English food.  And the St. John trained chef was going to do a demo for us.  I had to give it a go.

There was no one from Taste Club to greet members and I was shown on arrival straight to an extremely comfortable but lonely 4 seater booth.  I hoped that I'd be joined by some greedy and hillarious fellow club members or at least have a waitress (or the promised chef) to chat to but  bonviveur members of any club were perhaps in St. James's, and the waitress and chef were busy.  I thought clubs were supposed to be about conviviality and the sharing of common interests but what members there were (identifiable by the smart blue Taste Club menus on their tables) were too far apart to communicate.  But it is early days for Taste and I hope membership increases and the concept takes off.  

After fiddling with a glass of Laurent Perrier I was summoned to the open kitchen where Tom talked us through the meal we were going to have.  He briefly explained his ethos carried over from being head chef at St. John Bread & Wine of using all the bits of the animal and using sympathetic preparation and cooking techniques appropriate for all these bits.  In his quiet, unassuming way he managed to convey considerable passion and knowledge about the ingredients and their sourcing and careful handling.  He assembled a salad starter for us whilst explaining the brining of lamb's tongues and the blanching and peeling of the "rather membraneous" lamb's sweetbreads.  Whilst he spoke we chomped on sublime little fried crostini of smoked cod's roe which finally gave meaning to the lean and rather fresh, lemony Champagne.  But being 1pm and a restaurant with only two chefs there were other fish to fry and we had to reluctantly leave the kitchen behind and go back to our booths.

The sensational starter of Lamb's Tongues, Sweetbreads, Pearl Barley & Mint was served with plenty of chopped flat leaf parsley and the odd tiny caper in a light oil & lemon dressing.  The tongues which had had 2 weeks in brine were tender and subtle but were outlambed by the caramelised sweetbreads which tasted very lamby (wonder what mutton sweetbreads taste like) and left a pleasant sticky residue on my teeth. The whole dish had character a plenty but was light and balanced and the glass of house white (billed as Sauvignon) was a pleasant enough foil. 

The next dish drew gasps of amazement from around the room as each table received a whole oxtail, enough to feed 3 or 4.  I was not complaining and tucked straight into melting, fibrous, unctuous meat, tender from 6 hours braising in carrot and onion sweet stock.  The carrots had had several hours too and only managed to stay whole as they hadn't been peeled and so the skin held them together.  The jus was redolent of herbs (mainly rosemary) and had a slightly syrupy consistency from the gelatine oozing from the bones.  The buttery rich mash was perfect for soaking up the juices (why wasn't Pierre Koffmann's mash made like this?).

  Evidently, the dish was intended for more than one but I managed to finish it as, like the starter, it was balanced, subtle but flavoursome.  A glass of plummy house red (billed as Côtes du Roussillon) was again a pleasant, innocuous foil letting the dish speak for itself.
Even I needed a bit of a rest after that and this rather odd-looking but refreshing pud turned out to be the best sorbet I have ever had. It was creamy but light, tasting more of oranges than oranges themselves, and was slightly molten like a granita because of a splash of homemade sloe gin (the sloes came from the lamb supplier).  The tuile was buttery but again super light. The preferable order of cheese following pud allowed us port or sherry to finish off the meal.  Cashel Blue went really well with my glass of figgy, treacly Pedro Ximenez which did rather swamp the overly youthful Montgomery Cheddar and something rather mild called Coddlestone, the only false note in an otherwise brilliant lunch.  Oh, and the long flat crostini to go with the cheese were embedded with cumin seeds which underlines this chef's attention to detail. As a postscript,  I think for future Taste Club events the chef should try and come around towards end of service to chat about the food.  One can grill the waiting staff but when the response to each question is "I'll go and ask" you soon feel you're upsetting their service routine.  I didn't ask about the wine because I overheard the neighbouring table being informed that the Côtes du Roussillon was "French" when a query was made.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Roll Mop Herrings

It's the herring season in Aldeburgh at the moment and whilst the 'Silver Darlings' taste great just grilled and eaten with toast and scrambled eggs it's a shame not to buy them in bulk once you've had your fill (5 lb for £5 from Dean Fryer on the beach) and preserve them.  Turning them into rollmops is a cheap, delicious, easy way of doing this.
The fillets need to be brined in  salty water for 3 hours.  Meanwhile, boil up some cider vinegar with bayleaves, allspice berries, finely chopped onion, a tablespoon of sugar, peppercorns and a little orange peel. Allow this to cool then jar up the herring fillets in the pickle. 

The recipe's in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "Fish" tome.  He says the jars need to be sterilised but if you're eating the fish within days this is not essential.

The vinegar solution seems to dissolve the pinbones which saves a lot on labour trying to pick them out.  Curious because the pinbones when eating kippers are so much more noticeable... and irritating.
  The fish is a bit of a challenge for wine except maybe a young Sauvignon.  An alternative could be some kind of schnapps or aquavit. The problem is the vinegar. 
Or perhaps no booze is needed at all.  The fish is really soft and the onions crunchy and aromatic.  Bread is the thing or maybe a few waxy potatoes cooked in their skins.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Foie Gras for Impecunious Piscivores

When you buy, or catch, a herring you get a lot more than just a couple of fillets.
You get a load of roe (from the female) and millet (from the male).
Both are excellent to eat.  The roe's firm and grainy, the milt really soft and creamy.
Spot the sperm.
The best way to cook these is to dust them in seasoned flour and fry them for 5 minutes being careful not to let them catch and then squeezing some lemon onto them and finally adding a sprinkling of chopped flatleaf parsley.  Serve them on buttered sourdough toast.

The roe has slightly more flavour though is not remotely fishy.  The milt (above) is reminiscent of fresh foie gras straight out of the frying pan (foie gras poêlé) but without the guilt feeling.  Actually, it has less taste than foie gras but the same molten, slippery unctuosity; perhaps it's more like calf's brains.

Talking of guilt, perhaps one should worry about eating thousands of eggs and thousands of sperms.  But, at least these little fish lived in the wild off the coast at Aldeburgh until they were caught.  And Hugh Fearnley-
Whittingstall eats them so it must be ok.

One thing though; out of 6 randomly chosen fish, 5 were blokes.  It must be quite competitive out there in the North Sea.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Poached Eggs on Toast - à la Bourguignonne

For those of you who missed breakfast this morning how about these eggs for brunch? Oeufs en Meurette is not a dish you're likely to come across in a greasy spoon or even the the most Francophile of gingham cloth-bedecked bistrots but it makes for the perfect (late) breakfast. Instead of poaching eggs in boring old water they simmer away in the winiest of bourguignonne sauces, redolent of smokey bacon (lardons fumés) and enriched with a little beurre manié (butter mixed with a little flour). A sprinkling of chopped parsley is traditional at the end (good for vitamin C - who needs orange juice?) and then the whole thing gets plopped onto toast, preferably thickly sliced sourdough (pain au levain).

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Wine Gang Wine Fair at Vinopolis

For those of you in or near London there is a wine fair on at Vinopolis next to Borough Market today. I have just seen the line up of wines on show in the 50 page brochure and there is a huge choice of carefully chosen wines from leading merchants and retailers. The fair is organised by wine blogger Thirstforwine and the Wine Gang whose members are leading wine journalists. Come and join us: http://thewineganglive.com/

Friday, 6 November 2009

The Food is the Star: choucroute garnie

Sometimes, well, often actually, you don't need to concern yourself too much with what drink you have with your food. A guide is to drink what the locals drink. In wine and beer producing Alsace white wine made from Riesling, or lager beer, are traditional with the local choucroute. But acidulated fermented cabbage was never going to be a great friend to anything subtle and refined. The refreshing thirstquenching and digestive properties of the liquid are all so here an ordinary Riesling and a very ordinary (yes Dutch, wrong country) lager went down a treat with a family Sunday lunch in Dijon of choucroute, saucisse de Morteau, various bits of brined tender pork including shin and knuckle, and dense, waxy, perfectly cooked and carefully peeled potatoes. Add Image Though hailing from cabbage-producing Alsace it is a favourite dish all over France though it does have a distant German cousin by the name of sauerkraut.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Anchor & Hope Blow Out

Some foodie friends from Suffolk were up in London recently, staying in Waterloo. They have just had a baby and this was their first evening off having put the baby in the care of a grandparent. They were particularly hungry and were keen to try out some local, cutting-edge metropolitan restaurant within easy reach of a panicking grandfather.

Well, the Anchor & Hope is not exactly cutting edge but it's an excellent place, about as good as (pub) food gets, the atmosphere is convivial if noisy, it's informal, and the dishes lend themselves to sharing.

Whilst contemplating the menu we had pints of well-kept Young's Ordinary (£3) and then kicked off with Quince and Prosecco fizz as an aperitif (£4.60) whilst sitting at the bar waiting for a table (there is a no-booking, first-come first-serve policy except on Sunday lunch). There were some tempting looking pâté-laden crostini on the bar which were slightly out of reach because of the sheer number of punters ordering drinks (Monday evening, around 7). The three of us were eventually shown to a tiny corner table which we knew would not be big enough for all the dishes we were going to order. But as soon as another larger table became free we were offered it graciously by the waiter (but carried over all the paraphernalia ourselves).

We tried Artichoke Vinaigrette (£4.80) which was what it said on the tin. Very plain, French home food but novel in a London restaurant. I had to show the Suffolktons how to peel the leaves and scrape the flesh off the ends using teeth. Whole Crab Mayonnaise (£8.40) again was what the tin said. And it was very sweet, fresh and juicy and the mayonnaise made in-house (why do Loch Fyne restaurants refuse to make their own mayo? grrrrr). Great diet food as it takes so long to pick out the meat that you end up ignoring other dishes. But we were too greedy for that and were soon tucking into Smoked Cod's Roe on Toast, Cucumber & Crème Fraîche (£6) which was just that and really good. The cream was probably unnecessary but the cucumber had been peeled, salted and then lightly pickled and went well with the salty fish.

Hot dishes were Salt Beef, Beetroot & Horseradish Broth (£5) which was very satisfying, the beef melting, the beetroot sweet and fruity, the horseradish cream giving the dish a kick; I could have had this one twice over and slightly resented having to share it. Red Gurnard, its Broth & Aïoli (£13.80) was OUTSTANDINGLY good, simpler and better than Bouillabaisse at a fraction of the price (please Chelseafish, don't tell me gurnard is on the endangered list).

Hare & Mashed Celeriac (£13.80) was well done, flaky but not dry leg meat on the bone in a winey jus with real depth. Could have had more juniper maybe but this went really well with the old fashioned, gamey, truffley, beetrooty 12 year old Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 which we managed to drink from real wine glasses as opposed to the ludicrously trendy Duralex school tumblers on other tables which do nothing for fine wine (St. John Restaurant please note).

Roast & Confit Mallard, Coco Beans, Kale & Damson (£28 for two) was cooked to perfection (but not very Delia) with really rare breast served on the carcase and the separate legs done confit, really tender, not too salty; shame that in France you never get breast AND leg served like this together. Roast Middlewhite, Pumpkin & Cured Ham, Bramley Apple Sauce (£16) was really sweet, moist, pale meat in a broth with soft, yielding ham. The apple was best avoided with the wine (as was the damson in the duck dish). Whole Roast Seabass (£32.80 for two) was off but that is a fish you can pick up off the beach in Suffolk and cook yourself quite easily and Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder and Gratin Dauphinois at £65 for five-ish might have been a bit greedy.

However, there was room for puds (and cheese) and we chose the whole lot. Lemon Queen of Puddings (£5) was a lovely soft meringuey sort of thing and quite refreshing after the protein overload beforehand. Pear & Almond Tart (£5) was just that, Buttermilk Pudding & Scottish Raspberries (£4.80) a great way to neutralise some of the tartness of the fruit, Damson Icecream (£2.40 per scoop) damsomy, and the star Soufflé Beignet, Stewed Bramley & Vanilla Icecream (£5) which was perfectly crispily fried churros (not sure why chef Trish Hilferty chose a French name for these) with stewed apple. We had our Mr Creosote moment with the cheese (at £7.40, more than at Pierre Koffmann's but at least the cheese was at room temp and not fridge cold) and reluctantly ate it fearing detonation. It was served with a whole apple cut in half, but not peeled or cored, which somehow sums up the welcome lack of pretension of the Anchor & Hope.

As in so many restaurants however, wine service could have been better. Whilst the normal tumblers were replaced with wine glasses for the (£50) Rioja, this red wine whilst excellent was served too warm. The Viré Clessé 2005, André Bonhomme (£25) was noticeably corked but the waiter wanted to fetch a superior before accepting our mutual rejection of the wine. The second bottle was even worse at which point the manageress suggested we have something else; logically, we should have been offered a 3rd bottle. We settled for Limoux Chardonnay 2007, Toques & Clocher (£29) which was actually very good and coped more or less with the mix of starters. A fruity, spicey Douro 2007, Vinha de Palestra (£20 and again, too warm) helped the cheese go down. The list usefully serves six whites and five reds and one rosé by the 375ml carafe aswell as 125ml glass but if you want to smell the wine refuse the school canteen tumbler.