Wednesday, September 10, 2014

50 recipes to go!

Well who would have thought I would make it to this landmark!?

I am three hundred and ninety-nine recipes in, and there is but fifty more to go before I complete the project. I’ve always found it a little annoying that there is 449 recipes and not 450, but then, Ms Grigson wasn’t counting them as she wrote.

My approach to food now is really a world away compared to when I wrote my first post #1 Smoked Finnan Haddock Soup all the way back in September 2007. I can now bake bread and cure meat, roast a woodcock and make a good stock. The blog has travelled two continents, and inspired me to start up my own food business. At the moment – and this explains why the number of posts have decreased of late – I am writing the business plan with will hopefully result in me opening a little restaurant next year. Fingers crossed on that one!

In order for me to complete the book, I need to track down some tricky-to-find ingredients, and so I’m going to list them below and if you per chance know how I can get hold of them, do please let me know. Here goes:

  • ptarmigan
  • calves’ brains
  • Harvey’s sauce
  • snipe
  • elvers (baby eels, sometimes called glass eels)
  • sea kale
  • roach (the freshwater fish, not the creepy-crawly)
  • a goose, capon or turkey with the head still on (surprisingly tricky to find!)
  • a cold-smoked chicken
  • gigots of primitive-breed lambs

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

#399 Duck Braised with Green Peas

This was one of the recipes in English Food that I had been looking forward to making, but never seemed to around to making it. I had a bounty of garden peas on my allotment plot, so it was silly not to try it. I am very glad that I did make it; it was so delicious, I made it for the main course at my pop-up restaurant I run every now and again from my house.

There are very few ingredients in this dish and it is very easy, except for the very end where an egg yolk based sauce is required – easy if you make your own custard regularly, tricky if not.

Jane writes no introduction for this recipe but it strikes me as a very French one; peas are not the only vegetable braised with the duck, because there is some lettuce in there too. In fact, take the duck away, and you are essentially left with French pea soup.

This recipe serves 4 to 5 people.

Jane starts off with the rather vague instruction: ‘Use the duck giblets to make the stock in advance. Boil it down to 300 ml (1/2 pt) or a little more.’

In brief, here’s what I did: Get a couple of tablespoons of sunflower or rapeseed oil really hot in a saucepan and toss in the neck, heart and gizzard of the bird, which have been cut into pieces (no need for the liver, fry it in butter, eat it on toast). Let the giblets get nice and brown. Add some chopped stock vegetables (trimmings are good here) such as carrot, leek, onion, celery; some herbs like thyme or lemon thyme, a bay leaf, a rosemary sprig and some parsley stalks; and some spices like peppercorns, cloves and some pared orange or lemon rind. Add some water to just cover the giblets and vegetables. Bring very slowly to a bare simmer and let it tick over for a good three or four hours. Strain and skim it, then boil down. Season lightly with salt.

Okay, duck stock made, what next? Take your duck, which should weigh 4 or 5 pounds, and prick it all over with a fork, focussing your pricking around the very fatty thighs. Make a massive bouquet garni using bay, parsley, thyme and rosemary and stuff it into the cavity of the duck. Heat a little more oil in a frying pan and slowly brown the duck all over, so that the fat can run out.

Take your richly-browned duck and pop it, breast down, in a deep ovenproof pot, pour over the stock, bring to a simmer and let it bubble very gently for 1 ¼ hours.

When the time is up, turn ducky the right way round and add a pound of freshly shelled peas and a large shredded lettuce. Pop the lid of the saucepan back on and simmer for a further 45 minutes.

Carefully remove the duck and prepare it as you like, I prefer to carve the breast meat and to divide the legs into thighs and drumsticks. On a serving dish, spoon the peas and lettuce, and then place the pieces of duck meat on top. Cover with foil and keep warm whilst you get on with the sauce.

Strain the stock and skim if need be. Give it a taste, and if it seems a little insipid, reduce it. Beat together two egg yolks and four tablespoons of double cream. Pour in around half of the stock, whisking the eggs and cream all the time. Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and stir it over a low heat until it thickens slightly. Don’t let it boil, otherwise, you’ll get scrambled eggs. Season with salt and pepper and sharpen it with a little lemon juice. Pour some sauce over the duck and the remainder of it in a sauceboat.

#399 Duck Stewed with Green Peas. This was a great recipe. The trick to get nice and juicy duck is to simmer the duck extremely gently; the merest gurgle of a bubble is all that is required. It’s worth noting that the cooking times Jane gives are far too long. When I repeated the recipe for the pop-up I simmered the duck for an hour, added the peas and lettuce, and then simmered for 20-30 minutes. For the pop-up, I trebled the recipe and then had to make three batches over the three nights, i.e. nine times Jane’s recipe. This means I had to shell a lot of peas – around 15 pounds to get the nine pounds required in all. It was a bloody nightmare. Anyway, the peas and lettuce were good and sweet after the braising, producing succulent duck and a really delicious silky sauce. Lovely. 9/10.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

#398 Broad Beans in their Pods

This recipe has been a long time coming, let me tell you. The reason being it requires the very young pods of broad beans (or fava beans if you live in the Americas). The pods are cooked and eaten whole. If you’ve ever shelled your own broad beans, you will know that the pods are pretty tough, so if you are going to attempt this recipe, you will need young pods coming in at a length of three inches or less.

Of course, to acquire such pods you need grow your own, or know someone who grows their own. I chose the former of the two. Year after year I abysmally failed to grow them in pots in the back yard of my little Manchester terraced house. I tried again on my balcony in St Louis when I lived in America. I came to the conclusion that I had a complete lack of green fingers.

It wasn’t until I got an allotment – and therefore actual real, deep earth – to sow my beans that I found they are, in fact, extremely easy to grow and maintain. They just need planting about eight inches apart in rows spaced the same distance. They germinate and grow pretty quickly and don’t even require bean poles.

Piece of piss.

Before I give you the recipe, it’s worth mentioning that Jane gives us a little advice on how to cook, and how to eat, fully grown broad beans:

As broad beans grow larger, they need to be shelled. Then I would recommend boiling them, until the skins begin to crack, in salted water. Drain them, rinse under the cold tap and then peel off the skins. This is, I know, a chore but it makes all the difference. The broad bean season is so short that it is worth taking the trouble… The beans can then be reheated in a little butter and parsley, in bacon fat with the addition of crumbled, crisp bacon rashers, or with a little butter and a few tablespoons of cream, as an accompaniment to boiled ham or salt pork – don’t forget the parsley.

I agree with this advice, though I’ll add that if the beans are on the small side, there is no point in peeling them, and even large ones when freshly-picked are still pretty good unpeeled. The other thing to mention is that broad beans cooked in bacon fat with crispy bacon and parsley can be promoted to a heavenly dish if you fry some floured sweetbreads in that salty-sweet fat too alongside those other ingredients.

This recipe requires 2 pounds of young broad beans, and apparently serves four as a first course, which I think is a bit much. You’ll see that this recipe can be very easy scaled down. I think a small handful each would be a good amount. Also, I can’t imagine you’d want to pick 2 pounds of the small pods! It would be quite a loss to your future broad bean harvest; unless you’re a bean farmer and have an acre of the buggers.

However many you get, you need to top and tail them. Drop them into boiling salted water and ‘simmer until they are tender’, says Jane ‘test them after 15 minutes.’ Let me say now that 15 minutes is far, far too long! In the 1970s when this book was written, there was a tendency to cook vegetables far too long so that they ended not ‘tender’ but pappy mush. Jane usually likes her vegetables crisp, but some of the timings are way off for modern/my tastes (a similar thing happened when I cooked #176 Samphire). I found 5 minutes cooked the pods through, leaving them tender but still with a little bite.

Strain the beans tip them into a serving dish, pepper them and keep them warm whilst you melt 6 ounces of butter. ‘Sharpen the butter with…lemon juice, heat it to just below boiling point and put it into a small jug.’

Then eat them ‘like asparagus, in the fingers, or with knives and forks’. I always go for the fingers option with food, unless I can help it (e.g. soup).

#398 Broad Beans in their Pods. I must say, these pods were delicious; full of sweetness and, just like fresh peapods, a great intensity of flavour. Next year, I am going to sow many more plants so that I can get a pod crop as well as a bean crop. I think they would make a great alternative to spinach in eggs Florentine, or on thick buttered toast with shaved, grilled Parmesan cheese. Very tasty and huge potential with this one 8.5/10

Friday, August 1, 2014

#397 Herb Jellies

Here’s a quickie from the Preserves part of the last chapter of English Food.
Herb jellies are apple jellies flavoured with a herb and a little vinegar for piquancy. They can be served with roast meats, cold cuts, cheese, even fish or vegetables such as peas.

You can use any herb you like. On my allotment there are vast amounts of mint, lemon thyme, chives, sage and oregano.
Here are some suggestions to give you some ideas:
Mint; lamb, duck, mushy peas, garden peas, new potatoes
Thyme; chicken and other poultry, pork, rabbit
Lemon thyme; chicken, fish
Sage; Pork
Marjoram/Oregano; pork, chicken, cheese
Chervil; game
I shan’t go on – I’m sure you get the idea!
My patch of mint needed taming so I put both the leaves and stems to good use.
It is pretty straight-forward.
First weigh, then roughly chop, some Bramley or windfall apples and place, skin core and all, in a large pan. Add 3 ½ fluid ounces of white wine vinegar to every 2 pounds of apples. Add enough water to only just cover the fruit. Amongst the apple pieces, tuck in 2 or 3 big springs of your chosen herb. Bring to a simmer and cook until the apples have become all mushy, around 20-25 minutes.

Pass the juice through a jelly bag and allow to drip overnight.
Next day, pour the juice into a preserving pan and to every pint add a pound of granulated sugar. Put on a medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Keep it on a good rolling boil until setting point is reached.
To test for setting point, bring the juice to a temperature of 104⁰C. To do this, the best thing to do is invest in a sugar thermometer, failing that place a drop or two on a freezing-cold plate and push it with your finger when the jelly is cool. If it wrinkles, it is set. I actually use both methods – the thermometer so that I know I’m there, and the wrinkle test to make doubly sure.
Pour into sterilised jars.

#397 Herb Jellies. This is a great recipe, though I found it too sweet. I adapted it by adding 50% more vinegar, and some of the herb itself, finely chopped, added once the sugar dissolved. Orginal recipe gets a 6.5/0, but it was pretty easy to make it an 8/10.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

#396 Venison Chops and Steaks

Venison is the most widely-eaten game meat, outselling all other game put together. Venison is deer meat and six species live in the UK: red, fallow, roe, muntjac, sika and the fanged Chinese water deer. They all have different hunting seasons.
Deer are naturally very destructive animals, they can destroy whole forests during winter where they scrape away the bark of trees to get to their nutrients. Because of this, deer species must be managed within their habitat. In other words, they need to be culled. Things were okay when there were plenty of natural predators, of course, but we humans have stuck our oars into our countryside and woodlands far too many times, meaning that a cull would have to occur, even if we all went vegan tomorrow.

Of course, it wasn’t always the case. Back In Mediaeval England, Royal hunting preserves covered thirty percent of the country. Then, all beasts of Venery and all beasts of Chase, essentially belonged to the monarch and only he and some hand-picked members of the aristocracy were allowed to hunt them. These animals were culled selectively and were a precursor to our modern methods of habitat management.
FYI: Beasts of the Forest were split into three groups.
Beasts of Venery: hart (i.e. stags), hind (red deer), hare, boar and wolf
Beasts of Chase: buck, doe (fallow deer), fox, marten and roe
Beasts of warren: coney (rabbit), pheasant and partridge
Anyway, once you have your venison chops or steaks, of whatever species or sex, here is Jane’s advice for what to do with them:

Well-hung venison chops and steaks may be grilled in the same way as beef steaks. Serve them with the usual venison accompaniments, a port-wine sauce [such as #44 Cumberland Sauce or #394 Venison Sauce] or [#114] quince jelly, French beans and mushrooms or an orange and celery salad, and roast or fried potatoes or game chips [see#122 Roast Pheasant]…It is, however, a good idea to wrap them first in a piece of softened caul fat [see #373 Faggots and Peas], to act as a permanent basting. Season them with salt and plenty of black pepper first. Allow 15-20 minutes, turning them once, under a high heat.

I think Jane is assuming here that your steaks are a good inch to an inch and a half thick. Mine were much thinner than that, so I grilled for a mere 5 or 6 minutes in total. Really high heat, nice and close to those grill flames, or, in my case, electric elements. Apart from that, I was a good boy and followed her instruction.

#396 Venison Chops and Steaks. These were great and tasted lovely with the sweet #394 Venison Sauce that I served them with. The thin steaks remained really moist inside their caul casing. By the way, if you can’t find caul fat, I would suggest searing them in a very hot pan in oil and butter and then basting them regularly on a lower heat or in the oven. Jane’s method is a good one ad so it can only score highly, seeing as I love venison: 8.5/10

Sunday, July 6, 2014

#395 Red Herrings

Here’s a recipe – or, rather an entry with advice – from English Food that I thought I would never get to cook for two reasons. The first was that I suspected that Jane was having a little joke at our expense and that her entry on red herrings was actually a red herring in itself! Having only ever used the expression and never laying eyes on the food, the penny did not drop for a good while that the saying must have come from somewhere. So, after looking in a few other books I decided red herrings were, in fact, real.

The Red Herring Freehouse, Great Yarmouth
According to Jane’s entry, they are made in Great Yarmouth, and although they have fallen out of favour her in the UK, they are shipped over to the Caribbean in their droves where they are still a very popular food, indeed, a staple food:
Once they were slave food, now they are a food for the poor, a cheap, storable, provider of protein.
So if they are made in abundance on the south coast of England, a few must escape the net and show up in England itself, right? First I looked online, then in Afro-Caribbean shops in Manchester. Not a whiff. Then, when I lived in America, I detected a scent; apparently they are widely available in Afro-Caribbean stores. Well, not in any of the ones I looked in!
I was ready to give up hope, but then, when I returned to Manchester after my two-year hiatus, I eventually found somewhere that sold them, and that place was an online store called the Smelly Alley Fish Company, Reading. Hooray!
I ordered four and eagerly awaited their arrival. In the meantime I had to work out what to do with them.

Before I tackle any recipes, I’d better tell you what a red herring actually is.
A red herring is a heavily brined and smoked whole herring, rather like a bloater, except it is brined for at least a week, dried, and then cold smoked for at least four weeks. It is this extreme curing that gives both its red coloration and its unbelievably long shelf life so that it can easily survive long journeys and the humidity of the Caribbean.
The red herring cure originated in Scotland, but the herring fished in the North Sea were fatty; making them delicious, but decreasing their shelf life. However, the herring caught off the south coast of England at Great Yarmouth had little fat, and therefore were perfect for trade, eventually outcompeting Scotland.
Red herrings were a staple food for poor people living inland during the Middle Ages, especially during Lenten days, and predated the kipper, which is a relatively new invention.
I love Dorothy Hartley’s description of them from her 1954 classic Food in England:
Red Herrings are a form of super-salted bloater, very popular on the western seaboard, specially [sic] in Ireland. They produce a terrible thirst – all artists seem to like them: I cannot account for this. Rudyard Kipling makes his “Hal o’ the Draft” cook salt herrings in the Cathedral, but he provides the only corroborative authority that I can produce for this notable dietetic discovery.
Note: At Hogmanay, if the [sic] Glasgow friend wishes you well, he slips a red herring down his sleeve into the palm of his hand as he grasps it.
Next New Year’s Eve, I shall try that trick.
Now we know what a red herring is, why is it used in the famous idiom? Red herrings were used as a method of training hunting hounds. A false trail using the pungent red herring would be laid so that the training hound or hounds could be taught to ignore the obvious strong scent and pick up the faint and subtle scent of their hare or fox quarry. Hence, when someone is falsely distracted from their path or purpose, they have been given a red herring. Every day’s school day.
So what do you do with your red herring, once you have found it? Well, here are Jane Grigson’s instructions, which as per the rules of the game, I must follow:
If you ever manage to buy some, soak them well in water or milk. Then grill them or toast them in front of the fire, basting them with butter or olive oil. Serve them with scrambled eggs or potatoes mashed with plenty of butter. Or think of them as anchovies, to be used as a relish rather than a main food.
All good so far, but they are so dry, I wasn’t sure how long to soak them for. Hours? Days? I needed more instruction.
In Good Things in England (1932), Florence White gives us an 1823 Great Yarmouth recipe:
  1. Choose those that are large and moist.
  2. Cut them open, and pour over them some boiling small beer.
  3. Let them soak half an hour, then drain and dry them.
  4. Make them just hot through before the fire, and rub them over with cold butter.
  5. Serve with egg sauce or buttered eggs; mashed potatoes should also be sent up with them.
All well and good, but mine were not moist, but as dry and hard as if mummified.
Here’s a recipe from a lady called Meg Dodd’s, via The Scots Kitchen: Its Lore & Recipes (1929) by F Marian McNeill:
Skin, open, and trim red herring. If old and dry, pour some hot small beer or water over them and let them steep a half-hour, or longer if hard. Broil them over a clear fire at a considerable distance, or before the fire; rub them with good oil or fresh butter while broiling, and rub on a little more when they are served. Serve them very hot with cold butter, or with melted butter and mustard, and mashed potatoes or parsnips.
And finally, from the Smelly Alley Fish Company’s own website:
To cook them, soak for 48 hours, then fry with tomatoes - a great breakfast! They are great as they are (they don't need to be cooked), and as they are very salty, you might need a pint of beer to drink with them.

I took Jane’s instruction and soaked them in milk, in the end, overnight. The next morning, the house awoke to the pungent smell of soaked red herrings. I fished them out of their now rufous milky marinade and grilled them smeared in butter, serving them with eggs for breakfast.
They were still pretty dry after all that soaking, though the roes found inside were nice and soft, and quite possibly the saltiest things I have ever eaten in my life. Trying to eat the flesh of the herring was tricky as it could not be parted easily from the bones. I had, as warned, a huge thirst, and the smell of red herring had still permeated my little terrace a week later.
#395 Red Herrings. What to say of red herrings!? Well they did taste good, but they were so unbelievably strong in flavour, and so difficult to eat (think fish jerky) I barely ate half of one. I think I need to revisit them following advice from those other recipes. A slow simmer in some hot milk might be a good idea, to help rehydrate the fish, or give a two-day cold soaking, but I think that it might be best cut with plenty of butter as potted red herrings or something like that. I have two left, so shall keep you posted on that one. Score? 7/10 I think, because the flavour was great, given even its pungency, it just needs taming!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

#394 Venison Sauce

Here’s a quickie for you – a very easy venison sauce that uses port; there are several with the most famous being #45 Cumberland Sauce (made all the way back in 2008!).

It’s funny, you’d think this simple sauce to accompany venison, as well as other furred game such as #393 Hare, would have been around for yonks, but no, it’s relative newcomer being invented by Queen Victoria’s chef, Charles Elmé Francatelli.

This sauce has but four ingredients: two tablespoons of port wine, eight ounces of redcurrant jelly, a small, bruised stick of cinnamon and the pared rind of a lemon. Boil these ingredients together in a small saucepan, pass through a sieve and serve immediately!
#394 Venison Sauce. Well this was a most delicious sauce that was very sweet and rich. You don’t need much of it but it does perfectly suit those dark, furred game meats, like venison, hare, and (a new species to be added to the list of legal game) grey squirrel. Very good, though not quite as good as the Cumberland Sauce. Apologies for the terrible photo, but I was a bit tipsy after the hare ordeal. 7/10.