Bagna Cauda

Monday, 20th October 2014

Bagna Cauda

I can’t get enough anchovies in my life and I’ve been known to spaff ridiculous amounts of money on them. The £80 in 4 days incident always springs to mind. One of my favourite ways to eat them is in a recipe I affectionately call ‘sick spaghetti’ due to the frankly outrageous intensity of it – lots of garlic, chilli, anchovies, butter, lemon and parsley. So good. This dip actually outranks it in terms of punch, which is quite the achievement and fine by me.

Bagna cauda is a classic Piedmontese dip combining two of the area’s most beloved ingredients: garlic and anchovies. Traditionally, it’s served warm with vegetables such as cardoons, celery, fennel, peppers and cauliflower. A piece of bread can be used to catch the drips of sauce, and eaten at the end. Then of course it’s time to start over with a new piece of bread.

I also suggest you avoid opening your mouth anywhere near another person for at least a day afterwards.

Bagna Cauda

I created this recipe for the Inghams Italy recipe book.

Bagna Cauda

150ml extra virgin olive oil
150g butter, cut into cubes
10 cloves garlic, peeled
Enough milk to cover the garlic
15 anchovy fillets (preferably packed in salt and rinsed, otherwise packed in oil)
A squeeze of lemon juice

A selection of sliced raw vegetables to serve, such as celery, fennel, peppers, endive
Bread, to serve

Place the peeled garlic cloves in a small saucepan and add enough milk to cover them. Simmer on a very low heat for about 20 minutes, until the cloves have softened. Drain, reserving the milk.

Return the pan to the heat and mush the garlic into a few tablespoons of the milk. Add the anchovies and allow them to melt over a low heat. Add the oil and butter and heat gently. Squeeze in the lemon juice. Serve warm with the vegetables and bread.

11 comments | Dips, Fish

My Favourite Brunch

Tuesday, 7th October 2014


I like my brunch to work an Eastern European vibe. Think eggs cooked up with the kind of spiced sausages that leach dangerous, stain-making fat onto pyjama tops.

Now you may be asking yourself, quite understandably, why the hell I’m suggesting mixing eggs and sossidge of a morning like it’s something new. Well the reason is this: cottage cheese. No, honestly. I am perfectly aware that in the hierarchy of ‘secret magic breakfast-enhancing ingredients’ cottage cheese is generally…nowhere, but I promise you, this a game changer. Firstly you need to get your hands on some decent cottage cheese – none of that watery guff they sell in the supermarket. I’ve been using the Longley Farm brand which is creamy and re-assuringly dense in the pot. It brings some freshness to the dish, as yoghurt would, but it’s more substantial. Fantastic with eggs. Yes, ‘fantastic’. Who knew?!

The dieters can keep their watery cottage cheese for topping salads. I shall get on with lobbing scoops of it into my brunch.


Brunch Eggs with Spiced Sausage and Cottage Cheese 

There are loads of ways you can take this actually, by using smoked Hungarian sausage for example, or omitting the meat altogether and serving with pickled beetroot for a Russian flavour. Russian brunch! Fancy that. If that becomes a trend then remember where you heard it first.

Sometimes I add garlic, too, but it depends on how you feel about that kind of thing at brunch.

1 small onion, diced
6 eggs
4 spicy sausages (Greek, Turkish, whatever you like). I used sucuk, sliced into chunks
Cottage cheese

Heat a heavy based skillet and lob the sausage chunks into it. Once the fat starts to leach out, add the onions and cook gently until the onions are soft and the sucuk is cooked.

There will be a lot of fat in the pan at this point, so drain most of it off but reserve it.

Lightly beat together the eggs in a bowl, season them, and add to the pan and just sort of break them up a bit and encourage everything around the pan on a low heat so it doesn’t stick – you want nice big soft clumps of egg, not bitty over-cooked scramble.

When it’s almost done (the eggs should still be a bit under), add some dollops of cottage cheese. Give it barely a minute, as the residual heat will finish off the eggs. Take a teaspoon or as much as you like of the reserved sausage fat and drizzle over the top. Sprinkle with chives and serve with bread if you like. I don’t usually bother as it’s so filling but it would probably serve 6 if you did.

11 comments | Breakfast, Brunch

Why The Camberwell Arms is the Perfect Local

Sunday, 5th October 2014

Camberwell Arms

Quail with Caesar salad at The Camberwell Arms

I once wrote that there was no such thing as the perfect local. I lamented the lack of ‘proper boozers’ left in London – the scrotty kind with Fosters ashtrays, pickled eggs, a juke box and a pub cat. While I still have much affection for those establishments and many fond memories of the years I pissed away in them, the fact remains that times have moved on and so have I. Maturing happened within me and so here we are with a different set of criteria which have been met in their entirety by The Camberwell Arms. I am insufferably smug that this is my local. It’s not the case that TCA doesn’t provide the same warm huggy feelings as those old boozers of yester-decade, because it does, just with bevelled edges and a pickled walnut veneer. They still sell Scampi Fries behind the bar, anyway, which should be a legal requirement before any pub is allowed to even obtain an alcohol licence let alone open the doors.

At first I had my reservations. The seats in the pub area seemed too low, but that was before I found my spot. Now I regularly nestle in, read the papers and generally feel at ease with the world, with the cosmos, with myself, even. Then there was the time I ate there shortly after opening when everything wasn’t quite right but hell, the paint had barely dried. My partner owns and runs a restaurant and let me tell you – going to a place in the first few weeks, or months, even, and slagging it off because the menu isn’t perfect yet, is beyond reprehensible. YOU HAVE NO IDEA. What did you expect them to do, exactly? Run the place on empty for a few months first before they let any customers in? There will always be crinkles, and the good places will concentrate on ironing them out.

So I’ve just come back from a perfect leisurely lunch at TCA; three courses with wine and a digestif, which I enjoyed entirely on my tod. It’s that kind of place you see. I feel completely comfortable there. If you don’t want to eat in the restaurant at the back, there’s a bar area for diners which faces the open kitchen. The pub area is up front, but you can eat there too if the restaurant and bar are full, because they actually believe in genuine hospitality, not silly rules. I’ve just inhaled a bowl of excellent BBQ mussels, with house made ‘nduja and sherry, followed by grilled cuttlefish with potatoes, pickled onions and aioli, the latter being one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in months. Smoky, tender as you like cuttlefish, like a riff on polpo a la gallega. Dreamy. Would I like dessert? Well, I shouldn’t really, but okay I’ll just have a look…OH..buttermilk and sour cherry ice cream. Go on, then, just a scoop…hmm sorry but, is that a grappa made with Gewürztraminer? I’d better try it, then, eh? I don’t even like grappa to be honest but…oh my, it’s smooth, isn’t it? Blimey. Okay now really, I should go and do that shopping, no honestly I must, etc. etc. etc.

The cooking at TCA is so solid, I can’t believe it’s happening in my local. All the ingredients are proper. They still serve that slightly controversial £50 chicken for 4 people, by the way, except it isn’t just a chicken, it’s a serious, rotisserated (totally a word) chicken with herby roast potatoes, salad and aioli, for £12.50 per person, which is actually great value. Yes, great value. Don’t you dare say otherwise until you’ve tasted it. Their pies are…damn, I want to say legendary without sounding like a wanker…very impressive, with the silkiest innards and a crust the colour of David Dickinson’s face. They make their own charcuterie. Their bread is from Brickhouse. And on and on and on…

Camberwell Arms

I am writing this before I slip into an afternoon snooze, thus completing the perfect Sunday. What else is there before I go? Oh! They make a really solid martini, which is the only cocktail I drink. Well, mostly (that’s a roundabout way of saying I’m really fussy about how I take my martinis). There’s an upstairs bar too but I haven’t been yet for fear I may never emerge again. The staff are excellent and genuinely likeable. The music isn’t too loud. The bogs are always sparkling clean. The wine list is well-balanced. They do a kick ass roast every Sunday. There’s a round of free tapas-sized bar snacks early evening. Okay I’ll stop now.

The Camberwell Arms
65 Camberwell Church Street
Tel: 020 7358 4364

Follow them on Twitter for menu updates (changes daily)

15 comments | Pubs, Restaurant Reviews

Cochinita Pibil with Pickled Corn

Wednesday, 1st October 2014

Cochinita Pibil Tacos

I’ve been thinking hard about how I’m going to use up my three huge jars of pickled corn. I’ve been gnawing the kernels straight off the cobs but it’s starting to feel like a missed opportunity.

I thought they’d make an excellent taco topping, and originally wanted to do some kind of breakfast tacos, before realising that the idea of breakfast tacos is kind of gross, actually. I feel the same way about breakfast burritos. I love eggs, but I don’t want them all squished inside a tortilla like a big farty roll up.

So here we are with cochinita pibil, a Mexican dish of slow cooked pork – traditionally a whole suckling pig – rubbed with annatto and sour orange juice, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in a pit. Annatto is a seed which colours everything orangey-red. In Mexico it is used in cooking but also to make dyes and body paints, and in the UK it has been used to colour cheese (such as Red Leicester) for centuries, as it was thought that the more orange the cheese, the better the quality. There’s a rather obvious lesson here, which is that annatto is extremely effective at colouring things, particularly hands, clothes, cats, whatever happens to be nearby. I wouldn’t advise accidentally snorting it either, as I did when I was enthusiastically smelling my spice blend; it reminded me of a time in Iceland (THE COUNTRY) when I was given some snuff by a man in a bar and I thought I’d ‘give it a go’. Possibly the most painful half hour of my life.

Anyway, this recipe for cochinita pibil is made with a pork shoulder, and cooked in the oven wrapped in foil, although you could do it on a BBQ. Quite why it has taken me so long to re-create a recipe I thought was so, so fine the first time around I have no idea. This version is even better as I’ve tweaked it here and there. If you’ve never made it then get yourself some annatto off that there internets and get rubbing (after you’ve put your gloves on). You’ll inhale the results.

Once we’d pulled the meat apart, and rubbed it around in the glorious juices, it went onto tacos with a dollop of guac, some mild red onions and that pickled corn, which is sweet, sour and spicy enough to give you electric tingles. New. Favourite. Pickle.

Cochinita Pibil Tacos

Cochinita Pibil Tacos

Cochinita Pibil Tacos

Cochinita Pibil Tacos

Cochinita Pibil with Pickled Corn

1 x 3.25 kg pork shoulder

For the paste

2 tablespoons achiote powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano (decent leaves, not the dusty stuff)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons salt
6 whole allspice
6 cloves garlic, crushed in a pestle and mortar with a large pinch of sea
1/2 tablespoon ground piquin chillies or other dried chillies, ground (Diana Kennedy says you should use powdered ‘chilli seco yucateco’ or paprika)
3 tablespoons orange juice mixed with the juice of 6 limes (should be about half and half) for rubbing the pork and making the paste. This mixture is a substitute for sour orange juice. If you can get sour oranges, then obviously use them.

Rub the pork all over with the orange and lime juice followed by the salt.

Make the paste by grinding the allspice berries, cumin seeds and piquin chillies to a powder and mixing with the crushed garlic and a tablespoon of the orange juice and lime mix, the pork should be quite moist so the paste doesn’t need to be that wet.

Smother this all over the shoulder, rubbing well in. Make a parcel by layering tin foil, put the shoulder into it and refrigerate, preferably overnight. Bring out of the fridge for a couple of hours before cooking.

Preheat the oven to 135C. Get a big roasting tin and put a rack inside it (I just put a cooling rack in a tin) then put enough water in to fill the base of the tin to about 0.5cm. Place the pork package on top of the rack and cover it tightly with foil. Cook for 7 hours, refilling the water occasionally.

Carefully remove the shoulder from the parcel, taking care to save those precious juices. Tip the juices into a bowl and set aside. break up the meat and set aside in a bowl then pour the juices over and give it a good mix.

This is now ready to serve with the sauce, guacamole, and pickled corn.

Pickled corn recipe here.
Guacamole recipe here.

17 comments | Main Dishes, Meat, Mexican Food

Pickled Corn with Scotch Bonnets

Friday, 26th September 2014

Pickled Corn

I have adored pickles since I was a little girl. Apparently, at one of my birthday parties I refused to join in with anything because I wanted to hide on the stairs and concentrate on consuming a jar of pickled onions. I didn’t want anyone else to have any. Thinking about it now, I’m not sure too many other 6 year olds were that into them.

Back then I remember only pickled onions, beetroot, cucumbers and red cabbage being widely available in the UK, but nowadays pickling is fashionable. We preserve everything from carrots to American-style watermelon rinds. Corn is particularly good as a pickle. In my recipe there’s a whack around the chops from the scotch bonnet chillies, but they’ve been crucially mellowed by the vinegar, and I can’t wait to finely chop them to use as a garnish. Spring onions and coriander went in too. This pickle is great straight from the jar but I’m going to try it on breakfast tacos. Recipe soon.

Pickled Corn with Scotch Bonnets and Spring Onions  (Fills 3 x 1 litre jars)

6 ears of corn, 4 sliced into chunks, 2 shaved of the kernels
1 scotch bonnet chilli, de-seeded and sliced
2 spring onions, sliced into large pieces
Handful coriander
75ml lime juice
15 peppercorns
500ml distilled white vinegar
4 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons sugar

Simmer the corn chunks for 4 minutes, then plunge into ice water (leave the shaved corn raw). In a pan, heat the vinegar, sugar and salt until boiling. *See note below if using old style Kilner jars.

Divide the lime juice, chilli slices, coriander, spring onions and peppercorns between sterilised jars. Add the corn and divide the pickling liquid between them. Top up with water if necessary.

Seal the jars and leave for a few days before trying.

* A note about Kilner jars: the new ones have clip seals but if you’re using the old style, it suggests you heat your liquid to 82C rather than boiling, before pouring it into your jars. You then put the round disc on top and screw on the outside bit. The instructions say that a vacuum will be formed inside, and the top will be pressed down and sealed (not popped up so you can press it down with your fingers). What no-one tells you, is that this doesn’t always happen straight away, sometimes it takes a few hours. This is pretty obvious when you think about it. Maybe I was just being a bit dense.

8 comments | Pickles, Vegetables

Sunday Leftovers No. 8

Monday, 22nd September 2014

Buffalo Wings

I’m on a roll with this again, so here’s a round-up of things that passed my lips or caught my attention last week…

– If you’re into buffalo wings then you must visit Sticky Wings on Brick Lane. These guys used to have a place in Lewisham, which I tried to visit several times, only to find it shut for increasingly random reasons. I remember rocking up once, on a really hot day, having schlepped across London (yeah okay from Peckham but whatever) only to find the place ‘closed for the duration of the Olympics’. I did my best unimpressed face. Then I went home.

They’re now on Brick Lane and damn, those wings are fiiiiine. You might think it’s easy to make a decent buffalo wing, and it is, but that doesn’t stop people from constantly stuffing it up. These are some healthy sized wings (no freakish turkey sizes or scrawny runts), given a good slap about in Frank’s hot sauce and butter. Blue cheese dip comes with (though not celery which you need to order). I also tried their ‘chilli hot’ wings which are made with pickled ghost chillies; fiery, obviously, but with a hoof of chilli flavour too. No mean feat. Go.

– The locals among you might be interested in The Nunhead Food Assembly, which is a new way to do your food shopping. You pre-order the items you want on the website and then collect them once a week from the producers, who all come together in one place. Everything is made locally, you get to talk directly to the person who produced the food, and there are some big hitters involved like Kappacasein. Well worth checking out if you’re a SE Londoner.

– The Terrence Higgins Trust have been running a sort of restaurant crawl/supper club event for something like fourteen years and yet I’d never heard of it until they invited me to experience it this week. Fifty of London’s top restaurants participate in the event including high flyers like The Square and Bob Bob Ricard. Angela Hartnett is Ambassador. You can find out more about it on the THT website.

– I’ve been guzzling the fantastic Ali Baba Juices like there’s no tomorrow. They have restored my faith in juicing. Yuh huh. The apple, kale and basil was my favourite of the week. Basil and kale, eh? Who knew?

– Yianni Papoutsis and Scott Collins have released their book, The Meatliquor Chronicles, which basically details the story of their outrageous meat-oriented success. It’s also edited and partly written by DBC Pierre, who wrote one of my favourite books, Vernon God Little. There’s also a recipe from yours truly inside – a curry goat sandwich with gravy dip and coconut coleslaw.

– Here’s a random picture of one of my cats. Until next week…


Comment | Sunday Leftovers

Steamed Chinese Sandwich Bread (Mantou)

Saturday, 20th September 2014

Pork Belly Steamed Bun from Yum Bun

Bao from Yum Bun

I have an intense, borderline unhealthy affection for those Chinese sandwich buns peddled by the likes of Yum Bun and Bao London; there’s just something about that pudgy steamed bread that is so addictive. Yes, I adore a sourdough with a crackly crust and a chew that could shave inches off the jowls of a bloodhound but there’s a lot to be said for the super soft and doughy. In Northern China they have nailed this texture in the form of the mantou. I can’t get enough of them, so last weekend I went to a cookery class at School of Wok in Covent Garden to learn some tricks which would hopefully enhance my buns.

The Chinese use much whiter (bleached) flour, which is banned in the UK. A lot of places in Chinatown still use it however as there’s a legal loophole somewhere along the importing chain. You’ll see that the buns I’ve made have a yellow tinge to them, yet those that you see in restaurants are snowy white; the latter are mostly made in Chinatown with the imported flour, and then supplied to the restaurants. Apparently it’s also possible to buy the flour for home use, but recently there’s been some kind of shortage. If the yellow colour really bothers you, then add a tiny splash of rice vinegar to the water when you steam your buns, and that will whiten them slightly.

The dough is a bit of a bugger to work with, and I break out in a sweat kneading it until smooth; the idea is to work the gluten so that it becomes nice and stretchy. When it’s done you should be able to push your fingers gently into the surface of the dough without it cracking straight away. Once risen it’s rolled out into an oval shape, then oiled and folded over a chopstick; the oiling is important to stop the dough sticking together during steaming.


Sandwich buns resting in the steaming trays

We try steaming them two ways for comparative purposes, firstly in a bamboo steamer over a wok full of water, and secondly in a snazzy steam oven which I am fascinated by. The steam oven has more of an all engulfing heat, obviously, which surrounds the buns and cooks them evenly – best for the sandwich bread. The bamboo steamers are over direct heat, which makes the dough more likely to crack as it cooks – this is desirable when cooking buns like char siu bao, when you want that classic split-open top.

Red Cooked Pork

Red cooked pork with fermented tofu

After 8 minutes we had perfectly steamed, if not quite perfectly shaped mantou, ready to be rammed with pork braised in a fermented tofu sauce, a quick cucumber pickle (recipes below), lettuce and Japanese mayo. I ate three and felt the oof; despite their fluffy appearance they are incredibly filling and considering that we also made char siu and custard buns…is someone had pushed me out of the door I could’ve rolled to the bus stop.

The steamed bun class is the most technical of all the classes at School of Wok, and I learned a huge amount, including some dim sum techniques which Jeremy, our teacher, said experts generally refuse to demonstrate until people have had much more experience. He’s all about making this kind of cooking more accessible, is our Jez. The class is very relaxed, friendly and fun, and there were only three of us there, so everyone got lots of attention (I believe the maximum class size is 8). I was on the course with two young guys who wanted to start a street food stall selling bao, having made them only once before. Considering their limited knowledge of cooking, and the fact they were both knackered by lunch time, I’m not sure how well that venture is going to work out. One of them did say however that the class was the first time he’d EVER enjoyed cooking, which is a damn good advert for Jeremy’s classes, if perhaps not the foundation for a successful street food business…

School of Wok
61 Chandos Place

The steamed bun fun class runs from 10.30am-4.30pm and costs £130. I was invited to the review the class. 

Steamed Sandwich Buns (Mantou) (recipe courtesy of School of Wok)

530g medium gluten wheat flour
5g dried yeast mixed with 100g warm water to activate
50g milk
3 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
120g water
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp baking powder
Flavourless oil

Activate the yeast and then add to rest of the ingredients and knead well.

Allow to rest in a warm place covered with a damp cloth for 2 hours, or until the
dough has doubled in size.

Just before shaping, add 1tsp baking powder to the dough and knead well.

Roll the dough into a cylinder, then cut pieces off this, and roll out into oval shapes. Lightly oil the top of the dough, then put a chopstick at the half way mark, fold over and remove. Allow to rest in a warm place, under a damp cloth, for 30 minutes or until 1.5 times the size.

Line a bamboo steamer with greaseproof paper and steam for 8 minutes. Do not lift the lid in the first 4 minutes.

Braised Pork Belly in Fermented Tofu (recipe courtesy of School of Wok)

300g Pork belly
2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 cube of fermented bean curd
1 tbsp fermented bean curd liquid
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
Dash of sesame oil
1 tbsp black vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
Roughly 450ml hot water

Finely chop the garlic and place in a small prep bowl. Using the base of a teaspoon, crush the fermented bean curd into the sauce until a
thick paste is formed. Mix the soy sauce, black vinegar, sugar and sesame oil together.

Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a saucepan to high heat. Add the garlic to the pot and stir.

Turn the heat down to a medium heat and then add the fermented bean curd paste.

Sear the pork belly piece on all sides in a separate pan, ensuring the skin is well
sealed and golden brown. Once seared, place the pork into the saucepan and stir until the whole piece is
covered in sauce.

Add the soy sauce/black vinegar & sugar mixture to the pork and bubble through for
2-3 minutes. Now turn heat down to low.

Turn the pork over so that the skin is touching the bottom of the saucepan. Pour enough hot water over the pork to just about cover. Stir well and then cover with lid. Simmer on low heat for 1 ½ hours – 2 hours until the pork is soft and succulent and full of colour. Turn occasionally to allow sauce to absorb into the whole piece.

Cucumber & Spring Onion Pickle (recipe courtesy of School of Wok)

3 spring onions, finely sliced into strips
½ cucumber, finely sliced
Pickling liquid
4 tbsp honey
½ tsp salt
4 tbsp red rice vinegar
2 tbsp hot water
15 crushed sichuan pepper corns

Combine everything and let sit for half an hour or so.

7 comments | Bread, Pickles, Sandwiches

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