Archive for August 2009

Brioche Burger Buns

August 29th, 2009 — 4:16pm

The bun obsession was still in full swing last week and I started to experiment at home. The winner on flavour for me at the great bun tasting, was the brioche; almost perfect but letting itself down a little on structure. I wanted to kick things off using a tried and tested recipe which could then be modified afterwards, if necessary and I remembered saving this from Deb’s blog, which is usually very reliable when it comes to all things baked.

As Deb warns, the dough is incredibly sticky but it is important to resist over-flouring when kneading as this will only toughen the buns and make them too dense. Her technique for kneading is to pick up the dough, turning it and slapping it against the work top, which worked a treat. She has also posted some bread making tips, which I found incredibly useful.

The seeding here is a bit random as I forgot to buy sesame seeds and so had to scrabble around in the bottom of a packet of ‘seed mix’ I found languishing at the back of the cupboard. As you can see, I couldn’t be bothered to weed out the hemp seeds so they went on too. The odd cheeky sunflower also slipped through the net – it wasn’t an issue.

The buns turned out light, soft and neither too buttery nor too sweet. I thought they might benefit from being slightly denser but Chris disagreed and with hindsight, I think he’s probably right. I considered making another batch with slightly more flour just to see what happens but to be honest, I feel the bun obsession is finally coming to an end – it’s time to move on. Once toasted, I think this is actually as near to a perfect burger bun as it’s possible to get. The taste was spot on and they hold up well under the pressure of a greedy filling. Now all I have to do is start working on the perfect burger…

19 comments » | Bread, Burgers, Sandwiches

Bobcat Burger at The Meat Wagon

August 24th, 2009 — 2:04pm

I am lucky to receive many e-mails from readers, some of which include recommendations about places not yet visible on my radar. One such tip off led me to The Meat Wagon on Friday lunch time, excited at the prospect of trying their burger and, importantly, finding out what type of bun they use. I found the wagon parked up in an industrial estate behind Peckham Rye Station, a twisty trail of meaty smoke rising from within and a reassuring sizzle audible from a good twenty paces away.

I was relieved to find burgers still available as my reader warned me they often run out. I asked the owner, Yianni, to ‘make it spicy’ and as he set about cooking it, he told me that what I am actually getting is a ‘Bobcat Burger’. Apparently, he doesn’t advertise it as such for fear of trademark infringement as the recipe is inspired by one served at The Bobcat Bite in New Mexico. It is the chillies which make it Bobcat, specifically the way they are glued to the top of the burger with melted cheese.

Yianni chops half a green chilli and fries it in butter and a touch of chicken stock. “Not averse to a bit of butter I take it?” he checks. I laugh and reassure him that I feel quite the opposite. The frying releases the flavour of the chillies; the active ingredient, capsaicin, is water repellent and so will only be released when the chilli is cooked in some kind of fat. If you add a chilli into something straight, or into a stew or soup without frying for example, you will simply get the heat, but none of the flavour.

When the frying is complete, he tips the whole lot straight over the burger while it is still on the hot grilling plate, to a spectacular sizzle and steam. A few moments later, cheese goes on and seals the chillies in a juicy, hidden layer. To finish the burger Yianni toasts the bun and adds ketchup, mustard (French’s mild and sweet), lettuce and onion. There are of course variations on saucing and pickles available (a must in my opinion). As he hands me the finished product, carefully wrapped in foil to preserve it for my journey, he warns that the longer I wait the less likely it will be as rare as I wanted because the butter from the chillies penetrates the meat and continues cooking it (not to mention the residual heat). I look up at him with a delirious grin, drunk on the thought of butter seeping through beef.

When I arrive home I find the burger has squidged slightly and I curse myself for not cradling it in my hands like a delicate flower rather than slinging it enthusiastically into my bag. No matter, it is still good – a bit of re-arranging and I take the first bite and ohmygod; it is still juicy and pink, the meat (100% chuck from MacDuff cattle) is well seasoned and the butter laced chillies add richness and flavour with a subtle heat. It is gooey with cheese.

And the bun? Well, it was actually a light sourdough which, on paper I would have thought wrong, wrong, wrong but in all honesty, it worked. With only a hint of sourness and light as a feather beneath the slightly chewy crust, it was different from a regular sourdough. It does not surprise me to learn that Yianni and the baker have put quite some time and thought into it.

Apparently, he’s not a fan of brioche but I can forgive him because brioche would not be right for this burger, which is all very soft and squidgy. Salad is shredded and added sparingly so there is no ultra crisp crunch of lettuce or onion and the layers of cheese, butter, beef and sauce fuse together in a rich meld of gooey harmony. And so the bun plot thickens. There was me thinking I could go test some buns, decide which was the best and be done with it. Turns out the success of the bun type varies across burgers – pretty obvious now I come to think of it.

Yianni won’t be back in London for a while as he is taking his meat wagon off for a three month long trip to The States – to sample burgers and other carnivorous delights. “Meat is my thing” he tells me. I can’t wait to taste the ideas brought home from his travels. In the meantime I will continue my own burger experiments, which are going well, at the time of writing. I made these last night (post coming up) and they came out a treat – almost perfect in fact. Almost.

The Meat Wagon
All over the place – see website for details

25 comments » | Burgers, Restaurant Reviews, Street Food

Grilled Radicchio, Fennel & Tuna with Spicy Anchovy Dressing

August 18th, 2009 — 10:54am

I am obsessed with anchovies. I know that some people can’t stand the intense salty, fishy flavour but that it precisely the reason I love them so. I can do a whole tin in one sitting spread onto hot buttered toast – often I’ll do a soft boiled egg to dip the salty soldiers into. This is possibly my favourite snack and one which I’m very tempted to bust out at our next Guilty Pleasures Dinner Party.

The dinner is supposed to be a place to share culinary creations you shouldn’t really enjoy but you do and I pondered the eligibility of my egg and soldier offering. I mean, many people already love anchovies, right? Think Rowley Leigh’s parmesan custard with anchovy toasts, think lamb studded with rosemary and anchovies, think Worcestershire Sauce, Gentleman’s Relish, Caesar salad, fish sauce, bagna cauda…I could go on.

And then I realised, anchovies are a very guilty pleasure indeed, because we shouldn’t really be eating them at all. Stocks of the salty suckers are dwindling and I for one am gutted. I’m probably single handedly responsible for tipping the balance into the red. Well, me and Rowley Leigh who quite rightly laments that there is no substitute.

So, I’m trying to cut down (a little bit) – I’m taking things one week at a time. Can’t people just start breeding them or something? Crikey, I’m tempted to set up some sort of operation on my balcony just to keep a personal supply going. I thought I might have made the whole thing worse by using tuna in this dish too but that’s OK as long as it’s not Bigeye, Northern Bluefin, Pacific Bluefin or Southern Bluefin, apparently. Phew.

I’d like to say I’ll be able to stop eating anchovies but I’m not quite sure I can make that promise. I mean, I have an addiction, I can’t just go cold turkey – I’ll need professional help.

Grilled Radicchio, Fennel and Tuna with Spicy Anchovy Dressing (serves 2, generously)

1/2 head radicchio
1 bulb fennel
1 tuna steak
1 tin cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (or soak your own)

For the dressing

1 large red chilli, de-seeded or not (up to you) and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 handful mint leaves, chopped
Juice of 1/2 large lemon plus an extra squeeze to finish
6 anchovy fillets (more or less depending on taste)
Black pepper
Pinch of sugar
Oil (I used rapeseed)

– To make the dressing either whack the garlic, chilli, mint, anchovies, sugar and black pepper in a blender or pound in a pestle and mortar (my preference) until you have a mushy paste. Add the lemon juice and about 4 tablespoons of oil and mix thoroughly to emulsify. Adjust the quantities as necessary. If your dressing is too tart or you feel like it is punching you in the mouth, add another pinch of sugar.
– Remove any tired outer leaves from the radicchio then cut lengthways through the core and then do the same again so that you have four wedges. Cut the fennel lengthways through the core into slices, taking care to remove any tough bits of core but leaving enough so that it stays together in slices.
– Brush the wedges of radicchio and fennel with some of the dressing, reserving a teaspoon for the beans and some for drizzling at the end. Then grill them either on a hot griddle or the BBQ.
– Rub the tuna steak with oil and season. Grill for 1 minute each side then set aside on a warm plate while you assemble the salad.
– Arrange the fennel and radicchio slices on plates. Mix 1 teaspoon of the dressing with the beans and scatter over. Slice the tuna across the grain and arrange on the plate before drizzling over some of the remaining dressing and adding a final squeeze of lemon juice.

21 comments » | Barbecue, Dressings, Fish, Main Dishes, Pulses, Salads, Vegetables

Jerk Cook Out 2009

August 15th, 2009 — 12:03pm

The annual jerk cook-out in the gardens of The Horniman Museum is one of my favourite food events. I live close enough to walk there but not so close as to be affected by the hugely increased volume of traffic, which I’ve heard is a bit of a nightmare. It probably wouldn’t make any difference to me to be honest, I live on a major junction – I’d feel nervous without the sounds of sirens, beeping horns, road rage and screeching tyres 24/7. Anyway, my point is that this year it was BUSY. The weather was glorious and approximately 10,000 people turned out to laze on the grass and eat, drink and be merry.

As you approach the museum gardens, the wafts of jerk smoke start to reach your nostrils and it’s basically a race from then on in. I literally couldn’t get in there fast enough. The best Caribbean restaurants in London are invited and a panel of judges decide who makes the best jerk, rice and peas and dumpling. Once inside, we were a bit unnerved at the size of the first queue we came across at the famous Cummin Up and so decided to start with one of the smaller stalls, Ramones.

The plan was to try three different places so we started with one portion of jerk pork, rice and peas, salad and a dumpling (£6 I think). The sauce on the meat was quite oily, although not unpleasantly so and the lady serving us spooned extra over the rice and peas without me having to ask. The meat itself was tender and the fat, oh the fat! Crispy in places but melty in others, the best of both pig fat worlds. I’ve been trying to create a jerk recipe I’m happy with for a long time now and so I made careful notes about the spicing; the ground cloves were fairly pronounced and there was a strong smack of black pepper.

As we contemplated where to go next I noticed that one stall in particular, Tasty Jerk, had the most ridiculously long queue snaking right across the park. They were also packin’ an impressive row of barrel BBQ’s. We feared it might take ages to get served and were just turning away when I spotted them – jerk crab claws. We joined the queue.

And then we waited…and waited…and waited and after an hour considered giving up but decided it would be silly to queue for so long without some sort of reward at the end of it. With hindsight, that was a poor decision. We stood in the blazing sun, on a backwards slope, battling wasps and hangovers and moaners for nearly TWO HOURS and I am not exaggerating. What was most disturbing though, was that towards the front of the queue, the whole thing got a bit desperate. There was pushing, shoving and arguments about who was in front of who two hours ago. “Where have you come from?” one man accused. “Nigeria” the other replied.

As we got within spitting distance of the stall, the reasons for the outrageous waiting time became clear – the staff had absolutely no idea what they were doing. Many were just standing around doing nothing. That’s pretty insulting when you’ve been waiting for two hours. By the time we got to the front they had run out of pretty much everything. “All that’s left is pork and lamb.” No crab claws?! We took a plate of pork and some corn.

The spicing was definitely better than Ramones, with a heat that wasn’t just spicy but had fruity scotch bonnet flavour too and a subtle build. The meat however was dry as a bone. They managed to win it for the second year running and I can imagine the spicing would be amazing on the freshest, juiciest pieces likely served to the judges. By contrast, our experience had left a bad taste before we even got our food.

I regret the decision to queue at Tasty Jerk because the event itself is amazing. I’ll be back next year and for as long as it keeps running. There was a real carnival atmosphere inside and next year I’m rounding up a bunch of mates so we can all pile down with a blanket and plenty of cold beers. I definitely picked up some good spicing tips too and I’m so excited about the new recipe I already have a batch of ribs marinating ready for a mates’ birthday BBQ tonight. Watch this space.

You can see all my photos of the day here.

23 comments » | Caribbean Food, Cooking Competitions, Food Events

In Search of Perfect Buns at Byron

August 14th, 2009 — 7:35am

Call me radical but I like a good old fashioned burger bun – sweet, seeded and soft. One of my favourite examples comes, somewhat controversially, from McDonald’s. Yes, really. When I saw this post about Haché back in June, I was reminded of my loathing for the trend of sandwiching a burger with an inappropriate bun. Ciabatta? For a burger? No.

I commented on the post that I thought it would be a rather interesting experiment to take a Maccy D’s bun and put it either side of a proper burger. I resolved to make it happen and put the idea out on Twitter where the lovely @byronhamburger jumped in and offered to make my dream a reality. So it was that I found myself in McDonald’s a few weeks later asking, “could I just have three plain buns please? No nothing in them, just plain.” “OK” the guy said, “but you’ll have to pay for the full sandwich.” “You what?” I countered, “but how can they be worth the same when there’s nothing in them, can’t you just charge me for one?” Apparently, there was nothing he could do. In fact, he was so resolute about it that he just kept repeating the same phrase in a slightly scary robotic fashion. “OK, thanks anyway,” I said. “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do,” he replied.

Burger King on the other hand were more helpful. Three buns, toasted – £1.99, and I got a few funny looks thrown in for free. I stashed them in my bag and toddled off to meet Lizzie, Ollie and Chris for the bun-off. Tom Byng, the MD at Byron was waiting and oh my giddy aunt if he hadn’t had their bakers (Miller’s) make up a selection of buns for us to try! “Have you got the er, you know?” he asked me, referring to the BK buns. “The dark side has indeed passed the threshold,” I replied. He’d even made up tasting sheets. There were 9 buns in total and for each we first tried the bun au naturale before moving on to bread and burger combo. This was serious business.

Here’s the pick of the bunch. First, the BK bun. On its own, too dry and bready but with the burger? Great. Sweet flavour and the all important robust structure – there’s nothing worse than being reduced to eating a burger with a knife and fork. Shockingly good.

Next, the brioche, a strong contender for my favourite too; sweet, buttery goodness, which complemented the meat perfectly. I loved it at Hawksmoor and I love it still. The only problem here is structural – it tends to wrinkle up and deflate somewhat on top. Oh and it needs seeding.

The worst bun on the night (no surprises here people), was the ciabatta – just too much effort to eat. Ciabatta is an event in itself, it is hard work, has a strong, yeasty flavour and it hogs the limelight. I think I’m right in saying that none of our party even took another bite after dusting off our floury faces.

Others included a wholemeal version (just plain wrong), onion sour dough (too much sourness competing for attention), sesame seed (pretty damn good, more sweetness needed) and the plain white (the Byron standard, actually very good, simple, doughy but lacking seeds). So my dream bun then? Well, it would combine the structure and seeds of the BK offering with all the sweetness and fluffiness of the brioche. Operation bun – phase 1 complete. Now I just need to work out how to make this ‘ultimate’ version. Any tips will be hugely appreciated.

A massive thank you to Byron for making the whole thing happen in the first place and entering into it with such enthusiasm. I didn’t confess this on the night, but I’d actually never been to Byron before. I cannot tell you my relief when I bit into one of their burgers – perfectly pink and juicy with plenty of beefy oomph. Fresh, crisp salad and carefully considered saucing. An absolute pleasure to try, all nine of them. You can see what a good time I had by the state of my tasting sheet above. I can’t wait for phase 2 – recipe testing. I’m going to be eating a lot of burgers this summer…

300 King’s Road
Tel: 020 7352 6040
There are other locations: see website for details

29 comments » | Burgers, Far Out Crazy, Lovely Food Producing People, Restaurant Reviews

Brasserie Blanc, Cheltenham

August 11th, 2009 — 2:41pm

A couple of weeks back I returned home to the shire to visit my folks and we decided to try the recently re-vamped ‘Brasserie Blanc’. In its former incarnation as ‘Le Petit Blanc’ Raymond’s chain of brasseries had been going steadily downhill for years. I remember poor service and increasingly patchy standards of cooking. A salient memory is that of my Dad biting down on a particularly rock hard vegetable and saying, “I’m all for al dente but this is taking the piss”. Quite.

We booked a table for Saturday night, arrived in good spirits and settled in for a spot of people watching. Cheltenham is very good for people watching. The dining room helps now too since being considerably de-cluttered; a huge relief as it was incredibly dated and a bit of a headache, with huge sculptural twisty things suspended on rails overhead like arboreal octopuses.

To start I chose the gravad lax. I wanted something light and it was just that, although a slice of bread wouldn’t have gone amiss. Not really a dish to judge a restaurant by though, considering it requires no cooking.

For the main course I chose sirloin and chips – classic brasserie fare. The steak at first looked a bit flaccid but was actually really good – excellent beefy richness and the level of umami which makes your salivary glands go into overdrive. The chips were less successful though, lacking any kind of crispness on the outside and borderline rubbery on the inside.

For dessert my mum kindly agreed to share the flaming baked alaska with me – a twinkly mound of whippy meringue encasing boozy sponge and vanilla flecked ice cream. The waitress set it down, poured some Grand Marnier over its mammoth proportions and attempted to set the thing on fire. As you can see however, it went a little bit wrong and I couldn’t stifle my giggles. The alcohol clearly hadn’t fully coated the beast and so she was basically just burning the side with a lighter.

My advice Raymond, is ditch the flames. I think my mum summed it up best with the phrase, “a bit TGI’s isn’t it?” We also witnessed a waitress crouching next to a table. Next thing you know there will be badges, braces and bibs. The food itself was a bit hit and miss, as was the service but overall, I had a brilliant meal because I was dining with my family. I really love how they have embraced the blog too; my Mum asked for a window table so that I could have good light for the photos.

The next morning after attempting to brush the hangover fuzz from my mouth, I commented that the baking soda toothpaste residing in the bathroom “tasted like arse” and my parents both immediately chimed in with, “it’s not supposed to be a culinary experience darling – don’t blog it.” I can’t say I’m not a little bit tempted.

Brasserie Blanc
The Queen’s Hotel
The Promenade
GL50 1NN
(there are other locations, see website for details)
Tel: 01242 266 800

18 comments » | Restaurant Reviews

Quail Fail

August 6th, 2009 — 6:49pm

Well, not totally – it almost worked. I’ve enjoyed rhubarb sauce with pork and mackerel before and I wanted to see if I could branch out a bit into other meats. The quail seemed a bit of a stretch but I figured if I could spice it up right then it might just be magic – the idea being I would use ground ginger to tie the meat and rhubarb together.

Sadly, the results were disappointing. The whole time I was eating all I could think was, ‘this would be great with pork’, which says it all really. Still, you don’t know if you don’t try, eh? Otherwise life is boring. I picked every last piece of flesh from the crispy, spiced, succulent little quails and ate the rhubarb sauce atop fruit and yoghurt the next day instead. Very nice it was too.

Rhubarb Sauce (for mackerel or pork but if you make it work with quail, do let me know)

400g rhubarb, cut into 1″ lengths
3-4 tbsp caster sugar (start with 2-3 tablespoons then keep tasting and adding as necessary)
Zest and juice of 1 orange
Pinch of ground ginger (optional)

– Whack everything in a pan and let it bubble up to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the rhubarb is falling apart.
– Blitz in a processor if you want a smooth sauce. Season to taste with salt.

9 comments » | Fruit, Main Dishes, Meat, Not Quite Right, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads

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