Archive for October 2009

Thai-style Stuffed Squid

October 27th, 2009 — 11:13am

Too cold for a BBQ you say? Pah! Never. Well, not yet anyway. There’s nothing like flinging a few good things on a hot Weber to chase away the winter blues, and good things were in abundance as we chowed our way through these enormous steaks, some spectacular sausages, a smoky baba ganoush, a rack of sticky jerk ribs and my contribution: Thai style stuffed squids.

When researching the recipe I discovered that stuffing squid with pork mince is actually a Vietnamese preparation but I had some galangal, coriander and lime leaves hanging around so Thai-style it was. To lighten the stuffing I also added breadcrumbs soaked in milk (as you would for an Italian meatball), which might seem a bit odd but was designed to avoid ending up with an overly heavy and coarse mixture, what with it being a BBQ and therefore an exercise in maximising stomach capacity. I actually added a bit too much in the end which I thought made it overly loose but everyone else told me to stop fretting and rein in the pedantry.

The most important thing to bear in mind when preparing your squid is that one should not over-stuff. The squid shrinks when cooking and if you’ve too much pig jammed in, then there can only be one result and that is a big porky mess. I’d pre-cooked the filling so we simply rubbed with oil, seasoned and grilled until golden on each side; just enough time for the filling to heat through and the squid to stay delightfully bouncy and toothsome. The tentacles were also given the appropriate amount of respect; we saw no better way to treat them than seasoning highly and draping across the searing hot grill until the suckers were curled and crispy-tipped.

At 7pm, when two layers of clothing were no longer enough to keep out the chill and the wind kept blowing out the candles, we admitted defeat and retired to the sofas for cheese, gin and a bit of inebriated shouting at the telly. Winter BBQ’s rock.

Thai-style Stuffed Squid

6 squid (on the small side of medium), cleaned
350g minced pork
2 tablespoons fish sauce (plus more to taste)
2 fat spring onions (green parts only), finely sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
2 crushed garlic cloves,grated
1/2 inch piece galangal, grated
4 lime leaves, finely chopped
2 Thai chillies, finely chopped
1 small handful coriander leaves, finely chopped
2-3 sliced of white bread (crusts removed), soaked in enough milk to make it into a mush when mashed with a fork
Black pepper
Juice of 1 lime (plus another to adjust to taste)

Cocktail sticks, for sealing

First make the filling. Mix the pork mince with all the ingredients except the fish sauce, lime juice and coriander. Add this mixture to a pan over a fairly gentle heat and stir every now and then until cooked through. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely if you will not be cooking the squids right away.

Ensure that each squid is sealed at the thin, pointy end as they can sometimes have a hole. If this is the case, secure with a cocktail stick before stuffing each with the pork mixture. Take care not to overstuff the squids as they will shrink during cooking. Secure the end with another cocktail stick.

To cook the squid, rub each with oil and season lightly then grill until golden on each side.

19 comments » | Barbecue, Fish, Main Dishes, Meat

Beefy, Beefy Rendang

October 24th, 2009 — 5:30pm

Apologies for the week long absence; work plus problems accessing the blog have made writing anything impossible. I actually made this a couple of weeks ago now, when the weather had just started to really turn. What better way to stoke the internal fire than with a big bowl of rich rendang in the belly.

The recipe comes from William Leigh (which you can find on Dos Hermanos) and I will come out right now and say it: this is the best rendang I have ever made. So perfectly balanced; fragrant and rich. There is something very satisfying and heart warming about putting a load of ingredients in just one pot and a few hours later plating up a thing of great beauty, the smell of which has been intensifying with every teasing minute.

Aside from whizzing up the paste, that is essentially all you do until you get to the end stage when things get a little hairy. The final step of the recipe involves the splitting of the coconut milk and I’ll admit to feeling slightly alarmed when I returned to the pot to find this unholy mess.

Don’t panic though – this is normal. As the liquid cooks out of the milk the oil is left behind and the beef then fries in it, resulting in that all important flaky texture. You need to keep a careful eye on it at this stage, as once it begins to dry up, you are done. I would also recommend using a solid, heavy based pan (or a wok) and be prepared to give it a good soaking afterwards. One final bit of advice: the method section of the recipe on Dos Hermanos does not tell you when to use the can of water so I added it to the pot with the coconut milk as I couldn’t see any other logical time to do it.

I was rewarded for my patience with a deep, sweet, tongue titillating rendang;  fragrant with lime leaves, galangal and lemongrass, with a tropical note of coconut and a good heat from the 10 Thai chillies I added. William acknowledges that his final seasoning of fish sauce and lime juice is a break from tradition but I agree that it lifts the whole dish and gives a very welcome burst of freshness. The meat flaked apart at the merest prod with an eager fork. I urge you to try this recipe.

I served it with a  raita (tomato, cucumber, coriander, lemon juice and seasoned yoghurt) and an onion salad, which I serve with pretty much all curries. Just plunge finely sliced onions into a bowl of icy water and leave for an hour or so until they turn crisp then season and add dried mint; I keep a pot of dried mint for no other reason. We scooped up each greedy gob-full with warm chapattis then sat back and rubbed our bellies in an appropriately satisfied manner. If I could, I would have purred like a cat. I made the rendang again the very next day.

18 comments » | Curry, Main Dishes, Malaysian, Meat, Uncategorized

Tinda Masala

October 16th, 2009 — 2:43pm

The tinda masala is one of my favourite dishes at Tayyabs; certainly my favourite vegetarian dish and a no-brainer when it comes to ordering. The very first time I went there, I noticed it clinging on at the bottom of the menu and decided to try it as a sympathy order. When I put the first mouthful in my greedy gob however, there was no doubt that the dish was laughing in the face of my pity. I’ve only ever been served one disappointing tinda which, sadly, arrived after I’d been talking my mate’s ear off about it in the pub beforehand. It was watery, bland, lukewarm and all the worse for me bigging it up so much. Generally though those juicy little gourds are cooked on a fierce heat with a punchy, slightly sour sauce, the main ingredients of which Tayyabs insist are just garlic, ginger and chilli; I can’t blame them for not wanting to reveal their secrets.

I’ve seen fresh tinda around recently, but they always seem to look very tired. I cannot tell you the frustration this caused me until eventually, the canned ones stepped in to offer succour.  As soon as I opened that tin, I got a familiar waft of briny tinda – Tayyabs must use the canned version too.

I used this recipe from Mamta’s kitchen, although I omitted the potato and used mustard seeds where she suggests a choice between mustard and cumin. Overall I was pleased with the result: a perfect starting point for some experimentation, although I did think the tomato dominated and will reduce that considerably or just add some fresh at the end like Tayyabs do. A crispy onion garnish would also be most welcome. The tinda don’t really have much flavour of their own but are special for being so incredibly thirsty, soaking up the spiced juices which then burst into the mouth at the slightest pressure. Next time, I will tweak the spices and cook it faster at a higher heat, to avoid breaking up the tinda so much. Of course, I’ll need to make a trip to Tayyabs first for research purposes, just to make sure I get that spicing right. What a hardship.

11 comments » | Curry, Gluten-free, Side Dishes, Vegan, Vegetables

Jamaican Oxtail Stew with Guinness

October 12th, 2009 — 12:37pm

Every so often, Chris will put in a dinner request: “I saw a Jamaican oxtail stew on Levi Roots a couple of weeks ago” he tells me, “can you make it tonight?” It sounds like a gentle question but is in fact a firm requisition. I’ve tried resisting once before and the look on his little face pulled so hard on the heart strings that I’m now conditioned to comply. Thankfully he was able to remember a few scant details, so a bit of light Googling and a recipe was formed. I marched off purposefully to pick up 1 kg oxtail pieces from a local butcher who describes his shop as, “Irish and Caribbean” – he is Irish, many of his customers Caribbean; it makes sense I suppose.

I rolled the chunks in seasoned flour then browned them on all sides, in batches (so as not to crowd the pan), and set aside. I then softened some diced onion, carrot and celery before adding back the oxtail plus 3 cloves crushed garlic; 1.5 tablespoons thyme leaves; 2 scotch bonnet chillies; 2 tablespoons allspice; 4 large tomatoes, chopped; 2 bay leaves; 1 teaspoon of sugar; 1 litre of beef stock and a can of Guinness. I let this bubble gently for 3 hours before adding 2 cans of beans (I used kidney and pinto) for another 30-45 minutes.

The rich oxtail flaked into melty mouthfuls while the marrow from the bones and high fat content gave the stew a wonderful gelatinous quality. There were still some bits of meat clinging to bone too, which satisfied the need to pick up and gnaw. The gravy was fragrant with allspice and tingling with scotch bonnet heat. I was happy with the Guinness addition too, which is a nod to the Guinness punch served in some Caribbean places; I’ve still yet to try it but have fallen rather in love with the idea. In this stew, it gives an extra depth with bite.

The stew was devoured in a frenzy of slurping, chewing and murmuring, punctuated by the odd ‘ker-ping!’ as discarded pieces of bone were slung into an empty bowl. I’m pretty sure this means I delivered the goods. It’s going into the repertoire for future tweaking and handily, fits into the frugal category, which is the name of the game in this house right now. In my hunt for bargain ingredients, I’ve been exploring the depths of Peckham Rye to an even greater extent than before and finding all sorts of weird and wonderful treats hiding away. Watch this space.

31 comments » | Caribbean Food, Main Dishes, Meat, Pulses

‘Ham School’ at Brindisa

October 8th, 2009 — 12:40am

To me, the swine is the greatest of all animals (for eating) and what follows is an account of my lesson on arguably one of the finest ways man has seen fit to prepare the beast for its tasty fate. I was invited to a preview of  the new ‘ham workshop’ at Brindisa, which will be running monthly from 5th November. The workshop took place around a table in the Brindisa shop in Borough, surrounded by the dwindling bustle of the market and sounds of revellers in the pub opposite, which made for a lively atmosphere; definitely preferable to sitting in a quiet, stuffy shop. Alberto Ambler, the assistant manager at Brindisa Tapas, informed us we would be treated to a lesson on the importance of variables such as the diet, region and breed of the pigs, a tasting of four different hams and finally, a lesson in carving. Much of the lesson would come from Zac Fingal-Rock Innes – a ‘Master Carver’ who was nursing an occupational hazard on his hand, as you can see from the photo below.

As we nibbled on bread and olives and sipped a green apple scented Manzanilla, Alberto and Zac talked us through the lives of the pigs. We would be tasting four hams: one White pig and three Ibéricos, helpfully arranged on the plate at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock, so as to avoid any confusion. The first we tasted (12 o’clock) was Jamón de Monroyo Reserva from Teruel, Aragon: a White pig which is cereal fed and cured for a minimum of 14 months. This Alberto described as an “entry level ham” – not too complicated, slightly sweet and mostly just plain ‘hammy’. This was a ham without high ambitions but tasty as you like nonetheless.

Next we moved on to the Jabu Recebo from Jabugo, Huelva, the first of the Ibérico hams. These pigs graze the dehesa (an area nearly 15,000 times the size of Hyde Park), covering as much as 20-25 km per day in their search for acorns. They are also incredibly selective about which ones they will eat even once they do find them. The purer the breed of Ibérico, the more selective they are about which nut is fit for dinner. The micro-climate of the Jabugo region also contributes to the flavour of the animal; the cool woods add another variable to the mix. This ham was much stronger in flavour, almost knocking on the door of Marmitey in intensity yet with a familiar sweetness and melty texture.

Our 6 o’clock ham was a Jamón de la Dehesa de Extremadura Bellota D.O.P from Badajoz, Extramedura: an Ibérico which is cured for 2-3 years. The flavour of this was really strong, almost a little musty and deeply nutty with a bit of that Marmite going on again; condensed umami; reduced, almost fermented and slightly pruney in flavour. The taste buds were going crazy with delight at this point and the mouth alive with an explosion of saliva.

Our final ham was an Joselito Gran Reserva Bellota from Guijuelo, Salamanca: an acorn fed Ibérico cured for 3-4 years. This ham was extraordinary. It had the characteristics of the other hams we had tried – nutty, sweet  and straight up porky but differed in that the stages of flavour just kept on coming. I remember distinctly a kind of muddy intensity that I wished would just swallow me up so I could wallow in its porky depths. The finish was slightly cheesy and the texture of the fat was hand-to-the-brow, fall-into-his-arms dreamy. Apparently, this ham was a particularly fine example due to 2001/2 being good years, therefore producing a good vintage, or ‘añada’ – something to do with the rainfall being just right for the acorns.

When the tasting was done and we gazed forlornly at our empty plates, Zac beckoned us over to the waiting hams for our carving master class. He began by showing us the tools of the trade and giving us a tour of the ham leg to get an idea of how to begin (by cutting off the excess fat on top) and how to finish  the leg (by cutting out all the little bits no good for slicing, which then resemble lardons, and are called ‘tacos’). When the leg is still being carved, the exposed surface should be covered with the layer of fat cut from the top, to prevent drying out during storage.

He proceeded to give a demonstration of the carving, making it look spectacularly easy, like the knife was running through butter. We then donned a metal mesh glove on our non-slicing hands and had a go ourselves. You know what I’m going to say don’t you? It isn’t as easy as it looks. The skill is to let the blade of the ‘jamonera’  do the work – stroking, not pushing the blade and using the section that is closest to the handle, rather than the length. I definitely improved as I practised, as did everyone, and by the end had me some pretty good slices going on. Well, good considering I’d never done it before and was slightly pissed on sherry; I’m pretty confident in saying Zac didn’t fear for his job.

To top it all we were generously bestowed with gifts: the ham we had cut plus some masterfully sliced by Zac, some tacos and a pot of beautiful pure white fat which we were informed make amazing roast potatoes and croquettes. I’ll bet. It is also packed with amino acids from the acorns the pigs munched on. The bone can be used to flavour stocks and soups; nothing is wasted. I’ve used my pot of tacos already, cooked quickly with some white wine, scallops and artichokes which with hindsight, was not the best cooking method to use. I should have read my information sheet first, which advises to use them in stocks and stews, where they will soften. Gorgeous nonetheless.

I learned a hell of a lot about ham at the Brindisa ham workshop, and I am very grateful to Alberto for hosting and to the super glam Celia Brooks Brown, who suggested they invite me in the first place. Even though I did not pay for my experience, I most certainly would, and I will enthusiastically recommend to anyone else that they do too. The ham workshops will cost £65 per person and begin running every month, starting 5th November, between 7-8.45pm.

Brindisa at Borough Market

The Floral Hall
Stoney Street
Borough Market
London SE1 9AF

Tel & Fax: 020 7407 1036

18 comments » | Food Classes, Food Events, Meat

Deep Fried Anchovies with Chilli & Preserved Lime Mayo

October 6th, 2009 — 2:44pm

I rarely come across fresh anchovies, so when I spotted some in a local fishmonger (Moxon’s in East Dulwich), I greedily snapped up three big handfuls, cheap as chips at £2.something for the lot. Being an anchovy obsessive, the thought of eating them in a new way was almost a bit much for me; I couldn’t get home fast enough. “You can cook them just like whitebait” the fishmonger advised. “Really?” I countered, “their heads look a bit big to eat.” I think we must have had our wires crossed somewhere because every recipe I looked at told me to remove the heads and gut them. In the end, I turned to that fount of all food knowledge, The Larousse Gastronomique and it didn’t let me down, providing  clear instructions on how to clean and fry my most favourite of fishes. We were off.

The obvious accompaniment to the anchovies would be tartare sauce, but I’d picked up a jar of preserved limes recently at one of my best-loved local stores – Khan’s in Peckham. The sign above the shop never fails to make me smile: “walk in and see the variety”. Thing is, Khan really ain’t kidding. If he sells beans then he sells every kind of bean you can think of. Same with oils, halloumi style cheeses and, to my sheer delight, pickles. So many different kinds of pickles. I had to check myself and make a pact to buy only one pickle a month, otherwise things could get very out of hand. As you move towards the back of the store though, aside from meeting with every kind of dried pulse imaginable, things start to get a bit weird. I’ve never been right back there and I’m not sure if I might get swallowed up, into some kind of Peckham Narnia. One day, one day.

Anyway, the limes. They basically taste like the lime pickle you would eat with a curry, but milder and without the heavy spicing, so I decided to use them in place of lemon juice or other acidity in my mayo. I also chucked in a birds-eye chilli from the garden, a good fat clove of garlic and some parsley found lying around looking a bit sorry for itself. A bit of elbow grease and light chopping later, and a fine dipping sauce was created.

The anchovies were beheaded and gutted before being gently wiped clean. The Larousse instructs not to wash the anchovies, as their flesh is very delicate; I found this to be very sound advice. They were then dipped in milk followed by seasoned flour and fried until golden brown. We piled them high on plates, squeezed a generous amount of lemon on top and dunked and dipped into the spicy lime mayo. They didn’t last long. Crispy yet large enough to retain a bit of soft flesh inside, they were like whitebait but ten times better, what with being anchovies and all. We devoured the lot in minutes and I’m actively seeking out my next fix.

I now have a large jar of limes of course which I’ve been steadily working my way through. I’ve had success with a piquant dressing for halloumi mixed with some chilli and mint and I’ve plans for a stuffed mackerel this weekend which will incorporate them also. After all, I need to get through the jar just so I can justify buying my next pickle.

Deep Fried Anchovies

First, prepare your anchovies by cutting off their heads and removing the guts. It is easiest to remove the guts with your fingers. Do not try to do this under the tap as the flesh of the anchovy is very delicate, and will break. Chris also had some success twisting the head off, in which case the guts tend to come out at the same time. Just get in there and give it a go I say. If they need further cleaning, give them a little wipe.

Begin heating some oil for deep frying. Tip some plain flour onto a plate and season generously with salt and pepper (fresh anchovies are not as salty as the canned ones) and also have a bowl of milk to hand. Dip each anchovy first into the milk then roll in the seasoned flour. Deep fry, in small batches and drain on kitchen paper. Pile high and serve with the spicy mayo.

Spicy, Preserved Lime Mayo

Take two egg yolks and a fat garlic clove crushed with a pinch of salt. Mix these together in a bowl. Next take about 250-300ml oil of your choice (I often use light olive oil (it needs to be light) but I sometimes also use groundnut, as it is flavourless) and begin adding this to the yolk mixture, a few drops at a time, whisking each few drops in until they are fully incorporated before adding the next. Then, once the mayonnaise starts to get a bit thicker, start adding the oil a little bit faster, whisking all the time. Keep adding oil to the desired thickness (if you think my mayo looks a bit thin in the above picture then you are right, I ran out of oil).

If the mayonnaise splits, take a fresh egg yolk (in a fresh bowl) and begin adding the split mixture to it, a little at a time, as you did with the oil. This should bring it back.

Stir in some chopped parsley, chilli, 1 finely diced pickled lime and black pepper and add more salt if necessary. You could just use some lime or lemon juice or something like white wine vinegar if you do not have the pickled lime.

27 comments » | Fish, Fruit, Pickles, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads, Snacks, Starters

Ottolenghi (Islington)

October 2nd, 2009 — 10:42pm

When I recently left my job, my colleagues very generously clubbed together to buy me a gift voucher for Ottolenghi. I was extremely touched by the gesture and nearly shed a little tear when I opened the envelope. Filled with excitement I booked the table asap; a side table to be precise, as I’d heard about the communal seating arrangements, which are really not my cup of tea. I wanted to enjoy a romantic meal with Chris and also to sneak some photos of the food without attracting any attention although, I warn you now – Ottolenghi is dark. Romantic yes, good for photos, no. Get your imaginations limbered up ready, you’re going to need them.

The prices at first looked very reasonable – between £9.80 and £10.80 for a hot dish ‘from the kitchen’ and £6.80 and £8.80 for a cold dish ‘from the counter’. That is, until you notice the teeny writing at the bottom which states that you need to order 3 dishes per person to create a full dinner. I would say the plates are bigger than tapas but a wee bit smaller than a starter. Having the voucher though, we had no sense of restraint whatsoever and dove straight in with gusto, ordering nine dishes between the two of us. “I really think that might be a bit much for two people” the waitress advised. Oh, how we laughed (on the inside), and then informed her we would have no problem polishing off every last morsel. It was reassuring however that she did speak up rather than just letting us spend more money on food we might not be able to eat.

Firstly, the bread at Ottolenghi deserves special mention, particularly the corn bread. The other varieties were duly dunked in the bowl of grassy olive oil provided but that corn bread was the one we really savoured and squabbled over. It was cakey and slightly sweet, yet savoury and delicately spiked with chilli; I could have eaten half a loaf, no trouble. That crusty looking bit on the bottom is cheese by the way. Unfortunately the waitress didn’t know which type; she suggested Parmesan but I’m not totally convinced.

The nine dishes we ordered then arrived, tapas style, in waves. Here’s a few of the highlights.

Scallops with grapefruit and morcilla were beautifully charred on the outside and so absolutely, precisely on the cusp between cooked and raw within. The silky nuggets sat atop a punchy gremolata, which was balanced by sweet pink grapefruit. It came with a disappointingly small sliver of morcilla that was aiming for crispy but erring on the side of burnt, which was a shame. The dish was otherwise perfect.

That purple coloured blob you can see in the foreground of the above picture was Chris’s favourite dish overall: braised rabbit leg with Jerusalem artichoke purée, caramelised fig and orange and star anise reduction. The rabbit and anise worked in happy harmony as always; each piece coated in the sticky, spice scented, citrus-sweet sauce. The Jerusalem artichoke purée was the real stunner on this plate though. Somehow, someone had managed to wring out the very essence of artichoke into that purée; Chris described it as, “like walking into a wood shed that has been shut for 10 years.” You know, in a good way. Some accompanying caramelised figs sounded promising but were a total let down, being slightly unpleasant in texture due to a really hard caramel coating.

Other noteworthy dishes included the super soft rare beef fillet with a coriander and mustard sauce which was bursting with fresh herby flavour and I made a mental note to re-create it and drizzle it over something like a beef dopiaza. Eating the beef with the grassy flavour from the coriander sauce was like eating the cow with what the cow had been eating; it just seemed to make sense.

Crispy pork belly arrived with two apple-y accompaniments; one a sweet, slightly sharp apple and thyme chutney and the other a refreshing salad of crisp golden delicious apples and mustard cress. You can see that our meal was a little meat heavy overall although my favourite dish of the evening was the aubergine with miso, which is honestly what that blob is in the last picture above. The miso dressing was intense and really brought out the meatyness (probably why I loved it) of the silky smooth aubergine without overpowering one bit. I could have eaten a whole plateful and I’m considering going back for lunch to do exactly that.

The one salad we did order turned out to be the only disappointment of our meal. The combination of peaches, goat cheese and balsamic-orange blossom dressing sounded like a sure fire winner but was lacking in the skilful balance which was so evident in all the other dishes. What actually happened was that the ingredients combined to produce the unmistakable sweet, synthetic flavour of…bubblegum. That’s quite an achievement in it’s own right I suppose, but nevertheless not what I want from my dinner. Quite extraordinary.

Overall, we were incredibly impressed with Ottolenghi. The gift from my colleagues allowed me to relax and not worry about the cost, which of course enhanced my enjoyment of the meal no end. Otherwise, the place was filled with people who were either a) clearly rich or famous (best sleb spot of the night: Paul Whitehouse) b) wining and dining clients or c) wealthy families with a gaggle of small children in tow. The place was filled with kids, including one who made it her sole purpose to stare at us and our food throughout the entire 1 1/2 hours we were there. I went from trying to engage the child through trying to ignore her and then eventually on to considering dealing her a clip round the ear.

Don’t let that put you off though, the food is excellent – un-fussed, confident and pretty as a picture (you’ll have to take my word on that bit).  At the end we were truly stuffed (we did eat enough for three people) and decided to skip desserts in favour of coffee and Armagnac, then waddled off into the night contented and vowing to return for lunch to try a few more dishes without breaking the bank. I’d like to see a branch of Ottolenghi closer to me daaahn Saaarf but then, it’s not really an Ottolenghi kind of location down here, is it daaahling.

287 Upper Street
London N1 2TZ
0207 288 1454
There are other branches – see website for details

Ottolenghi on Urbanspoon

18 comments » | Restaurant Reviews

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