Archive for December 2009

A Very Porky Pie

December 30th, 2009 — 10:07pm

I am now officially 80% pork fat. My Dad reckons that the other 20% is made up of beer. Yet again I have stuffed myself to the button-popping threshold of what is socially and physically acceptable and gained more than I care to mention. It all started with this pork pie.

Every year mum and I have a Christmas cook-off – the entire day is spent in the kitchen churning out essentials such as sausage rolls, glazed ham, bread sauce and this year, an absolute monster of a pie. She was big, golden brown and stuffed with three cuts of pig. She was beautiful; bubbling and spluttering with porky juices as we  sat there and actually watched her cook and yet, she would also prove rather tricksy.

First I had to contend with a smelly trotter. Worried I wouldn’t have time to pick one up back home, I boarded the coach with a previously purchased cloven hoof for my companion, but when I came down to making the stock, the thing seriously kiffed and had to go in the bin. I’d been sold a funky foot. Unable to find another, it was a very small hock which eventually came to the rescue; we simmered it as you would the trotter, with some bones, herbs and onion, and it made a stock which set to a rich savoury jelly. Phew.

Jelly crisis averted, things looked up with a hot water crust which came together easily despite the fact that the recipe in front of you reads contrary to everything you know about making any kind of pastry. Butter and lard are heated with water then added to the flour; it comes together into a very soft and pliable play-doh like ball…

…before being stuffed to the brim with three kinds of pork; 1.3 kg of diced shoulder, 250g minced belly, and 250g back bacon.

A proud little bay leaf preserved a hole through which to pour the jelly later, and she went in the oven for an hour and half, before coming out of the tin for glazing and going back in for a further 15 minutes to go all shiny.

The re-heated jelly stock is then slowly funnelled into the top of the pie once cooled and, if you are unlucky like me, three hours later it bursts out the bottom. My mum discovered the pie on her way to bed, sitting in a clear pool of partly set liquid and, thinking it would make the pastry soggy (as would I), tipped the jelly away and crossed her fingers.

In the end though, a pie that blew any shop bought version out of the water. At one point, we got so emotional that the pie was actually described as ‘resplendent’. Annoyingly, the jelly in particular was incredibly tasty; some at least was retained around the base and quivering gems studded the meat where the liquid had seeped into every available space.

I will be making another pork pie, certainly next Christmas, if not before. The meat inside was seasoned just how I like it, because obviously I made it; heavy on the white pepper, hints of mace, sage and thyme in the background. Most of all it’s full-on pork. The remaining jelly was savoured and a lesson learned: there is only so much pork one can ever get into a pastry case. You’ve just got to accept it.

A big fat wedge made a very welcome addition to the ‘pork plate’ alongside my mum’s glazed ham with Cumberland sauce and a couple of crisp, buttery sausage rolls; pickles must of course be close at hand. A porky goodbye to 2009 and here’s to a slightly less porky me in 2010. Stranger things have happened.

I hope you all had a delicious Christmas too and a very Happy New Year!

Pork Pie (makes one absolute beast of a pie which fills an 18 or 20 inch cake tin)
It is easiest to start the pie the day before you want to eat it.

For the Stock

A few pork bones
A pig’s trotter or a very small hock
1 onion, halved and studded with six cloves
A stick of celery, chopped in half
Six black peppercorns
Parsley, thyme and bay leaves
Roughly 2 litres of water

Put all the ingredients in a pan and then gently simmer for 3-4 hours, skimming off any scum as necessary. Strain the stock then leave in the fridge overnight or until well chilled and set to a jelly. Scrape off the layer of fat on top and the stock is then ready to be re-heated. You will need about 250ml for the pie (don’t try to get any more in, trust me). The rest is a very valuable addition to your freezer.

For the Crust

The crust recipe I used comes from this site.

100g butter
100g lard
200ml water
550g plain flour
1.5 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs, plus another for glazing later
1 bay leaf

Melt the butter and lard with the water over a gentle heat. Meanwhile, mix the flour with the salt in a large mixing bowl then add the eggs. Use a knife to start cutting it together as you normally would when making pastry. Begin adding the melted fat and water mixture a little at a time until it starts to all come together like this. Then go in with your hands and bring it together into a ball. Knead very briefly until smooth then wrap in cling film and refrigerate while you make the filling.

For the Filling

1.3 kg pork shoulder
250g smoked back bacon
250g belly pork, minced
1 heaped tablespoon chopped sage
1 tablespoon chopped thyme leaves
1 generous teaspoon salt (don’t go overboard as the bacon is salty)
1 generous teaspoon black pepper or to taste
1 generous teaspoon white pepper or to taste
Half a teaspoon of ground mace (substitute nutmeg if you don’t have it)

First, finely dice the pork shoulder, removing any sinewy bits. I went for quite a coarse dice, about 1/2-1cm square. Then finely dice the bacon too and mix all three meats together in a large mixing bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and combine well. Take a little bit of the mixture and form into a small patty about the size of a 50p piece, then cook in a frying pan to check the seasonings and adjust to taste as necessary.

Assembling the Pie

Preheat the oven to 180C. Cut off a third of the pastry and set aside for the lid (back in the fridge), then roll out the remaining two thirds on a lightly floured surface. You want a circle big enough to cover the base and edges of your cake tin. Mould the pastry into the tin, making sure that there are no gaps, then stuff with the filling. You can pack it down well as it will shrink during cooking, leaving room for the jelly.

Roll out the remaining pastry to make the lid and brush the sides of the pie with beaten egg before putting the lid on top and crimping and sealing well with your fingers. Use a bay leaf to make a hole in the top of the pie and bake on the centre shelf for 30 minutes. After this time, reduce the heat to 160C and back for another hour. Then remove the pie from the tin and brush all over with beaten egg before baking again for 10-15 minutes.

Leave to cool for 30 minutes before removing the bay leaf, then re-heat 250ml stock and slowly funnel it into the top of the pie. This takes some time as you have to do it bit by bit. Allow to cool completely and refrigerate to allow the jelly to set completely.

30 comments » | Meat, Picnic, Pies

Glazed Ham

December 22nd, 2009 — 7:56am

Olive Magazine asked me to ‘challenge Gordon’ in their December issue, with a Christmas recipe of my choosing; I went for the glazed ham. A reader and their mates then tested both his recipe and mine and decided on a winner.

The idea of a straight ‘glaze-off’ seemed a bit dull and predictable so I decided to mix things up by using the cola method, which I’ve tried before and loved. The ham is covered and bubbled in the syrupy liquor, resulting in a ham infused with an addictive spicy caramel sweetness, helped along a bit by a couple of star anise and the humble onion. I kept the glaze simple with marmalade (zesty bits essential) and teeny hints of ginger and cinnamon. The cola makes the edges caramelise to a sticky, tooth-tacky sheen . And that’s what it’s all about. I burnt my fingers several times trying to pull off the edge bits.

It was a dead heat between mine and Ramsay’s ham, by the way. I can’t say I wasn’t hugely relieved not to lose. I bet he’s quaking in his sweary little boots…

Sweet and Spiced Glazed Ham

1 x 2kg mild-cure gammon
1 x 2litre bottle of cola
1 onion, peeled and halved
2 star anise

For the glaze

Cloves, for studding
225g marmalade (with zesty bits if possible)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Bring the gammon up to room temperature, then put it in a large pan, skin side down, add the onion and star anise and cover with the cola. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and rest the lid on top so that it is not fully sealed. Let bubble for about 2 1/4 hours.

Discard the cooking liquid, remove the ham to a plate and allow to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to gas 7/210 C. Remove the skin from the ham, leaving a thin layer of fat. Score the fat in a diamond pattern and push a clove into the point of each diamond.

To make the glaze, put all the ingredients into a pan and let it bubble up to the boil then simmer for a few minutes until syrupy.

Brush the glaze all over the ham and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the ham, brush on some more glaze and bake for a further 10 minutes. If you do this more often then the outside will be even stickier. If you want to let the ham cool and then glaze it the next day, it will need longer in the oven – about 30 to 40 minutes.

23 comments » | Christmas, Meat, Picnic

Food From The Rye: Callaloo

December 20th, 2009 — 5:45pm

I was worried that me and callaloo were doomed from the start. The soup always seems to contain a healthy amount of okra and I had a problem with this for two reasons: firstly, those hairy little fingers irritate the hell out of my (thankfully not so hairy) little fingers, bringing me out in a rash, and secondly, most callaloo recipes called for them to simmer in the liquid for at least half an hour. This to me says one thing and one thing only: slime. Eating overcooked okra is like eating a fat slimy bogey; a big glutinous bowl of snot soup. Yum. Can’t wait.

After a bit of mental wrestling I came to the conclusion that omitting them entirely was not acceptable and so I fried the sappy slices until they were sappy no more, sealed instead by a crispy outer crust. They were added back at the last minute. Other than these (literally) irritating beasties, the soup contains pork, prawns, scotch bonnet chilli, thyme, two types of onion and of course, the callaloo. I think it’s safe to say there’s a lot going on.

The flavour of the callaloo, which I bought tinned, is described somewhere on the great interwebz as, ‘a cross between spinach and cabbage’. That is exactly what it tastes like. Perhaps there’s a bit of asparagus in there as well. You get the idea. This predominantly ‘green’ flavour, makes for a very vegetal soup. At first. Then comes pork and then, even-better-joy-of-joys, pork fat; melty pieces cling to each pink nugget with a seductive wobble. There is the odd surprise of shrimp but it’s not unpleasant.

At first I find the soup musty but as the spoonfuls pass this transforms into an intriguing peppery complexity. The coconut milk is not really discernible as its usual overwhelming self but instead sort of lingers around keeping things in order. The okra keep themselves to themselves.

There’s no getting away from it – this is some seriously hearty fare and I’m amazed that it is usually served as a side dish, to act as a sort of gravy for other foods. Most of my Rye Lane dishes have been similar in weight and intensity. They are the kind of dishes that stick to your ribs; fortify, bolster and sustain.

That said, this soup also has an aromatic quality from the little love triangle going on between chilli, coconut and thyme; a surprising delicacy underneath it all really. But then that was the problem right there: so much in the mix, so many flavours and contrasts that all got a little bit muddy and confused. I really should have started with a simple version (no meat or fish) like the family recipe sent to me by a friend and blogger yesterday.

Although I enjoyed the taste of the callaloo vegetable itself, I’m not sure I’ll be cooking with it that often. A green leafy vegetable from a tin is not really any contender for fresh spinach, kale or chard for example. Well, my version isn’t anyway. I basically made a fundamental schoolgirl error by choosing to make the nitrous oxide, big-bore, super-charged version when I should have started off with the understated yet reliable runner. You live and learn.


325g callaloo (drained weight)
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
3 spring onions, white and green parts, chopped
125g thick bacon cubes
225g small prawns
150ml coconut milk
200g okra, sliced
1 small scotch bonnet chilli, de-seeded and chopped
Stock – about 1 litre (I used vegetable)

Begin by frying the okra in a little oil until soft but crispy on the outside. Set aside on kitchen paper to soak up any oil. In a large pan, soften the onions and chilli gently for a few minutes before adding the callaloo, bacon, thyme and stock. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 30 minutes before adding the prawns, okra and coconut milk for a further 2 or 3 minutes. Check the seasoning and serve.

16 comments » | Caribbean Food, Fish, Food From The Rye, Main Dishes, Meat, Peckham, Side Dishes, Soups, Stews, Vegetables

Food Stories on South City Radio

December 19th, 2009 — 12:53pm

I wandered down to South City Radio in Asylum Road in Peckham on Thursday to have a chat with Vivienne Pierrette on her show Pierrette Pulls it Together, where you can hear me garble out my recipe for salt fish fritters. I also managed to get her to play a bit of Led Zep. If you don’t know the station please do give it a listen – they have won awards for their contribution to the local community and just for being generally brilliant. There’s also a strong chance I’ll be back talking about food in Peckham in more detail in the future.

The show relies on votes from the people to be brought back on air in each new year so do please take the time to send a quick e-mail ( demanding the return of Pierrette. People are doing creative things; what’s not to like?  Tune in below!

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Thanks to @handlewithcare (his food blog) for making this play properly.

11 comments » | Radio, South City Radio

Comfort Snack: Baked Egg with Anchovy Soldiers

December 18th, 2009 — 11:24am

My favourite snack for approximately the last ten years has been a soft boiled egg with anchovy soldiers. Fact. That’s a long time in service; I feel I’ve earned my stripes and the right to experiment with something that is nigh-on perfect already. It’s time to take things to the next level.

A baked egg has the added indulgence of butter and cream and of course, increased size on its side. The spinach in this one was almost a bridge too far but I got away with it, no doubt due to my lengthy service to the cause. The anchovy soldiers need no introduction – just don’t be shy with the butter.

Baked Eggs with Anchovy Soldiers

Personally, I won’t bother putting the spinach in next time but if you do fancy it, just wilt it down in a pan first, then squeeze out as much moisture as you can before adding to the ramekin, otherwise it will be watery.

Single cream
One large egg
Salt and pepper

Add your spinach to the ramekin if using and then carefully break in the egg. Add a splash of cream plus a little dab of butter on top and season well with pepper. You may want to add a little salt but remember those anchovies. Bake in the centre of a 180C oven until the egg is just cooked. Serve with toasty dippers slathered generously in butter and topped with as much anchovy fillet as you dare. Sometimes I use white pepper instead of black. Rock ‘n roll.

16 comments » | Eggs, Fish, Snacks

Salt Fish Fritters

December 16th, 2009 — 3:35pm

The Jamaican name for this dish, ‘Stamp ‘n Go’ is said to come from the behaviour of impatient, fritter-hungry customers who would stamp their feet for attention and then simply leave the shop if they didn’t get it. Leave without the fritters? Eh? There must be another part to that story; I’ve only eaten them once and I’m hooked. This is the kind of recipe you know you’re going to love but just never get around to making and then you kick yourself repeatedly once you do. Piping hot, fresh golden batter bombs explode with poofs of salty, spiced steam ready for the mighty plunge into bud-tingling chilli sauce.

With a big bag of fillets left over from the okazi soup and a trick up my sleeve for preparing it quickly, these were a doddle to knock up on a school night. I gave the fillets just two boils in fresh changes of water this time to keep a chewier texture and slightly more salt, before adding the flakes to a batter along with spring onions, chilli, garlic and parsley. Tablespoon by tablespoon they dropped into a skillet of shimmering oil, spreading out just enough before crisping quickly to ‘eat-me-now-dammit’ brown. Inside, the salt fish brings an insanely satisfying toothsome chew, surrounded by the fluffy flavour sponge of batter. We inhaled the lot in minutes and not many of them.

I took the simplest approach possible when it came to the sauce and lobbed a can of chopped tomatoes, about 5 regular red chillies, a few cloves of garlic, some salt, some vinegar and some sugar into a pot and cooked it down on the tame side of furiously for about 20 minutes, before half heartedly stabbing at it with a stick blender; it repaid me way too generously for my meagre efforts.

That said, as soon as the first fritter began its inevitable and rapid journey towards my belly, there was talk of spicy sweetcorn relish. I honestly cannot think of any better accompaniment; I kicked myself once more. In my future right now, I see fritters: great towering piles of steaming fritters accompanied by bowls, no, vats, of hot sweetcorn relish. I won’t hesitate to stamp until I get them.

Salt Fish Fritters

350g salt fish fillets, boiled in two changes of water for five minutes each time and then flaked (removing skin and bones)
1 small white onion, finely chopped
3 spring onions, white and green parts finely chopped
1/2 – 1 scotch bonnet chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed (to be honest, I’m not sure I actually used this in the end so it’s up to you)
A small handful of parsley leaves, finely chopped
115g plain flour
2 eggs
120ml milk
Groundnut oil, for frying

Soften the spring onions, onion, garlic (?) and chilli in a little oil until soft but not coloured. Add to a bowl with the salt fish and parsley. Beat the flour, milk and eggs together in a separate bowl until smooth then combine with the fish mixture. Season with black pepper (no salt).

Heat a 2cm depth groundnut oil in a skillet or frying pan and drop tablespoons of batter in, turning once, until golden brown on both sides. Drain on kitchen paper and serve.

11 comments » | Fish, Food From The Rye

Pheasant Soup

December 12th, 2009 — 10:59am

As I considered the plump little pheasant in my hands, my mind immediately jumped to a memory of casserole topped with a curly wurly crust of fresh dough – the bread risen and baked to a fluffy top, ready for ripping and dunking into the gamey broth below. Then I remembered my habit of lending out dishes, roasting tins and baking trays, and the fact that my casserole dish has been similarly waylaid. I’m thinking of encouraging an amnesty: a box outside the front door where people can just slip the items in anonymously.

Casserole dreams shattered, I poo-pooed the idea of roasting and challenged myself to draw maximum flavour from this famously stupid bird. Generally found rooted to the middle of the country road, oblivious to screeching of tyres, beeping of horns and cursing of motorists – the thing practically tastes of stubbornness. Considering the fact they seem to sit around so much, pheasants are surprisingly lean and therefore easily dried out, plus those stringy, fusty-tasting drumsticks are, more often than not, plain unpleasant.

I think much of the bird is better used as a flavour base and so I jointed him, slinging the legs into a pot with some aromatics (a.k.a the contents of the fridge plus some herbs and  juniper berries), along with the roughly chopped carcass. The breasts were pan-fried until barely cooked, ready to add back to the broth in the final moments of cooking. A few fine shreds of savoy cabbage gave extra nourishing winter heart and parsley, grassy pungency.

The resulting soup powered right through to our chilled, dampened bones with the kind of restorative effect that can only come from simmering some animal bits in a big old pot over a teeny little flame for a moderate amount of time.  A generous hunk of crusty loaf was plunged and plunged again into meaty depths, sucking up robust,  peppery juices; dunk slurp, dunk slurp and wipe the bowl clean. A piping hot end to a fine little bird and a cold winter’s day.

Pheasant Soup

1 pheasant
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 fat spring onion, roughly chopped
1 small carrot, chopped into three
A few juniper berries
1 bouquet garni (thyme, bay and parsley stalks for example)
500ml chicken stock
500ml water
A good slug of brandy (I used Courvoisier)
40g butter
30g flour
1/2 small savoy cabbage, cored and leaves finely shredded
About 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Put your pheasant breast side up on a chopping board and remove the legs by pulling them away from the breast and using a sharp knife to cut them at the joint. Remove each breast by cutting along either side of the central bone and then following the line of the carcass until the meat is free. Chop the carcass into a few pieces as best you can manage.

Rub the breasts with oil, season, and cook skin side down in a skillet on high heat for about 4 minutes, then turn and cook for another 2-3 minutes another until just cooked through. Set aside.

Put the legs and carcass pieces in a large pot and add the onion, spring onion, carrot, juniper berries, bouquet garni, brandy, stock and water, bring to the boil and then simmer gently for about 45 minutes, skimming every now and then if necessary. Remove the legs from the stock and set aside, then strain the soup through a fine sieve. Return to the pan.

Melt the butter in a separate pan then mix in the flour on a low heat. Stir this into the soup and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the shredded cabbage and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the meat from the legs, then shred the breast meat and add both back to the soup during the final few moments (you don’t want to cook it any more). Check the seasoning, add the parsley, and serve.

19 comments » | Game, Meat, Soups

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