Archive for January 2010


Leberknoedelsuppe

January 31st, 2010 — 6:16pm

Austrian liver dumpling soup. I’ll admit, it doesn’t sound particularly appetising but then neither did a sausage containing cheese, and that turned out to be a delicious component of my ‘hot sausage meal’ at Kipferl Austrian deli in Farringdon. This tiny space accommodates just six tables and several shelves of Austrian wines, bread and countless unfamiliar jars and bottles. You can also buy liver dumplings.

When we arrived for lunch at 12.30pm two of the tables were already reserved and we were lucky that one ‘very regular’ customer was just leaving.

Kipferl serves Viennese breakfast, cakes, cold platters, filled rolls, soups, salads and of course, those ‘hot sausage meals’ which sounded like just the ticket for a rainy January Monday. I hastily ordered the ‘Kipferl special’ with käsekrainer, then caught sight of the sausage with sauerkraut and pickles – a meal that sounds like it was made specially for me – and promptly started sulking.

The owner asked us what kind of sausage we would like. Er… He explained that a weiner would be your standard Austrian wurst (like a Frankfurter), the debreziner spicy and the käsekrainer – a sausage with cheese. CHEESE. It sounded odd, which of course meant that I had to  have it.

It was surprisingly good. Tiny chunks of silky mellow cheese melt as the sausage is heated, creating an uncommonly juicy banger with a milky luxuriance that could easily be sickly if it wasn’t so well balanced. I particularly enjoyed the tight, crisp casing of the käsekrainer, which was so tense that every cut made me lean back slightly for fear of receiving a burst of molten pork fat to the eye. The accompanying salads were, I was relieved to find, lightly soused. This eased my regret at not ordering the sauerkraut and pickles and counteracted the succulent sausage perfectly; meaty lentils, soft potatoes and fresh, dill feathered cucumbers. A slice of rye and a dollop of  mustard were both very welcome guests at the party; the bread enabling a little light sandwich making and the mustard offering a placid, sweet tang.

The liver dumpling soup turned out well too. All you do (according to Kipferl’s owner – oh how I wish I’d asked his name), is plop the dumplings into simmering vegetable stock before garnishing with chives. One dumpling per person or two if you are very hungry. Of course, I did two. The stock I made heavy on the alliums, what with onions and liver being such happy partners. The dumplings taste a lot like faggots but with a slightly finer texture; since a primary ingredient of faggots is pig’s liver, this is hardly surprising.

I could really get into Austrian food. Firstly, they love pork. I think we all know where I stand on that one. Secondly, they love pickles and well, do I really need to repeat the story about me eating so many pickles as a child that my lips would turn white? I’ve not managed to achieve that as an adult but believe me, it’s not for lack of trying.

I highly recommend seeking out Kipferl if you are in the area, but do consider reserving a table. The website also advises that ‘good things take time’ and so if you are in a hurry, they advise calling ahead so that they can have your order ready when you get there.

Kipferl
70 Long Lane
London
EC1A 9EJ
020 7796 2229
www.kipferl.co.uk

Kipferl on Urbanspoon

Leberknoedelsuppe

First make a vegetable stock using two onions, 1 leek (split in half and well rinsed), several cloves of garlic, 2 carrots, 2 sticks of celery, 2 bay leaves, 10 peppercorns, some parsley stalks and any other veg trimmings you have lying around. Add some salt. Cover with water and simmer for about 45 minutes. Strain through a sieve then adjust the seasoning. (Gently frying the vegetables first in a little oil helps to increase depth of flavour but I forgot this time).

Return the stock to the pan before adding two liver dumplings per person. Simmer gently for twenty minutes. Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped chives.

17 comments » | Meat, Offal, Soups

Tom Ilic

January 24th, 2010 — 3:42pm

Tom Ilic’s (pronounced Ilitch – he’s Serbian) eponymous restaurant sits on Queenstown Road in Battersea, sandwiched between an Argentinian place which my dining partner described succinctly as ‘crap’ and a few carpet and lighting shops. A cheery cartoon pig’s head lurches forth from the ‘o’ in the ‘Tom’, giving it the air of a motorway service station or Little Chef. Plastic creepers line the walls and electric heaters blast out dry warmth in an already stuffy space. I keep my spirits up however, with memories of rave reviews: “hearty and generous,” ” excellent value,”  “not for vegetarians.” I hope it’s one of those places that just bubbles away gently, quietly turning out consistent, delicious, unpretentious grub to the locals.

It isn’t. Sadly, our meal was mediocre and one element, inedible. Things started off OK I suppose. My tartare (it’s under the lettuce) and carpaccio of beef was fine, although frustratingly drowned by a cacophony of huge flavours: salad dressed liberally with truffle oil, sticky balsamic, bolshy parmesan. All lovely things but a powerful gang which swiftly beat the beef into submission. My friend’s starter of roast bone marrow (a single, squat stump) came with – you’ve guessed it – parsley, caper and shallot salad but no toast to spread it on and sat awkwardly alongside veal sweetbreads.

The ‘Degustation of Pork’ should have been great, seeing as Tom is considered something of an expert in cooking the swine; what I  received was clunky, disjointed and disappointing. Two lobes of pink fillet appeared juicy and inviting, but were surprisingly dry. A rolled segment doused in gravy suffered from the same problem. A clumsy quinelle of mash was, surprise, surprise, dry and could be cut like a cake, each mealy slice working its way around the mouth before I washed it down with some of the (perfectly decent) house white. A kromeski was much better – excellent, even; crisp crumb encased soft shreds of flesh. I could have eaten a plateful. A supporting mound of lightly pickled cabbage was a pleasant foil to so much meat and black pudding had been treated well, boasting crunchy edges and soft fatty nuggets within. All redeeming features of the dish were overpowered however, by a bully of a spring roll (containing more of the shredded stuff) that was so sopping with grease it was simply inedible. My friend said it made him feel sick.

The time arrived to brave desserts and I was met with the familiar problem of wanting both cheese and ice cream. We shared cheese (nothing significant to report), and the only dish which had an ice cream element: a cheesecake and chocolate affair. The cheesecake was forgettable; was it vanilla? White chocolate? A scoop of black pepper ice cream on top was far more interesting, as were some poached baby pears. In fact,  just those two elements together would make a confident and charming dessert.

The ethos of Tom Ilic is supposedly to produce unfussy, generous, boldly flavoured food at low prices but instead I found it confused. The number of elements on the plate is at odds with this approach and attempts at more complicated arrangements such as my degustation lacked finesse. Service was sweet, water was tap and the restaurant itself perfectly adequate, if a little dated. Without doubt the best thing about the meal though, was the fact that my friend, Chris, had bid £100 for it (considerably more than it was worth), as part of the recent Blaggers’ Banquet event, and so did a brilliant and generous thing by giving £100 to charity. Disappointing meal aside, that’s money well spent.

Tom Ilic
123 Queenstown Road
London
SW8 3RH

Tel: 0207 622 0555
www.tomilic.com

Tom Ilic on Urbanspoon

26 comments » | Restaurant Reviews

A ‘Pig Masterclass’ at Trinity

January 23rd, 2010 — 2:04pm

I am not a regular visitor to Clapham. Mostly, it seems to be full of the kind of bars that think they are unique but are actually based on the template of All Bar One. My heart yearns for a proper boozer. The only time I’ve ever really dragged my judgemental ass over there, was to get loaded in the park. I’ve also been to Trinity a few times; each visit finding myself befuddled trying to work out who exactly they are catering for.

Head chef Adam Byatt offered the explanation of “everyone”. Customers in Clapham are mixed: young and hipsterish, yummy and mummyish, older couples with older kids. It’s a local restaurant with a whole lot of target customer on its plate; you’ve got to admire them rising to the challenge. Adam also keeps himself busy running cooking sessions at the kind of schools that require you to pass through a metal detector on the way in, and now they are running classes for the grown ups too, like this one – ‘The Pig’.

I never turn down an invite to anything with pig in the title and so found myself seated around the chef’s table watching Adam portion a half loin of Gloucester Old Spot on the bone, from Blackwell Farm, in Essex. The demonstration would be followed by a meal featuring various bits of one they prepared earlier, matched with Trimbach wines. You can do this too, for £70, although your meal will be served with a selection of ciders and perrys.

Adam selected a large saw from his surgical tray of implements and took to dissecting the loin with gusto. Sweat beaded his brow as he wrestled to remove the rack, puffing out his enthusiasm for buying whole and butchering, as it encourages the development of the chefs’ craft, allows for greater control over cuts and gives you more bang for your buck.

The rack removed, it was cleaned and trimmed, with all bits of extra meat going into a pot to be minced and mixed with onions, prunes, sage, chestnuts, thyme, breadcrumbs and sloshes of port and brandy. Its heady, herbaceous fragrance wafted around the table, piquing appetites for the meal ahead.

The stuffing was layered between meat and skin and tied up with heat resistant string in an appropriately cheffy manner.

And then it was time. The meal began with plump, rosemary-scented devils on horseback followed by spectacular biscuit like ‘flatbreads’ for scooping up dollops of smoky whipped taramasalata. Next, a white onion and thyme velouté, which triggered a hazy memory; I’m sure I’ve had it before here as an amuse. Deeply savoury, silky smooth and seasoned with pin point accuracy, it came in a small bowl which was actually a big cup. The only right way to consume this was by picking it up, although I saw others daintily spooning. It didn’t see eye to eye with a spiky 2007 Riesling sadly, which seemed a rather harsh accompaniment.

Smoked eel, steamed oyster and sole goujons with horseradish cream was “about as pretty as Trinity gets” according to the chef. This first experience of a steamed oyster was dominated mostly by alarm at its bogey-like appearance. It didn’t prove much more pleasant in the eating. The smoked eel sliver was perfect though, coating the mouth with its lingering oil and cut with horseradish bite. A very saline dish, buffered charmingly by the softness of a pretty leek terrine.

Pig’s trotters on toast were a gelatinous treat, cut by a pared down gribiche, which thankfully omitted the usual chopped eggs and much of the oil, presumably to avoid overkill against the rich, gummy trotters. A perfect strip of blistered pig skin balanced its bubbly self on top.

Trimbach Pinot Noir Reserve 2007 arrived alongside, but I failed to jot a single letter about it. At this point, the wine people started having a very in-depth technical discussion about some winey thing or other; I switched off and contemplated how best to steal the piece of neglected crackling on my neighbour’s plate. Food will always be my first love.

Pork belly came water bathed (for 16 hours), pressed and slicked with maple glaze and accompanied by cockles, celery heart and black olive oil mash. The combination of shellfish and pork is a personal favourite, but here I felt the cockles were slightly ill fitting, particularly against the aesthetically challenged mash. I think Douglas describes it rather well in his post as evoking “a pat from a cow prescribed a laxative-only diet.” Quite.

A quince tart tatin was thankfully just the right size for once (what is it with those monstrous versions?), glossy with oozing caramel and perfumed with star anise, as was the accompanying floral syrup: Gewürztraminer Selection De Grains Nobles (’89). My favourite wines are nearly always Gewürztraminers, unless they are Rieslings. This is because I have a “hyper-sensitive” palate according to a tall man in a suit who gave me a sticker to prove it. A bold, sticky, harmonious marriage between liquor and pud.

Throughout the meal, the enthusiasm and charm of Jean Trimbach, Adam Byatt and (sommelier) Rupert Taylor was unrelenting and there were moments when my tongue was tied by the magic of a developing wine or a stunning element on the plate. Sadly, some of the food and wine matches felt forced and in these instances I couldn’t suppress the longing for one of those bubbly ciders. You need not worry about this however. Consume your Trimbach wine as you wish and keep an eye on Adam Byatt and Trinity; not everything coming out of that kitchen is perfect, but ambitions are high, sights are set and there’s a driving force of pure passion. I wish them all the success in the world.

The Trinity Pig masterclass costs £70 per person, including the butchery demonstration and lunch, matched with ciders and perrys. It runs from 10am-1pm. The next class will be held on Tuesday 2nd March. You can find details of other classes here.

You can see the rest of my photos from the evening here.

Trinity Restaurant
4 The Polygon
Clapham
London
SW4 0JG
Tel: 020 7622 1199
www.trinityrestaurant.co.uk

Trimbach Wines

Trinity on Urbanspoon

23 comments » | Classes, Restaurant Reviews

Cracking Crumpets

January 19th, 2010 — 9:54pm

Me and crumpets have got history. My first attempt was a complete failure; the batter was wrong, the cooking was wrong, the finished product was wronger than wrong. I ended up with a pile of stodgy, under cooked discs, which lacked that most distinguishing and important of crumpet features – holes. If they don’t have holes then the butter can’t get in. Enough said.

My second attempt was more promising, mostly down to the good advice of Bea, who suggested I use a different recipe and make a couple of tweaks. The batter this time was spectacularly gaseous and I was effervescent with excitement. The bubbles in the batter rise to the top during cooking and burst, leaving that essential network of butter channels. I thought I’d nailed it. Well, I thought Bea had nailed it.

They did produce some holes – an improvement on the first attempt, but still not good enough. Bea was flummoxed and I was inconsolable until some helpful soul ventured to ask the rather personal question, “how old is your bicarbonate of soda?” I hung my head in shame and squeaked out the admission: “don’t really know; at least two years, probably three, maybe four.”

That was back in July. Despite being certain that this embarrassing discovery marked the end of my crumpet woes, I just couldn’t face making them again until now. The thought of a third failure too traumatic perhaps? Well, it almost happened again; I forgot to put the bicarb in. I honestly couldn’t believe what was happening, but through the mist of disappointment and dizzying fog of frustration I just slung it in half an hour late, re-mixed, re-covered and hoped for the best.

And…it worked. Hallelujah! They were spongy and light, with more holes than an OJ Simpson alibi. Finally, a recipe for crumps that I can rely on, and of course I’ve learned a thing or two about making them along the way. Here it is:

1. Using rings is a right faff. You have to oil them repeatedly (until you can’t be bothered any more) and lift them up using tongs while simultaneously trying to release the crumpet with a knife. Next time I’ll freestyle.

2. Making crumpets takes time. If you try and rush them (by turning up the heat) they will burn on the bottom before they are cooked on top.

3. Keeping bicarbonate of soda for longer than two years is skanky and pointless.

4. I’ve made every single mistake in the book so you don’t have to.

Crumpets

This mix makes about 14 crumpets. Just think, if you remember to put your bicarb in at the right time, your crumps could have even more holes than mine! (Edit: Miss Marmite Lover has made a brilliant suggestion in the comments: she adds more bicarb than the recipe suggests. Obvious now I think about it. This is a brilliant way to get more holes).

360g plain flour
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
580ml warm milk
1.5 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Combine the yeast and sugar with 250ml of the warm milk in a bowl. Do make sure the milk is just warm, not hot. Cover and leave in a warm place to rest for about 10 minutes until frothy.

Sift the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into another bowl then make a well in the centre and add the yeasty mix along with the rest of the warm milk. Mix this to a thick batter using a wooden spoon. Cover it with cling film and allow to rest in a warm place for about an hour. The film will rise up as gases build up inside. This is good. The result is an extremely light and aerated batter.

Heat a wide pan over a medium heat then turn down fairly low. Use a piece of kitchen paper to wipe vegetable or groundnut oil over the base so it is coated in a nice film. Do the same to your rings if using or you can freestyle (i.e drop blobs of batter into the pan). Allow to cook for about 8 minutes or so or until they appear ‘dry’ on top, then flip them over to toast lightly for a minute on the other side. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Repeat as necessary. They can then be re-heated under a grill to crisp up more before serving. Spread liberally with butter and then rejoice in their holey juiciness.

A huge thank you once again to Bea. Without your advice I may never have lifted myself from the depths of crumpy despair.

56 comments » | Breakfast, Crumpets, Snacks

Return of the Mac

January 13th, 2010 — 10:14pm

Fiona Beckett recently threw down the challenge to produce the ‘ultimate’ macaroni cheese. I think it’s fair to say I was up for that with bells on. My enthusiasm escalated to such lofty heights that I ended up producing a cheesy carbilicious beast of mammoth proportions; a behemoth capable of providing an extra  insulating layer around my ribs that would keep out the winter chills and probably stay put well into spring. It fed two of us twice a day for two days plus three men for dinner on a third.

Before Creation of course, there was only me. Me and my hungry brain trying to figure out what would make my ‘ultimate’ mac ‘n cheese. I dipped my toe into the idea of going down the purist route (read ‘no pork’), but I’ve learned not to try and trick my tastebuds for the sake of principle. Usually I use bacon, but this time I wanted to somehow gently infuse the porky flavour throughout the dish and hit on the idea of simmering a small ham hock to make stock before cooking the macaroni in the golden swiney liquor. Pasta cooked in ham stock. Yes. The meat I teased from the bone into silky pink nuggets; every now and then a porcine treasure bobbed up from the bubbling cheesy depths.

When it comes to the cheese, I’m a cheddar girl. Extra mature, naturally. A mac needs guts and only x-rated quantities of a well ripened cheddar can produce the tang I crave; melted into silky bechamel with a smidge of the Montgomery smoked to play off the pork, finished with a good shake of white pepper. I often prefer its sharp, ripe intensity over the black stuff; hugely underrated.

And finally to the crust. For me, it must be crisper than a  winter morning in Siberia and for this I could think of nothing more suitable than Japanese panko crumbs, mixed with yet more CHEESE.

Shattering crust, cheesy steam, rich, gooey pasta; sauce oozing through every tube. Crispy burnt edge bits tumble into soft, unctuous, silken stodge. How could I forget such a classic? The divine chorus of carb and dairy, singing to the tune of winter weight gain.

Mac ‘n Cheese for an Army

The quantities here got a bit out of hand so you might want to halve it! This filled a  14 x 12 x 3 inch dish if you want to feed your entire neighbourhood. Do the hock first, then while the pasta is cooking, make your cheesy sauce. If the pasta is done before the sauce, add a few drops of oil and stir to stop it sticking together.

For the hock

1 small ham hock
1 bay leaf
Six black peppercorns
A few parsley stalks
1 carrot, halved
1 stick celery, halved
1 onion, halved and stuck with a couple of cloves

Place the hock in a large pan and cover with water. Simmer for a few hours then strain into a bowl and reserve the stock for cooking the pasta. Flake the meat from the bone, taking care to avoid any bits of skin or sinew, chop into bite size chunks and reserve for mixing into the mac.

For the sauce

Triple this bechamel recipe, adding about 500g cheddar of your choice plus 150g smoked cheddar melted in at the end. Season with plenty of white pepper but no salt (the hock and cheese are both salty).

425ml milk
40g butter
20g plain flour
A swift grating of nutmeg (optional)
White pepper to taste

Melt the butter over a gentle heat and add the flour, stirring quite vigorously to make a paste. Let this cook for a few minutes, stirring vigorously the whole time. Begin adding the milk a little at a time, making sure each bit is incorporated fully before adding the next. Towards the end you can start pouring larger amounts in there. Add the nutmeg and cook over a low heat, stirring, for about 10-15 minutes. When it starts to thicken, add the cheese and allow it to melt. Season with the white pepper to taste. If you need to keep it to one side, cover with some greaseproof paper to stop a skin forming.

For the macaroni

700g dried macaroni

Cook the macaroni in the reserved ham stock, topping up with a little water if necessary.

For the topping

Panko breadcrumbs (enough to cover), mixed with a good couple of handfuls of grated cheddar. I grated a bit more on top and added a bit of parmesan too simply because I had it lying around but that’s optional.

Assembling and cooking the mac

Mix the sauce with the macaroni and ham hock pieces then check the seasoning before piling into a well buttered baking dish. Sprinkle on the crumb topping, grating on more cheese if desired. Bake at 200C until golden brown and crisp. Allow to cool a little before serving and serve with a salad of bitter winter leaves or a summer salad with a sharp dressing.

38 comments » | Blogging Events, Cheese, Main Dishes, Meat, Pasta

Dhal ‘Stuffed’ Parathas

January 10th, 2010 — 5:03pm

I finally got around to making Gastrogeek’s aubergine dhal after months of bleating on about it. The addition of smoky burnt aubergine flesh is simply inspired and the dish lived up to expectations even after the long build up. With a lot left over though, I wanted to try experimenting with stuffed parathas, which would also solve the problem of not having any bread left to scoop everything up with.

Most recipes instructed to make a dough first, then roll each piece out, spoon a blob of cold dhal in the centre and then pinch it around and seal as if making a dumpling. The ball is then pressed down and rolled out, thus incorporating the lentils. I suppose you could call that ‘stuffed’ – the dhal was certainly stuffed inside the dough at one point, but the rolling basically just mushed the whole lot together.

This method does not make things easy when it comes to rolling. Despite liberal flouring, it was hard not to end up in a big, sticky mess as the lentils burst forth from the dough with alarming force, taking no taming whatsoever no matter how gently I rolled and flipped and turned. There had to be an easier way.

It made sense to me to try mixing equal amounts of flour and dhal at the very beginning, so the curry becomes the water that holds the dough together. Since they are not really ‘stuffed’ anyway then what would it matter? I made another batch and it worked well; I added just a drop of water to bring it together completely and the result was a much more workable dough that rolled out to a neater, thinner paratha. I didn’t fold the dough over though, so they weren’t as flaky as a regular paratha. Next time, next time.

I cooked them in a cast iron skillet in a little oil, brushing each with an indecent amount of ghee. We scooped up mouthfuls of leftover rogan josh, pumpkin and coconut curry and one of my favourite chutneys: walnut and mint. The recipe comes from Madhur Jaffrey’s ‘Curry Bible’ and is well worth a try. You just stick walnuts, mint, garlic, chillies and lemon juice in the blender, then mix with seasoned plain yoghurt. The result is rather hot with a tangy kick from the yoghurt and it has that immensely satisfying texture of blended walnuts, just like that of muhammara.

I’m not exactly the world’s most skilful paratha maker, but I did manage to produce some buttery, toasty, curry scooper-uppers, which had a pleasing sour and smoky kick and a bit of texture variation from the lentils. A welcome addition to the leftovers repertoire and one well worth the extra couple of pounds in weight gained due to my inability to control myself around clarified butter.

Dhal ‘Stuffed’ Parathas

This isn’t the most authentic recipe you’re going to come across but it is easy, so do what you will.

Equal amounts of dhal (cold) and chapatti flour. If you can’t find chapatti flour then use a 50/50 mix of wholemeal and white flour.
A pinch of salt
Ghee, for brushing
Oil, for frying (I used groundnut)

Mix the dahl and flour together with your hands and then add a drop of water if needed to bring it together. Knead it on a lightly floured surface until the dough becomes smooth (apart from the lentils, obviously). Then cover and leave to rest for about 10 minutes.

Divide into balls roughly the size of a small lemon and roll out to 10-15cm wide circles. You basically want to get them nice and thin. You can then try folding the parathas like I forgot to do, in half and half again before re-rolling. This should give you some nice flaky layers. I imagine this might be harder with the stuffed ones however, as the lentils make the dough a bit lumpier.

Heat a heavy pan until very hot (I used a cast iron skillet), then fry each in a little oil (about 1tsp) on both sides until brown blistered patches appear. Brush liberally with ghee once cooked and set aside on a warm plate while you finish the batch.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Walnut and Mint Chutney (from The Curry Bible)

60g walnuts
30g mint leaves
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons plain yoghurt
4 birds eye chillies (I used 2 larger green ones)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Whizz the walnuts, garlic, mint, chillies, lemon juice, salt and 5 tablespoons water in a blender until you have a smooth paste. Using a fork, whip the yoghurt in a separate bowl until light and fluffy. Mix the paste from the blender into this. Taste and adjust the balance of seasonings as necessary.

15 comments » | Blogging Events, Bread, Curry, Pulses, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads, Vegetables

Steak Tartare for a Birthday Dinner

January 5th, 2010 — 7:54pm

And so the year ended with one final meaty fling in the form of a birthday meal for my boyfriend. One last colon-clogging protein punch before our bodies gave in to cravings for nothing but fish, vegetables and miso soup. I expect you could hear my arteries begging me to stop from wherever you were at the time. Or maybe I really wanted to do fish but it was the 29th of December and all the fishermen were at home toasting their toes by an open fire, spending time with their families and generally having a life rather than braving the stormy seas catching fishies for my convenience.

Anyway. The fluster of festivities left me utterly unprepared and before I knew it I found myself in front of the butcher wondering, ‘what would Simon do?’ Simon Hopkinson that is. In my hour of need I turned to my king of British cooking. The pages of his ‘Week In Week Out‘, are so indelibly etched into my memory, that as I cast my eyes over the pieces of meat in front of me, I could hear him sagely whisper, “page 148,  Helen – surely you remember?” At once a stunning vision materialised: red nuggets of beef glistening against the silvery blade of a cleaver.

I used 125g lean sirloin per person (more flavour than fillet), and spiked the fine dice with whatever choice of seasonings took my fancy; chopped capers, cornichons, shallot, parsley, anchovies, Worcestershire sauce and mustard are all strong contenders. An egg yolk is essential for me, adding silky richness. Traditionally the tartare  is heaped onto toasted rye (I didn’t have any) or alongside a pile of frites (didn’t fancy making them) but thinly sliced baguette did the job just fine.

There is a curious excitement about eating entirely raw meat; it feels a little bit naughty – risky, even. Soft nuggets of melty beef are roused to life by piquancy and heat; as much as you dare. The key is not to tip the balance too far. Restraint, as always, is key.

For the main course, fish was obviously out and there was no doubt in my mind that serving a vegetarian course to the boyfriend on his birthday would be nothing short of highly offensive. I roasted a couple of partridges and served them with Simon’s bread sauce and game crumbs; bread crumbs crisped in the partridge roasting juices. Followed by cheese with beetroot chutney and a dark chocolate fudge cake, you could say it was the perfect end to a seasonal binge, and the perfect pre-cursor to a detox. To be  honest though, I’ve never really been into all that dieting malarkey and anyway, I have a feeling it might offend Simon.

Steak Tartare

Simon advises using 125g of either fillet, lean sirloin or rump. I used sirloin in place of fillet as it has so much more flavour. Chill it well then remove any fat and dice very finely, before placing in a well chilled bowl. You can now add your choice of seasonings, or if you are serving it at a dinner party or the like, just set things out on the table and let people add their own. As I said, parsley, capers, cornichons, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, anchovies, shallots and black pepper are all worthy additions. An egg yolk on top is essential in my opinion. Clearly not a dish suitable for the pregnant or vulnerable.

18 comments » | Books, Meat, Starters

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