Archive for February 2012


Meatball Subs

February 21st, 2012 — 11:03am

The other day I caught the episode of Friends with Joey’s sandwich – the one where a car backfires but Joey, Ross and Chandler think it’s a gunshot and Joey appears to dive across Ross in order to protect him from the bullet. Chandler is consumed with jealousy and hurt that Joey didn’t try to save him over Ross, but it later transpires that he was in fact diving to protect his precious meatball sub.

The very thought of this fictional sandwich gave me the mother of all cravings. Meatballs? Good. Marinara sauce? Good. Cheese? Gooood. I immediately started planning Project Meatball Sub.

I became a little obsessed with creating a ‘proper’ marinara and found that the Italians, unsurprisingly, have very strong opinions about what should and shouldn’t go in. I knew that I wanted a rich and unctuous sauce that was slightly sweet, but the latter requirement is the source of much controversy. Some say sweetness should only be achieved by using the most perfectly ripe tomatoes, which, frankly, would pretty much rule out ever making one in this country, even in the height of summer. Tinned tomatoes were the obvious substitute but short of spending £3 on a really good quality can (or two), I was tempted to add sugar. This, it turns out, is not acceptable. Some argue that one should only ever add a cube of potato to absorb excess acidity, while others champion the sweetness of celery. Me, I cheated and used a good pinch of plain old sugar. Sorry (lies, lies).

For the meatballs I used a mixture of half beef and half pork because I think it gives the best flavour. Breadcrumbs soaked in milk kept them nice and light, crucially important if I was to stand any chance of making a dent in such a hefty ‘wich. For the cheese, I chose Gruyère, as it’s a great melter and has a good strong, nutty flavour; I really wanted to taste the cheese in this sandwich. To counteract all that fatty richness, a topping of charred, bittersweet green pepper. Usually I can’t stand green peppers but their bite works really well here – in fact I would say they’re essential.

This is probably one of the unhealthiest sandwiches I’ve ever made, and that’s really saying something. It’s also the reason it tastes so damn good, let’s face it. Hubba. Pick me up at the corner of meatball and cheeseville and take me to heaven on the sub sub express.

Meatball Subs (makes 4) (the meatballs and sauce would also be fantastic with spaghetti)

For the meatballs

250g minced pork
250g minced beef
1 thick slice white bread, crusts removed
A few tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1 small onion, very finely chopped
Flour, for dusting
Oil, for frying

Put the bread in a small bowl and cover with the milk, allowing it to soak in, then mash to a paste with a fork. Mix the paste with all the other ingredients. Make small meatballs with the mixture, then set aside to refrigerate for half an hour at least.

When ready to cook, cover a plate with flour, then roll each meatball around in it. Fry the meatballs in oil until brown all over, then set aside to drain on kitchen paper. They don’t need to be cooked fully as they will be simmered in the sauce later.

For the sauce

2 tins chopped tomatoes
A splash of red wine
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
A good pinch of chilli flakes
A pinch of sugar
1 bay leaf, torn
A splash of water or stock
1 small bunch fresh basil, shredded

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a pan and gently fry the garlic and chilli flakes until the garlic just begins to colour. Add the wine and let it bubble up for a minute or so. Add the tomatoes, sugar, bay leaf, water/stock and some salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then add the meatballs. Let the mixture simmer for about 30-40 minutes, or until the sauce is rich and thick. Add the fresh basil.

For the roast veg

1 green pepper
1 regular onion

Slice the veg into wedges, place in a roasting tin, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with oil. Mix well. Cook at 200C until soft and charred in places (about 30 mins).

For the subs

Recipe here. You could of course buy some ready-made.

To assemble the subs

You will need Gruyere cheese or another cheese which melts well, to top the subs.

Slice the subs, then scoop out some of the crumb from the bottom half so you can fit the meatballs in more easily. Lightly toast the bottom half of each sub. Top with some of the meatballs, then some of the cheese and place back under the grill so that the cheese melts. Toast the top half of each bun also. Top each sub with roast pepper and onions, then the top half of the sub.

Make sure you do some serious exercise the next day.

ENJOY!

52 comments » | Cheese, Meat, Sandwiches

Louisiana Crab Cakes with Celeriac Remoulade

February 15th, 2012 — 7:44pm

I’ve really fallen for the food of Louisiana since making a po’ boy last week. The spice mix sent to me by @Laissezchef is excellent and in order to find a way of getting more of it into my hungry, hungry face, I decided to make me some crab cakes, Southern style.

Although I enjoy the odd British, potato bolstered fish cake, I’ve never really been mad keen. Often they’re more potato than fish, making them bland and heavy. American fish (or in this case, crab) cakes, rarely use any such filler, and if they do, its usually breadcrumbs, which give a much lighter result. The differences don’t stop there however, and there’s one ingredient that’s always put me off: mayonnaise. Mayonnaise INSIDE the fish cake. There’s just something about the idea of it that’s always made me feel slightly nauseous but I decided to bite the bullet and, as the Americans would say, suck it up.

It turns out that the mayo is magic, binding with real silkiness – hardly surprising since it is essentially a load of oil. This probably should bother me, but since these are hardly healthy by the time they’ve been fried anyway I made the decision to get over it.

I used a mixture of white and brown meat (the latter adding so much flavour), so that the end result was incredibly, well, crabby. Rich and decadent, with the sweetness of the mellowed red pepper playing off the crab, and a punchy background of herbs and spring onion, which, to my huge relief, didn’t overwhelm. Fried in a mixture of polenta and a little more of that Louisiana spice, the coating turned out really crunchy – a lovely contrast to the soft innards.

To go with, a celeriac remoulade. I just love celeriac raw, never more so than bound with a good, home-made mayo. To tart it up, chopped pickled gherkins, herbs, a good whack of mustard and a generous souring with lemon juice plus my new favourite ingredient, juice from the pickle jar.

As always when faced with the leftovers, my thoughts turned to sandwiches. First came the obvious, crab cake, remoulade and hot sauce; second came a deluxe fish finger number (above). Hubba hubba.

Louisiana Crab Cakes with Celeriac Remoulade (makes 12, easily halved)

450g cooked white and brown crab meat (fresh crab is pricey, so if you want to make these more affordable, tinned crab white meat would be an option)
5 spring onions, very finely chopped (white and green parts)
1 red pepper, very finely chopped
2 sticks celery, very finely chopped
1-2 tablespoons chives, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, very finely chopped (optional)
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise (I made my own, recipe here)
1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon New Orleans spice mix (e-mail to purchase)

Polenta plus a little more spice mix, for coating
Oil, for frying

Soften the red pepper and celery very gently for about 15 minutes until lovely and soft but not coloured. Set aside and allow to cool.

Pick through the crab meat to check for any pieces of shell, then place in a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients, including the softened veg (when cool), plus some salt and pepper. Mix well and taste for seasoning.

Form into cakes and set aside to chill in the fridge for an hour.

After this time, cover a plate with polenta, then add another half tablespoon of spice and mix it together. Coat each crab cake by turning it over in the mixture and dusting off any excess.

Heat about 2cm vegetable, groundnut or other frying oil in a heavy based frying pan and cook the cakes for a few minutes each side until golden and crisp. Cook them in batches of 3 or 4, so as not to crowd the pan and lower the temperature of the oil. Drain on kitchen paper then keep warm in a low oven while you cook the remaining cakes.

Celeriac Remoulade

1/2 small celeriac, peeled
1 quantity 2 egg yolk mayo (recipe here)
3 sweet pickled gherkins, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon chives, very finely chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon sweet American mustard
1 teaspoon hot sauce
Juice of 1 lemon
A little juice from the pickle jar
Salt

Squeeze the lemon juice into a large bowl. To deal with the celeriac, peel it, then cut it into fine matchsticks. I have a nifty peeler which makes lovely little strands out of vegetables. I realise most of you lot probably don’t own one of these, so I’m sorry but you’ll have to slog it out with the knife. Don’t be tempted to grate the celeriac unless you have a really good, coarse grater, because it will go all claggy and horrible when mixed with the mayo; it needs to retain bite. So, once you have your strands, toss immediately in the lemon juice to prevent discolouration.

Mix in all the other ingredients, adjusting the seasoning as you go; you may want more hot sauce, more mustard, more salt etc.

39 comments » | Fish and Seafood, Sandwiches, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads, Seafood, Shellfish, Side Dishes, Vegetables

Shrimp Po’ Boys

February 8th, 2012 — 7:56am

I have a major soft spot for classic American sandwiches (no surprises there) and recently I’ve been focused on tracking down one of the all time greats – the po’ boy – in London. It’s been a fruitless endeavour, a particular low point being my recent experience at The Diner, in Soho. I left feeling queasy, cheated and strongly convinced I should try making one at home. A po’ boy, in case you’re not familiar, is a sandwich originating from Louisiana, so called because it was once the staple food of labourers – the poor boys. There are many variations but the most common fillings seem to be roast beef, fried shrimp or fried oysters. A ‘dressed’ po’ boy (like this one) comes loaded with lettuce, tomato, a piquant mayo, pickles, onion and hot sauce. Gimme.

As always when one delves into these things, I found that the question of what makes an authentic po’ boy is a sensitive one. The bread should, apparently, be a New Orleans French style baguette but I had a lot of trouble finding a good looking recipe and there seems to be controversy around the idea of the perfect crust and interior texture. Some argue that it’s impossible for home cooks to ever replicate an authentic New Orleans bread outside the area, as it’s the high humidity and unique climate in general (partly below sea level) that make the bread just so, while others say it’s the unique properties of the water. It was at this point I gave up (I’m sure you understand) and decided that a nice soft sub roll wouldn’t be the end of the world and in fact would work nicely against the crunch of fried prawns. After a failed attempt with a duff recipe, I played around and came up with a roll I was happy with – soft and sweet with a decent sturdy crust.

I bought some fat, fresh prawns and seasoned them with a mixture of polenta/cornmeal (no sweet ‘n sour chicken ball-esque batter this time, The Diner) and a fantastic New Orleans spice blend I was sent by Richard Myers, a Louisiana native. It’s a mixture of Red Sea salt; garlic; onion; spices, including paprika; white, black and red peppers; citrus; thyme; oregano and rosemary. Phew. It’s incredibly intense and seriously tasty.

I loaded the subs with a bed of shredded lettuce followed by the crisp, spicy fried prawns and plenty of  home-made mayo mixed with chopped pickles, onion, mustard and parsley, thinned and soured with pickle juice and lemon. As per the videos of famous po’ boy vendors I watched on YouTube, I finished the sandwich with an extra splash of hot sauce. Wow. The Americans really have invented some incredible sandwiches. This was a world apart from that grim recreation I suffered weeks earlier; it winds me up, the way people take a beautiful idea and make it as cheaply and with as little love as possible. I’ve never been to Louisiana, and this recipe may not be entirely authentic, but I can promise you that it was made, and eaten, with a Whole Lotta Love.

Shrimp Po’ Boys

For the subs (makes 4)

1 packet fast action dried yeast
20g caster sugar
225ml warm water
25 butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon salt
375g plain flour
1 egg white
Sesame seeds

Dissolve the sugar in the water, add the yeast and leave to activate. Melt the butter and allow to cool almost completely. In the mixing bowl of an electric mixer with a dough hook (or of course you could mix by hand), combine the flour, yeast mixture, butter and salt.

Knead really well, then cover with cling film and allow to rise until doubled in size. After this time, lightly dust 2 greased baking trays with polenta/cornmeal then split the dough into four and shape into long sub-shapes. Slash each several times with a knife, brush over egg white then sprinkle with sesame seeds. Let double in size again.

Bake at 200C for about 18-20 minutes or until golden brown all over.

For the prawns

6 raw king prawns per person, shelled and de-veined
Polenta/cornmeal
New Orleans seasoning, available from Richard Myers (e-mail to purchase)
Beaten egg

Spread a plate with a mixture of 3 tablespoons polenta to 2 scant tablespoons New Orleans seasoning. Dip each prawn in the egg, followed by the seasoning mix.

Deep fry the prawns for 2-4 minutes, depending on size. You can also shallow fry them, but make sure you have a couple of cm of oil in the pan and turn them over halfway through. Drain on kitchen paper.

For the mayo

2 egg yolks
Oil (vegetable or groundnut are both good but don’t use olive oil, certainly not extra virgin)
2 chopped sweet dill pickles
1 teaspoon American mustard
1/2 finely chopped red onion
Juice of 1/2- 1 whole lemon
1 teaspoon juice from the pickle jar
Chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

Put the egg yolks in a clean bowl and whisk them together. Whisk in the oil, adding a few drops at a time and making sure each bit of oil is fully incorporated before adding the next. As you whisk in more oil and the mayo starts to thicken, you can start adding it in very slightly larger quantities until you are steadily adding it in a thin stream. The key with mayo is to be cautious with the oil until you get a feel for making it. If you add too much at once, it will split. If this happens, don’t despair. Take a fresh egg yolk in a clean bowl and begin adding the split mixture into it, very slowly, just as if it were the oil. This should bring it back.

Add all the other ingredients, adjusting to taste (e.g. you may want a little more lemon juice, a little more salt)

To dress the po’ boy

Split and toast the sub, then load with shredded lettuce (I used little gem), the prawns, the mayo and a dribble of (mild) hot sauce. It’s traditional to use tomatoes I believe, but I just couldn’t face it when there was snow on the ground. DEVOUR!

26 comments » | Sandwiches, Seafood

Caribbean Brown Stew Chicken

February 1st, 2012 — 9:08pm

Brown stew chicken is a common Caribbean dish, yet I don’t see it too often on restaurant menus in Peckham. Well, not compared to jerk anyway. The stew takes its name from the colour of the sauce, which is made by caramelising the marinated chicken in brown sugar before adding the reserved marinade. This caramel flavour is essential to make a good brown stew and it’s important to spend time ensuring the chicken is properly sticky and golden before moving on. The sauce is then cooked down to an intense gravy; it’s sweet and damn spicy, depending of course on how liberal your hand is with the fierce yet fruity scotch bonnet pepper.

It’s a proper carnival of Caribbean flavours, with depth from the caramelised sugar and soy, plus fragrance from the thyme, ginger, spring onions and  lime. The smell carries like nothing else and will make your neighbours insane with jealousy. This is proper winter comfort food, Peckham style.

Brown Stew Chicken (serves 2-3, depending on how many chicken thighs you fancy)

1kg bone-in chicken thighs (about 6), skin removed
Juice of 1  lime
4 spring onions, finely shredded, plus one extra to garnish
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 scotch bonnet chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 regular onion, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely chopped
4 sprigs thyme
1 thumb sized piece ginger, peeled and grated
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
Half a tin chopped tomatoes (I used the cherry ones)
Water to just cover the chicken pieces

Place the chicken pieces in a dish and add all the ingredients except the sugar, chopped tomatoes and water. Mix well and leave to marinate for an hour or overnight if possible.

When you’re ready to cook the chicken, remove them from the marinade, reserving the marinade to add to the stew. Pat the chicken dry with kitchen paper. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a high-sided pan and add the sugar. When it begins to turn dark brown and caramelised, add the chicken pieces, taking care because it will splatter a lot. Fry them until you have nice caramelised bits on both sides, then remove from the pan and set to one side.

Add the reserved marinade to the pot and fry for a few minutes to soften. Add the chicken pieces back plus the tinned tomatoes and just enough water to cover the meat. Season, then simmer for 20 minutes until the sauce is thickened and the chicken cooked through. Serve with rice and peas, or plain rice, garnished with the a little chopped spring onion.

81 comments » | Caribbean Food, Main Dishes, Meat, Stews

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