Archive for June 2012


Triple Whammy Roti Tour

June 29th, 2012 — 11:31am

The itinerary I sent to my mate looked like this:

“18.00-18.30: Roti Joupa (SW4 7UT)

19.00: PUB

20:00: Trinishack Roti (SE24 9DA)

20.30: PUB

21:00: Bajan Spice (SE15 3QF)

21.30: The Old Nun’s Head (that’s a PUB)

You might want to have a light lunch…”

I mean really, what would be the point in visiting just one roti joint of an evening when I could be visiting three? I had recommendations under my belt and I’m not very good at being sensible. Sorry, I made that sound negative, what I meant to say was, I’m very good at not being sensible. I want an adventure, dammit! I want to spaff around South London of an evening and call it a Triple Whammy Roti Tour!

So first stop was the Trinidadian Roti Joupa, which unfortunately is in Clapham but hey, I can take one for the team every now and then. We ordered a curry goat roti and a ‘hot double’ which is a Trinidadian street food snack consisting of two fried flat breads filled with channa (chickpeas) and various toppings, in this case crunchy cucumber bits and a really fierce scotch bonnet sauce.  The chickpeas were quite sweet, balanced by (I think) sour tamarind. This was the tastiest £1.50 I’ve gobbled in a very very long time. Superb.

The curry goat roti however (below) was disappointing. The roti itself was just terrible, heavy and gummy in texture, rather like the tortilla one finds wrapping something watery called ‘Mexican chicken’ in the supermarket chiller. It was the kind of wrap that sticks to the roof of your mouth when you eat it; the opposite of a beautiful flaky roti, basically. The goat (although I suspect it was actually mutton) was very tender but just a bit bland, really. I received some tweets afterwards saying that the rotis have always been rubbish so I’m not sure where all the hype comes from but no matter, it’s worth going for a couple of those hot doubles alone. A double hot double for your trouble.

Roti Joupa, 12 Clapham High Street, Clapham, London, SW4 7UT [map]
Tel: 020 7627 8637

From Clapham North we boarded the kind of backstreet bus that has a P in front of its number and winds around backstreets that didn’t even exist pre-P buses; they just appear in front of them, like invisible computer game platforms, then disappear again once the bus passes through. It was hot, the bus, so we headed straight to the pub for a frosty pint before hitting up the second stop, Guyanese roti joint Umana Yana in Herne Hill.

Now, now we’re talking. So many flaky layers to that roti, almost lace-like when tugged apart. It coated our fingers with oil, letting us know just how much fat goes into making it so delicious. Just look at the contrast between the roti in the picture below and the anaemic tortilla-esque one up top.

I wanted an aubergine filling but she’d run out so we got aubergine and chicken which, let’s face it, are not exactly the most natural bedfellows. Not in the way that, say, aubergine and lamb are. Aubergine and lamb are well tight. The chicken was also cooked down into tiny strands, like the chicken one finds in the filling of a really cheap pie. It should have been so very wrong but it was genuinely bloody fantastic. Richly spiced with a luxurious texture from the aubergine. The bucket of hot sauce alongside was properly special too, rammed with scotch bonnets and I mean rammed. She could bottle that sauce and sell it no problem. If she does she’ll need a name and may I be so bold as to suggest one? I’d name it: ’5am Wake Up Call’. Does what it says on the bottle.

Umana Yana means ‘the meeting place of the people’ in Wai Wai, which is the language spoken by, somewhat unsurprisingly, Wai Wai people. The meeting place is apparently a kind of conical thatched hut. I know this because a sign on the wall in the shop told me so. It was recommended to me by a reader and at the time she made special mention of the hospitality of the owner as well as the quality of the food and she was right to do so – such a  jolly, welcoming woman. She’s lovely to talk to, she makes incredible roti, she makes hot sauce that I would buy on a regular basis were it available in the shops and she raised no objection to me and my mate swigging from a bottle of Armagnac outside her shop. Go.

Umana Yana, 294 Croxted Road, Herne Hill, London SE24 9DA [map]
Tel: 020 8671 8227

From Umana Yama, a step up in the bus hierarchy with the ever reliable (chortle) 37 down to Peckham Rye and short walk up into Nunhead for our final stop, Bajan Spice. We were getting a little full by this point so we  messed with the agenda and wolfed the next roti down sharpish for fear it would be game over.

Sadly, this final roti wasn’t really up to scratch. My tour was bookended by two shoddy examples. The mutton was tender and the flavour well, quite nice I suppose (‘nice’ is always a great compliment) but there was rather a lot of potato and (whispers), I’m not really a huge fan of potatoes. Yeah yeah. Also, the roti was as crap as example number one at Roti Joupa.

The pot of hot sauce provided alongside was miniscule, which is okay I suppose because it’s spicy but they could have asked how much I wanted.

“Be careful with that”, warned the chef, “it’s home made”.

So a) you’ve got no idea who you’re talking to and b) you’ve no idea where I’ve just come from, so basically,  gimme more sauce. It wasn’t a patch on the heat or flavour of Umana Yana’s sauce in any case, the rest of which is residing happily in my fridge, ready for the next time I need to get up extra early…

Bajan Spice, 28 Nunhead Green, London, SE15 3QF [map]
Tel: 020 7358 0090

37 comments » | Caribbean Food, Guyanese Food, Restaurant Reviews, Roti, Trinidadian Food

Mummified Cockerel

June 21st, 2012 — 8:15am

If you’re not intrigued by the title ‘mummified cockerel’ then we’re not going to get along, basically. First up, did you even realise cockerels were for eating? Me neither. I thought they were just for strutting about and waking people up with what is, frankly, one of the funniest animal noises ever. When I used to spend a lot of time out in the sticks, the noise of a cockerel never failed to make me giggle, even at 5am; they just sound so ridiculous and desperate.

I spent 15 minutes laughing at videos of cockerels crowing on youtube while writing this post, and that’s before I’d even started referring to the cockerel I cooked as ‘the cock’. So many jokes… ‘I cooked a cock today’. ‘I’m just mummifying a cock’. ‘Anyone for some hot cock?’ (sorry mum).

Enough.

So the Ginger Pig have started doing er, chickens. They’ve started selling these hulking beasts that are a cross between a Cornish game cockerel and a Sussex or Dorking hen. They’re 100 days old (as opposed to 65 for the average commercially grown free range British chicken), they’re dry plucked and then hung for a week to bring out the flavour. That’s a special bird. A special cock. You’re not going to find cock of that quality elsewhere (snigger). They’re massive too, with obscenely plump legs. I’ve always been a thigh woman…

I was sent a cock in the post (giggle), to play around with (smirk), along with some advice to cook it ‘low and slow’. This would ideally happen with some liquid; in a casserole or pot roast for example. Problem is, I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do something silly like smearing the cock with a kick ass spice paste, wrapping it in flatbreads and cooking it for four hours. So I did. And it worked. Ha! I do this all the time with regular chickens by the way, it’s a Middle Eastern recipe I found in one of my favourite cook books – A Tale of Twelve Kitchens by Peckham based artist Jake Tilson.

So you sacrifice the crisp skin with this recipe, let’s face up to that right now, but what you get instead is meat of super succulence and a load of bread that has spent 4 hours soaking up chicken fat, juice and spice and let me tell you, it’s off the hook. I witnessed an actual fight over the last piece of that bread between two people that have been friends for quite some years. Be warned.

I made the spice paste by slinging the following into a blender: two onions, 3 cloves of garlic, 2 tablespoons za’atar (a mixture of thyme, sumac, sesame seeds and salt), hot chilli flakes and a splash of oil. I then slapped it all over that cock. Intense. After the slapping part it’s the wrapping part, which is pretty much a case of doing your best to get it all enclosed. I always use a packet of khobez from Persepolis in Peckham (3 or 4 to a pack), which split apart nicely and are the perfect thickness. It’s widely available in London but if you can’t get it I suggest you just do your best with whatever you can find. Don’t use anything too thin like lavash however, as it will crisp up too much and burn.

So what of the cooked cock? Well, I was worried about it to be honest; the drawback of this cooking method is that it’s impossible to check on the progress of it once wrapped. I cook a regular chicken this way for 3 hours at 175 degrees. This seems like an age of course but the bird stays very juicy due to the wrapping. I’ve no idea why it’s cooked for so long but that’s what Jake told me to do so I don’t argue. As I’d been warned the cock would take even longer to cook, I gave it 4 hours to be on the safe side which was probably totally unnecessary (although it did no harm). As a friend advised me at the time of cooking, ‘I’d say 4 hours at 175 degrees would cook fucking anything to be honest.’ Well, quite.

This dish is all about the big reveal. Wang it in the middle of the table and crack the crust to release the fragrant spicy meat puff. Ooooh! Aaaaaaah! Once the steam dissipates, the cock is revealed; the drama of de-mummification. At first I was a little taken aback by the funk of the bird; it smelled a little more high than the average chook. In the mouth though, that translated to chicken flavour to the power of 100 days + hanging for 1 week. It’s aged for a reason…

I served my bird on Persian style rice; basmati steamed with cardamom and streaked with steeped saffron. The shredded meat was dabbed with bits of the spice paste and then, then, scattered with what is possibly the best garnish ever: chopped dates fried in butter. They’re really high in calories, what with all that natural sugar and the liberal addition of saturated fat, which is why they taste incredible. If you’re not into the savoury/fruit thing which I know weirds people out sometimes, try them as a topping for ice cream. I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out.

Okay so it’s not the prettiest of dishes but it tastes incredible, it’s fun and it’s always possible to panic garnish with out of season pomegranate seeds, to give it some colour and make it look better in a photo…a little tip for you there. Damn, I could charge for this shit.

The cockerels are available to buy from Ginger Pig now. They cost £8.50/kg, which isn’t cheap by any stretch, but is only a couple of quid more than a standard free range bird and they’re pretty unique. A 3kg bird will feed about 6 people, or greedy me for 3 days.

See here for Ginger Pig branch locations

Mummified Cockerel

1 x 2.75 kg (or similar sized) cockerel
2 average sized onions
3 cloves garlic
Hot chilli flakes (about a generous tablespoon I suppose)
3 tablespoons za’atar
Salt
A splash of oil
3-4 khobez flat breads (or similar), for wrapping

Preheat the oven to 175c.

Whack the onions, garlic, chilli flakes, za’atar, oil and some salt in a blender. Blend it. Smear it all over the cockerel, inside and out, but mostly out. Split one of the flatbreads so that it is still joined on side; you basically want to tuck the chicken into a bready pocket. Do that. Then keep doing it until you’ve mummified the cock. Just do your best to make sure it’s all wrapped up.

Wrap it loosely in foil and put it in the oven. Cook for 4 hours. Every 45 minutes or so take it out and brush the top of the flatbread liberally with water; this should stop it from burning. You won’t be eating the top bit anyway but burnt stuff doesn’t taste good so don’t skip this bit.

After 4 hours it should be ready; who knows, it might even be ready after 3. Anyway, crack the flatbread crust and get stuck in.

Rice Iranian Stylee (these are Sally Butcher’s quantities from Veggiestan, which means they cater for Iranian – meaning large – appetites. This is also her method for cooking rice, which never fails)

600g rice
800ml water
Generous knob of butter
Pinch saffron strands steeped in a little boiling water
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch ground cinnamon
A few dates, chopped
More butter for frying the dates

Wash the rice well. Put the water and butter in a pan with some salt and bring it to the boil. Add the rice and let it come back to the boil, then turn the heat down really low. Tie a clean tea towel around the lid of the pan, then put it on and let it simmer very gently for 20 minutes. After this time, lift the lid, stir in the cardamom and cinnamon, put the lid back on and steam for another 10 minutes.

Melt some butter in a pan and fry the dates in it for a few minutes.

Streak the saffron through the rice and serve with the chicken and dates on top.

50 comments » | Bread, Far Out Crazy, Food From The Rye, Meat, Peckham

Georgian BBQ Pork and Plum Sauce

June 8th, 2012 — 12:27pm

You may remember the frankly THRILLING post I wrote about the food markets in Georgia. There was also a post about the wine, for which I am sorry. If you’re particularly on the ball, you may have picked up on the fact that the post on Georgian food a whole 2 months ago was appended with the words ‘Part 1′. Ahem. Tum ti tum…

Of course you’ve all been e-mailing saying, ‘Helen, where is part two? We’re hanging on your every word oh wise one.’ Or not. One of the two. Anyway. So. Right. Georgian food, Part 2, plus, plus some recipes. Gawd, I’m good to you. You’ve no idea what Georgian food is like? Of course you don’t. No-one does until they visit or come into contact with someone who has lived there or is like, properly Georgian and really, how often does that happen?

So when I was in Georgia I went to a lot of meals called supras which are basically big feasts. There are lots of toasts during these feasts because the Georgians are well into toasting; I’m talking raising a glass and saying nice words here rather than burning pieces of bread. So they toast their ancestors and their friends but most of all they toast you because they consider guests to be ‘gifts from God’. It’s all rather overwhelming. Then they do this polyphonic singing thing which is rather moving too and before you know it you’ve made 10 new best friends and then 15 minutes later you decide they are actually your new family and you’re welling up and no it isn’t anything at all to do with the wine (little bit).

So I’ve been thinking a lot about Georgian food since my visit. I’ve cooked a Georgian meal with Kirstin Rodgers and I’ve visited a Georgian restaurant. The latter was very disappointing; they tried to make the food sort of ‘posh Georgian’, which totally misses the point. It’s like trying to do Caribbean fine dining or something (I had a heated discussion with someone about that once – different story). Anyway, there are a few recipes I’ve been meaning to lock down at home, like the BBQ pork and plum sauce I’m going to bang on about shortly. First though I’m going to tell you about some other things I ate and enjoyed and want to cook.

Kachapuri, or to give it its proper name ‘salty cheese bread’ (possibly the other way around). My salt tolerance soared in Georgia, which is truly saying something. I bought 3 slabs of this bread back with me and feasted on it, cold, for a couple of days until I started to feel sick and thought I might get food poisoning. Then I went to intensive care and was put on a drip due to dehydration (possible lie).

These ball thingies are called phkali and are made from ground walnuts (walnuts grow in Georgia so feature heavily), puréed veg such as spinach or beetroot, garlic and loads of herbs like coriander and dill. These would not be out of place at an Iranian meal; Georgian food has a lot in common with Iranian food actually, in that they use loads of fresh herbs, ground nuts, pomegranates, aubergine, yoghurt…

Behold! The buffalo milk yoghurt that brought me back from the brink of a hangover; I mean, I was actually at the crossroads, staring down the road of no return and then a shining white light started calling from a distance, ‘Helen? Heelleeeeeeen?’ The voice of soothing, stomach settling buffalo milk yoghurt. The Georgian mineral water has the same healing properties, FYI, drinkers, but it does taste pretty funky. Go with the yoghurt.

These meat dumplings are called khinkali; you hold them by the top nipply bit and eat them very carefully because they are filled with hot stock. I found this out the hard way, surprise surprise. Greedy. Impatient. Predictable. Then there’s some minced meat to enjoy, which is flavoured strongly with black pepper. I really enjoyed the fact that pepper was the main flavouring actually.

And so we arrive at the BBQ pork, which is grilled on mahoosive skewers as per the top photo and garnished with chopped shallots. The marinade I made is basically a load of this awesome chilli powder mix I bought in the market in Tbilisi (I think substitute with really good quality chilli flakes, mild chilli powder and salt) mixed with ground coriander, onion, garlic and a load of oil and vinegar. I actually didn’t mean to use as much vinegar as I did but I had a little jib out when pouring and sloshed a load in by mistake. This turned out to be quite the happy accident as it really tenderised the meat to silly levels and tasted rather awesome. Here’s my batch…

I served it with the plum sauce (tkemali); there are red and green versions, with the former being sweeter. Mine turned out kind of orange. Hey ho. Obviously I had to use whatever plums I could find which was okay because recipes online all advised ‘just use unripe plums’. In June in the UK? No problemo. I grabbed the nearest supermarket punnet.

The finished sauce tastes quite tart and sort of musty in a good way, down to the ground coriander and heavy use of dill. It goes really well with grilled meat, particularly pork, which loves a bit of tangy fruit action. I was pretty chuffed with how well this turned out to be honest. It tasted almost identical to the stuff we had in Georgia.

So there’s the story of how I threw some stuff in a pot and it came out really well by accident. Ta-da!

Georgian BBQ Pork 

1kg pork fillet, cubed
1 onion, grated (if you can bear doing this..otherwise very finely chop)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons Georgian chilli spice mix (sub with chilli flakes, mild chilli powder and some extra salt)
2 teaspoons ground coriander
4 tablespoons oil (any, really, apart from extra virgin)
4 tablespoons vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
Salt (loads)
Black pepper

Shallots, to serve

Mix all the marinade ingredients together. Mix the marinade with the pork. Leave to marinate for a couple of hours (not sure what would happen overnight to be honest, the vinegar does tenderise the meat a lot in just a couple of hours). Skewer the meat and BBQ it. Garnish with chopped shallots.

Georgian Plum Sauce (I used this recipe from the New York Times but messed about with it and subbed things in because I was in someone else’s house and they didn’t have the right stuff)

500g random unripe plums (supermarket ideal for this)
Juice 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar (not sure this makes any difference but put it in anyway)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes (think I used chilli powder or paprika or something)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin (I used a bit more)
2 tablespoons each finely chopped coriander and dill (I upped the dill)
Salt and pepper
Sugar (it will need some sugar to balance it but the sauce should still be quite sour)

Plunge plums into boiling water then drain, get as much skin off as you can and attempt to remove the stones. I had to randomly hack the flesh off as best I could because trying to get stones out of unripe plums is pretty impossible.

Chuck everything apart from the fresh herbs in a pot with a mug full of water and cook it until the plums are all mushy. You’re supposed to blend it but I couldn’t find a blender in my mate’s house so I just kind of mashed them up with a fork and actually it was rather nice with a few chunks. Adjust sugar, lemon juice, seasoning balance, add the fresh herbs and voila! Georgian plum sauce. Let it cool down to room temperature before serving.

50 comments » | Barbecue, Meat, Sauces, Travel

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