Archive for February 2013


Sous Vide Octopus

February 18th, 2013 — 2:14pm

Never have I felt more of a middle class tosser than when I stumbled in drunk one evening and exclaimed, loudly and with much enthusiasm, ‘LET’S SOUS VIDE A QUINCE!‘ I then proceeded to heat up the sous vide, put the fruit inside and promptly forget about it. Excellent.

Things that work sous vide, I’ve come to realise, are cuts of meat like pork belly which need long cooking to break down the gnarly bits. That said, I cooked a piece of lamb belly which I thought would work brilliantly and it came out like a big chewy piece of fat, which essentially, it was; the worst thing about that was the fact I’d invited five other people around to eat it.

Eggs work well, though I’m not sure I’ll be busting out the machine every time I want to eat one (read: I won’t); the most amusing bit  is when you crack open the shell and a poached egg just plops out.

Anyway, I’d not tried fish or seafood yet, and after hearing mixed results I decided to steer clear of fillets and go for something that’s notoriously difficult to tenderise; the octopus. I bought a ready frozen octopus, which immediately takes care of one step of the process (freezing helps to tenderise).

So I picked up a 1.5kg beast  for the downright shocking sum of £18. When I was in the fishmonger I heard someone shouting EIGHTEEN POUNDS! and then realised that it was me. I tweeted about this afterwards and loads of people answered saying helpful things like ‘I bought a huge one in Lewisham market for £2.50 the other day!’ but although I have fairly shonky standards on many things, I’m not sure I’ll ever begrudge paying a lot of money to know that I’m getting decent seafood. Still, octopus is expensive, FYI.

So it was defrosted, unpacked, hacked and re-(vac)-packed with some garlic cloves, parsley stalks and olive oil. I had intentions of dressing it afterwards with chilli, garlic, parsley and lemon, mainly because that sounded summery and I’m sick of winter. I cooked it for 4 hours at 85 degrees as suggested by many online sources. When it emerged however, the bag contained an alarming amount of red liquid. It basically looked like an octopus in a bag of blood. I e-mailed an on-line fishmonger whom I trust and he said that although octopus can leach some red liquid occasionally when over cooked, he’d never seen anything to this extent. He even contacted the executive chef at Brindisa (“they cook a lot of octopus”), who apparently had no idea either. So, how did it taste?

The answer is: I don’t know. Neither I nor my partner of equally strong stomach could bring ourselves to eat it (hungover? What? Me?). This fact coupled with some er, logistical issues (basically the octopus being in a different house to the one we were in come dinner time) means that I effectively pissed £18 up the wall, not to mention wasted a good octopus and that just makes me feel SICK, quite frankly.

So me and the sous vide are having a bad run; first the lamb, then the drunken quince incident and now the case of the bloody octopus. Bad luck comes in threes?

If anyone has any ideas about what went wrong then please do pipe up…

52 comments » | Monumental Fail, Seafood

Georgia, I Adore Ya

February 2nd, 2013 — 1:23am

Last year I went to Georgia; a country I would never have considered visiting had I not been invited. As is often the way when one doesn’t expect these things, I completely fell in love with the place; the people, the culture, the wine and most of all, the food. Since then it’s been a mission to try and perfect recipes and also to seek out Georgian food in London. On the cooking front, khachapuri has been something of an obsession; it’s basically a cheese-stuffed bread, made with an incredibly salty Georgian cheese – we’re talking more salty than halloumi; being a complete and utter salt whore, I adored it. I lugged 6 khachapuri back on the plane with me and ate them, cold, for several days after my return, mourning their diminishing number with every bite.

Khachapuri in Georgia 

Also on the Georgia trip with me was Kerstin Rodgers, who took a similar liking to this supremely comforting  bread. We tried cooking a recipe from The Georgian Feast, an award winning cook book, but it just wasn’t right at all. We didn’t have the correct cheese but it wasn’t just that. Not the kind of people to give up, we got together recently to give khachapuri another try, using Ottolenghi’s recipe from Jerusalem. It worked a treat. I even managed to find sulguni in a Russian deli in Queensway (Kalinka), which I believe is one of the only if not the only place in London that sells it. They also sell Armenian cognac in bottles shaped like AK47s. One of those got bought, obviously; the last in the shop. When we requested to buy it the lady behind the counter got her walkie talkie out and started speaking frantically in Russian.

Oh how we feasted. Ottolenghi also includes a substitute cheese filling, and that also tastes really quite authentic. Read Kerstin’s post about our khachapuri making evening here; we tried just about every type of random cheese London had to offer (you’ll also get a story about my love life while you’re over there).

Sulguni cheese

Magnificent ‘Ajarian’ (boat shaped) khachapuri cooked in Kerstin’s Aga (and served on a very beautiful tray…)

‘Megruli’ (circular, stuffed) khachapuri, again cooked in the Aga

I also had great success cooking a recipe for BBQ pork and plum sauce in the summer; these spice rubbed skewers was everywhere in Georgia, grilled over hot coals in a pit in the ground and served with sliced raw shallots and a sour/sweet, dill heavy plum sauce. I was amazed at how authentic my plum sauce tasted; although our plums are completely different, the unripe ones we get in the supermarkets are perfect as they’re just as sour. A use for unripe supermarket fruit. Who knew?

Pork grilling in Georgia

The finished pork in Georgia

My Georgian BBQ pork

My Georgian plum sauce

Seeking out authentic tasting Georgian food in London has been much more hit and miss. First I visited Colchis, which is a kind of poshed up Georgian restaurant in Notting Hill;  each to their own, but having visited the country, that’s just the most bizarre concept and it didn’t sit well or indeed taste particularly good. My next experience was completely unexpected, coming as it did from the Pasha Hotel in Camberwell, where I spotted khachapuri on the menu in their Kazakh Kyrgyz restaurant. It was nothing at all like the examples I tasted in Georgia, made from a flaky pastry rather than a bread. It did taste rather nice however and I liked the idea of serving it with raw onion.

And so to my best restaurant experience yet: The Georgian in Clapham South. During the day it’s a somewhat run of the mill cafe serving the usual sandwiches and hot drinks but during the evening they serve Georgian food. I’ll be honest, they seemed surprised to see me when I walked in at 6.30 and a woman initially tried to speak to me in Georgian.

All the classics were there on the menu and I was properly excited. The khachapuri was rather good; nowhere near as oily as the real  thing (I really liked the supreme unhealthiness of the oil) but very tasty nonetheless. The best I’ve had in a restaurant by miles.

Pkhali are pureed vegetables mixed with walnuts, which are abundant in Georgia; we chose spinach and beetroot. They’re like a rich vegetable spread, intense with garlic and dotted with pomegranate seeds. In Georgia each ball is always studded with just one pomegranate seed, like a little jewel nestling in the top.

We stuffed ourselves full of traditional Georgian dumplings, called khinkali, which have very thick and rustic casings, filled with minced meats and their juices and heavily flavoured with black pepper. They take some careful eating; the way to do it is to hold them by the nipple at the top and carefully bite in. We ate them with a green chilli sauce, which was really fierce.

Dumplings with green chilli sauce at The Georgian

The Georgian is the best Georgian place I’ve been to in London so far and I want more people to visit because we were the only evening diners. At the moment they’re clearly frequented more for coffee and cakes which is sad, they ought to be serving many more of their excellent Georgian dishes.

I’ll continue working my way around London’s Georgian restaurants however; I’ve heard that Little Georgia is good. Does anyone have any favourite places?

33 comments » | Bread, Georgia, Restaurant Reviews

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