Category: Sandwiches


Steamed Chinese Sandwich Bread (Mantou)

September 20th, 2014 — 3:10pm

Pork Belly Steamed Bun from Yum Bun

Bao from Yum Bun

I have an intense, borderline unhealthy affection for those Chinese sandwich buns peddled by the likes of Yum Bun and Bao London; there’s just something about that pudgy steamed bread that is so addictive. Yes, I adore a sourdough with a crackly crust and a chew that could shave inches off the jowls of a bloodhound but there’s a lot to be said for the super soft and doughy. In Northern China they have nailed this texture in the form of the mantou. I can’t get enough of them, so last weekend I went to a cookery class at School of Wok in Covent Garden to learn some tricks which would hopefully enhance my buns.

The Chinese use much whiter (bleached) flour, which is banned in the UK. A lot of places in Chinatown still use it however as there’s a legal loophole somewhere along the importing chain. You’ll see that the buns I’ve made have a yellow tinge to them, yet those that you see in restaurants are snowy white; the latter are mostly made in Chinatown with the imported flour, and then supplied to the restaurants. Apparently it’s also possible to buy the flour for home use, but recently there’s been some kind of shortage. If the yellow colour really bothers you, then add a tiny splash of rice vinegar to the water when you steam your buns, and that will whiten them slightly.

The dough is a bit of a bugger to work with, and I break out in a sweat kneading it until smooth; the idea is to work the gluten so that it becomes nice and stretchy. When it’s done you should be able to push your fingers gently into the surface of the dough without it cracking straight away. Once risen it’s rolled out into an oval shape, then oiled and folded over a chopstick; the oiling is important to stop the dough sticking together during steaming.

Mantou

Sandwich buns resting in the steaming trays

We try steaming them two ways for comparative purposes, firstly in a bamboo steamer over a wok full of water, and secondly in a snazzy steam oven which I am fascinated by. The steam oven has more of an all engulfing heat, obviously, which surrounds the buns and cooks them evenly – best for the sandwich bread. The bamboo steamers are over direct heat, which makes the dough more likely to crack as it cooks – this is desirable when cooking buns like char siu bao, when you want that classic split-open top.

Red Cooked Pork

Red cooked pork with fermented tofu

After 8 minutes we had perfectly steamed, if not quite perfectly shaped mantou, ready to be rammed with pork braised in a fermented tofu sauce, a quick cucumber pickle (recipes below), lettuce and Japanese mayo. I ate three and felt the oof; despite their fluffy appearance they are incredibly filling and considering that we also made char siu and custard buns…is someone had pushed me out of the door I could’ve rolled to the bus stop.

The steamed bun class is the most technical of all the classes at School of Wok, and I learned a huge amount, including some dim sum techniques which Jeremy, our teacher, said experts generally refuse to demonstrate until people have had much more experience. He’s all about making this kind of cooking more accessible, is our Jez. The class is very relaxed, friendly and fun, and there were only three of us there, so everyone got lots of attention (I believe the maximum class size is 8). I was on the course with two young guys who wanted to start a street food stall selling bao, having made them only once before. Considering their limited knowledge of cooking, and the fact they were both knackered by lunch time, I’m not sure how well that venture is going to work out. One of them did say however that the class was the first time he’d EVER enjoyed cooking, which is a damn good advert for Jeremy’s classes, if perhaps not the foundation for a successful street food business…

School of Wok
61 Chandos Place
London
WC2N 4HG

The steamed bun fun class runs from 10.30am-4.30pm and costs £130. I was invited to the review the class. 

Steamed Sandwich Buns (Mantou) (recipe courtesy of School of Wok)

530g medium gluten wheat flour
5g dried yeast mixed with 100g warm water to activate
50g milk
3 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
120g water
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp baking powder
Flavourless oil

Activate the yeast and then add to rest of the ingredients and knead well.

Allow to rest in a warm place covered with a damp cloth for 2 hours, or until the
dough has doubled in size.

Just before shaping, add 1tsp baking powder to the dough and knead well.

Roll the dough into a cylinder, then cut pieces off this, and roll out into oval shapes. Lightly oil the top of the dough, then put a chopstick at the half way mark, fold over and remove. Allow to rest in a warm place, under a damp cloth, for 30 minutes or until 1.5 times the size.

Line a bamboo steamer with greaseproof paper and steam for 8 minutes. Do not lift the lid in the first 4 minutes.

Braised Pork Belly in Fermented Tofu (recipe courtesy of School of Wok)

300g Pork belly
2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 cube of fermented bean curd
1 tbsp fermented bean curd liquid
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
Dash of sesame oil
1 tbsp black vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
Roughly 450ml hot water

Finely chop the garlic and place in a small prep bowl. Using the base of a teaspoon, crush the fermented bean curd into the sauce until a
thick paste is formed. Mix the soy sauce, black vinegar, sugar and sesame oil together.

Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a saucepan to high heat. Add the garlic to the pot and stir.

Turn the heat down to a medium heat and then add the fermented bean curd paste.

Sear the pork belly piece on all sides in a separate pan, ensuring the skin is well
sealed and golden brown. Once seared, place the pork into the saucepan and stir until the whole piece is
covered in sauce.

Add the soy sauce/black vinegar & sugar mixture to the pork and bubble through for
2-3 minutes. Now turn heat down to low.

Turn the pork over so that the skin is touching the bottom of the saucepan. Pour enough hot water over the pork to just about cover. Stir well and then cover with lid. Simmer on low heat for 1 ½ hours – 2 hours until the pork is soft and succulent and full of colour. Turn occasionally to allow sauce to absorb into the whole piece.

Cucumber & Spring Onion Pickle (recipe courtesy of School of Wok)

3 spring onions, finely sliced into strips
½ cucumber, finely sliced
Pickling liquid
4 tbsp honey
½ tsp salt
4 tbsp red rice vinegar
2 tbsp hot water
15 crushed sichuan pepper corns

Combine everything and let sit for half an hour or so.

7 comments » | Bread, Pickles, Sandwiches

How to do Afternoon Tea. Properly.

August 19th, 2014 — 12:46pm

Afternoon Tea

I have recently developed a massive thing for afternoon tea. The reason for this, I am sure, is the same reason I love a buffet: the variety. I want all the dainty bits and bobs and plenty of them. The afternoon tea was introduced by the 7th Duchess of Bedford, who got bored of the 4 o’clock slump and decided to do something about it. The practice spread, grew more and more elaborate, and by Edwardian times it was a full on gowns and fine china job. I have a book called ‘Afternoon Tea at The Ritz’ full of lovely titbits (bit like the tea itself) about afternoon tea etiquette, such as that “those who take sugar in their tea are advised to propel the spoon with a minimum of effort and to remove it without fail before raising the cup”. Even now the idea of leaving a spoon in the cup while sipping seems unthinkable, doesn’t it?  What are you, some kind of Cup-a-Soup guzzling animal?

Nowadays, some people do afternoon tea as a tourist activity, like having a cream tea in Cornwall, or gumming at a soggy pasty in the rain. There are people who enjoy the ceremony of it, and there are those who just enjoy sitting about in a nice room with a silver teapot, discussing whether or not it really should be Humphrey’s turn to drive to Henley this year. Some people go only for the cakes, while some enjoy the sandwiches just as much. I want the whole package, and I have strong ideas about how said package should be delivered.

The Sandwiches

The sandwich to cake ratio is usually 1/3 sandwiches, 2/3 cakes. This is not correct, because the sandwiches, to me, are of equal importance. You know I like sandwiches, right? Did I mention anywhere that I like sandwiches? Some places, like Claridge’s, offer unlimited rounds. This is both a blessing and a curse because, well…talk about a red rag to a bull. I ate three rounds and had to take half the cakes home. Some of you will live and learn. I won’t.

The flavours of the sandwiches should be as follows:

1. Cucumber. The classic, and a good test of the measure of a place. The cucumber sandwich, you see, can’t be made too far in advance. I had an afternoon tea recently at a hotel in Scotland, where the kitchen was very much into making stuff in advance. I mean, more than was appropriate. Needless to say, cucumber sandwiches did not feature in their afternoon tea. The bread should be very white and fresh, the butter pure and salty, and the cucumber glistening.

2. Egg mayonnaise, which can come with or without cress, I don’t mind, but do be careful if you’re going to start adding anything else. This is an English egg mayonnaise, not an American egg salad. There definitely should not be any crunch. Some Americans put celery in their egg mayo. CELERY!

3. Smoked salmon, with either cream cheese or butter. If going with the latter, then it will need a squeeze of lemon. Black pepper. Light brown bread.

4. A meat sandwich. The obvious options are ham (with mustard, or I’ve had a rather nice variation with celeriac remoulade; bit Frenchy but I’ll allow it), or beef (preferably with horseradish). Some go for chicken. Few get away with it. Claridge’s did, but then they can get away with pretty much anything.

After that, it’s up to the individual. A few points to bear in mind however:

1. There should be no dipping of knives into chutney jars. Sweet fruit chutney (the kind you find at food markets between the painted plates and olives) is disgusting, but nobody else seems to have realised.

2. Salad leaves should be used with caution, because it’s difficult to make them dainty and the texture isn’t right for a finger sandwich. If watercress is involved, it needs to be chopped so it doesn’t come out in one long piece, pulling half the filling with it, before slapping against your chin.

3. All or almost all of the fillings should be British.

4. A generous amount of seasoning is really important; I’m forever adding salt to afternoon tea sandwiches.

Claridge's Tea Sandwiches

Scones

These should always be included and served warm, with strawberry or raspberry jam and clotted cream. I had an afternoon tea recently where the scones came with whipped cream (top photo). Whipped! I ask you. Someone should be sacked for that.

I care not for the argument about whether cream or jam should come first, despite having Cornish ties.

Scones

Cakes

Tricky area, this, as there’s so much room for variation, but here goes.

1. It’s a tad controversial, but I do like to find some sort of dainty cheesecake or moussey arrangement. It needs to be classy, though, with a fruit flavour; no chocolate and no cheese shaped wedges. This isn’t TGI Friday’s.

2. There should be a spongey thing, but again, it needs to meet the visual and size requirements, which can be a challenge because sponge falls more into the WI cakes category.

3. There should be a chocolate number, preferably adorned with spirals and twirls of other chocolate, possibly in different colours. I don’t mind as long as they look like they were really difficult to make.

4. A pastry tart is nice, with a very thin, obscenely buttery casing, filled with custard, topped with fruit and finished with a glaze that makes it shinier than Pierluigi Collina‘s head. 

Shiny Fruit Tart

Fruit Tart or Pierluigi Collina?

5. There should be some sort of cake which is the equivalent of the Great British Bake Off showstopper. It should have layers of things made via different, preferably complicated techniques. It should be dusted, decorated, bejewelled, encrusted with diamonds, covered in ambergris, whatever. The point is that it should be impressive.

6. Cupcakes do not belong.

7. I feel a bit funny about macarons. Are they a biscuit? Are they a cake? Are they just annoying? They seem to be the most over rated confection ever. I don’t mind seeing them sitting on the silver stand but they’d better be damn well perfect.

Cupcakes

Cupcakes: NO

Claridge's

Diddy perfection at Claridge’s

Things in Shot Glasses

If it were up to me, I’d do away with these. Yes, they add some height above the other cakes, and, as they’re often filled with some sort of fruit jelly, I do see their place in lightening the whole tea but, to be honest, I find them tacky. Also, the spoon never fits right to the bottom of the glass, which is just frustrating.

Biscuits

Fuck off.

The Tea

If you know what you’re doing, this should be proper, loose leaf tea. There are astonishing loose leaf teas available nowadays, and because they’re not cooped up in a bag, the leaves have room to unfurl. You can get a few brews from a fat pinch, with different subtleties of flavour each time. It’s called afternoon tea FFS, so the tea bit is very important. Teapots should be silver, or at least pretend to be.

Champagne

Always. This is the only place that any biscuity-ness should be happening, so you want something that’s spent time on its lees (bits of yeast and whatnot leftover from fermentation). Yeah, that’s right, I’m down with the wine lingo nowadays. Something like Roederer non vintage should do nicely. 

So, does anyone else have any strong views on the AT? Does the order of jam and cream still matter if it’s not a cream tea? Are macarons really the most exciting confection since the Beefeater’s Horn of Plenty?

 

70 comments » | Afternoon Tea, Cakes, Sandwiches

Man’oushe in Beirut

June 25th, 2014 — 9:58am

Man'oushe stall in Beirut

Beirut is a city of contrasts, the most striking being that of new wealth against a backdrop of quite obviously recent civil war. People parade barely healed plastic surgery around bullet pucked buidings. I was sad to read yesterday about a suicide bombing – the conflict in Syria is shaking the city once again. We spent a peaceful few days there in April, thankfully, which wasn’t nearly long enough. It’s hard to get to grips with as a city. I think my partner in travel, crime, eating etc. has captured the place extremely well in a post he wrote on his blog and so I shall quote him here.

I’m looking at ‘happy cookies’, imported New Zealand lamb, organic salmon fillets (neatly vacuum packed) and I’m pretty certain I saw at least one person selling cup cakes. There were definitely chocolate brownies. Souk el Tayeb, the Beirut farmer’s market is an oddity. There’s something a bit wrong about the way that the small-scale agricultural produce of a country that still has a large amount of said small-scale agriculture is being packaged up and sold back to itself (at a hefty premium of course).

We’re in the main Beirut souk, where marble walls glisten; well-groomed Arab men partake of oversized cigars whilst strolling with their families. On display are luxury watches, expensive fashion, and now, labneh balls preserved in oil, bright turnip pickles, and cheery Lebanese women rolling out balls of dough to slap on their dome shaped grills; applying oil and za’atar, pre-sliced white cheese and the occasional dollop of chilli before rolling up their man‘oushes. As with so many a sandwich glimpsed in the wild, the restraint is what first catches the eye; really no more than a couple of ingredients, the pungent tang of wild oregano providing more than enough flavour to interest.

A gaggle of children are painting plaster casts of Easter bunnies. Over the road stand soldiers, their rifles lazily slung over their shoulders, chatting disinterestedly with some members of the city police.

This is Beirut. It’s pretty fucking odd.

You can’t go anywhere unless you’re in a taxi, though none of the taxi drivers have the faintest clue where anything is. The constant switching between Arabic, French and English spellings renders street names next to useless. Drivers will stop two to three times to shout questions at passers by for even the shortest of journeys. I’m left baffled as to what anything costs by the need to try and work out parallel exchange rates between Sterling, Lebanese Pounds and Dollars. Change regularly arrives in mixed currency format. A $50 note and 14000LP thank you very much.

Dusk turns pleasant roads derelict and less inviting corners terrifying. Cars careen about with little thought to their own safety. Eight hours in the city and we’d already seen two accidents. It’s as if the collective memory of civil war has rendered the concept of automotive safety null and void. Who needs seat belts when everyone can remember the acrid smoke of suicide bombs? There’s a Ferrari stopped at the lights on our left, next to it pulls up a battered Honda motorbike. The Greek Orthodox Christians are streaming out of their churches candles held votive before them. Chanting echoes out of the ornate facades, mingling with the amplified wail of the Muezzin call to prayer and the omnipresent chorus of car horns.

Three hours later and midnight has transformed the louche atmosphere of the bars from lazy afternoon drinking to a frenzied Faliraki street sprawl; bad cocktails and bottles of beer, aggressive posing and pounding Euro pop. I argue with a lingering taxi driver over the cost of the return to our hotel. Curse that the bar is closed and go instead to corner shop next door. The owner, smoking at the counter sorts me a quarter bottle of Arak and some ice. I retreat to my room for bed. Exhausted.”

Man'oushe lady

Za'atar Smear

Man'oushe in Beirut

So yeah, that’s Beirut. At times a confusing and complicated place. The food however, is really something, and I came back to London significantly fatter. First up, these man’oushe, a Lebanese speciality. Yes, I am counting a rolled up flatbread as a sandwich, because it’s my blog and I’ll do what I bloody well like. I spotted the lady making these in the market and swooped in on her with the steely determination of a hawk hunting a mouse. She was perched next to a blistering hot dome, on a scorching day, slapping and scraping flat breads. They came painted green with za’atar, heavy with thyme and oregano and speckled with sesame. Superbly chewy, intense and rich with cheese. As ever though, there is more than one way to fill a flatbread, and I like to top my za’atar smear with pickles, labneh and herbs. The recipe below is from my sandwich book, 101 Sandwiches.

Man’oushe (from 101 Sandwiches, Dog n Bone Books, 2013)

Makes 8–10

For the flatbread:

500g plain flour
7g sachet easy-blend dried yeast
1.5 tsp sea salt
1 tsp caster sugar
Generous 250ml warm water
1.5 tbsp olive oil

To assemble the sandwiches:

Za’atar (recipe here or use a ready made blend)
Olive oil
Fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
Red onion, finely chopped
Pickled turnips or other pickled vegetables, drained and sliced
Labneh or plain yoghurt (it is easy to make your own labneh – see below)
Ground sumac

To make the flatbread, in a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Gradually add the warm water, mixing until you have a soft dough. Knead for about 5 minutes on a lightly floured surface, gradually adding the olive oil as you do so.

Rub a bowl with a little oil and place the dough in it. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for about 3 hours, until doubled in size. Once risen, gently knock back the dough and knead again for a few minutes. Divide the dough into 8–10 pieces, then roll out into flatbreads, each about 1/4 inch (5mm) thick. Cook the flatbreads, 1 or 2 at a time, in a hot, dry large skillet for about 3 minutes on each side, until brown spots appear in places. The cooked flatbreads can be kept warm in a low oven while you cook the remainder.

To assemble the sandwiches, mix some za’atar with a little olive oil to make it easier to spread and brush it onto each flatbread while still warm. Top with mint and parsley leaves, some chopped tomato and red onion and some sliced pickles, then dollop with labneh. Sprinkle with sumac, wrap and eat immediately.

Labneh Recipe:

To make your own labneh, just mix a good pinch of sea salt with a 500g tub of full-fat natural yoghurt, then wrap it in a piece of muslin, tie the top with string, hang it over a bowl and leave in a cool place for about 8 hours or overnight. Use the strained yoghurt or labneh as required. Any leftover labneh will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Shop in Beirut

7 comments » | 101 Sandwiches, Beirut, Bread, Markets, Sandwiches

19th Century Curry Sandwiches

June 18th, 2014 — 10:47am

18th Century Indian Sandwich Recipe

It’s hard to resist making a recipe that looks really weird on paper. This is from ‘The Road to Vindaloo, Curry Cooks and Curry Books‘ by David Burnett and Helen Saberi, which is a charming little book crammed with recipes collected from various sources, spanning several centuries. There are two sandwich recipes in it, both equally as baffling. I hope you will understand that I simply had to know what the combination of hard-boiled egg yolk, butter, curry powder, anchovy and tarragon vinegar tasted like as a sandwich spread. You don’t? Weird. I’ll tell you anyway. I just need to think about how to say it. Um. Okay so I can see what they were trying to do here, which was make something with a hella shitload of umami. It is definitely not lacking in that respect. I’d even go so far as to say that it was rather nice, once I got over the whole bright orange mush thing. I was going to bust out that almost-cliché about not being able to taste the anchovies and them just being a seasoning but to be honest they’re fairly obvious. The egg and curry powder works as you’d expect and so does the tarragon; just think of fennel seeds in a curry and you’ll get the idea. It’s remarkably balanced, actually. Crikey, I’m talking myself round. The cucumber slices are my addition; the crisp freshness is very welcome. I also decided to cut them into dainty fingers due to the erm, intensity of the paste.

I want you to make these sandwiches, and it annoys me that you probably won’t. No-one has the cahoonas to make a sandwich spread like this any more. It deserves to be served.

Curry Sandwiches by someone called Theodore Francis Garrett (from The Road to Vindaloo, by David Burnett and Helen Saberi, Prospect Books, 2008)

3 hard boiled eggs
1 oz butter, plus extra for spreading if desired
1 teaspoon curry powder
Anchovy (no quantity specified so I used 2 fillets)
Tarragon vinegar (again no quantity specified so use those buds)
Salt to taste
White bread, thinly sliced
Cucumber slices (my addition)

In a pestle and mortar, mush up the egg yolks only with the butter, curry powder, anchovy and salt if desired. Gradually work in a little tarragon vinegar. Butter some bread (I think this was perhaps overkill considering the butter in the paste but knock yourself out) and spread this delightful concoction over it. Layer with cucumber slices. Sandwich with the other slice of bread, remove the crusts, cut into fingers and serve.

15 comments » | Sandwiches, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads

Kookoo Sabzi

March 6th, 2014 — 6:22pm

Kookoo sabzi is basically an Iranian omelette with a whacking great load of herbs in it. I became rather attached to it as a weekend breakfast option a year or so back and it’s really very good in a sandwich too, just wrapped in warmed flatbread with some slivered pickles and a splutter of hot sauce (there’s a recipe for that sandwich in a very good book about sandwiches from around the world I’ve heard mentioned somewhere occasionally perhaps maybe).

Kookoo sabzi flatbread wrap with Iranian pickles and hot sauce

Anyway on Tuesday it was the day of the pancakes and so I found myself wondering what a load of skinny kookoos would be like rolled up around a stuffing and baked in a cheesy sauce. They were very easy to make and flip in a little non-stick pan, and I filled them with what was basically a mixture of posho garlic shrooms (chanterelles and chestnuts) and spinach, and baked them in a sauce rammed with cheddar and Lancashire cheeses (what I had in the fridge). Oh and I grated some rather suave aged Comte on top, because I also had that in the fridge, because I’m a member of the Food Tosserati.

The kookoo made this whole dish really pleasing because they’re just so fragrant with herbs and bitey with spring onion; they lift the whole thing meaning you can eat a large amount and not feel in danger of developing diabetic neuropathy the instant you stop eating and slump on the sofa in front of The Restaurant Man. Come to think of it, a gluten free cheese sauce would also make this a good alternative for coeliacs in danger of missing out on cheesy baked pancake things come Fat Tuesday.

Diet food

Kookoo sabzi stuffed with garlic mushrooms and baked in a cheesy…okay I don’t know what to call this but it’s well tasty, promise. 

For the pancakes (makes approx 10 pancakes)

12 eggs
3 tablespoons self raising flour
1 large handful parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 large handful dill, finely chopped
1 large handful coriander, finely chopped
3 spring onions, finely chopped

For the filling

100g chanterelle mushrooms
200g chestnut mushrooms
1 regular onion
3 cloves garlic, crushed
350g spinach, chopped roughly if leaves are large (include the stalks, finely chopped)
Knob of butter
Veg oil or similar, for frying

120g cheese, grated (I used a mixture of cheddar and Lancashire)
Comte (or another cheese, obviously, to grate on top)
50g butter
50g flour
600ml milk

This method looks long and it is really, but you can get most of it going at the same time.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200C/400F.

Beat the eggs together and sift in the flour. Whisk the mixture to combine; it will go lumpy which is annoying but just whisk the shit out of it. Mix in the chopped herbs, spring onions, and season highly with salt and pepper.

Set a small frying pan (mine is 6 inches diameter) over a medium-low heat and add a scant splash of oil, then wipe it around with a piece of kitchen paper. Add enough eggy mixture to make a very thin ‘pancake’, spreading it out with the back of a spoon. Cook until almost set (it’s so thin it will cook almost all the way through without turning), then, when almost set, flip it over for 30 seconds or so to set the other side. This is about a hundred times easier than it sounds. Repeat until all the mixture is gone.

Once the first pancake is out of the way, you can get the filling on at the same time. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and sling the onion in to soften. Once translucent, add a knob of butter and the mushrooms and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes or so, stirring regularly. Set aside, then add the spinach to the same pan and allow to wilt down and cook until no liquid remains in the pan. Mix with the mushrooms. Season.

To make the cheese sauce, wang the flour, butter and milk into a pan and bring to a simmer, whisking it with an air of nonchalance. Once simmering, cook out gently for a few minutes, then add the cheese. It will melt pretty fast. Season with salt and pepper.

To assemble your masterpiece, roll each pancake around some of the filling (not too much). Line them up in a baking dish. Cover with the sauce. Grate a little Comte on top. Put in the oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden.

10 comments » | Breakfast, Brunch, Cheese, Eggs, Main Dishes, Sandwiches

Seasonal Sandwich Woe Ho Ho

December 20th, 2013 — 10:44am

Why are seasonal sandwiches so rubbish? Last year, on a whim, I did a mad dash around Holborn collecting all the Christmas sandwiches from the major high street chains for a seasonal sandwich show down and it was just so depressing, I didn’t bother to repeat the experience this year. It got me thinking though, what exactly is it that’s so bad about most of them?

The main problem is the fact that they are generally stuffed with as many different elements of the Christmas dinner as possible. Why? The overall effect is a sandwich with a horrible generic taste that is unique to the time of year but not very pleasant. This is a sharp contrast to the sandwich made from your ACTUAL leftover Christmas dinner which is always truly bloody lovely, the reason being that it is made from nice ingredients that have been recently and properly cooked, which brings me nicely to my next point…

The ingredients in pre-prepped Christmas sandwiches are generally a bit gross. Who really eats turkey that often? More to the point though, who eats cheaply produced turkey that smells like farts and squeaks against your teeth? Who eats bacon that has been infused with a fake smoke flavour instead of actually smoked? Who eats sickly lurid red cranberry sauce that looks like it should be used to get really ingrained dirt off builders’ hands? PEOPLE WHO EAT CHRISTMAS SANDWICHES.

So anyway I thought I should have a bash at making a seasonal sandwich that actually tastes nice. It’s on sour dough, because there’s a lot of filling, and it needs to have some good sturdy scaffolding around the outside. Next, a layer of shredded sprouts, which I fried a little to get some colour on them, followed by a layer of proper, treacle cured, smoked bacon. I would have preferred streaky but smoked back I had so smoked back I used. The bacon is chopped before going into the sandwich, so it doesn’t come out in one long annoying strip when you try to eat it. Some good sharp cheddar next (I used Keen’s) followed by a layer of caramelised onions, which, despite being a bit 2001, bring much needed sweetness to the sandwich. A slick of wholegrain mustard and then, on the side, a pot of gravy (more of a stock really), made with partridge carcasses.

So it’s essentially a sort of festive toasted cheese sandwich French dip. Further proof that the toasted cheese is a sandwich which fits seamlessly into pretty much any situation.

Christmas Toasted Cheese Sandwich with Partridge Gravy (this served 2. I know, I’ve changed). 

2 slices sourdough bread
Several thick slices good quality cheddar cheese
1 onion, cut in half and sliced
A handful sprouts, finely sliced
3 slices back or 4 slices streaky smoked bacon (again, good quality)
Wholegrain mustard
Butter, for frying

For the gravy (you could of course use other bones or stock)

4 partridge carcasses
1 onion, halved
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
A handful parsley stalks
A few peppercorns
Salt

To make the gravy, roast the carcasses and vegetables in a hot oven for about 30 minutes. Add to a stock pot with the other ingredients and cover with water. Simmer for a couple of hours. Skim off any scum from the surface. Strain and reduce a little further if desired.

For the sandwich, first caramelise in the onions very slowly, in butter. Stir them often but keep on the lowest heat. They will take about an hour. A splash of booze wouldn’t go amiss here come to think of it. Don’t forget to season them. In a frying pan, fry the sliced sprouts in a little oil over a fairly high heat, stirring all the time, until beginning to colour. When ready to assemble the sandwich, grill the bacon until the fat is crisp. On one piece of bread, add a layer of onions. Roughy chop the bacon and add it on top. Follow with a layer of the cheese, and then the sprouts. Cover the other piece of bread with mustard and put it on top.

In a heavy based frying pan or skillet, melt a generous amount of butter and add the sandwich. You don’t want the heat too high or it will burn but it should be sizzling. Take a heavy object (I used a Le Creuset pan and plonk it on top to weigh it down). After a couple of minutes (keep an eye on it), flip it over to toast the other side.

7 comments » | Sandwiches

Sunday Leftovers No. 4

December 15th, 2013 — 9:48pm

Alaskan king crab and steak

I’ve had toothache. The last 2 weeks have been dominated by a horrible, pulsating, radiating pain so I’ve mostly been moaning and having conversations like this:

Me: “Owwwww”

Boyfriend: “Would you like some clove oil for the pain? Then I’ll go to the shops and buy you some of that cheap pink fizz you like to get drunk on when you’re feeling sorry for yourself and also some ice cream and chocolate. Then I’ll go to Silk Road and get some of your favourite noodles and tuck you into a blanket on the sofa and tell you how great you are.”

Me: “FUCK OFF I HATE YOU EVERYTHING IS SHIT RAAAARRGGGGGHGHGHGHHGG!!!!”

So it’s been a little unpleasant, basically. I’ve been more than a little unpleasant. Toothache stops me from eating and I’m not down with that, which does not explain why this is such a bumper edition of Leftovers. I’m shocked at my own dedication.

The best meal in recent memory award goes to a test run of the menu for Goodman’s soon to open steak and crab restaurant (top photo). It will serve large bone-in steaks alongside freshly cooked Alaskan king crabs, which have incredibly sweet meat and, obviously, are MASSIVE. Sides (we ate truffled potatoes and broccoli) and starters (we ate oysters from Rex Goldsmith and pata negra ham) will come included in the price – the very expensive price. This is going to be a restaurant for rich people, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Dirty Burger in Vauxhall is a funny old place, it turns out; a bit like eating in a restaurant at a theme park, all fake corrugated iron and plastic wood. The music is very loud and the seats uncomfortable. It’s a transient space, built to serve people burgers which they ideally take away. The burger isn’t bad actually, cooked medium rare with a decent bun, although I can’t say I was into the cheese which did that horrible almost-splitting thing. Saying that processed cheese works best in a burger is almost a cliche now, but that doesn’t stop it being true.

Dirty Burger, Arch 54, 6 South Lambeth Rd, Vauxhall, SW8 1SS

Chicken Shop has opened a branch in Tooting, and again there’s a touch of the Alton Towers about the decor. The food however hits the spot. Having tried um, everything on the menu, I’d recommend you get your rotisserie chicken with a salad of butter lettuce and avocado and perhaps a pot of coleslaw. Some people are into chips I believe. The chicken is pretty much as it should be – plenty of crisp skin most importantly – and although the meat was slightly dry in places, it wasn’t a big deal considering the price. We ate 2 whole chickens and all the sides twice between 4 people and with 2 jugs of red it was about £15 each. Their habanero hot sauce was pretty fine actually, with a proper bit of heat; I’d happily have paid to take a bottle home.

Chicken Shop, Ground Floor, 141 Tooting High St, London SW17 0SY

A lunch at Harnett Holder and Co. in the New Forest couldn’t have been more of a contrast to the scoff it and run approach of Dirty Burger and Chicken Shop. This is a truly stunning setting for a restaurant and – mega bonus points – they have a tree swing by a lake. It’s way better than any you had as a kid though because you can take a martini with you and let’s face it, nothing aids digestion like a good stomach lurching swing from a tree.

The food was a bit of a see saw experience too; best was a starter of dinky pickled vegetables and pink peppercorns on a fluff of goats’ cheese so big it was almost as if I’d dished it up myself. A pot of whipped cod’s roe however was let down by the fact it didn’t have nearly enough cod’s roe in it; a cruel disappointment. Weirdly, considering Hartnett’s involvement, the pasta dishes were least impressive, but a beef fillet dish was unexpectedly great; at first glance it looked dry but it turned out it was just weirdly presented – underneath was an impressive sticky gravy loaded with trompette mushrooms.

Harnett, Holder and Co, Lime Wood, Beaulieu Rd, Lyndhurst, Hampshire SO43 7FZ

I’m afraid Tozi wasn’t for me; some very mediocre charcuterie, fridge cold cheeses and a stale house bread selection were not, as the internet would say, For The Win.  In their favour, some soft shell crab did actually tasted of crab rather than batter, but they failed to tell us that it also came as part of the fritto misto we’d ordered. A side salad was criminally undressed and the whole meal left an aftertaste of ‘meh’. A little more attention to detail needed.

Tozi, 8 Gillingham St, London SW1V 1HJ

In Camberwell, Angels and Gypsies have opened ‘The Communion Bar’ underneath the restaurant which is the kind of place I feel I could lose a few hours in. It’s dark, and filled with imposing furniture that you can just about see due to the stained glass style lights on the walls. They have communion wafers on the tables, so now I know that communion wafers taste of precisely nothing. Their martini needs a bit of work to be honest, but I’ll go back because it’s just so completely random and unlike any other place in Camberwell, which is due for some new arrivals. Speaking of which, renovation work has started on the Recreation Ground pub which has been acquired by the Anchor and Hope group. I shall be living in the place when it opens (I believe) in January.

The Communion Bar, 29-33 Camberwell Church St, London SE5 8TR

Sandwich of the week goes to this garlic mushroom melt which is basically mushrooms fried with a shitload of garlic and butter, piled into a bagel with Swiss cheese and a slick of Maille mustard infused with white wine and morels. The mustard has a real hoof of vinegar which was absolutely essential in avoiding cheese fatigue.

I also went to Iceland for a few days too; you can read about the time I got drunk and ate five hotdogs here and about the rest of the food here.

In cat related news, here’s a blog which is about both cats AND sandwiches. No I don’t write it. Cat pic of the week is Chas and Delia doing some painfully cute snoozing in which they appear to be HOLDING TAILS.

And finally, there’s still time to leave a comment on my post here, telling me about the last sandwich you ate; tomorrow one commenter will win a signed copy of 101 Sandwiches.

I need a lie down.

5 comments » | Restaurant Reviews, Sandwiches, Sunday Leftovers

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