Singapore Chilli Crab

Tuesday, 27th May 2014

Singapore Chilli Crab

“I don’t understand why everyone is so cynical about ‘Padstein‘” says the lady I’m sat with at lunch, “before Rick (Stein) opened restaurants here, Padstow was a bit of a dive”. We’re eating Singapore chilli crab, and our mouths, hands and aprons are  covered with intense, spicy sauce and crab meat. We’ve cooked the crabs ourselves, at Stein’s seafood school. I think about what she’s said, and it’s true; I’ve seen people sneer at the mention of Padstow, arguing that Rick (and his ex-wife and business partner Jill) have ruined this picturesque fishing village by drawing in tourists. They’ve brought a lot of money with them, though. Be reassured that there are other chefs cooking in Padstow, and what’s more, people know about them.

At the seafood school we’re given a demo of the dish we’re about to make, by a guy called Mark Puckey, who has been with the Steins for years. He plucks each hulking crab from an ice bed; they’re males, 1.2 kgs if memory serves, fresh as you like and importantly, very much alive. For some reason, I’ve never shown crabs the same courtesy as lobsters when it comes to cooking, the latter always taking a nap in the freezer first. The crabs though, straight into the pot every time. I am ashamed to learn that the most humane way to kill a crab is quite different, and it is done by using what is – let’s not beat around the bush here – a big metal spike with a handle on it. The way to do it is to turn the crab over onto its back and lift up its tail flap; there you will find a hole. I think you know what’s going into that hole. You ram the spike in, then rapidly wiggle it around in a circular motion. This disables the crab’s nervous system. Then you turn the poor bastard over, find the natural depression right on top of its head and again, straight in with the spike. Hungry? Mmm. To be honest, this is a lot easier and less traumatic (from my end at least), than it sounds. In fact, I was worryingly efficient at it.


The best way to cook your newly passed crab is in seawater, but in the absence of that on your doorstep, chuck a shed load of salt in the pan. Oh and do make sure the pan is big enough; if they don’t fit it’s a nightmare, as I discovered once when cooking lobsters. Once the crabs are simmering, we spend a leisurely 40 minutes or so chopping bits and bobs for the sauce, and drinking a crisp glass of white. It’s just like being at home, except in a really beautifully designed kitchen with a professional chef on hand to hold down your crab while you ram a big spike…well you know.

As we sit down to eat with yet more wine, a million napkins, finger bowls and crab-eating paraphernalia we marvel at the dishes in front of us; a whole crab each in the most incredible sauce, rammed with chilli and ginger, made super rich with the brown meat; so decadent. Half an hour is spent working over the beasts. Satisfied faces are stained orange. This is Rick’s signature dish, apparently, and I have to say it was spot on. I’ll admit that I was a tiny, weeny bit worried that I’d hate the seafood school, that it would be an attempt to squeeze as much money as possible from people at every turn, and yes of course there are books and Stein branded plates for sale but I can honestly say, I enjoyed every minute of it, I learned a lot and was as smug as anything when I sat down to that crab at the end. It just goes to show that, like the Padstein critics, it’s easy to be cynical about something you haven’t experienced.

Singapore Chilli Crab

Singapore Chilli Crab (© Rick Stein’s Seafood courtesy of BBC Books)

This is obviously re-produced from the book and as such does not include the instructions for killing and portioning up the crab. Tim Hayward’s guide here is good. 

Serves 4 (we ate a 1.2kg crab each, though)

2 x 900 g (2 lb) live or cooked crabs
4 tablespoons groundnut or sunflower oil
4 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped
2.5 cm (1 inch) fresh root ginger, finely chopped
4 tablespoons tomato ketchup
3 medium-hot, red, Dutch chillies, finely chopped
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce 150 ml (5 fl oz) water
A few turns of the black pepper mill
2 spring onions, cut into 5 cm (2 inch) pieces and finely shredded lengthways

If using live crabs, kill them as described on page 80 and prepare them for stir-frying (again, Hayward’s guide here).

Heat the oil in a large wok. Add the crab pieces and stir-fry for 3 minutes, adding the garlic and the ginger after 1 minute. Add the juices from the back shell, the tomato ketchup, red chillies, soy sauce, water and black pepper.
Cover and simmer over a medium heat for 5 minutes if the crab is fresh or 2 – 3 minutes if using cooked crab. Spoon the crab on to 1 large plate or 4 soup plates, sprinkle over the shredded spring onions and serve straight away.

I was invited to Padstow Seafood School 

11 comments | Cookery Classes, Fish and Seafood

Turkish Lamb Meatballs with Rhubarb

Monday, 12th May 2014

Turkish Lamb Meatballs with Rhubarb

Istanbul spans two continents, separated by the blustery Bosphorus. I’m sure you knew that already. Apparently tourists are often reluctant to cross over from the European to the Asian side, which is weird, because you can do it on a boat, and boat rides are fun. Also, why on earth would you miss an opportunity to travel between continents in the space of half an hour-ish? I think I possibly liked the Asian side even more than the European, actually. Or maybe I liked them the same. Or perhaps I liked the European more. Argh! It’s such an exciting city.

Anyway this recipe was inspired by a restaurant on the Asian side called Çiya which, like Çukur Meyhane, had a few dishes on the menu that jumped out at me as being things I absolutely had to eat or else something terrible would happen. There are three branches of Çiya, and to quote Rebecca Seal who kindly gave me lots of excellent recommendations, including this one, “you want the one that does more than just kebabs”. We sat outside, blinking in the high, bright sunshine on a wobbly table set on a steep cobbled street. Service is rapid and brusque; before we knew it silver dishes clattered onto the table, edges glinting like knives. The mezze appear to be self served from a buffet inside the restaurant, which I didn’t realise until we’d eaten our main courses. No booze either but it was worth the visit for this dish alone – rich, sweet meatballs, cooked with soft, gently acidic plums.

Ciya Meatballs with Plums

Original dish with plums at Çiya, Istanbul

I wanted to re-create the dish and rhubarb seemed like an interesting seasonal variation. It was awesome. Yes, I say so myself.  The meatballs are rich with Turkish chilli paste, which turns the oil bright amber as they cook, and those Turkish chilli flakes so small and dark they look like slate chippings. The sauce is heady, sweet and sour with pomegranate molasses and of course, the rhubarb.

Turkish Lamb Meatballs with Rhubarb


This was perfect served with saffron rice and a dollop of yoghurt. The only thing missing was the sun (pissing rain outside, naturally) and the opportunity to amble over to the bar opposite for a cheeky raki and a tooth-achingly sweet noodle dish with cheese in the middle.

Turkish Lamb Meatballs with Rhubarb (makes 25 meatballs)

500g minced lamb (not too lean)
1 smallish onion, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Generous tablespoon Turkish pepper paste, plus a bit for luck
2 teaspoons Turkish chilli (dark)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 slice bread soaked with water until completely wet, then excess water squeezed out

Oil and butter, for frying

For the sauce

2 sticks rhubarb (approx 300g)
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
2 cardamom pods
Generous splash white wine
1 tablespoon golden caster sugar
Pistachios, to garnish (optional)

Greek yoghurt, to serve

Make the meatballs by combining the lamb mince, onion, garlic, Turkish pepper paste, Turkish chilli, cinnamon, bread and some salt and pepper in a bowl. Mix really well using your hands, then shape into 25 balls. In a frying pan, heat a splash of oil and knob of butter. Fry the balls in batches, about 5 or 6 at a time, until browned, then set aside. Drain the fat off into a bowl but keep it set aside.

De-glaze the pan with a good glug of the wine. Add the rhubarb, cardamom pods (crush them a bit), pomegranate molasses, sugar and some salt. Add a generous splash of water, bring to a simmer, put the lid on and cook for 10 minutes. Return the meatballs to the pan with some of the drained fat, and cook for a further 10 minutes with the lid on. Serve with bread or rice and yoghurt.

Istanbul Cat

Istanbul cat picture…seems to have become standard practice

18 comments | Fruit, Istanbul, Main Dishes, Meat

Two Cornish Blue Cheese Recipes

Wednesday, 7th May 2014

Cornish Blue Cheese Ageing

I recently went to Cornwall, where I met a man called Philip Stansfield, who makes Cornish Blue cheese. I’ll be completely honest from the off and say I’d never even heard of it and so, it was a huge relief to find that the cheese tasted good (really excellent, actually), considering I’d spent the half  hour prior to tasting it getting all enthused about the production process and the man himself. I know you’ll have no sympathy whatsoever when I say this, but it can be damn awkward to find oneself at a tasting when the product turns out to be a bit shit.

So we had toured the dairy, roaming like cattle through pasteurising rooms, curd cutting areas (technical term) and ageing rooms (shipping containers) where the air was so thick with ammonia and flora I found it tricky to breathe. Whoever is responsible for turning every one of those cheeses must have lungs of steel. Or full of cheese mould. “Is it a hernia, doctor?” “No I’m afraid it’s a truckle.” Each room contained row upon row of cheeses at different stages of maturity, some sporting impressive furry tufts on the rind, “just like my cat!” I commented, wittily, more than once. I know.



Despite appearances, production is relatively small scale, and that’s the way Philip wants to keep it. He’s a smart man who knows his product is excellent, and he knows that other people know it too. He has just a few other people working with him, particularly at busy times of the year, and one of them is salting cheese when we arrive. “This is very physical work” Philip tells us, and I can see. The woman is lifting, salting and re-stacking cheeses at some speed, and we work out (well, someone else works out), that she must be shifting about 200kg all told. Who would’ve thought that cheese could keep you slim?

What really pleases me about Philip’s story is that he turned to cheese-making because he honestly didn’t know what else to do. Dairy farming wasn’t a good place and he basically needed to survive any way that he could. “I thought right, I’ve got cows, I’ll make some cheese.” Of course many failed attempts followed, but when he got things right, he scooped the prestigious ‘Champion Cheese’ title at The World British Cheese Awards. Amazing. He recalls the event “The judges were down to the final three, and I could see a cheese that looked a bit like mine in front of them… “So what does a winning cheese taste like? Well, it’s a mild blue, and deliberately so, because Philip likes the creamy base flavour to show through; many blues are dominated by the mould, and can taste what I like to refer to as (again, technical term, so brace yourself), ‘a bit bitey’. There’s the familiar salty twang of a blue though, and boy has it got some length.


A young cheese

So Philip asked if I would do a couple of recipes for his website in return for this little tour and of course I said yes, GIMME THE CHEESE! Ahem. I’ve done one for summer, which is so simple a calf could put it together and I’ve pointed you to another suitable for winter, which you can actually eat at any time of year should you wish. I will allow it.

Watermelon and Cornish Blue Cheese 

I refuse to insult your intelligence by giving you quantities here.

Watermelon, seeds removed and cubed
Cornish Blue cheese
Good flaky sea salt, preferably Cornish
Good olive oil

Arrange watermelon on plate. Crumble on cheese. Sprinkle salt. Swirl with small amount of olive oil.

If you fancy something a bit more hearty, perhaps after a bracing Cornish coastal walk, then this baked gnocchi recipe is for you. Just swap the Gorgonzola for Cornish Blue, obviously.


11 comments | Cheese, Salads

Favourite Istanbul Meze: Yoghurt with Celeriac

Monday, 5th May 2014

Yoghurt with Celeriac

Like every other cook, I plan my holidays around what I can put into my gob, and where. Neither I, nor the majority of my friends would consider going away without having made The List, a document on which is collated restaurant and other food oriented recommendations extracted from mates, Twitter and Google in the weeks running up to the trip. As useful as these lists can be however, I also find them an albatross. There’s a lot to be said for exploring a city simply by arseing about with no particular plans or direction, and it can often lead to the best discoveries. I stumbled across Has Urfa Lahmacun for example on a morning when we were slightly lost, and desperately hungry; we just pitched up there out of necessity and had one of our favourite meals of the trip. Being too tied to The List can mean one ends up ping ponging from place to place, frantically trying to tick off experiences without stopping to actually enjoy just being somewhere new. I’ve definitely been guilty of that.

What I try to do now is just mark out a few places that really MUST be visited, and keep the rest in reserve. Çukur Meyhane, a ‘Turkish pub’, was in the former category; I’d heard good things about the food, but also I knew that (DANGER! DANGER!) they specialise in raki. If you’re not familiar, raki is an anise flavoured spirit, like pastis, Pernod, or arak, but with the ability to induce next-level drunken irritability. Unfortunately we have quite a taste for it. Or should I say ‘had’. The fridges at Çukur Meyhane are rammed with bottles distilled in different areas of Turkey (some labelled with people’s names – for their use only), but I have to admit, they all tasted the same to me.

What I really enjoyed was the food. We gorged (and I do mean gorged; I rolled around afterwards like a fatted seal pup) on aubergine and yoghurt salads, pastries, stuffed vine leaves (not sure I’ll ever really come round to liking vine leaves that much), and a seriously good grilled liver flecked with ground coriander and chilli, which I’ve since tried and failed to re-create on the BBQ. This yoghurt dish was my absolute favourite. You’ll find a yoghurt meze dish on every menu in Istanbul, but this was different. At first I thought it contained grated celery which had been allowed to drain its water, but then I recognised the earthiness of that weird knobbly root. I’m not the  biggest fan of celeriac in soup, or even just cooked, to be honest; baked in ash at The Ledbury is one thing, but at home? Meh. Remoulade all the way, for me, and now of course, in this yoghurt. It spoke to me, basically. Give it a whirl.


Raki pictures line the walls at Çukur Meyhane

Yoghurt with Celeriac

The original: yoghurt with celeriac at Çukur Meyhane


Hazy Raki days

Istanbul Cats

Sunbathing cats

Yoghurt with Celeriac (we ate this as a meze between 4)

500g full fat Greek style yoghurt. I used Total, but you could also use a strained yoghurt. Don’t use low fat if you can help it and don’t use one that is too thin (hence my suggesting strained if you can’t find the Total brand).
Juice 1/2-1 whole lemon
Small handful parsley leaves, finely chopped
80g celeriac, grated
1 large clove garlic

Cook the garlic clove in boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain and set aside. Put the yoghurt in a large mixing bowl, then beat it with a fork until smooth. Grate in the celeriac and squeeze in about half the juice from half the lemon. Crush the garlic clove and add it, then stir in the parsley, add a good pinch of salt, and set aside to sit for an hour or so at room temperature. After this time, stir again, taste, and add more lemon juice and salt if needed. Eat with warmed or toasted bread.

Çukur Meyhane, Kartal Sokak 1/A, Beyoglu, Istanbul 
Telephone: 212-244-5575
Quite a few tables were reserved on the evening we went, so get there early or call ahead.

17 comments | Barbecue, Dips, Istanbul, Nibbles, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads, Starters, Turkey

Has Urfa Lahmacun, Istanbul

Tuesday, 29th April 2014

Has Urfa Lahmacun, Istanbul

Istanbul is a vast, sprawling city. Everywhere you go, something is happening. It can be quite overwhelming at first. There are about 14 million people milling about over 2 continents. Fourteen million. There are also a lot of cats. Joy! I always knew Istanbul was going to be my city. I wanted to pet and chin tickle every one of them, but, well, rabies. Every corner you turn, something is happening. No nook, gap, rooftop or cupboard is left unfilled, and if a space is up for grabs, someone will more than likely sell try to sell something from it. Vegetables, shoes, börek, Turkish delight, sheeshas, plates, kebabs, chestnuts, bread, kittens, chicks, junk, socks, watermelon, simit, fish, tea, anything, basically.

On a side street off a relatively un-touristy stretch, Kasimi Keve has claimed his space and built a lahmacun (la-ma-jun) restaurant in it. It is really no more than a counter top, an oven, a titchy counter at the back and 3 tables outside. He is immensely proud of his lamacun, and so he should be. During the 6 days I was in Istanbul, I obviously couldn’t  try every lahmacun on offer (even I have limits), but if anyone is making it better than Kasimi, I’d like to hear about it, and then I probably wouldn’t believe you anyway.

Kasimi’s lahmacun are lighter than others I’ve had; the dough rolled impossibly thin, then crisped, bubbled and spot-charred in the searing heat of the oven. Lesser examples can be doughy, which is perhaps what led to the nickname ‘Turkish pizza’. Pretty sure I’ve been guilty of saying that at some point, actually. The dough of a lahmacun is spread thinly with spiced, minced lamb, and every seller has their own blend; Kasimi’s had us excited because the spicing was so deft as to just enhance the sweetness of the meat (a very light touch of cinnamon?), yet it was also rich and complex. He gave us some of the spices to take away, but only after we promised not to tell anyone his secrets. I wouldn’t. Ever. I’m a writer but I’m also a cook, remember. I’ll just say then that there’s some of the famous Turkish red pepper paste, so terrifyingly red it looks like it could stain a t-shirt at 30 paces, Turkish biber flakes, roasted to deep maroon, and a spice blend of top secret components, which reminded me a little but not entirely of garam masala.

Pide and Lahmacun

Pide is also available but for me, it’s all about that lahmacun




Each lahmacun arrives with a plate of salad, herbs glistening with water droplets from a recent wash, tomatoes ripe and inviting. He does roasted chillies too. Get them if you go. You top your bread with salad and chillies, tinkle with lemon juice and roll it all up. The eating is over in moments. That means it’s time to order another.

While we wait for our lahmacun to be prepped, we get chatting to a Turkish lady who says she lives in Holland, but always makes Has Urfa her first port of call when in Turkey. She wise. I suggest that you do the same.

Has Urfa Lahmacun
Ragipbey Sokak
0034, Istanbul, Turkey
(over the street from Aksaray Metro, near to Yusefpasa)

Lahmacun is set to be a big trend in London this summer, with Zeren Wilson and Turkish chef Huyla Erdal to host a modern Turkish pop up, on Sunday 15th June. I predict this will be worth moving your summer holiday for. Follow @londonlahmacun for more details. 

Istanbul Cats

29 comments | Istanbul, Restaurant Reviews, Travel, Turkey

Jerk Chicken and Ragamuffins

Saturday, 5th April 2014

Jerk Chicken and Ragamuffins

Almost looks a bit artfully food styley styley, that photo, doesn’t it? IT’S LIKE YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW ME. Then you clock the gnawed chicken bone on the right, the Iphone slung to the left and you realise, yeah it’s just a genuine mess on my table, actually. Wang it on there and chow down, as I believe they say on Downton Abbey.

I cooked this chicken on the BBQ, which is how I will be cooking all of my food until Monday, since I had what is known to all rational (urgh) and calm people as a GAS CRISIS. The flame in my oven started burning orange instead of the regular, non-panic-making blue, so faster than you could say ‘Google is the first port of call in a potentially serious situation’ I was reading combinations of words like ‘incomplete combustion’ and ‘carbon monoxide production’. It did at least explain why the ragamuffins took 40 minutes longer to cook than they should have done. Mmmm carbon monoxide laced corn muffins. Think I’ll probably need to get back to you with that recipe at a later date. Still ate them. Well, half of one; the rest are still on the balcony.

The chicken however was awesome and I want to tell you two pieces of information with regards to jerk chicken. The first is that this method of soaking bay leaves in water and making a little bed for the chicken with them on the grill is brilliant, and probably the closest we’ll ever get here to replicating the flavour of allspice wood. The second is that my jerk marinade has some new threads, designed by my old roomie, Vicki Brown. I love them. As soon as I get my arse in gear there will be a new shiny website for it too, but you know, I’ve got 99 problems right now, and potentially slipping away in a gas induced coma during the night is one of them*. Might take me a while to get around to that website thing. You can buy the marinade here as before though, in Persepolis in Peckham and possibly maybe shortly in some new exciting new places which I’m too scared to tell you about in case something goes wrong.

Jerk on.

Jerk Chicken and Ragamuffins



19 comments | Barbecue, Caribbean Food, Meat, Peckham Jerk Marinade

100% Horse Meat Crispy Pancakes in the Style of Findus

Friday, 7th March 2014

I wrote somewhere recently that my family ‘ate well’ when I was a child, which prompted my mum to send me a text saying, “what? fish fingers and Findus crispy pancakes?” There’s no denying it, I was more than partial to a Findus or five, along with Mr. Brain’s faggots and many products from the repertoire of Birdseye. The minced beef crispy pancakes were my favourite, or, should I say, the minced beef and horse. That is of course if Findus were (unwittingly perhaps) using (maybe) horse meat in their pancakes at that time.

I clearly got a taste for hossie during those formative years as I was salivating at the thought of recreating these pancakes. 100% horse meat, mind. No beef for me! Incidentally, anyone who was under the impression that using horse meat is a money saving exercise, let me correct you – 250g of that finest filly set me (my boyfriend) back £5 and I bought 500g so that’s – all together now – a whopping £20 per kg! It’s probably cheaper online but we bought ours at Borough Market like impatient money-spaffing chumps.

We cooked that steed down with onions, celery and a bit of Old Bay seasoning, then slung in some red wine, beef stock and Worcestershire sauce. Despite my best efforts to thicken the sauce with cornflour I couldn’t get QUITE the same gloop-ooziness (technical term) as displayed within the originals but rest assured there was enough gravy in there to spurt out liquid with third degree burn capability. Authentic.

The filling is clamped inside regular pancakes, which proved a challenge until I started to channel my inner child once again to form a kind of glue with egg and a sprinkling of flour. That worked. I had demanded the boyfriend buy the necessary dyed orange crumb for the proper oompa loompa hue on the outside, and then it was just a case of frying in hot oil.

The similarity of the final product to the original pancakes a la Findoos was astounding. My boyfriend had never had them because he’s too posh but I was all like, ‘WOAH NELLY!’ Yeah it was kind of unnerving, but then horse really does taste a hella lot like beef.


100% Horse Meat Crispy Pancakes in The Style of Findus

For the pancakes

1 egg
300ml milk
160g flour
Pinch salt

For the filling

1 onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
500g horse meat, minced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
300ml beef stock
Splash red wine
Splash Worcestershire sauce, or two
1 teaspoon corn flour

To coat

Breadcrumbs, to coat the pancakes
Oil, for frying
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Seasoned flour
Sprinkle paprika (optional)

Sift the flour into a bowl and add a pinch of salt. Crack the egg into the middle and whisk it in to make a weird crumbly mixture. Add the milk a bit at a time, whisking, until smooth.It should be the consistency of single cream. Cover and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Heat some veg oil in a pan and soften the onion and celery gently until the onion is translucent. Add the Old Bay and garlic and cook out for a few minutes, stirring. Add the horse meat and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon until brown. Add the Worcestershire sauce and red wine and allow to bubble. Mix the cornflour with a splash of the stock until smooth and add to the pan with the remaining stock. Allow to cook until the meat is coated with a thick and glossy gravy. Allow this to cool while you make the pancakes.

Wipe a small frying pan with oil and add enough pancake batter to cover the base of the pan, swirling it around to cover. When cooked on the bottom, flip em. Repeat.

To assemble the pancakes, spread one plate with seasoned flour, then to the right of it get yourself a large shallow dish with the two beaten eggs in it, and to the right of that, spread another plate with the breadcrumbs (we sprinkled a little paprika into ours but it’s not necessary). Feel free to do this the other way around if you’re left handed. Uh huh.

Put a couple of tablespoons of filling on one side of the pancake, then fold it over. Brush the edges with beaten egg, then sprinkle on some flour. Stick it down with your fingers.

Heat oil to the depth of about 3cm in a frying pan. Dip the sealed pancake first in flour, then egg, then crumbs. Fry for about a minute each side. They really didn’t take any longer than this. Drain on kitchen paper. Repeat.


34 comments | Far Out Crazy, Guilty Pleasures, Meat

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