Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Savoury pork ribs

Ribs are one of the best antidotes to the cold weather outside and a thrifty way to indulge oneself during these double dip disaster days. My only gripe in the past has been how long it takes to prepare them if you intend to go the whole hog with a 24 hour marinade and a long, slow roast to tease the flesh gently from each bone. While I am a sucker for experimenting with recipes that have ninety nine steps, some days you just want to come home, fill your belly and dive under a duvet.

Hello Quick Ribs. Perhaps not quite the same as 48 Hour Ribs, but still pretty damn good. These are delicious on their own - hot, spicy and juicy. The vinegar and lime add a fruity sourness to cut through the rich, fatty meat, while sweet and savoury flavours are punctuated with smokey, almost bitter nuggets of darkened garlic. Dipped into the sauce they become an epiphany of pig and Asian flavours.

a small rack of pork ribs
a good sprinkle of cinnamon, paprika, sumac and cayenne pepper
four garlic cloves, roughly chopped
two tablespoons of soy sauce
two tablespoons of rice vinegar
the juice of a lime
half a tablespoon of palm sugar
sea salt ground black pepper
olive or rapeseed oil

Wash the rib rack and lay it meaty side down. Season this side with salt and pepper and then turn the rack over and place it on a sheet of foil, large enough to enclose the rack. Evenly cover the meat with the rest of the marinade ingredients, before sealing the foil tightly around the ribs. Put the package in the oven for 45 minutes, before opening up the foil and allowing the garlic to caramelise
And the sauce to reduce to a spicy sweet/sour stickiness.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Crabshakk, Glasgow

On a blustery November evening splattered with hard pellets of rain, heaven is a place called Crabshakk.

Arriving windswept and forlorn, all thoughts of the unrelenting Northern chill were banished with the arrival of bisque.

I was told that lobster, langoustine and crab shells are slow roasted to produce a caramel-like marine marmite that is the basis of this deep, ruddy brown soup, enriched with tomatoes and vegetable stock. Wafer thin slices of crisp baguette also arrived alongside a pot of garlicky aioli, for dunking and floating. And like treasure at the bottom of the ocean the sweetest nuggets of lobster meat lay waiting to be unearthed. It was a cockle warming revival after a long cold day, and a magnificent start to dinner.

Next came delicate little white and brown meat crab cakes spiked with a little chilli and parsley, bound with mayonnaise and a sprinkling of panko crumbs, which seemed to disappear to form the crisp pan fried crust.

Finally, a dish of scallops and their roe, seared and served bubbling in a bath of anchovy butter with lemon and bread to dress and mop.

If you are ever in Glasgow any day except Monday (all good restaurants have to close sometime) try to go.

1114 Argyle Street, Finneston, Glasgow G3 8TD

Monday, 21 November 2011

Romantic romanesco

This alien looking vegetable a joy to photograph, but even more importantly it is absolutely delicious. Several years ago I first saw these trifid-esque brassicas in New York at the Union Square farmers market. Their delicate, pale green spirals caught my attention and started an unrequited love affair. I say unrequited because the things are so darn hard to find here in the UK! I can't wait to have a go at growing my own.

For the mathematicians or the trance kids among us romanesco is fascinating because the vegetable actually approximates a natural fractal. Each of the 'cones' are arranged in a classic logarithmic spiral and each 'cone' itself is composed on smaller buds arranged in the same formation. Like galaxies, hurricanes and nautilus shells, the romanesco's spiraling formation is really quite beautiful to look at. I was not entirely surprised when I found jewellery made from romanesco casts on display at the Collect exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery earlier this year.

My favourite way to eat romanesco is one of the simplest. Try to find a hard, sharp pecorino cheese, ideally a pecorino Sardo, but a creamier pecorino Toscano will still be delicious.

a romanesco
pecorino cheese
half a lemon
a really good quality extra virgin olive oil
sea salt flakes and black pepper

Bring a small pan of water to the boil. While you wait, break off individual cones from the romanesco and then slice them quite thinly from top to bottom. I like making lots of weird yet lovely shapes and leaving some of the tips whole so they look like little trees in profile.

When the water is boiling, throw in a couple good pinches of salt and then add the slices of romanesco. Cover the pan and keep the heat high. As soon as you can hear the water coming to the boil again immediately take it off the heat and drain under cold running water to stop further cooking. You could be super professional and dunk the drained slices into a bowl of iced water, but a cold tap will also do fine.

Scatter the romanesco over a large wide plate and squeeze lemon juice all over. Drizzle liberally with olive oil. Top everything off with shavings of pecorino cheese. You can use a vegetable peeler to peel off thin shavings of cheese, or just grate it finely with a microplane.

Season with salt and pepper and tuck in, probably with your fingers.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Prawn and pork sesame cakes

When its cold and wet outside I feel like there are two very clear, very different options for what to eat. Either it's some serious comfort food, a good book, and a warm, enveloping duvet, or it has to be something with a good kick of chilli heat to drive the damp chill out of my bones. In the deepest darkest winters in New York I used to make a bowl of rice noodles each morning with coriander, bean sprouts and steaming hot beef broth, piled high with sliced bird's eye chillies. This was rocket fuel for the trip from my little downtown studio flat to the relative warmth of the subway and finally the office. Here in London the cold seems less bitter, but somehow wetter and I find adding something fried and crispy to the chilli mix is the perfect remedy.

200g raw shelled prawns
60g streaky unsmoked bacon, the fattier the better
two small shallots
two tablespoons of dried shrimp
one or two small bird's eye chillies
a pinch of flaked dried chilli
a tablespoon of fish sauce
plenty of ground white pepper
black and white sesame seeds
coriander leaves, to garnish

If you have a food processor, blend together all of the ingredients except the prawns and sesame seeds. Mince the prawns by hand (so they end up with a slightly coarser texture than everything else) and then mix well with the processed paste.

Have a bowl of water handy to dip your hands into every now and then. Take a small handful of the paste and roll it into a vague ball shape before pressing them into small, two-bite sized cakes. The water helps stop the mix from sticking to your hands. Ready a bowl with a shallow layer of the black and white sesame seeds. Heat a frying pan with about a centimetre of oil but don't let it smoke. Take a little cake, pop it on the sesame seeds and then add to the oil seed side down. It should sizzle gently, if not, turn up/down the heat. Continue with the rest of the cakes and fry each for a minute or two on each side until deep golden brown and beginning to crisp at the edges.

Drain the cakes on some kitchen roll before them piling onto a plate and scatter over some coriander leaves. Serve with the spicy lemongrass dipping sauce below.

Spicy lemongrass dipping sauce

You may decide to tone up or down the amount of chilli and chilli oil in this recipe depending on your taste. I find mine change with my mood and the weather, so I take a tiny lick of a sliced chilli and decide then how much to add.

three cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
a stalk of lemongrass, finely sliced and quickly chopped
the juice from a lemon
50ml rice wine vinegar
a tablespoon of fish sauce
two small bird's eye chillies, thinly sliced
a tablespoon of chilli oil, the Chinese kind with dark roasted chilli flakes
a tablespoon of palm sugar
two tablespoons of water
a good handful each of chopped parsley and either coriander or mint
ground black pepper

Mix together all the ingredients and taste, adding more palm sugar, water, chilli, lemon or anything else that you feel needs more representation in the sauce. It should taste additively sweet, tangy, hot and salty.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Jacob Kennedy’s guinea fowl cacciatore in wine and vinegar abruzzo

This is not my recipe. However, in the spirit of this being a collection of recipes I want to remember because they are brilliant and because I want to use them time and time again, I am adding this. I hope Jacob Kennedy doesn’t mind the plagiarism. Well actually its not since I am attributing all creative credit to him. I hope whoever reads this may forgive the seeming lack of inspiration that apparently led me to post someone else’s recipes.

I can’t help thinking that all recipes are really someone else’s, in some form or another. I am sure that like scientists, cooks too may will have their 'Eureka' moments, but how many recipes are the result of reading bits and pieces from different places, wanting to try something you’ve seen or read or heard about, or wanting to recreate a memory of a wonderful dish? I tasted a watermelon, feta and mint salad once and it was so delicious I now make it every summer. My friend Tony makes it too and tells his friends it's his recipe. Originally I felt indignant – how dare he steal my creative genius?! But then, oh wait, I ‘stole’ it from someone else. And actually he made the damn dish himself, so it was his dish, his doing.

Recipes should be more like helpful guidance rather that dictatorial instruction. A way of doing things that worked for the author. If you like the author then perhaps the other ways he/she does things might be helpful to you too. Perhaps it is just that you happen to have the same sized hands and so your pinch is the same as their pinch. Or the words they write translate in the same way into your head as they do in theirs. That’s what I think should be called a good recipe. The only reason that I care who wrote it is in case I can find more good recipes from the same source. To this end territorial approaches to recipe writing seem rather futile.

What I really like about this recipe is the idea about adding vinegar to ‘lift’ the dense earthiness associated with most slow cooked casseroles, and using white wine instead of red, again to the same effect. I would never have thought about adding vinegar. Funnily I’ve been thinking more about vinegar recently, and verjus, citrus and other acids...Rene Redzepi seasons with salt and acid, rather than salt and pepper, and I think I am beginning to see why. But that’s another post...

Serves 3-4 as a main course

a guinea fowl, jointed into similar sized and large pieces, separating out the wings and other bony bird bits (I’ve also used pheasant which was delicious)
6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
a medium sized onion, cut into small dice (it does not need to be to fine, this is a rustic dish)
a carrot, diced to the same size as the onion
two bay leaves
a couple tablespoons of plain flour (you can omit this, but it does help to thicken the sauce)
a couple of celery stalks, diced to the same size as the onion (you want roughly equal amounts of onion, carrot and celery)
three cloves of garlic, sliced
a generous sprig of rosemary, with all the leaves picked off the tough branch
80ml of white wine vinegar
200ml of white wine (I used a light Soave)

First make your stock. Take the guinea fowl wings and other un-meaty bits such as the spine and any bony parts left over after you jointed the bird, put them in a saucepan with a tablespoon of the olive oil and brown over a medium to low heat. When the wings and bones smell tasty, add half only of the diced carrot and onion, sweat for a few minutes with the meat and then add the bay leaves and enough cold water to just cover everything. Turn the heat up to get the stock boiling and then allow it to reduce while you prepare the casserole.

Heat a heavy based pot over a medium heat for a few minutes. Meanwhile toss the jointed meat pieces in the flour. Add the rest of the oil (five tablespoons roughly) to the hot pan and add the floured meat pieces, along with some salt and pepper. The meat will stick to the pan. Keep the heat on medium and allow the meat to brown, it will then naturally release from the pan and you can turn it onto its other side. Take your time doing this - 10, 15 minutes even. If the meat darkens too quickly turn the heat down. The idea is to produce a lovely deep brown crust on the skin of the bird, and to release a rich roasted aroma. All that flavour will transfer to the finished casserole.

When the meat is a deep bronze colour and smells roasted and savoury, turn the heat down a bit and add the rest of the carrot and onion along with all the celery, garlic and rosemary. Add a bit more salt and sweat the vegetables until they soften and turn golden. Add the vinegar and the wine and scrap the bottomof the pan with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to dissolve all the dark caramelly sediment into the wine and vinegar. Finally add your boiling stock, straining it through a sieve first. You should have enough stock to cover the meat, if not add a bit of hot water to make up the difference. Once you have just covered the meat stop pouring over stock and keep the rest aside.

Let the whole thing bubble gently for about an hour. You might want to taste the meat and make sure it doesn’t get too dry. The sauce should thicken to the consistency of double cream – add some stock if it thickens too much. Give the pan a good shake every now and then to emulsify the fat and juices in the sauce, and a final shake before you serve. The casserole is ready as soon as the slow cooked meat is tender.

A big pile of buttery mash is a lovely accompaniment. We also pan fried thick slices of fennel and quince in butter and olive oil with plenty of rosemary and thyme, adding a glass of cider when the vegetables were browned and allowing the liquid to reduce to a lovely glossy syrup.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Pretty Purslane

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On a recent trip to Borough Market I came across an old friend I haven’t seen since my New York days, where many happy hours were spent wandering around Union Square Greenmarket, marvelling at the abundance of colourful, locally grown produce - Purslane. A healthy bundle was selling for half the price of a handful of basil. It was my best purchase of the day.

I've often wondered why purslane is not more widely available here; in London it rarely appears on restaurant menus, despite the current trend for unusual leaves and foraged foods. Yet the plant is jam packed with vitamins and minerals, as well as a surprisingly high amount of Omega 3 fatty acids, more than any other leafy vegetable. Move over mackerel? Well not quite - oily fish have four times as much of the same fatty acids - but still impressive.

Common purslane was once a regular feature of medieval kitchen gardens, The earliest known salad recipe, written around 1390, calls for purslane, along with parsley, sage, onions, borage, fennel, cress and rosemary. These days it can still be found growing wild in the British Isles, although according to forager Miles Irving it may be relatively scarce due to a dislike of frost. In the right conditions, a cosy vegetable garden for instance, it grows like a weed. You can eat every bit of it - stalks, flowers, leaves and seeds.

Its emerald leaves are reminiscent of lambs lettuce, but these are juicy, almost fleshy, rather than paper thin. There’s a slight slimy texture to them, like okra, which disappears when licked with olive oil, blending into a rich mouthfeel. I think it tastes like a cross between spinach, sorrel and aloe vera. Every bite is juicy and crunchy, with a light astringency that feels cleansing. Eating lots can give you that furry sensation on the back of your teeth you get sometimes from eating spinach.

I love purslane simply tossed with some lively, fruity olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. It's great with a lovely bit of lamb, or fish, or a whole load of tomatoes, off the top of my head. We tossed a big handful into a pan sizzling with olive oil, garlic, chilli and just cooked prawns and it was delicious - half raw, half wilted and tart enough to replace the lemon juice we would normally squeeze over.

Keep an eye out for purslane for sale, or even growing in a garden near you. If you find any please let me know!