Friday, 10 April 2015

Spring Sprout Salad

This is a refreshing, crunchy salad that goes very well with fatty meats like roast pork or bacon. I like to sprout my own seeds using a sprouting tray but you also buy sprouts from good farmers markets.

50g dried Chinese shitake mushrooms
150g soy bean sprouts 50g lentil sprouts
50g mixed seed sprouts
100g carrots, shredded
50g Chinese celery, finely sliced
50g banana shallots, finely sliced
a small bunch of coriander, leaves only
half a tablespoon sesame seeds
a tablespoon rice wine vinegar
half a tablespoon lime juice
half a tablespoon lemon juice
half a tablespoon fish sauce
half a tablespoon light soy sauce
a tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
a teaspoon untoasted sesame oil

Put the Chinese mushrooms in a small saucepan and pour over enough boiling water to cover them. If you have one put a small plate on top of the mushrooms to hold them down in the soaking liquid. Leave for 20 minutes, then slice the stalk off from each mushroom and discard. Put the saucepan over a medium flame and bring the mushroom caps and soaking liquid to the boil. Simmer the mushroom caps until they are tender - they should not have any dry parts when sliced in half. Remove the mushroom caps from the simmering liquid and leave to cool in a covered bowl. When cool slice each cap into half cm thick slices.

Rinse out the small saucepan and heat it again over a high flame. Add the soy bean sprouts, stirring constantly for two minutes so they cook but don't brown. Then cover the pan and turn off the heat to allow the sprouts to cook through without losing their crunch. Leave for five minutes.

Set a small frying pan over a low heat and add the sesame seeds. Keep a close eye on them and shake the pan occasionally until the seeds brown lightly and smell lovely.

In a large bowl combine all the sprouts with the sliced mushrooms, carrot shreds, celery, shallots, coriander and sesame seeds. Mix the dressing in a separate bowl, then pour over and toss everything to combine.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Monbiot family pork sambal


2kg pork belly
16 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
8 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
16 chillies, roughly chopped and deseeded
2 tbsp belacan (shrimp paste with chillies)
3 tbsp peanut oil
2 tsp turmeric
8 tbsp tamarind water
8 tbsp fish sauce (approx, add more to taste if needed)
4 tbsp brown sugar
4 stalks of lemongrass, outer layers removed and cut into 1 inch sections
chicken stock
sea salt, to taste

Cut the pork belly into 2 inch by 1 inch pieces. Blitz the shallots, garlic, chillies and belacan in a food processor until smooth. Sauté the paste in peanut oil for five minutes or so until fragrant. Add the pork belly pieces, turmeric, tamarind water, fish sauce, brown sugar, lemongrass and enough chicken stock to cover the pork. Bring to the boil and simmer covered until the pork is soft and tender. Taste and season with sea salt to taste.

Serve with steamed rice. This is even better made the night before.

Smoked buffalo chicken wings

2.5lbs chicken wings
535g sea salt
Peanut oil (the amount will depend on the size of your saucepan)
Beech wood dust for smoking

Cut through the tendons of each wing joint so it separates into three parts - the wing, drumstick and tips. Reserve the tips separately - you can roast these in a 350ºF oven for 25 minutes for a crispy treat. Brine the wings and drumsticks in a 80% salt to water brine for one hour. For 2.25 litres of water dissolve 535g salt in about one litre of hot water and then top up with cold water and ice. I put everything in a ziplock bag and close it without air bubbles.

After an hour pour away the brine and rinse the wings. Lay them on an oven rack over a baking tray and allow to dry for an hour. Cold smoke the wings for three hours over beech wood dust. Preheat the oven to 212ºF and then roast the wings until they reach an internal temperature of 65ºC. Check them periodically with a meat thermometer. At this point you can cool and store the wings in a fridge for up to a week.

Fill a saucepan three quarters the way up with peanut oil and heat over a medium flame until the oil reaches 215ºC. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 100ºC. Carefully lower each wing into the hot oil to avoid any splattering. Deep fry the wings in batches of no more than six for four minutes until they are light brown and crisp. Remove the wings with tongs and place on a plate covered with kitchen roll to soak up any excess oil. Transfer the wings onto an oven rack and place in the preheated oven to keep warm. When the oil in the saucepan reaches 215ºC again start frying the next batch and continue until you have fried all the wings. When you are ready to serve Put all the wings into a bowl with the warm hot sauce and toss to coat.

Serve the wings with blue cheese sauce, extra hot sauce and carrot and celery sticks. Eat them as soon as you can pick one up without burning your fingers.

Hot sauce

6 fl oz Tabasco or Louisiana sauce
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
5 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
About 6 fl oz of white vinegar (adjust to taste)
5-10 grams of cornstarch or kudzu starch dissolved in a little water
200g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
Sea salt to taste

Combine the hot and Worcestershire sauces, cayenne and garlic powders and vinegar in a saucepan and bring to a boil over a medium heat. Turn the heat down and simmer until the mixture reduces by half. Turn off the heat and whisk in the butter, cube by cube. Taste and adjust the sauce with salt if needed. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon. If it is too thin bring the sauce back to the boil and add the starch mixture sparingly, whisking each time until the sauce thickens to the desired consistency. Keep the sauce warm but not bubbling over a low heat or in a warm oven.

Blue cheese sauce

Half a tablespoon of butter
Half a tablespoon of flour
150ml whole milk
6oz salty, citrusy blue cheese like Great Hill Blue
150g crème fraîche

Melt the butter in a frying pan over a low heat and add the flour. Stir to form a soft paste - add more flour if needed. Whisk in the milk bit by bit and simmer the mixture to form a smooth sauce that will thickly coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and cool. Blend the cooled white sauce with the crème fraîche and half of the blue cheese (especially the white bits near the rind) in a food processor until smooth. Spoon the mixture into a serving bowl, crumble in the remaining cheese and stir to combine. Chill until needed.

Celery and carrot sticks

Wash the vegetables, peel the carrots and cut them into one inch by 2-3 inch batons.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Ro's chilli sauce aka Nat Crack

This chilli sauce is dedicated to our wonderful, chilli aficionado friend Natalie. It was created especially for her.

The scotch bonnet chillies add a wonderfully fruity flavour but are thin fleshed so the cherry bombs add body and juiciness to the final sauce. If you can't find these varieties you could substitute other chillies with a scoville of 350,000.

6-8 jars with 8 fl oz capacity (we used kilner jars)
2 pounds of scotch bonnet chillies in equal quantities of red, orange and yellow colours
2 pounds of cherry bomb chillies - these are red, round and plump, with a scoville of 350,000
5 large shallots
2 heads of garlic
a cup of white wine vinegar
Salt to taste
Sugar to taste (if you find your chillies aren't naturally sweet enough)

Place your washed glass jars in a large pot and cover with cold water, making sure there are no air bubbles in any of the jars. Place the pot over a medium to high heat and bring to the boil. While the jars are sterilising blitze all the ingredients in a food processor - how much is up to you. We like our sauce to have a fine grained texture but you could keep going to make it smoother.

When the water in the pot comes to the boil turn the heat off. Carefully lift out a jar using tongs, pour off any hot water and place on a heat resistant surface. Immediately fill the jar with chilli paste using using a jam funnel or small jug and then seal. Continue with the remaining jars but leave the last jar open.

Check the level of the water in the pot and pour off enough water so that your open jar won't be flooded when you put it in. Return all the jars to the pot standing upright. Bring the pot to a simmer over a medium to low flame and warm the jars until their internal temperature reaches 72ºC (161ºF). If you have a food thermometer with a temperature alarm you can just leave the probe in the open jar until the alarm sounds, otherwise test your open jar periodically.

Remove the jars with tongs, seal the open one and allow all of them to cool. You can use the sauce right away but leaving them for a month or two will improve the flavour even more. Keep them stored somewhere dark and cool.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Baby leaf salad with tuna dressing and anchovy crumbs

This is a salad for fish lovers, full of flavour from the meaty tuna, briny fish and piquant capers. The saltiness of the anchovies is tempered by a rich, creamy dressing and the breadcrumbs add nutty, garlicky crunch.


140g mesclun or other young salad leaves
3 spring onions or a small shallot
a tablespoon of salted capers
80g best quality tinned tuna in olive oil e.g. Callipo
a clove of garlic juice from half a lemon
3 tablespoons crème fraîche
a table spoon extra virgin olive oil
4 anchovy fillets
2 teaspoons olive oil (use the oil from the anchovy tin if you have it)
2 heaped tablespoons of breadcrumbs or Japanese panko crumbs 
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Wash and spin dry the salad leaves and put them in a large bowl. Finely slice the onions or shallot, rinse and dry the capers and add both to the leaves.

Put the tuna with its oil into a small bowl, crush the garlic and use a fork to mash it into the tuna to make a smooth paste. Mix in the lemon juice, crème fraîche and olive oil and stir to combine.

Place a small pan over a low heat and add the anchovy fillets in their oil. As they heat up they will start to disintegrate into the oil. Add the breadcrumbs and the cayenne pepper and stir with a fork to coat the breadcrumbs in the anchovy oil mixture. Cook until the crumbs are browned and crisp then remove from the heat.

Toss the leaves in the tuna dressing, sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and serve immediately. Possibly with a cold glass of Chablis.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Proper English Bacon

We find American bacon too sweet as a great deal more sugar is used in the curing process. This recipe is for old fashioned, no bells or whistles English dry cured bacon. It's lightly salty, meat-sweet rather than sugary, porky and, in my mind, the way bacon should taste.

Buy the best quality pork belly that you can afford, ideally from the back of the pig's belly where it will be thicker. The meat towards the front lies over the ribs so will give you thinner slices of bacon. I use Hampshire pork, a breed originally from England that is raised in the wild, fed on clover, grass and herbs and then slaughtered as humanely as possible. Stress at the time of death has a deleterious impact on meat quality, particularly in pigs where it can lead to blood spots that ruin the meat's texture and flavour. It's simple really - happy pigs equals good meat!

Ask your butcher to take off the skin leaving as much fat on the meat as possible. You can save the skin to make pork scratchings.

I choose not to use sodium nitrite (pink salt) in the curing process. Nitrites are used commercially to impede the growth of harmful bacteria like botulism in particular and result in the meat retaining a pink colour that is considered appealing by some. I find the colour looks unnatural and prefer not to use chemicals for home production.  The likelihood of botulism is very low and sea salt has a certain amount of naturally occurring nitrates but this is a decision each person should make for themselves.

There's no need to use the more expensive flaky sea salt as fine grained crystals will penetrate the meat more evenly.


a skinless pork belly - how much is up to you!
Fine grained sea salt
Granulated sugar
Coarse ground black peppercorns

What to do

First give your pork belly a quick rinse, dry it off and trim off any scraps of meat or fat that hang off the main piece. Measure the height of the thickest part of the belly and make a note. Then weigh the belly and use the following proportions to work out how much salt, sugar and pepper you will need. 

30g salt per kg of meat
10g sugar per kg
4g peppercorns per kg

You'll see it's really not very much at all but don't worry - it's all you need. Mix the seasonings together and rub them evenly over the exposed meat and fat. Make sure you rub everything in well, get into any crevices and go around all the edges. Lay a sheet of cling film on a table and add an overlapping sheet if necessary so that you will be able to fold the edges over the belly on every side. Lay the belly on the cling film, fold up the edges and then put another sheet over the top. Wrap the belly tightly in several more layers of cling film so it's completely sealed and place it in a waterproof tray in case any liquid works its way out over the coming days.

Leave the wrapped belly to cure for one day per half inch of thickness plus two additional days. Turn it over once a day to help the cure distribute. You should keep the belly in a cool place, ideally at 1.5°C (35°F), so it doesn't spoil. Smell the wrapped belly when you turn it each day - it should not smell sour or funky in any way.

Try to keep humidity at around 80% for the best results during curing and drying. In the winter I cure and dry my pork in an unheated room with a humidifier next to it set to 80%.

Once the belly has cured it's time to dry the meat and prepare it for smoking. Unwrap the belly and then either hang it on metal hooks or I find it easier to lay the belly on a metal rack over a baking tray. Let it dry for two days, turning each day. The surface should be dry to touch and not slimy. At this stage you have made bacon. You can use it now as greenback bacon and store it for three months or more providing it is kept tightly wrapped and in a fridge.

Or you can cold smoke it to add more flavour! I like to smoke mine with oak wood for four hours to give it a light smokey kiss that doesn't overwhelm the porky of the bacon. The cold smoking process couldn't be easier. I use a Pro-Q cold smoker with oak dust and put the bacon, metal rack, tray and all in a large cardboard box with the lit smoker and punch a couple of small holes on either side of the box. I seal the top with wide tape and that's it. Just make sure the outside temperature is not above 26°C and preferably lower.

After smoking wrap your bacon in cling film again and let it rest for a week to allow the flavours develop and distribute. You don't have to do this if you can't wait but I do think it improves the final result.