Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Great British Adventures in Meat Glue

I love The Great British Menu me. It is hands down the greatest cooking programme of the moment, attracting some of the best chefs in Britain cooking some of the best and most exciting food in Britain. It seems to generate more traffic on twitter than any other show or sporting event (though to be fair I do follow a lot of chefs) and showcases more talent than anything Simon Cowell has vomited onto our screens.

In between the cooking they mix in some nonsense about the Olympics/Queen’s birthday/whatever it is this year and everyone pretends to give two shits about the theme while cooking their socks off. This year has lead to a great deal of rubbish talked about parallels between Olympic athletes and chefs, training, focus, dedication (it’s what you need...) and most entertainingly chefs ‘testing’ their dish on an athlete to see what they can learn (I think I missed the gastronomic criticism event at the last Olympics, is it part of the modern pentathlon or something?)!

Anyway, like GBM I have digressed into talking rubbish about the Olympics. Let’s not forget the food. The use of modern ingredients that change the texture or composition of the food is something that has really come to the fore this year in the programme and been the subject of much debate. These tools of so called ‘molecular gastronomy’ (a horrible phrase) are enabling chefs to create effects such as spherification where a flavoured liquid is suspended in a thin membrane creating caviar like balls and play about with temperature, creating cold things that ‘should’ be hot and vice versa. Up until now the use of these ingredients on TV has been part of the magician’s secret, something that is used behind the scenes, for example in helping Heston Blumenthal to create some of his spectacular illusions.

This science of food and cooking has been around for some time; Harold McGee’s excellent On Food and Cooking, first published in 1984 is a weighty and inspiring tome on the subject and the pioneering cooking of people such as Ferran Adria was always going to disseminate in some way to the mainstream. Companies such as MSK and Infusions4Chefs have enabled chefs without access to laboratories and teams of researchers to start using the products and techniques in their own creations and we are now starting to see talented chefs who have worked with them in various kitchens and have real experience in using them as part of their culinary repertoire to really ‘push the boundaries’ (sorry, slipping into GBM Olympic-speak again there).

So far so good then? Well no, not really. Much like foraging, the other current hot topic, there is a real danger that these techniques will be overused or done for the sake of it. As an example - a dish of steak and chips, done well (though not well done!) is a thing of beauty. You are not going to improve it by adding spherified tomato caviar, mushroom ice cream and a Béarnaise foam just to show you can or by garnishing it with a bushel of Parson’s Spunkflower freshly pulled from a hedgerow just because it’s edible. If it doesn’t belong, it doesn’t belong however finely crafted or exciting it may be.

I have to admit to having a fascination with playing with my food though. I have in the past experimented with spherification and with hot jellies (though I swear yer honour I did not inhale) and I am really excited by the possibilities afforded not just by some of the newer ingredients but by the equipment now available such as water baths and dehydrators. There is nothing like eating a dish and being surprised and delighted by something unexpected or a new perspective on a classic flavour. One particular ingredient that I have fancied playing with ever since I read about it in Under Pressure, Thomas Keller’s book on sous vide cooking is Transglutiminase or Meat Glue. Basically it does what it says on the tin, combining meat protein while remaining tasteless and undetectable. Up until recently I have only seen it for sale in quantities too big and too expensive for my purposes (ie. messing about in my own kitchen for the fun of it). Lately I have found a US website called Modernist Pantry that sells it (and other items) in small, home use packages and ships internationally, so for the sake of about $14 I could hardly say no! Armed with my sachet of ‘Moo Glue’ (honestly that is the brand name), I set to work on a couple of experiments. Both of the dishes below worked well and I’d encourage you to have a go if you fancy the sound of them, whether or not you choose to use the meat glue.

Also, I would love to read your comments below, particularly your thoughts on the whole ‘molecular’ debate.

2 ways with Meat Glue

Chicken with Creamed Corn and Mushrooms
Serves 2

This dish is actually based upon a French Laundry duck recipe but mushrooms and corn are natural partners for chicken so it works just as well.

1 whole chicken
3-4 large chard leaves
1 tbsp transglutiminase (meat glue)

500g sweetcorn

200g mixed wild mushrooms
1 clove garlic – finely chopped
Chopped parsley
A splash of truffle oil

For the sauce:
250ml red wine
1 large onion      )
2 carrots               ) roughly chopped
1 leek                    )
A few sprigs of thyme
1 litre brown chicken stock

·         Take the breasts off the chicken. Skin them, keeping the skin in as large pieces as possible. Trim them of the fillets and any fat or sinew. With the rest of the chicken take off the thighs and legs to reserve for another purpose, keep the wings and roughly chop the rest of the carcass for use in the sauce.
·         Lay both chicken breasts, skin side (though skinless obviously) down on your board and season with salt and pepper. Using a sieve, dust the cut side with the meat glue as if dusting with icing sugar, ensure all is covered. Lay the one breast on top, fat end to thin end (top to tail) so the cut sides are facing each other and the skin sides are facing out. Roll tightly in cling film to create a cylinder and put in the fridge for at least 6 hours to set.

·         To make the sauce put the chicken wings and carcass into a hot pan and brown for at least 10 to 15 minutes or so, ensuring you achieve a good colour to all of it. When well coloured chuck in a glass of water and scrape away to get all the good bits off the bottom. Keep the heat high and stir occasionally until all the water has gone. Now chuck in the red wine and repeat the process. When the wine has all but gone throw in your vegetables and thyme. Again, keep cooking to colour them up. When you have a decent colour on the veg pour in your chicken stock and deglaze again. Reduce the heat to medium and reduce the liquid. When the liquid is down to the level of the bones (or roughly equivalent in volume to them) strain through a fine sieve (and preferably through muslin) into a clean, smaller pan. Reduce on a medium heat until the sauce is thick, dark and glossy.
·         Lay the chicken skin flat on a baking sheet and salt generously, leave for a couple of hours. Roast at 190C for about 20-25 minutes until crisp.
·         Blitz about 2/3 of the sweetcorn in a food processor and squeeze out as much juice as possible. Warm the juice in a pan until it thickens then add the whole corns and season to taste.
·         Trim the chard leaves then blanch them in a large pan of boiling salted water for a few seconds, put them straight into iced water then to refresh them, pat them dry and reserve.
·         Place the chard leaves flat on a sheet of cling film so they overlay a little and form a rectangle large enough to hold the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Unwrap the chicken and roll in the chard to cover. Roll tightly in cling film and tie the ends to ensure sealed. Chill.

·         Poach the chicken in water that is just below simmering until it is cooked (about 20 minutes), check by taking it out and squeezing it to check that it is firm. If you are unsure then use a temperature probe though if more cooking is required then wrap in another layer of cling film to cover the hole.
·         Sauté the mushrooms and garlic off, finishing with some of the sauce, the truffle oil and the parsley.
·         Slice the chicken into cylinders (marvel at this point at how you have created a perfect cylinder of chicken!), serve on the creamed corn and sauce the chicken with the mushrooms. Top with the chicken crisp and add more sauce if required.

Cod and Ham Sandwich with olive powder and tomato
Serves 2

In the restaurant we had recently served a dish using Monkfish wrapped in Parma Ham and it got me thinking about another use for meat glue using the same flavour combination. This actually works quite well if like me you are a fan of crisp fish skin as it allows you to have crisp skin on both sides of a fillet!

Cod – 1 piece from the tail end of the fillet large enough for 2
2 slices Parma Ham
1 tbsp transglutiminase

200g Black olives

1 punnet – small tomatoes (choose something with reasonable flavour such as the cherry plum tomatoes or pomodoro)
2 sprigs Rosemary

·         Slice the Cod in ½ lengthwise to give 2 pieces of similar size and shape. Lay them skin side down on your board. Using a sieve dust both pieces with meat glue as though dusting with icing sugar. Lay the parma ham on top of one fillet then top with the other, keeping skin sides facing out. Wrap in cling film and place in fridge with a small weight on for at least 6 hours.
·         Blitz the olives in a food processor to as fine a puree as possible. Place in the centre of a clean tea towel. Bring up all 4 corners together and start to twist from the top, creating a ball with the olives in. Twist to tighten the ball and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Cover a plate tightly with cling film to create a drum like skin. Spread the olive mixture as thinly as possible on the cling film. Microwave on low power for approx 30-40 minutes until fully dried out (may take longer, keep putting back on for 5-10 minute bursts until done). Then re-blitz.
·         Place the tomatoes on a baking tray and cover with a little olive oil and some salt, scatter the rosemary over the top. Bake at 100C for about 30 mins so slightly shrivelled but still moist. Blitz and pass through a fine sieve, season.
·         Portion the cod into nice squared off pieces. Pan fry the cod on one skin side to begin with then the other until cooked through and with 2 crisp sides.
·         Serve with the olive powder, tomato puree and chopped basil.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Aubergine and Sweet Potato Curry

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has the most cursory of glances at our profile picture that we at Savarin are quite keen on meat and an overview of our blog entries will tell you that we love to cook fish, so what of the vegetarian dishes?

The creation of interesting and tasty vegetarian options is one of the biggest challenges of a menu but a good one all the same. In fact we have just launched a new one at the restaurant after months of discussion, planning and bouncing around of ideas. Constructing dishes is one of the most fun and interesting things that we do and after all of the creative work it is a joy to see the finished dishes go across the pass and onto the tables of the diners. Vegetarian dishes like anything else often start with the question “What do I want to eat?”

At home I love to cook with Middle Eastern flavours, pomegranate, bulgur wheat, tahini, za’atar, ras el hanout and all that. More often than not these meals take the form of a meze style feast where everyone tucks in to a variety of little dishes, taking a bit of this, a bit of that and eating it all with some flatbread. This formed the initial inspiration for what has proved to be the most popular vegetarian dish we have on our menu and while we serve it in a composed, restaurant style, each of the elements work really well for a more informal supper at home or with friends.

If looking for vegetarian or Middle Eastern inspired recipes you can do a lot worse than start with Yotem Ottolenghi and his excellent book Plenty. His BBC program, Jerusalem on a Plate was fascinating as well and had me putting pomegranate molasses in pretty much everything for a good couple of weeks afterwards! Certainly the flavours in the Aubergine and Sweet Potato curry and its toppings owe a lot to these sources.

The flatbread is one of my favourite things to make at home and never ceases to amaze me in its simplicity. I can’t remember now where I learnt how to make it or when but it is so easy and so tasty that I return to it again and again. It still a constant surprise to me that it is basically just flour and water, the transformation of these two ingredients feels miraculous and if you have never made bread before then you need to have a go at this. No yeast, no rising, no hanging around hoping it works, no specialist equipment and pretty much no change since the dawn of human cooking. Go on... connect with your ancient ancestors.

Right, that’s bread sorted. Next on the list of staples then is surely cheese.  In this case Labneh, a strained yoghurt cheese. I first heard of this in Niki Segnit’s book The Flavour Thesaurus, itself an excellent resource for dish inspiration. When I read the recipe I simply had to give it a go. Again, the simplicity is amazing and it’s hard to believe that just 2 ingredients can create something with so interesting a flavour, somewhere between Feta and cream cheese with a sour yoghurt tang. All you need to do is mix a little salt with yoghurt and hang it while the whey drains off.

I make no claim to any sort of authenticity for any of these recipes (as a Welshman living in Hampshire it might be a stretch!), they do taste good though and as such I would urge you to have a go.

Aubergine and Sweet Potato Curry

2tbsp coriander seeds
2tbsp cumin seeds
2tbsp fennel seeds
2tbsp dried chilli flakes
2tbsp sumac
5 cloves garlic
2 shallots
20g thyme
Vegetable oil

2 large onions - sliced
4 aubergines – 1cm dice
5 sweet potatoes – peeled and 1cm dice
2 tins chopped tomatoes

1 bunch Fresh Coriander
1 Preserved lemon (or zest from 1 ordinary lemon)
A handful of toasted sesame seeds

Figs – 1 per person

-          Put the diced aubergine into a colander over a bowl and toss with a generous amount of salt and leave to stand for a couple of hours. Discard the liquid that gathers in the bowl.
-          Season and oil the sweet potato and roast in a hot oven for about 8-10 mins
-          Toast the whole spices in dry pan then mix with the herbs, spices, garlic and shallots and blitz with enough oil to make a paste
-          Cook the onions in the paste in a heavy bottomed pan over a moderate to low heat until they are well and truly soft and submissive.
-          Add the aubergine and sweet potato and cook out until the aubergine has softened
-          Add the chopped tomatoes and turn the heat up a bit, cook down until the liquid has mostly evaporated and the mixture is nice and thick.
-          Cut a cross into the top of the figs and push up underneath them to open them up slightly before roasting them in an oven at 180C. Place them on top of the curry as you serve. (Alternatively drizzle them with honey and serve them as a starter/snack with some of the Labneh)
-          Chop the coriander with the lemon, toast the sesame seeds and top the curry with them.

Pomegranate and red onion salsa

1 Pomegranate
1 Red onion

-          Remove the seeds from the pomegranate, most people it seems recommend doing this in a bowl of water but check out this video on how to whack ‘em out with a spoon (it’s better this way because the juice will help break the onion down a bit):

-          Slice the onion lengthwise into thin slices and mix with the pomegranate seeds and juice. Leave to sit for a while to combine


1 ltr natural yoghurt
1 tsp salt

-          Add the salt to the yoghurt and hang in a muslin bag for at least 8hrs (the longer you hang it the firmer it will be).

500g strong flour
300ml water
5g salt
1 tsp spice mix (optional - we use a mix of coriander, fennel, chilli, fenugreek and cumin but you could leave it out or just use cumin or coriander or garam masala or anything you fancy really)

-          Mix everything together (easiest done in a food mixer, mix until forms a ball and cleans the sides).
-          Take out and knead for 10mins or so until forms anelastic dough.
-          Let it rest for an hour or so then tear off small balls and roll out into rough circles.
-          At this point there are 2 different ways to cook the bread:
1.       Roll nice and thin a put straight into a very hot dry pan for a couple of minutes before turning it and letting it cook for another couple of minutes. A chargrill gives a great addition to the flavour here. They will stay thin but puff up a little and bit more like a tortilla or chapati.
2.       Preheat an oven to 230C with a heavy baking tray in. When thoroughly hot open the door and slap the bread down, closing the door quickly so stays hot. Cook for 4mins. Cooked this way they will puff right up and make a softer bread that you can fill along the lines of a pitta.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Hand dived scallops

Hand Dived Scallops with Satay, Crispy Cod Cheeks, Coriander and Pickled Ginger
Hand dived scallops are one of the most frequent ingredients seen on menus throughout the British isles and for good reason as they are every chefs best friend as an ingredient their versatility holds no boundaries they are just as happily matched with robust flavour combinations such as black pudding, pork belly or oxtail as they are to being simply pan fried with a little lemon and sea salt, my personal favourite at the moment is with boudin blanc and white raisins.

My personal journey with the humble scallop started like many other chefs with the rather daunting prospect of awaiting the delivery every morning of the fresh scallops straight of the boats, knowing that the reality meant hours popping open the scallop shells to reveal the glorious white flesh and then gently releasing from the shell to clean ready for service for the other senior chefs. Although at the time I didn't realise how important my role was within this process it was a defining point in learning to respect the primary ingredient of any dish and one in which I am keen to reinforce in any apprentices that I have in my kitchen today.

Hand dived scallops need to be respected as an ingredient but also as a sustainable source of harvesting the product, this process is so important to the final product and you should avoid purchasing any other type of scallop some of which are subject to some questionable practices - frozen scallops are often pumped with water to increase their size to enable then to get a better price per kg at the markets and cause an unnatural white colour avoid these at all costs or alternatively they have been dredged from the ocean floor damaging the coral and seabeds for generations. Your supplier for this amazing ingredient is as important as you are in the process always use a trusted fishmonger who will more than happy to source the scallops for you they may take a couple of days notice but I guarantee they will be worth the wait . My personal favourite wholesaler is based in the south coast in the beautiful Portland Bay their scallops are monsters bigger than your palm and sweet glorious flavour that is second to none you can contact them at http://www.portlandshellfish.co.uk/ I have used them at various hotels and restaurants for years and have never encountered any better than these guys.

If you are interested in the sustainable nature of scallops or other sustainable fish or shellfish check out the following sites which are an invaluable tool for all fish lovers and available as an app or a downloadable pocket fish guide http://www.goodfishguide.co.uk/ or http://www.fishonline.org/ both run by the Marine Conservation Society.

Some of the most influential work being carried out currently is the campaign being spearheaded by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall to find out more and sign up to the campaign petition http://www.fishfight.net/

From a restaurant perspective if you would like to know what your eating when dining out has been responsibly caught check out http://www.fish2fork.com/ for informed reviews of restaurants which serve sustainable fish and if you own a restaurant you can ask to be part of their project
Fish2fork is the world’s first website to review restaurants according to whether their seafood is sustainable, and not just how it tastes. It is brought to you by the people behind the film, The End of the Line.

Anyway enough of my ethical rant and back to the purpose of this post cooking and eating great scallops, this recipe has the perfect formula for success whether at home to impress or in the professional kitchen all of the work is done in advanced and just finished at the last moment
Hand Dived Scallops with Satay, Crispy Cod Cheeks, Coriander and Pickled Ginger

2 x Hand Dived Scallops per person
Sea salt and cracked white pepper
20g Roe powder for cooking scallops
50g Diced Unsalted Butter
Sunflower Oil
2 x Cod Cheeks trimmed
Fine Breadcrumbs enough to coat cod cheeks
100g Plain Flour
1 x Whole Egg
Few slices of Pink pickled ginger (available in most supermarkets now)
Fresh coriander micro cress
Sesame Tuile (recipe below)
Satay sauce (recipe below)
Bamboo skewers
Red radish sliced finely and stored in water

Sesame Tuile;

12 egg whites
300g white crab meat
250g plain flour
500g unsalted butter
50g toasted sesame seeds

Mix egg white with picked crab meat until a fine paste, add melted butter at room temp but not hot, fold in the sifted flour and place in a container and chill for about an hour
Spread mix onto lined baking sheets or silicone mats into required shapes and top with sesame seeds bake at 170 degrees for 7-10 mins until golden. Chill and reserve for later use.

Satay sauce;

60ml veg oil
2 Garlic cloves crushed
1 white Onion roughly chopped
5ml Ground chilli
5ml Mild curry powder
1 Lemongrass crushed
250 ml Coconut milk
150ml milk
1 Cinnamon stick
2 Bay leaves
10ml Tamarind paste
10ml Fish sauce Nam Pla
45g Dark brown sugar
45ml Lemon juice
1 jar Chunky peanut butter

Puree first 6 ingredients together until forms fine paste, sauté the paste until it releases all of the aromatics
Add remaining ingredients to pan and simmer until sauce thickens
Remove whole spices and herbs

Remove the scallops from their shells if you are feeling adventurous then check out this short how to video clip from the fantastic great british chefs website;


It really is the best way to get hands on and buying them in the shell makes the eating experience all the more exciting, while dinner guests will be impressed and know their food is as fresh it can be.
You'll need a thin, sharp knife to open them in the shell, and if you haven't done it before, I would recommend you wrap a cloth or towel around your hand holding the scallop just in case the knife slips. Then slide the knife between the shell and cut through the large white muscle with a swift, sharp movement, to release one side of the shell. If you are not feeling that adventurous ask the fishmonger to do this part for you.

Once they have been removed gently remove the orange roe, if you want to use for the roe powder dry the roe out slowly in a low oven until crisp, grind in a food processor until resembles a fine powder mix with sea salt and cracked white pepper this is then used for dipping the scallops in to form a great crust full of the flavour of the sea, it can reserved and be used at a later date for seasoning any fish or fish based sauces.

The final step in the process is to breadcrumb the cod cheeks - coat each cheek in the flour and then dip in the beaten egg remove any excess egg and coat in the breadcrumbs.

A good tip to remember is to make sure all your ingredients are ready before you cook the scallops as it's all too easy to overcook them. They're also quick to drop in temperature so make sure you serve them as soon as they're ready.

Take the scallops and coat in the scallop roe powder and pan fry in a little butter and sunflower oil until the scallop is golden brown turn over and remove pan from heat. Shallow fry the cod cheeks until crisp, skewer with the bamboo skewers and pickled ginger, place some of the satay sauce on the base of the plate and top with the scallops and cod cheeks top the scallops with the sesame tuile, radish and micro coriander cress.

One of the best bits about this dish and recipes is that it is very versatile and other elements can be utilised in other dishes, i am particularly fond of using the satay recipe with chicken and jasmine rice for a great cheeky lunch !

Be great to hear from anyone who has tried the dish especially if you have been brave enough to attempt opening the scallops yourself !

Thursday, 24 November 2011

(Game) Seasons Greetings

Avoiding the dreaded ‘C word’ around this time of year is getting harder and harder. Turkey recipes are popping up everywhere and we even did our first turkey dinner function at the hotel last week (its bloody November for crying out loud!). I should probably try and insert a “Humbug” around here somewhere but truth be told I am not anti-C****mas; I just think that November has a lot more to offer than Turkey anticipation.  That said I would love to have a crack at a whole deep fried turkey – see the video here!

Autumn and early winter is all about game for me, its many feathered and furred varieties are reasons enough to celebrate the season. We have a beautiful venison dish on in the restaurant at the moment that combines a slow braised haunch with a loin cooked medium rare and a sloe gin honey (the smell of which when warmed through is amazing).

At home I have been experimenting with rabbit, venison, pheasant and pigeon. While venison often has a luxury price tag, a whole rabbit, pheasant or brace of pigeon is unlikely to cost you more than a fiver and is plenty enough to feed two generously. Nothing too adventurous or wacky here, the main ingredient is simply seasoned, browned in a pan and finished in the oven. Maybe chuck in some rosemary or juniper to heighten the flavours but they are strong enough to shine through on their own. This means that you can use a garnish with a big flavour for example a sweet and sour red cabbage or smoky flavours as in the recipe below, even coffee and chocolate are often paired with venison.

The red cabbage recipe below is a version of one that we have used in the past in the restaurant, there it is cooked with the addition of a rich Jus and so ends up truly dark, sticky and shiny. While this is beautiful, I simply don’t have access to the huge stock pot, three day cooking process, piles of bones, chicken wings and gallons of wine at home (sadly!). Also, even if I did it would probably be a bit excessive for a cabbage side for two people.

Venison with red cabbage and smoked potato croquettes

2 individual sized pieces Venison Loin
5/6 Juniper berries
Cold butter
Salt & pepper

Crush the juniper berries with the salt and used to season the venison. Pan fry to desired level of ‘doneness’, chuck in a couple of knobs of the butter towards the end of cooking to baste the meat as it foams. Check seasoning and rest well before serving

Red Cabbage
1 Red cabbage
1 Red onion
1 Apple
200ml Balsamic vinegar
200ml Red wine
3 Star anise
2 Bay leaves
1 jar Redcurrent jelly (you won’t use all but judge it to taste)

Chiffonade the cabbage, red onion and apple and sweat down in a saucepan. Turn up the heat and add the star anise and bay leaves. Then chuck in the balsamic vinegar and let reduce a little before adding the red wine and reducing again. Top up with stock (or water) to cover and turn down to a simmer. Let it simmer for a good few hours (anywhere up to about seven) until there is only a little bit of liquid left, raising the heat at the end to reduce if you need to. At this stage you can chill the cabbage down and it will keep for frankly ages as it is pretty much pickled. Finish by adding a good dollop of redcurrent jelly to taste and picking out the anise and bay. The balance of vinegar and redcurrent should give a big, sweet and sour flavour and finishing with the jelly will make it sticky and shiny.

Smoked Potato croquettes
2 medium sized Potatoes
A couple of sprigs of Thyme
Barbecue smoking chips

Peel and dice the potato. Steam in a bamboo steamer above a pan of water until cooked through and soft. When the potato is cooked take the steamer off (leave the potato in it) and tip away the water. Dry the pan, sprinkle in a small handful of the wood chips and put back on the heat, shaking occasionally. When the wood starts to smoke put the steamer back on and after a minute or so take off the heat and leave to allow the smoke to absorb for about 5 minutes.
Chop the thyme leaves and mix through the cooked potato along with some salt and pepper, crushing it up as you go. Roll in cling film to form a sausage approximately 2cm in diameter and chill.
When the potato is well chilled, slice into 6cm long pieces(ish... make them as big as you want, it’s your dinner after all). Dip first in flour, then egg then breadcrumbs to completely coat and then deep fry at 180C for about 4 minutes.

Roast Pheasant with pheasant sausage and game chips

1 Pheasant
1 Pork sausage (get a decent sausage from your local butcher but go for a plain pork one)
100g Black pudding
2 Onions
1 Carrot
3 sticks celery
1 leek
1 parsnip
500ml red wine

Prep the pheasant and make stock:
Take the legs and thighs off the pheasant, debone them and dice the meat. Take the breasts off on the bone in one piece; trim the wing bone down for presentation. Strip off any remaining bits of meat and reserve.  Roast the carcass along with the leg bones for about 30mins at 160C. In the meantime brown off 1 onion, celery, carrot and leek in a stockpot. Put in the roasted carcass and deglaze with ½ the wine. Top up with water and simmer gently for as long as you have (put it on the night before if you can). Pass through a fine sieve and reduce by a ½ and set aside.

Pheasant sausage:
Take the sausage meat out of the skin and mix well with ¾ of the chopped leg meat and chopped black pudding. Cook a small piece and check for seasoning. Roll into balls or into sausage shapes and chill.
Game chips:
Peel the parsnip then use the peeler to slice it along the length. Deep fry until golden brown, drain on kitchen paper and salt.

To finish – colour the pheasant breasts in a hot pan and then roast in a hot oven for 15-20mins or until done. Fry off the sausages and finish in the oven. Colour the meat off cuts and the remaining ¼ leg meat and the other onion, chopped. Stir in a tablespoon of flour and cook for a couple of minutes. Deglaze with the rest of the wine, reduce by 2/3 and then add hot stock until you are happy with the consistency and colour of the sauce. Take the breasts off the bone to serve and top with the game chips, serving with the sausages and sauce (plus some veggies and stuff obviously, maybe roast potatoes, a celeriac or carrot puree or whatever you fancy really).

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The French Laundry Pop-up

The name Thomas Keller is probably better known amongst the chef community in this country than to the wider populace. He has never made a programme encouraging parents to feed their kids fruit, dragged reluctant vegetarians to an abattoir or screamed F words at a hapless celebrity for cocking up a Coq au Vin, in fact until recently I had never seen him on TV. He is however one of the most innovative and influential chefs of the last decade, best known for his, almost legendary, restaurant The French Laundry. One of only 4 restaurants globally to have claimed the title of the best in the world in the ’50 best’ list (along with El Bulli, Noma and The Fat Duck), awarded 3 coveted Michelin Stars and based in the Napa Valley in California it has always seemed out of reach to someone like me. That was until the announcement that Chef Keller would be bringing TFL over for a 10 day pop-up restaurant based in Harrods, fixtures, fittings, staff, crockery all included.

10 days, 70 covers and massive demand, I was extremely lucky to get a booking for this once in a lifetime event and that is exactly what it was. I make no pretence that I will attempt in any way a balanced and objective review, I simply intend to give you some of my thoughts on what passed my way during a blissful couple of hours.

Suffice to say it was an extraordinary meal. 11 courses, fantastic ingredients (huge spoonfuls of white sturgeon caviar, truffles, oysters, frozen foie gras grated over the food at the table, vegetables from The French Laundry’s own gardens, Black Mission figs, Noble Maple Syrup and much more) , amazing technique, beautiful presentation and impeccable service from knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff. In the 2 or so years since turning my slightly weird, obsessive passion for food and cooking into my career I have learned a huge amount and this has been another stage in my development. I have come away from the experience inspired by what can be achieved at the top of my profession. Topped off with an invitation into the kitchen to meet Chef Keller himself as he was at the pass sending meals to other tables, it was truly an extraordinary day for a curious and hungry food geek like me.

The French Laundry - my view

There is no denying just how weird it is to walk through the colourful and noisy toy department of Harrods to emerge in front of the facade of The French Laundry, placed incongruously within the formal confines of the Georgian Restaurant. An astroturf lawn with picnic tables and chairs, champagne bar and TFL concession stand complete the surreal scene. In all honesty the artifice is never really forgotten, the curtains that surround the dining area lend the whole affair a slightly theatrical feel. A glass of champagne helps along the willing suspension of disbelief though and we are soon seated and browsing the wine list (after careful consideration of a bottle priced at £9,900 we opt for something much more modestly priced). After checking that we are free of restrictive dietary requirements, our menus are taken from us with a promise that they will be returned in our goody bag at the end of the meal.

The first canapés arrive - a smoked salmon and red onion tartare coronet and a gruyère gougere, apparently the start to pretty much every meal at both TFL and it's sister restaurant Per Se. These are followed by the 'seated canapés'. We are advised to eat from left to right, beginning with a freeze dried tomato with olive oil gel and basil powder, my favourite part of this course. The tomato has the consistency almost, of a Wotsit (I know, I'm like well cultured and stuff), but explodes with a sweet tomato flavour, the combination of all components giving the full flavour of the originating salad for a just a fleeting moment. The olive oil, it is explained to us is unique in terms of the amount of 'phenols' and I could have eaten the gel by the bowlful. This is followed by a crab beignet which is lovely, then Keller's take on an 'English Tea and biscuits'. A shortbread base with foie gras topped with a tea jelly was interesting but I'm not sure I really 'got' the tea and biscuits thing. Finally a 'BLT' (pork belly, lettuce and truffle in this case), which is rich, fatty, crispy, earthy and everything you want it to be (except 6 foot square).

Next up is the famous 'Oysters and Pearls', a signature dish from the original restaurant. A tapioca sabayon topped with a Maldon Oyster, White Sturgeon Caviar and chive butter. I had high hopes of this dish, particularly as there was a good chance of getting two helpings as my girlfriend and co-diner Jen, normally has an aversion to oysters because of their texture. Sadly I was to be disappointed on this count only, the oysters had been trimmed down to just their meaty heart and the whole was silky smooth. This is the only disappointment though, the dish is rich, buttery, ozoney(?), sweet, the shock of contrast between the cold (generously portioned) caviar and the warm butter, oyster and tapioca ensures that each spoonful reignites the flavours and stops it from becoming simply comforting. An incredible dish that suffers only from being half the amount I had hoped for!

A 'salad' of Hawaiian Palm Hearts is, we are informed 'the healthiest thing we will eat today'. 
It is delivered with plenty of information about the origins of the vegetables in the French Laundry's own gardens. It is a very pretty dish, the highlight of which are the crunchy Pili nut.

A deconstructed 'chowder' follows featuring a delicately smoked sturgeon, lightly cooked with a razor clam foam. Tiny cubes of potato and a sweetcorn powder complete the flavour profile of a classic chowder. The fish is exquisite, perfectly cooked and the foam packed full of flavour.

Clever and delicate but somehow still as much a comfort food as the original soup, again it is gone all too quickly.

Butter poached Maine lobster with a tasting of beetroot ups the ante though. Before being presented with the plates our waiter tells us that he thinks this is going to be one of the highlights of the meal for us. He is not wrong. A sheet of potato glass is impressive and adds much in terms of presentation. Though I may be somewhat biased here, I find it difficult to remember much about this dish except for the flavour of the lobster. It is incredible, barely cooked (in Jen's opinion undercooked which gets me a bonus mouthful at the end - win!) and tasting fully and completely of itself. If you have been a very, very good lobster in life, perhaps the Mother Teresa of the lobster world this must be where you go when you die.

 The garnish is lovely and looks great (just look at that glorious swipe of bright red beetroot in the photo above), it's just that it formed part of my plate that wasn't lobster and so faded a little into the background.
 We stride undaunted into the meat courses next, beginning with Poularde in Brioche with truffle, apple and turnip. As the dish is placed in front of us a waiter follows with a massive torchon of frozen foie gras which he proceeds to grate over the plate.

An almost crystallised piece of apple and perfect baby turnip add crunch and freshness to counterpoint the main part which is rich and delicious beyond belief.

Prime Midwestern 'Calotte de Boeuf' follows, combining braised brisket with water-bathed and seared cap of rib. The rib is extraordinary with a real 'char' flavour to the seared outside, salty and smoky and contrasting well with the melt in the mouth rare meat inside. A duxelle made from Trompette de Mort mushrooms bursts with mushroomy goodness (I know, I know but I've given up at this point, I just don't know that many synonyms for 'delicious flavour') and must have taken a stack of mushrooms to produce.

It must be said that we have been finding trompettes a little hard to get hold of for the restaurant of late and I think I have now found the reason. Given how many of them must have been needed to make enough duxelle for every diner the truth is out - Keller got them all!

A cheese course follows and is a play on a cheese and ham sandwich featuring Iberico ham and Noble Maple syrup. By far the stand out feature though are the figs which are simply beautiful. A huge part of the French laundry ethos is about using the best possible ingredients without compromise and the simple fig with the breathtaking flavour is a stunning example of just why this can work.

Into the desserts then and quite definitely into the US of A, we kick off with a Huckleberry sorbet with Verbena foam and Huckleberry muffin. Huckleberries are a new one on me and very much an American ingredient, this is my first taste of them and what a taste it is. Sweet, sharp, heady and perfumed the best way I can think to describe the flavour as being almost a cross between blackberry and lavender. The muffin at the base feels superfluous but the dish fills the senses and cleans the palate beautifully.

On then to classic American desserts part 2. 'S'mores' are a traditional campfire treat for American kids, presumably something they eat 'at camp' where their parents send them to spend the summer holidays. While there is no real British universal tradition in the same vein, an equivalent would be toasted marshmallows on a stick. Americans, being Americans though have taken the humble toasted marshmallow and said "hmm... yes, that's nice but really it should be supersized" and then added Graham crackers. And popcorn. And caramel. And peanut butter. And chocolate. Obviously...

While missing the sense of nostalgia that would truly elevate this dish to the sublime, it is easy to see why Keller wanted to revisit the flavours of this dish. It is a complex, overwhelming dessert, nutty, sugary, toasted, crispy, soft, pretty and as subtle as a caramel coated chocolate filled peanut brittle sledgehammer to the forehead. I break out in sugar sweats by the end. It may be angelic in appearance but this is truly a demonic, filthy and beautiful finish to the meal.

We end with petit fours and coffee, the truffles themed as 'A Night at the Movies'. At this point we are informed that it may be possible to go through to the kitchen to meet Chef before being given our last course which is an Angel Cake in our goody bags.

Indeed we are taken through to the kitchens to meet the man himself who is on the pass inspecting and directing dishes as we enter. He is calm and softly spoken throughout, everything has the appearance of running very smoothly indeed and everyone is listening in to him and taking his direction. At a break between tables we are introduced and have our picture taken (on my phone and posted on my twitter and facebook in no time at all!). I would love to tell you that I engaged him in a sparkling debate about the restaurant scene in the UK and the merits of particular cooking techniques but I was stuffed full, in awe of the best restaurant meal I have ever eaten and simply mumbled about it being really good or something, thank you very much sir, it's a pleasure etc. etc. I think I may even have tugged my forelock and curtsied at one point. Obviously I know it was a great honour for him and all that but he hid it well behind a charming and friendly façade.

Before I know it I am stood outside, blinking in the sunlight, goody bag in hand (menu, purveyors booklet, Per Se magazine, angel cake and jam), unsure what to make of it all. In many ways it is daunting, a level of technique and finesse that it is hard to imagine my ever being able to achieve. However it is a display of what can be done and above all a hymn to the value of great ingredients handled with care and respect and in as much it is hard not to be inspired.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Hough it up...*

 "mmmm... pig" - H.Simpson

(image borrowed from: http://warehouse.carlh.com/article_157)

Ubiquitous on restaurant menus over the past few years whether as terrine, croquette, shredded or some other variant, the ham hock is popular with chefs all over the country. As yet though they seem underused in home cooking, as evidenced by the difficulty you will have finding them in supermarkets. The reasons they are so beloved by chefs apply just as much in home cooking as professional and if you have never tried cooking with them I would urge you to have a go.

A long slow cook reveals huge flavour and is required to really make the best of them. Picking the rich, moist and sticky meat out from the fat, skin and gristle is an easy enough job once they are cooked. This meat is delicious in itself and can be used anywhere you would normally use ham; in sandwiches, salads, in pies, with egg and chips and so on. Whilst ham can be pretty expensive, particularly when bought ready sliced in little packets from the supermarket. This is certainly not the case with ham hocks (or ‘houghs’ if you prefer). This is a real highlight and one very good reason why it is such a popular component of restaurant menus. They are cheap. Really cheap. Our favourite local butcher sells them from free range pigs at just £2.50 each. To give you some idea the recipe below uses just two hocks and would easily yield 10 or so portions as a starter!

As suggested above, you won’t find them in the supermarket. My (not very) extensive research suggests that the closest you will get is in Waitrose where they sell it ready cooked and picked at £1.99 for just 90g. Speak to your local butcher though or go to a farmers market and you won’t have any difficulty. Braise them nice and slow with some veggies and flavourings, and then why not make yourself a terrine? There are plenty of recipes available on the internet. In fact if you scroll down a bit I'm sure it will come as no surprise to learn that there is one on this page. They're really easy to make and while time consuming are not labour intensive. Just slice to order when you are ready to plate up your dinner party starter for a fancy first course in seconds. Alternatively hack off a nice big fat slice when you get back from the pub for a satisfying snack, or pack in a bag with some cheese and pickle when heading out for a picnic. However you choose to enjoy the hock don’t forget the liquor it was cooked in, if not too salty it will make a great base for soup.

Frugal food at its best.

Cider Braised Ham Hock and Black Pudding Terrine

This is a slightly modified version of the classic which in fact isn’t a terrine at all (the word refers to the specific shaped container which this is not cooked or pressed in). Using a cider and apple juice braise rather than stock or water really comes through in the meat as a sweet apple note that is really complemented by serving it with an apple puree or crisp. It is worth getting quality black pudding for this recipe but as you are going to have to go to a butcher or farmers market anyway this shouldn’t be an issue.

2 ham hocks
1 ltr dry cider
1 ltr apple juice
1 large onion
1 leek
4 sticks celery
2 carrots
1 bunch parsley (leaves chopped, reserve stalks)
200g black pudding

Put the ham hocks into a deep pan with the veg and parsley stalks and cover with the cider and apple juice. Bring up to a gentle simmer and cook until the hocks are done. You can tell they’re done when the smaller of the two bones can be easily pulled out (will be a good few hours, at least 4).

While the ham is cooking crumble the black pudding and fry it off briefly before chilling it.

When the hocks are done pick them down to bite-size chunks and remove the fat, skin and gristle. This is best done while still reasonably hot and while wearing gloves.

Line a deep, flat dish with cling film (approx 12” square I reckon), layer ½ of the ham to cover the dish then put the black pudding over it in a single layer and then top with the rest of the ham. Cover the whole as evenly as possible (I’d suggest a few layers of cardboard cut to size) then weigh down (I use a cling film wrapped brick) and place in the fridge overnight.

Remove after pressing and re wrap with fresh cling film. It is now ready to slice up.

* sorry, couldn't resist.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Baking chocolate brownies with the family - everyday should be a brownie day ........

I have yet to meet someone who doesn't eat those decadent little brownie treats but the blondies (White chocolate versions) in my opinion should be avoided at all costs white chocolate has too higher fat content to work effectively.

The biggest question is which style of brownie suits you, for me they fall into two categories - rich melted chocolate versions or the cake like cocoa nibbles - I like both but the two camps can get quite heated about the outcome and finished results and brownie purists will argue about the addition of anything other than chocolate, eggs, flour and sugar but you try adding a few nuts to adorn the basic recipe and you might aswell have asked them to eat a blondie !!!!

For me the better the ingredient the better the brownie whether it is the best quality chocolate you can afford or the best cocoa you can afford, in the restaurant I always go for the rich fudgey chocolate versions as I feel the guests deserve that little piece of luxury whether it be a brownie slice for the bar, the base for a rocky road sundae for the kids or an a la carte assiette of chocolate......

But at home I always opt for the cocoa version as the kids prefer them lighter and fluffier but they are still decadent nuggets of goodness and all we have to do is reach for the cocoa inside the store cupboard.....

It’s easy to see that the brownie got its name from its dark brown color. But as with most foods, the origin of the brownie is shrouded in myth, first appearing in print in the early 20th century. The legend is told variously: a chef mistakenly added melted chocolate to a batch of biscuits...a cook was making a cake but didn’t have enough flour. The favorite, cited in Betty Crocker's Baking Classics and John Mariani’s The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, tells of a housewife in Bangor, Maine, who was making a chocolate cake but forgot to add baking powder. When her cake didn’t rise properly, instead of tossing it out, she cut and served the flat pieces. Alas, that theory relies on a cookbook published in Bangor in 1912, six years after the first chocolate brownie recipe was published by one of America’s most famous cookbook authors, Fannie Merritt Farmer, in 1906 (and the Bangor version was almost identical to the 1906 recipe).
From what we can find in the historic record, the actual “inventor” is most likely the great cookbook editor Fannie Farmer. The super-chocolate fudgy brownies we now known were developed by her protégé, Maria Willet Lowney.

Here is the recipe I use at home for the cocoa brownies - use it as a base or adapt your own brownie. As you will have probably guessed a brownie can be highly personal and everyone enjoys them in a different way........
Easy Brownies made with cocoa
Yield: 12-15 servings
170g unsalted butter
330g caster sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 free range eggs
85g plain flour
75g cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt (optional)
chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 180 deg c.
Line a 13 x 9 in (33 x 23 cm) cake tin with grease proof or other non-stick paper and grease the tin. Melt the butter.
Beat eggs with sugar, and add vanilla, flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt (optional) and melted butter.
Add chopped nuts.

Bake at 180 degrees until a wooden skewer inserted in center comes out clean, approximately 20-30 minutes.

Cool the cake on a cooling rack

Dust with icing sugar or extra cocoa powder and portion as large as you like !!!

and don't forget the most important part of baking the ultimate in spoon licking !!!!!!!!
what chocolate ??