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:

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 ??

Sunday, 31 July 2011

New menu fun/Shepherds Pie recipe

Almost from the moment we implemented the current menu in the restaurant we began discussions around ideas for the next one. There are few things more exciting than talking about food, planning dishes, coming up with ingredients and combinations, thinking about how logistics in service or prep will work, considering crockery, working out how to get the maximum flavour out of any one component (possibly just me...) and we have spent a fair bit of our quieter times in the kitchen doing just that over the past few months.

Talking is fun. Doing is way more fun. This week we have begun to put into practice the ideas and theories, putting physical form to them, figuring out the recipes and playing with presentation. We have now begun putting on some of the new dishes as weekend specials to give them a test drive.

First up in the batting order is a trio of lamb that was one of the very first concepts that we discussed. The idea behind making this a trio is pretty much fuelled by greed, we love lamb in all its forms so why settle for cooking it in just one way when we can do three!? This particular version includes a roasted rump served medium rare, a slow braised shoulder croquette, a mini shepherd’s pie, mint jelly, celeriac puree and spinach. A variety of textures, tastes and techniques combined to make a dish greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s not all about the ideas and the recipes though. As a busy restaurant serving anything up to 150 covers in a night it is equally important that we are able to replicate the dish time and time again regardless of how busy we are. This is why the opportunity of a test run is so useful. Any change to routine or procedure can cause a hold up, as can taking time to figure out how exactly to do something. In this particular case we had a pretty good idea of how we would cook the rump, shoulder and garnish but we ended up experimenting with three different ways of heating up the shepherd’s pie (including a particularly explosive, ill-advised foray into the microwave) before deciding on the best method. This is relatively easy with just one new dish, we are pretty well dialled in on the rest of the menu as it has been on for a few months now, an entire new menu in one go is a pretty big push though.

We are in an exciting period right now and I’m looking forward to next weekend and another new dish or two to play with

Shepherd’s Pie

This is our take on a classic. While we use it as part of a taster plate of lamb but it could easily be a meal in itself. The basic recipe has been around since Victorian times and is traditionally a quick an easy way of using up leftovers from the Sunday Roast. This version though is one to take your time over and the pie is a worthy goal in its own right.

If you’re not a fan of offal then don’t be put off by the kidney and liver, they melt in at the beginning and add richness and depth to the whole dish without being discernable in the finished pie.

For the Lamb Stock
-          5kg lamb bones
-          4 large onions
-          6 carrots
-          1 head celery
-          2 leeks
-          750ml red wine
For the mash
-          Potatoes
-          Double cream
For the filling
-          2kg lamb mince
-          2 lamb’s kidney
-          1 lamb’s liver
-          3 carrots
-          2 sticks celery
-          2 onions
-          4 cloves garlic
-          2 tbsps Tomato puree
-          500 ml red wine
-          Bouquet Garni consisting of rosemary, thyme, bay

·         Make the lamb stock the day before – roast the lamb bones at 160C for about 40mins. Also roast the veg off for about 20 mins. Reduce the red wine by 1/3 then put all together in a pot and cover with water. Bring up to just under a simmer (ie. a trembling rather than bubbling surface) and leave on overnight.
·         Pass the lamb stock through a fine sieve and then reduce by about a ½
·         For the pie, first blanch the mince by covering in cold water and bringing up to the boil then taking off and draining. This will render off some of the fat and make the end result less greasy (we omitted this stage first time around and ended up warming the mix and hanging it in a muslin bag to drain off excess fat).
·         Sear the mince in a hot pan large enough to hold all of the filling in batches and remove to hold until later, lower the temperature on the pan.
·         Dice all of the veg (it’s worth taking some time over this, particularly with the carrots as they will show in the final result) and sweat them off.
·         Trim the liver and kidney and chop in a food processor. Add this to the vegetables with the tomato puree and cook off.
·         Add back in the seared mince and the red wine, reduce until nearly all absorbed then add half of the stock and the bouquet garni.
·         Cook slowly over several hours until sauce has reduced to almost nothing. Season with salt, pepper and a dash of balsamic vinegar.
·         While the filling is cooking reduce the rest of the stock to about half again.
·         Bake the potatoes on a baking tray with lots of salt until cooked through. Push through a drum sieve (or use a potato ricer) and beat in cream and seasoning until taste and consistency is correct.
·         To construct the pie – stir in some of the reduced stock to the hot pie mix to loosen it up and put into the pie dish. Top with hot mashed potato and place under a grill until browned.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Roast Fillet of Grey Mullet, Bouillabaise Jus

Ever even heard of grey mullet before ? red mullet maybe or seen it on a menu or in the local fishmongers and thought mmm.. not sure might just stick with the old favourites you know the ones - all the species that are on the unsustainable and nearly extinct list!!! Take note though because grey mullet is almost a 1/3 cheaper than most other well known fish and it is a small round fish which looks similar to a Seabass but with a distinctive grey/silver shine to the skin and comes in similar size to the bass although the grey mullet does have a more dense texture but is certainly full of flavour
Time for a change try this delicious recipe and i am certain you will change your mind - we recently had this on in the restaurant as part of a 6 course tasting menu and this dish was the intermediate fish course and it went down a storm (sorry no more seafaring jokes i promise )
The sauce is a take on a classic french bouillabaise without the hassle of the different elements just the beautiful fresh flavours of the bouillabaise in a rich decadent sauce and is a match for just about any other fish
but in all seriousness do not worry this dish is within every competent cooks reach !!!

Roast Fillet of Grey Mullet, Bouillabaise Jus

2 large fillets from a 2-3kg Grey Mullet (ask your fishmonger to scale and pinbone for you will be great to do yourself but will save a lot of time in the long run)
50ml vegetable oil
2 litre fresh fish stock
3 whole fennel heads chopped
3 whole small white onions chopped
1 celery chopped
3g Saffron filaments
100ml Pernod or Vermouth
100ml White wine
3 Bay leaf
2 Star anise
5 cloves of Garlic crushed
1 whole Orange skin only but no pith
6 whole beef tomatoes chopped and deseeded
1 bunch Dill chopped stalks reserved
35g diced cold butter

Portion the Grey Mullet to the size you require and give a thorough wash and pat dry season the fish with sea salt and white pepper and leave to one side
In a large thick based saucepan heat a little vegetable oil and start to sweat (cook without colouring) the garlic and onions until soft and translucent then add the celery, fennel and saffron cook for a further 2 mins until the saffron starts to release some of its aromatics you should have a wonderful aromatic soft vegetable mass add the pernod and white wine and reduce by 1/2.
Add the bay leaf, star anise, orange and tomatoes and cook until a puree then finally add the fish stock and reduce by 1/2 again it should have the consistency of a thick broth.
Remove from heat and let cool for a couple of mins and then blend ideally using a stick blender once the sauce is a smooth thick consistency pass through a conical sieve or strainer but not too fine as you want to keep most of that flavour within the sauce, once passed reserve the sauce for later.
Now time for the mullet heat a non-stik pan until it is just smoking slightly then add a little olive oil and place the fish skin side down into the pan and hold slightly to prevent the fish from curling up, leave on skin side until the edges turn a golden brown and then turn you should have a beautifully crisp skin cook for a further 5 mins and then remove from heat and add a little butter once off heat to creat a nice glaze for the fish.
Reheat the sauce and add the chopped dill and the extra butter to give the sauce a good finish

i like to serve this with buttered spinach and fresh bread at home or at work we usually serve with a fine dice of sunblushed tomatoes,maris piper potatoes, celery, leek and fennel placed into a ring and sit the mullet on top surrounded by the sauce and finish with a little fennel cress

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Dorset Seafood Festival 2011 (plus John Dory with Sauce Vierge)

Visited on a sunny weekend in July, Weymouth has the feel of a proper, old fashioned British seaside town. Deckchairs, Punch and Judy, Penny Arcades, sun, sea and sand, Weymouth has it all. The only thing needed to complete the picture is the traditional fish and chips but this particular weekend we could go one better than this old favourite with the fourth annual Dorset Seafood Festival.

We kick off with a breakfast of Aussie style Scallop and King Prawn kebabs from the South West Sushi stand and a glass of champagne from main sponsors Pommery and get the day off to a good start.

This is followed up with more scallops, this time on a stick with chorizo from Weymouth based Perry’s restaurant. While always a good pairing, chucking scallops down your throat left right and centre enables you to be a little bit picky and they weren’t quite as fresh and plump as the first lot. There is undoubtedly something magical though about the combination of fish, pork, sun and outdoor cooking.

OK. This could go on a bit so I’ll summarise. There was bbq’d lobster, oysters, crab sandwiches, fish cakes, Chilean wine, New Zealand wine, Ringwood beer, no razor clams (they’d sold out – I was gutted) and a fair bit of sunburn if I’m honest. Also, a fair few dishes we didn’t even try, the day could have turned out very expensive if I had eaten everything I fancied.

Now and then we took a break from eating and drinking to stand still and watch one of the many demonstrations taking place throughout the weekend, a couple of highlights were:

 Duncan Lucas from Passionate About Fish gave a demonstration of virtuoso fish filleting, making it look ridiculously simple and finished by deboning a whole plaice, creating a ‘pocket’ that he filled with water and held above his head in just 60 seconds (a challenge in aid of the Fishermen’s Mission)!

River Cottage’s John Wright gave a frankly hilarious, rambling talk that was vaguely about foraging seaweed with demonstrations of a lavabread cake with bacon and oatmeal and a carageen pannacotta using the seaweed as a substitute for gelatine. Later on Richard Bertinet cooked mussels and mackerel. Sadly, unable to be in more than one place at once and spend the entire weekend in Weymouth, we missed Matt Follas, Shaun Rankin, Nigel Bloxham and Mark Hix amongst others but hey, there’s always next year!

Pan Fried John Dory with Crushed New Potatoes and a Sauce Vierge

While not from the seafood festival as such, John Dory is a great fish. It’s ugly as hell but does taste good. As a weekend special recently we presented it with crushed new potatoes and a tarragon sauce vierge for a simple but classic summer dish.

John Dory – 1 fillet per person

For the Sauce Vierge
1 Finely diced shallot
2 Tomatoes – deseeded and finely diced
Olive oil
A small bunch Tarragon chopped
A few Basil leaves chopped

For the crushed new potatoes
New potatoes

-          Steam the new potatoes until soft then crush in your hand
-          Sweat down the shallot, when soft add the tomato and herbs and warm through.
-          Top up the sauce with olive oil to give a loose consistency and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice, keep warm
-          In a sauce pan warm the potatoes through with plenty of butter and salt until hot and soft and stir through the herbs
-          Cut the John Dory fillet in half lengthwise to give two long, thin fillets. Season and oil
-          Fry skin side down in a hot pan, flip when cooked a third of the way up and finish with a couple of cubes of cold butter and lemon juice
-          Serve with buttered spinach