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

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Tricks of the Trade No. 1: In Praise of the Pastry Knife

Having entered the restaurant kitchen relatively late in life, my perspective is a little different from one who has led their whole professional and home cooking lives in tandem. Ten years as a keen (read obsessive and fairly geeky) home cook, reading, experimenting, watching TV, buying gadgets and playing around in my kitchen taught me a lot and left me well equipped (in some ways) for life in the cheffing world. It has been really interesting though, over the past couple of years to learn various tricks and tools that are well known ‘on the inside’ but a revelation to my home cooking self.

Deciding what equipment to buy in the early stages of my career was always going to be a key decision. Most chefs have big bags or boxes full of kit mostly centered around knives designed do various different jobs collected over the lifetime of their career when needed or available.
Knives are expensive.
There was never going to be any way that I could afford a full set straight away, so where to start?

There is one knife that pretty much every chef I have met owns. Pretty much no home cook I know has one. I bought one within days of starting out and have since used mine to chop stock veg, finely dice shallots, cut steaks, joint chicken, make sandwiches, carve roasts, slice tomatoes, dice pancetta, prep fish and countless other tasks.*

It is the Pastry Knife.

I have not used it to cut pastry.


It is also cheap.

It is a little unwieldy the first time you use it. They are quite large and it seems strange initially to be using a serrated blade. It is, though, as sharp as hell and the curve to the blade makes it easy to get the rocking motion required for quick, smooth chopping. Serrations mean it doesn’t slip on smooth surfaces but surprisingly cuts cleanly. When eventually it gets ground down through use and sharpening (through home use we’re probably talking decades) then it still works well as a straight edged carver and it’s only about £20 to get a replacement.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against expensive knives. In fact I would really like some expensive knives. If anyone reading this feels an urge to buy me gifts then here would be a good place to start. Actually just chuck me a few thousand pounds; I shouldn’t have too much trouble spending it.

Most people though don’t have endless bundles of cash to spend on equipment but, even if I did, then the Pastry Knife would still be in my kit box. It seems unbelievable to me that every home doesn’t own one (mine certainly does now) but for some reason it remains the preserve of the professional, little known outside the stainless steel and striplight world and was a revelation to me that I would like to share with you.

Amazon has a fewone here if I have managed to convince you.

*I have also cut myself with it a few times  ;o)