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 ??