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 !