Tuesday 28 September 2010

Chipotle & Tamarind Ketchup

Chipotle chillis are smoke-dried jalapenos, used in a lot of Mexican cooking. I haven't had much experience of Mexican cooking myself but I do know that I am utterly addicted to these shrivelly brown little numbers.

They are pretty fiesty; I chucked in a whole chipotle into this recipe and the results set alight to the mouth; ideal for me, really. What you get is a gorgeously sticky, sweet, tangy and fiery sauce to dip your whatevers into. Sweetcorn fritters were my dipper of choice this time, but I imagine some totopos (that's nachos, innit?) would make a good vehicle too. When I ran out of fritter I just used a spoon.

You can buy chipotles in Bethnal Green, at Casa Mexico. You can also shop there online.

Chipotle & Tamarind Ketchup

1 chipotle chilli
1 decent tin of plum tomatoes
Half a white onion
1" of ginger
2 cloves of garlic
2 sprigs of thyme
1 tsp tamarin pulp
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

In a small saucepan, simmer the chipotle chilli in water for about 20 minutes, until soft. Either remove the seeds or leave in whole. Mince finely with the onion, garlic, ginger and thyme (I used a mini chopper) and then add a little oil to make a paste. Fry this on a low heat in a saucepan for a good 10 - 15 minutes until deep brown and fragrant.

Drain the juices from the tin of the plum tomatoes (save it for your bloody mary...) and then pulverise the tomato. Add to the chilli mix, season, add the tamarind and the sugar and simmer on the lowest heat for a good 40 - 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. It will initially make plopping fart noises, decorating your hob with specks of red until the liquid separates a bit.

After this, work the sauce through a fine mesh - unless you like it slightly chunky, in which case don't.

Sunday 26 September 2010

Indian Corn Salsa

Grilling corn takes ages, especially when the lashing rain won't allow you to get that barbeque out. But patience is rewarding as the corn caramelises beautifully, making the kernels nutty, with a bit of chew. Combined with lime juice, coriander, red onion and some typical Indian spices it made a great and refreshing accompaniment to a spicy aubergine curry.

Indian Corn Salsa

Makes enough for 4 as a side

2 corn on the cobs
Half a red onion
6 curry leaves
1 tsp cumin
1 lime
1 green chilli
1 tbsp vegetable oil
A small handful of coriander

Smear the cobs with oil and place under a hot grill. Turn occasionally, until the kernels are browned. When they've cooled down slice the kernels off the cob into a bowl. Add 1 tbsp of oil to a pan and when it's hot, add the cumin seeds and when they've started popping, add the curry leaves. Take off the heat and add to the corn. Squeeze in the lime juice and add the red onion, chopped finely along with the chilli. Season to taste. Chop the coriander and add last.

Friday 24 September 2010

A Lobster Bisque

Last week we dispatched some lobsters. I'd like to say we did it humanely, but we dropped them straight into that bubbling pan. Sorry.

The meat was delicious. Sweet and tender, dipped into home made mayonnaise I preferred it to the clarified butter. Little legs were sucked of any meat within and we sprayed ourselves with viscera extracting every morsel. Hunks of bread were also slathered with mayonnaise and we pondered over what lucky sods we were.

None of it should go to waste though; any juices lost on pulling out the meat was collected in a baking tray. The leftover shells went into a huge stock pot with the juices and along with carrot, onion, celery, bay and herbs this was simmered for a few hours, to be turned into a light bisque. The resultant soup, finished off with cream had a strong hit of the seaside. Heavy on the lobster flavour, it was the perfect use for what is usually just destined for the bin. Had we had any lobster meat leftover it would have been good to add that too, but really - who has leftover lobster meat?

Lobster Bisque

Serves 4

The shells of 3 lobsters
1 onion
2 carrots
2 sticks of celery
A few peppercorns
2 bay leaves
A handful of parsley
A few sprigs of thyme
Enough water to cover the above
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 potato, diced (optional)
70ml double cream
A good glug of brandy

Get all the aromatics in the pot with the lobster shells and bring to the simmer. Simmer for a good few hours with the lid off, topping up with more water to cover half way through. After about 3 hours, strain it and then reduce by at least half - taste every so often and when it's deep enough in flavour, it's done. If you like a thicker soup, add the potato 30 minutes before you finish and then puree the soup.

Turn it on low, add the tomato puree stirring well, and then add the brandy. Simmer off the alcohol and then add the cream, stirring well. Garnish with a few leaves of parsley (I also added some slivered leeks but that's optional) and serve.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Bubble Tea

Bubble teas are the drink of my childhood. Served in plastic cup with huge, wide straws in which to suck up the tapioca balls, bubble teas aren't always made with tea. Sometimes they're made with coffee, and sometimes with fruit juice. The most pleasing thing about them is the tapioca balls that provide texture. Smooth, cold fruit juice is interspersed with a pearl of chewy, gooey tapioca. Other ingredients are also used, often fruit or coconut jellies and sometimes red aduki beans.

The bubbles don't refer to the tapioca pearls though; they are usually blended to create them, which results in a slight froth, or bubbliness and this is where they get their name. Originating from Taiwan, they are often made with powders.

After a friend gifted me with a pack of tapioca pearls purchased in a Chinese supermarket in Dalston, I set about making a fruity version. Watermelons were going cheap down the road in Peckham, so I picked up a segment. The chunks went into the blender along with a few handfuls of ice cubes, the juice of half a lime and some sugar syrup. Blended up, it made a refreshing and thirst-quenching drink. I am only sad I didn't have a giant straw to suck the pearls up with, and had to resort to a spoon instead.

Watermelon Bubble Tea

Makes around 2 pints

1/3 of a watermelon
Juice of half a lime
2 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp water
Two big handfuls of ice cubes
A handful of tapioca pearls

In a large pan full of water, simmer the tapioca pearls for 15 - 20 minutes, until tender. Drain and divide in two, placing them in the bottom of two glasses.

In a small saucepan, simmer the 4 tbsp water with the 2 tbsp of sugar to make the sugar syrup. Simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Add to a blender with the watermelon, ice and lime and blend well.

Pour into the two glasses and serve, preferably with a humungous straw.

Monday 20 September 2010

Ben Greeno's Supperclub

Deep in the heart of Hackney, Ben Greeno cooks up a storm maybe twice or three times a week at his flat. We navigated the streets of East London, armed with wine. On entry, we were armed with a glass of deliciously fizzy cider and were directed towards a bowl of radishes, a roasted pepper sauce and basil emulsion to dip them in. Guests were confused and bemused by their leafy tops. I munched them up.

I first heard about Ben Greeno cooking at Nuno Mendes' Loft Project. Having had worked at Copenhagen's Noma, he has a great background but the £125 'membership fee' was too prohibitive. Much more wallet friendly was the £35 menu he was serving up.

As we stuffed delicious hunks of bread slathered with nasturtium flavoured butter, we met our fellow guests. Four Singaporeans sitting immediately next to us kept us entertained, and there were many guffaws throughout the night. The first course looked simple enough; carrots. But lurking underneath the carrots were sour cherries that had been steeped in dashi. They were intensely savoury, and I mopped up the umboshi sauce with the carrot. Looks can be deceiving.

Next was one of my favourite courses of the night. Raw slices of mackerel were dotted with a tart berry sauce - jostaberries, not one I've heard of before. Peppery watercress was scattered over the plate, and sweetness came from apples Ben had picked earlier today. A stand-out dish, a perfect balance of a sour, fruity foil to the mackerel's richness.

Slow-cooked egg burst seductively over the plate, saucing the next dish. Pork rillette, wrapped in Brik (a Moroccan, filo-style of pastry) was accompanied by pretty flowers and intensely sweet onions. I would buy a sous vide just to make that gooey, creamy egg.

Lamb belly was paired with roasted parsnips and parsnip puree. The fat! The silky, mouth-coating fat was absolutely incredible, the meat tender as anything.

Blobs of lemon curd, blackcurrants, sweetcorn and rose meringue was intruiging. Sweetcorn is used in some Chinese desserts, but not any I had tried. Their sweetness was key here. Slightly chewy, they provided excellent texture to the smooth curd and the juiciness of the blackcurrants. The rose flavour in the meringue was so very subtle, and I only noticed it when it was pointed out to me. Ginger crumbs finished the dish off nicely, rounding it together with warm spice.

Ben Greeno was an excellent host, sitting down with us to chat after the plates had been cleared away. To my astonishment, soon it was 1am and we were drunk as hell with no signs of our host waning. We even snacked on more pork rillette, bread and pickled walnuts; not that we were left wanting, but given the opportunity I wasn't about to say no - have I ever mentioned my love for all things pickled? It was a week night though and the work dread set in, so cabs were called and we were whisked off into the night, replete.

I suggest you can go while you can; talent and food like this should not be passed up on.

Booking details are on the website below:


Thursday 16 September 2010

Pork Roll in Banana Leaves

A new Asian supermarket has opened up down the road from my flat, on New Cross Road. When I first noticed it, I bounded inside to be greeted by empty shelves. I gave it a few weeks and returned; while it's still quite sparse, there's fresh tofu in the chiller, big bags of frozen seafood, a whole wall of shelf space dedicated to instant noodles and another wall with all the dried rice noodles you could want for.

There's a strong focus on Vietnamese products and I found this lump of pork in the fridge. Pork roll in banana leaves wasn't cheap coming in at £6, but I bought it anyway. I suspect the slightly clueless man serving me was unsure of pricing. Unwrapping it from its banana leaves revealed what I suspected; a rubbery luncheon meat. It may be off-putting for some, but I'm a huge fan of Spam so it didn't faze me at all.

Perfect for whacking on top of a noodle salad. I believe this is usually eaten cold, or dropped into noodle soups. I decided to fry them in a hot pan so that they crisped up on each side to give it a nice crust. Having tried a slice cold the banana leaves imparted more flavour than I thought it would; slightly vegetal, almost reminiscent of green tea. This salad worked really well; crispy hot salty pork freshened up with the herbs and nuoc cham sauce, with a hefty whack of lime and face-burning chilli. The noodles were properly chewty, flinging bits of dressing all over the place.

Vietnamese Pork & Noodle Salad

Serves 4

400gr dried vermicelli rice noodles
1 carrot
1/2 a cucumber
1 head of Little Gem lettuce
2 stalks of spring onion
1 carrot
1/2 a cucumber
1 Vietnamese pork roll, cut into 8 slices
A handful of coriander
Half a handful of mint
1 tbsp vegetable oil
5 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil

For the nuoc cham dressing:
2 birds eye chillis
1 tsp sugar
1.5 limes
4 tbsp fish sauce
1 small clove of garlic

Cut the carrot into matchsticks. In a bowl combine the rice vinegar and sesame oil. Halve the cucumber down the middle and scrape out the seeds and pulp, slicing into matchsticks. Add the carrot and cucumber to the bowl and toss to coat.

Cook the rice noodles until soft and then drain, rinsing them under cold water for at least a minute.

In a small bowl, juice the limes and add the fish sauce and sugar. Slice the chillis and mince the garlic, adding them to the lime.

Shred the lettuce and the spring onion, setting to one side. Chop the coriander and the mint roughly. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and fry the slices of pork on both sides until crispy.

To assemble, add the noodles to a bowl and top with some carrots and cucumber, the lettuce, spring onion and herbs, finally arranging the slices of pork on top. Dress the dish with the nuoc cham.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

A Wood-Fired Pizza Oven

It is an absolute bugger-load of fun playing around with a swelteringly hot oven, designed specifically to make pizzas so that they are bubbling and slightly blistered around the edges. When Scott of Capital Pubs said their new pub, The Actress in East Dulwich would have one, there was extreme palpable excitement, especially since I'm already a huge fan of some of their other pubs in the area (namely The Florence and The Victoria Inn). Even more so when he suggested we go down there and have a play with it before the pub opened.

I've long since coveted a pizza oven since Cassius was first born, but alas, my balcony in New Cross would not accomodate it. This was the perfect opportunity to try it out, cooking pizzas at 375 degrees centigrade and to have a little taste of their new menu. Cider-braised pork ribs, falling off the bone and charred around the edges, had us fighting over them while the dough was being rolled out. There was a twist to the tale though; in keeping with the new pub's British ingredients ethic, we were to bring a mystery one of our own.

Potato slices par-cooked with garlic went on the first base and were topped with grated Cashel Blue and Stilton. The dough was just thin enough to convey the starchy slices, a double-carb heaven. I imagine this pizza is best for sharing, as it was rich and gutsy.

Thinly sliced pieces of beetroot, our first mystery guest ingredient worked surprisingly well, mingling nicely with melting pieces of goats cheese.

When it was my turn, I produced samphire; its crunchy, salty quality would match well with a soft, delicate ricotta along with globs of brown crab, rounds of chilli and, when cooked, topped with white meat.

Drizzled with garlic oil, it worked well had it been a home effort. The crab worked deliciously with the samphire, redolent of the sea but the crucial juiciness was missing and it's not one likely to make the menu.

Better was the professionally made chorizo pizza, made with Brindisa chorizo. Far more balanced in flavour, and far better suited to please the masses.

The best of the mystery ingredients was thinly sliced pieces of pear, paired with some sort of ham. We all agreed that the sweet, succulent slices balanced with the salty meat and gooey cheese worked brilliantly.

There were other successes, mainly pork based, and one proper wrong one - a haggis and potato slice topped pizza. Still, you've got to try, right? A revelation of the night involved a sweet dessert pizza; a Starburst bar wrapped into a calzone. Molten chocolate dribbled into my hands with a hint of peanut. A perfect sweet end.

The Actress doesn't open until Monday, but with what is so far a simple, pared down menu featuring good British ingredients, they already look like they're onto a winner. Don't worry, I don't think they'll be forcing a haggis pizza on you any time soon.

The Actress (website to follow)

90 Crystal Palace Road,
East Dulwich
, SE22 9EY

Sunday 12 September 2010

The Marquess Tavern

It's come to the point that it is rather difficult to get a group of us together. Couples are getting married, and others are having children making time scarce and dates tricky. The first in our group of friends had a beautiful baby daughter and this was some cause for a celebration and a get-together.

As is customary for a Sunday, we thought it best to go for roasts and pints. Our pub of choice was The Alwyne. Alas, it was not to be. Given we booked a table of 15, we were disturbed to find they had gone to no effort whatsoever to accomodate us, placing us on two tables in an empty pub. After re-arranging the furniture, we found that most of the meals had run out by 2pm, and they told us it was over an hour wait. A grumpy barman and extremely under-staffed, upon holding a hand out for some change, my friend found his fiver dumped in a puddle of beer. Quite simply, they didn't give two shits.

We're an indignant bunch so after a quick ring around, we managed to get a table at the Marquess Tavern. It couldn't have been a starker contrast. We were seated in the bar area and it was light, airy and the waiting staff were more than happy to have us. A touch more expensive than the last pub, we placed our orders and got stuck in.

Four of us shared a whole braised shoulder of lamb. A huge hunk of meat, it was plonked down and we gazed at it in hungry awe. I am convinced that carrots, smothered in meat juices, are the only vegetable you can cook for hours and still make them taste delicious. As I carved it, the meat fell off the bone in juicy hunks. Dishes of broccoli were perfectly cooked, and roasted potatoes were so fresh from the oven that at least two of us jammed them in and had to spit them out, they were so hot. (Yes, I was one of them.)

Elsewhere at the table, rare roast sirloin beef looked perfectly cooked and juicy. Grouse was served traditionally with game toast and parsnip crisps, while whole roasted baby chicken (below) was declared a triumph. Whatever; I had eyes only for the lamb.

We stayed late into the night, replete and thankful we hadn't uprooted a new mum down the road in vain. I heard several people down the table saying it was the best roast they'd had and they'd be back. No small praise, considering we all know how hard it is to beat a home-cooked roast. Shame on you, The Alwyne.

The Marquess Tavern

32 Canonbury St
Islington, N1 2TB

(020) 7354 2975

Marquess Tavern on Urbanspoon

Thursday 9 September 2010

Tomato, Butter, Onion

In a world of highly wrought, heavily styled dishes that teem with squiggles, foams and spherification, often it's quite a relief to return to simplicity. Recently some of my favourite dishes have been pared down; crisp skin, juicy pink flesh of a quail with aioli at Barrafina from just today may be one of my stand-out dishes of the year. A well-cooked steak, such a simple meal and yet so gratifying.

Pasta holds up so well to simple sauces. That tug of spaghetti on the teeth and the sauce wrapping itself seductively around the strands is irresistible, the lure of shovelling it in your gob as quickly as possible overwhelming. Simple doesn't always mean quick though; this dish, like another of my staple dishes, onion and anchovy pasta, takes a good 45 minutes to an hour.

It really couldn't be easier. For every two people take one tin of the best quality tinned tomatoes you can find and lob it in a saucepan with a healthy stick of butter and half a whole onion. Simmer merrily for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until nice and thick, remove the onion and toss it through some just-cooked spaghetti. Season with salt. Eat it.

Thanks to Smitten Kitchen for bringing this to my attention.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Tequila Tasting at Green & Red

Most of us drank some sort of dark and evil spirit when we were teenagers that made us throw up until we could throw no more and we swore to ourselves we'd never drink it again. Actually, it was more than one spirit for me, but the one that I've never been able to get over is the dread tequila.

My friend Will of the Hawksmoor fame is also a part owner at Green & Red, a Mexican bar and restaurant in Shoreditch. He, always up for a challenge, told me he could change my mind about it. At his invitation and with some trepidation, I trudged over with a tequila-loving friend in tow.

In the able hands (uhm, figuratively) of the lovely barman, Davide, he asked me what my favourite cocktail was. The martini, of course. It didn't work so well in its tequila guise. I managed a sip and and a grimace.

We got back to basics with the tastings of the different ages of tequila. Through this, I learnt that I like the aged stuff the best, the tequila that's caramel in colour, and aged in barrels for a couple of years. The blanco, the youngest of all the three ages we tried, had the strongest flavour of agave. It was my least favourite.

What I did love though were the shots of sangrita (left) and verdita (right), which you drink after each tequila. The sangrita was like a little shot of bloody mary; spicy and intensely of tomato flavour. The verdita is a blend of mint, coriander, salt and chilli and it was incredibly moreish and refreshing.

The Real Hacienda is one of the priciest tequilas there. At £60 a shot, only a few hundred bottles of it are in existence since the maker closed down. It was alright.

A selection of tacos and totopos with salsas and guacamole arrived to line the stomachs. The corn tortillas which I usually find a bit chewy and muddy-tasting were thin, light and conveyed the food to the mouth well as the juices dribbled down my hands. The prawn filling was expertly cooked, with a dice of red onion, some salsa and a few coriander leaves to liven it up. Pork and pineapple was another favourite what with it being tender and smoky. The Nopales y Queso Fresco was standout - crunchy cactus with a fresh cheese and some jalapeno. It was nothing like the rubbery, bouncy salt slabs of queso fresco I suffered in Nicaragua.

We ended with probably the only drink I'd order happily again, and it was this watermelon margerita. Fresh watermelon smashed up with plenty ice, it belied the merest hint of agave.

So while I haven't been swayed towards the so-called merits of tequila, I've fallen in love with verdita and sangrita. I'd drink tequila just for them. And the next time I'm back, I'll be exploring that menu more extensively.

Green & Red

51 Bethnal Green Road
London E1 6LA

Tel: 0207 749 9670

Green & Red Bar & Cantina on Urbanspoon

Sunday 5 September 2010

Smoked Mackerel, Beetroot & Horseradish Salad

Smoked mackerel, beetroot and horseradish are handsome trio. The spiciness of the horseradish plays along nicely with the earthy sweetness of the beetroot, livening and freshening the very rich fish. Key here is to use horseradish sauce with a high percentage of horseradish to get that kick.

I was accused by a commenter of my last smoked mackerel salad of being too unhealthy - in all honesty, I don't care. Balance, and all that. But if you want a lighter and healthier version, this is for you. The bacon and cream combination is still more satisfying though.

Smoked Mackerel, Beetroot & Horseradish Salad

Serves 1

1 beetroot
1 fillet of smoked mackerel
half a red onion
A handful of green beans
A handful of broad beans, podded, cooked and deskinned
1 red chilli
1 tbsp horseradish sauce / creamed horseradish
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
Salt & pepper

Cook the green beans lightly. Peel the beetroot and slice paper thin on a mandolin. Chop the red chilli roughly, and the onion into semi circles. Whisk together the horseradish, lemon and oil. To assemble, lay out the beetroot discs on a plate. In a bowl, toss together the flaked smoked mackerel, red onion, green beans and broad beans with the dressing. Season to taste - the fish is quite salty so watch how you go.

Thursday 2 September 2010

Sam's Bistro, Fowey

Every so often, an escape to the countryside is essential. Big skies, clean air, good views and a different pace of life soothe the soul and loosen those scrunched up shoulders. Last weekend, a few of my mates and I went to Fowey in Cornwall. Aided by a friend who hails from there, we got all those typical seaside activities in there; ice creams, cream teas, eating pasties, driving boats, long walks, pubs, crabbing. That kind of thing. As soon as we arrived we craved seafood.

Sam's Bistro doesn't take bookings and we waited at the bar until a table became free. There's something very American diner about the place, right down to the gaudy laminated menu. We squeezed into a booth and armed with bloody Marys, we set about the mammoth task of choosing our lunches from the seafood-driven menu.

A seafood platter comprising of prawns, mussels and calamari cost £15 each, with a salad and bread which the waitress kindly swapped for fries. It was a monster portion - the prawns are hiding on the other side, obscured from view by the mountains of mussels.

The mussels hid a bowl of white wine sauce that was perfect for dipping chips into. Two sardines each was plenty, and the skin had a lovely charcoal flavour to it, cooked perfectly.

I had enormous food envy when my friend's special of skate wing in a caper butter sauce turned up. Two meaty wings - two! - with a rich buttery salty dressing was easy to get stuck in to as the flesh slid off the cartilege easily. Morsels of meat around the edges of the wing were nice and crunchy. My friend couldn't finish it to our glee and we gladly helped ourselves to it.

With a couple of drinks, our bill came to about £23 each with service - really very bargainous.

Sam's Bistro

24 Fore Street,
PL23 1AQ

Tel: 01726 832273

Not all our meals were good. Our potential brush with death (ok, horrible sickness) is blogged here.