Wednesday 28 September 2011

Mackerel with Sorrel Sauce

After finding sorrel at Brockley Market, I then had to find something to do with it. The leaves are light green in colour and when eaten raw, they taste sharp and intensely sour. I'm told that this flavour is caused by oxalic acid which in large quantities is poisoning, so don't go munching kilos of the stuff.

A quick search revealed that it is best with oily fish, so off I went to the fishmonger to get some mackerel. Two plump fillets were so fresh I almost ate a sliver raw. Brandishing my eyebrow tweezers, the small sharp bones were removed and they were fried till the skins were crisp.

The sauce was made very simply by wilting the sorrel leaves, adding double cream and thickening with an egg yolk. Sorrel turns brown very quickly when cooked which makes for a rather unattractive sauce. Tasty though, with the creamy lemon-like flavour working well with the oily fish. Just a handful of steamed new potatoes and a tomato salad was all it needed.

Mackerel with Sorrel Sauce

Serves 2

1 large mackerel, filleted
200gr sorrel chopped roughly
4 tbsp double cream
1 egg yolk
A handful of cherry tomatoes, dressed in balsamic vinegar & oil
Boiled new potatoes, to serve.

In a large non-stick pan, heat up a thin film of oil. Season the fillets with salt and pepper and fry them skin side down until the flesh is almost all completely white. Try not to move them too much as you want a nice crisp skin. Turn over and cook for another 30 seconds and remove to a warmed plate.

Add the leaves to the pan and the double cream and just as they wilt, take off the heat and beat in the egg yolk until you get a thick, creamy sauce. Season if needed and serve the mackerel fillets on top with the potatoes and tomato salad.

Monday 26 September 2011

Duck Soup, Soho

I broke the rule of not visiting a restaurant on its very first service but what the hey; if they're taking my money, I'm going to spout my opinion. So there's your disclaimer.

I've become a little bit habitual with my lunch options in Soho. Often I eat at my desk but when I get the chance for an actual real life proper hour long lunch break I seize the opportunity and then end up back at Koya or Moolis. I love those places, but when a friend suggested we lunch it was time to try something new and it just so happened that Duck Soup was opening today. With no signage, my friend walked straight past and doubled back on himself. We perched on high chairs at the bar and a waitress wrestled with a black board for small plates at £3.50, then wrestled with another with £7 dishes on, and finally almost dropped the thing spinning it round to reveal the larger £14 plates. And then we had to remember what was on them. I'm not sure if that's a temporary solution but it seemed awkward and cumbersome. Anyway, we made our choices and settled in.

Smoked mackerel with tomatoes (top) was a gorgeous little plateful; the mackerel in particular was soft and silky, gentler than any I've had. Bread was offered and accepted gratefully, and the white creamy butter slathered on went down a treat. I think I'd prefer to have known we'd be charged £2 for it though.

Tete de Moine was a pungent cheese, served in pretty curls made by a girolle. It tasted of farmyard and made an ample cheese sandwich with aforementioned bread.

Raw ceps with lardo and Berkswell was excellent. The earthy mushrooms worked well with the salty Parmesan-like cheese, while the lardo offered a background hint of pig.

And then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. When I enquired after our last dish dish, our waitress apologetically told us it would be an additional 7 minutes. I liked how precise she was.

When it finally turned up, the quail with burnt lemons and saffron mayonnaise was exemplary. Crispy little birds cooked pink were tender and juicy, their flavour accentuated by a a squirt of lemon and a smidge of mayonnaise.

Our bill came to £35 with service; we'd drank only water, so it's not a cheap every day lunch. I really enjoyed the food; the team, former employees of Hix, obviously pick their ingredients well. We emerged an hour and 15 minutes after we sat down and I wasn't full enough that the run back to work was uncomfortable. I'm certain the long wait was first day glitches and I'm keen to go back and try some more of the menu. I hope they'll make a duck soup.

Duck Soup

41 Dean Street,
London, W1D 4PY

Saturday 24 September 2011

Brockley Market

I first heard of plans for a new weekly market in Brockley on the ever-excellent Brockley Central. Asked what we would like to see there, I had hoped for a fish stall, good bread and decent vegetables. The commenters can be a pretty funny old bag, with one complaining that the Lewisham Way location was a crime hotspot; at 10am - 2pm on Saturdays, I don't think you have much to be worried about.

Today was the opening day, and made the half hour stroll to see what was on offer.

Bees! Local Brockley honey was for sale. The man there was happily answering questions on how to make honey.

The range of breads available was staggering and this stall also offered vegan / gluten free cakes. No idea what it was called though, it didn't seem to have much signage.

There were a few fruit and veg stalls, all local produce from Kent. I particularly liked a veg stall that sold salad leaves by the weight and you're invited to grab your own. The man serving told us to feel free to taste the leaves; sorrel was a huge eye opener for me, a citrus ka-blammo on the tongue.

The fish stall was plentiful, though I found the prices a little higher than F. C Sopers in Nunhead, where I usually shop.

The largest queue while I was there was at Dark Fluid, serving up beautiful coffees. Likewise, The Red Herring Smokehouse were doing a roaring trade with BLTs and bacon sandwiches. Served in decent bread, the bacon had the rind on which made things a bit messy, but it had decent flavour. I was hoping to see some of their smoked fish to purchase but alas, it was not to be seen; perhaps in later weeks.

A small area with tables and benches is a nice touch as I'm not great at standing up eating.

I came home with this beauty - a Numex Twilight chilli plant. The chillis start off purple and progress through to orange and red when ripe. Though only 5 / 10 on the chilli heat, it was just so pretty. £4.50 was a good price too. The man at the stall we bought this from seemed really knowledgeable, giving us advice on when best to water and pick them. He had other really interesting plants too, like chocolate mint, lemon balm and pineapple sage. We skulked round the stall, gently rubbing the leaves exclaiming "it really smells like pineapply sage! / chocolately mint!" etc.

By the time we left, the market was nicely busy; not Borough Market-level of busy, thank god, but definitely buzzing. Of course there will be those who moan about the yummy mummy brigade - the prams were out in force - but you know, they need to eat too. Others will moan about produce being more expensive than Deptford / Lewisham markets, or the supermarkets, but the quality is definitely better. It is not a pahhnd-a-bowl place. I for one welcome the market and am excited to see it develop.


Every Saturday, 10am - 2pm

Lewisham College Car Park, Lewisham Way, SE4 1UT

Cash only - nearest cash point is by Tesco Express on Lewisham Way

All my photos from the market are here.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Hot Corn Dip

Summer is on its way out and we're down to our last glut of corn. Shaved off the cobs, I treated the kernels as I saw fit; cook it in cream and cover it with cheese, to be shovelled into hungry mouths atop a tortilla chip vehicle. My fourth favourite season is on its way and with it comes any excuse to eat outrageously unhealthy food.

As far as I can tell this recipe is deeply American with many recipes using mayonnaise. I am not a fan of hot mayonnaise and although I sacrificed a thicker consistency, it was none the worse for it, save a couple of messy tablecloths. Originally I used all double cream, but when making it again I found a mix of double cream and soured cream to be pretty damn good. Slobbed out in front of the TV while the rain lashed against the windows, I managed to cover myself and the coffee table with corn dip. I won't lie, it was pretty gross.

Hot Corn Dip

Serves around 6 as nibbly bits

2 ears of corn
1 small onion
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1 tsp plain flour
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or chilli powder
200ml soured cream
100ml double cream
2 cloves of garlic
1 hefty sprig of thyme
A lot of grated cheese; I used mature cheddar
A pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Shave the kernels off the ears of corn. Dice the onion and mince the garlic - cook this in a frying pan with the leaves of the thyme. Dice the green and red pepper and cook till softened. Add the tsp of flour and mix well. Throw in the the cayenne / chilli powder, and then add the corn. Stir to coat and then add the double cream, half first and cooking till it's all incorporated, then add the rest and the soured cream.

Bring to a simmer, taste and season if needed - cheese is fairly salty so bear that in mind. Ladle into a dish. If you're using a shallow dish it'll need less time in the oven. Top with the cheese and bake for 20 - 25 mins, until bubbling. Remove and leave to cool for 10 minutes unless you want to give your guests mouth burns. Serve with plain tortilla chips.

Monday 19 September 2011

Pho Bo

I'm a huge fan of the Vietnamese noodle soup, pho (pronounced 'fur'). Recently, I stumbled upon the sawtooth leaf herb in New Loon Moon in Chinatown, and after spotting some Vietnamese basil, both prominent pho garnishes, I knew it had to be made.

Beef bones were procured from the butcher, and they barely fit in my stock pot. Unlike Chinese noodle soups, the onion and ginger to make the stock are charred to add smokiness.

After simmering for hours, filling the house up with heady smells of cinnamon and star anise, the broth is strained, meat sliced and the classic pho noodles are added. Herbs are served on the side for the diner to add as they wish.

Freshened with a squirt of lime juice, this home-made version was gorgeous (though perhaps Cafe East's version pips it to the post - but theirs is VERY good). The broth was deeply meaty, a thin layer of fat coating the surface and making it impossible to emerge from the table without a splattered t-shirt. I added only slices of brisket; in future, beef tendon and raw slices of steak will be going in for sure.

Pho Bo (Beef Noodle Soup)

Serves 4

For the soup:

1 kg beef bones - you want some with marrow in them. Alternatively, use half beef bones and half oxtail
2 onions
6 slices of ginger
4 star anise
1 stick of cassia bark or cinnamon
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp sugar
400gr beef brisket, in one piece

Put the bones in a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil and boil for 10 minutes - this helps keep the broth clear. Discard this water and wash the bones and the pot out thoroughly. Add the bones back in and just enough water to cover. In a griddle pan, cook the onion and the ginger without oil until they are charred. Add them to the stock pot. Toast the spices and also add to the pot. Simmer gently for 1.5 hours, then add the beef brisket and simmer for a further 2 hours.

Remove the beef and set to one side. Strain the stock.

400gr pho noodles - if dried, cook in boiling water for 3 minutes (until tender) and drain.
A handful of Vietnamese / sweet basil
A handful of sawtooth leaf
1 lime, quartered
2 tbsp coriander, chopped
Fish sauce, to taste
Chopped birds eye chillis
100gr beansprouts, blanched

Add the noodles to each bowl. Slice the brisket thinly and add to each bowl, then top with steaming hot broth. Serve with the herbs and condiments for each diner to add to their own taste.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Pork & Winter Melon Soup

When I was a kid a simple snack after school would be some plain boiled meat dipped in soy sauce. On rare occasions, if it was a casual dinner in front of the TV this would be supplemented with a bowl of rice and some greens for a full meal. My sister and I would clash chopsticks over the most tender morsel and soy sauce would inevitably splash as I dived in, piece after piece. It sounds dull, but it was homely food, comforting in its simplicity.

The boiled meat was a result of the cauldron of soup. This soup is made for the family mealtimes to supplement several dishes served, and is usually a clear broth made by simmering pork or chicken with some Chinese aromatics.

Unless you live near a Chinese supermarket, this type of soup is going to be pretty inaccessible so I apologise in advance. I also apologise if you do make it and you are expecting big flavours which are typical of my recipes; this it is not. Clean and nourishing, the soup with the many dishes you eat at a Chinese dinner is designed to cleanse the palate and aid digestion. The various herbs used all are said to have unique nourishing properties.

I bought a packet of soup herbs neatly separated off into sections, and from what I can gather it consisted of dried red dates (jujubes), astragalus (!), dried goji berries, dang gui (?!) and fox nuts. I only recognise them by sight but before you start backing off, wondering what the hell I've gotten you into, this nifty guide shows you what they are and what they look like. They add various notes to the soup, from a slight medicinal aniseed twang to sweetness.

Often chunks of carrot are dropped into the soup to simmer with the meat to add sweetness, but my favourite vegetable is winter melon. It is sold already cut and wrapped in clingfilm, labelled 'tong gua'. The dark skin is peeled off, seeds in the middle discarded and the flesh cubed and simmered with the meat. Much like our beloved daikon, the melon takes on a mellow flavour (i.e. of not much) and becomes soft, silky and juicy in the mouth. I love it. The Chinese believe the winter melon has cooling properties, so we ate it a lot if we ever had bouts of rich, fatty or deep fried food. If you can't get hold of any, daikon is a good substitute.

Meat should be on the bone for maximum flavour. I favour pork or chicken for these types of soup; beef and lamb can be just too strongly flavoured.

Having just read this post back I haven't sold this poor soup very well. But it really does do the trick; feeling run-down, tired and a little jaded from over-indulgence, this soup revived my spirits.

Pork & Winter Melon Soup

Serve 4 as part of a Chinese meal, or 2 servings on its own

300gr meaty pork on the bone - I used hock
300gr daikon, white turnip or winter melon
A handful of dried goji berries (ones from health shops are usually sweetened for snacking - check they aren't if you buy them there)
An assortment of Chinese herbs, as detailed above - A small handful of each
Soy sauce, to taste

Bring a pot of water to boil and blanch the pork hocks for a few minutes. Chuck the water out and rinse the hocks and the pan - this reduces the scum that rises to the surface. Place the hocks back in and cover just with water - you want about half a litre - bring to a gentle simmer. Put half of the soup herbs in and simmer gently for 2 hours with the lid half on.

Remove the hocks and strain the stock into a saucepan. Remove the meat from the hocks and set aside, discarding all the fat and sinew. Add the bitesize chunks of which ever vegetable you use plus the rest of the stock ingredients and place the lid on. Winter melon will take less time (around 15 minutes) than turnip (around 30 mins).

Towards the end, add the meat back in to warm. Serve with a few drops of soy sauce for seasoning.

Sunday 11 September 2011

Xinjiang Lamb Skewers

Yes, that's right; I've been skewering again. For what might be one of the last barbecues of the year, I brought along Northern Chinese lamb inspired by Silk Road, one of my favourite restaurants. Their skewers come out threaded on metal rods, each cube of lamb alternated by a chunk of lamb fat to moisten each mouthful and to make your arteries contract with fear. I couldn't find any pure lamb fat for sale so I used shoulder instead. It's quite a fatty cut anyway, so I thought I'd be safe.

After a few hours marinading in a lot of cumin, chilli and other bits and bobs, they were slapped onto a fiercely hot barbecue. I was worried that the lamb would be a bit tough, what with shoulder being traditionally a slow-cooking kind of cut, but my fears were unfounded and each mouthful was a juicy and tender spice bomb. Served with smacked cucumber salad to cool the mouth, I found them borderline too salty, though I am quite sensitive to salt and the rest of the diners thought it fine. In any case I've reduced the salt content to what I used (1 tsp of the white stuff), as you can always add but you can't take away.

Xinjiang Lamb Skewers

650gr lamb shoulder
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
4 fat cloves of garlic
2 inches of ginger
2 tbsp cumin seeds
3 tsp ground cumin
3 tbsp chilli bean paste (you can buy this in Chinatown)
4 spring onions
A pinch of salt
Wooden or metal skewers - metal are better as even with ample soaking, the wooden ones still caught fire

Chop your shoulder up into cubes. Toast the cumin seeds and grind to a powder. Do the same with the Sichuan peppercorns, and add this to the lamb along with the salt and the ginger and garlic, minced. Add the chilli bean paste. Cut the spring onions into 1 inch long sections and add to the lamb. Leave this to marinade for a few hours or overnight.

Thread the lamb onto the skewers, alternating with spring onion. Cook over a hot barbecue for a few minutes each side so that they are charred and cooked through but not burnt. Serve with a cooling salad.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Smoked Salmon & Courgette Pasta

I'm a bit of a pasta monster. Whenever I see unusual shapes that I haven't tried before, I gravitate towards the package like a zombie and immediately it goes into my basket. There is no stopping me, not even my over-stuffed pasta cupboard that rains macaroni down on you every time you open the door. This goes a long way to explaining why when I came back from a trip to Italy, the only souvenirs I brought back were two types of pasta. So apologies, I have no idea where to buy this shape in London; perhaps a big posh food hall? If you see it, pick it up.

Called Reginette Napoletane on the box, they are much liked a ridged pappardelle. Robust yet slippery, the ridges held the sauce of this green smoked salmon pasta sauce well. It is said that this pasta shape was dedicated to the Neapolitan Princess Mafalda of Savoy and was subsequently called Reginette (for 'little queen') or also called Mafaldine. The ribbons of ridged pasta are made to resemble lace worn on the robes of a queen.

I often make this pasta sauce when I'm in need of quick comfort food. The sauce takes as long as the pasta takes to cook which is pretty perfect for week nights returning late home from work. The courgette doesn't add much, flavour-wise - do they ever? - but they turn the sauce a pretty green colour. It's a rich but satisfying bowl, and if you can't find Mafaldine use a noodle shape like spaghetti.

Smoked Salmon & Courgette Pasta

Serves 1

130gr pasta (or less, if your nickname isn't Tubbs)
1 small courgette
2 spring onions - sliced
A handful of dill
2 cloves of garlic - minced
Half a lemon
150mls double cream
50gr smoked salmon (I use half a pack of basics smoked salmon trimmings from Sainsburys)

Set the pasta water on to boil - when it boils, add the pasta and cook till al dente. Meanwhile, grate the courgette and squeeze out all the water. In a pan, heat some oil and fry the courgette on a medium-high heat until softened. Zest the half lemon and add this in. Add the garlic and half the spring onion and cook for a further 5 mins. Add the cream and cook on the lowest heat. Chop the dill finely.

When the pasta is cooked, reserve a few tablespoons of the cooking water. Drain the pasta and add to the cream mixture tossing well with the pasta water. Add the dill and the juice of the lemon, and finally stir in the smoked salmon. Finish with salt to taste and lots of black pepper.

Monday 5 September 2011

Gong Bao Chicken

This version of Gong Bao Chicken is not typical to the version you find in most Chinese takeaways. This Sichuan dish is usually bastardised to buggery, presenting itself in a sweet, gloopy, greasy mess. Fuschia Dunlop's version in 'Sichuan Cookery', however, is top notch.

Chicken isn't my favourite of all the meats, but it is perfect for this dish. Traditionally, chicken breast is used but I prefer the darker thigh meat. Though it needs a touch more cooking, the marinating technique ensures it is still tender and juicy while giving more flavour than breast.

Another deviation was that I used cashews instead of the more traditional peanuts. It's bloody difficult to find roasted, unsalted peanuts in the supermarket. Rows upon rows of dry roasted, honey roasted, jumbo salted, salted, even lemon and coriander-spiced peanuts, but plain roasted were not to be found and I couldn't be bothered to roast my own, so I settled for a posher nut.

The result is glossy, sweet and spicy velvet-textured meat, with the occasional crunch and richness of the cashew. Eaten with rice, this went down a storm with the family.

Gong Bao Chicken (adapted from 'Sichuan Cookery')

Serves 4 with 2 other dishes, or 2 with rice

325gr chicken thighs, deskinned and boned
4 cloves of garlic chopped & the equivalent of minced ginger
3 stalks of spring onion, sliced diagonally
A handful of whole dried chillis
1 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns
75gr roasted unsalted cashews or peanuts

1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp light soy
1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine
1 1/2 tsp cornflour
1 tbsp water

3 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp dark soy
1 tsp light soy
3 tsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp water

Snip the chillis in half, discarding the seeds, and soak in boiling water to soften.

Firstly, chop the chicken into chunks around the size of the cashews, maybe a little larger, and put in with all the marinade ingredients and mix well. Next, slice the spring onion so that it's around the same size as the cashews; you want everything roughly the same size.

Mix all your sauce ingredients together in a bowl. Toast the Sichuan peppercorns and then grind into a fine powder.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a wok till almost smoking, and add the chillis, stir-frying for a few seconds, before adding the ground Sichuan pepper in. Add the ginger, garlic and half the spring onion and stir-fry until fragrant. Turn the heat up and add the chicken, cooking for 5 or so minutes, stirring all the time so it doesn't stick or burn. Turn the heat down to medium and add the sauce ingredients and the cashews, simmering for a few minutes until thick and glossy. Toss through the rest of the spring onion and serve.