Thursday 29 March 2012

Leek & Hazelnut Salad

Alliums dressed in citrus juice might be my Spring favourite. Steamed until floppy and then crisped and charred and a bit blistered on a ridged cast iron pan, the baby leeks were sweet and silky, its folds soaking up the orange-tinted dressing like a thirsty thing. Whole hazelnuts were thwacked with a rolling pin and then dry-roasted until fragrant and toasty, adding crunch and richness to the dish.

Served family style off a cake stand, this was an ideal starter, all light and palate-cleansing for the rich beefiness to follow.

Leek & Hazelnut Salad

Serves 4

20 baby leeks
A handful of parsley
150gr hazelnuts, bashed into small pieces but not in a powder
Juice of 1 small orange, plus 1 tsp of the zest
Juice of half a lemon
4 tbsp sherry vinegar
5 tbsp olive oil

Toast the hazelnuts in a non stick pan without any oil. Be careful not to burn them. Steam the leeks until just soft, then place aside. Oil well and grill them on a cast iron ridged pan (or a barbecue). Whisk together the oil, vinegar and citrus juice, then add the zest. Toss together and place on a serving dish - it should be eaten at room temperature. Just before serving, scatter with the toasted hazelnuts and the parsley, chopped finely.

Monday 26 March 2012

Bo Ssam

When I went to Momofuku’s Ssam Bar in New York on New Year’s eve, there were groups of friends there sharing the famous Ssam dish. Ssam is Korean, and it literally means ‘wrapped’, and it can be anything from lettuce leaves to cabbage leaves, seaweed, or even thinly sliced fish fillet. A comprehensive recipe to make the pork version, Bo Ssam, is in Chang’s Momofuku cookbook. To celebrate moving house and to thank the boys that lugged all our stuff, I picked this recipe to idly make on Sunday.

It looks long and involved but it is actually just long. After an overnight curing in the fridge in a mixture of salt and sugar, the meat is slow roasted for several hours. A roast dinner for 6 would have been more labour intensive, as with this all I had to do was bung the meat in the oven and make some sauces. The results were pretty stunning - a lettuce leaf encased a soft blob of rice and drizzled with spring onion and ginger sauce, finally topped with some caramelised pork and spiciness.

The lightness and freshness of the lettuce leaves meant that I could carry on stuffing them in by the handful. The pork was slow roasted to a yielding tenderness and it had us all scrabbling for the edges of the meat, crisp and fatty and coated in an addictive sugary salty crust. I eventually waddled away from the table to collapse on the sofa, groaning in mild discomfort.

You don't have to make your own kimchi, but if you do want to I have a recipe here. It's well worth it just for the sheer smugness of having made everything yourself. I'm not convinced that the Ssam sauce as well as the pureed kimchi is worth it, as they were quite similar in flavour but they're not hard to make so give it a go. All of the ingredients that you can't find in your usual supermarket will be available in your local Asian supermarket or buy it online here.

Adapted from David Chang's 'Momofuku'.

Serves 6

3kg bone-in pork shoulder

Rub 100gr coarse sea salt with 100gr sugar into the pork flesh and cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, drain any juices from the pan and roast on 150 degrees C for 5 hours, basting every hour. Remove and leave to rest. Just before serving, rub with 5 tbsp soft brown sugar and 1 tbsp coarse sea salt, and roast on the highest setting for 15 minutes. For this part I removed the skin so that the fat was crisp and caramelised.

These sauces can (and should) be made in advance.

Ssam Sauce

1 tbsp chilli bean sauce
1/2 tbsp gochujang - this is a Korean sweet chilli paste
4 tbsp sherry vinegar
4 tbsp neutral oil.

Mix all of the above together until emulsified.

Spring Onion & Ginger Sauce

250gr spring onions, root removed
50gr fresh ginger
1 tsp sherry vinegar
4 tbsp neutral oil
1 tsp coarse sea salt

Slice the spring onions, green and white, thinly and combine in a big bowl with the ginger, minced as finely as possible. Toss with the wet ingredients. This gets better in flavour after about half an hour and will last for a few days in the fridge. Chang recommends eating anything like fresh noodles, or stirring through rice with any leftover.

Kimchi & Sauce

Puree 260gr kimchi in a blender until almost smooth. Place 250gr kimchi in a separate bowl. Now you have all your sauces.

To serve:

500gr short grain rice (this was labelled pudding rice in the supermarket)

Soak for half an hour and then cook by absorption method, or however best you cook rice. I cook rice in my rice cooker. Long grain can be used too, but this short grain stickier version is more traditional.

2 heads of soft, round lettuce

Separate the leaves and wash well. Soak in iced water until needed - this keeps them fresh - and then spin dry to serve.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Pizza Pilgrims at Berwick Street Market

In the interests of full disclosure and all that, I should state that one third of the Pizza Pilgrims (Thom) is a friend and we worked together. When I heard he was leaving the company to start a pizza van I was full of admiration (and, I'll admit, a little envy). I watched their Twitter stream and their Facebook status updates as well as YouTube videos as they made their way around Italy, learning to make pizza from the masters and picking up their Piaggio Ape van that was to house their pizza oven.

I think I've managed to remain unbiased though and you should really believe me when I say their pizza is indeed excellent. But given my previous disclaimer you may not, but it'll only cost you £6 to find out. The pizza I had was dotted with 'Nduja, a spicy spreadable sausage much like the Spanish chorizo. From Calabria, it is typically made with fatty parts of pork shoulder. Dotted sparsely on the pizza, its oils flavoured the dough well and leaves a lingering kick on the palate.

The dough was rolled thin and cooked until the crusts puffed and the insides stayed soft and pliable. On the day we visited on their first week, it took around 10 minutes from placing my order and receiving my pizza. I watched with fascination at the pizza oven built into their tiny van. I ate it then and there in the sunshine, melty cheese strands dangling out of my mouth and a small glob of basil-scented tomato sauce on my chin.

They are there Monday - Friday lunchtimes.

Monday 19 March 2012

Lucky Chip at The Sebright Arms

With London's burger scene ever growing, Lucky Chip met with rave reviews and comparisons with Meat Liquor's burgers. Both styled from the same American-diner style stable, Lucky Chip's burger menu includes more leftfield options like the Jeff Bridges' True Grit burger (bacon, bourbon glazed apple, bbq sauce, grits etc), as well as the Tom Selleck and the Kelly LeBrock. I heard rumours of Bill Murray's Life Aquatic surf and turf burger, combining beef with soft shell crab within one bun. Wowzer.

One Friday evening, I weaved my way around the back streets of Bethnal Green to The Sebright Arms to meet four friends. Lucy Chip is usually at Netil Market during the day and at evening this pub serves their burgers. A regular old boozer, we arrived at 7pm and the place already had a buzz about it. By the time we left at around 10pm it was packed to the rafters and I had to shimmy my way around people to make my way out. No queue though.

I went for the Kevin Bacon (a bacon cheeseburger), while my friends opted for the Kelly LeBrock; a beef patty sat on spinach leaves and topped with cream cheese, caramelised onions and bacon. A little mix up with the waitress whereby she almost gave me my burger but then changed her mind and then I had to wrestle it off her, dislodging the bun lid and having her slapping it back on bare-handed almost detracted from the experience, but then one bite of the burger and it was all forgotten. The meat was juicy and well seasoned - crucial for a burger, I feel - and the bacon crisp and fatty. The bun was a shiny one, holding its' shape well and not distracting from the contents.

Star of the show were the chilli cheese fries (above, shit photo). The fries were properly potatoey and topped with chilli that had a real kick and had us reaching for tissues to stem the sniffling. Their menu lists fries served with free truffle oil which we had a portion of, but I much preferred them when dunked in a the pot of properly spicy wasabi mayo.

I saw a couple of their hot dogs go past which looked excellent so I'll be sure to be trying them next time. We came away having spent about a tenner each (on food, the booze was a different story), satisfied and happy.

31 - 35 Coate Street
London E2 9AG

Lucky Chip on Urbanspoon

Sunday 18 March 2012

Bubbas, Tulse Hill

I really wanted Bubbas in Tulse Hill, styled as a fine dining Caribbean restaurant, to blow me away but warning bells rang on the approach. There was a lot of blue neon shining out of those windows. For the most part, I did like it - the food was well spiced and had flavour so there was obviously some talent in the kitchen in the form of their Michelin-trained chef. But it was all the fripperies that made me cringe; things served in kilner jars are cute to a certain extent, but when everyone round the table (of 5) has one, it becomes a bit of a cheesy gimmick.

Fried prawn and okra balls were served with a pretty orange smear and presented on an awkwardly shaped plate. The sliminess of the okra shone through - I am a huge fan of slime - and it was served with a delicious sweet and sour sauce, once you can dig it out of its jar.

Elsewhere on the table, huge prawns made us all gasp and were meatily delicious, coated in a rum glaze and having a hint of the scotch bonnet fruitiness. Jerk chicken lollipops were decently spiced (top photo) and the jerk ketchup it was served with had some serious kick. We scooped the remnants of the sauce jar with our fingers.

Onto mains, and I shunned menu items like Red Stripe battered fish with sweet potato chips for a more traditional stewed oxtail. This was served with a potato galette and dumpling. Without much sauce with the deboned oxtail meat, this was a little dry but the potato, meat and earthiness of the beetroot smear worked well together and I finished it without much effort.

Goat curry was served in a 'rose tuile', essentially a basket made of thin pastry that was all about presentation rather than flavour. My friend awkwardly smashed it apart, revealing well spiced but otherwise unremarkable curry. The blue neon light really did a number with that photo; the rest were rescuable with the genius of Lightroom, but there was no saving that one.

We declined desserts opting instead for the pub. I found the experience (bar the company) oddly joyless, something I don't associate with Caribbean food. Usually a splash of colour and flavour, the lighting within the restaurant didn't do much to help it. At around £10 - £15 per main course, the food isn't likely to bankrupt you but I've taken more delight from eating jerk pork out of a silver takeaway box on a plastic-topped table in a cafe for half the price. Still, it is refreshing to see a Caribbean restaurant go beyond your usual brown stew chicken, curry goat and jerk options.

While the waiting staff were sweet and helpful, they seemed uncomfortable with their starched whites and formal uniform, and the food somehow seemed that way too. Although flavoursome and ultimately satisfying, the styling was overdone and fussy. We were invited to the restaurant on only its' second day of opening, so hopefully the presentation of the dishes will relax as it beds in. But seriously. Lose the neon.


7A Station Rise
Tulse Hill
London SE27 9BW

We were guests of the restaurant.

Monday 12 March 2012

Braised Beef Short Ribs

The thing about having friends who work for charities is that sometimes you get roped into charity events, such as, I don't know, all my friends paying donations to come and see me get the shit kicked out of me in a kickboxing match. I had never done any martial art before I unwittingly agreed to this, and thankfully I've so far enjoyed learning. Other less embarrassing events are ones like this, the Smooth Radio Starlight Supper that we hosted over the weekend. The idea is to invite your friends over for dinner and in exchange, they donate money that goes to Macmillan Cancer Support. Nice and simple.

We agreed on a menu that included elements that we would be able to make ahead, so that we didn't leave our 4 guests waiting while we flapped about. Beef short ribs were picked for the main, mainly for the fact that they would taste even better after a night bathing in the braising liquid. Be warned though - this is not a quick recipe. A lot of fat skimming took place. They were quite the beauty; delivered at 5:30am from The East London Steak Co. all wrapped up and with a calling card stating where they're from and who butchered them, they were presented in two sheets, each with 3 ribs and a whole lot of meat surrounding them. Longhorn, my favourite breed.

The sauce from the beef was so rich and ...beefy that I was relieved the polenta it was served with was so plain. The meat still had some resistance and substance to the teeth but slipped off the bone nicely into portions at the table. Black cabbage (or cavalo nero if you want to be fancy) soaked in the juices provided that iron-heavy flavour that complemented the juicy meat well.

Braised Beef Short Ribs

Serves 6

(Adapted from this recipe)

2kg beef short ribs
10 shallots, peeled and halved
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 carrots, diced
3 sticks of celery, diced
2 bay leaves
A handful of peppercorns
400mls red wine
360mls oloroso sherry
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 sprigs of thyme
1.3l water
1 beef stock cube

For the Gremolata, mix together:

A handful of parsley, minced
Zest of 1 lemon, chopped finely
1 clove of garlic, minced

Set the oven to 130 degrees C.In a pan, fry the beef ribs very slowly for at least 40 mins, to render the fat out and properly brown the meat. Remove to a large casserole dish. Remove most of the fat and leave a bit to fry the carrots, celery and shallots in. Add the booze and bring to a simmer and reduce by half. Add to the meat. Bring the water to a boil with the stock cube and add to the meat.

Throw in the garlic cloves, peppercorns, vinegar, thyme, bay leaves and put a lid on, and leave it be in the oven for a good 4 hours. It's best to do this overnight so that the fat solidifies and you can remove it easily.

The next day, remove the beef ribs from the sauce being very careful as they may fall apart. Place on a roasting tray. Sieve the meat juice into a wide pan, squashing the vegetables to release any residual flavour and skim any more fat left off. Reduce like hell for a good hour or so to really intensify the flavours. When serving, roast the ribs for 10 - 15 minutes on 200 degrees C and then serve in a large dish with the jucies over them. The sauce needn't be any thicker if you're serving in bowls with runny polenta. Top the beef with the gremolata and carve at the table.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Mike + Ollie at The Deptford Project

I first sampled Mike + Ollie's food at Brockley Market. A flatbread stuffed with mackerel was devoured within minutes, and the textures and flavours impressed me so much that afterwards I immediately booked into one of their dinners. Ours was hosted at The Deptford Project, a cafe in a train carriage, and we turned up on the night to find a long trestle table set out for our dinner.

A guitarist strummed away in the corner, creating a nice atmosphere though I was glad not to have been sat next to him as conversation with my friend would have been somewhat shouted. As we sipped on pear and elderflower cocktails, wooden planks were set between us and massive beetroot and quinces decorated the table. A square of bread topped with teeth-shatteringly crisp pork belly and a smear of quince whetted our appetites, while another square of bread was adorned with a smear of labneh (strained yoghurt) and a sweet, intensely earthy roasted beetroot on top.

Planks removed, they were re-presented to us a short while later. A dish I recognised from my flatbread wrap, the smoky mackerel and pickled rhubarb, again on top of a slice of bread, was a hit. Huge briny capers added a savoury edge. Pickled rhubarb is my new favourite thing.

Bone marrow with roasted garlic and a shallot, parsley and caper salad was served with bread fried in beef dripping. Michael cried 'this is the last of the bread, I promise!' but that home made stuff was so good I didn't mind. I slathered the wobbly marrow on and topped it with the refreshing salad, garlic cloves staining my breath. My jeans grew tight. That burgery lunch at Meat Liquor was catching up with me.

We had a break and a cute apple stuffed with sorbet followed. The iced essence of apple gave me a second wind, and rather than fearful of the next dish and my straining waistband, I looked forward to it. A plate of vibrant greens was garnished with ruby pink slices of pigeon and dressed with a rosehip molasses. Mike+Ollie are really keen on foraging locally, and the rosehips were picked nearby. The greens were a mix of both herbs and salad leaves, making each mouthful different and complimenting the pigeon well.

Dessert came in the form of another stuffed fruit, this time Seville marmalade ice cream into an orange. The ice cream was studded with marmalade chunks and the creaminess tasted faintly of coconut. Accompanying this, we were given a glass of sloe gin - a bit rough, we were warned, as it hadn't reached full maturity yet. Sipping it made us wince.

We were fed hugely well for £25 a head. Though it wasn't the most refined meal I've had, I loved it for it's inventiveness; cooked well and lots of lovely pickled bits, crunchy nuts and flavours I'm not used to. The wooden planks were a nuisance to lift to and from the tables, but gosh they were pretty. You can find Mike+Ollie in Brockley and Deptford markets, but I strongly recommend you go for one of their dinners too.

Tickets and booking information HERE.

Monday 5 March 2012

Roasted Duck with Puy Lentils

It was absolutely hammering it down yesterday. Winds howled, rain lashed against the windows and I was bravely battling my way to the shops. Though we're almost in Spring, this kind of weather calls for something warming and hearty to eat while slurping a robust red wine, feet in fluffy slippers. I rather like a Sunday of intense cooking or preparation as I have so little time to do so during the week, but yesterday was all about wanging a few bits and pieces into a casserole dish and letting it do its thing in the oven while I slumped on the couch.

The result astonished me - so little effort reaped great reward. The duck was crisp-skinned - let's, er, ignore that tiny burnt patch shall we? I'm still getting used to the electric hob. - and tender, absorbing the fragrant star anise and flavouring the lentils with its delicious fat. Amongst the lentils cubes of butternut squash sweetened the dish and gave the dreary brown some colour. Nothing more than than a lemony fennel salad was needed to wash down that richness.

Roasted Duck & Puy Lentils

Serves 2

2 duck legs
80gr puy (pronounced 'pwee') lentils
1 onion
4 fat cloves of garlic
1 scant tsp smoked paprika
A large pinch of fennel seeds
1 chicken stock cube
1 star anise
3 tbsp Oloroso sherry
A small glass of red wine
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 small courgette, cubed
2 large tomatoes, quartered
A large handful of flat leaf parsley

Firstly, simmer the lentils for 10 - 15 minutes and drain. In a dry non stick frying pan, gently fry the duck legs skin side down from a cold pan (this helps render the fat out more effectively and crisp the skin up). This will take 10 - 15 minutes on a low heat. Don't be tempted to turn the heat up like I did... Turn the legs over and cook for a further 3 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C. Slice the onion into half moons and mince the garlic. Remove the duck legs from the pan and remove most of the fat, keeping 1 tbsp. Fry the onions and garlic slowly in this till soft. Add the smoked paprika and the pinch of fennel seeds, then add the sherry. Simmer until halved in volume, then add the red wine and do the same. Season generously with salt and pepper. Combine with the drained lentils in a casserole dish.

Add the cubed butternut squash to the lentils and mix well. Sit the duck legs on top. Dissolve the stock cube in 150ml water and pour this over the lentils, though this shouldn't go on the duck leg skin, just to the flesh. Nestle a star anise in between the duck legs and the tomato quarters in the lentils and put the lid on. Bake for 1 hour, then remove the lid and add the courgette within the lentils. This may need some jiggery pokery. Turn the heat up to 160 degrees C and roast uncovered for a further 40 minutes, checking that the lentils are wet enough that they don't stick and burn.

To serve, scatter with chopped parsley and accompanied by shaved raw fennel dressed with lemon juice.

Thursday 1 March 2012

A Weekend in Amsterdam

Eurostar were kind enough to send me and a friend off on a jolly to Amsterdam for a weekend. Imagine my surprise when we turned up at Citizen M to find the shower open plan to the bed (which we already knew we were sharing...). But we were there for one thing and one thing only - to do some eating.

We headed to Albert Cuypstraat to Albina for some Surinamese food. Suriname had been a former colony of the Dutch Guiana (thanks Wikipedia) and subsequently Amsterdam has a high population of Dutch Surinamese. Fried potatoes turned up first, topped with fish floss which we drenched with caramel soy sauce and a spicy picalilli that was on the table.

Roasted chicken and char siu pork arrived in 'moki meksi' sauce with white rice; this is seemingly the roasting juices of the meat with some soy. Star of the show was the chicken curry - chunks of chicken served on the bone in a light curry sauce with potatoes, an egg and topped with a flaky and piping hot roti. We dug in with gusto. For 10 Euro each with a beer, Albina was a bit of a gem. I know nothing about Surinamese food but even though it was half way around the world from it, it reminded me a lot of Malaysian food.

The next day we took to the streets in search of some interesting food. Raw herring had been recommended to me and are are apparently quite plentiful, mostly on street corners in solid stands, displaying their wares behind a glass case. We sampled two, the best coming from Frens Heringshandel, off the flower market in Koningsplein - unfortunately the picture above is of the inferior version. Still, at around 3 Euro each the soft white bun is split and stuffed with the herring - raw? Cured? - and then topped with diced white onion and sliced pickles. I won't lie; this does make you honk of fishy onions, but it was delicious. The herring flesh is really soft and yielding, while the sharpness of the onions and pickles lifts the richness.

A recommendation from @ediblethings took us down to Voetboogstraat to Vleminckx Sausmeesters, a hole-in-the-wall chip shop. The queue was at least 10 strong (I'll admit, they were rather bleary / glazed of the eyes...) and when we got our chips I found out why. They were amazing. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside and well seasoned, we had ours topped with mayonnaise and diced onion. We were going for an oniony day.

We couldn't resist trying the Febo automats. A vending machine dispensing deep fried snacks and burgers? Yes please. We played it safe and went for a veggie cheese and mushroom croquette and it came out piping hot, crunchy on the outside and soft and yielding from the inside. It was filthily addictive.

After a cycle round the city screeching with terror - look, those trams are silent deathtraps - we turned up at the train station two hours late having misread the ticket. My friend and I realised at exactly the same point, and the sight of her horrified face remains etched deeply into my memory. Eurostar switched our seats with ease and thankfully we made it back to London on the last train back.

Eurostar go to Amsterdam from £99 return. It does take 5 hours though.