The chicken’s tale

November 11, 2007

Roast chicken

Sit down by the fire while I tell you a tale, of a sweet country chuck who came down to London, in search of romance and adventure. She arrived in a box all perky and fresh with her free-range friends – bacon, burger and boned leg of pork.

But far from leading a glamorous life, she soon found herself basted with butter and herbs (sage, rosemary and thyme), with half a lemon and a few chunks of white bread stuffed up her bum. Just as she was thinking the worst must be through, she was popped in the oven on a bed of her sliced country cousins – carrot, onion and leek.

Roast Chicken

She came out a while later all wrinkled and brown, and was left to sit naked while a bath of hot gravy was prepared for her debut appearance. In the gravy went red wine, stock and a bay leaf, some sugar and seasoning, tommy ketchup and soy, and a dribble of Worcestershire sauce.

Roast gravy

And after the meal, without further ado, her carcass was picked clean of the last scraps of meat, for a mustard-drenched sarnie to go in a London boy’s lunch-box. And even then her ordeal wasn’t through, for her bones were boiled up with more of the same – carrot and onion, leek and bay leaf, peppercorns and a bucket of garni.

Chicken stock

Into this rich stock went garlic, ginger and chilli, with brocolli and chard and a handful of rice. And so the last traces of a poor country chicken were drunk as a Monday night soup. Let this be a warning to all Devon poultry – stay in your coops all cosy and safe, and don’t dream of a life in the city.

Chicken, brocolli and chard soup

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The meat box cometh

October 25, 2007

Riverford meat box delivery

We received our first Riverford meat box delivery on Saturday. I’d spent the morning hovering in the frontroom, gazing down the garden path like a little kid waiting for the birthday post to arrive. We were both totally stoked (Ozspeak for jolly glad) when it arrived, and danced a little caper around the kitchen.

Riverford meat box

And this is what we got for our hard-earned moolah (46 squid, give or take a bob or two):

750g pork roast
400g sausages
300g bacon
300g beef burgers
400g beef mince
400g braising steak
400g rump steak
A whole organic chicken
200g ham

Which, like the legendary England all-rounder, is very Beefy and none the worse for it.

The rump steaks have been scoffed already, providing two hearty meals. We partnered them up on both occasions with the pickings from our latest forraging expedition to Hampstead Heath. On one occasion the MC served them under a pile of unidentified ‘shrooms, which we thought at the time were Clouded Agarics, but which we later realised bore more than a passing resemblance to the deadly poisonous Death Cap (result: complete organ collapse in about 72 hours). The next evening we played safe and served them with a splodge of harmless sweet chestnut puree. All very Hugh Firmly Whatsisface.

Sweet chestnuts

Lazy pommes boulanger

September 10, 2007

Lamb and Potatoes

Here’s a tip the next time you’re doing a roast. Slice a few peeled spuds and onions thinly, season well and add some fresh herbs (e.g. sage with pork, rosemary with lamb or chicken). Toss them in a little oil and spread them out in the roasting tray or pan, pour over a small glass of white wine. Cook the joint on a rack above the veggies.

By the time the meat has finished roasting, the spuds and onions have soaked up the fat and juices from the joint and gone gooey and soft on the bottom, crisp and brown on top. A rib-sticking alternative to the traditional roasties.

Gooey potato mush

Meatballs of love

May 15, 2007

Italian meat balls with purple sprouting

Some dishes are just so surprisingly good they make you burst into spontaneous laughter. One mouthful of these Marcella Hazan meatballs had the MC and me giggling like naughty school kids. The wonder of the event sprang from its unexpectedness. How could the mundane old meatball scale such heights? I guess you should never underestimate the ability of the Italians to turn plain old mince into gastro-gold.

This recipe reminds me of a film I saw when I was a member of an arty-farty film club at uni. I can’t remember the name, but I think it was a Belgian flick. The ‘action’ happened in real time, and largely consisted of a middle aged woman doing mundane household chores around a flat in Brussels – having a bath, polishing shoes, sweeping the floor. In real time. Over about 4 hours. Yes, the pain of watching this movie was almost unbearable.

Unsurprisingly, the audience started to dwindle as the movie shuffled along. Being a history student, and having nothing better to do, I persevered, and after a couple of hours I passed through a pain barrier and became hypnotised by these banal events. It was at this point that the nameless housewife started making meatballs, and the camera focussed in on a ball of bloody meat being slowly, slowly kneaded. The suspense was unbearable. This blandly surreal scene has haunted me since.

The film continued, and half an hour or so later the woman’s son comes home from school and the two of them eat a meal of meatballs together in excruciating silence. After dinner an unnamed man knocks on the door, is invited in, and without ceremony stabbed to death, with a pair of scissors as I remember it.

Since that day, I’ve never been able to eat a meatball without being grateful that the state paid for me to waste three years of my life watching utterly pointless subtitled movies. I hope one day, if I ever have kids, that the state will pay for them to waste three years of their lives in a similar fashion. Scrap tuition fees, I say.

Italian meat balls

Making these beefy nuggets of joy is a fairly long, involved process. It’s best to go to the original for the full details, but here’s a functional summary:

  1. Cook a slice of crustless white bread in 6 tbs warm milk, leave til soft, then mash.
  2. Mix 1lb well-hung minced beef with a finely chopped onion, some parsley, a grating of nutmeg, a wee drizzle of olive oil, an egg, 3tbs grated parmesan and the mushy bread-milk mixture. Season well.
  3. After gently kneading the mixture for a while, shape into 1″ balls of love and roll in fine, dry breadcrumbs.
  4. Fry the balls in about 1/4″ of hot veggie oil in a large saute pan, until nicely browned.
  5. Remove the balls and tip out the hot oil. Give the pan a quick rinse and return to the heat, adding a glug of fresh olive oil, a tin of Italian toms, a pinch of salt and the meatballs. Leave to cook at a simmer for about 20 minutes.
  6. Serve. Eat. Giggle.

Mutton

April 3, 2007

Mutton

I’ve come to the conclusion the phrase ‘Mutton dressed as lamb’ is an insult to mutton. It’s great stuff, and shouldn’t feel shy about flaunting it’s mature charms. We’ve been eating it regularly since we found a supply at the local organic deli down the hill. We’ve ‘ad it roasted, stewed, and braised with tatties and onions in the (sadly neglected) classic, Lancashire hot pot.

On Sunday I picked up a copy of Lizzy David’s ‘Salt and Spices in the English Kitchen’ down Camden Market. It’s a typically eccentric collection of recipes, perhaps better at stirring the culinary imagination than providing practical instructions for real life meals.

There are two particularly bizarre recipes for ‘Mutton Hams’ – boned leg or shoulder of mutton cured in brine, smoked (for 10-15 days!), and boiled like hams. After boiling, these mutton hams were pressed for a few days, then sliced and served cold – and seem to have been a staple feature of the British Raj breakfast table.

Amalee‘s brave attempts at curing her own lambacon seem to have a precedent here. Are her pioneering experiments with salting lamb evidence of a culinary folk memory rising to the surface after decades of neglect, or just another sign that we’re all losing our collective gastromarbles?

Lancashire Hot Pot

Cock-a-Leekie

February 8, 2007

Shin beef

Boil ye up some lovely stewing beefe. Shinn is mighty goode. Let bubble softlie for halfe of ye hour.

Add a boiling fowle whych hast roamed free all itse mortal days. Also add ye, three or four fyne fat leeks. Leave all to stewe at a temperate heate for three hours or until ye fowle is soft and wont to fall off ye bone. Season most generouslie.

Cook a Leekie

Ten minutes before serving, and when all is cooked, remove ye olde leeks from the pot and cast out. Throwe in 3 fresh leeks, sliced fine, and a goodly handful of prunes, which ye have previously soaked in clear, sweete water.

Remove the fine boiled meats from ye broth, divide into goodly chunks, return to pot, and serve all with fine crusty breade. And may God preserve ye from the pox.

Cock-a-Leekie

Tangents

January 10, 2007

Cavolo Nero

Exactly one week into my new life as a freelancer. It’s OK. Some days I sit in the kitchen facing towards the fridge, other days I sit facing the back door. Occasionally I walk through to the front room and look out the window, to check the weather. Haven’t yet been tempted to turn on the telly before Eastenders, haven’t yet sat down to start work much after 9am. Things are going pretty well, I’m pleased with progress.

I like not having a job. The feeling of being free to sit down and apply for any vacancy listed, however ridiculous, irrelevant or badly paid. Today I saw that Brighton Museum are looking for people to do 3 months research into any object in their collections which relates to courtship – wooing, getting it on, having it off, however you want to put it. They’re offering a bursary of £5000. Not much dosh, nothing to do with the web, but still, sounds interesting. Suddenly life is full of odd tangents, tempting diversions. Must stay focused though, I’m too easily distracted, like proverbial kid in candy store.

Mmm.. what’s this over here? Interesting… hmm let’s just take a quick look… er what was I meant to be doing… oh, yes…

Boiling cavolo nero

The veg box, as always, continues to inspire culinary diversions. Thanks to the good folks at the River Cafe (not to be confused with HFW’s metro-peasant posse over at River Cottage) we’ve discovered that Cavolo Nero makes a magnificent pasta sauce. Just boil the leaves from 2 or 3 heads with a couple of peeled garlic cloves, drain, and blitz to a rough paste. Finish by stirring in plenty of olive oil, more raw crushed garlic, goodly amounts of salt and pepper. Stir it into a bowl of tubby pasta shapes and serve with parmesan and more oil at the table. A worthy winter pesto-substitute.

Grating parmesan

I’ve also had a kilo slab of pork belly kicking around in the freezer since our last trip to the Farmers’ Market. I’ve been meaning to have a go at making home-cured bacon for a while, and according to HFW in the Meat Book, it’s a pretty simple procedure.

Pork belly

So I’ve mixed up a bowl full of coarse salt, brown sugar, juniper berries, pepper and chopped bay leaf and rubbed it into the belly meat. This salty pork slab is now sitting in the fridge, and I’ll need to drain it off and add more cure mix each day for the next week or so. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Measuring curing ingredients

And now it’s nearly 6pm. Time to get my coat, hat and scarf on, tuck my laptop under my arm and walk round the block, returning home with my domestic head on. A little fake-commute to remind myself I am in reality a poor boy wot must work for his crust and not, alas, a lady of leisure.