Thursday, 25 August 2016

Cooking with Sarsons - Cod Cheeks in a Crispy Vinegar Batter


Cooking with Sarsons - Cod Cheeks in a Crispy Vinegar Batter

Serves 4- 6

Ingredients

1 kg cod cheeks, trimmed
125g plain white flour
75g corn flour
125ml ice-cold soda water
75ml Sarson’s Malt Vinegar
1 tsp salt
Sunflower oil, for deep frying

Method

Heat a saucepan or wok at 190C.

Place your cod cheeks into a bowl and sift over 50g of plain flour for a very light dusting.

For the batter: In a large bowl, make the batter by sifting the remaining plain flour, corn flour and salt. Add the Sarson’s Malt Vinegar and stir through.  Add the ice-cold soda water but try not to mix in too thoroughly and don’t worry if you have some lumps.

Dip the cod cheeks into the batter and fry in batches in the hot oil for 2 minutes, until they are crisp and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Serve immediately with chips, a slice of lemon and a glass of fizz.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Cooking with Sarsons - Homemade Piccalilli with Ham and Egg Pie

It's piccalilli folks, but not as you know it
You may not have noticed from the picture above but within that handsome looking jar of homemade piccalilli, lies slivers of pink and peppery radishes; soft enough, yet retaining just a tiny bit of bite. Which is how all the vegetables should be, when thrown into an aromatic mix of mustard yellow and brine. 

It does seem though that my putting radishes into a pickle has also caused some consternation among some well known figures on the food scene. After pinging some Instagram shots out there, of the very same jar (or saucepan to be exact) the notion of radishes in piccalilli was deemed as absurd and foolhardy by some. Alas, when it comes to food and pushing boundaries and challenging perceptions, there will always be the odd naysayer, who just will not budge and go away. Like a fart in an ill-fitting pair of y-fronts, brought on by too much cauliflower.

Luckily the practice of putting these cherry sized roots into turmeric juice has precedence. A certain Mrs Elizabeth Raffald, author of the 18th century smash hit cookbook 'The Experienced English Housekeeper', is attributed as being the first person to introduce the word 'piccalilli' into the English lexicon. Or 'piccalillo' as it was known back then. AND she was a big fan of using radishes too. So if Lizzy can get away with it, so can I.

How do I know this? Well, I looked it up on Google of course. Just to feel entirely justified to have used them, after a small bag had been found lying moribund, in the bottom of the fridge. But you shouldn't feel so sensitive when making it for yourself. Nor should you feel bound by tradition. Lots of different vegetables can be used in piccalilli. Broad beans, shredded carrots, beetroot, samphire, you name it, it can go in. 

And either way, the shop bought stuff rarely makes the same impact as batches, boiled and bubbled up on the stove at home. Especially when served with a ham and egg pie (with a bit of tarragon secreted in) for a picnic. Having been cooked out over time, I find it a lot mellower and suffer less with the vinegar sweats; which is an important thing to consider when the sun is beating down.

If I were to put one constraint or restriction to this piccalilli, don't get into the habit of crooning 'Look at the stars, see how they shine for you,' whilst making this. Singing any song by Coldplay is crossing the line and banned my kitchen. If you do that, you deserve all the trolling you get.

Homemade Piccalilli with Ham and Egg Pie - serves 8

Ingredients

For the Homemade Piccalilli

2 onions, diced
250g runner beans, sliced into thin strips
250g cauliflower florets
100g radishes, sliced
2tsps English mustard powder
2tsps turmeric powder
300ml Sarsons Malt Vinegar
25g corn flour
100g  granulated sugar
1tbsp wholegrain mustard
1tbsp sea salt

For the Pork and Egg pie

Oil, for frying
500g pork mince
500g cooked ham hock, shredded
2 shallots, chopped
2tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1tbsp tarragon, finely chopped
4 hard boiled eggs, shelled
Salt and pepper, to season

For the hot water crust pastry 

450g plain flour
100g strong white flour
75g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
125g lard
1 egg, beaten
Salt, to season

Method

For the piccalilli 

Place the onions into a saucepan and add 150ml of Sarson’s Malt Vinegar and bring to the boil. Cover and then cook for 15 minutes, until soft.

A plethora of ingredients.
Fill a separate saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Add the cauliflower florets and runner beans and cook for 3 minutes. Drain and cool under running cold water and put to one side.

In a bowl, mix together the mustard powder, turmeric, corn flour and 2 tablespoons of Sarson’s Malt Vinegar to form a paste.

When the onions are ready, pour in the sugar and pour in the rest of the Sarson’s Malt Vinegar and bring back to the boil.

Add the cauliflower and runner beans and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the yellow corn flour paste, salt and whole grain mustard and cook for another 5 minutes. Finally add the sliced radish and take off the heat. The idea is not to cook the radish completely but to let it stew.

Divide the pickle into two sterilised jars, seal and leave to cool. Once cool, keep in a dark cupboard for up to a month.

For the pie 

Heat oven to 200C and grease a 1kg loaf tin with some lard.

For the filling 

Make the filling by frying off the shallot in some oil until the shallots are soft and translucent. Leave to cool. 

Combine the shallot with the pork mince, shredded hock and herbs. Do not add the egg at this point. Season with salt and pepper.

For the pastry

To make the hot crust pastry, put the flour in a large bowl and rub in the butter cubes with your fingertips.

Heat 200ml of water, along with some salt and lard. Bring just to the boil and then stir into the flour using a wooden spoon.

When the mixture is cool enough to handle (it should feel very warm) knead until smooth. 

Cut off two thirds of the dough and roll out quickly and line the bottom and sides of your loaf tin. 

Press half of the meat filling into the pastry-lined tin. Take a thin slice off the top and bottom of each boiled egg (this helps them sit next to each other and makes slicing the pie easier), then place the eggs length ways down the middle of the pie. Add the remaining meat filling and pat it down.

Ham hock, parsley, tarragon and boiled eggs - a winning combination.
Brush the overhanging pastry edge with egg yolk. Roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid and place over the pie. Place the lid on top, press down at the edges and trim any excess pastry off. Make three steam holes in the top of the pie and brush with more egg yolk.

Bake for 30 minutes and reduce the heat to 180C and bake for a further hour. Leave to cool completely in the tin before gently prising with a knife and tipping out.

Piccalilli is perfect for ppppppicnics.
To serve, carve the pie up into slices and serve on a paper or tupperware plate with a handsome dollop of homemade piccalilli.

Let the pie cool! That is the golden rule.
Yes, those are radishes in there. So sue me.
A summer treat.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Cooking with Sarsons - Cavolo Nero with puy lentils and herby hot vinegar sauce


I don't know about you but I have long held the opinion that condiments, in all their shapes and forms, can deliver more than just a brusk slight of hand or mere passing over, once a plate has been slapped down on the table. Ketchup is an excellent 'secret' ingredient to hide in burgers and Spag bol and is very important for making Rose Marie blush. Mustard slathered on lamb chops before roasting ensures a delicate, melting undertone of warmth; as opposed to a harsh punch on the nose. And Marmite, when not being used to glaze chicken or to sneak into sausage rolls, can actually form the cornerstone of a hearty breakfast; without any need for hot, steamy, butter drenched toast. You can, if you so wish, simply scoop the black stuff out with your finger on the way to the train station.

The latter is an extreme option and I wouldn't really recommend it. No one will want to come near you afterwards; with your rancid, horrid Twiglet breath and brown lips. Trust me, I know. However, I honestly believe that you can stretch things beyond the pale with condiments and make them an essential component to most meals.

For example, traditional London pie and mash (my favourite) is nothing, absolutely NOTHING without a hearty dose of malt vinegar. Now, OK, we are still talking about it being used as an afterthought here, as a complimentary flavouring. But as any pie and mash lover worth their salt and white pepper knows, unless you unleash at least half bottle of malt vinegar (sometimes piqued with chilli) over that cardboard package, filled with unknown meat and paired with stodgy potato, then you really will be left out to hang and dry. Because without a liberal, verging on the obscene amount of malt vinegar, pie and mash tastes fairly disgusting.

There, I've said it. And now I have to hand in my 'Cor Blimey Guv'nor, I Was Born By The Saaand of the Bow Bells' badge. But it's true. Malt vinegar maketh the dish, via some strange, curious alchemy and I have always found it mesmerising to watch streams of fermented elixir, whirl dreamily into that white, watery broth, spiked with bits of green....bits. Is it parsley? Who knows.

With that in mind then, when I was approached by Sarson's to help develop a range of recipes where malt vinegar was to be used an integral element to the dish, I happily stepped up and took on the challenge. If I can help change perceptions and spark imaginations to away from the usual splashing over chish and fips and to horizons above and beyond; well, I will be able to sleep more soundly at night.

So here we are, having been feverishly working in the background, over many weeks and at the bemusement of my children - 'Dad, where is all this vinegar coming from'? - this is the first recipe of the campaign which stars verdant, handsome and healthy Cavolo nero, earthy gems in the shape of Puy lentils and an amusing hit of herbs, heat, tang and whatnot. Yes, this is a dish that essentially uses kale and yes, I have made snarky comments in the past about this particular brassica but in secret, I really do quite like to eat it. I used to grow a lot of it too. Keep that to yourself though, right?

Taking a dark and bubbled leaf then, from the good old south of the US of A and it's heritage to slather hot vinegar sauces over collard greens and the like, to lift them out states of bitterness; this is a slightly more refined and simple approach. Rather than go for a fierce hit, I have muted things a touch by using regular red chilli, the sort you'd find on your supermarket herb rack and left out the garlic, using the herbs to floral and grassy effect. You could go down a spicier route and up the ante with a more feral sort of pepper, such as birds eye, scotch bonnet or Mad Dog Dorset Death Star Naga, if that kind of thing floats your boat.

But what would be the point? Putting those poor, tiny papilla on your tongue through the rinser like that. I mean, you could gargle with some Sarson's afterwards, to calm things down. Vinegar does have antiseptic qualities after all. It just depends if you want to be known as that person on the train, who stinks of vinegar and Marmite.

Again, I wouldn't recommend it.



Cavolo Nero with puy lentils and herby hot vinegar sauce

Ingredients

1tbs Rapeseed oil
500 grams Puy lentils, rinsed
1 onion, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 celery stick, finely diced
2 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
Small bunch of thyme
1tbs Groundnut oil
300 grams Cavolo Nero, leaves and stalks washed and shredded (Swiss chard is a good alternative)
100ml Sarson’s Malt Vinegar
100ml water
2 red chilli, sliced
1tsp sugar
Large bunch of parsley, mint and coriander, leaves picked and roughly chopped
Salt and pepper, to season



Method

1. Heat the rapeseed oil in a frying pan. Add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery and stir through, so that everything has an even coating. Reduce the heat and cook slowly for about 20 minutes until everything is caramelised and sweet.

2. Place the lentils into a deep saucepan, along with the bay leaves and thyme and add enough water to cover the lentils completely. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for a further 20 minutes. Drain and remove the bay leaves and thyme.

3. For the vinegar sauce: Place Sarson’s Malt Vinegar, water, sugar and half the chilli into a saucepan. Bring to the boil and reduce by half.



4. For the Cavalo nero:  Heat a little groundnut oil in a heavy-based frying pan. When hot, fry the shredded Cavolo nero tossing and shaking for 5 minutes, until it is just done.



5. To serve, pour the lentils into the caramelised vegetable mix and stir through and spoon a generous amount on each plate. Do the same with the Cavolo nero and at the very last minute, throw your remaining herbs into the warm vinegar dressing. Stir through and drizzle over, adding a sprinkling of the remaining chopped chilli.

6. Season to taste.



Monday, 4 July 2016

Galette-saucisse


‘Right, who fancies a sausage wrapped in a pancake?’

Admittedly, I have shouted out stranger things in the past but when I announced this from my kitchen the other day, the proverbial response definitely veered on the side of ‘Um…eh?’

Yet if you were to stand outside the Stade Rennais, or any other football stadium in the region of Brittany, there would be a glorious and resounding ‘Oui!’ For this street food snack, traditionally eaten at a football game, is so popular, it even has a fanclub and website. Hell, there is even a quirky, staccato pop song devoted to the humble galette-saucisse. Which really is just a sausage, or hotdog, wrapped in a buckwheat pancake.

Unfortunately, my schoolboy French is a bit rusty, so I haven’t been able to pin down exactly why they are so revered but given the brouhaha surrounding them, I felt that I just had to try them out. I was able to glean that buckwheat in particular has a long historic association with Brittany, as essentially, it is not a grass or proper wheat. It is actually related to rhubarb and knotweed and is therefore easier to grow and so was once an important staple for a poor, feudal population. The type of sausage itself is more nondescript. Long and with a high ratio of pork to fat seems to be the common factor, flavoured only with salt and pepper; again with an influence that rests upon cheap simplicity.

And for the purposes of thorough research, I also had to see what they were like washed down with some effervescent and tangy Breton cider, which is a classic accompaniment on the terraces of northern France.

The combination is pretty astounding really. The pancake, as you might expect, is slightly denser than your conventional crêpe but it has a wonderful nutty flavour and serves well as an edible napkin; to hold a juicy, hot banger. Normally, that would be that but when I made these for a braying crowd just recently (i.e. my extended family) I also rustled up some caramelised onions and plonked a pot of Dijon mustard on the table to spread upon and fill up with. Something that I am sure would be frowned upon by the aforementioned French Association for the Preservation of the Galette-saucisse but as far as I am aware, they do not have the powers to arrest.

With regards to pairing, I did have notions of introducing some of the Flemish, farmhouse styles of beer or fruity Saisons that are also popular in the north. However, it would be hard to beat a decent Breton cider. Often coming in Champagne-style bottles, these delicate yet crisp ciders are just the ticket to pop and share. The light, apple-drenched Kerisac Bouche Breton Brut I tried would go down very well with some chicken, casseroled in the same cider, or maybe a bucket of langoustines or prawns. But really, sausage and pancakes are the only way forward.

So serve these up for a crowd during the Euros (for any of the French games of course) and you’ll soon be jumping around singing and dancing, to a chorus that goes ‘Galette Saucisse Je T’aime!’ and roughly translates as ‘Sausages in Pancakes? I Love!’

Did I tell you I got an E at GSCE?

This post first appeared on Great British Chefs.

Galette-saucisse - serves 8

Ingredients

8 pork sausages, long
225g of buckwheat flour
550ml of whole milk
2 eggs
1 tbsp of sunflower oil, plus extra for frying
1 tsp salt

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4

Place the sausages on a baking tray and roast for 20–25 minutes, keeping an eye on them, turning and shaking every now and then.

Next, make your pancake batter by sieving the buckwheat flour into a bowl. Add the eggs, oil and salt and start to mix, either by hand or using an electric whisk.

Once it begins to incorporate, start adding the milk, bit by bit, until you have a smooth batter (this process can be done in advance).

Get started on making your pancakes by placing a frying pan on the hob, over a medium heat and add a tiny dash of oil, rotating the pan to cover. Then add a good ladleful of batter into the centre, swiveling the pan around to distribute.

The first pancake mus always be sacrificed to the God Of Pancakes
Leave to cook until it browns and easily lifts when using a spoon or fish slice. Flip over and cook the other side through and then place on a warm plate. Continue until all the batter is gone.

When ready to serve, take the sausages out and leave to cool slightly and then wrap them in the pancakes. Traditionally, each pancake is halved first into a half-moon shape and then wrapped around the sausage but this is only necessary if your sausages are steaming hot!

Plate up either wrapped in napkins or plain as, on a platter, for hands to grab and charge glasses with some ice cold Breton cider.

Breton Cidre - tres bon
A sausage in a pancake being eaten.
Dig in

Friday, 10 June 2016

Marley Spoon and Olia Hercules

video

If you take the time to have a quick look at the short video above, you will hopefully notice two things. 

First of all, you will see that I have conjured up a rather gorgeous looking plate of food there. The lamb is pink, the cucumbers and radishes are vibrant and crisp; and the potatoes, they look like they have been griddled and dressed in some sort of green...salsa? Yes? Wow, they look very good don't they.  

You will also appreciate that it's a bit all over the shop, a tad too shaky and unstable, coming in and out of focus. Perhaps you'll soon realise that I didn't mean to shoot a video of my food at all. Listen carefully and towards the end, you will hear a sudden gormless realisation of 'shit, I've got this on the wrong setting' mumble. Thus revealing a certain ineptitude when it comes to food photography. I pride myself on taking a good snap but what you don't know, is that it takes roughly a hundred snaps, before I get the right snap. And that's before I suddenly realise that I am videoing my food and not actually taking photos altogether. Oh dear.

One day, I will treat myself to a course at the local sixth form college and get down with da kids. Or maybe a one-to-one with a professional photographer, who can show me what I can do with all the fanciful knobs and buttons on my very expensive SLR, complete with a 50ml lens. I am not ashamed to admit this by the way. I have seen way too many bloggers of the same ilk, turning up to restaurants and events, with massive camera, telescopic doodah, tripod and snazzy bag to carry all the gumpf. You'd think they'd know what they were doing wouldn't you? And yet time and time again, I've seen people stand up with plates and walk over to a window, all for that magical 'daylight' and all because they don't know how to adjust the ISO snarplex cylinder. Or something. No, simply understanding what I can do with my camera would be a boon. To save time, if anything else. 


Segueing nicely then, and I do like a good ol' segueing, when it comes to time saving, having recently tried out a recipe box from Marley Spoon, they definitely do make things swift and efficient in the cooking department. The concept of Marley Spoon, if you wasn't aware, is that they come up with subscribed weekly recipes and pre-measured bundles of fresh ingredients; wrapped in environmentally friendly yet slight smelly insulating sheep's wool; boxed and delivered; for busy, upwardly mobile, sexy young go-getters; who can't be arsed to shop and who don't like to get creative in the kitchen; or chop onions.

Which, I am sure you will agree is a slightly negative and cynical point of view and this was roughly my opinion prior to agreeing to try one. The saving grace for Ms Marley and Dr Spoon is that actually, after going for it, I have to say that I was mightily impressed. I made up Ms Marley and Dr Spoon by the way. It's a curious name isn't it. I wonder how they came up with it?

Anyway, the recipe box sent to me was part of a month long collaboration with Olia Hercules, Observer's Rising Star of 2015 and author of celebrated cookbook, Mamushka and having heard lots about her Georgian influences, I was intrigued to see how it would all pan out.

Like I said, the recipes were amazing. I mean really good and I am not jumping on the bandwagon here. I tried Olia's meat offering first. Simple yet different, her lamb with mint ajika grilled potato went down very well. Ajika is really just like any piquant green sauce you might find, but the addition of a green chilli was a new one on me, to add just a touch of heat. The garlic kick I got from it was also surprising, especially as only one clove was used (and I very nearly added another). As was the suggestion, I am ashamed to admit, that wrapping the lamb in foil would guarantee soft, tender perfection. Taking only 20 minutes to prepare and cook, this was a lovely and understated introduction to Olia's brand of cuisine.



The second recipe, a salad from the Marley Spoon collection was no less impressive. Combining earthy, nutty, al dente grains (including quinoa, oh my God, why have I been slagging that stuff off so much?) with the rich, oily flesh of mackerel and cutting through with a sharp, citrus dressing was a revelatory combination. Plus adding the roasted fennel, which now has to be my all-time favourite vegetable; well, my eyebrows sat squarely atop my shiny bald head after finishing the plate. And it was oh so pretty too. Brilliant.






















As such, if I thought I could get away with it, I would now continually shop with them, rustling up the dishes with the ingredients and recipe cards they send and pass them off as my own for the blog. It would make life a lot easier. But eventually pride and possibly a lawsuit for plagiarism would soon get in the way. I am sure that some eagle eyed readers would soon be commenting that my style has morphed somewhat and has become very similar to Olia's. Yelping that I've just spent a weekend in Tbilsi wouldn't be enough. She definitely has a new fan though.







High praise indeed then for Sparley Moon but in the interests of impartiality and not to make this review too floral and sucky, I would like give them some feedback. First of all, laminate your recipe cards so that customers can keep them for posterity. Not everyone is as fastidious or clean when cooking (ahem). And secondly, I would argue that I could shop personally for slightly less than the subscription fee; even when applying principles of provenance, quality, husbandry, organic, blah, blah, blah. But I think I would happily sign up, especially if the offerings are as good as this and may well do.

Coming back to the physical pleasure of shopping though, I have to say that I do prefer to do these things myself. Aside from ordering meat and beer online that is. However, if I happened upon their recipe boxes in a supermarket (which I am sure would have to be designed and marketed in a more flashier way, unfortunately) I am sure I would snap one up with glee. If pinched for time, Marley Spoon is a far better proposition than a ready meal or one those £10 deals, with the moody bottle of wine thrown in. Not just because the end result is so tasty, it actually gets you to cook. Imagine that eh? Actually cooking.

And whilst I was in the supermarket I would probably pick up a copy of Digital Photo Mastery for Dickheads, if such a publication exists. Then I really would start saving those precious minutes.


Marley Spoon and their collaboration with Olia Hercules continues until June 24th.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Sagres and The Vomit Comet


Having spent 40 years on this planet, you would have thought that I am now old and wise enough to learn from past mistakes. But no, like the proverbial man-boy that I am, I still get caught out. I still make decisions that go awry. I still get drunk and fall asleep on trains and wake up in the darkest regions of Essex.

It started with a phone call. An old mate is working in the neighbourhood, did I fancy a quick pint after work? Of course I did. One quick pint never hurt anybody and the quick pint in question was Sagres, an inoffensive and fairly bland lager from Portugual. Quaffable, especially during conversation. Easy going, pale, slightly hoppy and slips down your neck with no issue, aside from the occasional burping and inconvenience of having to go to the loo every 10 minutes. Because you are old and you have broken the seal.

One more? Oh go on then, this is fun and spontaneous. This is living! HA! Hahahahahaha.

I am not sure how many we got through last night but having found myself on the last train out of Fenchurch Street, otherwise known as The Vomit Comet, I gave myself a little fist bump on the forehead.

'Don't fall asleep. Don't fall asleep. Don't fall asleep.'

So I fell asleep and woke up in Laindon, near Bas Vagas. Not a disaster. I've woken up in Southend before (and swung a missed kick at a cyclist who jumped off the train, laughing at my obvious distress). But it meant getting one of those cabs that hoovers up sozzled commuters after midnight. Their grins widen and amplify once addresses are given and miles are calculated and I hate that.

However, sometimes, it's worth it. Paying that bit extra at the end of the evening. Because you should always treasure these moments, when they occur off the cuff. They are always the best.

So go out tonight and have fun and if you see it on tap, drink some of this cervejas, it's not that bad really.

A good tip is to stand on the train home though.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Braised fennel and cucumber with sourdough crumbs, smoked pancetta and baked cod loin


There seems to be a strange transition going in my life at the moment. In that I’ve discovered that I rather enjoy certain fruit and vegetables that I would ordinarily eat raw on my plate cooked. Celery springs to mind straight away. I love cooked celery and perhaps straight away, you are already thinking ‘Well, that’s not unusual. Celery goes into lots of things like stews and soups and undergoes a transformative effect due to heat.’ And yes, you would be right in pondering that but have you eaten celery, unadorned, bar just the simplest of braising in vegetable stock? It’s gorgeous.

The same goes for lettuce, little gems in particular, which are fantastic after a burst on the grill or a quick bath in butter. Or radishes, wrapped in foil with a bit of salt and baked in the oven for ten minutes. Transformative. And tomatoes! Have you tried to cook tomatoes before? They are amazing and go with just about anything.

OK, I am being extremely facetious with that last comment, and you will probably recognise that most of the ingredients mentioned thus far often feature in cold British salads. The real confession then is that I have been cooking my salad ingredients lately and the recent addition to this list has been the fairly innocuous cucumber. Much as I like them raw, with their herbal (think parsley) and fresh, juicy flavour, cucumbers to me do have a tendency to fade into the background on a plate. They only really seem to shine when raw, slathered with plum sauce and dolloped with Peking duck in a pancake, to provide that all important crunch.

When pickled, that’s when cucumbers really do come into their own, to sit proudly in buns atop burgers or wedged into slices of barbecued pork belly. To act as a brackish conduit, to help cut through fat. But then again that is a pity because the cucumber still loses its original identity and again turns it into just another condiment.

Cooking cucumbers however, is different. By taking them to the edge, in a pan of oil, lemon and garlic, along with some lovely caramelised fennel, they retain a certain character. That sensuous bite and touch of grassiness, which pairs up perfectly with white fish like cod. Coming back to the fennel for a second here, according to Niki Segnit’s ‘Flavour Thesaurus,’ a combination of cucumber and aniseed is one of the most arousing scent known to mankind (according to a study in 1998 by the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago). Which is good to know. But most importantly, they’ll deliver a great surprise when guests tuck in.

‘Oooh, I’ve never thought of braising cucumbers before,’ they’ll say. And you’ll look very clever indeed.

So try cooking cucumbers, instead of eating them raw, or pickled. It’s the future.

This post first appeared on Great British Chefs in association with The Cucumber Growers Association

Braised fennel and cucumber with sourdough crumbs, smoked pancetta and baked cod loin - serves 4

4 cod loins, each weighing 180g
4 fennel bulbs, small trimmed (keep the fronds) and sliced into 2cm wedges
2 cucumbers, deseeded and sliced into half rounds
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
75ml of water
1 lemon, zested and finely sliced
1 tbsp of mint, chopped
150g of smoked pancetta, sliced
150g of sourdough bread, stale
5 tbsp of rapeseed oil, plus extra to serve
salt
pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4

First make the sourdough crumbs by tearing the bread into pieces and blitzing in a food processor. It’s good to have a mixture of sizes, so don’t go too fine. Place the crumbs on a baking tray, pour over a liberal coating of oil and mix altogether

Place in the oven for 5–7 minutes, until the crumbs have become crisp and golden. Put to one side.


Next, place a wide saucepan over a medium- high heat on the hob and add the rapeseed oil. When it is hot, add the fennel wedges and briskly fry for about 10 minutes, turning them frequently as they colour. Then turn the heat down and continue to cook for another 10–15 minutes, until golden and caramelised.


Now add the cucumber, half of the smoked pancetta and the garlic and cook off for another 5 minutes before adding the lemon zest and water. Cover and braise for 10 minutes.


Whilst the vegetables are softening down, prepare your cod loin by cutting out four squares of foil. Place a couple of slices of lemon on each one and then place the cod on top. Drizzle some rapeseed oil over the cod and scatter the fennel fronds on top.


Wrap the foil up so that you have space for steam to flow (create a foil bag in other words) and bake in the oven for 8–10 minutes.

When ready to plate up, take a frying pan and quickly fry off the remaining pancetta over a high heat, so that it crisps up nicely.


For presentation (and to get a nice circle) I often like to remove the bottom from a flan tin and place the ring in the centre of the plate, but you could also just spoon straight on.

Take the braised fennel and cucumber and spread it evenly onto your plate. Sprinkle over a liberal amount of sourdough crumb and place the cod loin on top. Finish by dotting some pancetta around over the crumb and drizzle any leftover oily pan juices all over.