Saturday, 3 March 2018

Andi Walker at The Riverside Inn, Chelmsford

Before I continue with this review, I think I should reveal that I have a soft spot for Andi Walker. Having met plenty of chefs now, I can safely say that he is definitely one of the nice guys. Modest and humble, he simply wants to do the best he can and create honest, hearty and fulfilling grub. That said, Andi also has the minerals, so to speak, to produce some rather stunning and exceptional plates of food.

Last year, prior to his eventual takeover of the Riverside Inn in Chelmsford, I visited the pop-up that Andi was running upstairs. The tasting menu he conjured up was brilliant. Dabbles of joy turned up in the form of salt baked celeriac with burnt apple, mustard and hazelnuts. A beautiful piece of guinea fowl breast, dusted with pancetta, paired up with textures of onion and a croquette containing soft, rich, ribboned thigh was exceptional. And his clementine sorbet, with vanilla ice cream and white chocolate snow rounded off proceedings perfectly. It was a great night and I even managed to wrestle a small jar of Andi's Marmite butter from him, such was his generosity.

Couple that with the fact that Andi is obviously a proud Dad, hardworking and just recently, has been organising soup and sandwich runs out to the homeless in Chelmsford, due to the snow that we've been having; well, you can see why I think that he is such a good egg.


Yes, you saw this coming, didn't you. Because despite all the praise I have just bestowed upon him, the man stitched me right up recently. I went to his launch party back in January. You know, to show some love and support and the place was swinging. Monkfish goujons and butternut squash bhaji's were flying out the kitchen and prosecco was poured over the bar with gay abandon. And though he was busy, Andi even made time to come up to me, to see if I had been enjoying everything so far. In particular, he wanted to know what I thought of the Essex Sausage Roll.

With mouth full, I could barely reply but it sort of went - 'Grepht mate! Bit's all bloody greatffh! You shoub enter next beers Grut Bausage Boll Off!'

To which he laughed, and then replied:

'Hey, have you met Dean? You should say hello. Hey Dean! This is Danny! You remember the guy who wrote all that crap about us on Great British Chefs, when we were on MasterChef? This is him!'

And off he went. Leaving me with Dean Westcar, who looked me up and down and then said - 'Oh yeah, I remember you.'

With the eyes of a cool killer.

That's tough you know. That is quite hard to get through. Facing up to someone that you may or may not have rubbished online. Especially when you can't really remember what you said. I think I may have stood there silent, wide-eyed, with an inane grin and half a sausage roll hanging out of my mouth for at least a minute.

Thankfully, Dean broke the ice by commenting on the aforementioned sausage roll and how good it was. Then we ended up having a chat about Masterchef and what he was up to at Lucknam Park and soon all was well. I then made my excuses and ran straight to the toilet and locked myself in there to Google and find out what the hell I had written. It wasn't that bad.

I am sure seasoned food writers and restaurant critics, endure this all the time and it is of no surprise to me, that Giles Coren was plastering his sliced spam all over social media last week. I am sure that someone has clocked him, finally. But that night did serve a reminder that one must live and stand by their words and be prepared to jump through a window, or leap into a passing car, should anything like that happen again.

I didn't stay angry at Andi for long by the way. I think I may have even hugged him on the way out -free prosecco, see - promising to return with my children in tow. Which we did during the half-term break, to take advantage of their offer that 'kids eat free'.

Coming back to The Riverside Inn itself for a second then, the pub, originally owned by Youngs, has been taken over by the Blue Group. So there is now a degree of plushness, glamour and bling about the place, such is their signature style. But thankfully, there are still a few rough edges (not forgetting low ceilings) and the pub's sense of history - it used to be a watermill in the 17th Century - remains intact. The bar area itself is perhaps a little bit cramped for a Friday night session but seeing as Andi and co are moving The Riverside into gastropub and fine dining territory, that probably doesn't matter so much. Parking is a slight snag but once the neighbouring ice rink and sports centre is finished, things should ease up. In fact, summers outside at The Riverside Inn, with the arrival of a Josper grill in the beer garden should turn this place into quite the destination.

All bolstered, of course, by Andi's menus. If Andi and his team keeps ploughing on, like they did with our lunch a couple of weeks ago, then all will be well.

Despite quietly telling myself to work a solid line of vegetables into my lunch, I was quickly undone by the mention of ham hock, with mustard mayonnaise and gherkins. I love a wally and as always, it proved to be a great foil to the shredded pork, all unctuous and sweet. Some mustard seed had also been folded into the porcine mix and they are so great when braised, ready for teeth to pop little bursts of soft heat onto the palate. A more than decent stray then, from regular terrine and pickled Branston.

Mrs FU, also had her meaty spectacles on and went for the crispy chilli beef salad. Which again is fairly commonplace these days as a starter, but it can err on the chewy side. You wonder how long it has been left coagulating in the fridge sometimes. But this was obviously cooked to order and seared fiercely, to provide that texture and to keep a good strong flavour of cow. Blended with honey, seasame and soy, the bowl also delivered plenty of fresh hits. I got one tiny piece to eat.

For mains, I decided on fish, quite triumphantly. In fact, I said - 'Gang, I am forgoing any more pork today and I am going to have the roasted cod.' And my son promptly fainted. With a crackling yet pliable skin on top and quivering flakes underneath, the fillet had been cooked very well indeed. The accompanying tomato, bean and chorizo stew did lack a little bit of zing. Personally I would have liked some more chilli heat but overall it worked well and encouraged plenty of finger swiping afterwards.

By contrast, Mrs FU carried on falling head first into the world of pork. A fair whack of a chop that had been sourced by Essex favourite, Great Garnetts, sprinkled with some bacon and perched on some very good colcannon. The skill is in the cooking but I am sure chef will back up the importance of sourcing quality meat here and the flavour and consistency of this chop spoke volumes. The accompanying gravy also scored high marks and more moping with digits.

Not forgetting da' kids, for they are mini-critics too, they both plumped for the Southern Fried Chicken, with 'slaw and fries. Having visited their first KFC back in December, I was a bit nervous, as they both walked away battle scarred and terribly greasy and made me vow that I never to take them there again (fair play to them, the one we visited was a sh*t hole). So it was gratifying to see them give Andi's version the big thumbs up. Because you can't beat fried chicken really. Finlay could have probably eaten twice as much. But he is going to be 6'6 when he grows up.

By this point, both Mrs FU and I were stuffed, so we decided to share a dessert and then immediately regretted the idea of sharing a dessert when it turned up. A honey parfait with bitter caramel, honeycomb and chocolate delice, it was far too delicious and small for two to share. And perhaps if the children hadn't been there, a bitter slanging match would have erupted. So take my advice. Do not share this dessert. Treat yourself and have one all to yourself. Have two even. Four! Seriously. Do it!

With the addition of drinks, our bill came to a very reasonable £65, excluding tips, which is not bad at all. Even if The Riverside had not been running that special offer, it still would have been great value - the kids menus start from £7.95. We have sat in a couple of chains over the school holidays before and often the premise of the children's menu is to offer something of the guise of being cheap and cheerful but all it essentially amounts to is bread, bread and bread. It was also helpful that Andi also threw a couple of those wonderful sausage rolls our way, gratis, but a return is on the cards and soon. Sunday lunch in particular, is meant to be worth the journey.

Great stuff then, from a man who is essentially a lovely soul. Though he will drop you right in it, from time to time.

But then again, most chefs do that, don't they?

Andi Walker at The Riverside Inn, Chelmsford
Victoria Road
CM2 6LJ,

Phone: 01245 266 881

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Mashed Potato Pizza

This is not real
By all accounts, there is no such thing as making 'too much mashed potato.'

It doesn't exist. It is not there. It is a figment of our imagination and this is true. Because if one does find that they have made too much mashed potato, then a whole new world of possibilities awaits. Where mashed potato can be transformed into something else. Into say a fish cake, or some bubble and squeak. You can even use it to make ice cream! Although please do note, that the recipe in that link is actually a recipe on how to simply make mashed potato, and not ice cream. Stupid Canadians.

But coming back to the transcendental nature of mashed potato, the main point is that leftover creamed spuds can easily be used up and will soon disappear into the ether, by way of your gullet and become no more. Thus completing an existential circle that sparks the bigger questions of what is real and what is illusion? What is mashed potato? Is it like dark matter? Could it be a fundamental glue, that holds together the very fabric of our universe?

If I have confused you (and I suspect that I have) then please do sign up for my new course - 'Food Philosophy 101' - which will be added to the timetable of short courses, at London's Imperial College next Autumn.

Should I get the funding.

In the meantime, I suppose I better get on with the recipe and the inspiration that came out of making mashed potato pizza. Yes, that's right, mashed potato pizza. Closely related to Irish farls, along with the distant cousin of Italian gnocchi, combining potato and flour isn't too much of a stretch of the imagination. Yet it hadn't occurred to me to make a pizza with spuds until I read a recipe in The Kitchen Revolution. Namely a cheese and onion potato bread pizza, that is fairly innovative for using up supernumerary* mash.

The changes from my end came by way of using up the remains of a jar of pesto for the dough mix. Plus using up some slightly stale mushrooms. Not forgetting some Spianata Romana salami that was going a touch crispy around the edges. Oh and a small lump of cheddar that was beginning to bruise. So, this really is a good trick of clearing out all the bits and pieces that you may have ruminating in the fridge. A hot blast in the oven and no-one will be the wiser.

I also decided to give the base a swirl of garlicky tomato with oregano, which isn't essential. In fact, it might be better to keep the pizza bianco, to ensure an even baking. But still, we all wolfed down the pizza with aplomb, spongy base and all. In terms of whipping this up for quick lunchtime bite, it took all of about 25 minutes to put together. 'Brilliant!' - as they used to say on The Fast Show.

Basically, I am just happy that I've added another way of using up mashed potato to my repertoire of cooking. Of course, again, we must remember that too much mashed potato empirically does not exist and the same could be said for my repertoire. But that is an intellectual discussion to be left for another time.

In fact, I might make that a module on my course.

*Yes, I have been looking at that pesky thesaurus again.

Mashed Potato Pizza - serves four


For the base
600g leftover mashed potatoes, room temperature (floury ones, please)
150g self-raising flour
1 free range egg
1 tbs green pesto
milk, if needed

For the topping
1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
Half a tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
Rapeseed oil
Salt and pepper, to season

Salami, torn
Mushrooms, sliced
Cheddar, grated (I realise this may be sacrilege but we didn't have any mozzarella)
Small sprigs of rosemary


Heat your oven to 200°C and place a small saucepan on the hob, over a medium heat and add a dash of oil.

When hot, add the garlic and fry off for 30 seconds or so, until the slivers start to turn golden and then add the tomatoes and oregano. Cook through for about 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and season to taste.

Whilst the sauce is bubbling, make your pizza base by adding the mash to a bowl, along with the egg and mix together to make a soft dough. Then add the pesto, mixing some more and then add the flour.

Bring the dough together using your hands and if the dough is too dry, add a touch of milk. Likewise, if it is too dry, then add some more flour. Roll or pad the dough out into a rough circle and place onto a floured baking tray.

Spread the tomato base across, leaving an edge around the outside and add your toppings, including a small drizzle of oil. Less is more and should ensure an even cooking. If you lump the ingredients up, then you might get into trouble.

Bake in the oven for 15 minutes until the dough has puffed up a touch and browned, and the cheese has melted.

Slice and serve.

Mash potato pizza!
Sliced mashed potato pizza

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Galvin Green Man, Howe St, Chelmsford

Up until early last year, if you asked me about the Essex food scene, or rather, the Essex restaurant scene; to my eternal shame, I probably wouldn't had that much of an opinion. I could have banged on about my local ockabasi or favourite Thai restaurant maybe, plus a couple of decent pubs here and there. But the truth is, I never really use to eat out that much in God's Own County. I much prefer to head into the bright lights of the city, or that there London you see. When I can afford it that is.

Then I got a gig, doing some reviewing and writing for a quarterly lifestyle magazine called 'Exquisite Essex' and was suddenly plunged, head first, into the deep end. This was all new to me but I soon found out that the nature of magazine publishing was largely based on doing things at the last minute. For my first edition, I visited twelve restaurants in the space of about three weeks and I am sure some seasoned pros and bloggers reading this will scoff at this. However, that is still a lot. Three courses of rather extravagant food will keep you going all day, I quickly discovered. Especially if I went for lunch. If I went for dinner, I was doomed. Because I'd often forget and casually snack throughout the day before remembering I had an appointment in the evening and scarpering off. Ooof. Nurse!

Nevertheless, the whole exercise - for want of a better phrase, because I do need to get some - has meant adding extra strings to my writing bows. A couple of venues have erred on the provincial or safe side, for sure. Some have formed film sets and scenes straight out of TOWIE. And some encounters have been downright embarrassing. I went to one new, cavernous establishment, that was in the the final stages of a refurbishment, having been invited to take part in what is known as a 'cook off'. This is where the kitchen runs through the entire menu, so that staff, management and investors can sample and taste every single dish before opening doors to the general public. After walking through hanging plastic sheeting and over cardboard strewn across the floor, I saw some fella leaning on the bar; in jeans and worn polo shirt, wolfing down some cooking lager. I thought he might have been a fitter or decorator. So I said to him - 'This is all looking good, mate. Suppose all you need to do is finish a few slaps of paint off here and there and you'll be done and onto the next job.'

'What you talking abaaht painting, mate? I don't do no painting raaaand 'ere. I own the fackin' place.'

You live and learn. But the point I am trying to make is that, by and large, we do have some cracking places in Essex to eat out. And I can now gladly list a proper top five...or top ten even, with these old sausage fingers of mine. Come to me for ideas and I will thoroughly recommend The Anchor, in Hullbridge; The Star Inn, in Ingatestone; and The White Hart, in Great Yeldham. Although that last one is practically in Suffolk. Oh and another one to watch is Andi Walker's revamp of the Riverside Inn, opening very soon.

To add to the growing list is the Galvin Green Man, a restaurant and pub, situated in Howe St, just outside of Chelmsford. You may well have recognised by the name, that this pub is connected to the Michelin starred Galvin Brothers. Or Chris and Jeff, as I like to call them. So, with that name comes quite a pedigree and I have been wanting to visit their latest outpost of their empire, back in their homeland, for some time now.

If the Green Man was once a quaint and pleasant village boozer, it certainly isn't now. Just swinging into the car park reveals a huge barn extension at the back. But thankfully, it is all in keeping with the older front part of the building. He says, like Kevin McCloud. And inside, whilst everything looks all shiny and polished, with glass and metal competing with open brick, render and gnarly beams, there are enough curios to keep you amused and overall, the airy space works very well. Especially with two blazing wood burners on display. Oh, how I love a wood burner

We arrived with my in-laws in tow for lunch and specifically, whenever the father-in-law is invited anywhere, there is always the danger that we have brought him to some place 'poncy'. But even he was soon bowled over by the whole ambiance and put at ease by the swift arrival of a pint of Adnams, all delivered with a warm smile.

The good start carried on, when our waitress brought some home-baked bread for us to nibble on, whilst we looked through the menu. As Mrs FU and I were paying for the meal by way of a belated Christmas treat, we ushered her parents straight towards the set menu at the bottom of the page. And before you call me a cheapskate, it's January. The kids have cleared us right out and we have just about enough bread and dripping to see us out till payday. Besides, I always feel you should be confident that any restaurant worth it's salt, will deliver a decent two or three course, with a more than palatable house wine, Because if it all falls apart at that first hurdle, then gawd only knows what the a la carte will be like. You hear me? Fine.

So, a handsome ham hock terrine, with pear and cider chutney, and steaming bowl of pumpkin veloute with chestnut appeared quite promptly after ordering. A little too promptly maybe, but given that we were all starving (or at least I was, I've been eating nothing but bread and dripping remember) it didn't matter too much. And anyway, both dishes were great. Really good examples of showing what you can do with some simple ingredients and more than just a touch of skill. The terrine was rather elegant actually, with a nice amount of delicate liver coursing through and we all cooed over the cosseting nature of the soup. Squasheses are not just for Autumn you know.

Next up, came two really big, hearty plates of food. A generous fillet of sea bream, with crushed potato and a cauliflower, pine nut and caper dressing, enjoyed singularly by my mother-in-law (we were allowed a small bite each). As for the rest of us, we all laid waste to some amazing pork rump, sourced from Great Garnett's Farm in Dunmow, which is just down the road. Served with a silky pomme puree and meaty, ambrosial jus, it was...bloody hell, it was amazing. Quite possibly brined and then lightly smoked before grilling, it was the best, most succulent pork I have had in a long time. Even the reddened bark of the skin was tender and yielding. As opposed to the usual chew. Outstanding, really outstanding. And we ordered some more bread to mop up the gravy. So uncouth.

Our desserts hit top marks too. A stalwart in the form of bramley apple and blackberry crumble, and an indulgent Marquise, served with blood orange sorbet and candied pistachio. Again, no small or meager offerings were to be found here. If you order the crumble, do not drive. Not that it is alcoholic in any way. It is just so comforting and soothing, you may well need to have a quick lie down afterwards (there are sofas in the pub). One slight trip up was the chocolate skid mark to accompany the slab of rich chocolate and sharp quenelle. It really is unnecessary, does nothing to enhance a plate and is not befitting of a noblewoman such as myself. But the overall combination of flavours was pretty damn perfect and I really liked all the other additions. Some micro herbs here (lemon balm?) and a small cracked pile of caramel there. So all was forgiven. Just.

The cost of these three courses came to the princely sum of £15.50 a head - plus extra for wine and more beer (I wasn't that stingy). Which, given what we ate and the quality, was astounding. I think, perhaps, this is what impressed me most about the Galvin Green Man. At its very heart, it is still a pub after all and there is evidence throughout the venue, of an aim to bring about a community spirit though other special deals. They do cinema nights, with the offer of a burger and a pint for £10. Burns Night is looking like five courses for a very reasonable £35. That romantic devil, Fred Sirieix, is even turning up for a book signing soon. £32 for a two course lunch, a copy of his new book 'Secret Service' and the chance to gaze into those blue eyes of his. Once more, not bad.

OK, we are are edging into territory that is over and beyond your usual village pub programme of events. And you can go all out in there, most definitely. As we sat and ate, the restaurant filled up quite quickly and I remember enviously spying a platter loaded with some beautiful looking Cote de Boeuf, heading off into the distance. So when this month is over, we must return for a splurge and when the kids will have also got their jobs sweeping chimneys and selling matchsticks. It's all lined up.

But in the meantime, I will happily and regularly return to Galvin Green Man. To take them up on that set menu of theirs, to appreciate the friendly service and while away an hour or three in the bar.

Yep, I am definitely adding the Galvin Green Man to my newly expanding file of 'Essex Restaurants Wot I Really Like'.

And the way things are going, I am going to need some extra fingers.

Galvin Green Man
Main Road, Howe Street
Great Waltham
Essex, CM3 1BG

Tel - 01245 408820

Monday, 15 January 2018

Sainsbury’s Korean Meatballs with Edamame Beans and Pak Choi

I went to the doctors recently. Having gorged myself stupid over the Christmas period, where I was practically inhaling mince pies, hoovering up Quality Street from off the floor and setting up an intravenous drip every night - to ferry gooey Mont d’Or straight into my podgy veins - I wondered if I had overdone things a touch you see. The doctor, as they often do, sent me for a blood test and a couple of days later, I got a frantic phone call from him whilst out shopping for a new pair of trousers with elasticated waist.

‘Mr Kingston, the tests are back and it’s not good.’

I paused for second, before replying sternly - ‘Give it to me straight, doc.’

‘Well, according to these results, at present you are 24% cheese, 35% sausagemeat, 12% Toblerone and 46% tawny port.’

‘Doctor, that makes no sense. That comes to 117%!’

‘I know! I can’t work it out either.’

Of course, this is all make believe. I didn’t touch one triangle of Toblerone over Christmas. But like many people in January, I have been stewing over my overindulgence. The problem with ‘another year over’ is just that. You are another year older and so the necessities of a sensible diet, moderate drinking and *gulp* exercise do come looming into view. Yes, even when you are in your extremely late thirties.

However, despite these thoughts, I never really think about going to extremes. I am a middle of the road kinda guy. Rather than put myself through the self-flagellation of a life on mung beans, or thinking about conquering the Three Peaks, I believe in smaller changes. Less is more. And if you store up the less, then occasionally, you can have a bit more than usual.

I am going to apply this principle to that of my meat consumption. I am not going to stop eating meat. No. Never. Uh-uh. But I am going to stop eating so much. And I am going to eat more fish, vegetables, pulses, fruit and nuts.

In other words, I am going to become a flexitarian.

Now stop with all that laughing, with all your snidey comments at the back. Yes, I know that is how many of us have been carrying out their eating habits. Like for years and years and years. But I can also think of many people near and dear, who eat meat daily. Even if on some days, it is only in the form of wafer-thin ham, they still eat meat. So, there are a lot of people who could do well to step off that carnivorous treadmill and add a degree of flexibility to proceedings. Or try a slow transition from solid animal protein to a selection of plant based calories at the very least. And you know what? I think a lot of people are beginning to realise that.

By way of acknowledging this change in public perception, Sainsbury’s have recently launched a new range of products that meet this need. Saying that, with their army of informants, spies and market research analysts, they probably saw this mood coming a mile off. But still, the good thing about their selection of sausages and meatballs is that the key message is one of subtle inclusivity. And not the veritable whacking over your head with a large carrot, shouting - ‘YOU MUST CHANGE YOUR WAYS! YOU MUST CHANGE WAYS!’

Principally named ‘Love Meat & Veg’ there is a touch of the old school about the range. The British diet, for a long time, was exactly that after all. But the percentages here are around 50% meat and 50% vegetables, which means things do add up evenly. And combinations come in a variety of guises. Such as pork, with kale and squash; or chicken with feta and spinach. All suited for busy people, young and old, who not only want to get something nutritious and quick on the table but something that also tastes of meat. It’s interesting isn’t it. When you hear of some products, such as vegetarian bacon or vegan honeycomb, it does make you wonder if we’ll ever truly relinquish our appetites for animal products. I think I’d sooner go for the halfway house, over tricking my taste buds in any other way.

Speaking of which, I recently tried their slightly exotic Korean Meatballs with Edamame Beans and Pak Choi and paired them up with a crunchy, Asian style salad of mooli, carrot and cucumber for lunch. Given that my bowl worked out at roughly 75% vegetables and 25% rich spicy beef, I was very surprised to feel as sated as I did afterwards and that was with a serving of just five meatballs. There must be something in this flexitarian malarkey after all.

Then again, I did also make a hot aubergine pickle to accompany the dish. That must have brought the total up to 136% at least.

No matter, here is the recipe.

Sainsbury’s Korean Meatballs with Edamame Beans and Pak Choi – Serves 4

First, a little introduction. Whilst these meatballs are perfectly fine to serve up by themselves, I tinkered with the cooking method slightly, just so that I could bring some dressing into the mix, which comes in the form of a traditional Korean bulgogi sauce. There are loads of variants out there, but the prime ingredients include soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, garlic and rice vinegar. So, I made up a mix of my own and after 20 minutes baking in the oven, I thwacked the meatballs into a frying pan, all drizzled with the bulgogi to coat, thicken and pour over the leftover jus afterwards.

Secondly, the aubergine pickle is a bit of an old fave. A sort of thick, tangy, savoury gloop, inspired by an old Asian cookbook, that throws everything in, including the kitchen sink. It doesn’t score any points for authenticity, but it is very tasty and adds a ‘meaty’ element to curries, stir fries and whatnot.


For the salad
2 Packs of Korean Meatballs
1 mooli, peeled into wide strips
2 large carrots, peeled into wide strips
1 cucumber, peeled into wide strips
2 red chillies (I used those regular finger chillies), thinly slices
Large bunch of mint
Spring onions, white parts sliced into rounds, green parts shredded
1 tbs of rice wine or cider vinegar
1 tps sugar

For the bulgogi sauce
6 tbs dark soy sauce
3 tbs water
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tbs rice wine or cider vinegar
1 tbs honey
1 clove of garlic
Cracked black pepper

For the aubergine pickle
2 large aubergines, sliced into strips
6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
Thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
4 tsps Garam Masala
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp fish sauce
Juice from one lime
250ml vegetable oil


First get the aubergine pickle out of the way but placing a wide pan onto the hob over a medium heat and add half of the oil (125mls) and heat and then add the aubergine strips. Fry in the oil for about five minutes or until golden brown.

Whilst the aubergine is cooking, throw the garlic, ginger, Garam Masala, turmeric and chilli flakes into a food processor, with a small drizzle of oil and blitz to a paste. Add the fish sauce and lime juice and blitz again.

When the aubergine is ready, add the paste, along with the rest of the oil and stir in. Cook uncovered for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the aubergine has practically broken down and become rich and brown. Once done, transfer to a bowl to cool down.

To make up the salad, simply combine the mooli, carrot and cucumber strip in a bowl and add the rice wine vinegar and sugar. Leave in the fridge to marinade for 30 mins or so.

Next heat your oven to 190°C, line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and place the Korean meatballs on top and pop them into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for your bulgogi sauce and mix together.

To finish the meatballs, pop them into a frying pan over a medium to high heat, along with the bulgogi sauce. The sauce will thicken and get sticky quite quickly, so move the meatballs around a bit to coat and then take off the heat.

Before plating up, take the salad out of the fridge and pour off any excess fluid. Tear up a generous amount of mint leaves and add to the bowl, along with the chilli and spring onion. Mix together to combine.

To serve, portion up a good amount of salad per each plate and then balance the meatballs on top, 6 meatballs each.

Finish by drizzling over any of the sauce that is left and bring the aubergine pickle to the table.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Dreaming of Serrano Ham and Cheese Croquettes and Zombies

I am never quite sure when the cut off date for greeting people with 'Happy New Year' actually is. Do you get the whole of January to shoehorn it in? Or should that salutation be all done and dusted in the first week? It is arguable that you should continue saying it throughout the year. Especially when meeting people that you haven't seen in a lot time. It is important to let people know that you care. Just make sure that they know, that you know, what year it is. Because if you start banging on with - 'And I hope that your 2007 is a good one.' Well, people are going to really think that you've lost the plot.


So, anyway. Here we are in 2018 and as always, everyone has gone galloping off with all those good intentions. To be fitter, happier, more productive and I am not immune to that pervading sense of guilt that I really should be doing something better. Like working harder at this blog for instance. This poxy food blog! That I love and care about. That I pick up and stroke and then put down, and forget about for a month or so. Before clicking on again once more. To have it stare back at me, shaking, unloved and whimpering - 'What did I do wrong?'

The hard thing though is keeping at things when you are writing for other people. This is my third treatment along the theme of New Year, New Me. Jesus, what more can I say on the subject! But plough on I will. For Food Urchin has brought me a load of opportunities over the years. Many that you have not heard about. Because I am a lazy sausage. But I weally, weally, weally want to make that a thing of the past and use FU as the platform it is supposed to be. Which is a fun place to come and read about food and drink through my eyes, maybe learn a thing or two (maybe) and simply escape from the increasingly strained vibe that is out there.

One thing that I have been working on, that has sort of evolved by accident, is FU Dreams. Just recently I have been posting little ditties on Twitter, normally in the morning, giving a brief breakdown of last night's dream. Now, the cynic in you will read them and think - 'OK Dan, aren't we just letting our imaginations run riot here, with these supposed scenarios, these nightly interludes. Isn't this all just a bit... needy?' Well no, not really. Because in all seriousness, these are the sort of dreams that I do indeed have. Honest.

And right now, a lot of you are thinking (if you've read them) - 'Christ Dan, you need help! Or need to stop eating cheese before bed at the very least.'

I do use a certain degree of artistic license, certainly. But the spark usually comes from an episode or interaction with something food related the day before. Something simply happens, that kicks off the dream. And thankfully, they always seem to segue into something entertaining. At least I hope they do. So do keep your eyes peeled, as there will be more. And besides its CONTEEEEEENT.

A fine example of this 'connection' came with I took charge of a huge lump of Gran Reserva Serrano, or a whole leg of jamon, just before Christmas, delivered by unearthed. With eyes wide open, I unpacked it and set up the stand and placed the award winning beauty atop, making sure to screw the thing in tight. I then stood pack in quiet contemplation, to ponder upon it's magnificence for a while. Then the horror struck me. I was going to have to slice the beast up and from experience, I knew that it was quite an art to get those perfect thin slithers. You need a steady hand and a decent ham slicer really. I had neither. So I went to bed, rather worried and was visited by this vision:

I really did dream this. It was not a patch on The Walking Dead. It was real and I got more and more panicked as the dream went on. All because of an inner release of self-doubt and lack of confidence, a crisis within the ego, a breakdown of the id, a psychological smashing of the...odd.

Thanks for that unearthed. Thanks a lot.

As for the serrano itself, well, it was delicious, with an almost cheesy flavour, like a nutty Comte. So in the end, I put aside all conjecture, apprehension and personal hang ups about slicing it perfectly and simply went at it.

Collectively, we only made a small dent on it really, taking nibbles off here and there and the occasional complimentary plate of shaving and chunks. I have now fully deconstructed the leg into portions and put it all in the freezer; for pies, soups and stews for the rest of winter.

I did make some lovely croquettes with some of the leftovers the other day though. An easy recipe that I've shared at the end of this post.

I haven't posted the ensuing dream yet though. Where I served some of the very same croquettes to Salvador Dali, at a pop-up, on a riverboat, on the Thames. He wasn't very happy with them. He became very angry with me and with those fierce eyes of his and an an unwavering, pointy finger, he suddenly banished me. Straight into The Persistence of Memory. It took me ages to wake up from that one and I don't think I am ready to fully talk about it yet.

One day I will, because it's funny.

Happy New Year and sweet dreams.

Serrano Ham and Cheese Croquettes - makes 20


Knob of butter

1 onion, finely chopped

50g plain flour

250mls whole milk

1 bay leaf

150g Serrano ham, blitzed into small ham-like breadcrumbs (start off by chopping the Serrano into small cubes)

75g Cheddar, grated

75g Parmesan, grated

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp Smoked paprika

Black pepper

2 eggs, beaten

50g plain flour

150g stale sourdough breadcrumbs

Oil for frying


Take a saucepan and place it on a medium heat and then add the butter. Once melted, add the onions and stir, then cover and drop the heat and leave to cook for 10 minutes or until the onions have become very soft and translucent. It pays to give it another stir every now and then.

Whilst the onion is cooking, pour your milk into another saucepan, add the bay leaf and slowly bring to a simmer, so that the bay leaf can infuse.

Once the onions are ready, add the flour and crank the heat up a touch and mix to form a roux. Make sure you cook the flour out and when it is nice and biscuity in colour, begin to add the warmed milk (oh and take that bay leaf out).

Pour and continually mix until all the milk is gone and everything starts to thicken. Then add the Serrano, cheese, mustard, paprika and black pepper and mix so that the cheese melts.

Take off the heat and leave to cool and then pour the sauce into a bowl and pop into the fridge for a couple of hours.

When ready, take the bowl out and take a tray and spoon out a heaped teaspoon. Form each croquette (actually, should I be saying croquetas here?) by rolling with both hands to create an oval shape. Move quickly. A splash of water on your hands will also stop sticking.

Once done, place back into the fridge for another 30 minutes before going through the process of flouring, egging and bread crumbing. One hand for dry, one hand for wet.

After breading, place them back into the fridge whilst you get your oil on the go. I use a saucepan, filled two thirds full on the hob but if you have a deep-fat fryer, even better.

Heat the oil up to 180°C and take your croquetas (!) out and fry in batches of 4 or 6, depending on the size of your saucepan. Fry for just a minute or so, or until they become crisp and golden and drain on kitchen towel.

Enjoy with a simple tomato sauce, made with a touch of chilli and tons of garlic.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Crispy Duck on a Giant Crumpet

I know what you are probably thinking right now.

'Oh look. He's gone and taken a stalwart item from the Chinese takeaway menu. And instead of sticking it in a pancake, he has only gone and stuck it on a bloody giant crumpet. Well done him.'

As far as interpretations go, you'd be right. For some time now, I have been wracking my brains as to how I can utilise the humble crumpet, beyond the realms of simply slathering inch thick butter over the top; followed by a handsome dollop of strawberry jam. Or even a thin scraping of Marmite. Two perfect ways to eat crumpets for sure, especially in the morning with all that finger-licking glory.

'Ooooh, greasy fingers, a-jugglin' with ma mug of teeeeaaa.'

That was a little ditty by the way, that I like to sing to myself first thing.

But lets get back to the question in hand. Went it comes to crumpets, surely there must be more you can do with them? Should crumpets only serve as vessels for melted yellow fat and to be topped sweet or savoury condiments? Are crumpets just glorified toast?

No. Nay. There must be more to life than this. As Bjork once said.

So, hence my dicking around in the kitchen for the best part of an afternoon, making up plum sauce off the cuff, roasting duck legs, then carefully peeling duck skin off and crisping up skin in the oven.

All followed by shredding duck, shredding spring onion and peeling cucumber into wafer thin slices, toasting sesame seeds and of course, toasting Warburton's giant crumpets under the grill.

This really was a labour of love and once I assembled the lot and stood back to admire, I have to say, it sort of felt revolutionary for a second.

'Look at that!' I shouted.

Then a small voice whispered in my ear and said 'Dan, you've just spent an hour making up a whole load of shizz to put on top of a crumpet.'

Which was slightly deflating. But then I tried it and reader, this really is not such a bad thing to do at all. Given that regular Chinese pancakes have that flat, dusty, Communion bread vibe; using a thicker and fluffier base to sit your succulent duck and crunchy veg upon is fairly transformative. I think drizzling some duck fat into those holes was the main trick and working as a witty starter, this would go down a storm at a dinner party.

'Man, I never knew you could use crumpets like that! You are a genius!' is surely the sort of statement you can expect from such endeavor.

But as I have only tested these on myself and Mrs FU, I cannot be 100% certain. I also need to work out how to incorporate crumpets proper into a recipe and I do have some burgeoning ideas.

I just to need to nick a boat and sneak off to some island, rush back to the town's best baker.

There's got to be more to crumpets than this.

Crispy duck and skin, with cucumber, spring onions, plum sauce, served on giant crumpets - serves 2


2 duck legs
1 tsp Chinese five spice
Half cucumber, sliced thinly with a peeler
3 spring onion, green leaves shredded
1 tbs sesame seeds, lightly toasted
2 giant Warburton's crumpets

For the plum sauce (this really was made off the cuff and you might want to adjust the ingredients)

Splash of oil
2 banana shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
6 plums, stone and roughly chopped
2 star anise seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1 large thumb of ginger, peeled and grated
50ml Chinese wine vinegar
50ml dark soy sauce
Half tsp Szechuan peppercorn


Heat your oven to 190°C and place your duck legs on a tray and lightly dust all over with the Chinese five spice.

Place the duck legs into the oven and roast for an hour and then take out and leave to cool a touch. Then carefully slice off the skin (start from inside the leg working out) and place the skin back into the oven for another 10 mins to crisp up some more. Take back out and drain on skin on kitchen towel.

Whilst the duck is cooking make the plum sauce by placing a saucepan over a medium heat and add a splash of oil. Add the shallots and stir and then cover. Once the shallot is softened, add the plums and cook down for another five minutes, before adding the rest of the ingredients. Reduce to a gentle simmer and leave to bubble away for 20 minutes. If the mixture begins to look too dry and sticky, add a splash of water.

When ready, fish out the star anise seeds and the cinnamon stick and blitz with a hand blender. Pass back through a sieve to remove lumps and keep warm in another saucepan. (I'd say this gives you about 150ml of sauce).

Once the duck legs have cooled some more, slice the meat off the bone and roughly shred and then place into a frying pan over a high heat, to crisp up once again.

Next toast your giant crumpets until they begin to turn golden, flipping over to toast the other side.

To begin assembly, place a crumpet in the centre of your plate and spoon some of the excess duck fat from the frying pan all over the crumpet and into the holes.

Add a few thin slices of cucumber and then pile up some of the duck meat, interspersing some of the shredded green spring onion along the way.

Once piled up, drizzle some plum sauce all over and add a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Finish by topping with the crisp duck skin.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Pan-fried Whiting with Winter Salsa and Green Lentils

Warning – this is a recipe of two halves. One half involving the slightly laborious affair of peeling, dicing, stirring and slowly braising. Whereas the other half is a bit more urgent, frenetic and fast paced. A collision of cooking styles then. But when put together, I would say that both halves really do make a perfect marriage. Producing a plate of food that is vibrant, seasonal and packed with vitamins. He says, in his most humble of opinions.

As always, stories should always accompany a decent recipe and this one begins with fish or the dilemma of what to do when you can’t find one. By that, I don’t mean nonchalantly wandering around the living room, lifting cushions and uttering – ‘Now, where did I put that fish?’ No, I am talking about letting go of assumptions and familiarity when it comes to buying fish and stepping out into the unknown.

The case in point comes from a visit to a local fishmonger some time ago, when I walked in with cod on my mind. Because I wanted to have a crack at Rick Stein’s grilled cod on pommes sarladais with truffle oil; as featured in his cookbook - ‘French Odyssey’.

From memory, our conversation sort of went like this:

‘Good morning. I am looking for some unskinned cod fillet please. Just under a kilo.’

‘I am sorry sir, we are all out of cod. But we do have some whiting in.’

‘That is no good. I need cod. I am doing a cod recipe.’

‘Well, whiting isn’t a bad substitute sir. Just as firm and fleshy, and with a good amount of flavour.’

‘Rick…er, Rick’s recipe says to use cod.’

‘Whiting will do the trick, sir. I promise you.’


My responses were all delivered with a slide into unwavering doubt and fear by the way. However, there was something about my fishmongers’ twinkly eyes that suddenly made me trust him and go for it.

‘OK then. I will take some of your finest whiting, my good man. And whilst you are at it, make it two kilos!’ 

I also had to bolster some confidence back into the situation because a queue had formed behind me, full of loud tuts and murmurs of violent dissent. You really don’t want to mess with the old ladies of ‘Ornchurch.

But what of my grilled Whiting on pommes sarladais and truffle oil then? It was great, delicious even and furthermore, I had tried something different.

This notion of trying something new is also behind the ethos of a new fresh fish range at Sainsburys, named (quite aptly) ‘Fishmonger’s Choice’. By way of encouraging customers to escape the Big Five -Cod, Haddock, Salmon, Tuna & Prawns – the supermarket is now placing on their shelves some of the lesser known species of British fish. Seasonal varieties, all wild-caught off the south west coast, all excitingly when they’re at their best and most abundant. Fish such as Monkfish, Dover Sole and of course, Whiting.

These fish will be available until January, after which, as the weather changes, species such Hake and Ling will be coming into the stores. But in the meantime, I would certainly recommend you try a few Whiting fillets, especially as they are slightly cheaper than cod. After lightly dusting with seasoned flour and flashing in a pan, you’d hardly know the difference. And then served on top of some earthy lentils, with a piquant dressing? Ooh, suits you sir.

Which brings us back to the recipe and nods towards perhaps a second story. But I will keep the next part quick.

For this treatment of lentils is the longest, most boring job I have ever given myself in the kitchen. In an effort to get some more pulses into my children’s lives, I have discovered that a base of sweet and softened root vegetables, or soffrito, is the best way to get them to chow down on these protein rich little jewels. And as a result, they LOVE lentils. It does often mean an hour or so of mirepoix though. A nimble chopping down of carrot, onion, celery, swede, celeriac and sometimes, the tip of a finger or two.

But these are the things you do, to overcome the ‘fear factor’ when it comes to food.

Thank goodness then, that the whiting gets cooked so quick.

Pan-fried Whiting with Winter Salsa and Green Lentils - serves 4


For the fish
4 Whiting fillets, each one cut in two
50gms plain flour
Salt and pepper, to season.
50ml rapeseed oil

For the lentils
250gms green lentils, rinsed
1 onion, peeled and diced
2 celery sticks, diced
Half celeriac, peeled and diced
Half small swede, peeled and diced
1 rosemary stalk
3 thyme stalks
1 tbs seasame seed oil
1 tbs dark soy sauce
1 tbs cider vinegar

For the salsa
Handful of walnut, roughly chopped
1 tbs chopped gherkins
1 tbs chopped capers
1 red pepper, seeded and finely chopped (Roasted peppers are also a good shout. The kind you find in jars)
1 lemon, juiced
1 small bunch of parsley, leaves picked


First, place a wide pan over a medium heat on the hob and add a generous glug of oil. Once the oil has warmed up add the onion, celery, swede and celeriac and stir to combine. Bring the heat down and leave to sizzle for about 20 minutes, stirring often.

Next add the garlic and the herbs and continue to gentle fry for another 5 minutes.

Whist the soffrito is cooking off, place your lentil into a saucepan and cover with the same amount of water. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer, cooking for 20 minutes until they are soft but still with a bit of give.

Once ready, combine the lentils with the soffrito, sesame oil, soy and vinegar and mix together. Keep warm.

To cook the whiting, season the flour generously using a bowl or a plate and the lightly dust the fillets. Place a large frying pan over a medium to high heat and add the oil. When hot, add the whiting skin side down and fry for two minutes, before flipping and frying the other side for just a minute.

Drain on kitchen towel and keep warm. (Also, you may need to do this in batches).

Finish by throwing these salsa ingredients into the same frying pan – gherkins, peppers, capers and walnuts - and cook everything through for about two minutes. You might need to add a splash more oil. Finish by adding the lemon juice (add a little at a time, to taste) and then the chopped parsley.

Plate up by spooning a good portion of the lentils in the centre and place two pieces of whiting on top. Then drizzle over a nice amount of the winter salsa all over the fish and the lentils.