Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Wylam Brewery Lemon Balm and Rosemary Saison


You can learn a lot from talking to people in drinking establishments. Better still, you can be safe that any knowledge acquired, will be backed up with solid evidence and concrete fact. And if anyone dares to dismiss this new accumulation of insight and expertise, you can always simply reply with the retort - 'Look, a bloke in a pub told me. It must be true.'

I have done this many times whilst arguing the toss and the results are staggering. You always come out on top. You might suffer from a black eye or bloodied nose sometimes, but you will always come out on top.

The latest little dynamite of information I recently learned, or learnt, or whatever, was that 'saison' means 'season'. For a long while now, I've spied the word on bottles and pumps and have not really understood what it means. Given that the ingredients listed have often included a whole host of random pairings, I singularly thought that it was merely a made up thing. To soak up a certain market and appeal to that type of hirsute drinker. You know the one.

To paraphrase a great little book that my children got me for Father's Day, when you see such descriptions, like 'a wonderful combination of blacknock and carnip tartonne, with fresh notes of commoner's milk and dotka,' you are often left wondering if someone is having a bleedin' larf. Or summink.

Peddling back then, to a conversation I had with this chap who goes by the name of Daniel (brilliant name) and who is a regular companion at my local micro pub, he laid it out fairly straight:

'Well, it simply means 'seasonal'. There is a fine tradition of brewers turning to unusual ingredients, at various times of the year, depending on what is available locally. Harvests of hops and barley for instance, aren't always successful and sometimes gaps need to be filled. So the brewer has to use their imagination a little, and quite often, they come up with something a bit different. That's yer saison basically. It's normally quite pale though,' he sniffed, before finishing his pint.

All of which sounded perfectly reasonable, as I nodded profoundly and with furrowed brow. 'Hmm, putting lemon balm and rosemary together then, could just work,' I thought. 'Maybe it isn't all such hoary old obblocks after all.'

And it does work, this strange yet pleasantly refreshing beer from Wylam Brewery, up in Newcastle. Unexpectedly fruity and with a long finish, there is a slight medicinal taste to proceedings but not so overpowering that it suddenly feels like you are chewing on a bouquet garni. No, this beer was very impressive and delicious to drink.

It's definitely got me eyeing up the lemon balm that is running amok in the garden at the moment. With a view to dusting off my Wilko pressure barrel, that has been sitting dormant on the top of my fridge since October of last year. Saisons are all about experimentation after all.

I just need to find out where I can get hold of some beetcorn labneys.


Monday, 12 June 2017

Summer Oxtail Stew with Irish Beef



Oxtail stew is very much associated with winter time cooking, for when it is cold and grey outside and you need something calorific and rich. Personally, I think this is a crying shame and whilst the thought of a running an oven all day, in steamy July, may not be everyone's cup of tea, there is always the favourite option of cooking in Speedos and flip flops. You should try it. It's very liberating. Even when it's raining.

Seriously though, there is no reason to not think about oxtail during the summer months and the recipe below is my attempt at creating a broth that is light in structure but still packed full of flavour. Which I have done by using ooomameee packed dashi, over the usual meaty beef stock. And OK, I have lazily used the shop bought variety here. Rather than spending a small amount of time, boiling up some water and plopping some kombu and katsuobusi in, all dainty like. I am just trying to keep the heat out of the kitchen here. But perhaps if you were to do the same, then the broth would be even more effervescent.  

To accompany the stew, I simply parboiled and char-grilled some fresh, seasonal vegetables, to add a little BBQ'd nod to proceedings. Not forgetting to mention some citrus zing from the gremolata and some bread to mop up. All in all, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine eating a bowlful of this on a bright, sunlit day. Alfresco and with perhaps some more of that Beaujolais. 

Which can also be gently chilled by the way and enjoyed on a sun lounger. Think Ray Winstone and you'll soon get the picture.

This post is a collaboration with Irish Beef and their Summer Beef campaign, featured among 7 other recipes. Check them all out and vote for your favourite* for the chance to win a Weber BBQ.  Voting will be open from Monday June 12th to Sunday July 9th.

Woohoo!

*Vote for my recipe in other words
 
Summer Oxtail Stew with Grilled Spring Vegetables and Gremolata - serves four

1.5kgs oxtail, cut into pieces
50gms plain flour
10 round shallots, peeled and trimmed
3 celery sticks, cut into 5cm lengths
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 bouquet garni (made from bay leaf, thyme and rosemary)
500ml Beaujolais wine (or any other light, fruity red)
1.5ltrs dashi stock, shop bought
10gms tomato puree
100gms baby topped carrots, cleaned
100gms British asparagus, trimmed and cleaned (young courgettes would make for a good substitute once the season is over)
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1 small bunch of flat leaf parsley, leaves picked
Salt and pepper, to season
Rapeseed oil
25gm butter, chilled and cubed.



Method:

First, heat your oven to 150C and then place a large casserole on the hob over a medium heat and add a splash of oil. Add the shallot and celery and cover, so that they sweat, rather than caramelise.

Whilst the vegetables are gently cooking, dust the oxtail pieces with plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper.

Place a frying pan on the hob, over a medium to high heat and add another splash of oil. Place the pieces into pan and brown all over, working in batches, so that everything does become too crammed. Put the oxtail on a warm plate once done.

By now, the vegetables should be nicely soft and slightly coloured so add two thirds of the chopped garlic and the bouquet garni and turn the heat up a touch. Stir for a minute so that the garlic softens but doesn’t catch and so that the herbs can begin to release their oils and then shake the casserole to distribute evenly.

Pop the oxtail pieces on top of the vegetables and pour in the dashi stock, the red wine and add the tomato puree. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover and then place the casserole into the oven, for 2 and half to 3 hours. Or until the meat is soft and tender.

Meanwhile, bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and blanch the baby carrots for 5 minutes and refresh in a bowl of iced water.

Repeat again with the asparagus but this time only blanch for 2 minutes and refresh in a bowl of iced water.

When the oxtail is ready, remove from the cooking liquor and keep warm. Strain the sauce through a sieve into a saucepan and remove the shallot and celery pieces and keep warm with the oxtail.
Place the saucepan back on the hob, reduce the sauce by two thirds.

Whilst the sauce is thickening, place a griddle pan on the hob over a high heat and put the carrots on with a drizzle of oil. The aim is finish the carrots off and warm through and add some chargrilled flavour and stripes. Once done, slice each carrot in half and keep warm. Repeat the same process with the asparagus

As the carrots and asparagus are grilling, now is the time to mix together your ingredients for the gremolata. So, throw the remaining garlic, parsley and lemon zest into a small bowl and mix together.
To plate up, arrange the oxtail into the centre of a bowl, large and small pieces and place a few of the shallots and celery around the side.

To finish the sauce, quickly whisk in the butter for a bit of sheen and add some of that lemon juice.
Pour the sauce over the oxtail and arrange the chargrilled veg to the side.

Finish by scattering over some of the gremolata over the top and serve with some bread to mop up.




Saturday, 10 June 2017

Abandoned food and abandoned lives on Ailsa Craig


A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to go stay at a particularly swish hotel up in Scotland, on the Ayrshire coast. We got up to many things, indulging in a lifestyle that I am not quite accustomed to. But the whole experience was totally charming, genteel and relaxed, and a proper review will be springing up very soon.

Whilst I was there, a trip had been arranged to visit Ailsa Craig, which is a huge lump of blue honed granite that looms out up of the sea, in the Firth of Clyde. Like a giant who tried to awake thousands of years ago but then suddenly thought better of it and immediately fell back to sleep. In the warmer spring and summer months, around 80,000 birds swoop in, to rest, mate and populate on his scarred forehead. Mostly gannets, puffins and guillemots, they all party throughout the season but soon disappear once the cold winds settle in. Leaving behind a hell of mess. This in turn fertilises the island and lays down a patchy green coat, to cover the island's bare bones. Which is fair payment, when you think about it. And after getting used to the smell.

The birds are not alone though in making their mark. Evidence of human habitation is dotted all about the place, ranging from sixteenth century ruins to a modern day lighthouse. The core dwellings though, once belonged to a community of quarrymen, who lived on the island with their families and who made a living, sheering off the granite with scant tools and their bare hands. To live on an isolated rock, eight miles from shore, takes a certain type of toughness and these people were certainly tough. But eventually, it all got too much. There wasn't any money in it anymore. So, they just left.

Luckily, we were able to get on the island - sometimes the tide makes it impossible - and we were able to have a good look around and explore. Although there was evidence of some recent residence (I think a 'party' spirit remains on the island) creeping around the derelict, crumbling cottages and living quarters felt like we had landed in some apocalyptic novel. A place that had borne witness to a four minute warning before silence; with an atmosphere that was full of foreboding, all spooky and eerie and yet at the same time, totally exhilarating. Ovens were strewn about, rusting into oblivion. Paint blistered and peeled from ceiling and walls. Packets of food, just sat on the side and were bleached by the elements. It all suggested that something very, very, very bad had happened here...

MWAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA!

For the whole time we were there, I just kept snapping away like a demon. Prompting my colleagues to observe that I rather fancied myself as some sort of a conceptual artist. A visionary, with a keen eye on dystopian commentary and social discord. Or 'Grayson Perry' as they called me. The cards.

Having since looked back through the snaps I took on that day, I have begun to wonder whether there is some sort of merit, or worth in them. Musing that if in some way, they represent a warning or premonition of what life would be like, if we were to cut ourselves off in some way. Or simply, the photos could just reflect a statement of what happens to 'islands' when they are left to their own devices, all abandoned and alone.

It needs working on before I approach some skinny, bearded gallery owner in London's East End. In the meantime, you can get a sneak preview here: