Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Home-made Mayonnaise


Well, that's that then. Another summer nearly over and done with. Another summer that has sped by and simultaneously dragged it's feet. Another summer full of fun, laughter, tears and snot. As much as I love summer; especially the freedom of holidays abroad, with all that heat and sun, I am always glad to see the end of it. My inherent gingerness is more geared up for cooler skies of autumn. When the food gets better, the ground becomes crunchy and days eke out just a little bit more quietly.

And plus the kids go back to school. Thank gawd for that.

Actually, it has been great this year. Having made the leap into freelancing, as a Dad, I am now forever present, bar the odd day or two. Impromptu trips to the seaside and days out at the park have been frequent and plentiful. In addition to the odd play date with school friends, I have been able to assume the role of the bigger kid and have become a veritable Lost Boy. You don't know how much fun there is to be had with a video camera and having your chin dimpled with glued wobbly eyes and being filmed upside-down, with a blanket covering your head, nose upwards. Yes, we've all seen it done on the telly but you should watch it homemade. You will never feel such a delicious pain in your sides.

There is one problem though. This writing of words for others, easy and fluid for most people, a touch too painful and floral for some, also takes time. As a result, there is a disconnect between Dad being around all the time and Dad also having to do some work in that time.

The phrase - 'Dad, can you play with me?' - can sometimes feel wretched, especially when you've already spent 5 hours staring at the screen and seem to have got very little done. It can make you feel very snappy, irritable and gruff. Still, it's all learning curve and we are all still very much at the beginning. Slowly, they are getting that, sometimes, I just need to disappear. Even if it means going out to the kitchen table. Mrs FU is soaking up a lot of the pressure and I am working out methods of getting stuff done. Like resorting to 5AM starts. Something that I thought I had left behind.

What I really need, is a shed to escape to. But that has had an adverse affect on my work too. As I now spend an inordinate amount of time looking at sheds. All of the sheds. In the whole wide world.

I love sheds.

Bringing the children and food back into proceedings for a second or two, I have also been working on the tactic of literally throwing it at them, to keep them occupied.

'Here, take this bag of bananas, these Pringles, this box of squeezy yoghurts, some of this leftover spag bol and just go out in the garden for a few hours and fend for yourselves!'

On some days though, I have taken special requests, to help over-ride the guilt.

'Egg mayonnaise sandwiches? Sure, you can have egg mayonnaise sandwiches. For they are the easiest of all the sandwiches to make. Dad is on the case right now.'

And they are the easiest sandwiches to make. Except, when you don't have ready-made mayo in the fridge, that presents a problem.

Cue a furious whipping of egg yolks with mustard, rapeseed and olive oil mixed, drip, drip, dribble, dripple, drip drip, a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper. All whilst bemoaning aching forearms and cursing - 'Why, WHY the f*ck did they have to ask for egg mayonnaise sandwiches?!'

But it brought silence. It gave me a gap, to tap out just a few more words. Those egg mayonnaise sandwiches meant that a deadline was met, for once.

Then came the real reward. Two pairs of dirty feet, standing beside the table and with grubby mouths, a whisper in unison - 'Dad, that was the best egg mayonnaise sandwich ever.'

Cue a smile and a sigh.

'Go get the wobbly eyes and the camera. Dad has finished for the day.'

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Table Squish



At our family gatherings, there is a long tradition of piling everyone in around the table. This usually also means building a myriad network of chairs and tables, that lead out into other rooms and spaces around the house. Which sometimes, can be faintly ridiculous. Especially when you send a shout out for the apple sauce and discover that must make it all the way from the hall; where Aunt Jilly Jill is sitting; right next to the telephone by the front door.

And really, that is no exaggeration. Space is at premium in most homes, so you just have to make the best of things. Other options do include moving the entire contents of your living room out into the garden, which we’ve done in the past for supperclubs. What a great workout and test of marriage that was. Our guests, as they sat all bunched in, around two patio tables, covered with white organza and flowers; never got a sense of the words that peppered the atmosphere just a few hours earlier. Thankfully. Nor did they ever notice the beads of sweat, as we served up platters of food. My wife and I were always professional. Until it started raining that is and then someone, usually me, would have to go running out and grab some tarpaulin from the shed.

Sometimes, a guest would ask: ‘Is your husband OK? He seems to be in some distress out there.’

To which Mrs FU would reply (whilst casually refilling a glass): ‘It’s fine. If he had done it earlier, like I told him to, he wouldn’t be in that mess in the first place.’

Coming back to feeding the clan though, the whole sense of ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ as everyone digs in, has always been par for the course. So, when Alex Dodman, the blogger behind The Food Grinder, sent me a list of ingredients to include as part of Sainsbury’s Table Squish challenge; the aspect of cramming everyone in was always going to be a piece of a cake.

Except, on this occasion, there was birthday cake in the offering and getting the kids to sit down, even for just one second, proved tricky. (Having accepted the challenge, I knew we were going to my nephew’s 7th birthday party the next day, so I called my sister-in-law and asked if she’d would mind me bringing along a selection of grub. Her response? ‘Hell yes! I have only got pizza and crisps in!)

With a budget of £30 to spend, to feed at least eight people, the real eye-opener was seeing how far you can stretch things on that amount. I went to my local Sainsburys on the hoof, with no idea of what I was getting, apart from lamb, cous cous, pomegranate and hummus. A nice selection from Alex by the way, as it helped to build a theme but last-minute thinking on your feet, does take some thinking.

As a result, I am sure that I spent well over an hour in that store, pacing up and down the aisles. I am also sure that this was being monitored on CCTV, as there was lots of muttering over what yogurt to buy. When an old lady passes you by and says - ‘Look, just get the Basics stuff, that will be fine for your tzatziki.’ – you know you’ve been deliberating too loudly and for too long.

However, given the middle-Eastern vibe that was forming in my head, the resulting menu looked like this:

Hummus and caramelised onion dip
Beetroot and thyme dip
Tzatziki
With wholemeal pitta strips

Honey, garlic, lemon and thyme marinated lamb (butterflied)
Cous cous salad with spring onion, pomegranate and seeds
Baby spinach, tomato, herb and halloumi salad
Char grilled baby gems and yoghurt dressing

Watermelon wedges, with mint and drizzled honey

All of which came to £29.63, which is not bad value for a family feast. 


In fact, it felt quite special, rocking up to the door with bags of goodies to cook. Numerous relatives looked quite sceptical but once I got stuck in, with a bit of whizzing, chopping and blitzing and started loading the plates up, eyebrows began to arch in surprise. The real interest came when the butterflied lamb, marinated in lemon, thyme and honey, got slapped on to the bbq. Smells bring all the people to the yard and as a result, a squish began to form around the coals. Again, in turn, this upped the whole kudos of my delivering a sumptuous, impromptu banquet to proceedings.


‘Ha! Tess! And to think we were all going to be eating just crisps and pizza!” I boomed, above all the tiny heads that surrounded me.

To which one not so tiny head responded, ‘There goes Uncle Dan. Always pretending to be the chef.’

(Thanks Bella)

And then they dispersed once more, for the giant trampoline, leaving me feeling quite alone.

The feeling of isolation didn’t last too long though. Once the lamb was rested and carved and brought back outside, and set amongst the salads and dips, the hovering flies came scrambling back, for a very familiar jostling.


But because the weather had been so fine (or dry at least) the majority of bums and plates were all camped around the lawn, rather than at the table. If it had been raining, no doubt we would have all been inside; all squashed up, as per usual.


With Jilly Jill out in the hall again. Taking orders by the phone.

The three following recipes, all of which use Alex’s selection of ingredients are all very straight forward and easy to make. And most importantly, take very little time to knock together. I should add that I took a small liberty of using some store cupboard spices along the way. I am a ‘chef’ after all.

But before we get to that, as part of this challenge, I now have to pass on four ingredients of my own, to Chetna Makan, You Tube spice supremo and author of two books; including Chai, Chaat and Chutney. Knowing that Chetna is very handy when it comes to this cooking malarky, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about this. Secretly, I wanted to make this really quite hard for her. Unfortunately, Sainsburys don't sell Hákarl, Century Eggs or Escamol. At least not yet. So I plumped for these:

Salmon
Orzo
Courgettes
Manchego

Yes, read and weep Chetna. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.


Simple hummus with caramelised onion

Ingredients

1 tin of chickpeas
1 garlic clove, peeled
75ml olive oil
2 onions, peeled and finely sliced
1 tsp ground cumin
Half tsp smoked paprika
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Method

First, throw the sliced onions into a frying pan, along with 25ml of oil and place over a medium heat and put a lid on top, to ensure the onion soften evenly and don’t catch. Stir through every now and then and after 20 minutes, remove half the onions from the pan and leave to cool. Continue with the remaining onion, taking the lid off, so that they get some more colour and begin to crisp up a bit. This should take another 10 minutes or so. After which time, remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Pop the chickpeas (water and all) and garlic clove into a saucepan and place it on the hob and bring to the boil, then reduce to simmer. Cook through for 5 minutes and then leave to cool and a touch.

Drain, reserving some of the water. Then place the chickpeas, garlic, the first batch of cooked onion, cumin and smoked paprika into a blender and blitz to incorporate. Then add the remaining olive oil and lemon juice and blitz until smooth. If the consistency is too thick, you can let things down some more by adding a touch of the reserved water.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve in a bowl, topped with the crisp onion and an extra sprinkling of paprika and drizzle of oil.

Pomegranate and spring onion cous cous.

Ingredients

350gms cous cous
550ml boiled water
Small bunch of spring onions, white part finely chopped, green part roughly shredded
1 pomegranate, de-seeded (you can do this by chopping in half and bashing each half on the outside with a wooden spoon over a bowl. The seeds will magically drop down, leaving the pith behind)
1 small bunch of mint, leaves stripped and roughly chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced
50ml olive oil
1 packet Sainsbury's Fruits & Honey Seed Mix (35g)
Salt and pepper

Method

Place the cous cous into a bowl and pour over the just boiled water. Cover with cling film and leave for 5 minutes for the water to absorb.

Then, using a fork, fluff up the cous cous a touch and add the oil, lemon juice and zest, chopped spring onion and two-thirds of the pomegranate. Then mix together to combine.

Season to taste and mix some more, then pour the cous cous onto a serving platter.

Finish by scattering the remaining pomegranate, chopped mintand fruit and honey seed m ix over the top.

Butterflied lamb with lemon, honey and thyme 

Ingredients

1 butterflied leg of lamb, 1.2 kg
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tbs of honey
Small bunch of thyme, leaves picked
25ml olive oil
Salt and pepper

Method

Place the lamb into a shallow dish and combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl, remembering to season. Pour the marinade over the lamb, turning the joint over so that everything gets mixed in nicely. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for two hours (or overnight, if you have the time)

Light your bbq and take the lamb out of the fridge, to come up to room temperature. (It takes roughly 45 mins for you coals to turn glowing white, so this should marry up well for the lamb).

Slap the lamb onto the grill and turn frequently, basting with remain marinade that you might have left. The sugar content in the marinade will mean a bit of scorching but it all adds to the flavour.

Depending on the lamb, a joint roughly 4 cm thick will take 20-30 minutes to cook to medium rare. If you prefer it medium to well done, cook for 40 minutes.

When ready, take the lamb joint off and place on a carving board and cover with foil. Leave to rest for at least 10 minutes.

Cut into even slices and present on the chopping board or on a platter.


via GIPHY

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Piperade


This is another recipe post from out of the woodworks and comes in the shape of piperade; a typical Basque breakfast, enjoyed near the slopes of the Western Pyrenees, that settle between France and Spain. Yes, that huge, feck off mountain range that conjures up an amazing confluence of culinary influences and also houses the very small country of Andorra. Whose football team we are very good at beating. But only because it is marginally smaller than Iceland.

Combining a classic and popular pairing of eggs and tomatoes, this is quite similar to the universally Instagrammed 'shakshuka'. Which incidentally, is also Sean Connery's favorite breakfast. This is slightly different though in that the eggs are scrambled, rather than baked or fried. As such, you have a choice of going down two routes in the morning; messy or refined. It’s up to you. So long as you have plenty of chewy, toasty bread to mop up with. Traditionally, this dish would be accompanied by some cured meats, such as jamon or chorizo. But just to lighten things a touch, this recipe calls for a sprinkling of toasted almonds and a peppering of fresh, green allium herbs in form of chopped chives.

Personally, I prefer the messy approach but when I made this recently, I did actually end up plating and photographising two separate versions. Because I thought the one on the right would look better on the aforementioned Instagram.

Dear God, what has become of me?


Piperade - serves two. So simply double up for four (I am a maths genius)

Ingredients

1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 onion, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
3 tbsps olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar (sherry vinegar also works well)
4 eggs, beaten
Small knob of butter

To serve

Large slices of sourdough, griddled or toasted
Small handful of almonds, lightly toasted in a pan.
Chives, chopped
Olive oil, to drizzle


Method

First roast your peppers, either by sticking them under the grill or on the top of the hob over a naked flame. Turn regularly, so that the skin chars and blackens all over and then put to one side to cool.
Place a frying pan on the hob over a low to medium heat and heat the oil, before adding the slices of onion. Fry and stir gently, until they become soft and golden and then add the garlic, continuing to stir for another minute or two. Then add the tomatoes and red wine vinegar. Turn the heat down a touch and cook gently, until the tomatoes become very soft and there is very little juice left.

Whilst that is cooking down, peel the peppers and remove the stem and seeds (they will be quite juicy) and then slice the flesh into strips. When the tomatoes are just coming towards the end, throw the strips on top and mix in and then place to one side to keep warm.


Next, make your scrambled eggs by throwing a knob of butter into a saucepan, along with the beaten eggs. Place on the hob over a low to medium heat and stir the eggs constantly. Slowly the sides will begin to catch and lumps will begin to form. The idea is to gently bring the eggs together, so every now and then take the eggs off the heat and continue stirring. Before you are ready to serve, you want the egg mixture to be quite sloppy still.


At this stage you can decide whether to go down a traditional or contemporary route.

For the traditional, pour the stewed tomato and peppers into the eggs and very gently stir through. You don’t want to get too heavy handed, otherwise you will end up with a red and green mess.

Serve on top of your griddled or toasted sourdough, sprinkle some almonds across and some chives and finish with a drizzle of olive.


For a more contemporary and neater approach, simply plate up the pepper and egg separately but still finish off with the almonds, chives and olive oil.

And please, don't hate yourself for going all sexy and smart.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Celeriac dauphinoise with Gruyère and garlic


The word ‘Dauphinoise’ always brings music to my ears. Not only only does the word sound melodious, soporific, seductive even; whenever it is pronounced aloud, I often have a tendency to go all gooey at the suggestion. “Phhhwwworrr dauphinoise,” I’ll often find myself muttering. In the kitchen, all alone and rubbing my knees. Sometimes in restaurants too. Which has been a problem.

Why? Well, nothing really beats this marriage of potatoes, garlic and cream does it. I love spuds in all their shapes and forms and the multitude of ways to cook them but rich dauphinoise tops the list every time. For sheer luxury if anything else. Especially when you go that extra mile and sprinkle some cheese, such as Gruyère on top. As soon as you take a bite, I am sure that neurons in the brain start to ping faster, sending forth messages to consume and consume and eat and eat. That primordial survival instinct still exists inside us, a craving for energy and fat, and dauphinoise caters perfectly for that need. In fact, my wife has mentioned in the past that I do turn a bit caveman whenever I eat it.
This can pose a problem though, particularly if your waistband is tight, so it pays to mix things up a little and introduce a different root vegetable into the mix every now and then. Such as celeriac for instance.

Now, I am not claiming that this gnarly relative of celery is the next superfood. Nor does it have amazing weight-loss properties. What I have found though, is that when I have introduced celeriac in place of potato, it does have a slightly different effect on the palate; bringing a lighter, nuttier bite to proceedings. It tastes ‘healthier’ in other words and it certainly has fewer carbs.

I also tend to hold back on the cream and add a touch of milk instead. Again, milk does make quite a regular appearance in dauphinoise recipes but you don’t need too much, as celeriac has a higher water content than spuds and you don’t want to end up with a soggy gratin. Adding a touch of nutmeg delivers a spicy new dimension too, alongside the traditional garlic. But the cheese remains the same (because we cannot forgo the cheese). Besides, a layer of Gruyère piled atop the piled slices brings no fear; it is very low lactose and gluten-free after all.

Yes, despite all these little changes, it all still amounts to a killer match for the ol’ tastebuds.

However, the downside is that you will probably up eating a lot more of the stuff. Oh well.

Celeriac dauphinoise with Gruyère and garlic

Ingredients

1kg celeriac, peeled
2 garlic cloves, crushed
200ml of double cream
200ml of milk
1/2 nutmeg, grated
150g of Gruyère

Method

Preheat the oven to 170°C/gas mark 3


First, slice your celeriac into thin slices. You can use a mandoline if you so wish but if you value your fingers then a sharp knife can do the job just as well.


Next, place the slices of celeriac in a large saucepan and add the garlic, cream, milk and nutmeg. Place on the hob over a medium heat – you will find that the cream and milk won’t cover the celeriac completely but no matter, this is all just to get the process started and the flavours introduced.

Once simmering away, cover and leave to steam and cook for 5 minutes, then take off the heat and then leave to cool slightly.

Using a slotted spoon, lift the celeriac out and arrange in a baking dish in layers laying flat on top of each other. Pour the remaining creamy liquor over the top and shake the dish so that you have an even layer. Scatter over the Gruyère cheese and place in the oven for 30 minutes or until the top begins to bubble and brown.


Serve in wedges with some handsome roast meat or simply by itself for a light meal. I often find that it is better warmed up the next day.  


This post first appeared on Great British Chefs 

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Sainsbury’s Butchery Masterclass with Julien Pursglove


 Watching a butcher go about his or her business is always pleasure. As they work on a single carcass, there tends to be an air of seamless calm and furrowed concentration. Bones are counted, invisible lines get traced out and arms often move about in swift arcs and well-worn shapes. Separation of joints are levered by the heft of a downward elbow. Cartilage splits cleanly, with a firm, precise chop. Smaller, quicker incisions are made. And suddenly, a metal tray is abundant with a variety of cuts, all processed within the blink of an eye. Causing you to ask - ‘How did that happen?’ Or even go so far as to utter - ‘How clever is that!’

Yet when sharp knives and saws are involved, there is always a bit of trepidation. All that flashing steel, with glimmering pointy ends dancing about the place can leave you with both fingers and legs crossed. I know of at least one butcher who has stabbed her own leg. Accidents are common. Which is why sometimes butchers dress up as Knights of the Round Table, all sheaved in chain mail and with big bushy moustaches and monocles. Actually, they don’t do that. I am now thinking of Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail, for some reason. But I have got a funny feeling that if I were to suggest to Julien Pursglove, Sainsbury’s very own Master Butcher, to don a similar outfit; he would simply shake his head and say, ‘Silly boy.’ Just like Jim Broadbent might do. Because Julien reminds me of him in some way. And I am sorry for that observation, Julien. I can’t help myself sometimes. I have a terrible tendency to ponder, in a filmic sort of way.


Still, after watching him at work, you can understand why Sainsburys brought him on board. With over 38 years’ experience under his belt. I bet it’s been a long, long time since Julien has had any sort of incident. I would imagine that to become a Master Butcher (and one of just 29 across the globe) having kept all your fingers is a minimum requirement. In fact, to qualify for the award, Julien had to demonstrate to the Meat Training Council’s moderators that he had sufficient and skills, ranging from understanding livestock production, carcass dressing, butcher, food safety and dealing with customers in a retail environment. As such, Julien is the only Master Butcher to work for a major retailer.


For the demonstration, which was held at L'atelier des Chefs just off Oxford Street a couple of weeks ago, Julien showed our small audience simply how to break down a lamb. I say simply. It wasn’t simple at all but having first dissected the animal into three - the forequarters, the saddle and the hind – the speed at which he then went on dress three of the aforementioned metal trays was astonishing. Shoulder, neck and fore shanks were displayed for slow-cooking. Steaks, cutlets and chops were coaxed for mid-week inspiration. Legs were butterflied for BBQ and best-end racks were trimmed and polished for those special occasions. Revealing a connection from animal to supermarket shelf, or a bounty, that is sometimes forgotten about.


After that, it was time for the audience to have a go and steady their own hand at preparing a rack of lamb from a loin. With sexy French trimming, the lot. Ooh la la.

Interestingly, at this point, Julien insisted that we all wear chainmail gloves, as he had done during his demo. Which I sort of sniffed at first. Bravado can get the better of me sometimes. But I am glad he insisted. By way of suggesting that if I didn’t wear one, I would be thrown out of the class.


Of course, nothing is ever as easy as it seems or looks and just trying to saw across the cross section of the loin and split the rib bones away from the chine was frustrating enough. I do know that butchers are sticklers against splinters and when Julien wandered over for a look, I desperately started padding away at my rack with some blue paper.

‘You’re nearly there,’ he cooed. And then with one last sweep of the saw, it was done. ‘Good work!’ he said.

‘Cheers Julien,’ I replied, feeling like some sort of proud apprentice, or meaty Padawan.

I would have said - ‘Yes, Master.’ All solemn like. But I don’t think he would have made the Star Wars connection.

Again! Films! Arrrgh!

Finishing up, we then tucked into some of Sainbury’s new range selection. Some slow cooked lamb shoulder, marinated with rosemary and smoke garlic, cutlets dressed in lemon and herbs and some leg steak, lightly seasoned, to show off their quality.


Sitting with Julien afterwards and having a further chat, it was great to get the further lowdown and a sense of pride that he instills in his work and the industry. Working closely with the suppliers he meets, provenance, sourcing, maturation and butchery specifications are high on the agenda. Which in turn reflects on Sainsburys. For perhaps too long, that element has been missing from a lot of supermarkets. With Julien and his vast knowledge, it is good to know that they have a solid figurehead on board, to help educate consumers and provide assurance.

It was also thrilling to hear that he had supped a pint or two at The Hand and Shears a few times. Or ‘The Hand and Hell’ as he called it. This is a pub just around the corner from the Butcher’s Guild Hall in Barbican, by the way. And very close to where I used to work.

‘Oh, I’ve seen loads of butchers in there before,’ I told him.

‘Yeah, well I don’t go in there so much these days. But I tell you what, it’s funny the number of actors I’ve seen in there in my time.’

‘Really? Like who?’

‘Oh, people like Jim Broadbent, John Cleese, you know. Apparently, Alec Guinness used to frequent it too. Back in the 70’s’

‘Really??? No way!’

‘Nah, not really. Although I would like some more of that shoulder. Past it down, will you?’ he said, with a veritable wink.

What a legend, eh. Someone should make a movie about him really.

Tell you what, I’ll be the director, you bring the clapper board and we’ll have lamb cutlets for lunch.



Thursday, 6 July 2017

Beer Can Chicken



Over the years, I like to think that the neighbours have finally got used to my culinary and somewhat pyromaniacal exploits in the back garden.  In the early days, I am certain that there was a fair amount of curtain twitching going on and I am sure there was the occasional gasp or two.  It’s strange but when a fence is going up in flames, as you as anxiously flap around trying to put the fire out with a dribbling hosepipe, the sensation of nervous eyes watching, boring into the back of your skull is quite palpable.  However, such transgressions are soon forgiven if you hand over a plate of succulent, slow-cooked meat a few hours later. With the keen explanation that you were simply roasting a whole lamb underground. It also helps to humbly acquiesce and agree that should you ever wish to try such an experiment again, the pyre and pit for an Imu will be situated well in the centre of the garden in future.

Still, I think the neighbours are pretty used to my endeavors in the great outdoors now, as I have launched into pit-barbecuing a few times since then (away from combustible fences). I have also done plenty of cooking on wheelbarrows and with makeshift spits, as well as lots of regular barbecuing and there hasn’t been even the merest batting of an eyelid. However, over the last Bank Holiday weekend, I think I might have got people whispering again after giving 'Beer Can Chicken' a whirl.

Here is the unconventional method I employed, let me know what you think.

Marinated chook
Now before I go on, a lot has been said and written about beer can chicken. The faithful say that shoving a beer can up the backside of some poor, unfortunate bird is the best way to guarantee super-moist meat and crispy skin. Yet some naysayers suggest that it is simply a gimmicky trick, bringing no real benefits and fundamentally amounts to a waste of beer. Which to some; is a bigger crime than the application of the can. And from the outset, having done a bit of research, I was in two minds as to whether I should bother with the whole shindig. But being the sort who prides himself on trying out strange and quirky recipes, I felt that my credentials would be a stake, if I didn’t try out beer can chicken at least even once.

DIY with foil
The main problem I faced was that my BBQ doesn’t have a lid. It’s one of those open, drum type kits best suited to frazzling burgers and sausages for birthdays, christenings and funerals. Although that said, I am fond of cooking butterflied leg of lamb straight on top of the grill, like a proper connoisseur.  But the hurdle of roasting the chicken indirectly remained. So I came up with the idea of closing up the drum with foil. Lots and lots of tin foil. To be wrapped haphazardly around the grills and then set down on the bottom rung to seal the heat in. I left one corner of one of the grills open and free to the fiery elements, so that the chicken could actually cook.

Briquette me up
The next step was very simple. I took some charcoal, some matches, some newspaper and some kindling and I did what I do best. I set fire to everything. And with the aid of some vigorous swooshing with a dustpan, I soon had the required white-hot coals. Please note that I cleared an area for the chicken, so that it didn’t get singed to smithereens during the whole process.

Erm...
The first hiccup came with my choice of receptacle to contain the heat over the chicken. Having marinated my free range chook overnight in a paste consisting of paprika, garlic, brown sugar, thyme and a little olive oil with seasoning, I proudly plonked the bird over a half empty can of San Miguel. And then took out my stock pot and immediately realised that the pot was not big enough. Or certainly not tall enough to cover the chicken. Schoolboy error really.

After frantically scrambling around in the kitchen, looking for something, anything, that was big enough to cover the chicken, I settled for our mop bucket. Which is made from galvanised steel and is therefore fairly retardant against heat. After giving the bucket a quick wash and a good scrub in the sink, I then ran out in the garden to smash its handles off with a club hammer, so that bucket would lie flush on the foil. Which I think garnered the attention of the neighbours or rather, the lady of the house next door on the left. And essentially, this is what she set her eyes upon when she popped them over the fence.  

A strange set up, to be sure. After all, you don’t see many people cooking on a BBQ, covered with foil and bricks (to weigh the grills down) and an upside down mop bucket.

THIS ACTUALLY LOOKS LIKE IT WILL WORK! (honest)
Despite her attention, I diligently went about the business of stuffing foil around the side to seal the heat in and snapped away with my camera, proud of my achievement so far. She disappeared back inside anyway, as I think she quickly lost interest, leaving me to go fetch the chicken. Worried that the chicken might topple over when inside the mop bucket, I also decided to secure the bird further by inserting some well-placed skewers and then I whacked the makeshift pot on top. At this stage I felt quite confident and happy that it was going to work.

And it did because after a short while, lots of sizzling sounds began to emanate from under the mop bucket. At one point, sensing another photo opportunity, I dully whipped the bucket back off to reveal a steaming upright chicken, sat squat atop a can of beer, sporting what appeared to be a pair of horrific looking nipple rings.

'Oh God no...
'Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo'
It looked terrible. Perverse even. And it was at that stage in proceedings that I hoped to God that none of my neighbours were looking because if they had seen this image then I would have been done for and singled out as the neighbourhood weirdo. But I also felt if the chicken had toppled over then the whole project with have been for nothing, as the strict rule throughout (according to what I’ve read) is to keep the chicken upright for it to work. Fearful of reprisals, I slammed the mop bucket back over the chicken for the last time and walked off with a casual whistle.

I am glad to say that after an hour or so, the chicken was done. It was slightly burnt around the bottom in places but the juices ran clear after piercing (with a knife in between thigh and breast) and I was satisfied that my DIY effort had worked. Getting it off the BBQ and back inside was difficult though, what with the heat and trying to free the damn thing of its masochistic jewellery. Eventually, I ended up tossing a thick tea towel over the chicken and with both hands yanked it off the grill and ran inside t the kitchen. As though I were escorting a criminal away from the press.

After resting for about 15 mins, the chicken carved up beautifully and the much vaunted praise for juiciness rang true. There was nothing dry about this chicken apart from the crackle of skin and hint of smoke. I served the meat up with a griddled asparagus and courgette salad along with some roast potatoes, sprinkled with chopped parsley and garlic and everything was delicious. Eating in the garden on a balmy, sunny late afternoon made everything even better but I couldn’t help but feel just a little bit paranoid when observing the stillness of the surrounding houses. I was sure that in some, tongues were waggling into mouthpieces, talking about what I had just done.

In summary, I would say that beer can chicken is a fun, unusual and reliable way to cook but I can’t help but think that it may also be a step too far. Especially as the neighbour on the left hasn’t been able to look me in the eye since last Sunday.

Not even once.

Beer Can Chicken
This post is actually quite old and was submitted to a website in 2013 but has since disappeared. I stumbled across the copy and photos recently and thought it was a shame that it wasn't out there anymore, so to speak. 

So here it is on FU, to stay.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Jerk Chicken and Mango Salsa

When your smiling, when your smiling, the whole world, smiles with you...
'It's going to be too hot.'

'It's not going to be too hot.'

'I am telling you now, if you stick all that chilli in, that jerk paste is going to be too hot.'

'It is NOT going to be too hot! I have got a ton of thyme and vinegar to throw in yet. Plus the sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon. It'll be spicy but not bastard spicy. Just enough to tickle the tongue and clear the nose a bit. And besides, a lot of the fierceness will get cooked out once I throw it on the grill.'

'Still be too hot.'

Yes, I am repeating a conversation held with my beloved Mrs FU just recently, revealing the often raised dilemma of just who do you trust, whenever you start cooking and decide to throw a shed load of chilli into the mix. Your own instinct? Despite never having really made much jerk before? Or your wife's own acute intuition? Despite the fact that she hasn't done much in the way of Caribbean cooking either? I mean, she does often get things right, especially with wine but she burns toast. Like all the time.

What to do? What to do?

In the end, I opted for temperance over exuberance and to be fair, if I had gone for the whole shebang of two scotch bonnets and a cayenne, then I may have blasted the roof off my sparsely covered head.

Instead, it was what I might call 'just about right...thereabouts...maybe.'

But anyway, a decent jerk is all about getting those woody notes to come through, yes? It should be warm and with an almost cloying sweet touch, more than anything else, with a gloriously crispy skin. Well, that's what I've got from reading up on the subject anyway.

So yes, I am pretty pleased with this one. Or at least I was and then I served it at a BBQ recently and got this bit of feedback:

'Nice jerk chicken, Dan. But to be honest, it wasn't spicy enough for me.'

You live and learn and with this recipe, I suggest adjusting the amount of chilli to suit your own tastes. And bugger listening to anyone else.

Jerk blitzed
Jerk chicken with Mango Salsa - serves 4

Ingredients

For the jerk chicken

4 medium sized chicken legs, de-boned, skin on
1 white onion, chopped
4 spring onions, chopped
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1 scotch bonnet, chopped
1 tbs fresh thyme leaves, picked
1 tsp Jamaican allspice
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Half tsp ground cinnamon
Half tsp fennel seed (yes, naughty)
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
Juice of one lime
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs rapeseed oil

Jerk mixed
For the mango salsa

1 mango, diced
1 cucumber, diced
Half a red onion, diced
Half a red chilli, chopped finely
Small bunch of coriander, roughly chopped
Zest and juice of one lime
Salt and pepper, to season
4 brioche buns, to serve

Fruity salsa to temper the heat.
Method

To make the jerk mix, simply whizz everything up in your food processor, until it forms a thick paste. If it seems a little too dry, then let it down with a dash of water and blend again.

Place your chicken into a bowl and pour over the jerk paste and mix thoroughly to combine. Leave to marinate for at least four hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, light your bbq and wait till your coals are white and place the grill on top. Then pop the chicken on and cook briskly, turning often as the sugar in the mix does catch quite quickly.

After 15 - 20 mins they should be ready but I have taken to using my temperature probe lately, so you could to do the same, making sure that the internal temp gets to 74°C.

Whilst the chicken is cooking, you can also make up your salsa by combining all the ingredients in another bowl, making sure that you mix everything together and season to taste.

When the chicken is done, simply carve each leg into two and place on the bottom half of a brioche bun, add a scoop of salsa on the jerk chicken and then press the top part of the bun down. Liken on top. You know.

Some mayo wouldn't go amiss either.

Crispy skin remember

Just look at that!