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.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

the One° Precision Poacher by Sage

It comes to something, when at breakfast time, your family start giving you specific temperatures of cooking for their boiled eggs. In the good old days, all I would have to do is whack a saucepan of water on the hob, bring it to the boil, pop a few eggs in, set my egg timer to three minutes and bang, that was it.

Boiled eggs.

Of course, you would often have to allow for certain deviations at this time of day. Toast needs to be grilled at the same time of said boiling and kept warm too. BECAUSE ALL TOAST MUST BE SERVED HOT SO THAT THE BUTTER MAY MELT ON THE HOT TOAST. That needs concentration. And there are other minor matters that influence proceedings. The radio usually has to be re-tuned because someone keeps flipping it onto KissFM. Carol at the BBC must be gorped at, mouth wide open, for the latest weather update. Dad can sometimes disappear, for up to ten minutes at a time and yes, all these things have royally screwed up our boiled eggs in the past. But eggs would always arrive at the table; be it underdone, with albumen still crystal clear. Or totally solid, like a frigging squash ball.

That is now a thing of the past and given my initial grumble about fiddling with specific temperatures, we have all now calmly and quite sensibly settled on 75°C for delivering the perfectly boiled egg; with just the right amount of gooey yolk, all encased in a delicate wall. Even topping our eggs is now a joy. A rhythmic tapping that leaves us all entranced afterwards, as the top speckled lid falls away, revealing an impeccable white dome. You just can't help but to pause and marvel at the science of it all sometimes. Before going on to destroy everything, with a soldier smeared in Marmite.

If this approach all sounds highly technical, it may not come as surprise to reveal that I have been tinkering with a One° Precision Poacher of late. Built by Sage and developed by, yep, you guessed it, Mr Heston Blumenthal. No longer happy with sciencing up and solving the bigger problems in the kitchen; such as making ice-cream, mixing cakes and creating barista style coffee, Heston has now gone quantum and begun to look at the smaller, more complex issues. Such as boiling eggs.

My first reaction then, was that this whole concept was going to amount to right load of old...faffing.

'You wot Heston? Wanna show me how to boil my eggs do ya?'

So when I first filled it up with water, up to the sous vide line (oooooooh) and saw that I had to wait a laborious eight minutes for our eggs to be done, my cynical pants were pulled right up to my belly button. Which is OK, the kids are used to seeing me walk around the kitchen like that.

But then I fished the eggs out and served them up and bingo, they were pretty damn good. 'Eggspertly' good in fact! But I can't mess around too much with that because Heston has got the trademark.

As for the egg topper, well that is the pièce de résistance. The kit comes with temperature probe, silcone handles, a delay start so that you can time your eggs in the morning, a whole myriad of different functions; to steam, scramble and poach eggs BUT WE MUST TALK MORE ABOUT THE EGG TOPPER.

How this works, I do not know. It looks like a candle snuffer (is that a thing?) and you place it on top of your boiled egg, pull up the handle doo-dah and let the inside tapper shiztnel ricochet. You then peel the topper back and time after time, it cuts a neat line through the shell and takes the top clean off.

Do you know how many eggs I have fudged with a teaspoon? Sending splinters of shell downwards, to veritably spoil that sea of gold and ocre? To be picked back out with equally fudgy fingers? Do you?!

Heston, I applaud you.

My journey with this little gadget has only just begun and I have yet to fully explore it's potential but I have used it to also confit some duck legs, the recipe of which I shall pop on the blog at a later date. I might as well try and get some mileage out of this but if you ever find yourself falling fowl (geddit) of the conundrum that is cooking the perfect boiled egg, a neat little investment here could be just the ticket.

Mornings are stressful enough as it is.

Sage sent me a One° Precision Poacher for review and all opinions, hereby and otherwise disclosed are the machinations of the author, who is easily impressed. Especially when it comes to egg toppers.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Hunting High and Low

I don’t know if you are familiar with the poem ‘Silver' by Walter De La Mare but it really is a lovely piece of verse; that describes a magical, silent, fixated sort of journey. Filled with images of nature with streams trickling by and the prospect of faeries lurking and hunting in shadows, it is quite a favourite at home. However, for some very strange reason, the opening line has been resonating through my head a lot of late. The last time it happened was when I was up on a blustery hill, up in Perthshire, Scotland; with a small band of people. Some camouflaged. Some not so much.

And as I followed feet, single file and trudging through peat and sodden heather, the words kept returning to me:

‘Slowly, quietly, now the moon,
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees.’

This was in daylight, rather than at night, so it didn’t really make much sense to have all this racing through my brain. But I think the climb was beginning to take it out of me. What with the lack of oxygen at 2000 feet and my general lack of fitness. However, I’d say that the stunning scenery also had something to do with it. Glen Lyon is a beautiful place. Bleak by some turns, yet magnificent with the sun comes out. The views were all totally captivating.

So, up the hill we went and once again, off the line went - ‘Slowly *puff*, quietly *pant*, now the…oooh look, a rainbow…’

Then suddenly, I heard a whisper.

‘Get down.’


‘Get. Down. You are in the skyline.’

‘I am in the skyline? What happens when I am in the skyline?’

‘You could get shot.’

‘OK, I shall dip below the skyline.’

Yes, when you go deer stalking, it does pay to pay attention to these matters. The last thing you want to do is to niggle a highly qualified marksman on a hunt. Especially when he has got a gun and you can barely see him.

But this was just a small soupçon of knowledge that I gained on a trip up the road recently, organised by Sainsbury’s, to learn more about the burgeoning demand for venison in the UK.

The reasons for this are two-fold. Firstly, the deer population in this country is estimated to be approaching the 2 million mark and whilst this all sounds good for the deer, the resulting impact on the countryside can be devastating. Swollen herds can have a massive impact on farm crops and natural flora and fauna alike. Not forgetting to mention that a large percentage of roaming deer are responsible for road traffic accidents. So, culling must take place, to protect the balance of the eco-system and to also keep the population healthy.

This is turn moves onto the second aspect, which ties into a growing interest the UK, for ethically sourced meat that is also healthy and low in fat. In a similar vein to say, Cabrito and billy goats, it makes no sense to simply waste this huge resource. Especially since the meat that wild deer yields is about as free-range as you can possible get. And given that more people are beginning to adopt a flexitarian approach to their diet, the notion of buying quality protein, over cheap farmed meat, has become more and more popular. Hence Sainsbury’s seeing a 13 per cent increase in sales. I utter the word ‘flexitarian’ through gritted teeth by the way. But even this old stag must admit, that times are a-changing.

Coming back to the hunt, which took place on the Glenlyon estate, owned by Iain Wotherspoon - who does a fine line in plus fours, I am not sure if I could carry the look off - prior to us setting off, there was a certain degree of apprehension cutting through the air. Not so much to do with the deed itself. More down to the fact that taking a large group out on a deer stalk is counterintuitive to the task in hand. Ordinarily, Graeme Gallimore, the estate’s Head deer stalker, will go out alone or in a pair. Having nine people follow in his every footstep evidently struck him as absurd but having only been out in the hills for a short time, he quickly spotted our quarry and the whispers began once again.

‘Can you see it?’

‘No, where?’

‘There, just below that rocky outcrop.’

‘All the way over there?! I can’t see a thing! My deer eyes aren’t working.’ 

‘It’s there. And you are holding your binoculars the wrong way around. Now you lot stay back. Julien and I going to get into a better position.’

The Julien he was referring to, was none other than Julien Pursglove - Master Butcher, Technical Manager for Sainsbury’s and who’d have thought it, licensed marksman, with a list of certifications as long as my arm. It was Graeme’s job to get him into position and then Julien would aim and pull the trigger to make the kill. Yes, the grizzly end. But during our earlier briefing, Julien explained the whole process and that it wasn’t simply a case of shooting at will. He would have to assess the terrain, identify the nature of the herd and focus specifically on an area of the animal – the chest cavity - that would ensure an immediate death. If Julien couldn’t tick all the boxes, we would have to move on.

We waited for what seemed like an age and then a pop rang out in the distance, before the radio buzzed, confirming the kill. After we walked around to find them, Julien calmly and quietly spoke some words that immediately dispelled the nature of the scene in front of us.

‘OK, after a successful shot, we’ve caught ourselves a deer and we must now class this as food.’

Which seemed like a simple statement, but as he got geared up in rubber gloves and began the ‘gralloching’ it was an important one to make. Certainly, the business of immediately eviscerating an animal’s bowels is not one for the squeamish. But this basic ‘field dressing’ - to prevent contamination and to quickly cool the body down - did highlight the next stage and a transformation into product for our consumption. And for whatever scruples you may have, I personally believe that if you eat meat, this is something you should respectfully acknowledge. Or be aware of at least.

Having succeeded so early in the day, it was then decided that we should continue and at one point it did look like another deer would be coming back home with us. But I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that Graeme just wanted to tire us out. By making us walk for miles and miles, up and down hills, until we started to hallucinate and gently weep.

Back at the estate, we were then taken to the cold store, where the next level of ‘larder dressing’ took place. It was here that the deer was skinned and broken down, with an inspection of major organs for disease. Graeme took great care of this part and again, it was an important process to witness. Within a matter of hours, this deer now resembled a carcass that you might seeing hanging in a butcher’s window.

Perhaps too soon for some, what followed in the evening was a meal of venison, using some of the range that Sainsbury’s feature on their shelves. Along with some main joints and cuts, provided by Nigel Sampson of Holme Farmed Venison; a rambunctious character who acts as an intermediary, processing and providing both wild and farmed venison for Sainsbury’s. Nigel had also been out on the stalk with us, wandering out into that dreaded skyline and it was good to soak up some of his enthusiasm at the table.

‘The great thing about venison steak is that it doesn’t shrink in the pan! In fact, it grows!’ was just one of his pearls of wisdom. To be fair though, the big sell was largely down to the execution of chef, Chris and his wife Rachel, who had been drafted in from Ballintaggart Farm to prepare our feast.

After sampling Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range of venison steaks and sausages, all paired with innovative sauces and chutneys, we soon moved onto venison carpaccio, venison stew and roast haunch and succulent pan-fried loin – a cut that has been introduced specifically to their Christmas range this year, due to the meat’s popularity. And I must say, Chris absolutely nailed showcasing the meat’s versatility.

Clockwise - Venison carpaccio, haunch, sausages, steak and loin
So much so, that by the end of the meal, I started to proclaim plans to feature venison as the star of our Christmas dinner. Rather than going for turkey or say, rib of beef. However, I should profess this was also in part to Iain handing me a tumbler of whisky, two fingers thick. And I’ve got thick fingers.

Part of the conversation also steered onto managing expectations, due to this new-found demand for venison. Was there enough wild deer to go around? The response was that farmed deer is now having a larger, integral part to play. Which on face value sounds disheartening but having seen the programme that Iain is developing at Glen Lyon, with regards to rearing deer, the defining lines between wild and farmed are blurred. For even farmed deer have vast swathes of land and parks to live and graze on. The biggest cost is investing in the miles and miles of high fencing to contain them.

By way of proving the popularity of venison further, before returning home, we stopped off at Downfield Farm, owned by Bob and Jane Prentice. Situated in picturesque Fife, amongst a strong agricultural belt, the farm is home to Scotland’s first deer abattoir. Having previously been in dairy, Bob spotted an opportunity that coincided with this rise for deer meat and has seen capacity increase year upon year. As a result, he has now added a facility to process wild deer carcasses, that come down from all the estates and parks in Scotland.

Julien Pursglove leading a venison butchery demonstration at Downfield Farm.
The singular message then is that demand for venison is on the up and having seen the operation in its entirety, it is easy to understand why. It’s a small snowball but consumer choice is steadily becoming weighted towards provenance and sustainability these days, as well as quality and taste, and I can see how venison falls well within this category. Sure, there are some past and present associations, of Kings and Queens and of venison being the preserve of the privileged. Once you get through all that - the tweed, the formality of nips on the hillside, the blaaady tradition of the sport - there is a lot to be said for buying and cooking with venison.

Just make sure you keep off the skyline.

Photo credit: Craig Stephen (apart from the food snaps, they're mine!)

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Madras short ribs with sweet potato dhal

Using the immortal lines from that classic by The Specials, this place is coming like a ghost town. But with my usual line of bonhomie and excuses, I am pleased to announce that I am still very much around. I am just also very busy writing about meat, crisps and the Essex food scene. And many other things.

Many, many...many other things. Which is good.

So, here is a quick fire recipe post that has already been featured on Great British Chefs, in collaboration with Pataks. And it is a humdinger, even if I do say so myself. A glorious treatment of an underused cut of beef - the short rib. A piece of meat that in all honesty, has only really fallen into my radar over the last couple of years. But now I have found it, I can't stop eating it. Rich and devilishly fatty, short rib marries up very well with hot fiery flavours and I would even go as to say that it tempers and calms chilli notes. To a certain degree.

That said, I don't think I would ever take this dish beyond the level of madras. I still have very bad memories of a phal. My gawd, I will never forget the dawn...the horror.

Stick to what you know you can handle, kids.

The wonder of this particular recipe is that very the first time I made this, we were over at our friend's house for a Sunday ruckus. Walks, beer, wine, cheer, oh dear it's 10 o'clock and we've got to get the kids to school tomorrow. That sort of thing. Anyway 'Blimey, Dan! This is gorgeous!' was the resounding and pleasant response I got from my guinea pigs, so I know it works.

But the really, really great thing, was being able to shoot in someone else's kitchen and not having to use the same old props, plates and chopping boards that I return to, time and time again. 'It has really delivered a fresh vibe,' I said to my mate, after dishing up. 'I mean those tiles, they are beautiful, man.'

Which possibly shows you how tipsy I was at the time (or how much of food w*nker I am turning into). Perhaps I should cook and shoot in other people's kitchen's more often though. For that fresh lease of life for the blog.

I am not coming to yours though. I am far too busy.

Madras short ribs with sweet potato dhal and cucumber raita


Short ribs
4 beef short ribs, approx. 300g each
1 bottle of red wine, shiraz is a good option
1 onion, quartered
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
plain flour, for dusting
oil, for frying
1 Patak’s madras spice pot
500ml of beef stock
1/2 bunch of coriander, for garnish

Sweet potato dhal
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
oil, for frying
1 bay leaf
1 tsp ground cumin
250g of red lentils
750ml of chicken stock
1 lemon, juiced

Cucumber raita
1/2 cucumber, peeled, deseeded and finely chopped
1/2 bunch of mint, leaves picked and chopped
200ml of natural yoghurt
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds


Before you start cooking, the short ribs need to marinated overnight. Begin by placing them in a bowl or pot and cover with the red wine, vegetables and spices. A good trick is to make a little spice sack, using a small square of muslin cloth and cotton to tie up, to contain the seeds. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave in the fridge to infuse overnight.

The next day, take the short ribs out of the marinade, leaving them in a sieve or colander over a bowl to drain and come to room temperature.

Preheat your oven to 140°C/gas mark 1.

Pour the marinade into a casserole dish, along with the vegetables and spices. Place on the hob, bring to the boil then add the beef stock and stir in the spice pot paste. Reduce to a simmer.

Lightly dust the ribs in flour. Heat some oil in a frying pan over a medium to high heat, place the ribs in the pan and turn until nicely browned all over.

Transfer the ribs to the simmering liquid, cover with a lid and place into the oven. Leave them to gently cook for 2 to 2.5 hours, until they are really tender.

While the ribs are cooking, you can prepare the sweet potato dhal. Take a large saucepan and place it over a medium heat, add a splash of oil then add the chopped onion. Stir until the onion is soft and has sweetened, then add the garlic, stir-frying for another minute or so.

Add the ground cumin, again stirring through for a minute, then add the red lentils and bay leaf and mix everything together.

Finally add the chicken stock and bring everything to the boil before reducing to a simmer. Cook the lentils for about 20 to 25 minutes, until they begin to soften and collapse.

As the lentils are cooking, bring another saucepan of water to the boil and add the diced sweet potato, cooking for 10 minutes or so, until they also begin to soften and collapse. Drain and leave to steam.

When the lentils are ready, add the sweet potato and gently mix in. The key here is mash the sweet potato in just a touch but not so much that it disappears completely. Finish by stirring though the lemon juice and taste for seasoning. Set aside, to be warmed up later.

To make the raita, first toast the cumin and mustard seeds in a dry frying pan for a minute or so, until they become fragrant and start to pop. Leave to cool and then roughly grind in a pestle and mortar. Pour the powder into a small bowl.

Add the cucumber, half the mint leaves and the yoghurt and mix to combine. Taste for seasoning, then leave to chill in the fridge.

When the ribs are ready, take them out of the stock and keep warm, (it is good to keep the ribs in a little bit of the stock here, so that they don’t dry out.) Pour the remaining stock through a sieve and pour into a fresh saucepan. Place back on the hob to reduce the sauce by two thirds.

To serve, warm the lentil dhal through and then spoon into the centre of a bowl. Top with a portion of short rib and then drizzle the reduced spicy sauce all over the meat.

Add some coriander for garnish and serve with the cooling raita to the side, using the other half of chopped mint on top for presentation.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Sainsbury's 30 Day Matured Bone In Ribeye Steak

A couple of weekends ago, we had a special surprise birthday celebration, for a special birthday boy, who has just turned 40. No, it wasn’t me, it was for my brother-in-law. My special 40th surprise comes next year… *cough*. The venue in question was a lovely gastropub, just off the coast in Suffolk, near Southwold. And because there was a large group of us, the pub needed us to all pre-order a week before our arrival. Which is fair enough. Although you do have to pity the poor person in question who is organising it all and must repeatedly coral everyone into getting their requests in; via texts, emails and threatening phone calls. Especially on the morning of the actual day that you are supposed to be all gathering to eat.

In this case, it was my sister and bless her for keeping her cool. Of course, when it comes to ‘pre-ordering’ someone will ALWAYS forget what they chosen. Or change their minds on arrival.

Well, on this occasion, there was a veritable toppling of dominoes, punctuated by a heavy sigh that sort of said ‘I don’t know why I bother.’ But it really wasn’t my our fault. In fact, the pub is to blame more than anything else. If their waiting staff hadn’t been carousing around the place, waltzing through swing doors with these fantastic plates, loaded with fragrant steak and golden chips and going to other tables; then the temptation would never have been there. And I wouldn’t have changed my order at the very last nanosecond.

Yes, for me personally, steak and chips is often the great un-doer and unraveller of things. Particularly in pubs and restaurants. Even when I do have the time to peruse a menu, a handsome hunk of meat usually comes out on top. Largely because any chef worth their seasoning salt, will know what they are doing with steak and if you head into places like Hawksmoor or Goodman, well half the battle is over. You can breathe easy, safe in the knowledge that you are in for a treat. Unless they’ve carted in a chef from Aberdeen Steakhouse last minute that is. I suspect that this sort of thing never happens though.

And don’t get me wrong. I like to think I can crack out a decent ribeye with a pan or chargrill, all crusted evenly and with a nice amount of blush to show when you cut through. Time, care and attention is all you really need. However, whenever I invest in a prime cut, something that has cost just that little bit extra, a certain degree of nerves can set in.

These nerves sort of came to the surface when I recently tried out a bone-in ribeye from Sainsbury’s new selection of steaks, that have been added to their Taste The Difference range. Along with an addition of Bone in Sirloin, Picanha and Flat Iron cuts, Sainsbury's have certainly upped the ante on the premium front, delivering British steaks that have been aged for 30 days, on top of their regular range of 21 old day steaks. Which is great for the customer, as this does finally begin to bridge the gap between restaurant offerings and home-cooking. Particularly for the general public. Tasteless rump or sirloin has been a bane for many supermarkets, so it is good that a store like Sainsbury's is pulling its socks up and meeting the big boys head on.

But this does also bring us around full circle. Insofar, that if you decide to buy in something special, for say an anniversary, to share, what should you be doing to make sure you get the best out of your huge and ginormous bone-in ribeye steak?

Well to begin, the golden rule is start by bringing your steak up to room temperature. Never grab a steak straight from the fridge and whack it on the stove. That pretty much is sacrilege. So, take it out at least an hour before you are ready to cook.

Seasoning is the next point and when it comes to adding flavour, all you are ever going to need is sea salt and cracked black pepper. Herb butters and robust sauces are a fine thing but if you are going to be cooking a steak that has been aged for 30 days, you can be sure that everything is going to tip top on the taste bud front. Although if you must, béarnaise is a good shout.

Once you’ve seasoned the steak generously, it is then time to get the oven on, up to 200°C and to get that pan hot. Smoking hot. And using a frying medium such as a spritz of sunflower oil (or beef dripping even!) isn’t such a bad thing. But if you are cooking a bone-in ribeye, the fat content will do most of the work.

Slap the ribeye in and wait for 30 seconds before turning and wait for another 30 seconds. Drop the heat a touch and then keep turning the steak for another couple of minutes. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t pay to simply leave the meat in the pan to sear. You need to keep turning, to develop that magic crust.

Because the Sainsbury’s bone-in ribeye is a fairly large beast, you can finish off in the oven and rely to a certain degree on timings, depending on weights, to cook your steak to the required rare, medium-rare, medium or (dare I utter the word) well-done. After a degree of guess work, the instructions on the box will take care of that but if you have a meat thermometer, to keep an eye on things, then that really will pave the way to cooking the steak, just the way you like it.

55°C to 59°C for medium-rare or 60°C to 65°C for medium are the temperature you should aim for.
Go over that and I am not sure we can be friends.

Finally, and perhaps the most important part, is to let the steak rest after cooking. Taste buds may well be on fire by this point, with saliva glands unable to douse the flames but so much good work can be undone by tucking into a steak too soon. So, do yourself a favour and leave it alone, for at least 10 minutes.

Having just read all that back, I do realise that I barked out something akin to a steak cooking manifesto and some of you may be reading through and thinking ‘That’s not how I would do it, Dan.’
But this is the treatment I gave my bone-in ribeye and I was pleasantly pleased, if not surprised by the end result. Because this cut usually has nice amount of fat that renders out, you can sort of guarantee tenderness, yet this ribeye seemed to be even more succulent than most. Which I attribute to the bone itself. Meat always cooks best on the bone. Plus, it had that inherent blue cheese flavour, that begins to come through after decent maturation, that glorious, umami hint of Stilton on the tongue.

Did it stand up to restaurant steak though? Well of course it did. I cooked it didn’t I!

And if I ever saw it come rumbling out of a professional kitchen door, I would certainly favour it over any beef burger that may or may not been previously ordered.

That very morning.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Pearl Barley Risotto with Chard, Mushrooms and Bacon

Purists may bulk at the fact that I have used the words 'Pearl Barley' and 'Risotto' in the same sentence here but there is no reason why you shouldn't use this humble grain as a substitute for arborio or carnaroli rice. In fact, I would take pearl barley over rice any day of the week. It is cheap, very nutritious and a little goes a long way. Bang, there's your byline, right there The British Association of Pearl Barley Lovers United. Or BAPBLU for short. You can have that for free. If you exist.

But really, I think my love for pearly barley goes back to childhood memories of stews. When Mum would slow-cook neck of lamb, with a simple addition of roughly chopped root veg, stock, seasoning and a scant handful of the stuff. Nothing more, nothing less. It always used to amazed me how swollen the pearl barley could get, forming into these slightly squidgy nuggets, that would bounce back against the pressure of a molar before finally giving up the ghost and collapsing. Sucking that little globule of fat from the middle of the bone was also a treat too. Before having a tea-towel thrown at your head, to mop off the rim of grease that surrounded your mouth.

With this recipe, things needn't get so meaty though. You could go full on vegetarian and omit the bacon, use vegetable stock and replace the Parmesan with a rennet free option. Although if your veggie cheese product uses the words 'Parmigiano Reggiano' on the packaging, then whoever made it really will be breaking the law and you can expect the Italian 'food police' to come crashing through your door. And rightly so.

The main thing is to make sure you have plenty of stock. Because, like I said, pearl barley has a seemingly infinite thirst. When I made this the other day, I simmered up just over a litre of chicken stock and as I began to scrape with a ladle at the bottom of the pot, the pearl barley was nowhere near ready, or soft enough. Luckily, I had some more bags of stock in the freezer. So I boiled the kettle, poured the scalding water into a bowl, slipped a bag in, loosened the plastic a bit and plopped an filthy looking iceberg into a wok. I then slammed the wok over a high flame and managed to melt the damn thing in about five minutes flat. Presto, hey!

This is not ideal though. So preparation and patience is the order of the day. Al dente is no good when it comes to pearl barley, You'll only end up breaking your teeth.

Pearl Barley Risotto with Chard, Mushrooms and Bacon - serves 4


1 onion, finely chopped

1 celery stick, finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped


Olive oil

250g pearl barley

3 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked

1 sprig of rosemary, leaves picked and chopped

2 litres of chicken stock (you might not need all of this but best to be safe than sorry)

150g Parmesan cheese, grated (plus extra for sprinkling on afterwards)

200g Rainbow Chard, chopped

200g Chestnut mushrooms, cleaned and quartered

150g Smoked bacon lardons

1 lemon, cut in half


Begin by heating a wide saucepan on the hob, over a medium heat and add a generous knob of butter and a glug of oil. As the butter begins to bubble, throw in the chopped onion and celery and stir through, reducing the heat a touch and slowly cook through, until everything becomes soft.

Also, begin to heat your stock up in a separate pan, bringing it up to a simmer.

Turn the heat back up on your wide pan and add the garlic and herbs, stir-frying quickly for a minute or so, to incorporate, and then add the pearly barley. Again, stir through for a minute, reduce the heat once more and then you can begin to add the stock.

This is where the long, laborious work starts but it will be worth it. Continually stir through and as the pearl barley soaks up the stock, add another ladle or two. There are other methods, such as baking in the oven but I always stick by this approach.

Slowly but surely, the starches in the pearl barley will release and everything will start to swell and thicken. It could take up to 30 minutes though, so might be good to have a glass of wine by your side.

And whilst you are stirring, you can get on with the business of steaming your chard, pan-frying your mushrooms and crisping up your bacon lardons. It's a juggle but relatively easy to do. So long as you have some wine.

The pearl barley, in my opinion, is ready when your tooth sinks right through and with ease. When you are that point, turn the heat off.

Quickly drain your chard and then add that to the risotto, along with half of the mushrooms, then dump the grated Parmesan cheese in and stir through, so that it all melts and becomes gooey.

Dot the top of the risotto with some butter and then cover and leave for 5 minutes and then stir the melted butter through.

To serve, spoon a generous portion of the pearl barley into a deep bowl and squeeze a trickle of lemon over each one. Cupping your hands underneath to catch any pips.

Grate over some more cheese before topping the centre with a good portion of the both the leftover mushrooms and the smoked bacon lardons.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

What would you cook for Mary Berry?

'Mary Berry and Claudia Winkleman are searching for the nation’s best home cooks for a new BBC One series!'

Yes, any self-respecting cook should check out the deal at www.britainsbestcook.co.uk right now folks and I know this because I received an email with this header just the other day...

And it got me thinking.

‘Why don’t you go on a TV cooking show, Dan? Like Master Chef. You’d be good at that sort of thing.’

I mean, this is a question that gets put to me all the time and not just by the voices in my head. Be it at the pub. At the local park. When I bump into people down the supermarket in town. All the time.

I can picture them right now. Actually, I can picture him right now. Spotting me, thinking and then shouting:

‘Look at him go. Shopping for ingredients and stuff. I wonder what he is up to this time? What is he going to cook now? You know, he should really go on TV, and cook on TV.’

“Hey Dan! Why don’t you apply for that new telly series wot Mary Berry and that Claudia Winkleman are gonna be presenting on the BBC soon! Summink like ‘Britain’s Best Cook’ it’s called. You’d be good at that!”

“`Oi, Dan! Where are you going? Think abaaht it. Berry, Winkleman, you and your spag bol, they’d laaave it! Daaaaaan!?”

You might think that this is an unlikely scenario to happen but seriously, it has happened. I have got quite a fan you see, from a recent tenure, barbecuing at my local micropub, who just loved the burgers and sausages that I flipped for him. He shall remain anonymous for the time being but to capture the image, he is pretty much your Black Cabbie stereotype. Loud, opinionated and loves to wear shorts and deck shoes, with no socks. But essentially, he is friendly, warm and a good soul and he really wants me to be on TV. And every time I bump into Dave (not his real name) he bangs on and on about it. Bellowing at me, as I smile, retreat and dart into another aisle and straight to the checkout.

Not Dave 

'Leave me alone Dave!’ I often whisper, nervously, as I run out to the car park.

The problem is that I really am not sure that I could ever put myself in the spotlight like that, subjecting myself to the immense pressure of performing in front of the camera and knowing that the masses will be watching my every move, on screen and afterwards. It is a big step to make and you could comment on that format is all too prevalent. This competitive cooking business. But look what it’s done for the likes of Nadiya Hussain, Thomasina Miers and Tim Anderson. What a launch pad television can be. Sometimes, it really can give you the chance to make it, finally, in food and spawn an empire. The opportunity to write books, launch restaurants and develop a unique line of meat cologne for the discerning gentleman. Grab a grand prize on the box and the world could be your oyster.

I suppose the main barrier for me and with regards to Dave’s proposition (which is really not his real name by the way) is what the hell would I cook for Mary Berry; the doyenne of British baking, food and writing. Not forgetting to mention face of a fine range of condiments and sauces, all of which are now sadly defunct. I loved her hollandaise in jar and I miss it so.

Coming back to the challenge though, if Mary were to say, accept an invitation to dinner party I was holding (it could happen) there would definitely be some sleepless nights or weeks prior to the event.

I think to start, I would have to serve up something quintessentially British that was also fairly light and easy. Something like white crabmeat on toast, dressed in a dash of homemade mayonnaise, bit of cayenne pepper, lemon, with some watercress on the side. That sounds like it would be up her street, yes?

Then for mains, um, it would have to be something like roast chicken. Lemon roast chicken, with tarragon and no….no, that’s too plain. Spicy spatchcock chicken, marinated in curry powder, ginger and lime. Using similar flavours to that Thai stir-fry chicken of hers. But this would be done on the BBQ. Smoked maybe. That would update things a touch and move with the times. She loves a BBQ too, I am sure. Yes, smoked spatchcock chicken, with fragrant rice and an Asian slaw. Maybe I should put the chicken in a chicken brick. Mary loves that too. It’s traditional. Spatchcock chicken, smoked in a chicken brick, on the BBQ. Revolutionary.

And finally, for desserts, well, it would have to be cake, wouldn’t it? A big cake, like a croquembouche. Which isn’t really a cake. More like a series of small cakes, little balls of choux, all stuck together to make a pointy mountain and to be splashed with chocolate and dotted with spun sugar. And then decorated with hundreds and thousands and lots and lots of shiny stars. No, wait, that would be over the top. I should do something understated instead. A lemon drizzle cake. No. Victoria sponge! Yes, she loves a Victoria sponge. But I bet she hasn’t seen a Victoria sponge…donkey. Yes, I will make her a Victoria sponge donkey, life-size, to celebrate the Great British Seaside. The focus will be Blackpool. And we will all wear kiss-me-quick hats as we dig into it around the table. And she’ll be over the moon. That’s it. That is what I am going to do. That is what is going to propel me into the final. This is exactly the sort of thing I should be dreaming up if I were ever going to apply for Britain’s Best Cook.

I am going to run this by Dave (seriously, it’s not his real name) and see what he thinks. I am sure he will be behind me all the way.

But in the meantime, if you fancy applying for the show, then drop an email to cooking@keofilms.com

Applications close on October 31st.