Monday, 14 November 2011

Tongue Tied

I have been dipping my big toe into buckets and buckets of visceral, wobbling matter for some time now, exploring and tasting the vast possibilities that offal has to offer. I have wolfed down scrambled brain on sourdough toast in St John, slurped up numbingly spicy intestines at Chilli Cool and sliced tender, slightly uretic slivers of kidney for breakfast at Smithfield's stand fast, The Cock Tavern. I have prepared and eaten all manner of cheeks (ox, pig, cod and bum), cooked a whole pig's head for brawn, barbecued chicken hearts and flashed calves liver in pans lightening fast to ensure a consistency of melting butter. I have even spent an afternoon ploughing through 30kgs worth of lamb's testicles, deftly scoring each one before plunging my thumb in and around the thick outer membrane to pop out a beautiful, salmon pink, quivering prairie oyster. Wince inducing? Hell no. Towards the end, I was dispatching them with such a speed that I fancied changing my name by deed poll to 'The Bollockinator' and getting a t-shirt printed and everything. So until now, I thought I pretty much had offal sewn up.

Then I went and bought an ox tongue.

Now the problem with ox tongue is that...... well, by design, that's pretty much what it is, a tongue. And whilst I appreciate the beautiful fact that offal comes in all different shapes and sizes and textures, when I came up close and personal to this collossal muscle
for the first time this weekend, parallels were drawn that were just a bit too close for comfort. Holding it up to my face, weighty and wandering, I was suddenly reminded of a first kiss in the darkened corner of a school disco and the unexpected thrashing in my mouth that tasted of cigarettes and chewing gum. Holding the tongue further still, the scene changed to a grilling from a interdentally challenged policeman, soaking me with spit because I drunkenly dared to ride a kids bike on a caravan park (read wrongly as stolen). Two bonky eyes then appeared on either side of the tongue and morphed fully into a Friesian cow which stared dumbly back at me whilst chewing aimlessly on a clump of grass before finally changing back into a plain old, huge tongue. I had to check myself and ask the question 'how much copydex did I sniff earlier?"

But I think it came down to the fact that I was about to cook an organ that we encounter and visually connect with every day, when conversing, when eating and when (if you're lucky) commiting certain carnal acts. It certainly felt weird at the time but after simmering in a stock pot for a few hours with carrots, leeks, onion, celery and a bouquet garni and then leaving to cool before slicing thinly and serving with a celeriac remoulade, those initial vapours and fears soon disappeared. Instead, all that remained were wonderous salt beef flavours, reminscent of the corned kind but much more delicate and satisfying, light yet encompassing, fluid and sensuous, just the kind of thing you'd expect from a tongue. I can't wait to make it again.

But first, let me talk to my shrink.

Ox Tongue with Celeriac Remoulade (serves quite a lot depending on the size of your tongue, the ox tongue I mean)


1 Ox Tongue, approx 1.5kgs

1 carrot, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 leek, chopped,

1 celery stick, chopped

1 bouquet garni (parsley, thyme and bay)

for the remoulade

1 medium sized celeriac, sliced into matchsticks with a mandolin (if you dare) or with a sharp knife

1 egg

2 tsp white wine vinegar

pinch of salt and pepper

250ml rapeseed oil (I used Farrington's Mellow Yellow)

1 tbs of capers


As ox tongue is usually cured, it's a good idea to soak overnight, changing the water once or twice during that time. Place in a stock pot with all the chopped vegetables and bouquet garni and cover with water and bring up to a gentle simmer on the hob. Leave to softly bubble away for 3 hours, keeping an eye on the pot to top up water levels when necessary and to skim any funky scum off the surface. Take the tongue out and leave to cool completely, placing in the fridge overnight if necessary. When it's fully cold, here comes the icky part. Peel the pale outer skin off completely, revealing the dark pink tongue underneath and trim off any fatty bits.

For the remoulade, crack the egg into a bowl and add the white wine vinegar and a pinch of salt and whisk to blend. Then slowly and steadily pour a stream of oil into the bowl, whisking all the while so that everything starts to emulsify and thicken, speeding up towards the end. The mayonnaise doesn't have to be Hellmans thick though, a nice loose, torpid consistency will do. Throw the celeriac matchsticks in, mix, taste for seasoning and leave to steep in the fridge for an hour.

To serve, slice the ox tongue thinly and arrange on a plate with a dollop of remoulade to the side. Scatter all over a liberal sprinkling of capers. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Cornish Rarebit (Or The Rabbit That Went Too Far)

Cornish Rarebit

As a young teenager, getting up early on a Saturday morning was never the best of prospects and it used to take more than a gentle nudge from my father to get me going. After several exasperating shakes, it wasn't uncommon for him to just grasp my ankle and pull me off the bed, out into the hall and down the stairs whilst I clung onto my duvet for dear life, moaning with each thud on the step. A cruel and callous alarm call some might say but he was only trying to instill a strong work ethic, I did after all have a job on Romford Market to go to. Pitching up when the weather was fine, was well quite fine really but when it was grey, dark and drizzly, it was horrible. Swinging around cold lumps of steel on your shoulders to be slotted into position often resulted in nipped fingers and blood blisters. Tarpaulin to be hoisted above and straightened in a downpour would always dip at some inopportune moment and unleash a torrent of freezing water down the back of your neck. Boxes full of women's bras and knickers were suprisingly heavy, back breaking even (I mean how heavy can bras and knickers be?) and had to be carried from a grotty Transit van, like ten miles down the road. An exaggeration but remember, I was a teenager and they exaggerate everything. But once everything was done, there was just enough time to grab half an hour in the market cafe before the first round of meandering pensioners came along to inspect triple G cups, dangling on high from clothes pegs. And every Saturday, as I waltzed into the steaming throng of chatter and clatter, I would order the same thing, a mug of tea and a plate of Welsh Rabbit, the highlight of the day and just reward.

I remember always being quite curious about the phrase 'Welsh Rabbit' and would often extrapolate at length about the origin of the name with my fellow market workers at the table. Who were all about the same age as me and all named Danny, strangely. "I mean it's just cheese on toast innit," I would often sniff. But one of the Dannys had a theory that historically, this dish was symbolic, that it was a culinary signpost which signified the struggle of Welsh peasantry under the oppression of English nobility down throughout the ages. He would rant, "they kept them poor you know, they kept them poor for centuries and you know what? They had the audacity to mock them for the food they ate. The bastards sneered because all they could afford was cheese and when they did manage to get their hands on some meat, which was usually rabbit or something, the bastards laughed at that too!!" And with that, he'd normally smash his fist on the table and storm off out the cafe, leaving us to rue his words in silence until eventually, one of us would mutter, "blimey, Jonesy is touchy today eh?"

That never happened of course. We were all teenagers remember, prone to exaggeration and more intent on wolfing down the savoury delight within 5 seconds of it being laid on the table but I really did used to ponder about the name, honest. To this day, I am still partial to a bit of ol' rabbit. Although now that I've grown into a handsome, intelligent gentleman, I tend use the term 'rarebit', which sounds far more sophisticated, if not even more elusive. And perhaps we should clear up at this point that rarebit does not simple involve melting cheese onto toast. You have to go lot more effort than that and there are a lot of variations out there. Last Sunday evening I made a very good rarebit indeed, a Cornish rarebit this time, having gleaned a recipe from the recently refreshed and updated Great British Chefs website.

Now I have to be honest and say that really I shouldn't have gone ahead with this delicious version by Nathan Outlaw because I had already stuffed myself silly. Dinner consisted of garlic and herb marinated pork belly, roasted over potatoes with celery gratin topped with breadcrumbs and walnuts and a vegetable julienne, followed by poached pears and ice cream. And whilst preparing the feast, I kept nibbling at wedges of 3 year Davidstow Reserve which quite frankly is perverse in the extreme. Simply put, it is crumbly, crunchy, creamy, cheese sex. So really I should have been fully sated but at some point, later that evening fate seemed to take over the driving seat. Having spotted Nathan's take on rarebit and knowing that there was some Davidstow left in the fridge AND knowing that Nathan and Davidstow have some kind of association, I felt that it was my manifest destiny to make some for a very late tea. I am really glad that I did because it was bloody gorgeous, bursting with tangy flavour, mustard warmth and (dare I say it) umami goodness. But at the same time I kind of wish I hadn't. Because after eating, I spent the rest of the evening in a dairy coma, lying on the floor, spilling all over the place, dreaming of Lady Gaga.

Which is not good.

But if you are equally fond of rarebit (or rabbit) then you really should try this recipe (with Davidstow Reserve if possible).

3 Year Old Davidstow Reserve

Flinty, crunchy slivers of cheese sex

Must. Make. Rabbit

This beer, brewed by none other than Pete Drinks, may have helped out the soporific process too