Saturday, 21 December 2013

Octopus and Haggis

Enter the Kraken!
Everyone has their own tale of pot luck freezer bingo to share and I am no stranger to foraging through the desolate wasteland that is the bottom of our chest freezer and unearthing mysterious delights and artifacts of yesteryear. Organised people use pens and labels when they store food scraps, lumps of flesh and viscous liquids. I don't because I hate to deny myself the pleasure and thrill of bringing back bags of solidified matter from the bottom of the garden (our chest freezer is in our shed) and plonking it in a bowl, waiting for it to defrost. What can it be? How long has it been there? And more importantly, why did we freeze it in the first place? Precautions do need to be taken of course. A blow torch and crow bar is kept on standby, should the 'thing' come alive and attach itself to my face. Or worse still, to next door's cat. There is a lot be learnt from what happened to R.J.MacReady and those poor souls in Antarctica. However, the only thing that normally ever happens after the thaw is a state of confusion, rather than terror. I have frozen left over strawberry jelly before and to this day, I don't know why I did it.

But like I said, there are some pleasant surprises to be had and when I realised that I had some octopus in the freezer (left over from a bountiful trip to Billingsgate fish market) I went cock-a-hoop because I am quite partial to a bit of polpo yet have never cooked it at home before. The big question though was what to do with it. Octopus sort of sings summer and holidays in the Med to me, served cold with tomatoes and herbs or char-grilled with citrus zest. These cephalopods are meant to be great in stews but again the emphasis is normally on light seasonal flavours, rather than gutsy hearty winter grub. At a loss, as always I went on Twitter for suggestions and sommeALEier Melissa Cole came up with the idea of octopus stuffed with black pudding, garlic and parsley and braised in red wine, which sounded cracking. 

And then I got thinking some more, which can be dangerous, because I had some venison haggis in the fridge from Macsween which then kicked off a process of analytical thought that went along the lines of:

'Blood sausage, haggis, both meaty, spicy, a little bit offal-ly, a little bit whoar, could work, they are practically the same, except haggis doesn't have blood and black pudding doesn't contain oats, so really they are quite different but fuck it, I can't be bothered to go back out to the shops.'

So I put together a rather nice plate of food which all tied together surprisingly well. Sweet tender octopus tasting of the sea really does play well with the deep rich quality of haggis and the red wine sauce, reduced and intense, smacks you around the chops with the force of an amorous Kraken. And to give the whole dish a bit of extra zing, I sprinkled some fresh gremolata over the top.

In other words, you should try this. Seriously. Stop looking at me like that.

Octopus and Haggis - serves 2

1 medium sized octopus, cleaned, beak removed and beaten to within a inch of its life if fresh and dead or left alone if frozen and dead then de-frosted (freezing helps to tenderise it)

1 haggis (like I said, I had some Macsween venison haggis which sounds la-de-dah and was very lovely but in all honesty I couldn't tell the difference from regular haggis)

Half a bottle of red wine (I used a fine Valpolicella from Aldi)

1 onion, sliced

1 carrot, sliced

1 stick of celery, sliced

Half a head of garlic

A bouquet garni of parsley, thyme and bay

10 peppercorns, crushed

Large knob of butter and some more butter, cold and cubed to finish the sauce at the end.


Take a casserole pot, one that is not too big but big enough to neatly fit your octopus whole and place on the hob over a medium heat. Add the butter and once it begins to foam, add the onion and gently fry until the onions become nice and soft. Then add the celery and carrot and bouquet garni cook off for another 5 minutes or so. Spread the vegetables evenly over the base of the pot and place the octopus on top, then pour the wine all. Bring up to a gentle simmer and continue to simmer for an hour until the octopus is tender enough to push a fork through the flesh.

Meanwhile, cook your haggis as per instructions. The Macsweens only takes 25 in boiling water (this was a limited edition sausage-worth of haggis though.

When cooked, remove your octopus and chop into bite sized pieces. Sieve the remaining red wine, removing the vegetables and herbs into a clean saucepan and place back onto the hob to reduce by two thirds. Take off heat, stir through a couple of cold cubes of butter to add some sheen and put the octopus bites back into to the sauce to warm through.

Plate up by spooning a bed of haggis on a warmed er..plate (I used to chef rings for extra 'ponce') and then pile up the octopus on top, scattering some of the prettier looking pieces around for even more ponce. Drizzle the reduce sauce over the top and add your sprinkle of gremolata. Serve straight away, with sauteed potatoes and carrots, if you so wish.

No beak
Venison Haggis no less
Octopus and Haggis
Sophistication on a plate

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Sticky Mickey and Tricky Tortellini

Have you ever made tortellini? You know, those navel shaped, lightly stuffed, round parcels of pasta? They are like ravioli. Ravioli that come with just little bit of extra inner turmoil, a touch of teenage angst. Anyway, if you have made them before, you will know that the hassle is worth it. Actually, once you've got the knack, they are quite easy to make. Because all you need to do is to roll your dough out, using a pasta machine or a rolling pin. You then lay the strip of dough, springy and elastic, along a clean, lightly floured surface. You dot your chosen filling at intervals towards the bottom of the strip and then you fold the pasta over and then you cut it out with.......

No wait, you actually cut the strips of pasta into squares first and then you put your filling in the middle and then you fold the square into a triangle like a wonton and then you press out the air and seal and then wrap......

No, hang on, you cut round circles out of your strips of pasta and then you put the filling, not too much, at the bottom of the circle, fold and then wrap around your thumb. Or is it your little finger? And then....look it's squidging out, the filling is squidging out everywhere..........................................

Let's look at the Internet, let's see how they do it on the Internet....... See Giorgio Locatelli can do it. It's easy and I have done this before........ I have time, I have lots of time. People will be here in about 2 hours. I have 2 hours and people will be here and I have yet to cook the ballotine of turkey or make my rosti. I haven't even started on the red wine sauce yet and I am trying to make tortellini. Simple, sodding, tortellini. It's easy, I have done this before, I know I have and look.......look, it keeps squishing out all over the place. My hands are trembling......... WHY? WHY AM I DOING THIS? WHO CAME UP WITH THE IDEA OF MAKING TORTELLINI? THIS IS ALL S**T! GOD, I HATE MAKING PASTA!!! 

*cue sounds of smashing and crashing*

OK, let's make tagliatelle instead.


Yes, preparations for a dinner party went slightly awry a couple of weeks ago and the rambling monologue above should give you some insight as to how I dealt with the situation. The plan was to cook up an alternative Thanksgiving meal for myself and some special guests, working in conjunction with Great British Chefs and Corney & Barrow, matching their recipes with their wine. And by and by, the meal was a success. A golden rule I have though is to always keep things simple for dinner parties and perhaps if I had plumped for the option of pumpkin soup rather than pumpkin tortellini, then perhaps prepping during day wouldn't have been quite so stressful. But you live and learn and I have decided that from now on if I am ever going to make tortellini again, I am going to take things slowly and make them by dulcet candlelight, with a glass of red wine, when I have all the time in the world. Or I might just go to the shops to buy them instead.

However, like I said, the evening was still great fun and it was wonderful to have some fellow Essex bloggers, namely Big Spud and Bistro Becs, come over to my house to eat and drink and to shoot the breeze with on a school night. Big Spud Gary even gave an excellent rendition of the Oath of Allegiance. This was supposedly to be a Thanksgiving meal after all. Although I do feel that the theme was lost on us all after a few cheeky glasses of vimto. Still, seeing as wine and food pairing was main point of the night, here is a brief appraisal of each dish wot I cooked and the wine as selected by Corney & Barrow.

Pumpkin tortellini tagliatelle with chestnuts

and a sage beurre noisette

(served with Veigadares Albarino, 2011)
So yes, the tortellini didn't materialise but I felt that even if I still served up pasta anyway (ie tagliatelle) then the dish would still be a hit with the Veigadares Albarino, billed by Corney & Barrow as 'one of the hidden treasures of the world.' Given that pumpkin can be very sweet, the acidity of the Albarino certainly worked as a foil to cut through the richness of the dish, yet was still fruity enough to balance out the savoury thwhack from the sage beurre noisette. The warm chestnut also went down very well, along with the extra bits of bacon that I added at the end, which weren't in the original recipe. (Top tip: if you ever feel like you have cocked up a recipe, always add bacon. People soon forget once they've had bacon)

Empty plate

Ballotine of turkey with spinach, braised baby gems, potato rosti and thyme jus

(served with Muddy Water Slow Hand Pinot Noir, Waipara,

New Zealand, 2009)
The main course consisting of turkey breast wrapped in parma ham with a herbed rosti and sauteed lettuce was a big hit at the table, along with the Pinot Noir. Turkey breast nearly always suffers from the danger of overcooking and can become dry and insipid but using Graham Campbell's method of poaching in foil ensured that the bird came out beautifully moist. My rosti could have done with a bit more seasoning but I have rekindled my love for grated spuds and have been making them ever since. And the braised baby gem was a revelation. Winter normally calls for hardier greens such as kale and cabbage to be served at the table but if you ever felt in need of something lighter (especially on Christmas Day) then shredded lettuce, tossed quickly in butter is definitely the way forward. In terms of matching, well the Muddy Water Slow Hand was greeted with applause from everyone. It was refined enough to match the delicate flavour of the turkey yet still had the punch to tackle the heady thyme jus. This red really was a lovely surprise and is definitely one that I want to try again.

Muddy Water Slowhand Pinot Noir 2009

Spiced apple crumble slice

(served with Sticky Mickey Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Eradus, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2013)
Mrs FU was in charge of dessert and being the pudding queen that she is, served up a handsome slice of spiced apple crumble, as dreamt up by Marcus Wareing. Her main concern when making it was that the shortbread base had come out far too "cakey" for her liking. Yet when we tucked in, it soon became evident that Mr Wareing was opting for a variation of texture. Crunchy shortbread and a crunchy topping would have been two dimensional. In fact, I announced this to the rest of the table, ending with "Oh yah, I can so see what he is trying to achieve here dahlink." Which was a slight blast of pomposity but I blame Sticky Mickey for that. Now I liked this dessert wine and felt that it married up well with the ginger and cinnamon flavours of the slice but opinion was definitely divided, with some reporting too much of a cloying, funky after taste. So obviously I had to help the detractors by finishing off their glasses too before sending them off gaily into the night (we also drank a fair bit of Prosecco).

As a parting gesture regarding food and wine matching, someone once said to me that the whole notion of pairing was slightly ridiculous, as ordinarily whenever you turn up to someone's house with a bottle for a dinner party, you don't normally make a prior enquiry as to what is on the menu. You just walk in with something that you hope is presentable and not too cheap/bad and you certainly don't worry about whether its going to go with the food. "Have you ever drunk some wine that has totally ruined a meal? No, you drink what is on the table and quite regularly you have a great time don't you? Because you are drinking with friends and family." And there is an element of truth in that but at the same time, I do think that if you go the extra mile when combining wine and food, it does to help oil the wheels just that little bit more. 

And anyway, it's just an observation that I got from a bloke, who I might have met in the pub. Or maybe it was in a wine bar. I can't remember.

Thanks go to Gary and Rebecca for heading out to the darkest sticks on a Thursday night and thanks go to Corney & Barrow for supplying the wines. 

As part of the festive celebrations, Corney & Barrow have kindly offered readers of Food Urchin 15% off all wines from their Christmas shop. Just use the code GBCBLOG and you too could be the proud owner of a bottle of Stickey Mickey or Muddy Water (how do they come up with these names...?)