Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Lamb with pearl barley, root vegetables and port gravy

This post first appeared on the Great British Chefs blog back in March and as such, is slightly of date of date season wise. But it's a good 'un, so I wanted to also post on here.

This dish, using succulent shoulder of lamb, which has been braised in some stock, with vegetables and herbs, slowly, over many hours and then picked by hand (once cooled), then rolled and wrapped in clingfilm, left in a fridge overnight, and then unwrapped the next day and pan-fried to create a crispy outer coating, and then roasted for a further 10 minutes, in a hot oven, to ensure even cooking, might not be the simplest approach. But if you want to wow your friends and family this coming Easter with an alternative take on that traditional Sunday roast, then it is well worth taking the time with this one.

I use the wow word with confidence here because I have made this several times for my own friends and family now and have witnessed first hand, much licking of fingers and plates. So I know it is good and as such, I proudly call this one of my signature dishes.

Except it's not really a signature dish because I discovered the technique in Jason Atherton's Gourmet Food for a Fiver. I also pinched his celeriac purée too. But I have put some of my own original flourishes to this dish. Namely the pearl barley and the port gravy, which both benefit from the intense lamb stock that results from the initial cooking. In the past, I have simply relied on rummaging through the freezer to see what benign, frozen, yellowish lumps of carcass liquor (i.e. long forgotten chicken stock) I’ve got stored away as a base for the braise.

However, this time around, I used some powered lamb stock from Essential Cuisine to kick start proceedings. Boasting a strap-line of producing ‘professional cooking stocks for the home chef,’ the general thought process for using it went along the lines of “I wonder how more lamby can this lamb dish be?” The likely response being “None, none more lamby.” Although you would have to be a fan of Spinal Tap to get that joke.

Did this all lean towards lamb overkill though? No, not at all. In my opinion, using this rich, tasty stock really broadened the overall savoury quality and countered any cloying sweetness that may have been apparent before. Especially in the port gravy, where I also snaffled in a glug of veal stock, the professional chef’s favourite.

Full of heartwarming vitality, comfort and wonderful, healthy fibre, you might say that this is really something you should eat on a cold, winter's day and oversteps the mark season-wise. But I say nay, this can be dish with its feet firmly planted in verdant spring. Just replace the roots with new vegetables such as purple sprouting broccoli, watercress or asparagus, which will be in abundance soon.

But maybe don’t leave out the creamy celeriac. That really goes well with the lamb. As does everything else. In fact, don’t change anything. It is my signature dish after all. 

(And partly Jason Atherton’s).

Lamb with pearl barley, root vegetables and port gravy


1 large shoulder of lamb bone in, approx 1.2 kgs
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
Half a bulb of garlic, chopped
Few sprigs of thyme and rosemary
Tomato puree
Half bottle of white wine
1 litre of Essential Cuisine Lamb Stock
Oil, for browning

For the pearl barley

250gm pearl barley
600mls lamb stock (should be enough left over from the braise or make up some more using Essential Cuisine lamb stock)
1 onion, finely chopped
Large bunch of parsley, finely chopped
Juice of half a lemon
Knob of butter

For the celeriac puree
1 large celeriac, peeled and diced
100 ml cream

For the root vegetables
6 carrots, chopped into large batons
6 parsnips, halved

For the gravy
500mls Ruby Port
300mls Essential Cuisine lamb stock
300mls Essential Cusine veal stock
1 onion, sliced
2 sprigs of thyme
Salt and pepper
To garnish
1 tbsp of chopped mint leaves


First brown the lamb all over by frying in little bit of oil in a large stock pot. Remove and then do the same with the onion, carrot, celery, thyme and rosemary. When they begin to soften, add the garlic and tomato sauce and cook for a minute or two, then add the wine and reduce right down.

Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Return the lamb to the pan and make sure its submerged in the cooking liquor, add water if necessary. Bring the heat so that everything gently simmers, cover with foil or a lid and cook for 2 and half to three hours. Leave to cool and then remove the lamb, reserving the cooking liquor.

Pull the meat apart with your fingers, removing the bone and any gristle and fat so that you just have the slivers of meat.

Lay a triple layer of cling film on the worktop and spoon the lamb along one end to form a log. Roll up the lamb tightly, twisting the ends and chill overnight.

Strain the reserved liquor and leave that in a bowl in the fridge overnight. All the fat from the lamb will rise to the top and solidify, which will make it easy to remove, leaving behind the clear stock.

Next day, make your celeriac puree by placing into a pan with a covering of water. Bring to the boil and then cook the celeriac over a medium-low heat for 10 mins or until it goes soft. Drain and tip into a blender, adding the cream and blitz until smooth. Season to taste then put to one side and reheat when ready.

For the pearl barley, gently fry the onion in a pan until becomes soft and then add the pearl barley and then add the lamb stock. Gently simmer until all the lamb stock is absorbed and then add the parsley and lemon juice right at the end and stir through.

Parboil your carrots and parsnips in some boiling water for five minutes, drain and then roast in the oven (preheated to180C) for 20 minutes.

For the gravy, place the onion into a pan with a splash oil and put on a hob to soften. After 5 minutes add the thyme and stir through and then pour the port into a pan and reduce by half. Sieve into a clean pan to remove the thyme and onion, then add the lamb and veal stock, pace back on the heat and keep reducing until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Right at the end, add a knob of butter for bit of sheen.

For the lamb, about 45 mins before plating up, take the lamb out of the fridge to come up to room temperature and then unwrap and cut the lamb log into even portions. Place a frying pan on the hob with a splash of oil and fry off the portions so the outside becomes crispy all over and cook through in the oven for another 10 mins.

To plate up, spoon the puree in the centre of the plate, spoon some pearl barley to the side and place the lamb on top. Add the roasted carrots and parsnips and drizzle all over a generous helping of port gravy. Finish by scattering a pinch of mint across the meat.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

A conversation about brinner

All Day Breakfast

I introduced the high end concept of breakfast at dinnertime to the children last week. An idea that was born out of not having that much in the fridge; apart from eggs, bacon, sausage and mushrooms (not forgetting beans from the cupboard and some old spuds, just starting to shoot). 

Plus I really couldn’t bothered to cook anything proper. No dangerous frisking with mandolins. No sous vide quackery. No fine, delicate plating, with micro herbs, using tweezers.  No, I really couldn’t be arsed with any of that. So a fry up seemed to be the order of the day. Besides, it was about time that the twins were familiarised with the mighty ‘All Day Breakfast’. Which are arguably the three best words you can ever find on a menu.

But to keep on trend, I decided to announce that we were having “brinner” that evening. As everyone seems to be doing it these days.

Anyway, the response was muted, puzzled and slightly flabbergasted at the whole prospect and it was my son who took up the mantle, to challenge this stray into unfamiliar territory. Dinner is obviously very important to this young chap and shouldn’t be messed with and this was his reasoning:

“Hey guys, I thought we would have something a bit different tonight, how do you fancy some BRINNER tonight?!”


“Brinner Fin! It’s like breakfast, but you have it at dinnertime.”

“What… are we having Rice Crispies for dinner Daddy?”

“No, we are having an English breakfast. Bacon, eggs, beans, you know, the sort of thing we have on a Sunday morning sometimes.”

“Is that healthy?”

“Erm, well, yes and no.” 

“Shouldn’t we have porridge instead then?”

“No, porridge for dinner would be silly.”


“Because porridge is silly full stop.”

“Can we have pancakes then?”

“No, you always put far too much sugar and lemon on them and that is not healthy.”

“But we can have bacon and sausages for dinner?”


“But bacon and sausages aren’t very healthy are they.”

“No, they’re not really.”

“Can I have porridge then?”


“Why not?”

“Because porridge isn’t dinner…”

“You mean brinner.”

“Yes, I mean brinner, you can’t have porridge for dinner.” 


“BRINNER! I mean brinner.”

“Well I am confused Daddy because if we can have porridge for breakfast, why can’t we have porridge for brinner? Because that would be a lot healthier than having bacon and sausages wouldn’t it?"


“You…….you just don’t have porridge for brinner……..that’s all. It’s um, a breakfast…. breakfast food. Not a dinner….breakfast food. I mean brinner. What I mean is Fin, porridge isn’t really what you’d call a…… brinner…. brinner food. Do you get what I mean?”


“Well, brinner sounds stupid then.”

And you know what? He is right. Brinner is a stupid idea.  But then again, maybe I didn’t execute the concept clearly. Maybe I am too narrow minded? Maybe I simply have to face up to the fact that I clearly hate porridge. Lots of questions remain unanswered after that night

Didn’t stop him eating the bacon and sausage though.

Friday, 1 May 2015

The Pig Hotel, Brockenhurst, New Forest

Enviable greenhouse
As a general rule, the very first time you get introduced to another man's shed, greenhouse or say, allotment plot, it is normally the done thing to play everything down; in a very casual way. As if you are not impressed in the least and that you've seen it all before.

In fact, it is good form to utter things like:

"Oh yeah, my shed is just as big as this. If not bigger. I call it my 'Ginger Orangery'."

"See you've only got five different types of kale on the go there then....*stretch, yawn*.....I grew six varieties last year."

"Ha, your rhubarb is looking a bit shabby! Oh........oh that's chard is it?......Yeah...... yeah, well I knew that."

Because when it comes to gardening and growing fruit and vegetables, one-upmanship is very important. I learnt that from my time down at Norfolk Road. No matter how good your neighbour's plot is doing, never ever let on, never ever compliment and always hide your jealousy. Especially if your turnips are looking a bit shit.

This was the course of action I took when Head gardener Alex Coutts led me and some others around for a peek in the kitchen garden at The Pig Hotel in Brockenhurst, Hampshire just recently. Despite being in that fallow period, when the season is beginning to wake up, with shoots and leaves only just starting to peep through, there was still a lot going on. Overwintered veg such as the aforementioned kale were all swaying gently in the breeze. Clumps of vibrant purple sprouting broccoli, trumpeted skywards; along with a plethora of salads, rows spiky with mizuna and billowing mustard greens. Cages kept and protected a whole host of berry bushes, still dormant but on the cusp of erupting green, and then later into scarlet, white and black. Under glass, there was an indulgence of aromatic herbs to pluck, taste and smell. And underpinning it all, in the background, came a gentle hum from the bee hives, workers getting ready for a buzzy summer ahead.

I am being wistfully over the top here by the way. Don't panic, you've not tuned into Gardener's Question Time. But I have to admit though, the whole set up was very impressive. So much so, that as Alex proudly yet quietly showed us the fruits of his labour (not forgetting that from his team), it was a struggle to keep the ol' green eyed monster in me subdued. To this day, I still wonder if he noticed me kicking over a pot of sorrel in the greenhouse.

Purple sprouting broccoli, carrots and pots, kaffir lime tree

The main drive for all this horticultural effort is of course to service the kitchen at The Pig, which makes a much louder bang on the saucepan lid when it comes to promoting local food. If it can't be sourced from the garden next door, then the chefs will venture no further than a 25 mile radius to get hold of their ingredients and there was a tacit admission that this was largely the case. On the menu, all their suppliers are shown dotted around the surrounding Hampshire countryside. Considering that Dorset and the Isle of Wight also falls within the shadow of that extended doorstep, they have one hell of a larder to choose from.

The Pig describes itself as a 'restaurant with rooms' and the big draw for our visit was lunch but before settling down, there was a brief scooch around the place, to have a look at their pristine bathrooms and to have a bounce on a bed or two. Which I did, delivering that raised eyebrows and slightly pursed-lipped expression you should give when testing beds in department stores. As one blogger has already said, it is all very shabby and charming at The Pig, delivering a cosy home-from-home vibe. And though I felt a little uneasy that the hotel possibly attracts one too many Tabithas and Timothys ("Oh we're orf to that farntarstic little place in Hampshire this weekend darling") the overall feeling I got was that this would be a lovely and fairly inexpensive bolt-hole to escape to. Away from the all hustle and bustle, and most importantly, away from the kids. I'd spend most of my time in the bar I think, looking at all the beautiful vintage glassware. Whilst getting slowly pissed on the 32 bottles of Chase vodka I spotted under a window, quietly infusing away.

Hotel, booze, bar
The dining room itself is, again, all in keeping with the general tempo of The Pig. Divided into two spaces, with muddled, bashed up furniture and all light and airy, and it was already pretty busy with outside trade too. A good sign for a restaurant that is pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. However, a quick scan through the reasonably priced menu soon revealed why. It was all seasonal, as you would expect but inventive enough to cause a furrowed and excited brow or two. Lots of pickles, lots of curing and best of all, lots of meat. The fish and vegetarian options looked really good too, don't get me wrong and I was tempted to ask the waiter whether the dishes from the 'literally picked this morning' part of the menu were like, quite literally picked. Like this morning. Literally. But my eyes pinged and focused mostly at the offerings of meat.

Bread, restaurant, mint drinks
To start me on my carnivorous journey then, I had the hay smoked Marwell Manor oxtail with dragon tongue rocket and preserved lemon, which on first impression looked a tad untidy or a cover up. But a quick dig through the peppery foliage soon dispelled my fears. To describe the beef as melting and tender would be too obvious so lets go for um, evanescent and ah....frangible.....no, sod the thesaurus, it really was oh so melting and tender in the mouth. With just a hint of hay and a slight citrus shock now and then, to cut through the richness, this unassuming mess was gorgeous to eat. The gravy or 'jus' mopped up lovely too, with hunks of handsome bread.

Hay smoked Marwell Manor oxtail with dragon tongue rocket and preserved lemon
After a bit of goading, for mains I ordered The Pig's "Extraordinary" Bath Chap, which, despite the clue in the name, delivered a bit of a shock when arrived on a wooden chopping board (stop it now, you plate Nazis). For I have eaten a Bath chap before, and it was nowhere as big as this. In fact, can you call a pig's jaw a Bath chap? I think you can actually. I think that is exactly what it is and I think the one I had previously was a far more chiseled and effete version.

Anyway, the waiter delivered this farking huge pig's jaw to the table, with teeth protruding and all, and it took me a few minutes to work how I was going to eat it. Once I prised the crackling off, and that alone was tremendous and crunchy, I was soon picking away at delicious and succulent porcine flesh. A little nibble of lush cheek here, a chewier bite of roasted meat there, a smattering of grease on my eyebrows and it was done. It was, in short, lip smacking, and awesome; and very, very filling indeed. I very nearly left the accompanying fartichokes but managed to squeeze them in, along with some nice tobacco tainted onions. I did have it mind to ask for the cleaned jaw, to take home to show the children. But it was whisked away rather niftily, possibly destined for a dog somewhere, maybe a dog named Colin.

For desserts and puddings, the pastry chef decided to showcase their efforts by giving us the works to share and dip into. A combination of forced rhubarb and custard iced cream, white chocolate and Douglas fir mousse, kaffir lime burnt cream, The Pig's rhubarb trifle and a New Forest strawberry blancmange. Slightly daunting stuff really, especially after the pig but the sweets were all quite airy and blithe on the tongue. Providing refreshment, rather than stodge. My favourite was the spin on the crème brûlée, all perfume notes and crisp sugar. Although the white chocolate mousse hit the spot too. Who knew that trees could taste so good.

Having walked back out into the fresh air, to stretch and discreetly expend ill wind, I have to say that in the space of just a few short hours, The Pig did work a peculiar sort of magic. Particularly on my knotted back and shoulders and like I said, I can imagine a proper overnight stay would do me the world of good. Only an hour and half away from London and boom, tranquility. I might even try and book for later in the year, to see how that garden is coming along. And I know what you are going to say, I could probably find something similar closer to home.

But Alex is going to find out about that pot now. So I best return, make amends and replace it, and try not to get so jealous in future.
Spa hut, coals and bottles

The 'original' Pig
I visited and dined as a guest of The Pig