Saturday, 22 April 2017

Wild Garlic, Egg and Bacon Filo Pie


Don't tell anyone this but I bought some gardening clogs the other day. Signalling a new direction in my life, going rapidly south. The kids are only 9 but they've already noticed this sea change and are no doubt thinking horrible thoughts, as they see me shuffle around in the flower beds; all bent and stooped. Maybe not so much about impending mortality but more about the fact that roles will be reversed at some point and that one day, they will have to wipe my bum. Perhaps I am over-analyzing here. Perhaps I am anxiously screwing. Over feeling so damn comfortable in my gardening clogs. It feels like a dirty secret. So please, keep this one safe.

But seeing as this is supposed to a quick post, I think I should get to the point and share a rather nifty recipe for wild garlic, egg and bacon filo pie. Or spanakopita, as the Greeks call it. I don't think I have to explain too much as to why I have used wild garlic as a principle ingredient. A lot of similar recipes call for spinach but if you are going to inject some green into proceedings, why not use something a bit more pungent. Especially if you have lots to hand. Egg and bacon is always a happy marriage but in this case, they serve really to bind everything together and to provide a bit of seasoning. Creating a softly scrambled and porcine base for a light, Spring-like lunch or dinner.

Be careful with the filo though. Regarding the use of wafer thin pastry, some naysayers will scoff at the suggestion of the word 'pie' for something so delicate. But after a brush with some melted butter and a quick brush in the oven, those scrunched pieces can turn into razor sharp shards. So eat with care.

In some cases, you may want to take your teeth out first.

Bacon, Parmesan, Wild Garlic Flower

Wild Garlic, Egg and Bacon Filo Pie - serves 4

Ingredients

4 sheets of ready made filo pastry
4 eggs, lightly beaten
100gms smoked bacon lardons
1 good handful of wild garlic, leaves washed and roughly chopped (and a couple a flowers can be thrown in too, if you like).
100gms feta cheese, crumbled
50gms Parmesan cheese, finely grated
Black pepper
Butter, for melting and brushing

Crispy, filling, crispy
Method

Heat your oven to 180C and place a frying pan on the hob, over a medium heat. Add the bacon lardons and quickly fry off, until they slightly browned and crispy. Leave to cool.

Once cool, mix the bacon with the eggs, feta and Parmesan and wild garlic together and then season generously with some black pepper. (Note, I haven't added salt on account of the bacon and the cheese).

Next, grab a pie dish and take the filo pastry out of the fridge and leave it out on the side for 20 minutes.

Melt some butter and brush the base and sides of the pie dish and then drape a sheet of the filo across, pushing it gently to the inside and there should be plenty to hang over. Repeat with two more sheets, criss-crossing them so that all the sides of the dish are covered.

Now pour the filling into the centre, pressing everything down a touch so that the base is covered. And then pull all the remaining hanging filo over, scrunching and twisting to fit.

You will probably have a gap in the middle left uncovered, so take the last sheet of filo and again scrunch and twist to fill in the gap.

Using some more melted butter, brush the filo all over the top and place into the oven to bake for 30 minutes, or until the top turns crisp and light brown (keep an eye on this).

Leave to cool to room temperature and then slice up into quarters and serve with a mixed salad.

Sexy wild garlic clog time
Wild Garlic, Egg and Bacon Filo Pie and salad

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Iceland's Luxury Rack of Lamb with Yeasted Cauliflower, Spinach and Fried Caper Berries


Given that I have now the steered the ship of approximately 2381 barbecues, you'd think that I would be quite the veteran or expert by now, wouldn't you? Well, yes, I am. Let's make no bones about this. Having spent a large part of my formative years hunched over disposable trays, I have since dabbled in a vast array of techniques, tempering (or tampering rather) with heat and fire, in the great outdoors. Underground, overground, wombling free. Smoking, choking and inadvertently setting my neighbours fence alight. Rotisserie, patisserie and lest we forget, deep frying whole potatoes in a bubbling cauldron of beef dripping, over naked flame. An episode that still fills me with horror because seriously, if there had been just the slightest of nudges, from say, an itinerant foot; we would have been in big, big trouble. We filled that pot up with so much fat that day. Too much fat. I blame John.

You're probably getting the picture by now, that perhaps I am not quite the expert. I still have much to learn. Largely about safety. But I really do love to cook outside. It really is joyous and as such, I am always looking around and thinking of different ways to do things. Or for new adventures, as it were.

One project that has been on my mind for some time now, has been to cook an entire meal on charcoal. At this point, you may be thinking 'Oh, here we go, Danny is going to be selling himself as the next Niklas Ensktrak...Extra....Einstein...that beardy, chef bloke from Sweden.' I am not. I do love Niklas' book though and am in awe of the stuff he does but he is operating in another universe. By comparison, I'd have to start off from a very small leaping point. Well, relatively low.

So the other day, I cracked out both my ProQ and a galvanized tray (from an old portable piece of kit) and set to creating a meal, with an Easter vibe, some punchy flavour and all cooked over glowing white coals.

Lamb obviously had to be the star of the show and on this occasion, I returned to Iceland. Again, I know what you are thinking. 'Oh, here we go, Danny is back on the sell.' But my cynical heart really has been melted by some of the offerings in that store and as such, Iceland is now on my 'go to' list. Admittedly, that list is very large anyway. Growing in fact, as I am a bit of a food shopping, male strumpet. But I suppose what I like most about Iceland though, is the benefit of reaching into those laden freezers and pulling out some ingredient that is out of the ordinary. Octopus, red snapper, smoked duck wings, frutti de mare, rose veal saltimboca, even croquembouche kits. For when you want stuff your bouche with choux pastry, chocolate and caramel. Like you often do. (Yes, I know you do).

It's amazing to have access to stuff like that on the high street, to picked up conveniently and the quality is surprisingly good. Compliment that with an array of frozen vegetables and fruit, for nutritious sides and healthy breakfasts (the kids love a dollop of red berry compote in their otherwise mundane porridge) and suddenly, Iceland doesn't look too shabby.

More interesting for me though is the phenomenon of feigned surprise and subsequent embarrassment whenever I bump into someone in there. The sort of thing that was once reserved for shopping in those now very popular Germanic stores.

'Oh, hello. I don't normally come in here you know but the frozen fish is really quite...commendable!' they'll often say. Using words that don't quite fit their regular vocabulary, before scuttling off down the aisle, hoping that I haven't seen the stack of stuffed crust pizza at the bottom of their trolley.

Still, the tide definitely seems to be turning for Iceland.

Scenes from an outdoor kitchen
Coming back to the task in hand though and the element of cooking a whole meal over flame, I kept things simple for my first time out. The aforementioned lamb, sourced from British Red Tractor assured farms, was all pretty much taken care of, as it came with an even crust of parsley, breadcrumb and shallot. I just had to make sure that my ProQ was up to speed with the temperature for some indirect cooking. Of course, cooking the lamb this way also injected a lovely touch of smoke and if you fancy doing something similar, I would err on going for 30 minutes (rather than the 35 on the instructions) to keep a touch of pinkness.

Rose-tinted rack of lamb
The trickier part is perhaps pulling together the yeasted cauliflower, to provide a rough puree or bed of umami. However, this only requires a small degree of patience. It was quite relaxing actually, stirring the small florets into butter and watching them soften and break down, whilst contemplating the wild garlic nearby. That is slowly taking over my garden, house, life. I acquired this method for cooking cauliflower from Jackson Boxer of Brunswick House by the way. It really is gorgeous to eat, alone or otherwise, and definitely gives that cheesy cousin a run for its money.

The three stages of yeasted cauliflower
Wilting some fresh spinach and quickly frying off some caper berries on some hot coals is, OK, a bit of a no-brainer but once everything was on the go and coming neatly towards the end, I don't mind admitting to standing back and feeling proud about my first attempt at al fresco cuisine au total. A tear even dropped onto my cheek, dispelling any notions of proper caveman cooking. Real barbecuing men don't cry, they just sport ridiculous looking clothes. Yet when I shouted out to the kitchen inside, where the gang (including our nephew, Bo) were assembling one of those rather naughty croquembouches I mentioned earlier, to come and have a look at what I had done, not one person beckoned to my call. They were all too busy sucking up left over caramel, straight from a piping bag. Including Mrs FU. In essence, they couldn't give a monkeys about my exploits in the open air. This assembly of a fantastic meal, conjured magically upon wood and fire. Next to the wild, wild garlic.

It was only then that I really got upset.


Iceland's Luxury Rack of Lamb with Yeasted Cauliflower, Spinach and Fried Caper Berries -serves 4

Ingredients

2 packs of Iceland Luxury Rack of Lamb, defrosted
2 cauliflowers, leaves removed and florets picked into small pieces. For the remaining stalk, chop that up into small pieces too.
20gms dried yeast
150gms unsalted butter, cubed
150mls whole milk
500gms fresh spinach, washed
12 caper berries, rinsed
50ml rapeseed oil
Small bunch of parsley, chopped
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to season

Method

First, a quick addendum. Given that I have employed two methods here i.e. indirect cooking and open grilling, it is obviously going to be hard to do this all on one bbq, especially if you don't have ProQ or Weber or any sort of bbq with a lid. If so, slam that lamb into the oven but do carry on with the vegetables on the grill. Or if you do have a bbq with a lid, live a little and build a makeshift one just next to it. It's not that hard.

Now, to start, you need to fire up your bbq's and I am not going to tell you exactly how because that might be like telling your Grandma how to suck eggs. But essentially, you need your bbq for the indirect cooking to reach 180C and the coals on your open grill to be glowing white before cooking.

So, place your lamb, crust side up and place it into your bbq. (Remember, 35 minutes as per instruction, or 30 for medium).

Next, place a wide saucepan on the coals and add the butter. Once it starts foaming (and it will) add the cauliflower, yeast and a touch of salt. Briskly stir fry so that everything gets coated and then leave, giving another stir every now and then, to prevent it catching too much.

After about 20 minutes, the florets should be quite soft and begin to turn to mush. Encourage this by pressing down with the spoon and continue to brown things off for another 5 minutes or so.

Then add the milk and incorporate together and then using a masher, mash it all together to form a rough puree. Or mash! Ha! You could go the extra mile and blitz with hand blender but quite frankly, getting the extension lead out would be going too far. Even for this project. Taste for seasoning and keep warm.

Using another wide saucepan or wok, place that on the coals, along with a smaller saucepan. Add the washed spinach to the wok and oil and caper berries to the small pan.

By now, your lamb should be done, so take that out of the bbq and cover with foil and leave to rest.

Finish by wilting the spinach down and turn the caper berries over so that they crisp up a little, then add the lemon juice and parsley to the capers and stir through.

To serve up, spoon a generous amount of the cauliflower into the centre of a plate and top with some spinach, making sure you squeeze out any excess liquid first.

Carve and portion up the lamb cutlets and arrange of top of that and finish by dotting some caper berries around the plate and drizzle over some of that citrus and herb oil.

Lamb al fresco, with beer

Open cooking

Croquembouche excitement

Tender and sweet


Saturday, 8 April 2017

Whole Deep Fried Poussin with Tarragon Mayonnaise and Potato Wedges


The internet can get you into a whole load of trouble. It can put ideas in your head. Dangerous ideas. Like deep-frying a whole turkey. I first stumbled across this novel way of cooking a while ago, whilst scanning YouTube for outlandish food experiments. And it looked amazing. The theatre and spectacle of plunging a huge brined bird, into a bowl of seething gold, in someone’s backyard in small town US of A at Thanksgiving; well, that seemed hard to beat.

Then I stumbled across the warning videos. The ones that showed where this type of cooking can go horribly wrong. Showing what happens to turkeys that have not been duly drained of their salting liquor before making that descent. Boom! You get huge explosions. Water and boiling oil does not mix you see. The subsequent drop of the camcorder and high pitched scream of ‘Oh ma Gaad, Cletus! Are y'all OK?’ will haunt me forever still.

But like a moth to a flame, I’ve always fancied returning to the idea and when I saw that one of my peers, a rather good baker who resides in Holland, had been getting up to the same tricks with chicken, I felt that I still had to give this method a crack.

With safety in mind though, I decided to scale things down further and pitch my first attempt at ‘whole bird’ deep-frying by using poussin. Poussin that had been brined overnight in buttermilk. Given that this young bird provides a delicate and light meat anyway, you may be wondering why I went through the extra rigmarole. But brining does still add an extra dimension prior to cooking.

You see, by curious osmosis, the whole process is about manipulating proteins by fattening them up and breaking them down a touch before the real cooking gets under way. The reason why some meat, poultry in particular, often comes out dry, is down to that fast shock of initial heat, and this is because the water in the proteins comes flying out, leaving them dense and tight. Having just read that last sentence back to myself, I do realise that this is not a very science-sy way of explaining things but simply put, brining ensures that everything stays nice and juicy.

Anyhow, that was my reason for marinating the poussin in an acidic bath overnight and I am sticking by it. You could source ‘buttermilk’ by the way, but after strenuous research (i.e. asking Twitter) skimmed milk mixed with lemon juice or vinegar also does the trick.

The biggest leap of faith comes to the actual frying and if you own a proper deep-fryer, it is probably best to use that but it might not be big enough. I went down the route of using my beloved deep stock pot, called Barry White, and accomplished a very good result. The poussin was lovely and crisp on the outside but still supremely succulent inside. It left me very happy.

Yes, it’s awesome what you can achieve with a steady hand, nerves of steel and a taped off kitchen. Next time, I think I may even invite my wife in to film me.

This recipe post first appeared on Great British Chefs.


Ingredients

Poussin
2 poussin, corn-fed
3l sunflower oil, or vegetable oil

Buttermilk brine
1l skimmed milk
1 lemon, juiced
4 tsp flaky sea salt

Seasoned flour coating
2 eggs
5 tbsp of plain flour
1 tbsp of oregano, dried
1 tbsp of thyme, dried
2 tsp garlic salt
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp black pepper, cracked

Potato wedges
750g of Maris Piper potatoes, skin scrubbed then cut into neat equal quarters
3 tbsp of rapeseed oil

Tarragon mayonnaise
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
1 tsp English mustard
200ml of rapeseed oil
1 bunch of tarragon leaves, (small) chopped
lemon juice, to taste
salt
pepper


Method

To begin, make the buttermilk brine by combining the skimmed milk with the lemon juice and salt into a bowl and whisk together for 5 minutes. The milk will curdle but that is fine – the main point here is to incorporate the salt.

Place your poussin in the bowl, cover with cling film and place in the fridge. The minimum time to marinate or brine your poussin would be 4 hours but it is good to leave overnight. Return every now and then to turn the poussin over.

When ready to start cooking, preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.

Place a large saucepan of water on the hob to bring to the boil. Once boiling, add the potato wedges and simmer for just 5 minutes, then pour into a colander in the sink and leave the potatoes to steam for another 5 minutes.

Take the poussin out of the buttermilk brine and stand them upright (cavity facing down) in a sieve or colander over a bowl and leave to drain.

Meanwhile, take a large roasting tray, add the rapeseed oil and pour in the wedges. Toss around to get a good even coating, add a touch of salt and pepper over the top and place in the oven. Check on them every 15 minutes or so to shake and move about. All in all, the wedges will take 45 minutes.

To make the tarragon mayonnaise, place a small bowl on top of a wet kitchen towel or tea towel (this is to stabilise the bowl) and add the yolk and mustard. Whisk together until everything becomes creamy then very slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking all the while. Keep going until everything starts to thicken and emulsify until all the oil is gone.

Add the chopped tarragon and a squeeze of lemon juice, folding everything in with a spoon. Season to taste, cover with cling film and leave in the fridge.

To coat the poussin for frying, combine all the dry ingredients in one bowl and crack the eggs in another bowl, beating lightly to combine. Roll the poussin around in the egg wash so that it gets a light coating and then dump them in the flour bowl, again, ensuring they get an even coating all round. Set aside on a plate so they are good to go.

If using a fryer, heat the oil to 180°C. If you are using a stock pot, like I do, pour in the sunflower oil and place over a high heat on the hob, using your biggest burner. Keep an eye on proceedings by using a temperature probe, waiting until it reaches 180°C.

When ready, carefully drop both poussin into the oil and deep-fry for 15–20 mins, turning the poussin around occasionally. To make sure that they are cooked through, use that temperature probe and take a reading from the thigh – it needs to have an internal temperature between 72°C–75°C – if it’s not quite there you may need to pop them back into the pot.



Before serving, place both the poussin and wedges on kitchen paper to remove excess oil, then slice each poussin straight down the middle with a sharp knife. Set each half on a plate with a generous scoop of wedges by the side and finish with an equally lavish blob of tarragon mayonnaise, straight from the fridge.


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Whole Braised Oxtail with Trotter Gear

Whole braised oxtail with shallots, carrots and rosemary (and Trotter Gear)
Buying a whole piece of oxtail takes a certain degree of bravery. Largely because it looks like a tail and if you share the same past experience as me, you will know that once you've got it home, you haven't got a chance in hell of cutting it up into smaller pieces. Yes, once upon a time, I foolishly declined an offer from a butcher to chop up some oxtail for me. Because I was so entranced by its undiminished state.

'Is that what oxtail looks like whole?' I asked.

'Yes but we can cut it to order. Do you want some pieces then?'

'Oh no, I will take that one whole, please. Yes, that one. The big one.'

'Are you sure?'

'Oh yes, I am sure. Very sure.'

Of course, I then got it home without any real clue of knowing what I was doing and so decided:

'You know what? I think I will cut this up for a stew.'

Given the small amount of kitchen equipment I had back then, the task proved impossible. My chef's knife was blunted in seconds. No amount of whittling and probing with a paring knife into the crevasses of the cartilage would do the trick. In a final, desperate attempt, I ran to the shed in the garden and grabbed a hacksaw and as I came bombing back into the kitchen, holding it manically aloft, Mrs FU suddenly grabbed me the wrist and said: 'No. You are not using that.'

Considering that the blade was encrusted with rust, it was probably a good idea that she intervened.

So, there was nothing for it but to stick the damn thing in the oven and roast it. And that didn't quite work either. We ended up picking off hard baked strips of beef from bone under candlelight. What a sullen evening that turned out to be.

But the good news is that you can cook oxtail whole, if you fancied it. With some thought, care and attention, this frugal piece, usually reserved for unctuous winter stews, can become something quite spectacular and worthy of a banquet. And if you can get your hands on some Trotter Gear, to throw into the mix, then you will enter another parallel dimension altogether.

I first spotted TG in Turner and George, again falling under the spell of spying something different and unusual. A packet of viscous...stuff on the shelf, that not only promised wonders for your stocks, braises and stews; but also promised to become your friend. I've used it since in a pig cheek and leek stew, which warmed the cockles on a particularly grey January day. Savoured it with duck, carrots and peas and far too much wine. And after hearing the suggestion from good authority, I have also tried it smothered on toast, after a giving it quick blast in the saucepan. It knocks bread and dripping out of the park.

Using it then in a liquor for slow braising oxtail comes as a no-brainer and to be honest, this sort of dish has St John written all over it. The inspiration comes from the original Tom Pemberton's recipe in Coco after all. Except in this instance, I braised for longer, popped a couple of star anise for good measure and of course, used Trotter Gear. Which wasn't invented back then.

The best part comes from picking the soft pieces of beef from the bone, full of that familiar rich flavour. Scoop some creamy mash into your bowl, bolster by adding some sweet carrots and shallots, drizzle over some of that glorious gravy, and I promise you, you will be in seventh heaven.

Sadly, I did get any decent photos of my final plate. And to be honest, the ones I took of the whole oxtail are a bit blurry.

But you've probably cottoned on by now, that I am the sort of bloke who has a tendency to rush into things. Especially towards the end.


Whole Braised Oxtail with Trotter Gear - serves 2

Ingredients

1 whole oxtail (Although you will see in the photos I've used one and a half, to also feed the kids)
10 banana shallots, peeled and left whole
20 large Chantenay carrots, scrubbed and cleaned
1 whole garlic, cut in half
1 bouquet garni, using rosemary, thyme and bay
2 star anise
1 bottle of red wine
1 litre of beef stock
1 packet of Trotter Gear
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Salt and cracked black pepper
Oil, for frying


Method

First heat your oven to 160C and season the oxtail all over with a good dusting of salt and pepper.

Place a roasting tray on top of the hob over a medium to high heat and add a splash of oil. Then place the oxtail in and brown all over and then remove from the heat

Using a large frying pan or wide pan saucepan, add another splash of oil and place on the hob over a medium to high heat. Add the shallots and briskly fry, until browned all over and then add a generous splash of balsamic vinegar and reduce until sticky.

Then pour in the red wine, the stock and Trotter Gear and reduce by a third. Add the carrots, bouquet garni, garlic head and star anise and cook for another 5 minutes and then pour the braising liquor all over the oxtail. You will need to nudge and poke the vegetables into all the nooks and crannies.

Cover the roasting tray with a double layer of strong foil and seal all around. Place into the oven and cook for 4 to 5 hours, until meat is starting to peel off.

Take the tray out of the oven and remove the vegetables and resulting gravy and keep warm and just pop the oxtail back in to gently brown off for another 20 minutes.

Serve on a platter with the carrots, shallots and rich gravy, along with plenty of mashed potato.