Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Roast Cod Fillet with Fennel, Buckwheat and Tarragon and Anchovy Dressing

In some exciting news, I have recently made the leap and bought myself a proper set of chopping boards. The colour coded sort that professional caterers and chefs use, to comply with health and safety in the kitchen and to prevent cross-contamination. You know, red is for raw meat, blue is for fish, brown is for...well, I haven’t figured out what brown is for yet. But I am hoping it’s for chopping up huge slabs of chocolate. Or something like that.

It’s interesting though, how this approach doesn’t really get pressed upon the home cook and it probably should. But let’s be honest here, a lot of people will wander through life, with just one gnarled and beaten wooden chopping board under their arm and not encounter any problems at all. My Nan is one of those people. I am in the process of helping her move out at the moment and am currently having to wade through a lifetime of ‘toot’ before she downsizes.

‘How long have you had this chopping board, Nan?’ I recently asked her.

‘Oooh, about 40 years?’ she replied.

That’s a whole lot of chopping that’s gone on there. Combining lots of different, possibly quite dangerous flavours; all of which have been steeped into her board, over years and years of use. She’s a thorough washer upper, don’t get me wrong. But when I visit, I do often wonder why her jam sandwiches taste faintly of garlic. And bacon. And fish paste.

Thinking about unusual flavour combinations, and to segue neatly into this recipe, I am always amazed how versatile cod is in this regard. A handsome piece of fillet, chunky and thick, can stand up to a lot and in some respects, a simple destination of batter and deep-frying can seem like a crying shame. Saying that, I don’t think I could ever totally forgo fish and chips. Especially by the seaside.
But yes, cod, meaty and strong, turns out rather delicious when paired with say, spice or garlic. Even vanilla works surprisingly well.

Heading back to more robust waters though, I particularly like to match up cod with aniseed, in the form of fennel and to provide an earthy base, I like to throw some buckwheat into the mix. This seed, which is related to sorrel and rhubarb and not wheat, has a strong savoury taste, not too dissimilar to beef. As such, buckwheat does deliver quite the whack of umami to the tastebuds. However, cod soaks this up nicely and if cooked to delicate perfection, those lovely, white flakes can provide just the right sort of counterbalance. And if you crisp the skin up, then all the better.

Even with the final dressing, again you might think that the cod would be blasted into oblivion. It is fairly punchy after all. Yet, the cod happily gathers it all up and still manages to sing, aloft a raft of flavours. Brought together by three chopping boards no less. And not just the one as you might imagine.

An edited version of this post first appeared on Great British Chefs, in collaboration with Norge Seafood.


4 unskinned Norge cod fillets (weighing approx 200g each)
2 large fennel bulbs
100ml vermouth
250g buckwheat
500ml vegetable stock
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced
100ml rapeseed oil (plus an extra splash for frying and drizzling) er does this need more explanation?
6 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
Small bunch of tarragon, leaves picked and finely chopped
2 tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
Salt and black pepper, to season


First heat your oven to 200C.

Next, take the fennel bulbs and give them a rinse under some cold water. Trim off the fronds and stems and put them to one side for a moment. And then trim the base and slice the bulbs into thin wedges, roughly eight per bulb.

Return to the stems, chopping everything up into a fine dice and roughly chop the fronds. Now take a saucepan and place onto the hob, over a medium heat and add a good glug of oil. Add the diced fennel stems and the garlic and stir until they’re soft and slightly translucent.

Add the buckwheat and stir through for a minute or so and then add the stock. Bring the boil and then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cover the saucepan with a lid and leave to cook for 15 minutes.
Whilst the buckwheat is going, take a large wide saucepan and place on a high heat, again adding a healthy splash of oil. Pop the fennel wedges in and quickly fry for about two minutes on each side, so that they catch a touch and begin to caramelise. Then pour over the vermouth.

Turn the heat right down and cover and leave for 10 to 15 minutes. Until they become soft and golden.

Now is the time to put your cod fillets into the oven, so take them out of the fridge and place onto a baking tray, skin side up. Drizzle lightly with some oil and season with salt and pepper. Place into the oven, to roast for 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fillets. The aim is to slightly undercook, so that the fillets just begin to flake but still hold together.

Once you’ve got everything cooking away, you can now quickly make the dressing by mixing together the oil, lemon juice, chopped anchovy and tarragon and the tomato.

As everything comes towards to the end, add the remaining lemon zest and the chopped fennel fronds to the buckwheat and check for seasoning.

To serve, spoon a generous amount of buckwheat into the centre of the plate and arrange the fennel around the side and crown it all by placing a cod fillet on top. Finish by drizzling a generous amount of the dressing all over.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Mill Street Pub and Kitchen, Oakham

Talking to strangers always has an enlivening effect on me. So much so, that I often wonder why I don't do it more, to initiate or participate in conversations that come out of the blue. Or to offer a simple willingness to answer a question. The buzz I get from it is amazing, so why don't I do it more often? An easy answer could boil down to the fact that I live in London. Well, Zone 6. Stop laughing at the back, it is still classed as London and the unwritten rule in this country's capital, is that we must not talk to each other. Ever. Except maybe to argue over personal space, to pour scorn on which side of the river you live, or to ask - 'Are you reading that?'

Amongst many, other, things.

A damning start to proceedings then and probably an unfair one at that. Someone is bound to pop up and say 'Oi, aaah dare you say that!? I talk to facking people all the time!' And OK, Mr Imaginary Mary Poppins Type Character in my head, it might not be all that bad. Yet, whenever I do get out of the city, I sometimes can't help but feel a sea change. Outside the M25, along with the fresh air and bracing walks, I don't know, people just seem friendlier. The dogs even more so. But you'll have to read right up to the end of this blog to hear that story.

In the meantime, here is a nifty review of a pub and restaurant we stayed at, as a family recently, called the Mill Street Pub and Kitchen; which is based in Oakham, in the county of Rutland. Small in size but not so diminutive in character, this county has come under attack from various invaders in the past. Namely from the Vikings, Leicestershire and Eric Idle. But Rutland has stood steadfast down the ages and having thwarted any attempts to blot out its heritage, is now carving out a reputation as a destination of choice in the UK. A bucolic alternative to Norfolk in the east and an excellent respite from the Midlands to the west. It is literally a 20 minute drive from Corby. So people of Corby, don't panic, you do have the chance to escape to somewhere nice if you want to.

This was the first time I've ever visited the area, so what do I really know, but having had a quick wander around Oakham, I was pleasantly surprised. As a hub, it is fairly lively, with lots of shops, pubs, restaurants and delicatessens and if I were to point out one place in particular, it would have to be the ramshackle Castle Cottage Cafe. They do a great sandwich, slice of cake and cup of tea. The actual castle next to the cafe is a slight misnomer. Insofar that it resembles a grand hall, rather than a castle with turrets, moat and drawbridge. But it is steeped in history and laden with horseshoes and the kids loved running inside and around the grounds, so I can forgive that. What I can't forgive is spotting a pack of halloumi going for £5.25 in one of the aforementioned deli's. That really is a scandalous price for a block of squeaky cheese.

Perhaps Oakham is aiming high, which brings me back to the Mill Street Pub and Kitchen. Squaring itself up as boutique retreat in the country, the pub does come with all the usual whistles and bells that accompany this brand of accommodation. Quirky, mismatched furniture, anthropomorphised animals in picture frames and a huge glass fronted cellar are just some of the ticks in the luxury box. But the pub doesn't suffer any less for it. I've stayed in places similar, thinking that I should really be wearing my best Gabicci and Sta Press Farahs, whilst lounging on a cow hide covered chaise lounge and supping a tobacco-infused, pine spritzed Daiquiri in the bar. And feeling totally out of place. Thankfully, the atmosphere at Mill Street is a lot warmer and convivial than most, which is down to the very friendly and attentive staff who work there and the fragrant whiff of wood smoke that permeates the building. That scent is so welcoming.

The room that we shared, unfortunately with our children, was also very comfortable, catering for all our needs with extremely fluffy pillows and glorious hot running water to bathe in. Speaking of scents, I was also very much taken with the range of toiletries that were sadly screwed the wall in the bathroom. No matter, I made sure that I used at least half a bottle of sexy shower gel every time I showered (about 3 times) and I certainly turned some heads and flared some nostrils when I approached the bar before dinner. Including that of my dear wife. Like I said, it was a shame we brought the kids along really.

By adding the word 'Kitchen' to the name above the door, I took this as a statement of intent that Mill Street are looking to push the beyond the pale with their food offering. Rather than delivering your basic pub fare. And for the most part, they succeeded. Set in the corner of their airy atrium or conservatory, we all first got stuck into some warm bread with whipped rapeseed oil and sunblush tomato butter and then swiftly followed onto our starters. I may well have mentioned this before but unfortunately my wife and I do often fall into what is known as 'competitive ordering.' And it peeves me to say on this occasion, she scored the first goal. With her choice of black pudding Scotch egg and apple ketchup.

Black Pudding Scotch egg and apple ketchup
It was careless really, to pitch up against a Scotch egg, all dense and rich, and with an egg yolk, all deliquescent and bold. Not forgetting to mention the apple, that was sharp and biting and a perfect accompaniment. By contrast, my dressed Brixham crab, with blood orange and rye bread was a little muddled. The white crab meat was overpowered by the introduction of some heavy Asian flavours and didn't quite sing as I thought it would. It was pleasant but set my world alight in a way that I hadn't expected. Crab is wonderful and delicate and best left alone in my opinion.

Dressed Brixham Crab, with Blood Orange and Rye Bread
However, from then onwards, the scores on the doors really did start to ramp up. Especially for the twins when their mains arrived. Schmicks had ordered a sizzler hotdog, with chorizo relish, mustard mayo and crispy onions. Proper kids food for grown ups. Or vice versa in this case. When I was able to get a bite in towards the end, I can confirm that the dog had the all important 'snap' and that there was just the right amount of heat coming through from the paprika.

Sizzler Hotdog, with Chorizo Relish, Mustard Mayo and Crispy Onions
Finston, a growing lad who is growing up too fast for my liking, went for the steak and kidney pie, with horseradish mash, sprouting broccoli and gravy. I wish I could report back on the pie but I can't because he demolished it before I could get a look in. Still, it keep him quiet.

Steak and Kidney Pie, with Horseradish Mash, Sprouting Broccoli and Gravy
As for the adults (one heavily perfumed) we deviated from the menu and had a crack at the specials board, with Mrs FU opting for the grey mullet with mussels, samphire and wild mushroom gnocchi. A great catch, by all accounts, delivering crisp morsels of meaty fish alongside sweet and creamy shellfish. The gnocchi could have been a touch lighter in texture but the abundance of foraged sea vegetable more than made up for it.

Grey Mullet with Mussels, Samphire and Wild Mushroom Gnocchi
My dish was a combination of Shepherd's pie and a selection of spring vegetables dressed in a lamb jus and topped with a wild garlic mousse to melt through. It was glorious. The pie, though scalding hot to begin with, was full of succulent chunks of lamb and the mash set atop delivered an excellent contrast of crusted and smooth, billowing potato. The chunks, slivers and crests of pared vegetables had been cooked just right, with a lovely bite to each one. And the wild garlic mousse, once it melted down delivered a perfect extra layer of seasoning. As is my habit on these occasions, I did whisper to the waitress, to let chef know, that I could get him loads of wild garlic, if need be. But she just replied 'S'all right mate, loads of it grow round here.'

Shepherd's Pie, Spring Vegetables, Lamb Jus and Wild Garlic Mousse
Coming towards the end of the meal, we were pretty much stuffed, although the twins couldn't say no to a sweet shop sundae each. Which is a sundae, with a sweet shop thrown on top of it. Not wanting to let the side down, Mrs FU and I went for the dark chocolate and salted caramel delice, with cherry ripple ice-cream to share and were blown out of the park. Indulgent doesn't even come near to describing this pudding and we were left in a blind stupor after scraping the last crumb; but it really doesn't bode well, to waste such naughty and decadent food. Admittedly part of the numbness could also be attributed to a bottle of Languedoc rose (2016 Le Paradis, Domaine Preignes Les Vieux) and a cider or two (Rutland cider, yarp) but hey, the kids are awful snorers.

Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel Delice, with Cherry Ripple Ice-cream
When evaluating whether you've had a good time or not, it can easily be dealt with by asking the question: would you ever return again? Having visited Mill Street Pub and Kitchen and dined and slept there (and not forgetting enjoying their exemplary breakfast) the answer would have to be a resounding yes. If I didn't know better and when looking around for places to stay, I might have easily formed another opinion. There is a place in my heart for the more traditional countryside boozer after all. And for Travelodge, when money is tight. Although the Mill Street Pub and Kitchen isn't that expensive really, especially for a family of four and yes, this is where I reveal that we stayed as guests. But coming back to discovering an area that is new and only 2 hours away by car, Rutland is a bit of a find. We're already talking about coming back in the summer, to properly explore Rutland Water, a magnificent man-made reservoir that dominates and defines the area.

Which brings me back to that story. Because on the way home, we stopped by this huge lake for a quick look around, just to see what it was all about and we got chatting to this lovely old couple who were walking their dogs. They were local and had lived nearby all their lives and the chap in question took great lengths in telling us about the waters, the surrounding sights and the specifics of the reservoir. It was all very interesting. But then I became aware of a sort of nudging and shuffling on my foot, as if a shoe shine had suddenly appeared and wanted to buff one of my walking boots. A furry white shoe shine, in the form of a Bichon Freise, shaking, trembling.

'Um, I think your dog is up to something,' I whispered.

'Oh don't mind him. He's just being friendly,' the friendly man countered, before shooing the deviant ball of fluff away.

And I really didn't mind. It's just the sort of enlivening effect you can expect when talking to strangers. It's not a problem and it could well have been down to all that shower gel. It was probably my fault.

No, the real problem is trying to explain to your young children in the car, on the way back, why some dogs like to do that sort of thing. That's when conversation gets really tricky.

Big thanks to The Mill Street Pub and Kitchen for our stay and for their hospitality. For reservations, you can contact them on 01572 729 600 or email: millstreetoakham@epicpubs.com

Interiors and the basement
Logs, port, wine and flowers

Breakfast, hot chocolate and the 'Family Room'

Bread and whipped butter, menu and Schmicks by Rutland Water

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Goat Lahmacun

During the school holidays, we often have hoards of children running around our house, destroying everything in their wake. This sounds fairly horrific doesn’t it? However, it is simply part of a system we employ as parents, with other parents and relatives, to take our beloved offspring off each other’s hands. To provide short periods of time and respite. A sort of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back’ arrangement that more than makes up for the ensuing damage. Sleep is priceless, after all and last Wednesday, our house was full to the brim. It was our time to keep watch.

Feeding this ‘orrible lot though, can be a tricky affair. Kids are notoriously picky. They know what they like and irritatingly, they often know what they don’t like. But if you announce in the garden that pizza is on the table; generally, you will always get a chorus of approval and a stampede.

And this is where I like to get particularly sneaky. Because with pizza you can often introduce an ingredient that otherwise would be sniffed at and dismissed. Such as goat, which is a wonderfully ethical and sustainable source of meat. Great strides have been made with lots of chefs and restaurants now putting it on the menu and you are starting to see it slowly emerge at the supermarket but I would say that it is still slightly under-appreciated in this country.

Perhaps putting goat on pizza is a way forward. Or using it to make ‘lahmacun’ I should say, a Turkish or Armenian street food, that roughly translates as ‘meat with dough’. When I first tried lahmacun, at a street food market near Barbican, London, it’s hard to say or remember what impressed me most. The spicy lamb mince, coated in a rich pepper paste. The fresh, punchy accompaniment of parsley, lemon and pickled chilli. Or the pillowy, chewy dough that wrapped all that deliciousness up. It is certainly a handful to savour and a filling one at that.

So I made some at home recently, for myself and the kids, and I’d say that goat delivers even more flavour than lamb, purely because it is a touch sweeter and not quite as cloying. The youngsters certainly enjoyed it and wolfed the slices down with aplomb. After picking the chilli off of course.

The best part was seeing young George out the door, when his Dad arrived, and laying on the plaudits for his good behaviour.

‘Aaaaaand, did you know that George tried some goat today for lunch?’

‘I did?!’ replied George.

‘Yes, you did mate! It was on the pizza.’

To which he responded by giving a shrug of the shoulders and a thumbs up before jumping into the car.

Next time, I am going to see how he copes with octopus. But I suspect that I am going to have to cut up the tentacles just more than a touch for his pizza next time round.

This recipe post first appeared on Great British Chefs.

Goat Lahmacun


Lahmacun dough
500g of strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
10g of salt
7g of dried yeast
10g of sugar
250ml of water, lukewarm
50ml of olive oil

Goat lahmacun topping

500g of goat mince
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
1 white onion, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 pinch of red pepper flakes, or chilli flakes
25g of tomato purée
1 bunch of parsley, (small) roughly chopped
30ml of olive oil

To serve
1 red onion, finely diced
pickled green chillies
flat-leaf parsley
pomegranate molasses


To begin, make the lahmacun dough by mixing the flour and salt together in a bowl. Empty the yeast into a jug of lukewarm water, along with the sugar and olive oil, mixing to combine.

Pour the water into the flour steadily and begin to mix together by hand so that it forms into a rough dough. Take out of the bowl and begin to knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic. If it feels too wet, add a touch more flour. If it feels too dry, a touch more water.

Place back in the bowl and sprinkle with a touch more flour. Cover with a tea towel and leave it alone, in a warm space, to rise for an hour.

Now preheat the oven to 230°C/gas mark 8 (this will also help warm the kitchen).

Next, make the goat topping by placing the mince in a bowl and all of the other ingredients in a food processor. Blitz until you have a smooth paste then pour over the goat mince and combine everything together by hand. At this point, it would be good to check the seasoning, so take a small piece of meat, roll it into a ball and quickly fry off in a pan with some oil. If it needs some seasoning, add a touch more.

When good to go, if you are opting for making the proper wraps, take the dough and divide it into 8 balls. Otherwise divide into four balls to make larger, pizza-style flatbreads for slicing.

Roll each one out, so that they are approximately 15cm in diameter. The larger ones to 25cm.

Top each one with a generous amount of the goat mix, spreading it out across the flatbread with the back of a spoon to the edge.

Place on a baking tray and pop them into the oven. The smaller ones will take 6–7 minutes, whereas the larger ones will take about 10 minutes.

When done, the meat should be sizzling on top and the base should be lightly browned.

To serve, sprinkle a good amount of chopped red onion and parsley on top, along with a scattering of green chilli. Drizzle over some of the pomegranate molasses, roll up and wrap with some kitchen towel. Enjoy!

If making the larger, pizza-style lahmacun for the kids, do exactly the same but then cut into wedges.