Thursday, 20 July 2017

Celeriac dauphinoise with Gruyère and garlic

The word ‘Dauphinoise’ always brings music to my ears. Not only only does the word sound melodious, soporific, seductive even; whenever it is pronounced aloud, I often have a tendency to go all gooey at the suggestion. “Phhhwwworrr dauphinoise,” I’ll often find myself muttering. In the kitchen, all alone and rubbing my knees. Sometimes in restaurants too. Which has been a problem.

Why? Well, nothing really beats this marriage of potatoes, garlic and cream does it. I love spuds in all their shapes and forms and the multitude of ways to cook them but rich dauphinoise tops the list every time. For sheer luxury if anything else. Especially when you go that extra mile and sprinkle some cheese, such as Gruyère on top. As soon as you take a bite, I am sure that neurons in the brain start to ping faster, sending forth messages to consume and consume and eat and eat. That primordial survival instinct still exists inside us, a craving for energy and fat, and dauphinoise caters perfectly for that need. In fact, my wife has mentioned in the past that I do turn a bit caveman whenever I eat it.
This can pose a problem though, particularly if your waistband is tight, so it pays to mix things up a little and introduce a different root vegetable into the mix every now and then. Such as celeriac for instance.

Now, I am not claiming that this gnarly relative of celery is the next superfood. Nor does it have amazing weight-loss properties. What I have found though, is that when I have introduced celeriac in place of potato, it does have a slightly different effect on the palate; bringing a lighter, nuttier bite to proceedings. It tastes ‘healthier’ in other words and it certainly has fewer carbs.

I also tend to hold back on the cream and add a touch of milk instead. Again, milk does make quite a regular appearance in dauphinoise recipes but you don’t need too much, as celeriac has a higher water content than spuds and you don’t want to end up with a soggy gratin. Adding a touch of nutmeg delivers a spicy new dimension too, alongside the traditional garlic. But the cheese remains the same (because we cannot forgo the cheese). Besides, a layer of Gruyère piled atop the piled slices brings no fear; it is very low lactose and gluten-free after all.

Yes, despite all these little changes, it all still amounts to a killer match for the ol’ tastebuds.

However, the downside is that you will probably up eating a lot more of the stuff. Oh well.

Celeriac dauphinoise with Gruyère and garlic


1kg celeriac, peeled
2 garlic cloves, crushed
200ml of double cream
200ml of milk
1/2 nutmeg, grated
150g of Gruyère


Preheat the oven to 170°C/gas mark 3

First, slice your celeriac into thin slices. You can use a mandoline if you so wish but if you value your fingers then a sharp knife can do the job just as well.

Next, place the slices of celeriac in a large saucepan and add the garlic, cream, milk and nutmeg. Place on the hob over a medium heat – you will find that the cream and milk won’t cover the celeriac completely but no matter, this is all just to get the process started and the flavours introduced.

Once simmering away, cover and leave to steam and cook for 5 minutes, then take off the heat and then leave to cool slightly.

Using a slotted spoon, lift the celeriac out and arrange in a baking dish in layers laying flat on top of each other. Pour the remaining creamy liquor over the top and shake the dish so that you have an even layer. Scatter over the Gruyère cheese and place in the oven for 30 minutes or until the top begins to bubble and brown.

Serve in wedges with some handsome roast meat or simply by itself for a light meal. I often find that it is better warmed up the next day.  

This post first appeared on Great British Chefs 

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Sainsbury’s Butchery Masterclass with Julien Pursglove

 Watching a butcher go about his or her business is always pleasure. As they work on a single carcass, there tends to be an air of seamless calm and furrowed concentration. Bones are counted, invisible lines get traced out and arms often move about in swift arcs and well-worn shapes. Separation of joints are levered by the heft of a downward elbow. Cartilage splits cleanly, with a firm, precise chop. Smaller, quicker incisions are made. And suddenly, a metal tray is abundant with a variety of cuts, all processed within the blink of an eye. Causing you to ask - ‘How did that happen?’ Or even go so far as to utter - ‘How clever is that!’

Yet when sharp knives and saws are involved, there is always a bit of trepidation. All that flashing steel, with glimmering pointy ends dancing about the place can leave you with both fingers and legs crossed. I know of at least one butcher who has stabbed her own leg. Accidents are common. Which is why sometimes butchers dress up as Knights of the Round Table, all sheaved in chain mail and with big bushy moustaches and monocles. Actually, they don’t do that. I am now thinking of Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail, for some reason. But I have got a funny feeling that if I were to suggest to Julien Pursglove, Sainsbury’s very own Master Butcher, to don a similar outfit; he would simply shake his head and say, ‘Silly boy.’ Just like Jim Broadbent might do. Because Julien reminds me of him in some way. And I am sorry for that observation, Julien. I can’t help myself sometimes. I have a terrible tendency to ponder, in a filmic sort of way.

Still, after watching him at work, you can understand why Sainsburys brought him on board. With over 38 years’ experience under his belt. I bet it’s been a long, long time since Julien has had any sort of incident. I would imagine that to become a Master Butcher (and one of just 29 across the globe) having kept all your fingers is a minimum requirement. In fact, to qualify for the award, Julien had to demonstrate to the Meat Training Council’s moderators that he had sufficient and skills, ranging from understanding livestock production, carcass dressing, butcher, food safety and dealing with customers in a retail environment. As such, Julien is the only Master Butcher to work for a major retailer.

For the demonstration, which was held at L'atelier des Chefs just off Oxford Street a couple of weeks ago, Julien showed our small audience simply how to break down a lamb. I say simply. It wasn’t simple at all but having first dissected the animal into three - the forequarters, the saddle and the hind – the speed at which he then went on dress three of the aforementioned metal trays was astonishing. Shoulder, neck and fore shanks were displayed for slow-cooking. Steaks, cutlets and chops were coaxed for mid-week inspiration. Legs were butterflied for BBQ and best-end racks were trimmed and polished for those special occasions. Revealing a connection from animal to supermarket shelf, or a bounty, that is sometimes forgotten about.

After that, it was time for the audience to have a go and steady their own hand at preparing a rack of lamb from a loin. With sexy French trimming, the lot. Ooh la la.

Interestingly, at this point, Julien insisted that we all wear chainmail gloves, as he had done during his demo. Which I sort of sniffed at first. Bravado can get the better of me sometimes. But I am glad he insisted. By way of suggesting that if I didn’t wear one, I would be thrown out of the class.

Of course, nothing is ever as easy as it seems or looks and just trying to saw across the cross section of the loin and split the rib bones away from the chine was frustrating enough. I do know that butchers are sticklers against splinters and when Julien wandered over for a look, I desperately started padding away at my rack with some blue paper.

‘You’re nearly there,’ he cooed. And then with one last sweep of the saw, it was done. ‘Good work!’ he said.

‘Cheers Julien,’ I replied, feeling like some sort of proud apprentice, or meaty Padawan.

I would have said - ‘Yes, Master.’ All solemn like. But I don’t think he would have made the Star Wars connection.

Again! Films! Arrrgh!

Finishing up, we then tucked into some of Sainbury’s new range selection. Some slow cooked lamb shoulder, marinated with rosemary and smoke garlic, cutlets dressed in lemon and herbs and some leg steak, lightly seasoned, to show off their quality.

Sitting with Julien afterwards and having a further chat, it was great to get the further lowdown and a sense of pride that he instills in his work and the industry. Working closely with the suppliers he meets, provenance, sourcing, maturation and butchery specifications are high on the agenda. Which in turn reflects on Sainsburys. For perhaps too long, that element has been missing from a lot of supermarkets. With Julien and his vast knowledge, it is good to know that they have a solid figurehead on board, to help educate consumers and provide assurance.

It was also thrilling to hear that he had supped a pint or two at The Hand and Shears a few times. Or ‘The Hand and Hell’ as he called it. This is a pub just around the corner from the Butcher’s Guild Hall in Barbican, by the way. And very close to where I used to work.

‘Oh, I’ve seen loads of butchers in there before,’ I told him.

‘Yeah, well I don’t go in there so much these days. But I tell you what, it’s funny the number of actors I’ve seen in there in my time.’

‘Really? Like who?’

‘Oh, people like Jim Broadbent, John Cleese, you know. Apparently, Alec Guinness used to frequent it too. Back in the 70’s’

‘Really??? No way!’

‘Nah, not really. Although I would like some more of that shoulder. Past it down, will you?’ he said, with a veritable wink.

What a legend, eh. Someone should make a movie about him really.

Tell you what, I’ll be the director, you bring the clapper board and we’ll have lamb cutlets for lunch.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Beer Can Chicken

Over the years, I like to think that the neighbours have finally got used to my culinary and somewhat pyromaniacal exploits in the back garden.  In the early days, I am certain that there was a fair amount of curtain twitching going on and I am sure there was the occasional gasp or two.  It’s strange but when a fence is going up in flames, as you as anxiously flap around trying to put the fire out with a dribbling hosepipe, the sensation of nervous eyes watching, boring into the back of your skull is quite palpable.  However, such transgressions are soon forgiven if you hand over a plate of succulent, slow-cooked meat a few hours later. With the keen explanation that you were simply roasting a whole lamb underground. It also helps to humbly acquiesce and agree that should you ever wish to try such an experiment again, the pyre and pit for an Imu will be situated well in the centre of the garden in future.

Still, I think the neighbours are pretty used to my endeavors in the great outdoors now, as I have launched into pit-barbecuing a few times since then (away from combustible fences). I have also done plenty of cooking on wheelbarrows and with makeshift spits, as well as lots of regular barbecuing and there hasn’t been even the merest batting of an eyelid. However, over the last Bank Holiday weekend, I think I might have got people whispering again after giving 'Beer Can Chicken' a whirl.

Here is the unconventional method I employed, let me know what you think.

Marinated chook
Now before I go on, a lot has been said and written about beer can chicken. The faithful say that shoving a beer can up the backside of some poor, unfortunate bird is the best way to guarantee super-moist meat and crispy skin. Yet some naysayers suggest that it is simply a gimmicky trick, bringing no real benefits and fundamentally amounts to a waste of beer. Which to some; is a bigger crime than the application of the can. And from the outset, having done a bit of research, I was in two minds as to whether I should bother with the whole shindig. But being the sort who prides himself on trying out strange and quirky recipes, I felt that my credentials would be a stake, if I didn’t try out beer can chicken at least even once.

DIY with foil
The main problem I faced was that my BBQ doesn’t have a lid. It’s one of those open, drum type kits best suited to frazzling burgers and sausages for birthdays, christenings and funerals. Although that said, I am fond of cooking butterflied leg of lamb straight on top of the grill, like a proper connoisseur.  But the hurdle of roasting the chicken indirectly remained. So I came up with the idea of closing up the drum with foil. Lots and lots of tin foil. To be wrapped haphazardly around the grills and then set down on the bottom rung to seal the heat in. I left one corner of one of the grills open and free to the fiery elements, so that the chicken could actually cook.

Briquette me up
The next step was very simple. I took some charcoal, some matches, some newspaper and some kindling and I did what I do best. I set fire to everything. And with the aid of some vigorous swooshing with a dustpan, I soon had the required white-hot coals. Please note that I cleared an area for the chicken, so that it didn’t get singed to smithereens during the whole process.

The first hiccup came with my choice of receptacle to contain the heat over the chicken. Having marinated my free range chook overnight in a paste consisting of paprika, garlic, brown sugar, thyme and a little olive oil with seasoning, I proudly plonked the bird over a half empty can of San Miguel. And then took out my stock pot and immediately realised that the pot was not big enough. Or certainly not tall enough to cover the chicken. Schoolboy error really.

After frantically scrambling around in the kitchen, looking for something, anything, that was big enough to cover the chicken, I settled for our mop bucket. Which is made from galvanised steel and is therefore fairly retardant against heat. After giving the bucket a quick wash and a good scrub in the sink, I then ran out in the garden to smash its handles off with a club hammer, so that bucket would lie flush on the foil. Which I think garnered the attention of the neighbours or rather, the lady of the house next door on the left. And essentially, this is what she set her eyes upon when she popped them over the fence.  

A strange set up, to be sure. After all, you don’t see many people cooking on a BBQ, covered with foil and bricks (to weigh the grills down) and an upside down mop bucket.

Despite her attention, I diligently went about the business of stuffing foil around the side to seal the heat in and snapped away with my camera, proud of my achievement so far. She disappeared back inside anyway, as I think she quickly lost interest, leaving me to go fetch the chicken. Worried that the chicken might topple over when inside the mop bucket, I also decided to secure the bird further by inserting some well-placed skewers and then I whacked the makeshift pot on top. At this stage I felt quite confident and happy that it was going to work.

And it did because after a short while, lots of sizzling sounds began to emanate from under the mop bucket. At one point, sensing another photo opportunity, I dully whipped the bucket back off to reveal a steaming upright chicken, sat squat atop a can of beer, sporting what appeared to be a pair of horrific looking nipple rings.

'Oh God no...
It looked terrible. Perverse even. And it was at that stage in proceedings that I hoped to God that none of my neighbours were looking because if they had seen this image then I would have been done for and singled out as the neighbourhood weirdo. But I also felt if the chicken had toppled over then the whole project with have been for nothing, as the strict rule throughout (according to what I’ve read) is to keep the chicken upright for it to work. Fearful of reprisals, I slammed the mop bucket back over the chicken for the last time and walked off with a casual whistle.

I am glad to say that after an hour or so, the chicken was done. It was slightly burnt around the bottom in places but the juices ran clear after piercing (with a knife in between thigh and breast) and I was satisfied that my DIY effort had worked. Getting it off the BBQ and back inside was difficult though, what with the heat and trying to free the damn thing of its masochistic jewellery. Eventually, I ended up tossing a thick tea towel over the chicken and with both hands yanked it off the grill and ran inside t the kitchen. As though I were escorting a criminal away from the press.

After resting for about 15 mins, the chicken carved up beautifully and the much vaunted praise for juiciness rang true. There was nothing dry about this chicken apart from the crackle of skin and hint of smoke. I served the meat up with a griddled asparagus and courgette salad along with some roast potatoes, sprinkled with chopped parsley and garlic and everything was delicious. Eating in the garden on a balmy, sunny late afternoon made everything even better but I couldn’t help but feel just a little bit paranoid when observing the stillness of the surrounding houses. I was sure that in some, tongues were waggling into mouthpieces, talking about what I had just done.

In summary, I would say that beer can chicken is a fun, unusual and reliable way to cook but I can’t help but think that it may also be a step too far. Especially as the neighbour on the left hasn’t been able to look me in the eye since last Sunday.

Not even once.

Beer Can Chicken
This post is actually quite old and was submitted to a website in 2013 but has since disappeared. I stumbled across the copy and photos recently and thought it was a shame that it wasn't out there anymore, so to speak. 

So here it is on FU, to stay.