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More thoughts on Wild Garlic (and garlic madness).

Well, it is still that time of year isn’t it? See my earlier post about Ramsoms here when that time of year had just started. The hedges and shady woods around the country are still absolutely frothing with the stuff. Now, rather beautifully, they have produced their pretty white flowers making the plants more visible to the untrained eye.

I’d like to say that I’ve noticed a change in the flavour as the plants develop, but I can’t. I thought it would be one of those things that might change. They are beginning to look a little tired and past their best at the moment though. About a month ago they were very bright green & juicy, their leaves a little shorter, so I think really there’s only 1 or 2 weeks left in the season before they pack up for another year. It depends slightly where they’re growing. At this time of year in sunnier spots, the leaves will be more wilted, starting to yellow even. So look for shadier and shorter leaves. They get tougher as they grow.

I ate an unopened flower bulb the other day (well, I thought I’d find out, as you do), and if you thought Wild Garlic was mild, think again, the flowers pack a punch! They look fantastic as a garnish as well.

 The brilliant Mark Hix wrote an article last week in The Independent on Lamb with Wild Garlic Sauce, there’s a link here. A great meat if ever there were one to serve with it. I’ve always found garlic & lamb a fine combination. One of my favourite dishes is a leg of lamb, roasted, having tucked ½ garlic cloves & rosemary into little incisions all over the leg, (it looks great when you bring it to the table as well). So it’s no surprise that this fantastic sauce works so well.  It’s quite grassy in flavour and certainly garlicky.

Here’s the pot of sauce I made last week, still tasting great. I made it with olive oil not rapeseed as Mark suggests (we had no other oil).

That's not pesto!

I’ve since tried freezing it as I made a lot and that worked extremely well, a great way of extending the season. I’m going to try it in ice-cube trays, ready to use all year & melt into all sorts of dishes (pasta, new potatoes, asparagus). It seems a shame not to enjoy it more, but that’s part of the joy of seasonal eating isn’t it?

We had the sauce tossed with warm new Cornish potatoes, asparagus & bacon lardons for a quick & simple dinner last night. The potatoes flecked with green looked like mint sauce which was very confusing!

I think the madness refers to my obsession with the stuff (can you get garlic madness?). I tend to eat very seasonal ingredients until I’m truly bored of them and swear blind that I won’t eat them next year. Somehow my boredom doesn’t last for a whole year.

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I wrote this a few week’s ago, so asparagus probably isn’t around any more (in fact it’s all gone from our shops, unless you want Peruvian) But I think it’s pretty adaptable to most firm vegetables (beans, peas, artichokes, fennel, cauliflower even)

While I’m at it I’ll start  the debate. Is it a true salad? Some would say no, I think so, even if it is warm:

A quick and easy dinner, a variation on a theme really. There’s a fair bit of asparagus about still (though not for long I think) I’m eating it when I can! I tend to forget how lucky I am living in the UK with this fantastic range of food, and how exciting the ingredients are as they change with the seasons. Late spring/early summer is one of my favourite times. New potatoes, asparagus, the first of the broad beans and peas, fantastic!

This is a salad that dresses itself.  The oil and tomatoes, as you stir them together, break up a bit & coat the warm potatoes. So you don’t need to make a salad dressing, maybe a squirt of lemon juice if you like, to add a bit of tartness.  You get this lovely, earthy, slightly burnt, bbq flavour from the tomatoes that complements the asparagus and potatoes. You don’t need hundreds of ingredients for this dish either. Simple food, making the best of the season. Serves well on its own, or would go well with some grilled fish or chicken, and obviously to make it vegetarian just leave out the bacon.

For 2 :

1 Bunch of asparagus

A couple of handfuls of new potatoes, scrubbed (ideally Jersey’s or local)

3-4 tbsp bacon lardons

4 Large, ripe tomatoes

A small handful of parsley, chives or any nice fresh soft herb, roughly chopped.

Good olive oil

Salt & pepper

  • Turn your grill to “hotter-than-the-sun” setting
  • If the spuds are large cut them in 1/2 and then drop them into a pan of cold water with a little salt. Bring to the boil & simmer until just tender. Drain, & keep to one side.
  • While they are cooking, put a pan of lightly salted water on to boil.
  • In a small frying pan gently fry the bacon lardons until browned. Leave to one side.
  • While the bacon’s cooking, snap off the woody ends of the asparagus. Drop them into the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes. Drain & run cold water over them to stop them cooking & to keep the colour vibrant.
  • Cut the tomatoes in 1/2, lay on a baking tray, dribble with olive oil, salt & pepper & put them under your (hopefully) incredibly hot grill. Roast them like crazy until they start to blacken a little. If the grill’s not hot enough they’ll just turn soft & mushy before they colour, and it’s the colour that really adds the flavour. Take them out before they turn to charcoal, but you want them nicely browned, a little blackened in places.
  • Pop all the ingredients in a suitable salad bowl & stir gently.
  • Check the seasoning & adjust if necessary (now’s the time for your optional lemon juice) serve & enjoy.

Strange things can happen when you’re camping in West Wales. Mostly some random cooking (although that’s not always restricted to camping in West Wales as far as I’m concerned!) Not the best, most amazing Cordon Bleu meal. But, good food cooked, where the atmosphere and location are some of the ingredients.

I like cooking away from home with limited resources. At home I can pick up an onion, meat, garlic, spices, potatoes, whatever I like really. And if I run out, I can pop down the road to Asda which is open 24hrs (don’t get me started on that one) When you’re camping, you either have to take everything with you, or buy it there. We took almost nothing with us.

We had with us: Lemons, limes, apples, oil, salt & pepper, a bbq, some applewood smoking chips (as you do) a gas stove and various cooking pots.

Now me being me, I decided we would only buy ingredients that were local and in season (as if resources weren’t restricted enough!) So for dinner we bought: Chicken thighs (2), beetroot (a very fresh bunch with leaves), potatoes (local, new, medium in size), peas (1st of the new English season) a butternut squash (spot the obvious unseasonal ingredient!) and a cauliflower. These ingredients could have gone many ways. For me it said baked beetroot & potatoes, smoked chicken and a pea & cauliflower salad. The vegetables were incredibly fresh. Leaves and stems on the beetroot standing proudly, and the peas the sweetest and freshest I’ve had in ages.

So I sparked up the bbq. Hot coals kept in the middle, potatoes and beetroot around the edge & lid on. If you haven’t ever tried a BBQ with a lid, I can highly recommend it. It’s changed my cooking life! A great outdoor oven, keeping the heat in and giving a lovely smoky flavour, whilst crisping up the food. Pretty easily controllable, and more versatile than you might imagine.

Camping BBQ’d dinner:

  • If you’ve got them, and I do recommend you give them a try, put a couple of handfuls of smoking chips in a container and cover with water.
  • Important to get the bbq hot and put the beetroot and potatoes on first. The beetroot and spuds will take anything from 45mins to 1 1/2 hrs. Planning is everything if you want to eat before the sun goes down when camping!
  • Put a pot of water on to boil and blanch the peas and cauliflower in batches. I like to use as much of the leaves of the cauli as well if I can. When they’re tender drop them into cold water to refresh, stop cooking and keep their colour. Drain.
  • Zest the lemon (I think I used a paring knife and then shredded it best I could!) and add to the peas and cauliflower. Season with olive oil, salt & pepper.
  • The squash can go on the bbq with the other veg now and a fistful of the smoking chips. As you can see, just 1/4 or 1/2 the squash, and obviously drain the chips!
  • Season the chicken thighs with salt, pepper and olive oil. They’ll probably take 1/2 an hr 45mins ish. So put them on about the same time as the squash. They’ll more or less take the same time.
  • Put the lid on the bbq and turn the chicken, preferably only once. You want to keep in all the heat and smoky flavour.
  • Sit back and enjoy a well-earned glass of something cold, downwind!

Smokin! And why you need to be upwind.

A dinner with my cousins in London, not quite sure how I ended up cooking! (probably because I offered, I can’t help myself) A little impromptu, but then some of life’s most pleasant experiences happen that way.

Not a true Coq Au Vin, for my money the chicken needs an overnight marinade in fresh herbs, wine & garlic & then to be finished with croutons. The overnight marinade makes the meat insanely richly flavoured & a pleasing dark red. And Elizabeth David & Keith Floyd (I know, neither of them French) will tell you to thicken the sauce with Beurre Manié or reduce it to achieve the correct consistency. If you’ve got time, you can strain & reduce the sauce, I didn’t. You can just add as much stock as you need to get the result you want, but reducing it obviously intensifies the flavour.

Serves 9, or at least that was the plan! Actually served a hungry 7 easily

Pancetta, 2 of those little square packets, (these were a bit bigger and I was reliably informed you can’t have too much)

2 Free-range Chickens, jointed, breasts & legs cut into 2

15-20 round Shallots, or as many as you can get someone else to peel!

6-8 Carrots, peeled & thickly sliced

Garlic, a whole head, peeled & chopped

1 Bottle of red wine

Mushrooms, 100g punnet, sliced

Dried Thyme, 1 tsp

Joint the chickens, ideally taking the breast meat off the bone and drop the carcass remains into a saucepan.

Cover the bones with water, add a couple of squashed garlic cloves, a bay leaf or 2, a carrot halved and a peeled & halved onion. Set over a medium heat & bring to a simmer, not a boil.

Once the stock is cooking, brown the pancetta in a large pan (big enough to hold everything, with a lid. Or 2 pans as I did) over a medium heat. It may need a touch of oil to get it started. Stir often & when it’s nicely brown, remove to a plate or bowl. The stock can just be left to it’s own devices until you need it, or even overnight in a very low oven.

Season the chicken pieces with salt & pepper & brown them in batches in the baconny fat. Too many chicken pieces in the pan and they won’t brown, the same goes for not enough heat, but I’m sure you know that already right? You may need to add more oil to the pan, but try not to, there’s probably plenty in the chicken & bacon.

Once all the chicken is nicely browned, remove them to a plate or bowl. Add a big splash of red wine to the pan & scrape off the sticky bits (deglaze). Pour out the wine and all the chicken/bacon flavours into the bacon or chicken bowl, wipe the pan with paper towel, put in a little fresh oil and a knob of butter & continue.

Turn down the heat a little & add the peeled onions. What you’re looking to do is lightly brown them and soften a little.

Now add all the remaining ingredients & the chicken & bacon to the pan. Cover & bring to a gently bubbling simmer. If it looks at though you haven’t enough liquid add some of the chicken stock, the chicken wants to be almost covered.

Cook for 20-30 minutes in a medium oven, check the chicken for doneness by cutting into one of the legs, to the bone.  Taste the sauce for seasoning & reduce or not as you wish. Serve with some sort of potato & green combo, we had jacket spuds & broccoli. So long as you’ve got something to mop up the sauce!

Ah yes, the leftovers.

This recipe works really well as a salad in it’s own right, clean & refreshing with or without the chicken. Just the thing after December’s excesses & antidote to the winter stews. You could serve this with some salad leaves (rocket, frisee or radichio) and make it into a more substantial dish. Or even stir in some cooked puy lentils. It’s a versatile dish.

Ridiculously simple, like the best food, and quick too! One of my favourite salads.

Untrimmed, but if you get it like this, shred the feathery leaves & use them too!

Serves 2 as a starter, or light lunch

1 bulb fennel, very thinly sliced, as thin as you can (I used the slicing blade on a box grater, but you can use a very sharp knife or a mandolin if you have one)

1 Orange, peeled, with the worst of the pith removed & segmented or sliced

Juice of 1/4 lemon

A handful of black olives (Moroccan for preference), stones removed

Extra Virgin olive oil

Salt & pepper

Rip as much of the chicken as you want or need into strips & season with the lemon juice, salt & pepper

Mix with the sliced fennel, olives, orange segments & dress with olive oil, salt & pepper.

I’m trying to get into the habit of cooking too much. There’s much talk these days of using up leftovers. My trouble is I never have any, and I always know what to do with them!

A roast chicken however is a wonderful thing. Firstly, who doesn’t like it hot from the oven? Crispy brown skin, and soft juicy meat, white and brown (which keeps everybody happy, I’m a leg man myself) And then, you’ve got the wonders of cold leftover chicken, useful for 100’s of great recipes (or just picked off the carcass straight from the fridge & dunked in mayonnaise) and bones for a fine stock.

I once used the upside-down method for cooking a bird, I’ve never looked back and it works a treat.

On this occasion I didn’t serve it with any potatoes. Roasted squash, onions with cream & parmesan (Nigel Slater, recipe here) and some greens.

Served 2 for a couple of days! (or 4ish, depending on how hungry you are)

1 Large Free-Range Chicken (preferably Organic, but Free-Range at the very minimum)

Butter, soft-ish, a thick slice

Thyme, 1-2 sprigs

Salt & pepper

1 Lemon

1 Head of Garlic

Rosemary, 1-2 sprigs

1 Glass of Red Wine (you’ll need to find a home for the rest of the bottle!)

Preheat your oven to 180°c

Remove the giblets (if it has any) & drop them into a pan with 1/2 an onion, a chopped carrot, a squashed clove of garlic, a stick of celery chopped, a bay leaf & a sprig of rosemary. Cover it all with water, bring to a gentle boil & turn down to a simmer until you need it later. Yes I know I didn’t mention all these ingredients, but that’s because they’re optional. If you’ve got some of them, or none, it’s not the end of the world. They do help to add some flavour to the stock though. (And if you wanted, you could fry up the liver instead of putting it in the stockpot as a chef’s snack)

Rub the bird all over with salt & pepper, butter, the thyme leaves & squeeze 1/2 the lemon over. Put the other half & the squeezed bit inside the bird along with the bulb of garlic, sliced in 1/2 horizontally and some of the herbs.

Roast on a tray in the oven upside down (that’s breast side down) for 45 minutes.

Whilst it’s roasting you can get on with whatever veg you’re serving with it.

After 45 minutes, turn the bird right side up (unless you’re a chicken, then it’s upside down) and roast for another 30-45 minutes. If the skin’s looking a little pale after 20 mins or so, turn up the heat a bit (200°c ought to do it depending on your oven)

Take the bird out,  remove the garlic from inside, cover it with foil and rest (the chicken)

Squeeze the garlic bulbs out of their skins into a small pan with the wine. Purée with a stick blender or mash them with a fork. (If you can be bothered put the garlic through a sieve, for a really smooth result.)  Add some of the giblet stock (about a mug-full) bring the mixture to a boil and reduce by about 1/2. Taste and season with salt and pepper as you see fit.

Carve and serve with the accompaniments at the top of this blog (recipes to follow), and the sauce. Or just some fresh, crusty bread and a green salad. Whatever takes your fancy. I really do recommend this way of cooking the bird though. The very best way I know of roasting a chicken is a rotisserie, this method is a close second!

Serves quite a few I’d say, maybe 4-6 depending on how hungry you are. But you can adapt it to the quantities of pork you have.

1.5-2 kg Pork belly

10 Juniper berries

1-2 tsp Fresh Rosemary needles, chopped (don’t even think about using dried!)

3 Cloves of Garlic, peeled

1 tsp Fine Sea Salt

If your butcher hasn’t done it for you (and frankly it’s much easier if he/she does, though it’s less fun) score the skin of the pork all over.

Mash all the marinade ingredients together in a pestle & mortar (or you could chop them all up with a big knife)  in the order above, making sure they’re well, er, mashed.

Loosen the mix with 1 or 2 tbsp of decent olive oil & rub into the skin of the pork very, very well. Paying particular attention to nooks & crannies.

Now, you could leave this to marinade overnight, or at the least for a couple of hours.

We didn’t.

But if you did, the flavour would be even better!

Roast (on a rack if you have one, though not essential) in a pretty hot oven, 200-230°c for 1/2 an hour. This gets a good bit of crackling going.

Check after 15 mins or so if you’re not too familiar with your oven. Nothing worse than burnt skin! (there’s no going back) You can always turn it up if it’s not hot enough.

Turn the heat down after 1/2 hr to 180-200°c for another 1 hour or so until the juices run clear when poked with a knife/skewer/sword. The beauty of this dish (and almost any roasted pork belly dish) is that it’s nearly impossible to overcook. Leaving you plenty of time to prepare any veg to go with it. I recommend my cabbage with bacon & rosemary, celeriac & potato mash and HF-W’s apple sauce (obviously!) But it’s good with almost any sort of potato & greens combo.

Pork was from the Well-Hung Meat company & quite outstanding. Cooked on a damp, very windy November evening. Which was just as well, ‘cos it helped to clear the smoke out of the kitchen!

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