Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Kimchi jjigae with pork belly and tofu

This post first appeared on the Great British Chefs blog

My fridge has been host to a variety of unusual foodstuffs and ingredients over the years. Bits of animal that you might not normally consume, exotic and erotic shaped vegetables grown under the sun, and cling film covered jars of viscous, jellified gloop; yes Freddie the fridge has seen it all. But I am not too sure that it has ever been home to anything quite so mysterious and volatile as kimchi. Now for the uninitiated, kimchi is a sort of pungent, fermented pickle that is sour and spicy and delivers a veritable kick to the old taste buds. Citizens of Korea have been living off kimchi for centuries as it forms a central and daily part of their cuisine. Boasting a high nutritional value, they eat the stuff by the bucket load and it is meant to be especially good for aiding digestion.

Typically made with cabbage, although lots of other different vegetables can be used, the other central component is gochugaru or Korean chilli flakes, which lend a bright red colour and fiery pokiness to the pickle. There are of course loads of variations of kimchi, depending on region and season, and even as I type this I am imagining some people are thinking - “OK Dan, tell us something we don’t already know.” Because Korean food is, pardon the pun, so damn hot right now.

So wanting to get in on the action with some of this new, trendy, funky ingredient (which is funky in the most literal sense of the word) I decided to have a chat with food writer MiMi Aye, who explained to me over a bowl of noodles, the ins and outs of making it. By her account, the number one rule was to try and get the proper chilli flakes if you can. Standard Schwartz doesn’t really cut the mustard, nor do they deliver the inherent fruitness of Korean chilli flakes. Although Turkish red pepper flakes are apparently a good substitute if you can’t find them.

Rule number two was to free my mind with what I could actually do with the kimchi when it was ready. MiMi stressed keenly that it was very versatile and having researched on t’internet a ton of recipes, that really does seem to be the case. She followed up by suggesting that I should made a Budae-jjigae, or ‘Army Base stew’, which is very much a Korean-American fusion. But seeing as I have a repulsive aversion to Spam, I quickly binned that idea.

The third and most important rule was to leave it fermenting for at least two weeks, maybe longer, so that it has time to develop it’s signature flavour. “But beware,” she warned in a manner akin to Yoda from Star Wars. “You will need to release any gas that builds up, otherwise explode it could.”

Which brings me back to the apprehensive vibe of dealing with kimchi, stored in glass jars and left in my fridge. Over the last fortnight opening the door has been dealt with the quiet precision of a bomb disposal expert. Wide eyes, framed and lit by the inner glow, have witnessed tiny bubbles fizzing upwards and almost on a daily basis, shaky, sausage-like fingers have popped open the lids, with a silent sigh often punching the air afterwards. A silent sigh often coming from the seat of my pants.

But it has been worth it. I used my kimchi to make a delicious stew recently, with slivers of pork belly and wibbly wobbly tofu, the recipe of which will follow. Interestingly, you can imagine that this would be the sort of dish that blows your head off but that really isn’t the case as the heat is more peppery, rather than chilli hot. And plus the sour cabbage sort of tempers and the balances out the overall flavour. Still good for a cold though.

For guidelines on making your own kimchi at home and to keep things short, I will refer you MiMi’s very easy to follow guide which can be found on her blog here. Although you could go to a Chinese supermarket and buy it ready made.

But then your journey wouldn’t be quite so thrilling now, would it.

Kimchi jjigae with pork belly and tofu - serves 4


300 gms pork belly, skin removed and sliced thinly
400 gms regular tofu, cut into cubes
300 gms kimchi
2 tbs of Korean pepper paste (gochujang)
2 white onions, sliced
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
5 cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbs of soy sauce
1 tbs of rice wine vinegar
1 tsp of sugar
1 tsp of Korean chilli flakes (gochugaru)
1 tbs of groundnut oil
600 mls of water
Spring onions, white parts sliced into thin rounds, green part shredded
1 fresh red chilli, sliced
White rice, to accompany


First marinate the pork belly by placing into a bowl and add the ginger, soy, rice wine, sugar and Korean chilli flakes. Mix together and leave on the side, covered, for 30 minutes.

Put a large pot or wok on the hob, over a high heat and add oil. Heat the oil up and then add the onion and quickly stir fry for 5 minutes until the slices soften. Then add the Korean pepper paste and again stir for a minute or so. Repeat steps by adding the pork, then the kimchi (along with any juice from the jar) and garlic and then finally add the water. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

Whilst that is bubbling away, put your rice on to cook.

Just before serving, finally pop the tofu cubes into the pot, gently patting down into the stew and cook for another 5 minutes.

When ready, ladle the stew into deep bowls with an equal amount of pork belly, kimchi and tofu in each one. Scatter the spring onion whites and chilli slices all around and top with the shredded green part of the spring onion. Serve with bowls of white rice alongside.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Apple and Quince Hat with Bay-infused Custard

This post first appeared on the Great British Chefs blog.

By all accounts, I am not doing enough to make sure it snows around our way. Each morning, two pairs of eager eyes have been scanning the map on the telly, with ears listening to the dulcet tones of Carol Kirkwood, weather presenter for the BBC. And each time, demands have been issued that at the very least we should all move north, to where the snow is and then we could all play in the snow and not go to school. Apparently the sleet has been rubbish and it’s been far too cold to go outside (or walk to school) but if it did snow then they wouldn’t mind so much. Because well, it’s snow and snow is great. So Dad, why haven’t we had any snow yet?

Yes, this is the ongoing angst in our house at the moment and at this rate, I am thinking about going out to buy a snow machine (it would be cheaper than moving) but in the meantime, I have been doing my best to keep them quiet by shovelling suet based puddings into their little mouths. Such as good old fashioned apple and quince hats.

Curious surname for a dessert that - ‘hat’. We are all familiar with pies, crumbles, syllabubs, sponges, dicks and tarts but ‘hat’ does seem odd to me and to be honest I am not entirely sure what it means or where it comes from. I should do a bit of digging around and boost my knowledge of food history really.

Although, perhaps it’s because this pudding does indeed look like a hat. Yes, that’s probably it.

What I definitely do know is that these fat-laden, calorific puddings, spicy and succulent are a fantastic remedy to the prolonged barrage of healthy eating that normally occurs around this time of year. Quince can be tricky to find but seek one out if you can, as they lend a lovely aromatic quality to this pudding, which ties in nicely with the bay infused custard and I do like to make individual hats using mini-pudding basins. But you could always make this with a large basin if you like. The dollop of clotted cream on top might be a touch unnecessary, but what the hell, we’ve got to get through February yet.

A treat to eat on a dreary, windswept winter day in other words; especially after going out for a long walk. And if it snows, even better. But don’t tell my children you’ve been out in it.

Apple and Quince Hat with Bay-infused Custard - serves 4


For the pudding
275 gms self-raising flour
150 gms suet
100 mls water
2 Bramley apples
1 large quince
50 gms sultanas
50 gms caster sugar
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
1 tsp of ground ginger
4 cloves
1 lemon, juiced
Clotted cream, to serve
Butter, for greasing

For the custard
450mls whole milk
4 egg yolks
50gm caster sugar
2 fresh bay leaves


First, sieve the self-raising flour into a bowl along with a pinch of salt and then mix in the suet. Add the water, a little at a time and mix with your hand until it begins to form into a soft dough-like pastry that is not too sticky.

Dust your worktop with some flour and roll out the pastry so that you have a nice flat piece that is about 5mm thick. If using individual pudding basins, grease the insides with butter and then divide the suet pastry into four pieces. Line each basin with the pastry, pressing down and easing out any air pockets. You should have some of the pastry overlapping so trim that off and put to one side. Also keep these pieces separate as they will form the lids later. If using one large pudding basin, obviously keep your pastry intact when lining the basin.

Next core and peel both the Bramley apples and quince, quarter and then slice into moon shaped pieces. Not too thick, but not too thin either. Place in a bowl and dress with the lemon juice and then add the sultanas, sugar, cinnamon and ginger. Mix through so that the fruit is nicely covered.
Then place the apple and quince slices into each pudding basin, again pressing the pieces down and filling spaces with the sultanas. Pop in a clove into each filled basin and then take the leftover pastry, rolling each piece into a ball and with the rolling pin roll into a flat circle. Dampen the pastry with a smidgen of water and place the lids on top, pressing to seal and again, trim off any excess with a knife.

Double up some square sheets of foil (approximately 10 x 10 cm) and cover the puddings, wrapping the foil to seal.

 Take a large stock pot and place inside a smaller cake tin for the puddings to sit on and pour in some boiling water. Pop the puddings in, cover and stick on a medium heat on the hob to steam for 2 hours. Check every now and then to see if the water needs topping up.

Meanwhile, make your custard by beating the egg yolks and sugar together in a glass bowl until nicely blended and creamy. Then place the milk and bay leaves into a pan and bring to the boil.
Leave the milk and bay to infuse for half an hour. When the milk is ready, take out the bay leaves and place the bowl with the creamed eggs over a pan of hot water. Slowly pour the milk over the egg mixture, whisking as you do so. Keep whisking and slowly the sauce will begin to emulsify and thicken. A good test to see if your custard is ready, is to dip a wooden spoon into the custard. Run your finger through and if a line remains, it’s ready.

To serve, take the puddings out of the steamer and leave to cool slightly. Unwrap the foil and upturn the basin into a dessert bowl, give the bottom a little tap and remove. Your suet pudding should easily fall out.

Cut a small hole in the top and add a healthy spoonful of clotted cream and pour the hot bay custard around the outside.

Enjoy, but beware of that rogue clove though, that can be a touch too powerful when eating and will remind you of visiting the dentist.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Breakfast and a breakdown at The Botanist, Sloane Square

I always get the heebie-jeebies whenever I venture into Sloane Square (which isn't often to be honest) and before you ask, it's got nothing to do with a fear of running into the likes of Spencer Matthew or any of his excerebrose* skinny red trouser wearing ilk. It's to do with the memory of going to see Sarah Kane's Blasted at The Royal Court Theatre when I was younger and a bit more cultcha'd than I am today. After watching the controversial play, I distinctly remember walking into the nearest pub with friends afterwards, all of us silent. Having stepped up to the mahogany bar, the Australian behind cheerfully asked me what I would like and I barked back - "Give me the strongest f*cking thing you've got!" -  before shuffling off into a quiet corner to contemplate and weep upon what I had just witnessed.

The funny thing is that I am sure the pub was situated exactly where The Botanist stands today. So after wandering in there this morning to partake in a breakfast tweet-up, when I started to read the menu, the flashbacks came on quite strong.

"Hmm smokey porky bacon (Oh my God! The buggery!)"

"Ooooh eggs benedict! (His eyes! He is gouging his eyes out!)"

"The Botanist's Infamous Bloody Mary (Blood! So......so, so much blood!)"

Which is not what one wants to be going through when one is breaking their fast at 8AM, I can tell you that right now. Thankfully they do do a mean flat white in there, so after a slurp or two, I was able to sort myself out and get on with the business of instagramming a plate of fruit. Which now makes me think that my 'problem' isn't with Sloane Square but with caffeine. Which I must look into at some point.

BUT ANYWAY! Breakfast at The Botanist was indeed very good today. Not only did it cover all the nutritional requirements needed to start the day i.e. vitamin C, monounsaturated fat, complex proteins, alcohol (etc), it was all pretty damn fine to eat. Although I have to say, their infamous Bloody Mary did deliver a spicy thwack to the back of the throat and was a lot more pokier that I am used to. It was very off putting at first actually. However, by the time I got to the bottom of the glass I was laughing.

Highlights in particular, should you wish to repast there for breakfast, were the sweetcorn fritters with avocado. These crispy nuggets, loaded with nuggets of golden corn, married up perfectly with the soft yet spiky green salsa served alongside. They really were gorgeous Thane. And the blueberry buttermilk pancakes with streaky smoked bacon and maple syrup were lovely too and reminded me that the Yanks do know a thing or two about brekkie don't they. Whenever I've eaten them in the past, in the back of my mind, it always feels like none of it should work but it really is a beautiful combination you know. Pancakes, syrup, bacon, blimey.

The one low point was probably losing out on winning a bottle of wine (for best tweet) to a pregnant lady who can't touch a drop until July at the very earliest. But hey, I got a free breakfast in exchange for some manic tweeting so I am not bitter. Well, not much anyway.

Would I return back to The Botanist for an evening session? I have to say that the menu does look very good and I do like the sound of the Peterhead cod fillet, king prawn risotto and crisp squid. This isn't a nudge by the way, you cynical bar stewards. I would happily pay for a meal in this sexy establishment. I might even put on a pair of red trousers and bouffe my hair up for the occasion.

I do need to get over that fear though. Of horrors engraved, of visions that still linger from the past, of that damn play. I'll shall see my doctor tomorrow. Or maybe I should see my shrink instead.

Disclaimer: I was, if you haven't already guessed, a guest of The Botanist, eating breakfast in praise of Breakfast Week

Menu. Fruit. Flat White.
The Botanist Infamous Bloody Mary. Eggs Benedict, Royale and Florentine.
Blueberry buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup. Avocado on toast. A plate of things, including bacon.
Sweetcorn fritters, roast vine tomato, baby spinach, avocado salsa.
*My new word for the day

Sunday, 25 January 2015

A poem for Burns Night...

We had our Burns Supper at the disqualified time of three o'clock today, which isn't really in keeping with proceedings I know. Celebrating both the Scottish poet and the wee devious beastie that is haggis should be done under the cover of darkness bar the odd candle or two. With whisky in hand, fire roaring in the background, bagpipes playing, absolutely steaming and guests a' screaming as you take to the table to blast out Tam o' Shanter. With hardly any clothes on. I am only saying that because that is what happened on the last time I went to a Burns Supper and that was a very long time ago.

Today was different because tomorrow is Monday, we have children and it really wouldn't do to have them watch their father vomit indiscreetly into a handbag, in some corner of the kitchen. But still,  we did have our own little dalliance with tradition and I am happy that we have got the twins hooked onto the delights of haggis; along with clapshot and a whisky cream sauce.

It really is lovely is haggis. Full of peppery, spicy, offally goodness and as a dish, it should be celebrated at the table more often, without the requirement of pomp and ceremony and debauchery Especially since you can do so much with haggis. Whack it in pies, sausage rolls, you can even serve it with octopus (it does work, honest).  In fact, I have only just caught wind of Deeny's, who make haggis toasties that look farking amazing and I must get down to their stall to try one soon.

So yes, let's see more eating of haggis please. And always go for Macsween. I am a big fan. A touch pricey but their haggis is well worth it and it's far more easier going to the shops to buy them. Rather than having to don a deerstalker, wellies and loading the potato gun to go hunting the buggers yourself.

One important element that we didn't stray from this afternoon was the recital of poems around the table. You don't have to make things that long winded but is it fun to inject a little burst of prose or verse. Mrs FU gave us 'The Owl and The Pussycat'. Isla gave a us ''The Messy Giant'. Fin gave us 'Incy Wincy Spider'. And I gave a hearthrending and powerful performance of 'It was on the bridge at midnight....'

Enjoy your haggis tonight folks.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Dieting, Uddles and Happy New Year

Meat supremos Hawksmoor (gawd love 'em) posted this up on their Facebook page this morning, inviting Kara to come in for a steak and if anyone is searching for the perfect antidote to beat the insane proliferation of January dieting....bilge that is everywhere at the moment, then this has to be it. I don't know Kara Rosen from Adam and who I am I to judge someone's approach to eating and living but for the love of God, if I subjected myself to that sort of regime, I would be in mortal fear every time I approached the toilet. Hell, I would be in mortal fear every time I ventured 5 metres away from a toilet. And plus I would want to avoid all mirrors totally. For fear that every time I saw my smug mug staring out at me, I would probably want to slap it back and slap it hard.

Forgive the ranty nature of that opening salvo and please forgive me Ms Rosen. I am sure your diet suits you and your needs but f**k me, this dieting business is all pervading at the moment and it is getting me down a bit. I think it was watching Channel 4's Weighing Up The Enemy that finally done it. Pitching two overweight people to bet against each other to lose the most weight, whilst a sanctimonious, pile caressing celebrity doctor (with ill-fitting hair) waggles his fingers and tut-tuts from the touchline is a new nadir. If it had been helpful, informative, inspirational, then fine, great. But I didn't find it helpful in the least and when the credits started rolling I got angry. Rather than focusing on really helping two people out, WUTE simply jumps upon a merry-go-round of voyeurism and competitive panting and puffing; throwing in some glib social commentary and inane study surrounding the nation's weight for good measure; and drums up a message of "Unless you do something with your lives, you obese scum, you will forever burn in hell." Thus fanning the flames of shame and intolerance and boosting the coffers of the diet industry by another billion or so. It really is the most insincere pile of sh*te I've seen in a long while.

"Oooooooooh, what's rattled his cage," I hear you say. Whilst hiding behind a handbag, going "Oooooooooh."

Well, if you really must know, I am pretty heavy at the moment. The heaviest I have ever been actually and so perhaps I am a touch sensitive. Yes, like a glorious sun disappearing at dusk beyond a thick, grassy hillock, bathed in crimson rays, I have steadily watched my penis disappear and I am quite worried about it. Plus my jeans are tight and I can no longer talk on a phone and walk up the hill at the same time. So I am absolutely and unequivocally resolved to do something about it this year.


'Diet'. I think that word, pronounced in that quick fix sense, should be banned. Especially in front of children.

(Notice that I am trying not swear by the way, a bit of a resolution that. Again, especially in front of the children)

Instead, I am going to eat healthier, drink less, exercise more and take a long, sustainable view with regards to shrinking my belly. There will be rewards and the occasional blip of course, for life is too short to continue purging on kale salad with pistachios. But I am not going to go on a diet.

Up to now, the healthy eating approach has been going quite good. Root veg, fruit, oily fish and and porridge have featured heavily, with small tummy grumbles on the side. Then I went away to Suffolk at the weekend where I ate and drank a lot of cheese and wine. And wine and cheese. Last night though heralded a breakthrough, the first proper steps in cooking vital yet fulfilling nourishment, revealing a dish that is low in calories but packed with flavour. A dish that came in the shape of Uyen Luu's 'Udon noodle soup with fishcakes'. As it comes from her book My Vietnamese Kitchen, I am not sure if I am at liberty to share the recipe but if I am allowed I will stick it up on FU because it is a humdinger. It is fresh, cleansing, hot and tangy but most importantly, it leaves you feeling like you have actually eaten something. And feeling sated is very important to me. Without that feeling, you may well find me gnawing on a block of cheese in a corner of the kitchen at midnight. Oh cheese, you are definitely my downfall.

So a good start and a good start on my freezer too. Another resolution is to start making my way through the mystery bag and boxes of food that reside in that bleak landscape and I had a lot of whiting, fished by Mrs FU's uncle before Christmas to use. I love the way Uyen recipe's treats white fish for fishcakes. Blitzed in a processor with chilli, shallots, fish sauce, dill and baking powder, the resulting cakes are quite different to your usual Bird's Eye fare. Dense yet light and once fried off in a pan, totally moreish. A worthy end for Barry and his mates. And you'll have to look at my Instagram account too to work out what I am on about there. Some people are worried.

In other news, I am looking forward to the year ahead, although I can't quite believe that we are half-way through the 'dieting' month already. I have got lots of things planned.

In the meantime, I just want to wish everyone a Happy New Year. It's not too late for that is it?

Nah, it's never too late.

Barry and friends journey yesterday

Udon (or 'Uddles') noodle soup with fishcakes

Friday, 19 December 2014

The Food Urchin Top Ten Foodstuffs Wot I Have Eaten And Drunk Or Cooked With In 2014

Yes, it's that time of year when lots of people who made their lists and checked it twice (working out who has been pleasant or not) and got all their Christmas shopping done weeks ago, can now sit back and smugly get on with the business of making merry.

However, some people out there will still be trying to figure what on earth they are going to buy for their partners and are anxiously glancing back and forth at pieces of paper (not to mention the calendar and the clock). Many will be currently at desks across the land, scanning screens furiously, emitting the occasional slow, foreboding yelp of fear as one by one delivery slots close and fancy looking dresses sell out. A few will begin to cry and take solace in the humble art of procrastination.

Because if you can't finish a list, it is always better to move on and make another list. At least then you can feel like you are actually doing something. Rather than nothing at all.

Which is why I am writing this list now! And so welcome to The Food Urchin Top Ten Foodstuffs Wot I Have Eaten And Drunk Or Cooked With In 2014 list. A collection of fine goods, meats, boozes and sensational seasonings that have impressed the most throughout the last year; coupled with a brief, witty appraisal.

I suspect this won't be the last list I put up on here either......

10 - Squirrel

I know what you are going to say - "Oh bore off baldy, with yer frigging rodent cooking, like a one-trick pony." But of course I had to put squirrel in here somewhere, largely because I had so much fun cooking with it. And plus the twins scored muchos kudos points in the playground when they told their friends what they ate last night. If you haven't tried it, you should. Gamey, sweet, lean, free-range meat. What is there not to like?

9 - unearthed Goose Rillettes (and gin)

I fell in love with unearthed's original pork rillettes a while ago now and you would be hard pressed to beat a small tub of sumptuous shredded piggy, to smear on a wedge of bread, whilst popping a cornichon or two into your mouth. But then those food explorers went and found goose rillettes. Similar in style but with a greater depth of flavour, this stuff is amazing and saved my life after a poxy day at work. The gin helped too.

8 - Baconnaise

Let's face it, anything that is labelled as 'vegetarian' and paired with 'bacon' doesn't normally come within a gnats' fart of tasting like the real thing and to be really honest, Baconnaise doesn't either. BUT this jar of artifice does still taste very good, in it's own peculiar way. Imagine Frazzles, in mayonnaise form. See, they doesn't sound too bad at all does it. Especially when dolloped on a burger. Given to me by a noodle enthusiast who has far too much food in her own house.

7 - Avocados

Don't feign surprise at this healthy inclusion, I don't eat crap all the time you know but I have to say this, I never thought I would grow to love avocados as much as I do now. Rammed with vitamins, minerals, acids and 'good' fats, I now regularly fork up a ripe beauty (mixed with lime and chilli) for a sensational spread for my hot toast in the morning. Thus helping me to leave the house with a spring in my step. Still not sure about using it in ice cream though.

6 - Bay

Is bay the unheralded super hero of the kitchen? The backbone, the stalwart, the simple essence that can change a good dish into an amazing one? I think it is and I have been using bay more and more in my cooking and the biggest hit of the year came when I threw it into the pot with some pears, lemon and marsala under the guidance of food writer Diana Henry. The resulting pudding was beautiful and that was largely down to the subtle, slightly peppery wink from the bay. Expect news of a fan club forming soon.

5 - Elderflowers

For ages now, I have always fancied making elderflower champagne, so when the blossom.....um blossomed in May this year (it was early) I leapt into a neighbouring field with a black bin liner and went into a wild frenzy of picking. A few buckets filled with water, lemon and sugar later, followed by swift decanting into plastic bottles through a pair of old tights and boom, we very quickly had our own fizz. This is sooo easy to make and delicious to drink. Shame it's not that alcofrolic but hey ho.

4 - Peckham Jerk

'Do not use Peckham Jerk marinade and stick your finger in your eye afterwards.' Helen Graves could well do with putting some sort of warning on the jar. But then again, I suspect that she never expected for people to rub their eyelids after smothering a whole chicken with the stuff, with their bare hands. So I can't really blame her and despite the OWFUGGGINHELL! this stuff truly transformed a BBQ in the summer. With many a guest marveling at the intense, fruity heat, all whilst pointing and laughing at my face.

3 - Innis and Gunn

I HATE seeing disclaimers on blogs but *sigh* disclaimer, Innis and Gunn have been sending me regular crates of their delicious, wonderful beer throughout the year to sample and lord help me, I love them for it. The beers have varied in style and substance. Some dark and rich. Some crisp and refreshing. Mostly all very alcoholic but not to the detriment of flavour. I have also cooked a far bit with it. An amazing brewery, that does amazing things with beer. And for purposes of balance, SABMiller wanted to do something similar and send me some of their lager. I told them to f*ck off.

2 - Rib of beef

Look at that. Just look at that. How can you look at that and not love it. Unless you is vegan. But yes, fore rib  has smashed into the top ten this year. Overtaking pork. Outsmarting lamb. Sticking a toe up the backside of duck. And that is all down to this lump of beef, sourced in Hereford, cooked in Hereford and eaten in Hereford at a birthday party. Lightly seasoned and roasted in a Weber with a firm crust on the outside and lovely pink within. It was gorgeous (after a thorough resting) and it is the reason why we are having this for Christmas dinner this year and not turkey

1 - Viking Smoked Salt from SousChef

Dun-da-da-dun-dun-daaaaaaaah! Yes, here it is! THE best thing we have used in well EVERYTHING in the kitchen this year. Half the year I mean. I picked some up at Sous Chef's Christmas show in July and the first sprinkling was scattered over a pair of fried eggs, on hot toast, and well, it transformed the whole plate. Absolutely bloody amazing and a small pinch goes a long, long way on meat, fish, baked spuds, cornflakes, whatever you fancy really. The reasoning behind the name does still allude me. I am not entirely sure whether any actual vikings were smoked during the process but to be honest, I couldn't give a fig. It maybe too late for Christmas to order some in but make sure you get this on your table for 2015. It will change your life.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Clerkenwell Kitchen, London.

Lunch today had pie and mash written all over it. I'd seen a tweet featuring a blackboard with "Pie and mash" scrawled snazzily across it and the minute I stepped outside onto the pavement and felt an icy, portentous wind whistle through my legs, I thought to myself - 'Oooh yeah, I am going to go and have a nice crusty pie, filled with soft braised beef, luxurious gravy, seconded with a creamy, fluffy dollop of mash." And so off I waltzed, down the street, legs-a-popping out sideways and heels-a-clicking like a veritable Dick Van Dyke. I always walk like that when it gets cold, gets the blood circulating you see. I even had a little rumba going off in my head like this: PIE AND MASH, CHA-CHA-CHA. PIE AND MASH, CHA-CHA-CHA. PIE AND MASH, CHA-CHA-CHA.

Such was my excitement.

Unfortunately, when I got to Clerkenwell Kitchen, my chosen destination for repast, I discovered that that pie and mash was in fact, on yesterday's menu and not today's and that I had been gawping at an old tweet and..........well you can picture the scene can't you. 

My heart sank and my bottom lip jutted outwards; the clouds gathered and unleashed a deluge; and a small dog trotted past my ankles and took a piss on my newly polished shoes. An imaginary dog that is. Imaginary rain too because I was standing inside. But yes, I felt totally bummed out when I realised that I was not going to be eating pie and mash for lunch today. So much so that I absentmindedly dropped my imaginary maracas on the floor. 

However, the great thing about Clerkenwell Kitchen is that the food in there is always pretty damn good and that blackboard, which gets refreshed everyday, had some delectable new options to choose from. Like duck hash with a fried egg and my god, it was lovely. On the plate it represented a simple mess really. Of crushed spuds, caramelised red onion, some sliced greenery, some gorgeously sharp chopped cornichons and of course, a decent shredding of warm, fatty duck meat. All topped with an egg, fried to crispy-edged perfection whilst still saving a silky slick of yolk in the centre. It was more than lovely actually and more than made up for the absence of pie. And mash. My pudding was very pleasing to eat too. A wedge of sweet and bitter lemon ricotta cake with a handsome dollop of roast plum, very lightly spiced.

I've popped into this quiet, unassuming gem a few times now when I've been up that London for work and have always come away happy. Cuttlefish stew, courgette and Parmesan tart and thick door step sandwiches, crammed with pork, crackling and apple sauce are just some of the delights I've sampled there and if you ever find yourself in the area (Clerkenwell that is, the clue is in the name) I heartily recommend you go there for some fantastically cheap, well-sourced, lovingly cooked, honest grub. 

I hate saying things like that about food though. 'Honest grub' sounds a bit twee, a bit daft and good food never lies. And I very nearly accused the guys at Clerkenwell Kitchen of doing just that today, of lying.


But I am glad I kept my gob firmly shut when ordering at the till and ended up shoveling that beautiful duck hash into my mouth instead.