Saturday, 23 January 2010

Trotters, bacon and onion

Another St John recipe - this one sounds delightful: Pot-roast bacon, trotter and prune - in fact there are few recipes in Beyond Nose to Tail that don't have a prune in it. And to demonstrate the effect this is having on my wife - I showed her a jar of prunes soaking in earl grey tea and she screamed thinking it was an eel, or worse.
Anyway, looking very similar to the prunes was the trotter gear, something I did a few weeks ago. Basically trotters boiled, and then the skin, fat and meat put in jars. This is, "something every fridge should have" and so my fridge has six (no room for tonic). Well now it has five because one large Hellaman's size of jelly, fatty, meaty trotter gear is now surrounding a piece of green pork shoulder, along with loads of prunes and a glass of white wine. And what should be loads of black pepper which I forgot, back in a sec...

...oh its smells wonderful and looks like this:

Hmm, granted not that appetising, but he prunes are fattening up, the pork turning and the trotter gear melting into a broth of fatty niceness, half an hour into the two hours on medium heat.
The skin on top is just to keep it moist. It should have been done with a smoked bacon piece, but I haven't managed to find it – even the best two butchers down in Eastbourne (Green Street and Meads) only have it sliced.

I made something similar with beans in a tomato sauce with the shoulder and it was tender and rich, so I can only imagine f it was smoked it would be even more so. Therefore to accompany it, something fresh, light and wintery - beetroot, red onion, red cabbage, creme fraiche and chervil* salad. No, I don't have chervil, so parsley is making an appearance. Grate it all, mix it up with capers...ah capers...where have you been...a 'little gesture' of balsamic and olive oil.

Bring on half past eight

Saturday, 16 January 2010

The cheek of it

I have had beef cheeks once before; it came served with a spoon. It was in a restaurant in Argentina, called La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar that gave a healthy nod to the movement to molecular gastronomy. Molecular gastronomy is often associated with Ferran AdriĆ  and the Greatest Restaurant in the World (TM), El Bulli, and Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck, known as the Greatest Restaurant in the World (TM). Neither chef, however, would describe what they do as pure molecular gastronomy, however, they do use some of the scientific and chemical principals.

How does this relate to beef cheeks? Well it is a tough piece of meat, and one of the most common applications behind molecular gastronomy is, as was once explained to me by a chef so desperate for a Michelin star I though he was going to cry under the stress (they were being released the next day), that meat, that is vacuum packed and cooked slowly, alters in molecular structure therefore making it incredibly tender. Cooking meat does this, of course. However, some cuts lend themselves to this, as do steaks. Briefly, meat packed in plastic bags, vacuumed and put into thermostated water baths. Not got one, well the Khymos blog suggests doing it yourself, by putting a steak into a plastic ziplock bag, and the in a bath for half an hour. And then flash fry it. The perfect steak.

OK, as we are being all experimental and scientific, my experiment with beef cheeks will not involve thousand pound equipment, but good on marinating and then very slow cooking.

The steps will be included in the next entry, but as I'm about to embark on it, I thought I'd share a few thoughts...

Liver bolognese

Liver is probably my least favourite offal cut. Bloody to the point of silvery to taste, it can often overwhelm the palate if it isn't carefully balanced.

I was following Simon Schama's recipe printed in the Guardian just over a year ago. Chicken livers were essential - see previous post – so I had added them along with mince beef and pork. It turned out fabulous. The taste of the liver subtly shone through what can often be a dish so overpowered with flavour it lacks direction. With the liver, it gave a deep satisfying smack of meat, and a richness that lifted it beyond its status as a quick dish. I would definitely add chicken liver again to the bolognese. It also tasted much better the day after, as you would imagine.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Bloody liver

Oops - forgot the wine...

OK, sorted red. Simon Schama recommends white if you are going to eat it that day (to melt the meat), but red wine if leaving it for a day. I put in red regardless. It will bubble for a good few hours – going sledging – and I want a rich, dark sauce for a rich rewardingly comforting dish.

In the spag: carrots, celery, loads of garlic, onion and a bit of yellow pepper I had laying around. thought about fennel, but decided against it. Sauteed nice and slow with the lid on. Once done I put in mince beef and mince pork, about half and half (It seems to be fairly agreed that a mix of cow and pig is necessary). Meanwhile I drained the pot of chicken livers of quite a lot of blood, dried them with a kitchen towel, and the sauteed them in butter that was bubbling until, as Simon Schama put it, 'the brown side of pink'. The taste was strong, meaty and bloody. I don't think that I could handle them alone (see below), but in a bolognese then it should add a dark and meaty texture often lost with minced meats.

I also found a recipe in Julia Child's (the woman in the Oscar-nominated Julia and Julia) book, which I found after seeing the film on my book shelf, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, for chicken liver mousse which I think I will definitely try, having never approached anything even remotely like that.

OK, I'm going sledging with me wife, while the bolognese sauce bubbles. Will cardboard work?

Chicken liver spag bol

My long suffering wife is a little bored of trotters, tongue and other twiddly bits. "Can we just have a spag bol tonight?". As she is spending all day teaching horse riding is a blizzard, I thought I'd better agree.

However, as Saturdays are really the only days I can experiment with the long cooking times offal often needs, I was delighted to find two Italian recipes claiming the essential ingredient is chicken livers – one by a non-culinary hero of mine, the historian Simon Schama (

He said: "Bacon is not as essential as the mashed chicken livers which, in a true bolognese sauce, are really obligatory: they give the dark substance and pungency you're after)"

So, up to Meads Village Butchers, where the young lad told me they had a run on pretty much everything because of the blizzard, got out their last pot of chicken livers.

So after an aborted attempt to walk on the snowy downs and narrow avoidance of the Ship Inn, I am home and ready to cook.

Tongue peeling

Thank you to the friends in the Ship, Meads, Eastbourne, who went over and above in trying my freshly cooked tongue (that will teach them right for showing an interest). Anyway, apart from some comments against the smell – there was pub quiz on and it was packed – those that tried it were impressed. As was my family who I forced it down. It was done for my grandad and I left him a lump for the sandwiches. Even my 11-year-old sister, Martha, tried a bit, although even peeled, it showed signs of taste buds (or what ever they are) so I had to slice some off. Some said it was 'hammy', others gobbled up seconds. It was still warm when I served it with some fresh beetroot (boiled, not roasted due to time constraints, i.e. that extra pint in the pub), however, it was cold in a sandwich the next day when it seemed in its prime. With a texture like a boiled ham, but not as tough as cold roast beef, it was delightfully tasty – a hint of fat, and the merest offal gusto. The first day I had it with just English mustard, however, it was better the next day with a bit of mayo on the other side and some crunchy lettuce.

Anyway, I would definitely do tongue again. Very easy. I would suggest that whereas the tip and middle of the tongue are leanest, it seemed the back of the tongue and the under hanging part were a bit fattier, and tastier.

A success.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


"Any mixture of unknown ingredients." – American Dialect Dictionary.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Ox Tongue

Step number 1.

One shot of sloe gin, from sloes collected from the South Downs.

Step number 2.

Open Nose to Tail Eating page 94.

Step number 3.

Mild panic.

I bought the tongue from the butchers yesterday. It was already salted in a brine for about three weeks. A little longer than I would have done, so I'm a tad concerned about the saltiness. Sometimes they say it should be rinsed for 24 hours, but not in the recipe I'm follwing, I just won't add any more. My biggest concern at the moment is the stuff at the bottom of the tongue. Do I cook that too? Or cut it off? It looks, to be frank, disgusting. Anyway, I'll look on line.

I cut some of the foul looking bits off, but it actually looks pretty meaty on second inspection.

I have mostly followed the recipe in Nose to Tail however, I followed one piece of advice to bring it to the boil briefly first, get rid of the liquid and scum that gathers on the top of the water. In fact, it is actually beginning to look more meat like. Thank god.

I peeled a couple of carrots, an onion and crushed ten cloves of garlic and threw in some peppercorns, rosemary from the garden a couple of doors down (old people's home – they bang on the window but they'll never catch me), and some bay leaves from our garden, two sticks of celery and all the veg from this morning's trotter foray. And now leave it for 3.5 hours. Time for a country walk I think...

(My Mac smells of garlic)

Anatomy of Pigs' Feet

Well the trotter gear is now in a jar at the back of the fridge. Five fatty jars of the stuff. Fergus Henderson describes it as having "Unctuous potential". Unctuous, now my new favourite word, is well chosen. The 'Unct' part suggest the fatty, sticky quality of the Trotter Gear, perhaps the 'Tous' part comes from 'Tortuous'. It isn't, as I have learned, for the squeamish. I am now familiar with the intimate anatomy of pied du cochon. As you can see below, the trotters, now giving to the point of destruction (did I leave it in too long – I went out for a curry last night, left it relaxing overnight and then gave it a blast again this fine Sunday morning). It was then the tortuous job of separating anything that wasn't solid from the from the fat, skin and flesh.
It seemed predominantly fat and skin, the pied du cochon I had in Paris recently was a longer piece, going further up the leg, perhaps the more meaty part. What the butcher gave me was the very lower part of the trotter – imagine from your wrist down, and it appears that the pig foot has almost as many little bones as, say, my foot. Stripping fatty tendons and pulling apart second toe bones wasn't particularly pleasant, yet strangely the squelchy fat on my fingers felt nice, and I wasn't a mud pie sort of child.

I drained the veg (to be kept for the tongue), and chopped up the fat and skin further and popped it in the bowl and then decanted it into jars I had just sterilised.

With the Trotter Gear, and this was the real incentive, I can make pot roast bacon with trotter and prunes on foie gras toast (foie gras smuggled in from Paris). But also in Beyond Nose and Tail, guinea fowl, red cabbage, trotter and prune (I'm noticing a prune theme), beef and pickled walnut stew (pickled walnuts a big treat in this house) and, erm, braised squirrel, which, I think, I my pass on for now, as with the snails (regular garden snails that is), trotter sausage and chickpeas. The finest moment, apparently, for Trotter Gear is game pie, that I shall most certainly try, but not with the pheasant currently bleeding all over my fridge.

OK, so now, as asked for expressly by my grandad for tonight's tea: tongue. I think now might be a good time to try the sloe gin I made.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Tongue in cheek?

And for the next installment, probably Monday or Tuesday...ox tongue.

Trotter Gear

According to my current bible Beyond Nose to Tail: A Kind of British Cooking Part II by Fergus Henderson of St Johns, "No fridge should be without its jar of Trotter Gear". I acquired four pigs trotters from my butchers, Meads Village Butchers, in Meads, Eastbourne. They very kindly gave me the trotters for free – partly because as I was also buying a whole salted ox tongue, smokey streaky bacon and a pheasant for tonight, about £15 for what I reckon is at least five meals.

So the paraphrased recipe for Trotter Gear (sic: always caped up for some reason) – with pictures...
1. Place trotters in a large casserole, cover with water and bring to boil for five minutes to release the initial scum given off by trotters.
Bit wierd looking at the trotters – I ate one in a bistro in Paris a couple of months ago, seared and covered in flour and probably cayenne pepper, delicious and fatty, but full of bones. However, it was bigger than these ones. It looks as though it had a limp. The trotters boiled up with a lot of stuff on the top. The reason why Fergus Henderson suggests that when making meat stock to constantly skim the top.

2. Place blanched trotters into the pot with vegetables (Onions, carrots, celery, leeks (split in half), head of garlic, thyme, pepper corns and madiera - but I am using red wine, which may be a mistake, I don't think it will be sweet enough)). Cover with stock and place in a gentle oven for three hours.
We had some stock already – something I am learning is essential. Anyway, easy so far. No chopping of veggies – in the oven for three hours. And I'll continue from then.

Adventures in Offal

My interest in the wobbly bits of animals that are often left in the butchers' fridge (until he takes it home and cooks it), is probably rooted in a deep love for Argentina and simple Argentine cuisine. I have lived in the country for a total of five years; first between 1998 and 2001, and then again in 2006 to 2008, with my new wife. While I returned to the UK I profoundly missed Argentine life and culture. The utter excitement of living in Buenos Aires – chaotic and unpredictable – was irresistible, a far cry from sleepy Eastbourne on the south coast of England. The one constant, however, in Argentine life, among the violence and fear caused by a grave financial crisis, was the asado. Quite simply it is a barbecue. But like meals in many Latin influence countries, the asado was a coming together for the family. I have heard, in all seriousness, that it is the cornerstone of Argentine society.

I missed it, so I returned. It was however, more than I'd like to admit, a little piece of meat, crisped on a barbecue, soft in the middle and lightly wet with fresh lemon juice the real reason I returned. Yes, I uprooted my new wife, flew us half way around the world to Buenos Aires for a piece of meat. I don't want to exaggerate, it wasn't 100% the reason I returned, just about 60% of it. A lot for a thymus gland. The veal sweetbread is a stunning piece food. With the texture of a scallop, a hint of a liver, but meaty, fatty and fabulous.

I will, in time, further explain other reasons for the blog. But in short, it was the Argentine experience, a meal at the truly great St John's Restaurant and healthy addiction to Fergus Henderson's cookbooks – which shall make up much of the recipes I follow, and a culinary inquisitiveness for the tastiest (and often cheapest) odd bits of animals.