Friday, 21 May 2010

Electric Veg

I received a sample pack of the elusive Sechuan Buttons this morning and all of the chef’s in the kitchen have spent the day overly salivating because of them. Not that they’re so irresistible that the thought alone of them makes your mouth water. More that these unassuming little buttons (or flower buds) contain a naturally occurring, safe toxin that makes your mouth do just so. After a few seconds of chewing your tongue is given the most unusual of experiences. Tingling, numbing, electric waves shoot around your mouth. They’re the popping candy of the vegetable world! Flavour-wise they are rather bland, slightly earthy but that’s not why you’re eating them. As far as usage goes I’m a bit stumped, the sensation is so intense that they are a bit over the top to be honest. They remind me of putting a 9v battery on my tongue as a child. Maybe rimming a cocktail glass with a bud could lead to some tingly cocktails but as far as food is concerned? Maybe mixed through a salad as an electric surprise or floating in a nettle soup for the same reason. Not sure, I’ll report back later on those.
The buttons do have a slightly more useable little brother, Sechuan Cress. I’ve used the cress previously for garnishing fish canapés and they went down a stormer! The sensation being a little more subdued, they evoked intrigue rather than the blind panic the buttons cause.
These micro-vegetables are grown in Holland by Koppert Cress; take a look (here) for their full range. They have some really interesting products that got my fancy gland going as soon as I heard about them!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Desert Island Ingredients

Following an add (here) posted by Sam Shepherd on the Echo website requesting chef’s and foodies to pick their 10 “Desert Island Ingredients’, I got my thinking cap on.
Here are my 10 choices for ingredients I couldn’t live without, not the flashiest of lists but I hope you enjoy reading my explanations for them.

1) Eggs - A world without eggs would be a sad place. Imagine a full English without the perfect fried egg, smoked salmon without scrambled. Restaurants without soufflé’s, crème brulee’s or hollandaise. It goes on, Yorkshire puddings, mayonnaise, cakes!? And for my final example, imagine a childhood where your mum didn’t present you with possibly the most delicious thing you’d ever eaten. A soft boiled egg with soldiers. I rest my case.

2) Butter - As a chef with distinctly French leanings butter is rather an important ingredient to me, yes its unhealthy but god does it taste good. If you want the perfect pastry, white sauce or even bacon sandwich it has to be BUTTER. The other stuff “Margarine” (say it slowly to yourself, it’s a terrible word) is a swear word that is banned in both my work and home kitchens. And I don’t care I its been churned like butter, its still not bloody butter. If you make white wine fizzy its still not champagne is it?

3) Pork - The humble farmyard pig is a noble beast, no other animal gives quite so many wonderful products. Bacon, salami’s, hams, confit belly, black pudding, loins, chops, hocks, brawn, crispy braised ears, trotters, lardons, crackling, sausages! As Fergus Henderson so wonderfully named his book, the pig above any other animal deserves the motto of “nose to tail eating“.

4) Onions - Where would meat dishes be without an onion? Or soups? As the muscle behind the “Mirepoix” (carrots, celery, leeks and onions!) A-team, it is an indispensable cooking ingredient. I regularly use in excess of 20kg’s a week at work. It often feels like all I’m doing is brunoise (Classic French terminology for the finest of dices) in fact I have a favourite knife dedicated solely to my onion antics. I dare you to find a red meat or soup recipe that doesn’t require you to fry onions with browned meat or butter at the early stages.

5) Salmon - a personal favourite for me, both in working with it (to me there is nothing more satisfying than portioning a scaled and pin boned side of salmon with a razor sharp knife) and eating it myself. Be it smoked (hot or cold), quick cured, pan-fried, poached, char-grilled or eaten as sashimi I never tire of it. In fact if you’re ever eating from my kitchen and you see pan-fried salmon on the board, order it! Its become something of a signature of mine and I’ve grown increasingly more anal over the years on just how crisp the skin should be whilst maintaining that perfectly moist and succulent flesh.

6) Potatoes - To me, as much as a gold dust food type as the noble egg. The base carbohydrate to the entire western world. Potatoes are here to stay (hopefully), the humble spud is the most versatile of all the underground dwellers. I simply couldn’t live without my favourite overly buttery mash , dauphinoise or perfect goose fat roasted potatoes! You could never forgot the chip, the fondant or the rosti. Think of your favourite meal ever, its probably got a potato as part of it. True sustaining comfort food.

7) Beef - Bovine’s are wonderful quadrupeds, they give us milk, cream, butter and ribeye steaks! Fore-ribs, sirloins, fillets, rumps, topside, silverside, bone marrow, biltong, ox-tail, burgers, shin, cheeks, chateaubriand, bone marrow! Where would St John be without the latter? You wont find a restaurant or grill anywhere that doesn’t serve a mean steak! I love the way that when people cook at home, a steak dinner is still a treat. And that’s the way I see beef products, however often you eat them, they’re ALWAYS something special when you do.

8) Garlic - Garlic, garlic, garlic, where would the French the Italians or Greeks be without that little bulb? A side of garlic bread without garlic is bread, aioli is just mayonnaise and bolognaise is just mince and onions (alright that’s not true but if you take away tomatoes it almost is). Garlic makes boring food, not boring! A flavour that we all love, it makes our breath and hands stink and is included in at least one dish of every menu of every restaurant everywhere. A true flavour staple that no kitchen could be without. Amen.

9) Spinach - Well I had to include something green! And my favourite vegetable happens to be nutritious, inexpensive and most importantly delicious. Also, Popeye loves it, and what better recommendation do you need!? Simply teamed with butter, garlic and black pepper it is a full proof steak accompaniment, the “sag” in sag aloo and the key to the greenest, heartiest of soups. Eat more spinach and trust me, your life will be better for it.

10) Lobster - As luxuriant, unaffordable and illusive as they may seem, they are and will always be true indulgence. The king of the shellfish, their shells make the best fish stocks and soups, the claw meat the best spaghetti dish’s and the enormous tails the best, well the best, meatiest most complexly tasting shellfish extravagance you will ever eat. Whether they’re served hot, simply grilled with garlic butter, cold as the crown jewel of a fruits de mer with oysters and aioli or the classic that is lobster thermidore. Lobsters will always be the flashiest most delicious foodstuff you can ever eat.

The Echo version can be found here.

Friday, 14 May 2010


We recently had photographers in at work for the day to take nice glitzy professional snaps of the building and some of my food for the new website. It all sounds very glamorous. Well the final result can be but the actual process of making food presentable and able to hold up to a long photography session without wilting, sauces splitting or towers collapsing is far from culinary genius! Prepare to have the illusion well and truly ruined.

Ok! Here is what each dish is and what it really is. If you know what I mean?

Selection of Canapés consisting of (from right to left);

Pan-seared Lyme Bay Scallop and Crisp Leaves set on a Anchovy Butter Granary Croute.

In reality this was a cold, nicely coloured scallop on lollo rosso and biondi. The fancy anchovy butter granary croute was actually a slice of thick brown hovis cut with a pastry cutter and dried in the oven.

Home-cured Scottish Salmon on Red and Black Caviar Crème Fraiche.

Not to much of a lie, the salmon was all genuine (I’m not using play-doh just yet, thats next time!), the caviar crème fraiche was made from real crème fraiche and the inexpensive vegetarian (made from seaweed) sea relish caviar substitute. Bog standard blinis and some red and standard watercress. All pretty boring really, I actually hate this canapés it’s been done TO DEATH. People have unfortunately come to expect it tho. Sad times.

Figs wrapped with Parma Ham and finished with Balsamic Reduction.

Almost completely true! Apart from the figs were actually bananas and the Parma ham was made of linen. Ok that is a lie.

Raspberry and Blackcurrant layered Fruit Froth (just off shot, see big picture)

Very trendy at the moment, thought I’d be cool, I usually use fruit froth’s as a dessert garnish but when made with some love they are particularly tasty and novel in texture so I use them as a canapés served in shot glasses. These on the other hand were not of the tasty variety. When I usually make edible froths I use pasteurised carton egg white, fruit puree and icing sugar beaten to form incredibly stiff peaks. This version was simply raspberry and blackcurrant puree with standard separated egg white. Whisked in a machine whilst I had a cigarette out the back. Feel the love. Looked good mind.

Mushroom, Chestnut and Madeira Risotto with Rocket, White Truffle oil and Balsamic Reduction.

Actually this one is relatively honest. My mushroom and chestnut risotto was on the specials board the day the photographers were in so it was given to them as the vegetarian option. Apart from being cold and the white truffle oil being vegetable oil it was pretty much as it was in its luxury description.

Home-cured Scottish Salmon with Pea Shoot Salad, Dill Mayonnaise and Toasted Ciabatta.

Again not too much of a lie. The biggest blags being that I blow torched the colour onto some very stale Ciabatta fingers and the salmon had been brushed with olive oil to maintain a nice glossy appearance. NB pay particular attention to the 70’s style lemon garnish. Classy eh?

Char-grilled Devonshire Lamb Cutlets with Garlic Roast New Potatoes, Seasonal Dorset Greens and Red Wine Jus.

Probably the biggest lie of them all. The lamb was char-grilled just enough for the perfect colouring, were then patted completely dry and kept aside. Potatoes were blanched but pretty much raw (this gave just enough wrinkle to the skin to give the illusion of roasting) and dropped into the deep fat fryer to colour. The vegetable was blanched for literally seconds and left to drain very thoroughly. The Red wine reduction was diluted veal glace that had been reduced to the perfect viscosity and chilled. When I built the dish I used snapped down pieces of cocktail sticks to construct the potato pile and hold them in place, I used the same method on the spiral of lamb cutlets. The meat was brushed with lots of olive oil to give the appearance of meat juice and that just finished resting look. Veg was carefully put in place given the olive oil treatment and the ‘Jus’ dressed over the final plate of deceit.

Pan-seared Lyme Bay Scallops with Confit Chorizo, Cider and Smoked Paprika Reduction and Marsh Samphire.

Ok this one is not too much of a con. Ok well the scallops are cold, the samphire is barely cooked, the reduction contains no cider and the confit chorizo is actually Napoli salami. Other than that tho, it’s true! I am actually rather bothered with this photo, I sent it out to the photographers without its final black pepper mill sprinkle. Looks like it needs it doesn’t it? Amateur hour.

So there you go, what I’ve just told you is far from un-common so next time you’re dribbling over a Waitrose magazine remember. Its cold, tasteless and probably raw.

Much love

NB all Bold descriptions of dishes are ones I have previously cooked and make legitimately how described. Honest.