Thursday, 10 November 2011

Bah humbug pie

I love Christmas and everything that goes with it except for the jolly, heart-warming festive cheer that is rolled out nightly from the beginning of November on our television screens in the names of the nation’s great harbingers of Christmas (the supermarkets). I do confess to a fleeting delight in guessing which retailing giant is hiding behind which tinsel trimmed advertising campaign and I might even enjoy the whole cosy experience in mid December but by the time I am ready to deck the halls with boughs of holly the TV is off on holiday.

Enough of my twenty-first century bah-humbug – I don’t have to watch the TV – and I don’t much. As I said I love Christmas and I do like to get organised. I have already made mincemeat and it won’t be long before the cake and pudding are done. Yes made and put away and forgotten until mid December when Christmas is a go-go at our house.

The whole concept of Christmas as we know it would not be unfamiliar to Charles Dickens – the tree, the cards, the presents, the hams, the goose and all the trimmings, the pies.....but he might be shocked to discover it starts in November.... where was I? Oh yes pies....let’s not forget the pies – steak and ale, pork in cider made with suet crust, baked and served hot. The secret is to make the fillings and cook them now and freeze in pie dishes and then make the suet crust on the day, then bake and serve with golden baked potatoes and piles of fresh greens or a crisp green salad ti liven up the taste buds

Traditional Pork in cider suet crust pie, serves 8

2 large onions, chopped
1600 g shoulder of pork, cut into bite sized pieces
2 large cooking apple, peeled and chopped
300 g parsnip, peeled and cut into chunks
300 g carrots, peeled and cut into rings
2 heaped teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
4 heaped tablespoons plain flour
Sunflower oil
Salt and black pepper
1 L ml cider

For the pastry

300 g self raising flour, sieved
150 g suet
2 heaped teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
Salt and black pepper
6 - 9 tablespoons cold water

Equipment: 2 litre pie dish

Put a large frying pan or saucepan on medium to high heat, when hot add enough oil to cover the base of the pan then add the finely chopped onion and fry until soft and golden. Reduce the heat after a couple of minutes to avoid burning the onion.

When the onion is nicely caramelised, increase the heat again and add the pork and fry to brown – this may take some time – be patient! When the meat is nicely browned, add the apple and the vegetables, ginger, salt and pepper, thyme leaves, parsley and stir well , then stir in the flour and cook for a few minutes then reduce the heat and add enough cider to cover, stirring to create a smooth gravy. Transfer everything to a casserole dish at this stage. Cover with a lid and cook for 1 – 1.1/2 hours at 160 -180 C gas mark 3-4
Rest for half an hour or overnight as time allows

When ready to serve transfer the cooled pork to the pie dish. Put the sieved flour in a large bowl; add the suet, thyme leaves, chopped parsley, salt and black pepper. Mix and add the cold water and using the hands bring the ingredients together and roll into a neat ball. Flour the work surface, flatten the pastry and then roll out to fit the pie dish. Transfer the pastry and lay on top of the meat, sealing the edges and cook in a pre-heated oven 180 – 200 C gas mark 6 until the pastry is golden and the filling is bubbling hot – say 30 minutes.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

changing seasons - Pumpkin, prawn and fish curry

Autumn and winter bring many wonderful things to eat that compensate for the passing of summer. One of the most spectacular and colourful arrivals is the pumpkin in its many guises. The Cinderella coach of pumpkins makes the most dramatic of entrances at the end of October. This vegetable often of gargantuan proportions is more likely to be snapped up to become a lantern than lunch. However if you can find one of more moderate size – say a kilogramme in weight it is as delicious to eat as it is delightful to see twinkling on a doorstep.
Pumpkins are versatile; they lend themselves to sweet and savoury dishes. The flesh is watery when boiled or steamed and has to be squeezed dry, I therefore prefer to roast or micro-wave them. Pumpkin soup and roast pumpkin with root ginger are two of my favourites. In the US pumpkin pie plays an important role in the traditional Thanksgiving feast. In many Italian regions, pumpkin is used as part of an autumnal stuffing for tortelli and other filled pasta shapes. This fish stew from Cambodia combines, fish, prawns and pumpkin and is a rollercoaster of aroma, flavour, colour and texture guaranteed to raise the most flagging spirits during the change of seasons.
500 ml coconut cream
2 teaspoons chilli paste (add more if you like your curry highly spiced)
1 small jar lemongrass paste 90 g
½ teaspoon shrimp paste
1 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon palm sugar (or Demerara sugar)
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon chilli powder
2 heaped teaspoons turmeric
1 whole star anise or 1 teaspoon of ground star anise
½ teaspoon ground coriander
500 ml fish stock
1 small pumpkin – weight 1 kg
300 g whiting – skin on - cut into 2 cm strips
400 g raw shell-on prawns
Small bunch of fresh coriander

Put half the coconut cream in a large saucepan, rinse out the carton with 125 ml of hot water and add this to the pan; add all the spices and flavourings, whisk well and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes for the aromas to blend, add the stock, increase the heat and boil for five minutes.
While the sauce is cooking, cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds and cut into large wedges. You only need 500 – 600 g of the pumpkin flesh. Put on a plate, cover with cling film and put in a microwave oven on high for 3 - 6 minutes, at which point the pumpkin should still be firm but easy to cut away from the skin. Leave until cool enough to handle and then cut the pumpkin flesh from the skin and transfer onto kitchen paper to drain. When cold cut into 2 cm strips and salt lightly.
When the sauce has boiled for five minutes, reduce the heat to medium and add the prawns and the pumpkin and cook for 3 – 4 minutes, after two minutes add the fish and cook until the fish is just cooked and the prawns have turned pink. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the fish, prawns and pumpkin then set on one side.
Increase the heat and cook the sauce until reduce by half.
Reduce the heat again and whisk in the remaining coconut cream, return the fish to the pan and reheat gently.
Stand for ten minutes before serving.
Serve topped with fresh coriander or flat leaf parsley and boiled rice on the side.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Kanpai: a toast to recovery

It is coming up to the six-month anniversary of the horrific tsunami that hit Japan in March. For days the media seemed to speak of nothing else and then all fell silent. We were left to guess at how the Japanese were coping with the aftermath.
Last week the Embassy of Japan in London hosted the IWC award-winning sake tasting event to support the Kuramotos –the sake brewers- and those affected by the disaster. Ambassador Hayashi spoke movingly about the road to recovery and the support from around the world.
The evening started with a traditional sake ceremony and a toast. Kanpai! One of the producers representing the affected region lost more than 10,000 bottles. The walls of the brewery collapsed and machinery broke down. Amid numerous aftershocks they like many others are rising out of the debris to rebuild their business.
I started by tasting the “champion” sake made by Fukuchiyo Shuzo – Nabeshima Daiginjo a fortified brew, served cold; it was light, yet pleasingly flavourful. I went on to try their Tokubetsu Junmai – a pure rice sake; fresh tasting with underlying richness. Sake is wonderfully savoury and leaves a lingering umami aroma. Some varieties of sake are warmed before consumption but be warned warmed sake produces a mild buzz faster than sake served cold.
Sake is brewed using long grained, starch-rich, sake rice varieties. The rice is milled to a high starch nub. The starch is converted to sugar and then the sugar to alcohol at low temperature over a long period of time; resulting in high alcohol content. The Sake is then heated to kill the bacteria. How it is heated determines the taste. Togi – master brewer – Hitoshi Tsuschiya told me what distinguishes a Sake. “climate, water and the knowledge and expertise of the master brewer. His family had been making premium sake for 120 years.
Shimi saba – pickled mackerel
Sake is served in tiny drinking vessels with food. In Japan fish is served raw, sashimi style but mackerel is always pickled. When you make this recipe why not try a premium, pure rice, junmai Sake.

1 good size mackerel, sea bass, herring or seabream
Use one heaped teaspoon of coarse sea salt to 150 g of filleted mackerel.
1 bottle of mirrin
1 bottle of rice vinegar
fresh ginger root

1 x 250 ml preserving jar, washed in hot soapy water and dried in a warm oven until required.

Ask your fishmonger to fillet the fish for you. Run your fingers over the cut surfaces to check for pin bones and use a tweezers to remove them. Trim any ragged edges from the fish fillets and snip off any fins.
Lay the fillets out on a non metallic tray skin side down and sprinkle with salt, use less salt at the tail end of the fish where the flesh is thinner and more salt where the flesh is thicker. Leave over night.

Rinse the fish fillets and pat dry leaving them for a few minutes in the air to dry.
Cut the fillets slightly on the diagonal creating rhomboids 1- 2 cm long. And pack them into a sterilised glass preserving jar with a seal.

Top up with equal quantities of mirrin and rice vinegar and add a scraping of ginger root, say half a teaspoon. Seal the jar and leave in the fridge for a week.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Laying something by - green tomato spiced pickle



As we come to the end of the summer it is time to get out the preserving pots, pans and jars to make pickles and chutneys and stock up our cupboards for the winter. Once upon time it would also have been time to start thinking about laying meat down for the winter.
Curing meat at home had become a thing of the past but in recent years there has been a renaissance of interest and small producers of cured foods are popping up all over the country. There is James Swift at Trealy Farm who now makes a huge range of continental type dried cured meat and salamis. I popped over to his new production house in Wales recently and I was bowled over by the sweet scent and the sight of rows and rows of freshly cured meats hanging to dry: something I never imagined I would ever experience in this country. This year we are to hold the first British Charcuterie Festival in London; running from 28 – 30 October at the Festival Hall.
I shall be demonstrating at the festival and also teaching hands on curing at the Chef’s Room in November but I will also be holding monthly Curing classes from September to February at Hart’s Barn in the Forest of Dean featuring preserving, smoking, curing, Xmas gifts, French farmhouse and raw.

Sweet and sour spiced green tomato pickle
This recipe is a gift for anyone who is left with a glut of unripe tomatoes at the end of the season. It is unusual as it is made with slices of tomato that are cooked very gently, so they retain their shape and colour. It looks really nice on the plate and is delicious with cold cooked and cured meats, cheeses, eggs and English breakfast!

4 x 250g glass jars with lid, washed in soapy water, rinsed, drained and heated in a low oven

1 kg green tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 medium sized onions, thinly sliced
50 g fine sea salt
½ teaspoon whole cloves
½ teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon white peppercorns
½ tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
250 g light cane sugar
250 ml cider vinegar

Layer the sliced tomatoes and onions in a large bowl with salt and leave to stand overnight covered with a clean tea towel.
The following day drain off the salt water and carefully rinse the tomatoes in fresh water and leave to drain well then transfer to a preserving pan. Tie up the spices in a piece of muslin and put that in the pan. Add the vinegar.

Put the pan containing the ingredients on a medium heat and bring gently to simmering point, stirring regularly until the sugar has dissolved. Continue to simmer for 45 – 60 minutes until the vegetables are tender but still intact and the vinegar has become syrupy.

Do not leave the pickle unattended it is essential to stir the pan regularly otherwise the pickle will stick and burn.

Leave to rest, say 20 minutes before potting. Spoon the chutney into warm sterile pots and seal but first cover the surface of the pickle with discs of waxed paper. Leave to cool before labelling. Store in the dark for at least a month before opening!





Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Picnic perfect

August is upon us but there is still time and hopefully the weather to enjoy a few picnics. Whether it is at the heart of a simple family outing, devoured on a rug spread on the ground or the crowning glory of an outdoor festival, concert or special occasion, enjoyed in state with table, chairs and candelabra, a picnic is a memorable occasion and the perfect way to celebrate the summer.
A pie is always a favourite! A good quality pork pie with hard boiled eggs, carrot, celery and cucumber sticks, tomatoes, dips, cherries make light work of a picnic. However if you want to make something as a centre piece for a full-on eating al fresco experience try this simple to make but oh-so-impressive, layered salmon, prawn and potato file pie. It can be made in advance served hot, warm or cold.

Layered salmon, prawn and potato filo pie flavoured with tomato and basil serves 6-8
800 g (drained weight) canned tomatoes, drained, deseeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 x cm square dried chilli
500 g salmon fillet cut into domino sized pieces (skin discarded) and seasoned with salt and pepper
500 g new potatoes, boiled, cooled and sliced lengthways
100 – 150 g readymade basil pesto
6 large sheets of filo pastry
100 g butter, melted
200g cooked peeled prawns
Salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Springform cake tin, 22 cm
Preheat oven to 200C 400F gas 6
Heat enough olive oil to cover the base of a large sauce pan over medium heat, add the prepared tomatoes, garlic and chilli, reduce the heat to minimum, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir from time to time.. Mash the tomatoes to a pulp and stir in the salmon pieces and cook for a minute or two. Transfer the salmon and tomato sauce to a bowl to cool. Toss the sliced potato in the pesto to coat evenly.
Brush the base and sides of the cake tin with a little of the melted butter. Paint the first sheet of filo with melted butter and lay it across the cake tin to line the base and sides of the tin, leaving any excess hanging over the sides. Paint a second sheet of filo with butter and lay it at right angles to the first, smoothing it down to line the base and sides of the tin. There should now be equal overhang of filo all the way round the tin. Repeat this until all six sheets of pastry have been used up.
Cover the base of the filo lined tin with half the potatoes, then half the salmon in tomato sauce and then half the prawns. Make a second layer of each and then carefully fold the over-hang of filo over the filling. Paint butter over the top of the pie.
Set the tin containing the finished pie on a baking sheet and put it in the preheated oven and cook until golden brown, say 25 minutes.
Allow to cool a little before taking the pie out of the tin. If baking freshly to serve warm on a picnic leave the pie in the tin, wrap in a clean tea towel and a blanket to transport and transfer carefully to a serving plate on arrival. Otherwise leave to cool completely, wrap in foil and refrigerate until required. Don’t forget to take a sharp knife and platter for serving.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Never bored with broad beans

The broad bean is a funny thing, with its fur lined pod, a rather thick skin and a very distinctive flavour. It has a fairly short season – although having said that I did notice last year that it was around for rather longer than usual. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing because I love broad beans; as long as they are picked while still young and tender; otherwise they go tough. When I lived in Cornwall the pods were often harvested while little more than pea size and the whole thing, pod and baby beans cooked as one, like mange tout.
I like to think of the broad bean as being quintessentially English; it appears in our gardens at just the same moment that wild salmon comes into season and at the same time as the first waxy new potatoes are pulled. Add some rich made mayonnaise or hollandaise and you have a simple seasonal meal that is simply manna from heaven. However the Italians are rather partial to them too. They eat them raw with pecorino cheese (sublime) mix them into pesto and serve with gnocchi or stir them into pasta dishes. The Spanish toss them in fried, chopped, spicy, chorizo and the Turks make a gorgeous, slightly sweet hummus type puree to serve with flatbreads.
Some people like to skin the beans; the bean inside is a beautiful vibrant green colour – but take off that rather flabby dull green skin and the bean loses its character. Yes it is tenderer, yes it is sweeter, but I think the skin gives the bean a distinctive flavour and special texture. Boil in salted water and serve, drained with chopped mint or savory and melted butter or even a light bĂ©chamel sauce but best of all to my mind, toss them in olive oil and finely chopped flat leaf parsley, leave to cool a little and serve. Any leftovers can be added to salads.

Quills with broad beans, tomato, pecorino shards and flat leaf parsley

1.5 - 2 kg fresh young broad beans shelled
Bunch of spring onions, finely chopped
Handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
400 g whole tinned plum tomatoes, drained deseeded and chopped or fresh skinned ones.
500 g good quality quills
100 g grated pecorino cheese
100g pecorino cheese shavings
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and milled black pepper


Put a large pan of salted water on to boil.
Blanch the shelled beans in a small pan of boiling water for 2 or 3 minutes or until tender.
Cover the base of a large wok with extra virgin olive oil and put on medium heat, add the finely chopped spring onion and stir fry for a minute, add the shelled beans, the mustard, salt and pepper and stir fry for another minute. Then add the prepared tomato and half the chopped parsley and cook to allow the flavours to blend – say 2-3 minutes.
When the large pan of water comes to the boil, add the pasta and cook according to the recommended cooking time on the packet. When ready strain into a large bowl.
Add the broad bean and tomato sauce, half the grated pecorino cheese, half the chopped parsley and mix well. Scatter the pecorino shavings and the remaining parsley on top and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil if liked.
Serve at once with extra grated pecorino cheese.

Monday, 23 May 2011

win a course at the Chef's Room fish and cookery school

Book a course during and June or July and win a free place on the course of yhour choice later in the year. www.thechefsroom.co.uk

Lamb is not just for Easter - serve it all summer long!

You can pretty much guarantee that the new season’s lamb will be in pride of place on Easter Sunday in the form of a magnificent roast leg or shoulder but then as the year progresses into summer it tends to take a back seat. Lamb is tender; lamb is succulent, easy to cook and if you marinade it first , it won’t take long to cook, even if you like it well done.
Choose cutlets, chops or steaks for the char-grill, barbeque, grill or frying-pan. If time is not an issue slow roast lamb can be a summertime feast in your garden. Chop shoulder into portion-size chunks add some tropical fruit and marinade with Indian spices and roast quickly in the oven. Cut shoulder into smaller pieces and marinade in lemon and fennel seeds, thread onto skewers and grill or simply seal and cook in light tomato sauce with peas.
However you cook your lamb, serve it with lightly cooked new vegetables such as broad beans, peas, artichokes, runner beans, courgettes cabbage and potatoes as they come into season. Serve the vegetables hot, tossed in melted butter with mint or thyme, warm in a French dressing with dill or tarragon or cold in mayonnaise with chives or basil.

Sicilian Style lamb cutlets with lemon and garlic

Some years ago I spent Easter in Palermo with my family and curious to know how the locals spent Easter Sunday I was told they escape to the woods outside the town for a cook out. We had lunch in a beautiful seafood restaurant and then took to the woods. It was amazing – we think we love the countryside but there were families everywhere, people were as thick on the ground as the trees. Smoke wafted everywhere and the woods wer heavy with the fragrant scent of roasting lamb.

1 kg thin cut lamb cutlets
6 cloves garlic
Juice of two 2 lemons
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf – torn
Freshly ground black pepper
To Serve
100 g wild rocker
Coarse sea salt
Lemon wedges
Serves 4 – 6

Put the lamb cutlets in a large plastic freezer bag, and then add the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, bay leaf and plenty of black pepper. Seal tightly and leave to stand for 1 – 24 hours – as time allows, turning from time to time to allow even distribution of the marinade. Marinate at room temperature for short periods of around an hour – otherwise put the bag in the fridge.
When ready to cook, drain the cutlets and reserve the marinade. Put the cutlets on a pre-heated griddle, grill pan or barbeque and cook for 5 – 30. This will depend on three things - how you like your lamb cooked - the thickness or thinness of the cut - how hot your cooking pan is. Turn the lamb as necessary, basting with the reserved marinade.
Spread the rocket onto a large serving platter and arrange the lamb cutlets on top, sprinkle with salt and serve with lemon wedges.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Lamb is not just for Easter - serve it all summer long!

You can pretty much guarantee that the new season’s lamb will be in pride of place on Easter Sunday in the form of a magnificent roast leg or shoulder but then as the year progresses into summer it tends to take a back seat. Lamb is tender; lamb is succulent, easy to cook and if you marinade it first , it won’t take long to cook, even if you like it well done.
Choose cutlets, chops or steaks for the char-grill, barbeque, grill or frying-pan. If time is not an issue slow roast lamb can be a summertime feast in your garden. Chop shoulder into portion-size chunks add some tropical fruit and marinade with Indian spices and roast quickly in the oven. Cut shoulder into smaller pieces and marinade in lemon and fennel seeds, thread onto skewers and grill or simply seal and cook in light tomato sauce with peas.
However you cook your lamb, serve it with lightly cooked new vegetables such as broad beans, peas, artichokes, runner beans, courgettes cabbage and potatoes as they come into season. Serve the vegetables hot, tossed in melted butter with mint or thyme, warm in a French dressing with dill or tarragon or cold in mayonnaise with chives or basil.

Sicilian Style lamb cutlets with lemon and garlic

Some years ago I spent Easter in Palermo with my family and curious to know how the locals spent Easter Sunday I was told they escape to the woods outside the town for a cook out. We had lunch in a beautiful seafood restaurant and then took to the woods. It was amazing – we think we love the countryside but there were families everywhere, people were as thick on the ground as the trees. Smoke wafted everywhere and the woods wer heavy with the fragrant scent of roasting lamb.

1 kg thin cut lamb cutlets
6 cloves garlic
Juice of two 2 lemons
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf – torn
Freshly ground black pepper
To Serve
100 g wild rocker
Coarse sea salt
Lemon wedges
Serves 4 – 6

Put the lamb cutlets in a large plastic freezer bag, and then add the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, bay leaf and plenty of black pepper. Seal tightly and leave to stand for 1 – 24 hours – as time allows, turning from time to time to allow even distribution of the marinade. Marinate at room temperature for short periods of around an hour – otherwise put the bag in the fridge.
When ready to cook, drain the cutlets and reserve the marinade. Put the cutlets on a pre-heated griddle, grill pan or barbeque and cook for 5 – 30. This will depend on three things - how you like your lamb cooked - the thickness or thinness of the cut - how hot your cooking pan is. Turn the lamb as necessary, basting with the reserved marinade.
Spread the rocket onto a large serving platter and arrange the lamb cutlets on top, sprinkle with salt and serve with lemon wedges.

April 2011: No apology for asparagus

I offer no apology for waxing lyrical yet again about the new season’s asparagus. But then I would never dream of buying the stuff when it is imported and therefore now is the time it should be welcomed into season by a fanfare of trumpets.

Once of course we had to wait until much later for the magic to begin but with today’s poly tunnel farming that is old hat. A bit of me, the traditional bit, would be quite happy to wait for the true season because forced crops are often disappointing but two weeks ago I walked into Truffles and there before me on the floor was a basket of paper wrapped bunches of asparagus proclaiming “grown by the Chin family in the Wye Valley.” Short stubby straight spears with pert tips and freshly cut stems – expensive yes – but unmistakeably delicious, unmistakably tender. I only had to look at it to know – and this kind of asparagus needs very little cooking and no frills. Simply snap off the ends plunge into simmering water (a frying pan is useful if the spears are long) and cook for a few minutes. Use the prongs of a fork to test for tenderness. Drain carefully and add melted butter, olive oil and Parmesan or grated bottarga or serve with a lightly boiled or poached egg and use the spears as soldiers, alternatively refresh in cold water and wrap in slices of cured ham, dress with vinaigrette or serve in a simple starter salad.

Here in the heart of the Wye Valley we grow the most wonderful asparagus and in Ross, shops such as Truffles and Spar stock it regularly through the season. I know one chef-patron working in Wales who drives here to the farm everyday to pick up his quota for the restaurant because if he buys it from his wholesaler in Wales it goes first to London and then back again before he can get his hands on it. The quality of asparagus depends so much on freshness.

As the season progresses try serving it in a risotto or with pasta. This is a favourite of mine.

500 g ridged pasta quills
250 g asparagus spears
4 eggs
125 ml single cream
3 tablespoons grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
Black pepper
50 g butter
Small bunch of flat leafed parsley finely chopped

Plunge the pasta quills into plenty of boiling salted water and cook until tender (see timing on packet)
Cook the asparagus as above and cut into 2-3 cm lengths.
Put the eggs in a large bowl (big enough to serve the pasta in) and beat lightly, add the cream, the cheese, plenty of black pepper and the butter.
Strain the pasta when cooked al dente and add to the dish containing the egg mixture, add the asparagus pieces and the chopped parsley, stir well and serve at once.

March 2011: Curing

Since my most recent book Cured came out last year I have been inundated with requests to do Curing workshops from my own cookery school - The Chef's Room - in Wales to the Abergavenny Food Festival - the Monmouth Women's Restival and various venues in London. The interest and enthusiasm for curing knows no bounds and I have just heard that we are to have our very own British curing festival in London this autumn which is amazing and so exciting.
Many people ask me exactly what is curing – curing is a collective name for all forms of preserving; drying, salting, smoking, spicing, marinating, potting, pickling and raw. It is a subject as old as man himself – who even as a hunter gatherer faced the eternal problem of how to store food in times of plenty for leaner times.
What I love about curing is that it is culinary alchemy. It is like turning base metal into gold. For example a good jam captures the essence of the main ingredient. The flavour is intensified and takes on something of its own. This is true of every kind of preserving; think salmon then think about smoked salmon, think beef then think pastrami, and think pork think prosciutto. Curing is exciting and addictive and best of all it is easy to do; it uses few ingredients and simple techniques, but it takes its time. This is true slow food. Once you have mastered the basics you can play around with ingredients and create all kinds of new flavours.
You may say, why cure now that we have fridges and freezers. As I have already said curing intensifies, deepens and enriches the flavour and offers room for experimentation. Curing also prolongs the life of meat, fish and vegetables and once you have cured your loin of pork, smoked your salmon, potted your rabbit these delicious dishes keep really well which means you always have something delicious in the fridge to offer friends or simply to treat yourself with.
Like making preserves you need top quality seasonal ingredients. Let the seasons work for you and don’t rush things, be organised, start with small cuts of meat and fish until you have perfected the curer’s craft. Remember this is not science, there are rules but you must use some common sense. Temperature and humidity will affect timing, each piece of meat or fish will respond differently. There is much to learn from experience
Curing is liberating – we have all become slaves to the last minute meal but this puts great pressure on the cook. Gravadlax may take three days to make but it takes only a few minutes and a few ingredients to prepare – add boiled potatoes and a dill sauce and at the end of it you have a meal fit for a king with no hassle what so ever. You just need to think about it in advance.
One last word Curing is not only about preserving lumps of meat and fish; it allows you to make all kinds of delicate dishes on a very domestic level. Salting and spicing takes roast pheasant to another level. Confits de canard, transfers a few inexpensive stringy duck legs into a melt in the mouth treat. Smoking a trout on the top of your kitchen stove and eating it hot is sublime and the secret is simply to think ahead.
Cured slow techniques for enhancing meat fish fruit and vegetables
By Lindy Wildsmith.

Cured was shortlisted along with 6 other books for the prestigious Andre Simon award and is also shortlisted for the Guild of Food Writers "Food book of the year"

February 2011: Morning Glory

Cambodia is a wonderful country with enchanting people and an unbearably sad past when the Khmer Rouge rampaged and wiped out academics and with them, much of the Khmeri culture, right down to the food. Only now is the country beginning to find itself again.
I arrived in Cambodia from Bangkok where I had enjoyed wonderful food on every street corner and market stall; familiar food, fragrant with lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, chillies, nahm pla - fish sauce, palm sugar, ginger, chilies, Thai basil which has a sweet anise flavour, coconut milk, garlic, green papaya and limes. I was not sure what waited; would the food be more the same or would it different?
Sandwiched as Cambodia is between Vietnam and Thailand, one thing I was sure of was that I would not be disappointed. There are many cross-over dishes and many of the ingredients are the same but the richly sweet coconut cream is tempered by tamarind and bitter leaves, tiny round pea-like sweetly sour aubergines bob on the surface of curries, galangal replaces ginger, bunches of soft green peppercorns replace chilies and morning glory replaces broccoli.
Market stalls crowded with decorative piles of colourful perfumed fruit, from the idiosyncratic magenta skinned dragon fruit with its dalmatian black spotted flesh and ruby red hairy lycees and the stinky custard durian to the more familiar but never sweeter, never juicier pineapples and mangos and creamy bananas.
There are stalls with heaps of salads and vegetables on the floor which ooze that just picked sensation. Stalls where you can find every kind of seafood and where a fish still flips around on the slab as the clever comes down on it head. Stalls where women work endlessly, pounding chicken or shrimp or fish for housewives and vendors to buy and take home. Stalls where there are umpteen sacks and varieties of rice. People teem everywhere, jostling, pushing, diving and darting about their business. Tiny traditional fast food stands are crowded with people eating. Wherever you go wherever you look in every corner people are eating.

Sliced aubergine with minced pork, coriander and green peppercorns

4 smallish aubergines

4 tablespoon sunflower oil
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon green pepper corns
500 g minced pork
2 tablespoons palm sugar or muscovado sugar
1 tablespoon prik nam plas
8 tablespoons oyster sauce
100 ml chicken stock or water
4 spring onions finely chopped
Fresh coriander leaves
Salt
Peppe

Put the aubergines on a roasting tray in a hot oven, 200 C and cook until tender say 30 minutes. Leave until cool enough to slice.
Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat and add the garlic and chilli and stir fry until fragrant. Increase the heat; add the minced pork and stir fry for 5 minutes or until browned. Add the sugar, the fish and oyster sauces and cook for a minute. Pull off the heat, stir in the spring onions and stir well. Taste and add salt and pepper.
Arrange the prepared aubergine on the base of a serving dish, spoon the minced pork over the top and scatter the coriander over the top. Serve with steamed rice.

Watercress: super food or a bit on the side? January 2011

Watercress has a distinctive peppery yet refreshing taste and a bright green colour guaranteed to cheer up the most tired palate. It lends itself perfectly to salads, sandwiches, sauces and soups but more often than not it is served as a garnish and often ends up left on the side of the plate.
Watercress contains more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, and more folate than bananas. It has high levels of antioxidants and as such increases the ability of cells to resist the damage to their DNA, helping protect against cell changes that can lead to cancer.
In Victorian London watercress was the original street food. It arrived in Covent Garden by rail. Street sellers bunched it in the early morning in time for the “mechanic’s breakfast”, then swarmed onto the streets crying “Fresh wo-orter-creases”; customers ate it in the hand like an ice cream cone. It was eaten in sandwiches for breakfast and in poorer homes on its own; earning itself the name “poor man’s bread”. Today it is more likely to be sold in anonymous salad bags but when I see it for sale in bunches I find it totally irresistible and take a leaf out of the Victorian’s book and munch it then and there.
Of late, watercress’s more glamorous Italian cousin rocket has stolen its fire to become the staple of the contemporary kitchen as a cushion for meat and fish dishes, an overlay for cured meats and for peppering up salads. The two plants are equally versatile and both are deliciously peppery but watercress has yet another dimension. Watercress’s stalks are succulent and cool and the leaves are tender and add a velvety texture to soups and sauces.
Whiz watercress and add to quark or mayonnaise to make a dip cum sauce or egg Mayo; stir last minute into eggy or creamy pasta dishes, stews or casserole to add vigour and freshness or make a delicious reviving soup to invigorate your tired January senses.

Invigorating winter watercress soup serves 4
4 shallots, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
½ nutmeg grated, plus extra to serve
100ml white wine
400 ml vegetable or chicken stock
250 g watercress leaves and stems
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste
200 ml single cream or yoghurt or extra stock (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil for frying.

Heat enough olive oil to cover the base of a frying pan, add shallots, garlic and nutmeg and fry over low heat until the onions are soft and gently caramelised. Give this plenty of time for the flavours to intensify. Quickly add the watercress and wilt. Then add the wine and stock and bring to the boil. Transfer to a blender and whiz until smooth. Adjust consistency with cream, yogurt or stock. Taste for seasoning and add salt and black pepper to please. Serve reheated with a grating of nutmeg and hot crusty bread.

The epitome of Christmas - December 2010

The Mandarin is a small jewel of a fruit with a fragrance that is the epitome of Christmas. Once upon a time it only appeared in our shops around the festive season; we called it a tangerine then; sold by the dozen arranged in pretty flat waxy cardboard boxes. The lid was tied down and the anticipation of slipping the knot and lifting the lid, to reveal the foil wrapped bright orange fruit inside cushioned with crinkles of tissue paper was part of the general excitement of the festive season: a far cry from the heaps of fruit sold for months on end in our shops today.
Mandarin was a nickname given to a loose-skinned orange-like fruit Citrus reticulata that arrived in this country from China at the beginning of the nineteenth century and remains today a useful general name for a wide range of similar fruits like the Clementine and Satsuma. They are at their peak at this time of year, so sweet, juicy, refreshing and easy to eat and remain synonymous with Christmas. Tied onto a Christmas tree with bows, arranged formally in a pyramid with bay leaves or simply tipped into a fruit bowl they “deck the halls” of homes up and down the country.
Peeled and rid of their pith they sparkle on the festive table. Served whole or sliced, either caramelised or marinated in sugar and white rum they make a reviving finale to a rich winter meal. Don’t throw the skin away – dry it in a low oven or warm airing cupboard, grind it and add to casseroles and marinades or simply chop it finely and add to stir-fries. Oh and yes the skins make the perfect receptacle for a mandarin sorbet.

Sliced mandarins with pomegranate jewels and maraschino
Serves 8
16 mandarins, peeled, pith removed with a sharp knife and sliced thinly
3 level tablespoons of caster sugar
3 tablespoons of maraschino
1 pomegranate, cut into quarters - scrape out the seeds and discard the pith

Put the prepared mandarin slices in a large shallow glass bowl, sprinkle with sugar and maraschino or other white liqueur, Cast the pomegranate jewels over the top and leave for an hour or two.