Filleting Wrasse – Knowing this could save you a lot of money

Wrasse and Bream

Look at the two fish above.  Fairly similar size and weight, both caught within the last 24 hours, so about as fresh as you can get. But the price difference between the two is huge – the bream at the bottom cost £6.51 ($10.22), while the wrasse was £1.34 ($2.10)!  And bream isn’t really an expensive fish – if we were comparing Monkfish, it would be around 10 times more expensive per kg than the wrasse. Continue reading

Using Dried Chillies

Dried Guindilla and Nora Chillies

A friend who makes chilli sauces once gave me a jar full of various exotic dried chillies, then gave me a concerned look and said “You do know how to use dried chillies, don’t you?”. I snorted and rolled my eyes a few times to imply that, yes, of course I did, how could anyone not know, but then sheepishly admitted, “No”.

And to be fair, most people would probably look at a dried chilli and make very little connection between this and a finished meal, but using dried chillies in cooking gives you a great resouce that unlike fresh chillies is always available.  Some chillies such as Chipotle (dried and smoked jalapeno chillies) can just be thrown in the pot whole with other ingredients and removed at the end, but traditional Spanish chillies such as the Guindilla and Nora from Brindisa Spanish Foods in the photo above require some simple preparation before use, as follows: Continue reading

Spring Asparagus

Asparagus

Tender, juicy and full of flavour, the UK grows asparagus that is some of the best in the world. 

There is perhaps no greater ringing endorsement of spring than the bunches of asparagus that start popping up in farm shops around the country in late April.  Even the supermarkets get in on the act, and the miserable little South American tips are replaced by fat bundles of green spears emblazoned with the Union Jack.  But there is good reason to put in more than the usual effort when seeking out this British champion.  Asparagus contains natural sugars that start to deplete as soon as it is harvested; it is this troublesome characteristic that have led many to take the kitchen to the field, allowing them to cook it immediately over a portable stove.  Such effort is probably beyond most of us (unless you are growing your own), but with a little local research you can get close to this ideal. Continue reading

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

The first show of these cheery green stalks with their flowery purple heads is the sign that summer is on its way, and the stubborn root vegetables that have been squatting in the vegetable drawer all winter will soon be replaced with an array of brightly coloured and richly flavoured British produce.

Purple sprouting broccoli reaches a peak around mid April – it’s available from March but the stems can be a little woody and may require some rather fiddly peeling.  By April, they’re tender all the way down to the end, and require delicate treatment and careful cooking, followed by eating with much gusto and slurping. Continue reading

Wild Garlic and Nettle Soup

Nettle and Wild Garlic SoupThere’s an obvious factor that discourages most people from snacking on nettles, but be assured; once cooked, the sting has gone and all that remains is a pleasant spinach like vegetable rich in vitamins and taste.  Spring is the best time to pick nettles when the new growth has appeared, so they make an ideal pairing with the wild garlic that appears around the same time. Much of the wild garlic will be getting a little old now (try to avoid flowering plants), but if you reach through the large outer leaves you’ll find some small young leaves that are perfect. Continue reading

A Life in Food – Ingredients – Salted Anchovies

Salted Anchovy next to an anchovy in oil

An unhappy brown anchovy in oil next to it’s bigger, pinker salted Bay of Biscay cousin

Opinions on anchovies are pretty much polarised – either loved to the point of obsession, or reviled and grimace-inducing at the mere mention.  I fall firmly into the first camp, but I really believe that most people can enjoy anchovies at least as an ingredient to bring out the flavour of other foods. Continue reading

Wild Mushroom & Madeira Sauce

 Wild Mushroom & Madeira Sauce

I feel somewhat guilty about calling this ‘wild’ mushroom sauce, having read Mark Williams post on his excellent and informative site Galloway Wild Foods about restaurants habitually claiming any remotely unusual mushroom ingredient to be ‘wild’ when they are no more wild than than a punnet of mushrooms from the local supermarket.  I accept it entirely – I’m only adding on the wild bit because it sounds better than ‘mushroom and madeira sauce’.   Shameless really, though I do recommend if you can actually find some wild mushrooms this autumn then use them instead of the shitake. I tried it with dried porcini but they took over the flavour too much, which is a shame as then I could have legitimately called it wild mushroom sauce…

Anyway, guilt aside, it’s a lovely rich yet light (is that possible?) sauce that would go fabulously with lamb or as a gravy for a vegetarian sunday roast.  This recipe is dedicated to @moretomushrooms and their hard work throughout October, the month of mushrooms!

Ingredients

1 finely chopped shallot
1/2 finely chopped carrot
same volume of finely chopped celery
small cube of butter and 2tsp olive oil
1tsp sea salt
1 tbsp worcester sauce (vegetarian and gluten free version if needed)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
500ml vegetable stock
1.5 tbsp cider vinegar
2 bay leaves
2 ‘sprigs’ of sage
200g shitake mushrooms (wild looking ones)
butter and olive oil
salt and pepper
juice of one lemon
100ml of madeira
1 tsp of cornflour
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

  1. Mix madeira and cornflour thoroughly and set aside.
  2. Lightly saute first 5 ingredients in small saucepan for 10 minutes
  3. Add stock, worcester sauce, balsamic vinegar, sage and bay leaves.
  4. Cook mixture until reduced by 1/3, add cider vinegar, continue to cook for 5 minutes
  5. Meanwhile, tear shitake mushrooms into 3 pieces per mushroom,
  6. Heat small cube of butter and olive oil in pan then add the mushrooms. cook for 5 minutes, turning only a couple of times.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste, squeeze of lemon juice, then add the reduced stock, and the madeira/cornflour mix, check and adjust seasoning.
  8. Add parsley just before serving and stir.  Serve with lamb or roasted portabello mushrooms.

Wild Food – Gourmet Foraging

Shaggy Ink Cap

Foraging can be a journey of delight and disappointment – my highlights include finding a glut of field mushrooms on my doorstep (literally, I trip over them when I leave the house), while 2 hours of fruitlessly pouring salt into razor clam burrows in force 9 gales on Padstow beach is a memorable low point.  But over time, just an awareness that there is food all around can introduce you to a world of free gastronomic delights straight from the source.

The act of ‘foraging’ is something that appeals to some and repels others.  The term itself is hardly inspiring, it conjures up images of someone frantically looking through a drawer for batteries or perhaps a misplaced safety pin.  For me, as for many, the interest started with the gift of the book ‘Food for Free’ by Richard Mabey.  This is a great book that will not only give you the means, but also the motivation to find those hidden treats all around us – and with honest appraisals of the culinary potential for each. The book is broken down by season, and also gives you a general idea of the kind of locations to look in.  There is a great section on mushrooms too showing the main European mushrooms of choice, together with any potential opportunities for an upset stomach or early demise.

 rock samphire Watercress
Rock Samphire & Watercress

Autumn is perhaps the peak time for foraging as the mushroom season comes into full swing.  Mushroom hunting in the UK and USA is much less popular than in many European countries where it is fundamental to the cuisine of the country.  In France, all chemists offer the service of identifying collected wild mushrooms, and the incredible Italian white truffles exchange hands for huge amounts of money in the November auction in Alba.  Admittedly there are higher numbers of fungus poisonings in these countries, but these are often due to tourists seeing locals picking mushrooms and trying their hand themselves.  If you try to use three guides to identify your mushrooms, stick to the easily identifiable (most of these make the best eating anyway) and don’t eat it if you’re in any doubt, then you’ll be fine.  I use Richard Mabey’s book, the highly entertaining River Cottage mushroom handbook, and the very detailed online Rogers Mushrooms guide (the latter can be a little overwhelming; usually I manage to narrow my find down to about 40 potential species).

Agaricus Bitorquis, 'Pavement Mushroom'

So, in the interest of spreading interest in this joyous pastime, I have produced a public map on Google maps showing my most interesting finds and the exact locations for each.  I’ll continue to update this, and as it’s public, I’m hoping that others will do the same.  This may be tantamount to asking people to tell everyone where they keep their pot of gold, and I hope that others will use the maps for general interest rather than financial gain, but I think that a renewed interest in this subject could help not only to broaden peoples attitudes to wild food, but also provoke action to protect the habitats of these increasingly rare finds.


Click Here to view ‘Alifeinfood.com Wild Food Locations’
in Google Maps and add your own locations.

My philosophy is that you benefit most from supplementing your diet with choice wild food, rather than existing entirely from it, Ray Mears style.  There are numerous foods that can be found in the wild that can be eaten, but relatively few of them are actually worth seeking out – familiarise yourself with the best, try to be on the lookout at all times rather than setting out to find them, and you’ll get great enjoyment (and even save yourself some money).  From common grocery items (e.g. thyme, rocket, fennel, mint) to items not out of place on Michellin starred menus (chanterelle mushrooms, porcini, samphire), there is much to be found.  For mushrooms, my tip is to look in car parks.  They always seem to have the best ones (all the mushroom photos on this page are from car parks), and are most ignored. You might not have too much luck in multi-storeys though…

Twitter: @foragerltd, @markwildfood, @WildMushroomMan
Links: http://www.wildmushroomsonline.co.uk/
http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/
Also, a general Google search will likely bring up foraging courses in your area.

Gluten Free Hoisin Sauce Recipe

This is a work in progress recipe, I make it every so often in place of hoisin sauce in other recipes.  I’ve followed various recipes and found I’ve always needed to adjust them.  This is dedicated to @peanutbutterboy, someone who knows the potential for peanut butter to enrich our lives…

3 tbsp peanut butter
2 tbsp tamari (gluten free) or dark soya sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar/honey
1 tbsp rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar if not available)
2 tsp sesame seed oil
Tabasco sauce (to taste)

Mix together thoroughly – start with peanut butter and mix a little liquid in at a time to stop it being lumpy. Experiment with more peanut butter, more sugar or vinegar or soy sauce until the taste is right. Everyone let me know how you get on!

Riverford Farm – Fresh, Tasty & Organic Autumn Vegetables

Riverford Farm vegetables; butternut squash, sweet potatoes, multicoloured

On Saturday we schlepped across the countryside for a much-anticipated trip to Riverford Field Kitchen near Buckfastleigh in Devon, and learned two things in the process: one, however tempting it is to cut across Dartmoor, don’t bother – the roads get curlier and slimmer the further on you go, and as beautiful as the scenery is, it does not make for relaxed driving.  Two – if you miss the sign with the lorry on it and take the sign for the farm shop, you’ve gone too far.

However, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the small but perfectly formed Riverford Farm Shop needs to be seen to be believed – a huge array of vegetables toppling over each other and begging to be popped into a basket and driven straight home.  We spent a frantic 5 minutes gathering armfuls of candy-like tomatoes and chillies, luscious green tuscan kale and swiss chard, spiky romanesco cauliflowers, squashes, sweet potatoes and sweetcorn, and still had to leave behind mountains of other tempting morsels too numerous to mention.  Even for an hour and half drive (curly roads or not), I can’t wait for the return visit.

And the field kitchen?  Just, amazing.  A real celebration of food, presented in beautiful surroundings by a team of people who have the desire and the ability to give you one of the best meals you’ve ever eaten.  We were treated to guinea fowl on a bed of kale with cannellini beans, romanesco cauliflower and fennel with walnut dressing, beetroot and squash salad, swiss chard gratin and an aubergine and tomato bake.  Perhaps the descriptions don’t really do justice to the food, though to be honest if you are looking for a review there are plenty more authoritative critics than I who have sung its praises. The freshest ingredients, produced with love and care, cooked with respect and expertise, and served humbly and unpretentiously.  I can’t think of anything better.  The whole experience was surreally but perfectly framed by a large group of local apple growers, young and old alike, engaged in the frantic but efficient process of pressing and bottling apple juice on a huge old press in front of the restaurant.

Needless to say, after following up the above with freshly prepared mango pavlova and baked cheesecake (plus the sticky toffee pudding my fellow diner graciously offered me), we left with taut trousers and big smiles, only to attempt to replicate the experience the next day with a huge sunday lunch made from the vegetables you see in the picture (and more!); creamy leeks with mature cheddar, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted butternut and onion squash with chilli and sage, heaps of greens (chard, tuscan kale and purple kale) with caper and tarragon dressing all washed down with a rich wild mushroom & madeira sauce.  At some point I’ll upload some recipes for these delights, but for now I need to find some elastic to sow into these shrinking jeans…