How to Portion a Chicken in Five Minutes Using Only Kitchen Scissors

I’m reading a book called ‘The Undercover Economist’ by Tim Harford. It’s very much in the gist of books like Freakonomics, brimming with anecdotes that cause one eyebrow to raise, beard stroking to commence and the reader to emit tuneful humming noises. The book recounts the never-ending ambition of big corporations to find new and inventive ways of drilling more money out of consumers when they least expect it. It makes some points that are almost terrifyingly obvious, and yet that most of us get duped by every day. I work with businesses accounts, finances, revenue, profit margins and other thrilling conversation-killers on a regular basis and yet I was genuinely shocked to realise that it doesn’t actually cost a cafe an extra 50 pence to pile squirty cream and marshmallows on to my hot chocolate.

As corporations go, supermarkets are a particularly wiley bunch, happily embracing organic, fair trade and high welfare food as they can jack up the price well beyond what the genuine additional cost is. When you pick up one of these ‘ethical’ choices, you’re telling them that you are happy to pay more, not just the actual extra cost, but much more. Continue reading

Cold Smoking

Home Smoked Cheese

As far as I’m concerned, everything tastes better smoked.  Meat, fish, cheese, chillies, salt (weird but true), shoes, car, cat, smoke it all I say.  From a handful of woodchips chucked on the barbecue, to a tea smoked chicken breast, I’ve always loved finding ways of adding smokey flavours to food.  But this only covers cooked or ‘hot smoked’ food.  What about reproducing the delicate flavours of smoked trout, or smoked cheese?  These foods are produced through ‘cold smoking’, whereby smoke is produced away from the food and funnelled through so the temperature of the food remains low (usually less than 30 degrees C).  As it sounds, this usually requires complicated and expensive equipment, but not always… Continue reading

Chargrilled Tuscan Lamb

Chargrilled Tuscan Lamb

Tradition dictates that barbecuing is a summer sport, but the method is ideally suited to cooking throughout the year.  Admittedly, you’re unlikely to get much success from an open barbecue in the driving rain, but a kettle bbq can account for most weather conditions, and effectively gives you an entire additional oven for cooking in.  Believe it or not, our Christmas lunch joints have been cooked on the barbecue for three years running now.

This is a beautiful, simple recipe that is ideally done over charcoal, but also works under a grill (broiler for our American friends).  It is a variation on a recipe from Maxine Clark’s fantastic book ‘Flavours of Tuscany’, which gives a range of traditional Tuscan recipes with an exciting modern twist.  Maxine is a cooking school teacher in Tuscany, so she knows her stuff.

Ingredients

2 kg leg of lamb
4 crushed garlic cloves
4 tbsp chopped rosemary
200 ml extra virgin olive oil
salt + pepper

to serve:
chopped Italian (flat leaf) parsley and good extra virgin olive oil

– Ask your butcher to bone and butterfly the lamb, or do it yourself by cutting towards the bone where it is closest to the skin, then trimming closely around the bone until you can remove it.

– The meat should lie fairly flat – place it skin side down and score through any areas that are thicker to even out the thickness, and remove excess fat.

– Mix all other ingredients together except for the salt and pepper and rub into the cut side of the meat.  Season with pepper only:

marinading lamb– Leave to marinate for a minimum of 1 hour or ideally overnight. Remove from the marinade and reserve any left over marinade for basting.

– If you have one, put the lamb into a square grill rack, which should allow for easier turning and control flare-ups:

grilling lamb

– Cook for around 30-40 min each side, basting every so often and turning regularly to ensure the surface does not burn.

– Once cooked, season with salt and rest in a warm place before slicing, then dress with the chopped parsley and olive oil.

Tips

– The picture above is actually a smaller leg of lamb than in the recipe (about 850g boned), so I just halved all the quantities and cooked for around 15 minutes each side.

– You will need to control flare ups if you’re cooking on an open barbecue – keep turning the meet and move it off the heat if the flames are out of control.  On a kettle barbecue, cook over direct heat with the lid on and all vents open, turning occasionally.

– Although I’ve given cooking timing guides above (which produce medium done meat), it is best to get familiar with the feeling of meat as the temperature of your barbecue could vary – have a look at this link.

Food Sourcing – Smartphones to Tell You Where Your Meat has Been…

Cow and QR Code

This is the kind of information that should really be appearing on the pack already, but at least this is a step closer.  A recent initiative in the USA involves putting QR codes on food packaging that when scanned with a compatible smartphone give you detailed information on where it came from – including farmers, slaughterhouses and processing plants.

This food sourcing program could really inform buying decisions – such as whether the eggs in your mayonnaise were free range or from battery hens, or whether your organic meat had been humanely reared but slaughtered in a poor welfare abattoir.

If this was coupled with honest and openly available information about all the stages in food processing (e.g. RSPCA ratings for farms, slaughterhouses etc), shoppers would really then be able to vote with their feet and continue to force improved welfare standards.

Autumn Pork Pie – Handmade and Local

Pork Pie, Cheddar and Chutney

Many people recoil in terror at the site of a pork pie, but come back and sit down, there’s nothing to be afraid of.  In fact, if you’ve been put off by the greasy supermarket and petrol station excuses for pork pies, it’s really time you tried them again from a decent local supplier.  Yes, the best ones are supposedly made in Melton Mowbray (the PDO and PGI says so), but you’ll benefit from the freshness of a locally made pie much more if you don’t live in Leicestershire and the supermarket is your only other option.

The pie above was made by Bude Meat Supply (not the most romantic of names, I grant you), and is huddling between Denhay Farm mature cheddar and Ma’s Apple & Date chutney (not commercially available, but my mother makes so much of the stuff she’d probably send you a jar if you asked). Cue closed eyes and dreamy murmuring sounds.

So, give them another chance this autumn – crisp pastry yielding to rich pork that sits perfectly with chutney, cheese and a pickled onion if you’re feeling adventurous – it’s a food that represents traditional British cuisine at its best.

empty plate

 

Jamón Ibérico – Fine Food with No Bitter After Taste

Jamón Ibérico, an artisan product that is not only renowned for its flavour, but also shows the benefits of good animal welfare.

On a trip to Barcelona a few years ago, a work colleague described with great enthusiasm a Spanish ham made from the meat of black pigs left to roam free in the mountains and eat acorns.  Beyond my surprise that pigs ate acorns (though of course Piglet was very keen on them), the idea seemed very romantic, and a far cry from the questionable animal welfare practices that plague most mass-produced meat products.

Jamón Ibérico is becoming well-known across the world, and is an artisan product of such a standard to be mentioned in the same breath as caviar and champagne.  The hams come from the black Ibérico pig or ‘pata negra’, a pig with layers of fat running through the muscle which allows the hams to be cured for much longer (two years or more).

Despite my delight at the image of all these pigs running through the mountains, gorging on acorns, this is not the case for all Jamón Ibérico – only the pigs designated for ‘Jamón Ibérico de Bellota’ status (literally, Acorn Ibérico Ham) enjoy this winter ‘montenara’ period of immense gluttony for 3-4 months.  And as gluttony goes, it’s impressive – each pig can gain up to 2 lbs per day, doubling their weight over the period.  It’s little wonder that the Spanish refer to the pigs as ‘olives on legs’.

In addition to the bellota PDO variety, the range of products produced under the moniker is as confusing as balsamic vinegar, and not always from free range animals.  Simon Majumdar wrote an excellent article in the guardian last year on the different types – look for the aforementioned Jamón Ibérico de bellota, Jamón Ibérico de recebo or Jamón Ibérico cebo de campo which are all outdoor reared.

As easy as that sounds, it may not always be possible.  I bought the ham in the photo above from the excellent Darts Farm in Topsham, Devon. At the time, I knew nothing of these variations, and it was described simply as ‘Iberico Ham’.  I called them to ask if there were any more details on the label for the ham, but it apparently simply says ‘Jamón Ibérico’.

The price was comparable to the bellota variety (compared to the online price from bellota.co.uk), and the taste was incredible, nutty and sweet, similar to a mature cheddar, but with a flavour that kept on changing and developing. It’s something that any meat-eater should taste at least once in their life – a true example of an artisan food with characteristics that elevate it far above mass-produced fair. It may have been the power of suggestion, but I’m sure I could detect a flavour reminiscent of acorns (now I just need to eat an acorn to make sure).

Crucially, despite the price this is not an elitist food. You don’t have to have a ‘sophisticated pallet’ to appreciate it, pure and simple it is just very, very tasty.  Open your mouth, pop it in, close your eyes and enjoy.

I bought about 50g for £5, and it was well worth it even for those few slices.  If I had one complaint, it was that the standard of carving was not up to much (see that chunky looking wad at the front of the plate), so I ended up with scraps and chunks rather than neat wafer thin slices. Next time I plan to glare at the carver throughout the slicing process, and maybe wail dramatically if the slices come out too thick.

I should probably apologise now for making reference to Piglet in a post about ham. Sorry about that.