Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Beef wellington with braised shin fondant potato, bone marrow, anchovy kale and mushrooms

Every August sees the birthday of Katie’s sister, Lois, and the chance for me to cook up a storm. For the past three years all she has wanted as a present is a home cooked meal, which is absolutely fine by me. The four of us all get on really well, and it’s lovely to be able to play host, open a few bottles of wine and create a proper celebration meal. 


Normally on these kind of occasions I would spend weeks thinking up the right thing to cook, but this time I was told straight way what was to be expected; a beef wellington. I made this for Lois on the first year that we celebrated her birthday, and it has kept popping up in food conversations ever since. Despite being a bit of a retro classic and not served in restaurants much these days, a well-cooked wellington is perfect for a special occasion. Surely there’s nothing better than a luxuriously tender piece of meat surrounded by mushrooms and a case of melt in the mouth pastry!

Although I hadn’t made it for a couple of years, I was confident in pulling it off. Once you get the hang of constructing and cooking a wellington it’s pretty easy. For this occasion I wanted to make tweaks to the dish to elevate it to a higher level. To achieve this I made my own rough puff pastry for the wellington itself, and really made an effort with all of the items that would accompany it on the plate. This made the making process very time consuming, but seeing it all together on the plate really made it worthwhile. 


Instead of just serving the fillet of beef as the meat element, I wanted to incorporate a few less used cuts into the dish. I really enjoy doing this with my cooking, be it serving a braised leg of poultry with a pan-fried breast to a smoked pate with a grilled piece of fish. It makes the meal as a whole more interesting and introduces a wider range of flavour. For this recipe I slowly cooked the shin cut to stuff into the buttery fondant potatoes, and also the bone marrow, which I quickly fried as a garnish and also melted into the sauce. Ok I admit, I really wasn’t keen on bone marrow when I first tried it at Hawksmoor earlier in the year. But I have since persevered and eaten it a few more times and developed a taste for it. The melting texture and rich beefy taste is a wonderful thing, and I cannot wait to try cooking with it again. It is also a very cheap cut, appearing more and more commonly in good butchers.

For this meal I didn’t have a chance to visit said good local butcher, so once again ordered from the East London Steak Co. I normally like to see my meat before I buy it, but I was dead impressed with the service and quality of my delivery. The price was also a fair bit less, and I saved over a tenner on my piece of fillet steak alone. What I also like about the ELSC is the little card that comes with your order, informing you of the breed, farm, slaughter date and who was handled it along the way. Little details like this are the way forward, and I would thoroughly recommend their service. 

A lot of the items in this recipe can be substituted to make the whole process much quicker. Once you have mastered the wellington it can be served with so many different things, from creamy mash to dauphanoise potatoes. But this was certainly a celebration and the time spent making everything was a pleasure.

Serves 4


For the rough puff pastry:

500g plain flour
250g butter, cold, cut into cubes
200g lard, cold, cut into cubes
1 tbsp English mustard powder
1 tsp baking powder
300ml milk
1 egg, beaten

For the mushrooms duxelle:

8 large portobello mushrooms, very finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
1 shallot, very finely chopped
2 tbsp parsley leaves, very finely chopped
¼ lemon, juice only
Olive oil
50g butter
Salt and pepper

For the rest of the wellington:

800g centre-cut piece of beef fillet, trimmed of any sinew
2 tbsp thyme leaves, finely chopped
10 slices Parma ham
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the braised shin fondant potato:

2 bone-in shin steaks
6 pieces of marrowbone, cut into 1 ½” rounds
½ bottle red wine
2 onions, sliced
2 carrots, roughly sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
2 litres good beef stock
10 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 star anise
Olive oil

4 large maris piper potatoes
1 tbsp thyme leaves, finely chopped
5 sprigs thyme, left whole
50g butter
200g goose fat
500ml good beef stock
3 garlic cloves, crushed

For the sauce:

The strained leftover stock from the braised shins
30g butter
Salt and pepper

For the pan fried bone marrow:

4 1 ½” bone marrow cylinders, soaked and pushed out of the bone
50g flour
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
20g butter
Olive oil

For the kale:

6 large kale leaves, tough stalks removed and roughly cut
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
2 anchovy fillets, very finely chopped
30g butter
Salt and pepper

For the mushrooms:

16 pied bleu mushrooms, trimmed and brushed
16 girolle mushrooms, trimmed and brushed
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
¼ lemon, juice only
30g butter
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

First braise the beef shins. Bring a large heavy saucepan to a high heat. Season the shin steaks well and rub with a little olive oil. Sear well on all sides until well browned then remove to a side plate. Add a little more oil to the pan then the onions, celery, garlic and carrots, stirring well and colouring. Pour in the wine and bring to the boil. Add the marrow bones, seared shin steaks, thyme, bay and star anise, then top up with the stock. Heat back up to the boil and then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 4-5 hours, until the meat falls apart. Allow to cool. 

Remove the shin steaks from the stock and shred really well. Season and mix with the chopped thyme leaves. Set aside until needed later. Strain the stock and reserve for making the sauce later.

Next make the rough puff pastry. Put the flour, butter, lard, baking powder, mustard powder and milk into a mixing bowl and combine lightly: the chunks of fat should be running through the mixture whole. Tip out onto a well floured surface and roll out into a rectangle of about 1cm thickness. This will be tricky the first time, and the mixture will look all wrong but it will get better each roll. Fold the pastry into thirds to form a long rectangle, then into half. Wrap with cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Repeat this process twice more, then the pastry will be ready for the final roll later. Chill until needed. 

To make the mushroom duxelle, set a large frying pan or skillet to a medium heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil and the butter. When hot cook the shallot and garlic for a couple of minutes until tender. Add the mushrooms and seasoning, and cook for about 15 minutes, until all moisture has been evaporated. Remove from the heat, stir through the parsley and taste for seasoning. Allow to cool fully.

Take the fillet of beef out of the fridge for at least 30 minutes and allow to come to room temperature. Heat a large heavy frying pan until smoking hot. Season the outside of the meat really well with salt, pepper and the thyme leaves, and rub all over with a little olive oil. Sear the fillet in the hot pan for about a minute each side to seal the meat and caramelise a little. Remove and allow to cool.

Lay down 2 large strips of cling film side by side on a chopping board and arrange the Parma ham into an overlapping rectangle that is 2 strips deep and 5 wide. Spread a thin layer of the mushroom duxelle on top, leaving a lip of about 2cm around the edges. Position the cooled fillet in the middle, then very carefully wrap the Parma ham around, using the cling film to make it as tight as possible. Wrap tightly with more cling film and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour. 


Roll your finished pastry into a rectangle that is 2-3 inches longer than the fillet at each end, and wide enough to fold right around. It should be about 1cm thick. Beat an egg in a small bowl and brush a little all over the surface. Place the wrapped fillet on top and very carefully fold the pastry around, sealing tightly at the side and ends. Trim away any excess pastry, and roll the wellington so that the join is on the bottom. Place on a lined baking tray and chill until needed.

Pour the strained stock into a large, shallow saucepan and bring to the boil. Keep reducing until only about 300-400ml is left, and the sauce has thickened and intensified in flavour. Transfer to a smaller saucepan and set aside for finishing later.

Next make the stuffed fondant potatoes. Cut the top and bottom off the potatoes and use a cutter to create a neat cylinder shape about 2” in height. Cut a 1cm lid off the top, then use a mellon baller to scoop out the centres. Stuff with a good amount of the braised, shredded shin mixture. Heat a frying pan to a high heat with a little olive oil and quickly fry the top of the lids for a couple of minutes until golden brown. Remove and place on top of the stuffed fondants. Place in a deep, lined baking dish with the whole thyme sprigs, the butter and the garlic. 


Heat the oven to 200ºC.

Put the goose fat and beef stock into a small saucepan and heat up until just boiling. Pour the fat around the potatoes until half way up then put in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until the potato is cooked through.

Brush the outside of the beef wellington with more beaten egg and put in the oven at this point too, cooking for 30 minutes for rare (as in photo). Cook for 5 or so minutes longer for better done. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

When the wellington comes out of the oven, finish off all of the accompaniments. Try and cook them all at the same time so that they are all hot when serving.

For the kale, heat up a large frying pan to a medium temperature and melt the butter with the chopped anchovy and garlic. Sweat for a minute then add the kale and 100ml of water and cook for another couple of minutes until wilted. Keep warm until ready to serve. 


To cook the mushrooms, heat a frying pan to medium/hot and add 1 tbsp of oil and the butter. When melted add the pied bleu mushrooms, then the girolles a minute later. Season well and fry for another couple of minutes until just cooked.

Heat up the sauce and stir through the butter until melted and emulsified. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

Lastly cook the bone marrow. Heat up a small frying pan to medium/hot. Tip the flour onto a plate and mix in some seasoning. Roll the marrow pieces in the flour to coat, shake off the excess and fry for a couple of minutes until crispy on the outside. Be careful not to cook them for too long or they will melt!

To plate up, cut thick pieces of the Wellington and arrange one carefully on each plate. Add the cooked fondant potatoes and a serving of kale. Place a piece of the bone marrow on top of the kale and scatter around the mushrooms. Finally spoon over some of the sauce and serve.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Spaghetti Vongole

Just like the seared fillet recipe in the last post, vongole is as simple as can be but is a firm favourite in our flat. When Katie went away recently with work, I asked what she wanted me to make for her return. Her quick reply was “vongole!”, so it had to be just that. I was kind of disappointed at first, as I was thinking of something luxurious and intricate that I would spend the whole day cooking. I thought and thought of ways that I could elevate the simple pasta dish to a higher lever; adding langoustines, lobster, a shellfish sauce etc, but anything that I wanted to do took away from the distinctive clean tastes of sweet clams, dry wine, garlic, chilli and lemon. And not a lot else. Soon I had gone full circle and simply wanted to try and maximise those basic flavours. The fact of the matter is a good vongole on a warm evening is one of the best things that you can eat. It’s one of those dishes that can instantly make you feel like you’re on holiday.

The only extra thing that I did was make the pasta myself. Most of the time I just snip off the top of a packet of dried pasta and the dish is ready in minutes, but I wanted to add that special touch. I have met many people who snub the idea of homemade pasta and think it’s a waste of time, but for me the taste and texture that you can achieve by making it fresh can make even the simplest dishes incredible. And it really doesn’t take that long once you get the hang of it. You can even freeze the dough then simply thaw out and roll!

I like my finished vongole to be quite winey and lemony to taste, so feel free to adjust the levels to your taste.

Serves 2-3 as a main course:

For the sauce:

800g live clams
1.5 glasses dry white wine
2 shallots, very finely chopped
1 red chilli, very finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
4 tbsp flat leaf parsley, very finely chopped
2 lemons, juice only
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the pasta:

400g ’00’ grade flour
4 eggs
2 tbsp olive oil
Large pinch of Salt

To make the pasta, combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Tip out onto a clean surface and knead together for 5-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic in texture. It should be soft but not sticky. Wrap well with cling film and allow to rest for at least half an hour, preferably longer.

Once rested, unwrap and roll through a pasta machine around 10 times at the widest setting, folding after each pass. This will make the dough much easier to work with. Next pass the dough through the narrower settings, one at a time until the second thinnest (number 5 on a Imperia machine). You should have a long sheet of thin pasta. Cut the sheet to the length that you want the spaghetti to be, then cut using the spaghetti attachment. Flour the cut pasta lightly and lay on a rack, keeping the strands as separate as possible. Set aside until needed.

Fill a large saucepan with water, add a good amount of salt and bring to the boil.

Heat a large frying pan or skillet to a medium temperature and add 2 tbsp of olive oil. Fry the shallot, garlic and chilli for a couple of minutes until softened, seasoning as you go. Turn the heat up slightly, add the white wine and bring to the boil. When the alcohol has burned off tip in the clams and cover the pan with a lid. Shake the pan gently and keep covered until the clams have opened, about 2-3 minutes.

While the clams have been cooking for a minute add your pasta to the saucepan of boiling water. Cook for 1-2 minutes, tasting a strand occasionally to make sure that it is al dente.

You want to try and time it so that the clams and pasta cook at the same time.

Once the clams have opened, transfer the cooked pasta into the pan using some tongs, along with 3 tbsp of the cooking water. Combine well, agitating the pasta to release to gluten and thicken the sauce. Add the juice of one lemon, the parsley, salt and pepper and a good glug of olive oil and combine again. Taste to make sure that there is enough seasoning and lemon.

Spoon into shallow bowls and squeeze some more lemon over the top, along with a drizzle of olive oil and some cracked pepper. Simple as that!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Seared fillet of beef with parmesan, basil, croutons and chilli and lemon oil

With my last few recipes being quite long-winded and time consuming, my next couple are going to be the complete opposite; all about the simplicity and flavour. Often the tastiest and most memorable meals are simple gatherings of a few ingredients that go perfectly together. I have made so many meals that have been overworked, and have too many different things going on. So with this it is time to go back to basics again. 

Fillet of beef is a prime example of an ingredient that is so easily spoilt by overcomplicating. I personally think that the best ways to get the most out of a fillet steak is to either eat it raw or cook it in a beef wellington (cooked very rare). I even think that cooking it as a piece of steak is a waste of money, with rib eye and sirloin having a higher fat content and way more flavour. Both of these cuts are often half the price and money way better spent.

My inspiration for this dish is from a holiday in Italy a few years ago. The food that we ate throughout the trip was massively hit and miss, with some lovely meals had, but also some terrible experieces of over-inflated ‘Italian’ food made for tourists. One of the best places that we went to was a tiny restaurant tucked away in Venice. We had spent hours walking around looking for something more than veal escallops sitting next to tables of rude tourists, and just stumbled randomly across it. It was one of those small bustling rooms where everybody seemed to be having a great time and eating the most amazing food. Our waiter was a larger than life Italian man who made the experience that much better. The food lived up to our expectations too, in typical Italian style being simple combinations of high quality produce. I had the carpaccio and despite the fact that it was just beef, parmesan, rocket and olive oil, it has stayed in my mind ever since. 

I wouldn’t quite class this dish as a carpaccio though, as I have prepared the beef a little bit differently. Firstly I sear the fillet lightly before chilling and carving. The caramelisation on the edge of the meat gives that little bit more flavour whilst you still get the taste and texture of the raw centre. I also cut the meat slightly thicker, which again gives a better texture in my opinion. 

This makes a lovely starter on it’s own, or part of a big spread of food for a bigger group to dig into.  

Serves 3-4 as a starter.


For the beef:

500g beef fillet, trimmed of any sinew
3 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, picked and finely chopped
10 sprigs thyme, whole
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1 lemon, finely grated zest only
2 garlic cloves, crushed

For the chilli and lemon oil:

200ml good extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, zest only
6 basil leaves, crushed gently
1 medium red chilli, sliced

For the croutons:

2 slices white bread, crusts removed and cut into 1cm cubes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

To finish:

Basil leaves
Parmesan, cut into thin shards
Salt and pepper

Remove the piece of fillet from the fridge about an hour before cooking and allow to get to room temperature.

Crush the garlic and scatter onto a small chopping board with the lemon zest, whole thyme, seasoning and a little olive oil. Set aside.

Heat up a heavy frying pan to the highest heat possible, until smoking. Season all sides of the meat really well and rub with the chopped thyme and olive oil. Cook very quickly for about 30 seconds to a minute on each side, so that the outside forms a nice brown crust. Remove straight to the seasoned board and roll around. Leave to cool completely then wrap tightly with cling film and put in the fridge for a few hours. 

To make the flavoured oil, pour the oil into a frying pan with the chilli and lemon zest. Bring just to a warm temperature, enough to touch but no hotter. Tip into a bowl and add the basil leaves. Allow to infuse for at least an hour.

Heat the oven to 180ºC.

Make the croutons by cutting the bread into 1cm cubes and scattering onto a lined baking tray. Season and drizzle with olive oil and roll around to cover well. Cook for about 10 minutes until nicely golden with a bit of give in the middle still. Set aside. 

Take the chilled beef out of the fridge, unwrap and slice very carefully with a sharp knife into rounds a couple of millimetres thick. Allow to come to room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving. 

To plate up, take a large plate or platter and spread the slices of beef evenly around. Season very well with salt and pepper. Scatter the croutons, basil and parmsan over the top and spoon over some of the oil.