Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Winter salad of salt-baked beetroot, roasted heritage carrots, whipped goat’s curd, wild garlic and quail eggs

Spring is just around the corner. The heating is still on but the sun is starting to creep through what seems like months of dreary cloud. Wild garlic has just sprung up, and we’re within reaching distance of Jersey Royals, early asparagus and broad beans; those short-season vegetables that I yearn for every year. But it’s easy to forget about the amazing cold weather produce that we have right now. Vegetables like carrot and beetroot often get a raw deal and are labelled as dull and boring, but with a little bit of thought they can be the stars of the show. 

I was inspired reading an article by Henry Dimbleby recently where he wrote that that you should avoid boiling vegetables at all costs. This reminded me of growing up, where my brother and I used to be given little side bowls of soft broccoli, carrots and beans alongside pretty much anything. We both loved vegetables when we were young and would wolf them down with our pasta, curry or chicken escalope. But it was hardly exciting stuff, just something that we ate quickly because we were told it was good for us. Dimbleby, and more prolifically Yotam Ottolenghi, have shown that you can transform and enhance the flavours of our humble groceries using other simple methods. Now I look to roast or fry wherever possible, making sure that I dress with butter, oil and flavourings once cooked. 

Despite the fact that this blog is filled with meat and fish recipes, these are mostly the things that I save for special occasions. Most of the time, especially midweek, I eat a vegetable-heavy diet that includes little to no meat. I’m lucky to have a fantastic greengrocer just around the corner from me, and I pop in most days to grab super fresh, seasonal produce for my supper. I think that meat and fish are a bit of a treat, and I’d far rather spend more at a good quality butcher or fishmonger less frequently than cheaper, poorly reared stuff every day from the supermarkets. Not having meat with every meal is one of those things that particularly testosterone-heavy men get hot under the collar about, but it is so easy to knock up simple and amazing tasting dishes using veggies alone. And lord knows I’ve had some practice; both of my sisters are vegetarians and you can’t keep on serving grilled halloumi every time they come round… 

It’s now fairly easy to get hold of different colours and varieties of carrots and beets, and these really help create a visual impact. Roasting and salt-baking intensifies the flavour, and there’s something a little caveman like about pulling a solid lump of salt out of the oven and smashing it with a spoon. I’ve also tried to use as much of the vegetable as I can. Just like using the less glamorous cuts of meat, we often needlessly throw away bits of perfectly good veg. In this case I’ve saved the leaves from the tops of the carrots and beetroot to add a different taste and a bit of texture to the dish. 

Those little crispy quail eggs are addictive. The soft boiling and peeling process can be a little fiddly with my big clumsy hands, but it’s worth making way more as you’ll just want to eat then straight out of the fryer. 

Serves 2 


For the salt-baked beetroot: 

3 beetroots, washed but left unpeeled 
4 egg whites 
800g table salt 
2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves picked 

For the roasted carrots:

3-4 carrots, washed and peeled 
5 sprigs of thyme 
5 sprigs of rosemary 
3 cloves of garlic, crushed 
1 lemon, zest finely grated and juice kept 
Olive oil 

For the quail’s eggs: 

3 quail eggs 
5tbsp panko breadcrumbs 
3tbsp plain flour 
1 egg, beaten 
Vegetable oil for frying, approx. 1ltr 
2tbsp white wine vinegar 

For the crispy carrot tops: 

6 carrot top cuttings 

For the sautéed sprout flowers: 

A handful of sprout flowers, sliced in half lengthways if large 
1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced 
The leaves from the beetroot, washed and trimmed 
1tbsp butter 
6 wild garlic leaves 
½ a lemon, juice only 

For the olive crumb: 

About 20 Kalamata or other strong black olives 

For the garlic oil: 

4tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced 
1 sprig of rosemary, leaves picked 

For the whipped goat’s curd: 

4tbsp fresh goat’s curd 
1tbsp double cream 

For the beetroot yoghurt: 

½ a red beetroot, peeled and cut into rough 1cm pieces 
4tbsp natural yoghurt 

A few components of this dish are better prepared the night before. 

To make the beetroot yoghurt, put the beetroot chunks into a small bowl and sprinkle over a little salt. Leave for five minutes for the juices to start to leach out and then mix in the yoghurt. Cover and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours, the colour and flavour will get more vivid the longer you leave it. When ready to use, strain through a sieve and discard the beetroot. 

For the olive crumb, remove the stones from the black olives by pushing and rolling on a chopping board. Scatter onto a greaseproof-lined baking tray and cook in a low oven (about 80⁰C) overnight, or until fully dried out. Transfer to a small food processor and blend to a fine powder. 

The garlic oil is also best made a little in advance. Combine the sliced garlic and rosemary leaves in a bowl with a little salt. Leave for a couple of minutes and then pour over the extra virgin olive oil. Cover and allow to steep for at least a couple of hours. 

Fill a small saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Add the quail eggs and boil for 2 minutes, then quickly remove to a bowl of iced water mixed with the vinegar. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then roll very gently against the bottom of the bowl to crack the shell before carefully peeling. Dry with kitchen roll. Put the panko, flour and beaten egg into two plates and a bowl respectively and season all elements well. Roll the soft-boiled eggs in the flour, then dip in the egg before finally coating in the breadcrumbs. Put on a plate and refrigerate until needed. 
On the day of serving the dish, preheat the oven to 190⁰C. 

Make the salt paste by combining the table salt, rosemary and egg whites in a large bowl. You may need a little more salt depending on the size of the eggs. Wrap the beetroot with the salt mixture and bake in the oven for about an hour. 

Put the carrots, garlic, thyme, rosemary, lemon zest and seasoning into a separate baking dish and toss with a little olive oil. Roast in the same oven as the beetroot for 30-45mins, shaking the tray occasionally. When cooked, remove from the oven and squeeze over the lemon juice. 

 Spoon the goat’s curd into a bowl and add the cream and a good twist of pepper. Stir well with a fork until combined and smooth. 

When the vegetables are nearly cooked, heat the frying oil in a heavy saucepan until it reaches 165⁰C. Fry the carrot tops very quickly for about 30 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Keep the oil hot for the eggs later on. 

When tender, remove the root vegetables from the oven. Crack the salt crusts from around the beetroot and peel away the skin. Cut the beets into wedges and slice the carrots lengthways into halves or quarters. Keep warm while you finish the rest of the dish. 

To cook the greens, heat the butter with a little oil in a large frying pan. Soften the garlic over a medium heat and then add the sprout flowers and cook for a couple of minutes until al-dente. Season and stir through the wild garlic and beetroot tops. Fry for a further minute, then squeeze over the lemon juice and remove from the heat. 

Fry the coated quail eggs for a minute or so in the hot oil or until light golden brown. Slice in half then sprinkle with salt and pepper. 

To plate up, spoon a bit of the beetroot yoghurt on one side of the plate and place a quenelle of the goat’s curd in the middle. Arrange the carrots, beets, greens and three egg halves on the other half of the plate. Place on a couple of the crispy carrot tops. Spoon over some of the garlic oil and finally sprinkle on some of the olive crumb.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Three ways with mackerel: pan-fried, smoked and cured, with rhubarb puree, beetroot crisps and watercress oil

I cook with mackerel quite a lot, and regular readers will know that I have covered it in various guises in this blog before. However it has been a fair while since its last appearance, so it’s about time that this amazing fish is top of the page again. Every week that I write, in fact every time I cook, I learn something new, and I am constantly looking back on how to improve things that I have made before. My mind is always whirring away trying to work out flavour combinations or complete a long list of initial ideas that just require one or two things to tie them together. So I guess that this is an update on a mackerel and beetroot recipe that I posted last January, but slightly more refined and a damn sight prettier. 

We are now nearing the end of the mackerel season as they group up to spawn in the spring, but soon it’ll be summer again when there’s nothing better than flashing it on the barbeque with capers, lemon and parsley. Though the beauty is in its versatility, and as the year moves into Autumn it is just as comfortable with crunchy raw root vegetables or spicy broths, then back around to now where the season happily coincides with those new shoots of vibrant red rhubarb from the Yorkshire triangle. I am always so shocked at how bad the supermarkets are in reacting to British seasonality, and this vegetable is a fine example. Despite proper forced rhubarb only being around for a short few of months, I was saddened to still see thin and bendy imports lining the shelves. As usual, my local greengrocers knew better and I was soon walking home with a happy bunch poking out the top of my bag. Rhubarb is good for more than crumble alone (although buy extra for that too) and finely compliments savoury things like oily fish and pork. The key is in the balance, you want to keep the tartness or your main will think it’s a dessert.
I’m still amazed by how easy it is to hot smoke things at home. I was initially worried that my flat would be filled with clouds of black smoke, but even the crumbly old extraction and a few open windows miraculously contained everything in my tiny kitchen. So far I’ve only really tried it with fish that cook quickly using bungled smoke combinations of rice, herbs and zest, but the results really are great. The fish ends up meltingly moist with just the right amount of smokiness. Oh how I yearn to have a garden to expand on these projects…  

There are quite a few processes in this recipe but as with most things loads can be done in advance. It’s really up to you how far you take it, and the flavourings still work perfectly if you were to cook all of the mackerel just the one way. Likewise, I have perhaps been a little fancy in just using the loins of the fish here, but in no way were the trimmings wasted. Quickly grilled and crammed between soft white bread with tartar sauce they were delightful. But the whole fillets can also be used throughout this recipe too, especially if you wanted to bulk it out a bit.  

Serves 2 for a starter or light lunch.  


For the pan-fried mackerel:  

2 mackerel fillets, top loin only, pin boned 
Olive oil 
½ a lemon, juice only  

For the smoked mackerel:  

2 mackerel fillets, top loin only, pin boned 
Olive oil 
1 handful of rice 
1 lemon, zest only 
½ a bunch of thyme 
1tsp black peppercorns 
1tsp brown sugar  

For the cured mackerel:  

2 mackerel fillets, top loin only, pin boned 
100g salt 
50g caster sugar 
1 lemon, zest only 
2tbsp fresh thyme leaves  

For the rhubarb puree:  

1 large stick of rhubarb 
½ a lemon, juice only 
2 tbsp caster sugar, plus more to taste  

For the watercress oil:  

50g watercress 
100ml extra virgin olive oil  

For the beetroot crisps:   

1 golden beetroot 
Vegetable oil for frying, approx. 1ltr  

For the smoked beetroot salt:  

3tbsp smoked sea salt 
¼ of a beetroot, roughly chopped  

To finish:  

3tbsp cress, washed 

To cure the mackerel, mix together the salt, sugar, lemon zest and thyme. Pour a quarter of this mixture onto the bottom of a small dish or tray and top with the two mackerel loins. Cover with the rest of the salt mix until fully covered. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for two hours. 

While the mackerel is curing make the other elements of the dish. 

To make the smoked beetroot salt, pour the salt into a small bowl and add the chopped raw beetroot. Mix well and set aside, stirring occasionally. The longer it is left the more the salt will take on colour. 

For the rhubarb puree, chop the rhubarb into inch-sized pieces and tip into a small saucepan. Add the lemon juice and sugar and cover with water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for a couple of minutes until cooked through. Drain and transfer to a food processor and blitz well. Taste and add more sugar or lemon if needed, you want it to be quite tart still. Pass through a fine sieve into a bowl and set aside. 

Heat the deep frying oil in a heavy saucepan until it reaches 160⁰C. Peel the golden beetroot and carefully slice very thinly with a mandolin. When the oil has come to temperature, fry in small batches until lightly golden and crispy. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt. 

For the watercress oil, put the watercress, extra virgin olive oil and a little salt into a food processor and blitz until the leaves are finely chopped and the oil has taken on a vivid green colour. Pass through a fine sieve and transfer to a bottle. 

When the mackerel has had its curing time, remove from the fridge and lift the fillets out of the salt. Rinse well and pat dry. Carefully slice the skin off and then set aside to come to room temperature. 

To make a DIY hot smoker, tip the rice, sugar, thyme, peppercorns and lemon zest into the bottom of a small deep metal oven tray that has been lined with foil. Start the smoking process off by singing everything with a blow torch. Place an oiled metal cooling rack or other grill on top and then seal with more foil. Put the tray over a medium heat until lots of smoke and heat is generated inside. Season the mackerel fillets and rub with oil. Peel back the foil and place the fillets skin-down onto the hot rack, then seal again quickly. Smoke for 4-5 minutes, or until just cooked through. Keep warm. 

Heat a non-stick frying pan with a little olive oil. Season the remaining mackerel fillets well. When a medium-hot temperature, add the fish skin-side down, holding them for a few seconds to stop any shrinkage. Fry for 2 minutes to crisp up the skin, then turn over and remove the pan from the heat and allow to residual heat to finish the cooking off. Squeeze over the lemon juice.

To plate up, lay one of each of the mackerel fillets onto heated plates. Dot the puree and the oil around the fish and scatter over the beetroot crisps and the cress. Finally sprinkle over some of the smoked salt.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Guinea fowl, smoked ham, cider and leek pie with a mustard, thyme and Lincolnshire Poacher crust

This week my blog will take a slightly different spin. Instead of cooking something that I have had planned for a while, this time I have been asked to create a pie recipe by Le Creuset to celebrate British Pie Week. Although all of the recipes that I post on here are my own, and the focus on the food, I am always game for a recipe writing challenge. And anyway, I barely need much of an excuse to make a pie! I am also more than happy to collaborate with Le Creuset in this post. Their cookwares are long ingrained in my childhood memories; I have forgotten the amount of things that I have cooked in my parent’s lovely orange cast-iron saucepans that are probably older than me. 

The main challenge with this post was coming up with the recipe itself. The brief was simple; make a pie, any pie. Sweet or savoury. The PR lady chuckled as she stated the only stipulation, that human parts could not be included. But this openness caused a problem, as although my mind was flooded with different things to include, my indecisiveness made it difficult to pinpoint. Should I make use of the lovely forced rhubarb and make something seasonally focussed? Should I go off-piste with a wacky bone marrow creation? I was very tempted to make something along the lines of that wonderfully Scottish invention, the macaroni pie. But part of recipe writing is to try and inspire and give people recipes that they actually want to cook, so in the end I decided on a pie that is just a joy to eat.

My favourite pie is without doubt chicken, leek and tarragon. A combination well and truly made for each other, able to balance fresh tanginess and unctuous comfort. This recipe is my spin on the classic. Guinea fowl is such an underused and underrated bird, and just gives that stronger chicken-y flavour. Now farmed and widely available we should be eating them loads more, and they’re dead easy to cook too. Cooking the legs separately in the cider takes a little longer than just throwing everything together and baking, but the result is a lovely rich sauce that makes the pie all the better when you finally tuck in.

Instead of opting for the traditional puff pastry topping here I’ve gone for something suet based. This is also another happy result of my indecisiveness, as it creates the balance of a lovely crunchy top and an almost dumpling-like underside; all the best bits from a stew and a pie. Normally a hard cheese such as parmesan would be first choice for flavouring, but being British Pie Week I wanted to choose something a little more local. I had never used Lincolnshire Poacher in cooking before and found that the strong, fruity flavour worked really well. As Katie commented, the edges were like cheese straws and the middle like a scone. And that can’t be a bad thing!

As with all slow cooked baked things, this recipe benefits with making in advance and only gets better with age. That’s if you have the self-restraint to not gobble it all up straight away…

Makes enough to fill a 28cm oval pie dish.


1 whole guinea fowl, jointed with the carcass kept

For the guinea fowl legs and sauce:

Olive oil 

The legs, wings and chopped carcass of the guinea fowl 
1 carrot, roughly chopped 
2 leeks, roughly chopped 
4 cloves of garlic, crushed 
2 bay leaves 
10 sprigs of thyme 
500ml good dry cider 
Approx. 1lt chicken or ham stock, or enough to cover

For the filling:

The breasts of the guinea fowl, skinned and cut into chunks 

200g smoked and roasted ham, torn into generous pieces 
2 large leeks, thickly sliced 
2 shallots, thickly sliced 
200g chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced 
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped 
1tsp wholegrain mustard 
100ml double cream 
30g butter 
50g flour 
Olive oil 
1 bunch fresh tarragon,leaves picked 
50g Lincolnshire Poacher cheese, finely grated

For the pastry:

500g self-raising flour 

1tsp baking powder 
125g suet 
75g cold butter, cut into small cubes 
1.5tsp English mustard powder 
50g Lincolnshire Poacher cheese, finely grated 
2tsp fresh thyme leaves 
Cold milk 
4 egg yolks 
1 egg for glazing, beaten


To make the pastry, put the flour, suet, cheese, mustard powder, thyme leaves, baking powder and a good amount of seasoning into a large bowl. Toss in the butter until evenly dispersed. Create a well in the middle of the flour and add the egg yolks and a good splash of milk. Fold the mixture together with your hands or a wooden spoon, adding a little more milk if needed to form a dough. Wrap with cling film and put in the fridge to rest for a couple of hours. 

Set a large saucepan onto a medium-high temperature. Season the legs and wings of the guinea fowl and fry in a little oil until browned all over then remove to a plate. Repeat the colouring process with the chopped up carcass, then add the chopped vegetables and herbs and continue to fry for a couple of minutes. Pour in the cider and bring to the boil. Return the wings and legs to the pan and top up with the stock to cover. Bring back to the boil, then reduce and simmer for about 45 minutes. When the meat is cooked, allow to cool slightly then strain the stock into a clean saucepan. Heat over a high temperature and reduce until about 400ml of liquid remains. Shred the leg and wing meat into chunky pieces and set aside to add to the filling later.

To make the filling, add the olive oil to a large frying pan or skillet on a medium heat. Dust the guinea fowl breast pieces in the flour and fry quickly to seal, then transfer to a plate. Melt the butter in the same pan and gently cook the leeks, garlic and shallots until softened. Season well. Add the mushrooms and continue to fry for another couple of minutes before stirring in the ham and the leg and wing meat. Add the cream, reduced stock, cheese and mustard and bring to the boil. Reduce the liquid slightly to thicken and then finally stir in the breast meat and tarragon. Transfer the filling mixture into the pie dish and allow to cool. 

Preheat the oven to 180⁰C.

When the filling has cooled, roll out the pastry on a well-floured surface until about 1cm thick. Place the pie bird standing upright in the middle of the filling. Brush the beaten egg around the rim of the dish then lay the pastry over the top, cutting a hole to allow the bird’s head to poke through and let the steam out. Crimp the edges so that they are sealed to the dish. Brush more of the egg over the top of the pastry and decorate with leaves made from the pastry scraps. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until the crust is crispy and golden-brown. Serve with buttered greens and creamy mash.