Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rabbit and snail paella

This is another fully hardcore dish. They say it is the original paella, devised by field hands in the province of Valencia making use of ingredients that were readily available – snails and rabbits. Who knows and frankly, who cares? It is a nice story and that is really all that counts.

Because there is something so full on about these two ingredients being placed together in the same dish I wanted to up the ante and make it really strong. Firstly I chopped loads of garlic and dried chilli and fried them in a nice pool of olive oil till crisp and the garlic golden. The oil was then drained* and used as the base for the sofrito into which I added……..yes, you got it……….loads more chilli and garlic. As soon as it began to sizzle I added masses of rosemary and pimenton, stirred it and added some chopped onion and very small diced carrot. I never add these two ingredients to paellas but I wanted to see what would happen today, more of which later. When all this was good and sweated, I added a tin of tomatoes (another ingredient I rarely add to the paella, generally favouring grated fresh tomato) and cooked it down until reduced to a wet paste consistency.

I now put the paella pan on the ring and heated yet more olive oil. Into this I tipped the seasoned rabbit and fried that segregated mother till golden. When it was good and brown I added the snail, masses more rosemary and a few bay leaves.

Whilst this was going on I asked Lucrezia and Fanny to whip me up an allioli. I allowed them to use my pestle and working together they mounted this thick yellow sauce with great ease.

I added the rice and toasted that until vaguely translucent, then poured in the sofrito. When this was all good and mixed up, I added the stock and 2 dessert spoons of allioli and mixed it up some more. I checked the seasoning, shook it around a bit and cooked it on medium till the liquid had all but evaporated. I now turned up the heat (to 11) and and cooked out the rest of the liquid waiting for that crisp frying sound that indicates 2 things: the rice is ready and the socarrat has been acheived. The socarrat is the slightly blackened, crisp ricey bit stuck to the pan; one of God’s greatest gifts to man.

The result was good. Very good. But very very strong, particularly if eaten with copious allioli. The infused oil added a powerful undertone of heat and potency to the rice but the snails and rabbit themselves were sweet and smokey due to the pimenton. The onion however was a mistake. The rice was too soft and this was due to the excess liquid that the onion brings the party. No good. No more onion. The carrot, strangely, worked really well and I will repeat it at some point. Maybe.

On the whole this dish just added further proof to my iron clad belief that paella is on of the greatest dishes available to mankind. One day it will rise out of the mire of being nothing but a tourist attraction.

*If you have them to hand, toast some almonds in a pan with a bit of olive oil and salt and once cooled add discarded crispy bits. You will be glad you did.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Biscuits from Heaven

Each day of the week the boys have to take a midmorning snack to school. Monday yoghurt; Tuesday sandwich, Wednesday fruit; Thursday biscuit; Friday dowhatchalike. At a quarter past eight this morning I realised that it was biscuit day and the biscuit tin was empty. I have been promising myself that I would get into the habit of making biscuits and stop giving them the shit that is generally available. One of the primary reasons being I just don’t trust big food corporations to do right by us.

I have also been promising them that we will find a biscuit recipe we like and make them together, become expert at them, be able to make them blind folded. They liked this idea and I have failed to produce the goods for weeks, months probably. But today was different. Today I said NO! Enough! The buck (biscuit) stops here! As I say it was 8.15 and we had to leave at 8.47 at the latest. I grabbed a recipe I know is good and started. 32 minutes later I placed a tray of cooling biscuits in the back of my car. Not just any biscuits either. No. These are biscuits you would not be ashamed to serve to God.

We ate some in the car on the way to school. The cooling biscuits held the still liquid chocolate suspended within it. The outside rim was crunchy and the centre chewy. They were sweet but with that essential undertone of salt. All this in 35 minutes. Boy, was I popular with them kids.

90g brown sugar

45g white sugar

125g butter

125g of chocolate chopped up

1 egg

125g flour

½ tspoon bicarbonate of soda

½ tspoon salt

Get your oven warmed up. 180ºC with fan. Warm that butter and cream it with the sugars. Stir in the chocolate and beat in the egg (we didn’t have an egg so used water). Stir in the flour, salt and bicarb. Bring all together.

Spoon out walnut sized blobs onto baking sheets and bake for 12mins. No matter what you do or what your oven says they will not all cook regularly so just go with it. They are ready when golden on the outside. Remove them and hang around the kitchenette until they have cooled. Then eat them

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sunday Morning Coming Down

Kids love anchovies. Despite all evidence to the contrary - retching, tears, escape – kids really do love anchovies. They just don’t know it yet.

When I refer to anchovies I don’t mean those hairy slithers of brown salt paste baked on to the top of pizzas nor do I mean bog standard supermarket anchovies. No, I mean the real thing. Spanish anchovies from Cantabria or by preference Anchoas de Escala form the Catalan coast. These last ones really are the king of anchovies. You can get them already cleaned, filleted and packed in olive oil or you can buy them whole and packed in salt. Obviously it is far less fiddly to buy the fillets and I am not sure whether the taste and texture benefits outweigh the ease. UNLESS OF COURSE IT IS SUNDAY MORNING. If that is the case then you need:

1 jar of Anchoas de Escala packed in salt

1 packet of salted crisps (not kettle – too crunchy)

Olive oil


Dark vermouth (In order of preference – “vermut” bought from a one eyed hunchback in Barcelona; Punt e Mes; Martini Rosso)

Soda water



A version of Sunday Morning Coming Down by Kris Kristofferson (KK)

A version of Sunday Morning Coming Down by Johnny Cash (JC)

A version of Sunday Morning Coming Down by Willie Nelson (WN)

Begin recipe on Saturday night by drinking enough to achieve an appalling hangover. On Sunday start by putting on the KK version of Sunday Morning Coming Down then put ice, lemon and a generous double double measure of Vermouth in a tall glass and top up with soda water. Gulp it down and make another.

Next find a sunny corner and begin the anchovies. Sipping all the while, take them out one by one. Squeeze off head and discard (or give to cat?). Now gently squeeze along the body and separate flesh into 2 fillets leaving the spine in tact. (The spine will make a fantastically other tapa to go along side). Do this to all of them. Put on JC version of SMCD. Wash the fillets under cold water to remove salt, scales and any bones that present themselves to you. Dry on paper towel and lay those mothers out. On a plate. Pour over some very good quality olive oil and leave for a bit.

Meanwhile flour and then fry the anchovy spines in olive oil. Remove and drain on paper towel.

Pour yourself another vermouth and go back to your sunny spot with the anchovies, crisps and spines. Delight in God’s bounty whilst Willie Nelson croons.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chinese water torture

Encouraged by the UK government’s business trip to China and in the spirit of free enterprise I have decided to find out which rice is most appropriate for an ancient method of torture much favoured in bygone times. It is simplicity itself and very cheap to boot. The victim is force fed uncooked rice and then force fed water to expand it.

I am experimenting with 3 types of rice – basmati, white short grain and brown rice. I poured the rices into separate glasses and covered with water. I started at 10am. By 10pm there seemed to be little change but the rice has softened and is like biting little bits of chalk.

I was thinking of cooking it at 38ºC to see what happened but then figured the body temperature might well be at 40ºC or so due to fever so am going to try it at that first.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Kidz Fude - Raons

I am assured by the mongers of the new market that raons are peculiar to the Pitiusas’ waters but I am assured of a lot of things by a lot of people much of which I don’t believe. Whatever the truth it matters little. These superlative little fishes are divine. So beautiful, their wide flat bodies are the colours of the rainbow - they positively glisten.

I had bought them (at €69 a kilo) because a food writer doing a piece on the Mediterranean was coming to meet and eat with me that afternoon and I wanted to show her something nice (Miss McMichael). I bought four of them so we could each have two. In the end we only had one each because I felt bad depriving Lucrecia and the boys of this little luxury.

The meet and eat went well (yanks do meet and greet, I do meet and eat) and there were still two left. Not wanting them to languish unsavoured I asked Primo if he would like one. This was just before bed. He looked at the fish, stuck his finger in his mouth, gave the matter some thought and said “Yes. For breakfast.” With that he about turned and disappeared out the kitchen.

At breakfast the next morning I salted and then fried those little mothers in a nice pool of very hot olive oil giving them about 45 seconds on each side. Because the minuscule scales are not scraped off and are edible the skin crisps up beautifully and beneath this delicious golden coat lies the sweetest flesh of any fish I have eaten. Primo and Slim shared half each then fought for the tail whilst Lucrecia regally ate hers with a look quiet but intense pleasure. I looked back at Primo - he was busy carefully removing the tiny cheek oyster. A treasure indeed.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Kidz Fude - Snax

kidz snax

Hmmm….what I like about it is that it is soft on the top and crisp underneath and the cheese is really creamy but then a bit bitter too.” Primo is talking about a little something we just had to keep the lobo at the gate. The crackers are long, thin, uneven tongues of crisp water biscuit. Il Panaté” by Mario Fongo – Le Lingue di Suocera. Each one is about a palm wide and a foot long, or would be were it ever to stay whole. Its undulating surface is pinpricked through here and there, golden in the troughs and sandy in the mounds. Snapping it makes me feel like I am in an advert – slow motion, bursts of sunlight, blonde women with white teeth. It gives me wood.

The cheese is Taleggio. I discovered this delectable come hither cheese several years ago melted alongside some Gorgonzola bubbling on top of a tomato and polenta gratin. Hooked. Right there, right then. The Italians get Taleggio. We get Dairylea. Typical.

Just cut and cold it is good but melted it is as close to heaven that melted cheese is able to get. Anyway, cut thin slices of cheese, place on top of the cracker and blow torch until the cheese bubbles and melts.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Kidz Fude

I had a breif spell as a chef for the household staff of an oil magnate a couple of years ago. The crisis hit, Shakey lost a couple of billion and decided to save money by firing me. This was a shame for two reasons, firstly I lost the very welcome winter income and secondly and more importantly I lost the guinea pigs I had to feed and with it the funding to do as I pleased foodwise. Previous to this, winters had been fairly barren creatively with no clientele and 2 v small children who I couldn’t really try out too much stuff on.

All the above remains the same except that les enfants have grown and so has their interest in food. So now I’m going to cook just whatever I feel like and see their reaction.

Day 1 Carpaccio of Kobi Beef with parmesan and black pepper

My butcher gave me 5 frozen, pre-sliced, vacpacked, 80 gram portions of Kobi carpaccio. He said it had too much marbling to be able to sell it but I think he was trying to give me a gift cos I spent so much goddam money in his shop this summer. Anyway I took the stuff home, defrosted it, plated it up and seasoned it. Les enfants devoured it. I didn’t mention the perceived marbling problem and they didn’t either. They loved it.

I found it to be grey and wet and a little too pungent, a little too musty. Jolly edible and all that but what is the point? Kobi beef is supposed to be the culimation of bovine excellence so why would you want it 1. Vacpacked and 2. Frozen? I understand that we wouldn’t be able to have it if it wasn’t like that but surely that’s the point – don’t have it unless it is at its best.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Artichokes are weird. The word is weird, they look weird and they taste weird. And if that wasn’t enough two vegetables share this name and they are about as alike as asparagus and carrots. Today we are dealing with globe artichokes. There is a sweetness about them that is enticing.

There is something alien about the globe artichoke. Perhaps it is something to do with their similarity to the Triffids. They are also great big thistly things with nice spikey leaves and they are generally uninviting until you get to know them.

My favourite way of eating the artichoke has the added attraction of being the easiest to prepare – cut off the stalk, hold it in your hand and bang the opening against the work surface. Through the opening sprinkle salt, pepper and olive oil in that order and then bake upright at 200 with fan (220 without) for one hour. (Put in some baked potatoes too, they take the same amount of time).You will have a blackened crispy thing that looks hopeless but become intensly delicious as you work your way in, nibbling off the base of each leaf. To, my mind, it knocks spots off boiled artichokes.

They go well in stews and are good braised too. Below is the recipe for Italian Artichokes a la Romana.

Artichokes a la Romana

8 artichokes

1 small bunch of parsley

1 small bunch of mint

3 cloves of garlic

Olive oil




Cut the stalk off about 5 cm from the base and peel them. Pull of the outer leaves of each artichoke until you get to the paler, softer leaves. Cut off the top part of the leaves about 5cm above the base. Stick a teaspoon into the heart and scoop out the choke.

Chop the herbs and garlic together and mix with salt and pepper. Spoon some of the mixture into the centre and rub some more in between the leaves.

In a pan that will hold them all fairly compactly, heat some olive oil and then fry the artichokes upside down on a medium high heat until beginning to brown. Pour in some water until the bottom is just covered. Put a lid on, turn to low and simmer until they are soft, about 15 mins. Serve them with a squeeze of lemon.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bread? Yes, but……..

……..not bread of heaven. And the result I am after is very much bread of heaven so this is a failed attempt. The bread itself was ok, but no more. Its crust was like rice paper, the dough too tight and flavour wasn’t all there. (The 15 grammes of salt was by no means too much).

The dough did finally rise, not the foretold 45 minutes but the actual 4.5 hours
I don’t understand the point of having a starter with hardly any yeast in it when you then go ahead and put the normal amount in the actual bread mix. No comprendo. Why not just forget the starter stage? The timings also were all wrong to my mind. Not enough kneading time nor proving time.

As directed in the recipe and as shown above, I pulled out the dough and kneaded for another measley 5 minutes then shaped the loaf, cling filmed it and let it rise again

I am sure the flour is not up to the job. Next time I’m going to use 00 pizza flour and see how that comes out. I would use unbleached white flour if only I could find it. The recipe called for a pinch of rye flour and, due to store cupboard lack, I put a sprinkle of integral spelt flour instead. I wonder what they use in Bread and Wine. I bet it its unbleached bread flour from Shipton Mill. The unbleached colour only adds to its attraction.

I was supposed to spray the loaf with water 10 minutes into its baking time but the spraygun was full of some sort of detergent so I flicked it with water. This did not work well at all.


Better flour
Longer kneading
Longer proving
Water spray

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bread – day 2

Yesterdays starter looked like this. Not massively impressive.

I have just finished the next stage which is :

 500g starter

 200ml blood temperature water

 3g yeast

 250 strong flour

 15g salt

 Pinch of rye flour


Bring all the ingredients together bar the salt. Just as mix comes together add the 15g salt. Place dough on floured surface and need for 5 minutes. Cover and rest in a warm place for 45 mins.

He talks of kneading the dough without fighting with it which is lovely. He has good expressions. One of the recipes calls for a gesture of salt. That’s up there with the squeezing of a lemon. 

On the subject of salt note that this recipe calls for 15, that is FIFTEEN  grammes of salt. No wonder his bread tastes so good. There are certain guidelines about quantities of salt in food production. I am unaware of them but appreciate they must exist. I love salt and all my food gets a generous allowance of it, but 15 grammes for this dough seems a lot. The more the merrier if you ask me.

The starter seemed dense to me but then it did have the tiniest amount of yeast. I followed the instructions and by the end had an ok dough but were I not following this recipe I would have given it more of a knead.  I find it a little lumpy still. I also thought bread needed more, ahem, kneading do get the glutens stretching.

Also the 45 mins seems to be a short proving time.

As I said yesterday I think to be a baker is the profession. I wonder what my Chinese doppelganger would consider it to be.

One of the things I love about making bread is the kneading process. It is so contemplative. I doubt whether a masseuse would get the same satisfaction even if it is a similar movement. I really like any activity that makes answering the phone impossible and kneading is one of those things. I have a lovely marble surface to work the dough on and I look out of my kitchen window at this:

so the more i knead the happier I am.

An hour and a half has gone by and well, there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference. I am going to leave it until something happens. However long that may take.

Friday, January 15, 2010



Bread. There can be no more earthy, primeaval, important profession that to be a baker. Jesus was a carpenter and I know that’s right up there too but to me he should have been a baker. Man cannot live on bread alone but it would be fatal to try and live without it. Imagine no toast.

The bread at the restaurant Bread and Wine, Commercial St, EC Something, is the best I know. It has every thing - it is airy but hefty, it is beautifully elastic, its crust is a joy to behold and the sourdough flavour is better than any I have had anywhere. They serve it with butter and salt and there can be no greater beginning to a meal.

I have tried and failed with sour dough lots of times. I can get it to rise and start smelling pretty bad but I always kill it one way or another. I have tried with grapes, I have even tried with strawberries but they always die on me. I was just looking through Nose To Tail Eating, a block rocking cookbook by Fergus Henderson and saw that it has a bread recipe at the back. Now Fergus Henderson is owner of Bread and Wine SO could this be it. Cook books rarely give the real deal but its got to be worth trying. If I can achieve anything close to that bread’s excellence I will die a happy man.


So here goes; the bread recipe from Nose To Tail Eating:


1 kilo of strong bread flour (I am going to use Harina de Mallorca brand, it comes in a nice packet and besides, Shipton Mill is a long way away from Ibiza)

500ml of water at  blood temperature

A pinch of natural yeast

Mix them together, cover and put in the fridge till tomorrow.


So I did this. Literally drew them together, covered and  refridgerated

Tomorrow I make bread with the starter. This is TOTALLY different to my previous attempted methods. If I can get close to UberLoaf............

Very excited.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Heston Services

Heston B was named after the motorway services near Heathrow so perhaps he felt he owed it to service cafes in general to begin lifting them out of the mire of horror in which they has resided ever since their birth. I have heard there are good ones but then you hear all sorts of stuff and frankly, seeing is believing.

The telly is a powerful thing and when the Popham Little Chef reopened after HB waved his wand it was full from 7 in the morning till ten at night sometimes with a 2 hour wait. But of course the initial telly-generated interest  couldn’t last so time would tell if the experiment worked.

We were driving sort of that way on Sunday, towing a boat to Portsmouth, so we made the detour to see what was going on. I love Heston Blumenthal. He is the Willy Wonka of our age, constantly testing us and leaving us agog. I remember when he took over from Rowley Leigh at the Guardian on Saturday. His stuff was immediately jarringly different and the complaints came flooding in. “Who is this guy?” “How can he think we can do these things at home?” “Its impossible.” Blahblahblah. His response? A recipe for carrot chips that finished with the line “….and leave them in your oven at the lowest temperature for 2 days”. You gotta love him.

As you arrive at the Chef Petit it is immediately different. The sign says so and the fat little logo that we know and despise from childhood has had a designer unleashed upon it. As you enter the restaurant (and finally this word can be used in the same sentence as the Little Chef) you know something is up. It looks great. It  has bright red tables and loads of booth seating next to big windows. In the middle is a communal table . The walls are done with bevelled edged rectangular white tiles and grouted in red. You look up and the ceiling is a cheering yet slightly eerie photograph of a blue sky with birds flitting across it. The chefs and waiters are sprightly and interested and the whole thing makes you want to sit down and eat instead of emigrate instantly.

The menu is gastro pub fare – pork belly, lamb shank, steak, sticky toffee pudding, with some 70's throwback stuff like prawn cocktail and black forest gateau etc. We had the prawn cocktail to start that was straight out of my childhood and mussels that were straight out of a iron pot shaped a bit like a mussel and probably costing more that our meal would come to. Staub I believe the make was.  The finger bowl that came with dehydrated hand cloths was also by Staub. In a Little Chef!!!!!!! The mussels were little ones in a beautiful liquor but they definitely had that precooked almost crumbly texture. Shame.

On to the mains. Hake in beer batter that was a bit greasy. The big chips were so much better that the usual fat ones but not anywhere near as nice as the French fries served with the burger. The  burger itself  was good and I was happy to feed it to my son (usually I fear for his longevity if a low grade burger is demanded) but I found it a little on the small side. The bun it was served in was lovely coming dusted in semolina flour, a touch I adore. My other kid’s Tag Bol was very child friendly, to the point where I wondered if it hadn't had sugar added to it. Having said that, a star system on the menu actively encourages kids to order healthy stuff. Order three things with a star (Innocent smoothie carries one, Coke doesn’t, for example) and the child gets a badge.

Everything so far had been pretty good and way, way above the norm of Little Chef but my Braised Ox Cheeks in red wine blew me away. I didn’t really even feel like eating stew but could not pass up ordering beef cheeks in a Little Chef. You just gotta love that man. He is so naughty. 

I think it was amongst  the best beef stews I have ever had. The cheeks were melted away in the mouth without the vaguest hint of dryness or toughness and the sauce was sticky and rich. I have never hade stewed meat like it. The mash that came with it was dry but suited the dish perfectly and was all the better for it.

I asked one of the chefs (who I had spied from a photo at the opening) who made what and where it came from. He told me that they only really finished things off, the majority being produced off site. The menu has obvioulsy been designed that way - provide things that can be produced in large quantities off site yet still maintain a high quality when it reaches the table ie instead of mass producing crap, mass producing quality. Nice. The chefs were visibly happy to be part of it.

The thought  behind everything and desire to please and be different was noticeable throughout. The toilets were fascinating – the walls have food facts  all over the place and on the speaker system I heard the sound of veg chopping, chefs shouting, that ghastly gastronaut Roahl Dahl reading extracts of his his food obsessed books and weird bits of music. Uncanny canned music.

You gotta love him.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Beef Gravy

This supreme forerib joint weighed 10 kilos and had been aged for 32 days. It was for 12 people, 3 of whom were under 10 years old. Approximately 1 kilo per person. That’s a lot of beef. An awful lot of beef.

The sides were trimmed as they were getting slightly high and then the thing was weighed and the timing calculation was made*. It was then was rubbed with salt and in it went.

I always roast joints over a pool of water. This serves two purposes, one; it keeps air in the oven moist and two; as the juices drip out of the joint they don’t burn onto the roasting pan and can therefore be used for the gravy. You do of course get some even if you didn’t put water in the pan but this way you get them ALL.

When the joint came out I set the meat to rest in a warm place covered with tin foil and loads of dish cloths to keep the warmth in.  I poured all the juices from the pan into a high sided vessel and waited for the fat to rise. After a couple of minutes I ladled off the fat and set it aside to make dripping. (In The Little House On The Prairie books they make candles out of beef fat). I then added ½ a bottle of decent red and boiled it for a few minutes. When the meat was rested (1 hour) and the potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and cabbage were ready I poured the further juices that had accumulated under the beef into the gravy as well and brought it to boil.

This gravy was absolutely delectable. Pure, thin, strong. Try it.


*40 mins in a hot oven (220ºC) then 20 mins per kilo in medium oven (180ºC)THEN 1 hour resting. Achtung!!!!!!!! Resting essential.