#444 Poached Turbot with Shrimp Sauce

This simple-looking recipe has been a long time coming. Why? It’s not the turbot, they’re quite easy to find and not too expensive, no it is the shrimps that have been causing the problem. Brown shrimps are required for this recipe – again, easy to find as potted shrimps or frozen in bags – but this recipe required them unshelled. This has proven nigh-on impossible; in fact I was imagining having to go out to Morecambe Bay with a shrimp fisherman to get them or something. There are only 2 left; the history surrounding shrimp is very interesting, but I have little space to go into it in this post, but I have added it to my list of future podcast episodes.

The reason it’s so difficult to buy them in the shell is they have become rather a niche food (their hey-day was the 1920s), they have also dropped in population size, and have become more expensive. They are also very fiddly to shell. The shrimpers need to be sure to sell their catch, so they prepare them in the way most desirable: potted in butter, and a few frozen. None are ever left intact.

Or, that’s what I thought until one day last month, walking around Didsbury, Manchester, I walked past Evan’s fishmonger’s shop and there they were, a big pile of them in the shop widow. In I walked and purchased an approximate half-pint’s worth – that’s the amount needed for the recipe.

When I got home I popped them in the freezer and last weekend I invited some friends over who I hadn’t seen in ages, and used to come to my early ‘blog dinners’ back when I was doing my PhD at Manchester University.

The best place to begin this one is with the shrimp sauce; Jane makes out that shelling them takes a matter of minutes. Well it doesn’t, it takes ages. I was sure there is a knack to shelling the tiny blighters quickly, but I couldn’t work it out, though I was sure that I had seen footage on TV showing people shelling them using a pin to draw them out, but found nothing on the web to support this so I might have misremembered.

Anyway, you need enough unshelled brown shrimp to fill a half pint glass, remove the shells and then pop the shrimp meat in the fridge as you make a simple stock from the shells by placing them in a saucepan along with half a pint of water. Bring the whole thing to a boil and simmer for just 10 minutes, pass the liquid through a sieve into a measuring jug, squeezing the shells with the back of a spoon. Top back up to half a pint with more water.

Now it’s time for the turbot. Jane asks for one 3 pound in size. Ask the fishmonger to gut and trim it. Before poaching make a cut all down the length of the spine of the knobbly (upper) side of the fish and place in knobbly side down a large deep pan. I used a large wok. Fill the pan with a mixture of half milk, half water so it just covered the fish. Season well with plenty of salt and pepper and add a slice of lemon. Bring to a simmer and poach ‘for 10 minutes or until the flesh loses its transparency and the bones can be raised from the bone very slightly’. Not having cooked a turbot before, I wasn’t sure if Jane’s description would be very helpful, but in the end it was! I use the blunt side of a knife to inspect the meat close to the back bone and it was easy to see it was cooked. It took my turbot about 12 minutes to cook through.

As the turbot poaches, make the sauce. Measure a tablespoon of plain flour in a cup and pour in around 2 tablespoons of the made stock to form a smooth paste, then tip the rest of the stock into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once simmering, whisk in the flour paste, allow it to come back to the simmer. Now the butter: cut 6 ounces of butter (I used slightly salted) into cubes and whisk them in a couple at a time. You should end up with a nice smooth sauce. Don’t let the sauce boil or the butter will split; keep that heat very low. Season with salt (if it needs it), black pepper, cayenne pepper, mace and nutmeg.

When the fish is cooked gingerly lift it from the pan and onto a large serving plate. Jane recommends those ones with a strainer at the bottom. I didn’t have one of those, so I made sure the plate was quite deep, so it was easy to pour away any poaching liquor. Before you serve take a knob of butter and spread it over the top of the fish to give it a nice sheen, then sprinkle over some chopped parsley.

I served it with simple steamed potatoes and green beans.

Don’t throw away the poaching liquor by the way – simmer the bones and skin left over and make a stock. I used leftover sauce, potatoes, beans and turbot meat to make a chowder the next day and it was great.

#444 Poached Turbot with Shrimp Sauce. What a great recipe to finish off the Saltwater Fish section of the book. I’m still a little nervous cooking fish like this because it happens so rarely, but it was really good: delicate meat that was just at the right point between firm and tender. The shrimp butter sauce was delicious, so glad after waiting all these years to make it. I’ll be making it again, but next time, I’ll make the sauce from small prawns instead. Excellent stuff 8.5/10


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5.5 Poultry – Completed!

Well another milestone has been reached: with the cooking up of a vegetarian tri-gourd garnish I have completed the Poultry section of the Meat, Poultry & Game chapter of English Food by Jane Grigson. In just 18 recipes, Jane manages to cram in a surprising variety and runs the full gamut of poultry: chicken and capon, turkey, goose, duck and guineafowl are all represented(quail is covered in Game). On top of that she includes lesser used parts of birds too: neck, liver and giblets all get a mention, as do boiling fowls.

It might not surprise you that the majority of the recipes are chicken-based. I am working from her 1992 third edition a time when chicken is ubiquitous, but when she wrote the first edition in 1974, the battery ‘farms’ was in its infancy. Prior to the 1970s, chicken was an expensive meat, saved for special occasions, but with the great ‘success’ of the factory bird, it took over the world. Today there are 23 billion chickens on the planet. Jane muses: ‘Poultry and game are, for very different reasons, the mavericks of the meat trade, representing its worst – frozen battery chicken – and its best – woodcock and grouse.’ Of chicken in the 1990s she despairs: ‘I didn’t realize quite how far we had lost flavour in poultry’. What would she say now in a Britain threatened by imports of chlorinated chickens and lab-grown chicken meat?

#235 Lisanne’s Chicken with Mussels

It isn’t news to anyone that the vast majority of chickens are raised in filth and squalor, but it’s not all bad, and there still places where chickens are raised free range – and I mean truly free range, not technically. Such fowls can be found at farmers’ markets across the country. Personally, I worry about the freedom of the bird other whether it is organic. A good example of this is Packington who farm their chickens (and cockerels) the traditional way. They are more expensive, and therefore I eat chicken less. It should be the way of things, after all. They have an excellent flavour that is essential for when a chicken is to be poached, say, for example, when preparing #225 Cockie-Leekie.

Only on the rare occasion I buy a chicken from a supermarket, do I insist upon it being organically farmed; for animals, being certified organic does not just mean it has been fed organic grain etc., but has received a higher standard of husbandry than for a regular farmed animal.

I am in the minority with this view. Chickens – or maybe birds in general – simply do not provoke the same empathy us that mammals do. Some possibly don’t even consider them animals at all. Maybe we would care more if they had more expressive faces, paws not claws, and fur instead of feathers.

The chapter is about more than chickens though, though Jane does make the point that our farmed poultry – especially ducks – don’t resemble the old traditional breeds either:

We know and are told too little. Wool is pulled over our eyes to the point of blindness. Take Aylesbury duck. Sounds nice and historical. It was once the preferred breed for its rich, fine deliciousness. Don’t be fooled. What you have on your plate has barely an Aylesbury gene in its body…

#399 Duck Stewed with Green Peas

She opines too for the breeds lost because they do not fit with today’s capitalistic farming systems. Perhaps we should all buy goose – they stubbornly resist mass farming methods.

Cooking the recipes in this part of the book introduced me to a whole new world of poultry: I had never ‘boiled’ a whole turkey or eaten a capon, nor had I really cooked with poultry offal or made my own (#276) Giblet Gravy. One of the best discoveries was the delicious combination of mussels and chicken, and the deliciousness of guineafowl was a revelation.

Several recipes are now part of my repertoire, both at home and professionally, and there have been some high scorers and memorable meals. #147 Devilled Chicken Livers was the only one to score full marks, though #100 Roast Turkey with Lemon Stuffing is now a Christmas standard as is #298 Pulled and Devilled Turkey on Boxing Day. The most cooked recipe though is #225 Cockie-Leekie. I make it at home, but also cooked it up regularly when The Buttery was open. It is sublime and containing only chicken, beef, prunes and leeks, it is simplicity itself. The medieval stuffing from #405 Turkey Neck Pudding and #399 Duck Braised with Green Peas have also turned up on past menus. Lastly #442 Smoked Chicken with Three-Melon Salad simply must be attempted by anyone who owns a cold-smoker (skip the salad though).

An oven ready cold-smoked chicken

There were only a couple of duds: #443 Three-Gourd Garnish was two thirds underwhelming and one third unpalatable, the bitter gourd being so bitter, just a tiny piece was completely inedible – I, or Jane, must have got something wrong there. And then there was #339 Hindle Wakes, the bizarre cold, prune-stuffed chicken, painted with a congealed lemon sauce. In my little review of the meal, I described it as a monster, ‘a cross between something from Fanny Cradock’s 1970s repertoire and the centrepiece of a medieval feast.’ Why it would be included, and a traditional roast chicken or goose missed out, I don’t know.

#339 Hindle Wakes

Due to a minority of poor recipes, the 18 recipes of the Poultry section scored a mean of 7.56/10, putting it in second place after Pork (8.06/10). For who like their stats, Poultry had a median and mode of 7.5. Measuring averages this, actually puts Beef & Veal at the top of the meat sections thus far, though Poultry remains in second place.


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As usual, I have listed the recipes below in the order they appear in the book with links to my posts and their individual scores, so have a gander. It is worth pointing out, that my posts are no substitute for Jane’s wonderful writing, so if you don’t own a copy of English Food, I suggest you get yourself one.

#335 Boiled Capon with Sugar Peas 5.5/10

#334 Salmagundi for a Middle Dish at Supper 6.5/10

#235 Lisanne’s Chicken with Mussels 7.5/10

#339 Hindle Wakes 5/10

#225 Cockie-Leekie 7.5/10

#442 Smoked Chicken with Three-Melon Salad 7.5/10

#443 Three-Gourd Garnish 3/10

#147 Devilled Chicken Livers 10/10

#210 Coarse Chicken Liver Pâté 8.5/10

#100 Roast Turkey with Parsley and Lemon Stuffing 9.5/10

#276 Giblet Gravy 9/10

#405 Capon, Goose or Turkey Neck Pudding/Poddyng of Capoun Necke (1430) 7/10

#298 Pulled and Devilled Turkey, Chicken or Pheasant 9.5/10

#314 Boiled Turkey with Celery Sauce 7/10

#399 Duck Stewed with Green Peas 9/10

#178 Duck with Mint 7.5/10

#427 Roast Guineafowl 9/10

#222 Guineafowl Braised with Mushrooms 8/10

Season 2 of ‘The British Food History Podcast’ coming soon…

Some exciting news! The second series of my podcast will drop from Sunday 25th of July, which is also the tenth birthday of the blog; it seemed appropriate somehow. Craziness. It’s had a slight name change and it now has the less clumsy title of The British Food History Podcast. I would love it if […]

Season 2 of ‘The British Food History Podcast’ coming soon…

#443 Three-Gourd Garnish

This is a recipe that has been put off simply because I thought that it had to be served with the (#441) Smoked Chicken with Three-Melon Salad. Once I finally made the smoked chicken and was ready to make this one, I spotted that Jane actually wrote a ‘good accompaniment to smoked chicken, roast duck or lamb…’, so I could have cooked it ages ago. It’s a vegetarian recipe, but appears in the Poultry section of the Meat, Poultry and Game chapter, which is disappointing because it’s the final poultry recipe in the book, so a bit of a damp squib.

I’ve had mixed feelings about this recipe to be honest; I have a great dislike of pointless garnishes. Some foods just don’t need them. Chopped parsley is good with most British foods – but not all – and don’t get me started on the mint spring on a dessert, or as someone pointed out on Twitter recently, the single physalis fruit. Some foods are best on their own. What’s putting me off with this recipe is that it runs the risk of being a big, pointless faff.

One good thing, however, is that it introduces us a new ingredient, the bitter gourd – also known as bitter melon – those knobbly verdant green torpedoes you see in Asian grocery stores. Jane is surprised they are not used more often seeing as we have been a nation of Indian food lovers since the eighteenth century. Why hasn’t the nation taken to this delicious vegetable? Jane reckons it’s the bitterness: ‘Europeans’, she says ‘are not skilful with bitterness in food though we take it well enough in drink.’ Well, I’m game for something bitter.

The other two gourds are the more familiar courgette and cucumber.


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Gourd #1: bitter gourds

You need four small to medium bitter gourds here. Begin by removing sharp the knobbly edges with a vegetable peeler. Halve them lengthways and deseed, taking any pith away at the same time. Keep a couple of teaspoons of the seeds for later. Slice very thinly, place in a bowl with a good, heaped teaspoon of salt. Leave around three hours before rinsing and blanching in boiling water for three minutes. Fry the slices in about a tablespoon of butter to just soften for two or three minutes. Season with pepper, they may not need salt. Place in a pile on a warmed serving plate.

Gourd #2: courgettes

Jane asks for 10 to 12 small courgettes. If you can’t find small ones, then buy the equivalent in regular ones. I guessed at three. If you can find small ones, halve them, if they’re a bit bigger quarter them lengthways and in half crossways. Fry them gently in a tablespoon of butter and a small, finely chopped clove of garlic (we are looking for a suspicion of garlic here). Season with black pepper. Place the courgettes in a pile beside the bitter gourds.

Gourd #3: cucumber

Peel and thinly slice half a cucumber and fry gently in butter to just soften – two or three minutes is all you need. Pile up on the dish.

Increase the heat add a little more butter and cook through the reserved bitter seeds with a tablespoon each of parsley, coriander and chives. Cook for two minutes more and then scatter over the cooked gourds.

#442 Three-Gourd Garnish. Okay; what to say about this one? Well, the cucumber and courgettes were okay, and I like the herb combination. BUT the bitter gourds were so fantastically bitter they were totally inedible. There is only one way they could be used, in my opinion, and that’s very sparingly mixed in with the cucumbers, and by sparingly, I mean just a dozen or so thin slices. What I’m saying, I suppose, is a two-gourd garnish would have been bland, but at least you could have eaten it all. No thank you Jane. Unnecessary mint sprig: all is forgiven 3/10.

#442 Smoked Chicken with Three-Melon Salad

When I first leafed through my (original) copy of Jane Grigson’s English Food, I would never have expected this recipe to cause me much bother. The problem here is Jane’s insistence on a particular type of smoked chicken. This recipe calls for a cold-smoked chicken, which then gets roasted, cooled and then sliced up. The alternative option, of course, is to simply buy a hot-smoked chicken and allow it to cool, a product available in almost every supermarket in the country. However, these chickens have ‘flabby’ flesh and do not make for good eating apparently. According to Jane, cold-smoked chickens are much superior but ‘more difficult to find’.1 No, they are impossible to find. I’ve looked and looked, and I have never found one. Therefore, I had to resort to cold-smoking one myself, something made possible by the fact I now own my own little cold-smoker, which I used last post to make my own smoked bacon.

There is scant information on how one should go about such an endeavour; I think it is considered dangerous, but this isn’t smoked salmon and I will be cooking the beast. Eventually I did find some guidance in smoking and appropriately curing poultry in Keith Erlandson’s very handy little book Home Curing and Smoking.2

To cure and smoke the chicken:

As suggested in Erlandson’s book I made up a strong brine solution:

3 L cold water

800 g sea salt

160 g soft dark brown sugar

5 bay leaves

1 tsp cracked black peppercorns

Bunch of thyme

1 roasting chicken

Pour the water into a large pan with the other ingredients except the chicken. Put over a medium-high heat and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar, bring to a simmer and let it tick away for 10 minutes before turning off the heat and allowing it to cool down.

Prick the chicken breasts and legs with a fork to aid penetration of the brine and place it in a closely-fitting tub (I used a 4 L ice cream tub). Pour in the brine, placing an appropriate ramekin or similar between bird and lid to keep it immersed in the brine and leave for 6 hours.

Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry, then leave to air day for a couple of hours; I sat mine on its bottom so that the cavity could drip dry.

When it is dry to the touch, cold-smoke your chicken for anything between 8 hours and 4 days. I went for the former, using my ProQ Eco Smoker (see previous post on how to use one).

Once smoked, the chicken needs to be cooked – either by roasting (see below) or a two-hour hot smoking, should you have access to a cold-smoking device.

To roast the chicken:

This is what Jane tells us to do: “Rub the chicken over with salt and pepper, roast in the manner you prefer, basting with the sherry.”

To roast the chicken, I followed my usual method. I have written about my method of roasting a chicken on my other blog, so I shan’t repeat myself. The only difference being that I didn’t put butter under the breasts, just over them, and the legs. I used about 50 g, then seasoned it and basted it with 6 tablespoons of dry sherry after 40 minutes and then every 30 minutes thereafter.

Then, ‘[r]emove the bird and allow to cool. Skim as much fat as possible from the juices [I found there were barely any juices so and I had to add a little hot water to dissolve the delicious dried juice deposits], pour the rest into a glass and leave to cool. When the chicken is cold, cut away the meat and slice it up.’

To make the salad:

Take your melons – I went for cantaloupe, Galia and watermelon – halve, deseed and cut into wedges, cut away the rind and dice into large chunks and place in a bowl. I didn’t bother deseeding the watermelon, as the seeds don’t really bother me and life’s too short. I only used half each of the cantaloupe and Galia melons and a quarter of a watermelon. Then ‘arrang[e] them on a large shallow dish, with the sliced chicken.’

Now make the dressing: Check the reserved roasting juices and remove any fat. It should be very concentrated, but if not, boil it down and reduce further. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of hazelnut oil and 5 tablespoons of sunflower oil (or if you can’t get hazelnut oil, use 8 tablespoons of olive oil only), then sharpen it with either cider vinegar or lemon juice. Jane doesn’t say how much to use, so do it to your tastes. I used vinegar and added 2 tablespoons. Taste and check the seasoning and sharpness and adjust accordingly.

Pour the dressing over the melon and chicken, but don’t swamp them, keep any remainder of it in a separate jug if anyone wants more. Lastly, sprinkle over the chopped leaves of a small bunch of coriander and serve.

#442 Smoked Chicken with Three-Melon Salad. This was a very 1970s-looking dish, and I am not sure the combination worked particularly well. However, the chicken itself was absolutely delicious and next time I use my smoker, I will certainly brine another chicken to pop in there. The meat was close textured, rather like a tender ham, and it melted in the mouth. The melon salad, too, was delicious, I liked the hazelnut dressing. Though whole thing lacked texture and the addition of some chopped roasted hazelnuts would have been an improvement. If they were served in separate courses; melon salad as a starter and the chicken as a main, I would be giving high scores, but taking it as a dish in itself the two jarred a little for me. Still, worth a good score because of the revelation that is roasted cold-smoked chicken! 7.5/10.

References

1.           Grigson, J. English Food. (Third Edition, Penguin, 1992).

2.           Erlandson, K. Home Smoking and Curing. (Ebury Press, 1977).

#441 Smoking Meat

Hello folks! Did you know its been almost a year since I wrote my last post proper on the blog? I do apologise; I’m down to the final ten recipes and each one has been eluding me in one way or another – that is until now. In fact I’ve lined up a few so that there will be a steady stream of posts for the remainder of the year.

This one, oddly, is not really a recipe because smoking meat, says Jane, ‘is something that few people care to undertake now’, and rather than providing us with a method, advises us against having a go; that is, unless you have ‘an experienced friend to guide.’1

My intentions were to have a go at constructing my own cold-smoker and installing it my backyard, but I never seemed to have the time or wherewithal, then I moved to an apartment and assumed it just wasn’t going to happen. However, home smoking has moved on a bit since Jane’s day, and it can be both simple and inexpensive simply, as I found when I stumbled upon the ProQ Eco Smoker Box online; essentially a cardboard box with metal shelves. I immediately purchased one along with some oak wood dust. Exciting times.

The ProQ Eco Smoker Box (pic: ProQ)

I was soon eager to be tasting some proper home-cured-and-smoked foods that would preserve whatever meat I decided to cure properly: today, smoking is purely ‘cosmetic’1 because we like the flavour, but our refrigerators are doing the preserving for us these days. (For the same reason, less salt is used in the curing process too.) Indeed, the whole process of smoking is sidestepped; many ‘smoked’ meats in today’s supermarkets are merely injected with a woodsmoke ‘flavouring’, a far cry from what our recent ancestors were tucking into.

When smoking was done at home, a smokehouse was not typically used. The housewife of a medieval home hung her salt pork in the rafters above the central chimney. Then, when stone chimneys were built in dwellings, a recess was made so that hams would benefit from a good smoking with being cooked. According to Dorothy Hartley, these recesses are discovered in old houses and are ‘often mistaken for “priest-holes”’.2 In other buildings an external wooden hatch was built in the highest section of the chimney so that year’s hams could safely cold smoke. Hartley also gives us a lovely illustration of a home-made smoker made from a hogshead, which essentially works exactly like the ProQ smoker I bought. Very pleasing.

Illustration from Food in England (1954) by Dorothy Hartley

If you want to try and smoke your own meat you need to cure it first, and there are many examples of that in the blog/book. However, I decided upon making my own smoked bacon, which I could either fry in rashers or cook a large piece as an accompaniment to #374 Pease Pudding or in a nice #98 Cawl. Oddly, there is no recipe for a bacon cure in English Food, so I had to look to others for help.

For the bacon I used a 2 kilogram piece of pork belly because it looked like it would fit just right in my smoker. I adapted a recipe given in River Cottage Handbook No.13: Curing & Smoking by Steven Lamb.3 I changed a few things: I used dark brown sugar and the tried-and-tested Jane Grigson cure combo of crushed juniper berries, allspice berries and black peppercorns, just like one of my favourite recipes #228 Spiced Salt Beef, though I toned down the amount of spice somewhat. I avoided using nitrates and I’m sure Jane would agree with me on that today, even though she used ample amounts of it in her Cured Meat recipes.

For a 2 kg piece of pork belly (skin on and bone in):

750 g fine sea salt

750 g soft dark brown sugar

2 heaped tsp each juniper and allspice berries, crushed

1 tbs black peppercorns, crushed

6 or 7 bay leaves, crushed or roughly chopped

Mix all of the cure ingredients together, then scatter a handful of the mix over the base of a container large enough to fit your piece of pork, then scatter a second handful over the pork.

Now rub the mix into the underside, skin and edges of the pork, making sure you work it into any holes or flaps in the meat.

Cover and leave in a cool place – a larder or fridge – for 24 hours.

Next day lift the pork out of the container and pour away the liquid brine, then repeat what you did yesterday: one handful of cure beneath and another on top of the meat and rub in.

Repeat this over the next 5 or 6 days – i.e. until you have run out of cure mix – then rinse away any spices under the tap, pat dry with a clean cloth or kitchen paper and rub in a little malt vinegar all over the meat.

Use two hooks to hang your meat in a cool airy place for 2 weeks – I used my garage which is very cool and dry, especially in the late winter/early spring here in the UK.

Now all you need to do is smoke it! Rather than type the process, I thought it quicker and easier if I showed you what I did next:

#441 Smoking Meat. Not a recipe, but it has forced me to dry cure and smoke my own meat, and my goodness, how delicious it is! You really should try it yourself – the Lamb-Grigson hybrid recipe worked like a dream and the smoker gave off so little smoke I doubt neighbours would notice it ticking away. The salt, butter and cheese worked a treat too. 10/10.

References:

1.           Grigson, J. English Food. (Penguin, 1992).

2.           Hartley, D. Food in England. (Little, Brown & Company, 1954).

3.           Lamb, S. River Cottage Handbook No.13: Curing & Smoking. (Bloomsbury, 2014).

‘A Bite of History’ Event Saturday 10th April 2021

Hello all – a very quick post to let you all know that this Saturday 10th April at noon (GMT) I’m taking part in a free event called ‘A Bite of History’. I’ll be in conversation with poet Dan Simpson and we’ll be discussing allsorts of things: food history and historical cooking, the evolution of […]

‘A Bite of History’ Event Saturday 10th April 2021

Ten recipes to go!

I have reached a milestone in my unexpectedly long-running quest of attempting to cook every recipe in Jane Grigson’s magnificent book English Food; the last recipe was my 440th, and that means there are only ten recipes left! I hope that I can work through them fairly regularly, but they are getting fairly tricky to do now: the ingredients are either impossibly hard to get hold of, or are extremely expensive, though there are a couple of recipes that I think I can get done without a huge amount of trouble.

BUT the other issue is that a lot of the remaining recipes are quite large, too large for just myself and we are still social distancing – but hopefully someday soon I can cook the roast saddle of lamb that serves 12! Anyone who reads my food history blog will have noticed that I am cooking fairly simple and easy things on there at the moment. I don’t have that luxury on here, so the posts may dry up a little bit.

In the meantime, you guys might be able to help me out. Here’s a list of things that are causing me real bother. If you know of anyone who might be able to help me let me know:

  • Freshwater fish. Anyone know any fishermen who actually catch and taken their catch home to eat? I need to get my hands on some freshwater roach. They are a very common fish, but my goodness, they are hard to track down. I also need to find a responsible and sustainable elver fishermen who wouldn’t mind selling my some of his catch.
  • Cold smokers. I had always planned to build on in my back yard, but then I moved to an apartment. I need one so I can cold-smoke some chickens. No where sells them as far as I can see (there are lots of hot smoked chicken sold cold, but they are a different thing altogether!). Does anyone have one at home or know of a commercial one who might let me hang up a couple of them?
  • Ptarmigans.There’s a single bothersome recipe in the Game chapter I can’t tick off and it is roast ptarmigan. Though still technically legal game, but they are quite rare in the UK now, so I wouldn’t want to kill one. HOWEVER they do get shot by accident in grouse shoots, so they do turn up now and again. ALSO Canada is positively teeming with them, so if anyone fancies paying to send me over there, that would be simply marvellous.

So if you think you might be able to help me with any of these issues, please contact me on the blog, or email me at neil@britishfoodhistory.com

I’ll be back with a real post soon, I hope!

#440 Primitive Lamb with Blueberry Sauce

Here’s the second of the two recipes in English Food that uses primitive lamb. Regular followers will know that I acquired two legs of Hebridean hogget earlier this year. A hogget is a sheep that’s too old to be lamb, but not yet considered mutton. It was wonderful to go to the farm and chat with Helen, the farmer who works so hard to keep this rare and primitive breed alive and kicking. Here’s the episode of my Lent podcast that included my interview with her :

Primitive breeds such as the Hebridean need help: help from specialist farmers and help from us, because they won’t survive if there is no demand. Primitive breeds are excellent for the smallholder – they are small and easy lambers, meaning their husbandry is much less stressful than large commercial breeds with their giant lambs! They have great character too: they are brighter and are excellent foragers that display more natural behaviours. If I ever get a bit of land, I will definitely be getting myself a little flock.

In that episode we focus on the one breed, but I thought I’d give a mention to the other primitive breeds just in case you are thinking about getting hold of some. Aside from the Hebridean there are the Soay, Manx Loaghtan, Shetland, Boreray and North Ronaldsay. They all belong to the Northern European short-tailed group, and they were probably brought to the Outer Hebridean islands by Norse settlers. They are small, very woolly and extremely hardy sheep. The islands upon which they were found were the St Kilda archipelago, and had been there since the Iron Age. Some moved and adapted, the Manx Loaghtan obviously went to the Isle of Man, but some remained on the islands and adapted too. The North Ronaldsay, for example, lives on the small rocky northernmost islands and has become a seaweed-grazing specialist.

Of all the breeds, the Soay sheep are considered to be the most like their ancestors, and it is found on several islands in the archipelago. On the island of Herta, a feral population of around 1500 was discovered; their name is befitting because Soay is Norse for sheep island.

A plane’s view of the islands (pic: Flying Fish World)

This recipe is exactly the same as the other one except the lamb is served with a blueberry sauce rather than a gravy. Although we are at the tail-end of the blog, I actually made this sauce for my first ever pop up restaurant all the way back in 2013 which took place in my little terraced house – a lot has happened since then, that’s for sure! It sounded so delicious I couldn’t wait until I found some primitive lamb. The usual fruit to serve with lamb is of course the tart redcurrant, usually in jelly form. Blueberries are usually sweeter than currants, but Jane is not daft and makes up for it with the addition of a vinegar syrup.

And, if you are thinking this is some kind of American abomination, don’t be so sure: although all of the blueberries we buy in  shops are undoubtably American varieties, don’t forget its close relative, the more humble blaeberry, which I suspect is what the lamb would have been served with. It’s appeared in the blog before, and scored full marks: #xxx Blaeberry Pie

Anyway, enough waffle: here’s what to do:

Roast the lamb or hogget as described for #438 Plain Roast Primitive Lamb with Gravy, but instead of making the gravy start to make this blueberry sauce as it roasts:

In a saucepan simmer eight ounces of blueberries with ¼ pint of dry white wine, ¼ pint of lamb stock and a tablespoon of caster sugar. Remove a couple of dozen of the best berries for the garnish and blitz the remainder in a blender and pass through a sieve.

Dissolve 2 teaspoons of sugar in 6 tablespoons of white wine vinegar in a small saucepan and boil down until quite syrupy, then add to the blended berries along with some finely chopped mint or rosemary. Set aside and return to it when the roast had been taken out of the oven.

Skim any fat from the meat juices and pour them into the blueberry sauce. Reheat and add some lemon juice – I used a little shy of half a lemon here – and then season with salt and pepper, and even sugar if needed. When ready pour into a sauce boat, not forgetting to add in the reserved berries.

#440 Primitive Lamb with Blueberry Sauce. Well you won’t be surprised that this was, again, delicious, how could it not be? I did a better job of roasting it this time I feel. I really enjoyed the blueberry sauce and it went very well with the slightly gamey meat. I think I may have preferred the plain gravy to the blueberries though, but there’s not much in it. Because of this doubt, I am scoring it a very solid 9.5/10

P.S. The leftovers made an excellent #84 Shepherd’s Pie.

Refs:

‘British Rare & Traditional Sheep Breeds’ The Accidental Smallholder website: www.accidentalsmallholder.net/livestock/sheep/british-rare-and-traditional-sheep-breeds/

‘Soay’ RBST website www.rbst.org.uk/soay

‘Manx Loaghtan’ RBST website www.rbst.org.uk/manx-loaghtan

‘Hebridean Sheep Characteristics & Breeding Information’ Roy’s Farm website: www.roysfarm.com/hebridean-sheep

‘About Shetlands’ North American Shetland Sheepbreeders’ Association website: www.shetland-sheep.org/about-shetlands/

‘The Origins of Registered Boreray Sheep’, Sheep of St Kilda website: www.soayandboreraysheep.com/

‘Boreray’ RBST website: www.rbst.org.uk/boreray-sheep-25

‘North Ronaldsay’ RBST website: www.rbst.org.uk/north-ronaldsay

4.4 Cured Fish – Completed!

“Smoked and salted fish…are altogether on their own, the supplementary creation of another edible substances as different from the original as salami from pork.”

Jane Grigson, English Food

If Jane Grigson has taught me anything it is that the best foods are best enjoyed simply, and nothing illustrates this better than the recipes here in the Cured Fish section of the Fish chapter of English Food which I have now completed.

Back in the early days of the blog, I remember shuddering at some of the recipes; there were lots of unfamiliar ingredients – sprats, eels, bloaters – as well as a lot of smoked salmon, which I thought I did not like until I bought some of high quality as instructed by Jane. So unfamiliar was I with the ingredients I was not even sure #395 Red Herrings actually existed. It was difficult tracking them down, but I managed to find one supplier that still sold them. That supplier has sadly gone out of business, so I’m not sure if one can buy red herrings in Britain anymore so there’s a good chance I may have caught a taste of a food just before its extinction. If that is the case, I am glad I managed to feature it in soufflé form on a pop-up restaurant menu. Red herrings may be lost to us, but many traditional cures are still here alive and well, and what is more it’s the artisan producers who are making them and sticking to old methods and keeping them alive for us to enjoy today, canned and frozen fish notwithstanding.

#439 Bavarois of Smoked Salmon

In this section there are a couple of recipes for fish paste, another thing I would never have made, had I not been prompted; #358 Bloater Paste or #50 Kipper Paste may not sound appealing, but really are very good.

Jane pays particular attention to the anchovy, a cornerstone of English cooking. The recipes she chose were odd though: there was the superlative and simple #10 ‘To Make a Nice Whet Before Dinner’ and #287 Scotch Woodcock (a 9.5/10 and 8/10 respectively), and as anathema the rather naff #195 Canapés à la Crème and the simply vile #247 Anchovy Matchsticks (a 3/10 and 1/10 respectively). Anchovies crop up elsewhere in the book because they are an excellent and interesting seasoning for all kinds of dishes. An English #312 Pork Pie must contain anchovy essence or anchovy sauce if it’s to be a proper one, and her excellent #342 Halibut with Anchovies uses Patum Peperium, a Victorian anchovy paste also known as Gentleman’s Relish, which I wrote about a few years ago now on the other blog.

#310 Smoked Mackere
#234 Smoked Eel

As usual, I have listed the recipes below in the order they appear in the book with links to my posts and their individual scores, so have a gander. It is worth pointing out, that my posts are no substitute for Jane’s wonderful writing, so if you don’t own a copy of English Food, I suggest you get yourself one.

#395 Red Herrings 7/10

#238 Grilled Bloaters 7/10

#358 Bloater Paste 7.5/10

#252 Bloater and Potato Salad 5/10

#105 Kippers 8/10

#50 Kipper Paste 8/10

#310 Smoked Mackerel 7/10

#240 Smoked Sprats 7.5/10

#190 Finnan Haddock 8/10

#184 Kedgeree 8/10

#39 Finnan Haddock and Mustard Sauce 8/10

#234 Smoked Eel 8/10

#92 Smoked Trout 7.5/10

#166 Smoked Salmon 7/10

#439 Bavarois of Smoked Salmon 3/10

#247 Anchovy Matchsticks 1/10

#10 To Make a Nice Whet before Dinner (1769) 9.5/10

#195 Canapés à la Crème 3/10

#287 Scotch Woodcock 8/10