#181 Yorkshire Pudding

If one is having roast beef (or roast anything, for that matter) one simple has to have Yorkshire pudding. I have been using my own Yorkshire pudding recipe for years (it can be found on a previous entry) and I was not sure about someone else’s, even Griggers’.

In English Food, Griggers says to pour the batter, once made, into a roasting tray below the meat (see last entry). However, you can pour the batter into small trays. In Yorkshire, we make giant ones in sandwich tins and put our meat, veg and gravy inside. Other alternatives are to have them as a starter with a little gravy or with some sugar, or for afters with golden syrup or sweetened condensed milk pour over. The idea of the former being that you can fill your guests up with Yorkshire pudding, so they eat less meat later! That’s Yorkshire folk. It is, of course, also the batter required to make toad-in-the-hole (also on the blog!).

The first Yorkshire pudding recipe appears in 1737 in a book called The Whole Duty of Women and is pretty much unchanged, though it does state that it should be eaten with roast mutton. Now there’s a bombshell!

Before I give the recipe, I have two important instructions that Griggers doesn’t explicitly give: first, make your batter as early as possible, the night before if you can remember to; second, make sure your oven is very hot and that the fat used in the tray is very hot too. These two simple rules will help your Yorkshires to rise and rise.

Start by making pouring half a pint each of milk and water into a jug. To make the batter, mix 8 ounces of flour and a pinch of salt in bowl. Make a well in the centre and crack three eggs inside plus some half-milk half-water mix. Mix everything together to make a thick paste. Add most of the water-milk until you have a creamy and pourable mixture (I used the whole lot). Leave the batter to settle. Preheat the oven to 200°C and place some fat (oil or dripping) in your tin and let it get good and hot. Pour the batter into the tin and give it 40 minutes to rise.

#181 Yorkshire Pudding. If you are doing it the traditional way in a single roasting tin, Griggers doesn’t say what size you should use – it turns out you should use a big one! Mine was too small so the batter was rather deep and so it didn’t crisp up properly. Some people like it like that, but I don’t. That said it did taste good from the beef fat dripping on top of it throughout cooking. Hmmmm. Tricky to mark. 3/10 I think, but that’s because they weren’t in the correct sized tray. I’m pretty sure they would score higher (though not as high as my own ones!).

#180 Roast Beef

It was Charlotte’s birthday last Sunday, so she got to choose a birthday meal. She chose well – in fact she chose the most British meal you could possibly imagine – Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding. We British love our roast beef, and were very good at cooking it; the French called us rosbif, not to be rude, but out of respect, as we had the roasting of meat down to a fine art. In fact French chefs would come to Britain to learn the art of roasting on the spit. These days of course, we used our conventional oven to roast our meat, so technically we are making baked beef, not roast beef.

Roasting beef (or any other meat, in fact) is not hard as long as three simple rules are followed: buy good quality beef that has been hung for at least 21 days, season it well (especially if you are crispy fat fan), and roast it from room temperature – don’t go straight from fridge to oven. I bought a rib of beef from my new favourite butcher – Axon’s of Didsbury. A six pound monster that came to £30 – you may think this is expensive, but you get what you pay for and is enough to provide for six or seven people. Also, I have been making good meals from the leftovers: beef and oyster mushrooms in oyster sauce (I picked the mushrooms myself whilst walking in the woods!) and an oriental beef and noodle soup. So in the end, it actually pays to spend a bit more, as you get more out of it. Lecture over.

For roast beef, Griggers suggests either rib or sirloin on the bone with undercut. You need at least 5 pounds in weight. The first thing to do is to season you meat well with salt and pepper the night before. Keep in the fridge overnight by all means, but make sure you remove it from the fridge in plenty of time for it to get to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Weight the meat and calculate the cooking time: 15 minutes per pound for rare, add an extra 20 minutes at the end for medium-well done. The joint needs to be able to sit on a rack inside the roasting tray in the oven, but first place the tray on its own with enough beef dripping to cover the bottom for five minutes before adding the joint and rack. If you are making Yorkshire puddings, you could make them in the traditional way of pouring the mixture into the roasting tin, or pour batter into trays if you prefer. Either way put them in 40 minutes before the end of cooking. When the time is up, remove the beef (keep the Yorkshires in, if need be) and allow it to rest for at least 20 minutes before serving and slicing. Place on a serving dish surrounded by cut-up pieces of Yorkshire pudding.

Whilst the beef is cooking, make the gravy by frying a sliced onion in some beef dripping with a teaspoon of sugar until it turns a deep brown. Add half a pint of beef stock and simmer for at least 20 minutes. Season and serve, or if you like a smooth sauce, strain it. Serve with roast parsnips, roast potatoes and horseradish sauce, plus some seasonal green veg.

#180 Roast Beef. I cooked my beef rare because it shows off the quality and taste of good meat, and very good it was too. The outside fat was crispy, and the inside was pink, juicy and tender – proper melt-in-the-mouth stuff. I give it 8.5/10 – as far as beef goes it’s just excellent, but roast lamb in the winner when it comes to red meat.

#179 Fruit Salad with Tea

I made this dessert to go after the duck with mint and sauce paloise as it was all very rich, the idea being that it would cleanse the palate and all that. Plus it’s a chance to use lots of the dark summer fruits now that they’re on the wane a bit. (That said, they are just coming through in the wild – when Butter and I went to Chatsworth House for a walk in the woods, we found wild raspberries, blackberries and strawberries.) I had mentioned making this fruit salad a few times, but people always opted for something else. This time, I just made it and didn’t tell anyone what they were having; a strategy I may use again. What seems to put folk off is the addition of the tea, of course, and think it’s just some weird post-war thing (I must admit, I thought that too), but Griggers says that it is delicious and that you would never guess the delicious sweet liquid is mainly Earl Grey.

You can any fruit you like and in any quantity, though it is best to stick to dark and red soft fruits. I stuck to what Jane suggests: 1 lb purple plums, stoned and chopped; 1 lb black cherries, stoned; ½ lb black grapes, halved; ½ lb strawberries, halved (or sliced if they are large) and 4 ounces of raspberries. Arrange the fruit in a glass bowl in layers, using sliced strawberries to line the bowl, and sprinkling sugar as you go. Cover and leave overnight. Next day, make a double strength brew of Earl Grey or orange pekoe tea and leave to cool. Pour it onto the bowl so that it almost comes to the top. Taste the tea and add more sugar if necessary. Decorate with mint leaves. There is no need to serve it with anything at all.

#179 Fruit Salad with Tea. Really, really good! A complete surprise and a taste sensation. The tea was light, sweet and delicious, and Jonty and Butters didn’t guess that there was tea in there. The fruit had gone soft and juicy, looking like little jewels. I didn’t think a fruit salad could be so good! I shall never make a fruit salad any other way again. 8/10

FYI: The Earl Grey referred to in Earl Grey tea is the second Earl Grey, who was a Prime Minister in the 1830s. He was sent some tea flavoured with bergamot oil as a gift from China, and so it was forever named after him

#178 Duck with Mint

Attempting the poultry section in English Food has been a paltry effort by me, but I intend to address this, people. I thought I’d start with one of the two duck recipes. This one, where the duck is stewed with a shed-load of mint seemed right up my summery alley. It also has the added bonus of a sauce paloise, which is very similar to a sauce béarnaise (except tarragon is substituted for mint) and uses a hollandaise sauce as its base. Now proficient in hollandaise sauce making, I was eager.

Apparently the French think it is hilarious that we have mint with our lamb, when blinking Johnny Foreigner goes around eating sauce paloise here there and everywhere with their duck! Only joking Frenchies, I loves ya really!

To make this, season a large duck inside and out with salt and pepper before stuffing its cavity with a whole bunch of mint. Next, wrap the duck in a large napkin or double-wrapped muslin. Half fill a large pot with water and add a large quartered carrot, a large onion studded with three cloves and a stick of celery. Bring it to the boil and then place the duck in and leave it to simmer, covered, for 2 ½ hours. When cooked, remove the napkin and place on a serving plate surrouded by mint leaves.

Start making the sauce around half an hour before the cooking time is up: Into a small saucepan add a tablespoon of chopped shallot, two tablespoons of chopped mint, a tablespoon of chopped chervil, a sprig of thyme, a quarter of a bay leaf and four tablespoons each of dry white wine and white wine vinegar, plus a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Boil down this mixture, until it has reduced by two-thirds. Allow to cool. Now place the mixture in a bowl and beat in three large egg yolks. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and beat in six ounces of unsalted butter bit by little bit. Season with lemon juice and more salt and pepper if required. Finally, stir through some freshly chopped mint leaves. Pour into a salad boat.

FYI: Chervil is tricky herb to get hold of, so instead of using it you can use the small yellow leaves from the inside of a bunch of celery, they provide a very similar flavour.

#178 Duck with Mint. If you don’t like mint, this is not the recipe for you. However, I love mint and it was just the thing for a summertime Sunday dinner. The duck was tasty, though a little dry, but the rich and tart sauce married with it perfectly well. In fact, the sauce paloise was the star of the show. I think it would go very well with lamb or even fish. The Medieval look of the birs with all the mint leave in and around it, was quite impressive too. Overall, I think this deserves 7.5/10 (though the sauce would be 9/10+ if I was marking it separately).

#177 Hollandaise Sauce

The fishmonger in the Arndale Centre in Manchester was selling sea bass for £1.50 each! What a bargain. I know that they’ve probably been dredged up by one of those massive trawler nets and by buying them I’ve surely helped seal the fate of several marine species, but ignorance is bliss so I won’t try to find out.

To go with the sea bass, I had samphire (see previous entry) and also made some hollandaise sauce. Not technically English, of course, but we’ve used it for so long in our cuisine it seems English – more English than, say mayonnaise anyway – and it is one of my favourite sauces. The trouble is, me and hollandaise has a chequered past; it’s a tricky sauce that is either amazing and delicious, or splits and is awful and goes in the bin. My success rate is around 50%. Griggers’ recipe is slightly different to the classic way of making it as it doesn’t use melted butter, but uses cubes of butter added gradually instead? Is this a foolproof recipe? We shall see…

FYI: hollandaise sauce first appeared as simply melted butter in eighteenth century France, but soon became the complex emulsion of butter and egg yolks we know and love and was added to the list of mother sauces of French cuisine by Escoffier in the early twentieth century (the others being béchamel, veloute, espangole and allemande).

This is the Griggers method (you can multiply up or down depending upon how much you need to make):

Begin by boiling down 3 tablespoons each of water and white wine vinegar and 10 crushed white peppercorns until just a tablespoon remains. Strain it into a bowl and allow to cool. Bring a pan of water to a simmer and place the bowl over it. Beat in three large egg yolks and beat in 6 ounces of unsalted butter bit by bit using a wire whisk. Do not over heat, or the eggs cook and the sauce splits. Season with salt and lemon juice.

#177 Hollandaise Sauce – 9/10. Well that was easy! This may be the fool-proof method I have been after (either that or it was a fluke). The sauce is beautifully rich, with a piquant tang of lemon and vinegar that cut through it so well that you easily drink a pit of the stuff. My only gripe is that this method doesn’t seem to make a very thick sauce, but that is being very nit-picky.

#176 Samphire

I came across some marsh samphire in the fishmongers the other week – I had been looking for it previously and thought I would have to go to extreme lengths to get hold of it – I bought it, just in case I never came across it again. Luckily, Griggers mentions in English Food that samphire can be successfully frozen by blanching briefly and then popping into the freezer.

Samphire grows on the salty soil near the sea, and marsh samphire grows in salt marshes. The word samphire is a corruption of the French Saint Pierre, the patron saint of fishermen. He was obviously looking after them by providing the coastal veg. Samphire comes/came under several names: sea asparagus, glasswort (it was used in glass production), crab grass and frog grass. Keep a look out for it when you are near the sea – rock samphire grows well on Dover cliffs, but collecting it is a precarious activity – ‘a dreadful trade’, according to Shakespeare in King Lear. Best stick to the marshes, if you want to try and collect your own.

Samphire is dealt with in two ways: pickling or boiling. Boiled samphire is generally served as a vegetable with fish or lamb or with a hollandaise sauce (which I did, along with some pan-fried sea bass). To do this, boil rapidly in unsalted water until tender, this should be just five minutes. Drain and serve.

#176 Samphire. 5/10. It seems that the blanching and freezing technique is not as successful as indicated by Griggers; they were unfortunately left all soggy and not at all crisp and tender. The flavour however, was good; salty and sweet with a mild taste of ocean ozone. I think that I shall try it again but without freezing it this time.

#175 Shoulder of Lamb with Rice and Apricot Stuffing

A dish with a Middle Eastern or North African influence, it seems like a very tame version of a lamb tagine with its spices, nuts and dried fruit, that has been very Anglicised. These days, we don’t need our food tempered down to suit our bland tastes; we like our foreign foods to taste traditional. However, as always new foods get invented, reinvented or modified dependent upon the country you are in and it is certainly no bad thing (think, chicken tikka masala and spaghetti Bolognese). This is a simple recipe that is excellent for a Sunday roast in the summertime – it required very little attention as you can make the stuffing, stuff the lamb and bung it in the oven whilst you go out for a nice walk or sit in the sun.

Also: I bought the lamb from Axon’s of Didsbury, South Manchester – it was of very good quality indeed, as was the pork ribs and sausages we bought too. If you are ever in the area, make sure you visit. They make their own sausages and also butcher veal – very rare these days. The man was very friendly and even gave us some extra pork ribs free. I think they may be my new favourite butcher.

To begin with, you need to make the stuffing. Boil 8 ounces of long grain rice in salted water until cooked. Drain it and put it in a bowl. Mix in 4 ounces of dried apricots ( you may need to soak them first), 2 tablespoons of seedless raisins, 2 tablespoons of slivered almonds, half a teaspoon each of ground coriander, cinnamon and ground ginger, plus plenty of salt and black pepper.

Now get the lamb ready – you will need a boned unrolled shoulder of lamb. Lay it out, season it, and then stuff it with some of the rice mixture. The best way to do this is to put the stuffing where the bones used to be. Grigson says to sew up the pocket where the bones were, but I found that I didn’t need to. Roll up the shoulder and secure it well with two or three pieces of twine. Weigh the lamb and place it in a roasting tin and brush it with melted butter. Season it well. Roast at 190°C for 30 minutes per pound plus an extra twenty minutes. When cooked, remove from the roasting tin and let it rest on a serving dish. Put the tin over the hob and add the remainder of the rice stuffing. Turn it around in the juices and let it reheat. Spoon it around the lamb and serve. We had it with a green salad dressed with a simple vinaigrette.

#175 Shoulder of Lamb with Rice and Apricot Stuffing – 9/10. Although I slightly mocked the dumbing down of flavour for the English palette, I found this recipe brilliant – it was simple, yet there were massive returns. The lamb fat was crispy on the outside and the meat beautifully tender within and the rice gave a sweet-sour flavour that cut through the rich lamb very well. It’s very difficult to knock this – especially when you have bought it from such a reputable butcher as Axon’s.

August Food

My usual monthly list of seasonal food that I steal from a free copy of The River Cottage Seasonal Food Guide that Butters gave me. Everything is in abundance and cheap now, whether it be familiar or usual, so now’s the time to start buying or harvesting and preserving, whether it be freezing, making jam or pickling.

Look out for…

Vegetables: globe artichokes, aubergines, beetroot, brtoad beans, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, chard, courgettes, cucumber, fennel, French beans, garlic, kohlrabi, lamb’s lettuce, onions, pak choi, peas, potatoes, puslane, radishes, rocket, runner beans, salsify, samphire, sorrel, spinach, sweetcorn, tomatoes, watercress.

Fruit: apples, apricots, blackberries, blackcurrants, blueberries, loganberries, melons, peaches and nectarines, plums, raspberries, red and white currants, worcesterberries

Wild greens and herbs: horseradish, marsh samphire, wild fennel

Wild flowers and fruits: bilberries, blackberries, bullace, damsons, wild strawberries

Fungi and nuts: ceps, chanterelles, chicken of the woods, field mushrooms, hazelnuts, horse mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, parasol mushrooms, puffballs, giant shaggy inkcap, summer truffles

Fish and shellfish: black bream, crab, signal crayfish, lobster, mackerel, Pollack, prawns, scallops, sea bass squid, trout

Game: rabbit, woodpigeon