#199 Apple Sauce III

Eagle-eyed followers of the blog will notice that there has been no Apple Sauce I or II. In English Food there four recipes for apple sauce, so I thought it best to get the ball rolling. I’ve made this one first because it is not a sauce for pork, but for chicken. I had a very nice-looking free range chicken that I bought from the poulterer Peter D Willacy at Houghton Farmers Market, you see. He has no website, but you can call him in 01253 883470. The best thing about their chickens is that they come with giblets; not something you see these days, not even in good butchers. I’m hoping to buy a capon from them soon. This sauce can also be served with veal.

Anyways, if you are roasting a chicken this weekend, try this very easy creamy and usual hot apple sauce:

Core, dice and peel a pound of Cox’s pippin apples (or a good equivalent) and fry them in some clarified butter. (If you don’t clarify your butter first, it may burn. Melt it slowly in a pan, blot away any solids on the surface with some kitchen paper, then decant the liquid butter away, leaving behind any other solids that sank to the bottom.) When they have softened and turned a little golden, remove the apple pieces with a slotted spoon, leaving behind the buttery juices. Add six tablespoons of white wine (or cider) to the juices to deglaze and reduce it all well. Lastly, stir through six tablespoons of double cream and sharpen with a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve hot.


#199 Apple Sauce III. A strange one this one because the sauce is essentially stewed apples and cream, which in my book is a pudding. That said, it did go surprisingly well with the chicken as there are no strong flavours to drown out the subtle chicken. 5.5/10.

Number 200 fast approaches…

Well who would’ve ever have thunk that I would still be doing this frankly stupid endeavour and be quickly approaching number 200. I have been pondering what to cook for it – I want to do something very English and/or grand and I think I have chosen something; it may not fit the latter criterior, but it is possibly more English than roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Can you guess what it is? Answers on a postcard….

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has read and commented on the blog – I am still flabbergasted than people read it and cook from it. My biggest thanks go to all my poor friends and family that have had t put up with some of these meals, which have been pretty far out of their comfort zone. Everyone has been great sports.

Thanks again, folks!

#198 Compote of Bonchretien Pears

I’ve been rather busy of late and not had much time for cooking or blogging. Oh well, we all have fallow periods. It seems like ages ago that I did the dinner party that was just a couple of weeks ago and I’ve only just gotten round to telling you about the dessert.

I wanted to do something that I could make ahead and was seasonal too. This pear compote was the obvious choice. A nice clean tart fruit after all that cream and fried bread from the previous courses. I was concerned that I wasn’t going to find any Bonchrétien pears though – I’d never heard of them. I turns out the Bon Chrétien (which translate as ‘good Christian’) pears are a type of Williams pear, the most common of the pears.

This recipe is another from Hannah Glasse, a book called The Complete Confectioner, published in 1790 – there are no specific weights and cooking times really, which is a good thing as there is a huge variation in sweetness and folks’ tastes too. Do buy good pears for this though; don’t worry if they are under-ripe.

Peel, core and slice your pears. Plunge them into a pan half-full with boiling water that has been acidulated with lemon juice. Bring to the boil and simmer for two minutes before draining and returning to the pan. If your pears are particularly hard, they may need a little more time; if they are soft, I probably wouldn’t simmer them at all. Gently stew the fruit with some sugar to taste for a few minutes, either over the hob or in the oven. Make sure the pan is covered well. To add extra flavour and interest add some pared lemon peel or a split vanilla pod (I went with the latter). Once tender, remove from the heat, squeeze some orange juice over the pears and leave to cool, covered. Griggers or Glasse make no suggestions for accompaniments, so I went with vanilla ice cream.

#198 Compote of Bonchrétien Pears. I don’t cook with pears very often and this is first time I’ve made a compote from them. They were are very good end to a rich meal, and the vanilla made them extra-delicious. I think that we should all swap our apples for pears whenever we think about making a crumble or pie this autumn or winter. 8/10

#197 Sedgemoor Eel Stew

The first of four eel-based recipes from the book (five if you include the elvers recipe) and hopefully the star turn for my dinner party. I chose this one first because I knew them some people would be squeamish about them and this one seemed the least scary. It’s called a stew, but really it’s poached fish in a parsley sauce; a dish that everyone’s had in some way or form before. It’s a classic Somerset recipe this, where there are eels in abundance (according to Griggers); this is not the case so much these days, certainly for Manchester. However, I did get them. Try your fishmonger and you never know; I got mine from Out of the Blue in Chorlton. Be warned – you do get them live, so be prepared to kill them and prepare them yourself. Read how I went about it here.

This serves six easily.

You need three to four pounds of clean and skinned freshwater eel for this recipe. Begin by cutting the eel(s) into even-sized portions of around two inches in length. Season them lightly. Make a stock from the eel heads and skin as well as the flat part of the tails: Place the trimmings in a pan and cover them with half-water, half-cider (use good dry cider). Bring to a boil and then cover and summer for twenty minutes.

Arrange the eel pieces in a shallow pan and pour over enough hot stock to barely cover the eels. Poach the eels for around fifteen minutes, until the eel meat starts to come away from the bones. Don’t let the stock come to a proper boil though – steady poaching is the key, and it may take longer with thicker eels. When cooked, remove the eel pieces and arrange them on a serving dish, cover them with cling film and keep them warm.

Now make the sauce by boiling down the cooking liquor until it tastes strongly and then add ¼ pint (i.e. a 150 ml pot) of clotted, Jersey or double cream and four tablespoons of chopped parsley. Season again if required. Pour the sauce over the eel and serve. She suggests serving this stew with toast or fried bread. As fried bread had already featured in the last two courses, I went for toast. I also served some broccoli too.

#197 Sedgemoor Eel Stew. This was really good; the sauce was both sharp and creamy due to the cider and fresh with grassy parsley. The flavours were robust, but not too strong to mask the eel itself. It was very delicate in flavour; you could tell that they had come from a very good river as it tasted of fresh springwater. It stayed beautifully moist due to the gelatinous nature of it too. Much superior to salmon or trout, I think. Now that people don’t eat eel, I feel I have found a real hidden gem. I just have to go through the rigmarole of killing and cleaning them! At least I can say that this was the freshest fish I’ve ever had! 8.5/10

FYI: delicious as eel maybe, beware if someone offers you raw eel, say as sashimi. Eel blood is toxic before it is cooked, so if you get given a bloody bit, it could be a bad man trying to do away with you.

#196 Mange Tout Salad with Chicken Liver and Bacon

The starter to the dinner party. The problem with dinner parties is that unless you’re careful, you end up stressed out in the kitchen cooking away and not seeing or speaking to anyone. This warm salad seemed just the job, as long as everything was prepped beforehand; it takes only minutes to make. This recipe looked simple and very tasty indeed – anything with chicken livers and fried bread always gets my vote. I also like that in this recipe appears in the Vegetables chapter of the book!

FYI: although liver is both delicious and cheap – be warned of potential poisoning through an overdose of vitamin A. However, this only really applies to polar bear, seal and husky liver. But you have been warned, so don’t come crying to me when you’ve got serious hypervitaminosis.


This recipe serves four to six people:

Briefly boil 12 ounces of mange tout in salted water; just two minutes will do it. Don’t put a lid on (the same goes for any green vegetable) as it keeps them crisp and gives them a vibrant green colour. Drain them and keep them warm in a bowl in a low oven. Now cut six rashers of streaky bacon into strips and fry them in a little sunflower oil until crisp, remove, drain, add more oil, then fry 24 (ish; let’s no get too pernickety) bread cubes in the oil. When golden brown, drain and keep them and the bacon warm. Make a simple vinaigrette from some sunflower or hazelnut oil and some white wine vinegar. Use a ratio you prefer, though Griggers suggests 3:2 oil to vinegar. Stir this into the mange tout. Now fry the chicken livers: you need six – cube them and remove any gristly bits and gall bladders should there be any. Fry them quickly and briefly – they should be a little bit pink inside. Remove them from the heat. Carefully stir in the bacon and liver and serve straight away.

#196 Mange Tout Salad with Chicken Liver and Bacon. This was delicious. The salty and fatty bacon and rich metallic liver were perfectly balanced with the bland and sweet mange tout. The crispy croutons add extra textures too. I really love these simple recipes in the book (you’re not always sure which ones they are going to be). Minimum effort, maximum reward. Brilliant stuff 8.5/10

#195 Canapes a la Creme

The entrée for the dinner party. It’s one of those recipes that I’ve never got round to because – frankly – it’s never really seemed that interesting and a bit of a rigmarole to produce (there quite a few of these!). Grigson says that they are “[a] fine mixture of hot, rich, piquant and cold.” I don’t really know why this recipe is in English Food, I’m sure that there are other canapés in book Savouries à la Mode by Mrs de Salis she could’ve nabbed. Perhaps she chose this one because the ingredients are quite English. Anyways, here is the method, if you want to try and make some for yourself:

Cut some white bread in centimetre thick slices. Cut out circles and fry them in butter. Grigson doesn’t say how large they should be – I used a highball glass. Next put anchovy fillets on each slice – she says three, but that seemed excessive to me for the size of fried bread I’d cut out, so just added one. Finally add a spoonful of cold clotted cream to each canapé and serve straight away.

The canapes in production

#195 Canapés à la Crème. 3/10. They weren’t vile – all of the ingredients that go to produce this are among my favourite foods – they were just odd and uninspiring. There was not too much fattiness from the fried bread and cream, and the anchovies were too much (it’s a good job I didn’t add three!). I think they could’ve been improved if a cream cheese or crème fraiche mixed with chives as suggested on the night had been used rather than clotted cream. Still, they were easier to make than I thought – particularly when I had my army of sous chefs with me! Cheers guys.

…Next, Simply Prepare Your Eels

So how do you kill and prepare an eel? Well, if you look in English Food, Griggers just says to ask your fishmonger to do the dirty work. The was not to be the case for me, for two main reasons: my fishmonger (and pretty much any fishmonger in the country, I hasten to add) had never dealt with them at all. Remember: fishmongers do not receive live fish, apart from the odd lobster or crab perhaps, so this was just as out of his comfort zone as mine. The second reason was that I felt it part of my duty as a meat-eater to do this. Every animal we have eaten has had to be killed. These days, however, the consumer hardly ever does this themselves. We are too far removed from our food these days and therefore disrespectful of it so some degree. This is a way of addressing this issue for me. I did not expect to find it easy. In fact I was very nervous; I had never killed anything in my life and I was not looking forward to it. I didn’t want it to be easy; I wanted it to be distressing (for me, not the eels). We take all this animal killing in our stride.

The eels await their fate in their little polystyrene prison

I have gone off on a tangent. Larousse Gastronomique gives you these instructions on how to prepare an eel. It sounded all so easy:

To kill an eel, simply seize it with a cloth and simply bang its head violently against a hard surface. To skin it, simply put a noose around the base and hang it up. Simply slit the skin in a circle just beneath the noose. Simply pull away a small portion of the skin, turn it back, take hold of it with a cloth and simply pull it down hard.

I added the “simply”s. Well it didn’t quite go like the description in Larousse. So here’s what we ended up doing:

First up, you need to have a couple of rums to help prepare you. That’s what Paul and I did and I think it helped. We fannied around a bit before Charlotte walked in from work, grabbed one in a cloth and gave it several massive thwacks again the wall. Job a good one? No. It was still alive! She gave it another couple and it went limp. This was not like killing a trout with a short, sharp crack on a stone. We felt quite distressed about the several hits that we had to give it to kill it – we didn’t want to cause any unnecessary suffering. So the new plan was to hit it once to knock the others out or slow them down, and then chop the heads off with a meat-cleaver. I know this might sound extreme but, it seemed like the best thing – plus I remember it being the method I remember seeing some chef doing on telly once. We did it, and guess what? They were still moving about! I took the two now headless eels to the, plus Charlotte’s to the skin to rinse, and revived Charlotte’s. Off with its head.

Before you get angry about any mistreatment here – it turns out that they were all dead quite early on. We worked this out because all three eel bodies were still seemingly happily snaking around in the sink a good 45 minutes post-beheading. It seems that much of their behaviour is down to instinct and their autonomic nervous system. Though I’ve no idea how this happens and why it’s so different to other fishes. Below is the rather gruesome video of the headless eels I took when they were in the sink. I mentioned the whole episode to Matthew Cobb (who I work with at Manchester University) who said he’ll put a link to this post on his z-letter. (FYI: The z-letter is weekly newsletter about all things zoological.) Hopefully I shall find out why they just don’t conk out. Be warned before clicking on the video if you are squeamish, remember too though that they are dead. Also, I apologise for my rather camp commentary. Let me know if you can tell me anything about eels and their habit of moving and swimming long after death.

The next stage of preparation is to skin them. In our panic, thinking we hadn’t killed eels when we had, we cut off the heads so couldn’t do the noose trick outlined in Larousse. Instead, we tried to make slit down the base and peel the skin away some other way. Anthea had arrived by this point, to find us sweating, giggling and holding bloody carving knives, and she suggested using some salt as it would give grip against their very slimy skins. At first all this seemed to do was kick-start the wriggle reflex again, but eventually – with Anthea restraining the wriggling eel with yet more cloths – I managed to get a purchase on the eel and pull the skin off in one piece. Just two more to go.

The hard work was done, just the gutting to do. At last I was on familiar territory. I’ve gutted fish several times before. To do this, make a cut from its anus – you’ll see it, about halfway down – to the neck end and pull away any innards away from the rib cage. Give it a rinse and you are done.

Well I have to say it was a pretty distressing episode, it wasn’t as bad as we thought at the time. I now know that eels carry on a-moving quite a while after death. So, to sum up:

1. Holding a cloth, hit your eel several times very hard against a wall.
2. Whilst the eel is limp, quickly cut off its head with a cleaver or very sharp knife.
3. Using salt as an abrasive, pull the skin back – persevere here – until you have a good inch of skin eked away, then pull off like a big macabre witch stocking.
4. Gut and wash the eel.

It sounds so easy put into four sentences.