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 a link to my interview with her that made up the last episode of my recent podcast series all about Lent. 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

#439 Bavarois of Smoked Salmon

‘Why’, you may think ‘has this relatively straight-forward recipe taken me so long to get around to?’ The answer is very simple and is two-fold: it doesn’t sound that nice and it’s quite expensive to make. However, in this time of lockdown, I realised that I could buy all the ingredients for it quite easily from a local fishmonger whilst out doing my appropriately socially-distanced weekly shop, and so as a bit of procrastination I made it. The recipe is essentially smoked salmon with crème fraiche and salmon roe. It sounds very 1970s, though it may not be as old as that.

The Walnut Tree Inn (thewalnuttreeinn.com)

The recipe comes from Franco Taruschino who, at the time English Food was published, was chef at the Walnut Tree Inn at Llandewi Skirrid near Abergavenny. The place is described by Jane as “one of the nicest places to visit in the British Isles.” Today the kitchen’s head chef is the Michelin-starred Shaun Hill, another favourite of Jane’s who appears several times in English Food as well as her other tomes. In fact, he was one of the guests on the episode of the BBC’s Food Programme about Jane Grigson that Yours Truly also appeared in. Link to part 1 here and part 2 here.

This recipe serves ten, but it can be easily adapted to serve more or fewer people, which is lucky for me in these days of lockdown, as there was obviously no way I was going to be serving that many. The recipe below uses 1 ½ pounds of smoked salmon for 10 servings. I could only get hold of small packs and managed to get a third of what was required, enough to line 4 small ramekins. Anyway, multiply up or divide down as appropriate for you:

Swirl out your ramekins with water and line them with strips of salmon, making sure there is a little overhanging. Take any trimmings and place in a blender with 8 fluid ounces of crème fraiche (or half and half double and soured cream). Season with ½ teaspoon of Cayenne pepper and the juice of half a lemon. This stage was a disaster for me – because shelves were pretty bare, I could only get low fat crème fraiche (a very First World problem, I do realise) and so the whole thing was reduce to a thin liquid; blending had done away with the artificial structure given to it in the form of pectin or whatever. I attempted to remedy this by adding a couple of leaves of gelatine dissolved in a little boiling water to it, which I just got away with.

Fold through this mixture, 8 teaspoons of salted red salmon roe (or indeed any roe). Spoon into the lined ramekins, lay over the overhanging salmon, cover with cling film and place in the fridge to set (in my case overnight because of the gelatine).

Meanwhile, get on with the tomato sauce. Finely chop enough shallot to yield 2 tablespoons and fry it until golden in a little olive oil, then add 2 pounds of tomatoes that have been skinned, seeded and chopped*. Fry until the tomatoes turn pulpy, then season with salt, pepper and a teaspoon of red wine vinegar. Pass through a sieve to make a smooth sauce – you can use a hand blender first if your tomatoes do not seem pulpy enough to pass through one. Check for seasoning, remembering it will need to be slightly over-seasoned as it is served chilled. Place this in the fridge to cool down.

When ready to serve, place a couple of tablespoons of the sauce in centre of ten serving plates and gingerly release each bavarois from its ramekin onto your hand. A small palette knife came in very handy here, and it wasn’t too tricky: just don’t get hasty and shake the ramekin unless you want disaster to strike; the best things (and sometimes the worst, it seems) come to those who wait.

Place a bavarois in the centre of each circle, and scatter over some finely chopped chives to garnish.

#439 Bavarois of Smoked Salmon. This recipe seems so outdated now. I suppose it is no surprise that it is the contemporary recipes that have aged more quickly that the traditional or historical ones. Anyway, this was less horrible as expected and it all got eaten, but for the poor return it was a lot of faff and expense. Give me some good cold-smoked fish, some butter, brown bread and a wedge of lemon or blob of horseradish sauce any day of the week. Not one of her worst, but not good enough to even be average either: 3/10

*to do this, cut a cross on the underside of each tomato, place in a jug or bowl and pour over boiling water to cover. Leave for 2 minutes, then fish out with a slotted spoon. The skin will come away from the flesh relatively easy if you use a good paring knife to aid you. Once removed, they can be halved and the watery centres and seeds scooped out and discarded (or popped into the vegetable trimmings stock bag in the freezer).

#438 Plain Roast Primitive Lamb with Gravy

This is a recipe I have been waiting over a decade to make, but patience is a virtue and I have finally been able to cook it; after years of searching farmers’ markets and emailing farmers’ websites, I finally found someone who farms primitive sheep breeds. Here’s what happened.

If you don’t follow the other blog, you might not realise that I have been making a podcast about Lent and for the final episode, I wanted to cook some lamb as it would be in keeping with the Lenten theme. So, I got it into my head that it had to be from a primitive breed of sheep. After a surprisingly short internet search and some inquiring emails, I found Helen Arthan, a farmer of rare breed sheep and cattle, and she kindly agreed to take part in the podcast, so off I went to her beautiful farm in the Cheshire countryside.

There are several primitive breeds of sheep still being farmed, and Helen kept one of the oldest – Hebridean sheep – which descend from Viking stocks. Rather than tell you about these beautiful and characterful animals here, I am going to send you in the direction of the podcast episode to hear about it yourself instead; so here it is.

There are two recipes that use primitive lamb in English Food, there’s this one where it is roasted and served with a simple gravy and the other is the same but served with a blueberry sauce. I had my heart set on the latter, but then thought I should cook it plain and simple the first time, so I could really appreciate the flavour of the meat. Luckily for me, Helen gave me two legs, so I shall be posting the other recipe soon. It’s just like buses isn’t it? You wait ten years for primitive lamb legs and then two come along at once.

I cooked up the hogget for my friends Kate and Pete who both helped me out in the first two episodes of the podcast and are long-time Grigson blog supporters. It seemed only right I should make it for them.

In Jane’s recipe, she roasts two lamb legs together because they are rather small. However, Helen gave me hogget – a slightly older and therefore larger animal – which is similar in weight to a regular lamb leg. In fact, one stocky hogget leg weighed more than Jane said two lamb legs would weigh.

I’m going to give two methods for cooking the meat: the lamb version that Jane gives for roasting two small lamb gigots (legs) weighing a total of 6 or 7 pounds, and another that I use for one large leg that is more typical in size, like you would get from a regular butcher.

Before you start, set the oven to 230°C and prepare the leg or legs – this stage is the same for either method.  Take a clove of garlic for each leg, peel and slice as thinly as possible. Then, using a small pointed knife, stab the legs, placing a slice of garlic in each one. If garlic isn’t your thing, you could just sit a sprig of rosemary on it. There’s nothing stopping you doing both of course.

Rub in plenty of coarse sea salt and black pepper, sit the leg or legs on a trivet sat inside a roasting pan. Allow to sit for 30 minutes before roasting.

If cooking two small legs: place in the oven and cook for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180°C and cook for 20 minutes more. Remove the lamb legs and check they are done by inserting a skewer or a temperature probe. The temperature should feel warm, around 55°C. Allow the meat to rest.

If cooking one larger hogget (or regular lamb) leg: weigh it before placing in the oven and calculate the cooking time. 12 minutes per pound/450 grams is what you want if you want rare meat, and 14 minutes per pound/450 grams if you want just pink, medium meat. Place in the oven and roast for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 160°C for the remainder of the cooking time. Remove the meat and allow to rest.

To make the gravy: skim off the fat from the pan juices; you don’t have to be too fastidious. Put the pan over a hob and scatter two teaspoons of plain flour or cornflour and stir in using a wooden spoon or small whisk, making sure you get the crusty bits from the bottom. You don’t have to add the flour if you prefer a thin gravy. Pour in a glass of wine – either red or white wine go well with lamb. If using red add half a pint of lamb (or beef) stock, if using white add the same amount of chicken stock. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes before straining into a gravy jug.

Serve the lamb with #306 Mint Sauce or #422 Peppered Redcurrant Jelly, says Jane. I decided on the former (because her recipe is excellent) as well as some roast potatoes, roast parsnips and some purple sprouting broccoli. For more guidance as to what is traditionally served with roast lamb, follow this link.

#438 Plain Roast Primitive Lamb with Gravy. This was sublime…the meat was so tender and well-flavoured, though not strong in lamby flavour as one might expect. The meat was so tender and was delicately flavoured from the garlic. I’m very glad I decided to cook it with just a gravy made from its own juices and some stock – I really got to appreciate the hogget without any blueberry distraction. As per usual when a dish is this good and I’m with friends, I completely forget to take decent photographs! I will make sure I do when I make the blueberry version. I cannot recommend highly enough, if you ever see some, buy it. 10/10.