#352 Laverbread and Bacon

A couple of weekends ago, Hugh and I popped down to Swansea for a wedding. It is a very nice city, with a very nice market. Whilst there I was very keen to get hold of some Welsh laverbread; there are a few recipes that use it so I bought a couple of tubs. I am always keen to try new foods and I had never eaten laverbread; always excited to see another species added to my list!
Laverbread does not contain any bread, but is in fact a species of seaweed found on the rocky seashore of Wales and is rarely seen outside of the borders. It is however, available online pretty easily if you’re not in or near Wales.
Plate from an unknown book – laver is number 4
 
According to my Traditional Welsh Recipes teatowel, to make laverbread, you need wash your laver (the algae Porphyra laciniata) and, without any additional water, simmer it until it becomes dark green gelatinous pulp – about 4 hours. Drain the leaves and chop them, adding salt to taste; and there you have it, laverbread, or bara lawr as the Welsh call it. Laverbread is traditionally fried in small balls or patties in bacon fat. It doesn’t take long because the laverbread is already cooked.
 
There are several seaweed based recipes in English Food, I have already covered one using the seaweed dulse, yet no one in England really eats it, and the tradition is slowly dying in the two remaining seaweed-eating nations in the British Isles: Wales and Ireland. In the past everyone used to eat it, but like many foods labelled ‘peasant food’ a stigma was, and still is, attached. It is strange that in most other countries people are so enthusiastic about their peasant foods – they are the comfort foods! – yet most of us turn our noses up at them.
Didn’t mean to get into a lecture there, but whatever falls out of brain ends up on the post. Anyways, as a rookie to the ways of laverbread and how to cook it, it went for this simple recipe that would hopefully be a good introduction.
Take a pound of prepared laverbread and mix in enough fine oatmeal to make soft, coherent dough. Roll into balls and flatten slightly. Fry in bacon fatfor a few minutes per side or until nice and golden brown.
 
Serve with bacon in a mixed grill or a fried breakfast. I did something a little healthier and used the bacon I fried to flavour vegetable soup, and used the laverbread patties almost as dumplings.
#352 Laverbread and Bacon. Well I have to say I was impressed with the laverbread. I was subtly flavoured with iodine just as mussels and oysters are, but there was no fishiness to it. If I was living in Wales, laverbread and bacon would definitely be on my Sunday breakfast list. 7/10.
 

#312 Pork Pie

Provocative of indigestion as that pie may seem to you, it was put together by a lovely cousin at Melton Mowbray, whose fair hands are equally skilful in rendering a sonata of Beethoven, or in compounding the gastronomic mysteries of the kitchen.”
Excerpt from Dialogues of the Living – Table Talk by J Hollingshead,
appearing in The Train magazine, 1857

The pork pie is the ultimate raised pie in England and the best come from Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, a very old English town, founded around the 8th Century. The Melton Mowbray hand-raised pork pie attained Protected Geographical Indication status in 2008 – this means that only pies made within Melton Mowbray can proudly bare the town’s name. If you buy a pork pie that doesn’t bear the name, then it is not the real-deal. Unfortunately, Cornwall missed the boat in getting their pasties recognized by the EU, so a Cornish pasty can proudly bear the Cornish name, when it was actually baked in Milton Keynes or whatever.

The Olde Pork Pie Shoppe –
the best place to buy a proper Melton Mowbray pork pie

So what makes a Melton Mowbray pork pie special, other than the location it was made in? Well, first they should be hand-raised, second the pork inside should be uncured and the bacon unsmoked. There is also a secret ingredient: anchovy essence. Anchovy essence is not widely available these days, but it is possible to find it. In America, you’ll have to order some from Amazon. You could cheat of course by using some nam pla – Thai fish sauce. There is no difference between them at all. Don’t be put off by this, the sauce gives the meat a delicious seasoning. In fact it is quite common to use anchovies in this way with lamb, and oysters are great in a steak and kidney pudding. We have stopped combining our fish and meat these days, yet have no issue when we eat them together when we order dishes from a Far Eastern restaurant. Strange.

The main difficulty for anyone who may want to attempt this recipe in the USA is not finding the anchovy essence – oh no – it is the unsmoked bacon that is the tricky customer. I hunted high and low for it when I was in Houston, but I never found wet-cured, unsmoked back bacon. I assumed that if I wanted to make a pie whilst living in the States, I would simply have to wet cure my own. However, at a Farmer’s Market in Chicago, I happened upon a stall selling not only unsmoked back bacon, but also traditional British sausages. The stall is run by an English chap, who coincidentally comes from Leeds too, called Nicholas Spencer. Check out his website here. He said he’ll be doing mail order soon, so I am looking forward to that.


Anyways, if you want to have a go at making your own traditional pork pie you need to get planning! It is quite an effort, though very good fun. I’ve already posted about making raised pies. In brief (with links) you need to get three things ready: hot water pastry for the raised crust, a jellied stock, and the filling itself. I’ll provide you with the recipe for the pork pie filling here…

First of all prepare the pork. You will need two pounds altogether  – boned weight. You need a cut of pork that is around one-quarter fat, so go for shoulder, leg or ribs. Make sure you get the bones form the butcher so you can use them in your jellied stock. Also at the butchers, get yourself an eight ounce pack of unsmoked back bacon. When you get home, chop the meat. Keep the best bits chunky, in around a centimetre dice, the other bits, chop finely. This is a bit of an effort, but it is this chopping – rather than mincing – that gives you the proper texture. Also, chop up two rashers of the bacon. Into a bowl, put in your chopped meat and mix in the following: a teaspoon of chopped sage, a teaspoon of anchovy essence and half a teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Lastly, season well with salt and pepper. If you want to check the seasoning is correct, take a small amount of the mixture and fry it. Taste and correct accordingly.
When it comes to putting the pie together, use the remaining bacon to line the raised pie crust, add the mixture, packing it in well.

Cover with a pastry lid and finish it off, following the method in the raised pies post.

What should one eat with a pork pie? These pies are great for buffets and picnics, so eat whatever you are serving at your buffet or picnic… Personally, I like some nice brown HP sauce or maybe tomato sauce. Some like to warm the pies and have them with mushy peas. I have been eating mine with the preserved spiced oranges I recently cracked open – a really good combination that.

#312 Pork Pie. It seems you can never be let down by these raised pies. This one was great: the mild herbs and spices gave  the meat a subtly complex flavour. The idea of a cold meat pie feaked a few people out at work, and  suppose the jelly is something you either love or hate. I have been eating the pie slowly over the last few days, and it seems to get better as it ages. Very good, not quite as delicious as the Veal, Ham and Egg Pie, but still pretty tasty. 8/10.

#278 Crempog Las

Well Shrove Tuesday is almost here, so I thought I’d provide a pancake recipe from English Food. This one is perhaps a more alternative recipe as it is most definitely savoury rather than sweet, and best served up with sausages, bacon and eggs as a breakfast dish rather than for a Pancake Day evening pig-out. In America, people seem to be having much more fun with their Mardi Gras celebrations…
The Welsh seem much more adept at pancakes than the English and I suppose that’s why there are so many Welsh recipes in the Pancakes and Griddle Cakes section of the Teatime chapter of the book. If they weren’t counted, there would be slim pickings. Crempog Las, by the way, translates as green pancakes in Welsh (check out this site for more information on this dish and other Welsh dishes). I didn’t have high hopes as there has been a bad run of recipes from this section…
The other reason why I wanted to cook these pancakes is that I found a pack of sausages that I bought from Harrison Hog Farms. They have a stall at the Rice University Farmers’ Market and breed pigs that look suspiciously like Gloucester Old Spots; a fine old English breed, so I thought they can’t be bad. Naturally, I put in them in the freezer and promptly forgot about them. Even though I have only been in my Texan apartment for five months, I have managed to almost fill my freezer with bits that I see in shops and left overs like wine, egg whites, breadcrumbs and what-not that I expect one day will come in useful. I decided that it needs emptying. It is for the same reason that later on this week I will be doing oxtail soup.
Anyways, I have wittered on far too much:
Using a whisk, mix together four ounces of plain flour, a large egg, a dessertspoon of finely chopped parsley, a heaped teaspoon of finely chopped shallot and enough milk to make a thick batter. Season with salt and pepper. Fry the pancakes in some oil or grease  over a moderately-high heat until golden brown – two or three minutes a side should do it. That’s it. Serve with butter or as part of a fried breakfast.
#278 Crempog Las. These were delicious! A subtle savouriness from the slightly sweet-acrid shallot and the grassy freshness of parsley made them very morish. I am definitely adding these to my breakfast arsenal. Give them a try, they are so very, very easy. 7.5/10.

#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

#154 Mrs Raffald’s Bacon and Egg Pie

I’ve cooked some recipes by Elizabeth Raffald before and they’ve come out well each time – there’s a potted history of her life in Salford in Greater Manchester in this earlier post. It comes from her book The Experienced Housekeeper, and I must try and get hol of a copy (if it still exists)

Technically this bacon and egg pie can be made any time of year, but I thought it seemed perfect for this time of year, served warm with a salad. The English bacon and egg pie seems to have gone out of favour, with people preferring quiches with roasted vegetables etc. added these days. Well, I love bacon and egg pie – in fact it was my second favourite school dinner (spam fritters came first) – and I think it deserves a come-back. It’s great for picnicking too, I reckon, due to its double pastry crust. I would advise to make this pie only with proper free-range farm eggs (surprisingly cheap in delis and fishmongers and the like) and good dry-cured bacon, it’s well worth spending a bit more money for what is, overall, a pretty cheap recipe.

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Place a baking tray on the shelf that the pie will be cooked on (important for later!)

Start off by making some shortcrust pastry with 8 ounces of flour (or more, or less, depending upon how thick you like it). Use two-thirds of it to line a flan dish; Griggers doesn’t give sizes, but an 8 inch one was perfect. Chop 8 ounces of smoked streaky bacon and sprinkle it over the pastry base. Next, whisk up 4 large (or 6 medium) eggs and pour out a little of the mixture into a ramekin for later. Beat the eggs along with ½ pint of crème fraiche and some salt and pepper. Pour the custard into the pie dish and roll out the remaining pastry to form a lid, using some of the reserved egg to glue it on. Trim excess pastry and paint more egg over the top so that it glazes nicely in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes on the hot baking tray (it stops the base from going soggy), then lower the heat to 170°C for another 30 minutes. Serve warm with a salad.


#154 Mrs Raffald’s Bacon and Egg Pie – 9/10. This did not disappoint! I must admit I was unsure about not blind baking the pastry first, but it worked a treat. The inclusion of crème fraiche over cream or milk plus good quality eggs and bacon are the key to it though – so don’t skimp. The pie was ten times better than the one I used to get at school, yet it brought back all the memories at the same time. Bring on the spam fritters!

#98 Cawl

Butters and I went for a nice walk around Chorlton Water Park and the Mersey Valley. We lucky in that it wasn’t totally pissing it down with rain, as the weather has not been good of late. It was still pretty chilly though so I wanted to make something simple, nourishing and warming for when we got back. I plumped for the Welsh soup, Cawl (pronounced “cowl”, according to Griggers). Cawl is simply Welsh for soup, but it’s far from a light soup-starter; it’s a meal in one. I assume it’s a peasant dish; it is simple in its ingredients and methods, is cheap, and requires time to make it well. It’s basically the Welsh equivalent of Irish stew or Cock-a-leekie. What I like about this one is that the meat is cooked as a joint and sliced at the end and served with the vegetables and soup. To be really Welsh, marigold flowers can be added as a garnish, but I thought that was going a bit too far…

These measures make loads of Cawl – enough for 6 to 8 people.

Start off by browning your meat in some beef dripping; you need pounds altogether, either beef brisket of shin of beef, but best is to use one pound of beef and a pound of smoked hock, gammon or bacon. I went for brisket and a giant piece of smoked bacon. When browned, put in a large saucepan or stockpot. Next, brown 2 sliced onions and 3 carrots, parsnip, turnips or some swede cut into chunks; a mixture is best. Once they are browned, add them to the meat and cover with cold water, add salt and two stalks of chopped celery. Bring to the boil slowly, skimming off any scum that may rise to the surface. Add a bouquet garni (I used parsley, thyme and bay), sea salt and pepper to season, turn to a very low heat and simmer for at least three hours. I actually did all this the day before, so that we didn’t have to wait very long to eat when we got back.


About half an hour before you want to eat, add a pound of small potatoes (or larger ones cut up), and ten minutes before add a small white or green cabbage that has been sliced. When the potatoes are cooked the soup is ready. Finely slice 2 or 3 leeks and sprinkle them on top of the soup; the heat of the soup will cook them. Remove the joints and slice them up, putting some of each kind in each bowl, along with some of the veg and stock.

#98 Cawl – 7/10. A delicious, warming and beautifully clear soup. The meat was falling apart and the smoked bacon gave the whole thing a really delicious flavour. Definitely one of the best soups so far. This will become a staple winter dish, I think.

#67 Green Pea Soup

This one’s a cracker. It’s basically pea and ham soup as it uses ham stock. Grigson gives the option of using chicken stock, and I suppose you could use vegetable stock, but it will not be in any way as delicious as ham. Use peas in any form – fresh, frozen or dried. I went for frozen as I’ve always got them in the freezer, and I reckon they’re better than fresh, unless you happen to grow them yourself. The Grigson also gives a vegetarian version which swaps the bacon for the heart of a Cos lettuce, a small handful of spinach and half a shredded cucumber. The stock is swapped for water.


Start off by softening a chopped, medium onion in 2 ounces of butter until soft and golden, but not brown. Next add two rashers of smoked streaky bacon that have been chopped to. Fry for a couple of minutes and then add 1 3/4 pints of light ham stock and 8 ounces of peas and simmer until cooked. Liquidise and add more water or stock if it’s too thick. Re-heat, season and stir in some chopped parsley.

#67 Green Pea Soup – 8.5/10. A lovely warming soup. It was the first thing I ate when I got back from the hospital and is certainly my favourite soup from English Food thus far. Get it made!