#353 Roast Rack of Lamb with Laverbread

A second post involving the Welsh speciality laverbread; a deep green gelatinous sauce made from well-stewed seaweed known locally as laver (see the previous post). I still had some left over for this recipe which I made for my friend Charlotte – a veteran of my cooking, poor woman – as it was her birthday and luckily she requested lamb.

This is a recipe that I couldn’t do when I was in America because what you don’t want are nice pre-butchered racks, but a whole best end of neck. This is the upper part of the back and ribs that sequesters the beautifully tender lamb cutlets. If you can, wait until the lamb are a little older; these muscles don’t do much work so they don’t have as much flavour as, say, leg. Older animals have worked a bit longer so there is some make up in the flavour department. Also, they’re much bigger so you get more meat in your best end of neck.

Anyways, ask the butcher for one best end of neck, then ask him (or her) to split it down the centre, removing the backbone. Take the meat home, including the bones that he removed and you paid for!

Now prepare the lamb ready for roasting by cutting away any fat and meat from the ribs, don’t go too far down – maybe and inch and a half at the wider end and an inch at the thin end.


You should end up with two racks that can be propped up against each other with bones interlacing like fingers. Now take a clove of garlic and slice it thinly. Make holes down the fatty sides of the racks with a very sharp pointy knife and slot a sliver of garlic in each one. Season the lamb all over and put it in a roasting tin so that the ribs criss-cross.


Cover the exposed bones with a piece of foil so that they do not burn. Roast the lamb for 45 minutes at 220C (425F) for pink lamb, going up to 60 minutes for well-done (though cooking it well done would be a travesty in my humble opinion).

Next, make the gravy by first making a lamb stock from the bones and trimmings (this bit can be done well in advance). Add them to a saucepan with a carrot and a tomato both roughly chopped, a pint of beef stock and some salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and let it tick away for a couple of hours or more if you can. Pass through a sieve and cool. Remove the floating fat and return to the pan with a glass of white wine or vermouth. Reduce until you get a well-flavoured stock. Lastly, slake a tablespoon of cornflour with a little cold water and stir into the stock to produce a nice gravy.

When the lamb is ready, take it out of the oven and cover with foil and let it rest whilst you make the laverbread sauce. Melt 3 ounces of butter in a saucepan and add a pound of laverbread. When hot, stir I the juice of 1 lemonand 2 oranges. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the lamb in the centre of a serving dish, pouring any juices in the gravy. Pour the sauce around the edges of the lamb and then decorate with thinly sliced oranges.

#353 Roast Rack of Lamb with Laverbread. Well the meat (which I cooked pink) was absolutely delicious, tender and well-flavoured. I wasn’t sure about the laverbread at first – it not being cut by the bland oatmeal like in the previous recipe – but I soon got used to it. The taste is very strong, but when eaten with the lamb you can see why they are eaten together so often. The gravy too was excellent; mild and not in the slightest bit greasy as lamb gravy can so often be. 9/10

 

#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.
 

#346 Pice ar y Maen (Welsh Cakes on the Stone)

The griddle (or girdle) cakes in this book have been a bit mystery to me in that there are a fair few, so they’re obviously greatly-loved, yet they have all been rather dry, often with the raw taste of flour and more like a bit of cooked, badly-made, pastry. The problem is, I don’t really know what they should be like in consistency as I have never eaten one outside of Neil Cooks Grigson, and there is often little guidance from Jane as to how much liquid goes in. This time I am going to add more liquid so that it is more like a biscuit dough to see if this makes a difference.

Pice ar y Maen are traditionally made on St David’s day in Wales, but like the pancakes made on Shrove Tuesday, they’re made all year round too. Apart from the inclusion of the spice mace in the recipe, it’s made up of ingredients that are likely to be in the store cupboard.  

Sift one pound of flour with a teaspoon of baking powder, a good pinch of salt and a teaspoon of ground mace


Next rub in with fingers, pastry blender, mixer or processor 4 ounces each of butter and lard. Stir in 4 ounces of raisins or currantsand 6 ounces of sugar. Now beat in 2 eggs along with a little milk. You need a dough that is soft, but not so much that it falls apart and sticks to the rolling pin and worktop. I prefer to be generous with the liquids.

Strew plenty of flour and roll out thinly – if the dough is too sticky to do this easily, knead in some more flour. Cut out into dinner plate-sized rounds, though I think a 3 inch diameter round works best as they are easier to turn.

Heat a little bit of lard in a heavy-bottomed pan, cook for about 3 minutes per side.

Rather than serving with butter and syrup, Griggers says you should turn them in the extra sugar.

#346 Pice ar y Maen (Welsh Cakes on the Stone). Well I have to say that these have been the best of the griddle/girdle cakes so far – the other ones have been dry (though I think this difference is due to the fact  I have become a better cook).  They were light and a little stodgy – in a good way – they were certainly sweet enough and they sent the delicious aroma of mace into my kitchen as they cooked. Very good, though I did have to add a little butter, I must admit. On the strength of this, I think I need to revisit the other girdle cakes. Very good 8/10.

#280 Welsh Cinnamon Cake

Known as Teisen Sinamon in Welsh, this is a mysterious cake. Griggers doesn’t really give any history behind it in the book. She says that the recipe is by Mrs Bobby Freeman (who has written a book of Welsh cakes and buns). She also says that it’s bit of a pity that chefs don’t make traditional dishes enough in their restaurants anymore. I did find after a little research that is a Victorian recipe – thanks Victorian Recipes of Wales teatowel! I’m not actually sure if it is a cake – it’s more like a giant biscuit with some meringue on top. Quite American really.
I made this cake on request for my mate Chandra’s birthday the other day. I think it went down quite well at work.
Cream four ounces each of butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and then beat in two egg yolks (reserve the whites!). Sift eight ounces of plain flour, a rounded teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of baking powder and mix them in stages into the creamed butter and sugar. Knead this mixture together and roll it out to line a nine inch flan tin with a removable base. Actually rolling it out is a total pain in the arse because it breaks up very easily. Instead spread it out over the base of the tin using your knuckles, pushing the dough up the edges and make it neat using the edge of a measuring cup. Bake for 20 minutes at 200°C (that’s 400°F). Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack. Heat some apricot jam with a little water to make a glaze and paint it thinly over the cake. Remember those two egg whites? Add another one and whisk until the stiff-peak stage. Then add three tablespoons of caster sugar and whisk again until the meringue becomes silky and creamy. Pile into the centre of the cake and make decorative swirls and spikes. Bake again at 180°C (350°C) until the meringue is a nice golden brown – about 10 or 15 minutes. Take out and cool on the rack again.
#280 Welsh Cinnamon Cake. Is it a cake? Is it a cookie? We just don’t know. It was very nice though – plenty of warm cinnamon spice. It was a bit stodgy too, but in a good way. I’m not sure about the meringue topping though. Not a bad one, by any means. 6.5/10.

#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.

#243 Spiced Welsh Mutton ‘Ham’

Well hello there! No I haven’t died on you or anything. I’ve just been uber-busy with my thesis writing and hardly had time to do any Grigson-related cookery. Here’s is one that I actually did a couple of weeks ago but haven’t been able to tell you about.

The cured meats from the book have all been pretty successful and this one sounded nice and easy, plus would keep me in butties for the foreseeable future. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out because we don’t really cure lamb to make ‘ham’ do we? Unless I’ve been missing something all these years.

Anyway, here’s how to make to your spiced lamb ‘ham’:

First of all select your leg of lamb or mutton – you need one that weights about 6 pounds. Place it in a large pot or tub that has a well-fitting lid and rub it all over in a spiced salt mixture for curing. To make the spiced salt, mix together 4 ounces of dark brown sugar, 8 ounces of sea salt, ½ ounces of saltpetre, an ounce each of crushed black peppercorns and allspice berries, plus a heaped teaspoon of coriander seeds. Make sure you rub it in well, ensuring you get down between meat and bone. Keep it in the tub in a cool place and turn it over every day, rubbing in the juices and spices for 14 days.

Then, rinse any excess spices away from the surface of the leg and place in a large pot and cover with water. Bing slowly to a simmer and cook as gently as possible with the lid on for 3 ½ hours. Let the lamb cool in the water for a couple of hours, remove it and, wrap it in clingfilm or greaseproof paper and let it finish cooling under a weight. It keeps in the fridge for ages as long it is wrapped up or kept in Tupperware. Griggers says that if you have a smokehouse nearby that will let you put the cured but uncooked leg in, then do so! I haven’t, so I didn’t!


#243 Spiced Welsh Mutton ‘Ham’. This was a revelation! I do not know why we don’t cure mutton and lamb anymore. Absolutely delicious. The lamb meat was succulent and flaky just like corned beef and the spices cut through the richness of the fat. Best cured meat so far. 8.5/10

#242 Cacen Gri (Griddle Cakes)

It’s been a while Grigsoners. I am very busy at the moment – and will be for the next couple of months – writing my PhD thesis, so forgive me if the blog entries become a wee bit thin on the ground. The recipes that I can do are those that don’t require difficult-to-get items or dinner parties so I’m a little limited seeing as I spend most of my time in a library these days.

Anyway, enough of that.

These Welsh griddle (or girdle) cakes seemed by the recipe that they would be absolutely delicious. Indeed girdle cakes must be delicious because there’s a few recipes in the book. However, the last time I cooked some (Singin’ Hinnies) they were pretty awful. Grigson doesn’t give any background on Cacen Gri, though I have noticed that there are lots of Welsh recipes – perhaps more than English ones – in the part of the book devoted to griddle cakes and pancakes. Funny that, because when I think of Welsh specialities, I think of leek pie and rarebits not pancakes. They must be terribly fat as the amount of butter and lard in this is huge!

Start off by sieving a pound of flour and a teaspoon each of baking powder and salt into a bowl. Rub in four ounces each of cubed butter and lard. Mix in three ounces of mixed dried fruit and peel and an egg plus a little milk to form a dough. Leave to rest in the fridge for a little while and then roll out thinly and cut into plate-sized rounds. Grease a large pan with a little lard fry the griddle cakes for just two minutes a side on quite a high heat. Don’t overcook them as they go very dry very quickly. They should puff up a little and gain brown spots. Stack them on a warmed plate, add a good knob of butter between each one, keeping them nice and cosy in a warm oven. I served them with some very un-Welsh maple syrup too.


#242 Cacen Gri (Griddle Cakes). I wasn’t sure if I liked these or not. The first batch was over-cooked and all powdery. I soldiered on a tried again though and I think that they were okay. No more than that though. They were still pretty claggy and need lots of butter and syrup. Perhaps that is the secret to these girdle cakes – any amount of flour and fat will taste fine if smothered in enough melted butter and syrup. 5/10.