Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Japanese buckwheat soba noodle salad with ginger miso poached chicken

I love noodles. And I need very little in the way of an excuse to whip up a dish using them. So when the carrot of disco-by-post was dropped in front of me by Wrighty in exchange for a summery Japanese dish, I had no choice but to deliver.

It probably makes me a hostage to disco and soulful house, but you know what, I'm very happy with that. It's music that's good for the soul and it acts as the soundtrack to much of my life, so having some mixed especially for me feels fab.

And lets face it, when the weather is as glorious as it is today, a zingy, fresh and filling noodle salad is the perfect supper - along with a chilled bottle of Asahi. Bliss. 

The flavours in this are really fresh, fragrant and bold, but the textures are great too. The soft slinky noodles are especially good when you get one of the crispy pickled cucumber noodles mixed through them, and the chicken is juicy and tender, a lovely contrast to the al dente broccoli and firm broad beans. 

On to the dish...

Ginger marinated chicken breasts poached gently in white miso, with buckwheat soba noodles, tenderstem broccoli, broad beans and pickled cucumber noodles, all wrapped in a Japansese dressing

For two:
Two skinless chicken breasts
Buckwheat soba noodles, I use 3 bundles between 2 of us but use however many you like. Cook as per the pack instructions, rinse under cold water until cooled and then set aside in a bowl of cold water until needed
3 heaped tablespoons white miso paste
1 pint water
One very large piece of ginger, peeled and grated - we want juice and pulp
A couple of handfuls shelled broadbeans (take frozen ones and boil for 1 minutes, drain, rinse and cool and then shell them - easiest way)
2 strips pickled cucumber ribbons, cut into fine noodle-like strands (pickled cucumber recipe below - it'll take you about 15 minutes to do)
6 tenderstem broccoli florets, blanched for 1 minute in boiling water before being rinsed under cool water and drained
A large handful fresh mint leaves
A small handful fresh coriander leaves

For the dressing:
2 shots mirin
1 shot light soy sauce - Japanese preferably but don't worry if you can't get any
2 shots rice vinegar
1 tsp black sesame seeds and 1tsp white sesame seeds, lightly toasted for a few minutes in a dry frying pan 
1 large thumb of ginger sliced finely into matchsticks 
3 tablespoons of the poaching liquor from the chicken, once the chicken is done
2 spring onions finely sliced

For the pickled cucumber:
This tasty and simple recipe is taken from
1 cucumber,
8 tbsp rice vinegar
4 tsp salt to sprinkle
4 tbsp white sugar
.5 tsp salt
A few black peppercorns
You'll want two strands of the pickled cucumber cut finely into noodle like ribbons as in the picture 

Pickled cucumber - 
- On a mandolin, finely slice the cucumber into ribbons, discard the ones that have the central core in
- Place them into a bowl and scatter with the salt, leave for 15 minutes
- Whilst that's happening combine all the other ingredients into a jug, stir thoroughly and for a little while as the sugar takes a while to totally dissolve 
- After 15 minutes rinse the cucumbers, roll each around your finger so like a tube, and pack them into a jar or tupperware box, once all in there pour the liquor over them, cover and put in the fridge. You can eat them straight away but they're better after a day, and they'll keep for up to about 5 days

Salad -
- Take the chicken breasts and slice into slender strips, then take the ginger juice and pulp and cover the chicken with it. Cover and refrigerate, 24 hours is best but you could use it sooner - it just won't be tasting that much of ginger 
- Put the miso and water into a pan and bring to the simmer, add the chicken and poach gently until it's just done - this will take around 7 minutes. Remove from the pan, reserve the liquid you need for the dressing and then strain the chicken, sitting it to one side to cool 
- Into a jug or container combine all the dressing ingredients and give a good stir
- Drain the noodles and place into a large bowl with the chicken, broad beans, broccoli, cucumber noodles and herbs, then pour the dressing over the lot and mix together with your hands
- Place it into a serving bowl or individual dishes and serve 

Monday, 26 March 2012

Chorizo stuffed leg of venison with tomato, lemon and white bean stew

Right place, right time. On Saturday following an excellent lunch at the Mark Addy, a riverside pub in Manchester that really is gastro, my friend Jon introduced me to the exec head chef Rob Brown. A lovely man who looks like he'd be entirely at home in a medieval banquet. 

Rob's menu is a celebration of classic English cookery and some of the best and most interesting dishes that have come out of our little island. The beauty is that whilst the menu has stayed true to these roots, he's given them just enough flair and finesse to really stand out and make them taste contemporary. It's a great balance he's struck and the Mark Addy is going on the favourite haunts list. 

It was after our lunch and drinks whilst chatting to Rob that Jon was given the gift of two beautiful legs of venison (what a gift, better than shoes in my book) and on leaving Rob to get back to service as we headed off in search of sunshine and beers, Jon said I could have one of the legs. My manners kicked in and I politely declined - the gift was for him not for me, but he insisted on sharing the food karma (plus I wasn't crazy enough to say no twice) and they looked like they'd easily feed two a piece.

If it were chilly outside I'd have been inclined to have braised it, but today the super lean leg was begging for something lighter, and it was the piquant Spanish cooking chorizos in my fridge that started this recipe coming together in my head. Tunnel boning the meat (as Rob had suggested we do to make it less fiddly to eat) ready for quickly roasting it would create a large cavity in the centre of the flesh, and I could pack this out with a chorizo sausage and sausage meat mix, keeping it moist and fatty on the inside whilst flavouring it deliciously. 

Then wrapping the stuffed leg completely in fatty smoked streaky would protect the outer meat, and by doing the majority of the cooking covered in the oven with a splash of wine in the bottom of the roasting pan and a little basting, the meat would be sure to be tender and delicious. And indeed it was, soft and moist, with the gentle gaminess complimented by the piquant chorizo.

A mixture of firm butter beans and cannelini beans cooked gently in a little pasatta, paprika, fresh tomatoes and lots of lemon juice before being finished with spinach made the perfect fresh and light accompaniment (once the roasting pan juices had been added that is), and we chose to mop up the extra juices with some homemade black onion seed flatbreads leftover from yesterday. Bliss. Thank you Rob and Jon - for Monday's supper I am incredibly grateful. 

For two:
One venison leg, tunnel boned (Jon found a demo on Youtube for how to do this, based on doing it on a lambs leg - it takes around 10 minutes and you'll need a sharp and slender knife)
The venison bone, hacked into 3 pieces
2 cooking chorizo, peeled (my cooking chorizo are the same length as a traditional sausage)
The same amount of high quality sausage meat
12 rashers smoked streaky bacon
3 tsp smoked paprika
Juice of 1.5 lemons 
2 large glasses white wine
2 red onion, one peeled and quartered, the other peeled and finely sliced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 can of butter beans, rinsed and drained
1 can of canellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 bag spinach, washed
300mls pasatta
Black pepper, olive oil and a little unsalted butter

- Preheat your oven to 220 degrees, you'll want an oven thermometer and a meat thermometer for this 
- Take the sausage meat and chorizo and blend until combined in a food processor. Take the mixture and fill the cavity with it - it will pop out the top and bottom but get it in as best you can, the bacon will secure it so it doesn't come out 
- Take your rashers of bacon and wrap them tightly around the leg, slightly overlapping one another, do this with the leg in one position and the bacon wrapping over it to the underside as far as it will go, once that size is all covered carefully turn it over and then use the remaining rashers to lay the other way and cover the last remaining exposed venison. Turn it back over so the leg is inside down
- Into a roasting pan place the quartered onion and venison bones. Give a little drizzle of olive oil and roast for 20 minutes, shaking occasionally so they brown all over
- Remove the tin from the oven once the bones are browning and the onion also, and add one of the glasses of white wine, put back in the oven for 5-7 minutes until the wine starts bubbling
- Once bubbling remove the pan from the oven and place the venison carefully into it. Put the lid on the pan or wrap it carefully with foil, and place into the oven for 10 minutes
- Whilst it's cooking, in a large frying or sauté pan bring some cooking olive oil and a knob of butter to temperature on a medium heat, once there add the sliced onion and cook stirring occasionally
- After 10 minutes in the oven take the venison out, baste with the pan juices, recover and put back into the oven for 10 minutes
- Add the garlic to the onion pan and stir for a minute, then add the tomatoes and paprika, cooking for a further few minutes
- Now add the pasatta and wine and turn onto a lowish heat and cover
- After that second ten minutes remove the venison from the oven again and baste, then put back into the oven without a cover. This next bit may take 10 minutes or it may take 15, you'll need to check by using your meat thermomitor. Ours took 15 (so 35 cooking in total) and that took the venison to a temperature of 160F - which meant the meat was medium cooked, soft and tender
- Whilst the venison is in for its last 15 minutes, add the beans to the pan along with the lemon juice, recover and leave on a low heat to heat through
- Remove the venison from the oven and place it onto a chopping board to rest for 7 minutes
- Whilst that last 7 minutes rest time is happening, add the washed spinach to the pan along with the pan juices and recover, once it begins wilting gently turn it over, and when its still a bright green but has reduced its volume by about half you can taste for seasoning (the pan juices will add much needed salt from the smokey bacon, so don't salt until these have gone in) turn the heat off and leave the lid on - it will continue to cook through from the residual heat
- Before carving add the meat juices from the board to the bean stew. Serve a few slices each on the plate and the bean stew on the table and help yourselves. 

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Pan fried cod on tarragon puy lentils and wilted spring greens

We're lucky enough to have an excellent fish mongers at the end of our road, and yesterday when I spied the chunky cod fillets in the window I knew I needed to create a dish around them. 

The idea for this is based on a main course I had recently during a rather boozy lunch session at Harts with a very dear friend Zoe. She and I enjoy meeting up in nice restaurants, sinking some vino, gossiping like there's no tomorrow and talking some shop. I always love our get-togethers and just wish they could be more frequent. 

I've only got into tarragon this last few years, but boy, do I love it and its aniseedy tinged cousins, fennel, pernod and star anise. So, on sampling some delicious tarragon heavy puy lentils over that lunchtime with Zoe I banked the recipe in my mental rolodex for future use. 

Today I added some firm cannellini beans to the lentils for added texture, along with fine snippets of crispy smoked streaky bacon from my fave butcher (Tony at Wrights in Carrington) for depth. Combined with creme fraiche for richness, lemon juice for clarity and extra virgin for a slinky finish creates a dish component that could sit along side everything from chicken to pork chops to salmon. I entreat you to give it a go. 

I chose spring greens as I like the dark iron taste and al dente texture they bring, all it needs after wilting in unsalted butter is to finish it off is a little lemon. If you don't like the greens simply substitute that for either kale, cavalo nero, savoy cabbage or spinach, whichever is your favourite. 

For two, and some of the lentil mix left for another day:
2 large cod fillets - these were around 1.5" thick
150g puy lentils - boiled in unsalted water until tender, and drained
2 rashers smoked streaky bacon, sliced into little strands and fried in a dry pan until crisp
1 golden onion, finely diced
Half a tin of cooked cannellini beans, rinsed and drained 
400mls white wine
A large bunch of fresh tarragon, finely chopped 
2 heaped tablespoons half fat creme fraiche (or full fat if you prefer, but half fat makes no difference to the finished dish) 
Unsalted butter
One clove of garlic, finely chopped 
2 heads of spring greens, finely shredded and rinsed if required 
Olive oil for cooking
Extra virgin olive oil for finishing
Sea salt and black pepper 

- Add a knob of butter and glug of olive oil to a saucepan on a medium heat, gently cook the onion for around 15 minutes until soft and translucent, then add the garlic and cook for another minute
- Add the drained lentils and cannellini beans to the pan no, then add the bacon, wine, a generous grind of black pepper and cover, cook gently on a lowish heat for around 10 minutes, once the flavours have got to know each other a bit taste and add salt as desired - it's important to not add salt earlier as the bacon (depending on how salty it is) will lend some of that to the dish, so you need to check that first before topping up
- Now turn the lentils onto a very low heat and keep the lid on while you cook the fish and greens
- Put two frying pans on your hob, turning one on full blast and the other onto a medium heat (the one on the hottest is for the cod, the other for the greens which get cooked later)
- Add a generous knob of unsalted butter to the hot pans, take your cod fillets and season them with salt and pepper on their skin side, and when the butter is really foaming in the very hot pan add the cod to the pan skin side down - the pan needs to be as hot as can be for that and the butter to crisp the skin, so make sure to wait until the pan is very hot indeed
Cook it without moving the cod like this for four minutes, then season the flesh side with salt and pepper before turning the fish over and knocking the heat down to a medium heat, cook like this for another three minutes
- Whilst this is happening, add the juice of half a lemon to the lentils, the creme fraiche, tarragon and a glug of extra virgin olive oil and turn the heat up a little to cook through (no higher than a medium heat so the creme fraiche doesn't split)
- Whilst this is happening turn the heat up on the pan for the greens to full blast, add the greens to the butter straight away and let them sit there, move them around a little just to get them wilting
- After the cod has had its three minutes turn the heat off and let it sit there for two minutes as the pan cools down - the residual heat will make sure that these super thick cod fillets will be cooked right to their centres
- Once the greens have wilted down by about half and are shiny, add a squeeze of lemon juice and remove from the heat, at the same time as taking the lentils off the heat
- Plate. Spoon the lentil mixture onto a plate, followed by the wilted greens, then topped with the crisp skinned cod. Devour, accompanied by a glass of your favourite, naturally.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Steak, Guinness and black pudding pie

It's the end of national pie week, and on account of that, Mathew's love for all things pastry topped and next week being host to St Patricks day, I decided to revisit and tweak a recipe I'd put on the blog a while ago.

Cooking the large chunks of feather steak in Guinness until tender creates a deep, dark and intense liqour, which is made richer by using Worcestershire sauce, and some brown sugar and salt to counter the bitterness the stout creates. That, added to the chunks of black pudding that soften gently in the sauce, creates a pie that is rich and delicious.

I popped the filling into the slow cooker this morning and made myself scarce for three hours. With that trusty bit of kitchen kit working its magic I could go off and do other things - not to mention avoid the smell of the filling from driving me mad (patience has never been a strong point of mine).

I chose to make the pie with a puff pastry lid and base. Doing the base is a little scary because as it puff it pops right up, but fear not, it will settle down back into the tin once it's been blind baked, ready to take the filling. The benefit of doing the base is it becomes incredibly crispy and unctuous under the filling on account of it being baked twice, prepare for it being a bit of the pie people will be fighting over. 

Serve the pie with whatever takes your fancy, but I chose some fantastic smoked streaky bacon from my favourite butcher (Wrights in Carrington, Nottingham) finely diced and fried on a high heat in a dry pan until crisp, removed from the pan and then some shredded savoy cabbage cooked in the bacon fat and a knob of butter. The result is al dente cabbage that is dark at the edges and has a smokey undertone - very nice indeed. 

Pie for four:
2 packets of pre rolled puff pastry - Aldi came up trumps with theirs being the best shop bought one I've used
1.5lbs feather steak in really big chunks
1 medium sized black pudding ring (from the butcher, don't use shop bought) peel the pud and cut into chunks, you'll get around 10
2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
2 celery stalks, finely sliced
2 golden onions, peeled and quartered
2 bay leaves
1.5 cans of Guinness
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce 
Lots of black pepper and sea salt 
One egg, whisked
3 tablespoons cornflour, made up with some cold water 

- Remove one of the pastry rolls from the fridge
- Into a slow cooker place the beef, Guinness, carrots, onion, celery, bay, sugar, Worcester sauce and a generous grind of pepper, cook on a medium heat for around 3 hours - or until the meat is tender and you can break the chunks with a spoon 
- Once the pie contents has been on for an hour, take your pie dish and roll out one of the sheets of puff pastry until it's about the thickness of a £1 coin. Drape it into the dish and using your knuckles gently let it sink into the edges (you don't want it to tear) leave some pastry hanging over the edge of the edge of the pie dish because it will shrink when cooked, and then place it into the fridge for a couple of hours
- Strain the slow cooker contents through a colander once ready, catching the liquor - put the liquor on the hob on a medium heat and bring to the simmer for around 10 minutes, add several scrunches of sea salt to taste, but you'll be surprised at how much it needs 
- Whilst this is happening, remove the onions and bay leaves from the colander and discard
- Preheat your oven to 200 degrees and take the other pastry roll out of the fridge 
- Gradually pour the cornflour mix into the liquor on the hob and stir thoroughly, do this gradually until you're happy with the thickness of the liquor, but you shouldn't need more than the three tablespoons you've made up
- Cook the liquor for around 5 minutes then add the steak, carrots, celery and diced black pudding to the pan, turn off the heat and leave there to settle 
- Take the pie dish from the fridge and put some baking paper in it, weighed down with baking beads or dry rice, then bake for 10 minutes
- Remove from the oven and using some kitchen scissors or a very sharp knife, slice the excess pastry off that is now hanging below the edge of the pie dish. Take the baking beads / rice and baking paper out of the centre of the dish and put the dish back into the oven for 4 minutes
- Remove from the oven (and don't be scared, I know it all looks puffed up) leave it a couple of minutes to settle a little, then carefully using the back of a wooden spoon, press the base of the dish back down 
- Carefully ladle the pie contents into the dish now, filling it to about 2cm below the top
- Take your pastry and roll it to around the thickness of a £1 coin, baste the pastry edges of the dish that has been cooked with the whisked egg, and then drape the rolled out pastry over the top, gently press the edges down with your fingers so they're firmly connected, and using a sharp knife remove the excess pastry. Now carefully score a cross pattern over the pastry, being careful not to peirce it, before cutting a hole in the centre for the steam to escape, and brushing it with the beaten egg mix 
- Pop it into the oven for around 40 minutes, until the pastry is a deep golden brown and when you spear the centre, the knife comes out hot hot hot
- Serve with your vegetable of choice

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Italian style roast chicken

Spring chicken. A fitting dish for the first post of March, the month where I stop hiding under a blanket and eating hearty comfort food and get excited about the days drawing out, milder weather, blue skies and all the glorious seasonal vegetables that are just around the corner.

This little chicken could serve as the centre piece to a Sunday lunch (think roasted stuffed peppers as the accompaniment rather than mashed potatoes and carrots), but today we decided instead to eat the tender, buttery chicken on top of toasted walnut bread with a few leaves, crisp Parma ham, home dried tomatoes and the slinky cheese, Cambazola - which melts delightfully over the top of the chicken and makes you wish a daily dose of it wouldn't lead to ruin.

Cambazola (a cheese I always think of as being a hybrid, part gorgonzola and part camembert- no idea if this is accurate however so don't quote me) is rather moreish and therefore dangerous. As well as the magic that happens when it hits the hot chicken, I find it partners pastrami and cornichon on toasted onion bagels very well indeed - give it a go if you've not tried it already.

The verdant and fragrant herb butter that gives the chicken its Italian slant is placed under the skin, it keeps the flesh moist and deliciously scents and flavours the chicken at the same time helping the skin crisp perfectly.

I make it using unsalted butter, crunchy sea salt flakes, a little anchovy, garlic and a variety of fresh herbs. This time I chose lemon balm, basil, thyme and parsley. If you can't get hold of any lemon balm (quite an old fashioned herb really and a bit tricky to find in the shops usually but I got mine at Aldi) simply use the grated rind of one unwaxed lemon instead.

For 4 - 6 servings, or less with lots of meat leftover for other meals 
1 chicken, this free range beauty weighs 1.6kg
A large handful each of fresh basil, mint, parsley, lemon balm
A few sprigs of thyme, rubbed off their stalks
3 anchovy fillets or a tablespoon of anchovy paste
3 cloves of garlic
Half a pack of unsalted butter, at room temperature and cubed 
Several scrunches of salt and black pepper
Groundnut oil
1 lemon, pierced
1 red onion, peeled and halved

- After buying your chicken, take it out of its wrappings and pop it on a plate in the fridge, under a loose foil blanket. Before you need to use it take it out an hour before and pat it dry with kitchen paper
- Preheat your oven to 190 degrees, and if you haven't got an oven thermometer, this is the time you need one
- Using your fingers you need to create pockets beneath the skin of the chicken for you to push the butter into, looks a bit like you're giving the chicken a massage but hey, just go with it. Gently push your fingers under its skin and wiggle them down as far as they'll go over the breasts, the legs are a bit more tricky as there's no easy in, but where the cavity of the chicken is there'll be a fair amount of skin, go in there and almost underneath over the legs, wiggling your fingers carefully so that you break the connection between the skin and the meat, but dont pierce the skin - do that and all the butter will ooze out 
- For the butter then - place all the herbs bar the mint into a food processor with the cubed butter, a couple of scrunches of salt, garlic and the anchovies, and blitz until the herbs are smooth and mixed through the butter
- Breaking the butter into walnut sized pieces begin the process of putting under the skin of the breasts and legs, you'll be left with about a third of the butter that won't fit, and take all of that and smear it around the inside of the chickens rib cage. Once you've done that put the pierced lemon, red onion and mint inside the chicken, and now using some cocktail sticks 'shut' the opening, you do this because the skin will try to shrink back and we want to stop that happening as much as possible so the butter stays trapped and the flesh covered
- Now gently pat the chicken skin again with kitchen paper to take off any moisture, then brush the skin lightly with groundnut oil and season generously with sea salt flakes and ground black peppercorns
- Once this is done, put it into a roasting tin and cover it so the lid (or foil tent) doesn't touch the skin, and bake for 20 minutes per 45og / 1lb in weight
- After the chicken has been in for all that time, remove it from the oven and turn the oven to the highest heat it has - take the cover off the chicken and put back into the oven for a further 10-20 minutes - you'll want a meat thermomitor to tell you which time is right for this last bit of cooking which is designed to not just finish the cooking through of the chicken but to crisp the skin
- Remove from the oven and let it rest for around 20 minutes before serving 
- Eat with whatever takes your fancy