Monday, 31 May 2010

BBQ Dinner

I don't believe the BBQ is for burning burgers on bank holiday Mondays. There is much more to it than that, so I decided I attempt a full dinner from the grill.

 That's a beercan chicken (aka beer butt chicken, chicken on the throne, etc.). For those of you who know your British beer that is a Carling black label can, it doesn't contain Carling though. I subscribe to the school of thought which holds "If you wouldn't drink it don't cook with it" as a truism. Inside the can is a nice local summer ale and some of my fresh garden herbs (sage, a little rosemary & a couple of bay leaves) and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Those of you who have never beer canned a chicken before will want to read this bit as its the how to. Get a can of beer, if you can find one you are happy to drink, rather than one you'll swill back because its there so much the better. You need the can 2/3rds full of your chosen beer, so you can drink of the top 1/3rd or dispose of it some other way. Then remove the top of the can with a can opener. Add in any extra flavourings (I must do this with a wheat beer & lemon at some point). The eye watering bit comes now, insert the can into the chicken, your aim is a stable chicken, so push the can in until the bird's legs form a tripod with the can. The cooking takes about 2 hours, so make sure your BBQ will be at a good cooking temperature for that long. You can lift the whole lot out, but its a real hassle. (I had to do this as I forgot to put some foil under the bird to prevent fat flare ups). In the back I've got 3 good sized potatoes, rubbed with oil & then wrapped in foil, after 2 hours they should be baked to perfection.
If you have a meat thermometer, the chicken wants to be at 70° C. If not the juices need to be running clear. Once that is the case the chicken is done.

Whilst the chicken is resting do the veggies. It's the English asparagus season at the moment and grilling it over hot charcoal for a couple of minutes is a great way to cook it. The leeks were done on a sheet of foil with a nob of butter for about 10 minutes. Time to serve. Wrap each foiled potato in a tea towel and give it a smart sharp karate chop (seriously, this allows most of the steam to escape in an instant fluffing up the flesh) turn onto the plate with a generous nob of butter, add the veg and some of the nicely sliced chicken (and as the chef pick the "oysters" I'll leave it to your conscience who's plate they land on (if any)) and serve. One whole chicken dinner done entirely on the BBQ. Beer can chicken isn't a mere affectation, the beer imparts flavour to the chicken (this is why lighter ales are best, but some birds can stand Guinness) and keeps it incredibly moist. Try it, you've very little to lose.

Friday, 28 May 2010

BBQ overload

Apologies, real life got in the way a bit this week.

It's very rare I cook up a "traditional" barbie any more, having discovered the amount of fun you can have with fish,smoking & inserting beer into chickens. However having the perfection burgers too hand I figured they needed a good go on the grill to see what they were like. Also one of the issues I've had cooking them in the kitchen is getting the skillet hot enough.

Having decided to do burgers I thought I'd go the whole hog, I triple cooked some chips, and made up a bit of BBQ rub in order to have some wings as a side dish. The difference between this & a super market BBQ pack is massive. I'd not do this every Saturday evening as it does require more planning than chips & a burger would suggest, but its a Damn fine version and every now & then well worth having a go at.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Strawberry daiquiri syllabub

There were too many strawberries to make hounds of various kinds, plus there was an invite to dinner, so a dessert seemed the thing to do. Strawberries always suggest cream, these were a little elderly to have au naturel so a bit of thinking went on (only a very little bit). A fool was out Strawberries just cant cut it (raspberries on the other hand). Then a moment of inspiration.


This is another of those flexible recipes.
First off get your strawberries, enough for 4 (its going to be rich so about 300g ) and reserve 4 good whole berries for decoration. Quarter the rest slicing off any over ripe bits and put them in a blender along with enough sugar to taste (in my case this is about a teaspoon full) and then blitz. Once they are down to a compote kind of texture add a shot or two of good white rum (again to taste) and give another couple of seconds. Pour the whole lot into a sieve stood over a jug (it's going to take a while).

Whip 500ml of double cream with about 80g of sugar, some more rum and the juice that has come through the strainer(*) to soft peaks. Pour strawberry compote into a serving glass, pile the syllabub on top and decorate with a reserved strawberry.

You can adjust the amount of rum you use to make it all a bit more teatotaller friendly (but then its not so much of a daiquiri) and fiddle with the ratios of the ingredients to get it to a taste you are happy with.

(*) You should end up with 3 distinct parts from the straining, pure juice which will come through first, smooth purĂ©e which comes through next and a dense compote which remains behind, all 3 bits can be used, but the compote can be a bit heavy on the seeds.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Cocktailing for beginners Pt 9 :- Daiquiri

The daiquiri, favoured drink of Hemmingway and 80's favourite.

This is basically a rum sour, and as such you can use Embury's all purpose sour recipe for it. You can also jazz it up in a number of different ways.

We'll start with the basic.
4 parts white rum (bacardi is traditional)
2 parts lime juice
1 part gomme

shake hard over ice.
if you blend it with ice you get a frozen daiquiri. Some people switch the gomme for powdered sugar. Hemmingway apparently favoured the "papa doble"  which uses the juice of 2 limes, half a grapefruit & a good dash of maraschino, sparing the sugar (perhaps as a nod to his diabetes). Which ever way you have a look at it there is a lot more to the daiquiri than the slush puppy alcohol light versions that popped up all through the '80s. Give this one a go, use fresh fruit & good white rum, perfect for the summer evenings that are beginning to creep up on us.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Vicious Hound

Whilst doing a spot of shopping I noticed some cut price strawberries, a quick check showed they weren't the horrible ElSanta(*) I bought them, despite them being Spanish & too early. I had a couple of things in mind, this new variation on a bloodhound cocktail being the main one.

 When I'd been playing with the Sakitin from vinegar-cocktails, I was thinking about strawberries & balsamic vinegar. I quickly topped the the strawberries, quartered them & put them in some balsamic for 24 hours or so. I lifted them out of the vinegar with a slotted spoon, I wasn't too fussed about getting some vinegar into the mixing glass. I muddled them down, adding a little sweet vermouth to loosen it up.

This is where I really departed from the standard bloodhound, as I left out the dry vermouth entirely, thinking that the strawberry & balsamic would provide the requisite dryness. Top up the mixing glass with ice, more sweet vermouth & gin, then shake hard. You'll need to double strain it, or you'll end up with a glass full of pips.

Despite the name, its actually a smoother drink than the bloodhound, it all balances quite nicely. Its definitely one for summer evenings as its very refreshing and you get strawberry balsamic as a left over & that has to be a good ingredient for a summer salad vinaigrette.

(*) El Santa is the supermarket favourite strawberry, if you grow it carefully in your garden you can get a good well tasting crop. If though its grown in an intensive agri-business way it ends up as a very good looking, but tasteless strawberry. A couple of supermarkets have recognized this and are selling different varieties, personally though I'm looking forward to the fresh English strawberries.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Turkish Delight

I've mentioned I like floral flavours a couple of time. Turkish delight usually supplies a good rose hit, hwo difficult could it be to make ?

I'm still not sure

There are two families of recipe, gelatine or non-gelatine. I went with non-gelatine. The theory is simple mix a sugar syrup with a cornflour emulsion and boil for a while, colour, flavour & allow to set. Only it didn't work like that for me. Adding the sugar to the cornflour immediately formed a thick paste, so I divided it into 2. I added about 3cl of creme de menthe to 1 batch, to give a green minty delight and a mix of rosewater & grenadine to the other to get the traditional rose. Stirring it together was fiendishly hard, but I turned it out & left it in the fridge for a couple of hours to set. The result was definitely turkish delight, but it wasn't quite right.

My mistake had been to let the cornflour emulsion cool, it needs to be  just thickening and coming to the boil when the sugar is added, at that point you should get the heavy syrup that I was looking for. I have since found a recipe that calls for the technique I inadvertently used, but I think the taste would be improved by the second boiling. I'm going to have to order up a sugar thermometer and try again.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Hot wings

Let's face it, most meat eaters like hot wings/buffalo wings. They aren't a healthy food stuff, they are dirty,naughty & delicious. Unfortunately to get some here in the UK you usually have to go somewhere to eat out and then the menu is going to be fried & greasy or just nasty.

Fortunately Asbestos fingers know a thing or two about hot wings. I'd been helping them find Franks© hot sauce when I came across it at the farm shop. I bought a bottle on the grounds I could use it even if Asbestos fingers had found their own supply. Discussion quickly turned to hot wings (a big favourite round here) and how to make them. It turns out to be as simple as it is delicious. First wings. I asked the farm shop butcher, unfortunately BBQ season has kicked off so they'd all been marinated & packed. There is a prize winning butcher just down the road from my house,he had lots of wings, about 1/2 a kilo seemed right for 2 of us.

Next job separate the flat of the wing from the drummer. I've not got round to owning a cleaver yet so I steeled my largest knife & fell too. I apparently don't NEED a cleaver, but it would have been oh so much more satisfying (even if it wouldn't have been much quicker). Heat oil to 190c and fry the wings for 10 minutes, whilst that's going on make the sauce. 2 parts Franks to 1 part melted butter was recommended to me (I know, but I said they were dirty didn't I ?). It makes a smooth glossy looking sauce. Once the wings are done toss them in the sauce & enjoy

I think this will be an occasional home treat, but it is definitely a treat.

Thursday, 6 May 2010


There are 3 traditional English cream desserts, trifle,fool & syllabub. Syllabub is sweetened cream whipped with fruit juice, zest & alcohol. Fool is unsweetened cream combined with fruit compote. Of the two I have a ridiculous attachment to fool, preferably rhubarb or gooseberry. It's a bit early yet for gooseberries so ...

Rhubarb Fool
If you can get forced rhubarb (that's the pink/red stuff) then do, its sweeter and it makes your finished fool look a bit better. The first step its to cut the rhubarb down to 3cm chunks & put it in a corrosion proof pan, then add a small amount of water (a couple of tablespoons will do) and double the amount of sugar. Heat gently & watch the culinary magic happen.
What you do now depends on a couple of things, if you have nice pink chunks of rhubarb, whip a few out to decorate your finished dish with. If its older green rhubarb cook it down to a compote. The pink stuff you can simmer till soft. Put the whole lot through a sieve to get some pinkish rhubarb juice/syrup, reserve that & then sweeten the rhubarb to taste (probably 50-100g of sugar). Let everything cool. If you like you can sneak some of the syrup away for cocktail making (more on this in a later post). Whilst all that is going on its time to whip 500ml of cream, use the good stuff and whip it to soft peaks.
Fold your syrup into the cream, if it won't all go give the cream an extra bit of whipping & carry on till its all in.
Then start to fold in your Rhubarb chunks/compote. Taste regularly and once its to taste stop adding to it. The texture is difficult to describe, its sort of lumpy but not quite, similar to a thick clotted cream but with an acid bite. If you look carefully at the photograph you can see strands of fruit in the fool, and that is what you want. Dish it out into ramekins (it's quite a rich dessert, though I've never been in the position of having too much fool) and decorate. I've used a spoonful of compote & a slice of ginger, which goes very well with rhubarb. Chill till about 5-10 mins before you are ready to serve and you are good to go.

Its well worth making both a fool & a syllabub to compare the tastes & textures. It'll take a lot to convince me that the fool isn't superior though.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Triple cooked chips

(note for Americans, I'm talking about what y'all call fries)

That man (HB) has made a quiet, but extensive contribution to British food with the triple cooked chip. Hardly anyone who knows their way around a kitchen uses any other method, even if they don't go to the extremes of dry matter ratios & refrigeration some recipes call for.

One of the earliest recipes I've seen is "chips cooked in hay" which has the added bonus of injecting the finished chips with ketchup.

The first step is to wash the loose starch away from the cut chips, rather than run water wastefully I soaked & dumped a couple of time, then bring it all up to the boil & cook the chips. They want to be on the very verge of coming apart. This is where the magic happens, we are attempting to create small fissures in the surface of the chip which will enable us to form a starch glass in the frying stages. That ought to mean we end up with a good crunch & a soft fluffy interior.

Getting the chips out of the boiling water is the hard part. They are on the edge of falling apart, the chips are going into the fridge, for at least an hour, which has 2 main effects. 1) it helps dehydrate the chip, which we need when they are about to go in the oil (hot oil + water == very bad). 2) It firms them up, making it easier to handle with out them falling apart all over the show.

Next up hot oil, it wants to be 130-40°C for the first fry, this mainly to bring the chips back up to a cooking temperature, so they stay in until a crust has formed, it takes about 8 minutes  don't let the chips colour that's for the next stage. Crank the heat under the oil up & get it to a much more serious 190°C and cook till golden.
Drain and dry the oil off, now for the fun.

Getting hold of syringes is pretty easy, but nobody wanted to sell me hypodermic needles. I'm not sure if the sale is controlled or if most pharmacies just don't carry them. Fortunately I know people in the medical profession who seemed unfazed by my tales of injecting chips with ketchup & trying to get marinade under the skin of pork. I'll recommend sucking the ketchup up before fitting the needle, it seemed a lot easier that way.

One question that seemed to crop up without answer everytime this recipe was mentioned is "How much ketchup do you inject ?". Answers seemed to be lacking, which is because when you start injecting, you can feel the amount of ketchup going in, at a guess though I'd say a decent sized chip takes about a 1/3-1/2 a millilitre of ketchup since I was filling my 5ml syringe every 10-15 chips. Eat them whilst hot, really, they are excellent.

Oh yeah there is actually a reason to inject the ketchup, its to stop that lovely starch glass outer from going soggy & ruining the crunch you've been doing your best to create. Also try to have enough syringes for everyone to have a go (Well grown ups at any rate) it'll add a certain level of amusement to the proceedings.
(Oh yes I skipped the hay step mainly because I'm not convinced the hay I had was safe to eat, but once the spring lambs start to be more available I may do lamb baked in hay with hay cooked chips as a Sunday dinner.)

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Opium Nottingham

Relax it's a Chinese restaurant.
And a rather a good one too. It used to be quite a high end place, then it vanished and now its been re-incarnated, but the downstairs has been turned into a bar.

We went with the set meal, which started out with a dim-sum sampler. Whilst all three offerings were steamed, they were very good. Since we'd come from a cocktail bar we went with tea, and unusually there are several choices, so I went with the "Superb Pur-eh". I like Pur-eh in general for its earthy taste, it seemed darker in colour than usual, and was perhaps brewed a little strong. When the dim-sum wreckage was cleared away, the waitress noticed the colour & said "Your tea is a little too strong, should I replace it ?" I said yes, and she did. The original was a little strong, but not enough for me to feel like complaining about, so good service there. Good service was the hall mark of our visit, and I'd recommend them on that alone.

The main courses were all generic/Cantonese (which is pretty much par for the course outside of London) but very well done, the lemon chicken well fried & without the cloying taste that comes from cheap sauces. The Prawns were cooked just right having a good bite to them. The fillet steak was lovely, however it is the source of my nitpick. I think a rib-eye or sirlion would have stood up better with the sauce and provided more of a background flavour. That said I can see why they use fillet, so a very minor niggle.

The Dessert menu had some nice options including my favourite Dan tat. Unfortunately I've been really spoilt by some cracking Dan tat in my time, and whilst this was good, it could have been better, still though I think that says more about me & my love of egg tart than the standard of the kitchen.

All in all about 20 pounds a head (you could easily spend more) including tea & dessert. Good service & a nice clean airy dinning room makes it a worthwhile place to visit, I might try & have the pre-theatre menu next time, which looks like it makes an early evening eat out to be well worth while, especially when only Chinese food will do.