Snapper and Chips with Salsa Verde

snapper-and-chips

Earlier this year I spent four weeks in Auckland performing at the New Zealand Comedy Festival. I’d not ventured over the equator before so I was expecting it all to be rather strange. What proved more strange though was to travel so absurdly far over parts of the world that could hardly be more different to the UK to eventually, after some 24 hours flying or waiting, to land at an airport which felt like I was on one of the Channel Islands. A bit different from the UK. But not very different.

Being there to perform my cooking-in-hotel-rooms show ‘George Egg: Anarchist Cook’ I was tasked with the job of finding a suitable fish to match the Sea Bream or Bass that I use when I do the show in the UK, so a few days after landing I visited the outstanding Auckland Fish Market down on the harbour and bought a selection of fish to try filleting and poaching to find the best match. The market had such a wonderful array of seafood, so much bigger (certainly) and more impressive than ours (though perhaps the impressiveness was just because they were new to me), but without a doubt there were some incredibly photogenic specimens. After trialling a few I settled on snapper, which really was almost identical to bream both in shape, texture, how it cooked and how it filleted, and I celebrated the find by cooking myself fried snapper fillets with a salsa verde and oven-baked chips.

The fish in the cooking show is filleted on an ironing board before being put into a little cage made of bent coat hangers (sort-of like the opposite of a shark cage, the fish being inside with us humans outside) which is then lowered into the recently boiled kettle (just for the sake of detail should you wish to recreate, the water has a pinch each of fennel seeds and peppercorns added). And it’s a travel kettle so there’s not a huge amount of room. When I do the show in the UK the bream (or bass) are small enough to be just the right size, but in Auckland I had to search for the smaller specimens since most of the snappers they were selling were, for want of a better word, whoppers. This proved to create a bit of controversy in the theatre and on a number of occasions when I got the fish out on stage it was met with a cry of ‘undersized!’ or ‘throw it back!’ and I was forced to protest that I’d bought it from the fish market and so while it was small it must have been at the bottom end of the legal limit AND that I wouldn’t have been able to get it in a travel kettle if I’d bought a bigger one. But the exchange was amusing enough to add something to the show anyway.

With reference to that first paragraph by the way – of course there ended up being a lot of differences and some amazing sights like nothing over here (I climbed a two volcanos for example) but equally a lot was very familiar too.

Snapper with Salsa Verde and Chips
1 snapper, filleted (or a bream, or a bass)
EV rapeseed oil
Waxy potatoes (cut into thick chips)
salt, pepper, paprika

For the Salsa Verde
3 or 4 cornichons
1 large spoonful of capers
2 anchovy fillets
1 clove garlic
pepper
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
EV Olive Oil
Lemon juice
a bunch of mixed fresh soft herbs (I’d go for dill, mint, parsley, and basil, but any will be nice)

Make the chips first. Put the oven on at about 200 degrees and stick a heavy pan in with a generous slug of EV Rapeseed Oil in it. Cut up the potatoes and par boil them until slightly done. Let them steam in a colander or on a tea towel for about 10 mins. Toss them in a bit of oil and seasoning (salt, pepper and paprika) and then into the hot oil. They’ll take about 25 minutes but give them a jiggle every 10 mins or so.

Next the salsa verde. Just chop all the things that want chopping and mix with lemon juice, mustard and olive oil until you have a nice sloppy consistency.

Finally the fish. When everything else is ready cook the fish. Not before. It won’t take long and you don’t want it hanging around getting cold. Get a good frying pan (by which I mean something heavy and non-stick either through natural seasoning or teflon) and get it hot (though not stupidly hot). Don’t oil the pan, but oil the fish, and not too generously – just pour a bit of oil into your palm and then give the fillet a bit of a massage – and then gently place it skin-side down in the pan. It’ll curl up a bit, but be patient and it’ll fall back. Don’t move it! Keep an eye on the heat and make sure it doesn’t burn but watch the flesh start to go opaque from the bottom up as it cooks through. Season the exposed flesh side and when the opaqueness has just got over halfway carefully flip the fillets over. The skin should be nice a crispy. Season the skin a bit too and turn off the heat. The remaining heat in the pan will finish the fish perfectly while you put the chips onto your plate. Next put the fillets on and finally spoon over the salsa.
(George)

Dark Star Beer Bread

beer bread 3 (1)

In the early nineties when I was a student in Brighton we started frequenting a brilliant pub called ‘The Evening Star’. It’s just up by the station on Surrey Street and it’s still my favourite pub in Brighton, probably my favourite pub anywhere. It’s small with a wooden floor, a few tables and chairs, a tiny bar and toilets for men and, rather unnecessarily really, toilets for women. Before the current trend for beards this was the place to see men with facial hair. It was probably the place to see women with facial hair too. If the customers had swords or axes propped up next to them instead of umbrellas they’d not look out of place. And next to the bar crowded with pumps is a frequently updated blackboard listing the plethora of beers they have on tap available to be poured as thirds, halves, two-thirds or, of course, pints. If you’re ever in Brighton, go there. Just don’t start singing and dancing on the table and then fall off and accidentally let the one ring slip onto your finger because… you get the idea.

In those early days ‘The Evening Star’ was the place to drink Dark Star beers. In the cellar of the pub this fledgling brewery started making some excellent ales, and excellent enough that the company grew. As they expanded so they needed larger premises and while the pub is still there the brewery now operates from, rather aptly, the Star Trading Estate in Partridge Green near Horsham.

About a month ago I had the pleasure of visiting the brewery. My very good friend John Robins, (you may have heard John on Radio X – formerly Xfm – on Saturday mornings, or seen him on programmes like ‘Mock The Week’), invited me to join him at one of the brewery’s beer clubs. He’d mentioned his love of Dark Star beer on the radio (‘Hophead’ specifically) and pleased by the mention the brewery had invited him along and told him he could bring a friend. It was a lovely evening where we got the opportunity to meet the staff, see the set-up, eat an extremely keen spread of pie, cheese, bread and the like, and of course enjoy numerous glasses of beer. After quenching our thirsts and sating our appetites on leaving we were very generously given a number of bottled and canned beers to try at home and one of them I turned into a really successful bread.

robins kegs(Here’s John enjoying his Hophead next to some seriously cool kegs.)

The bread was made with a starter (sometimes called a Poolish Ferment) using the beer which is left to ferment overnight before finishing the dough and baking the bread the next day. The beer I used was a really interesting one called Critical Mass that’s brewed in whisky casks giving the finished ale a flavour not unlike beer that’s been left in an ashtray, but in a good way. The flavour of the finished bread though was outstanding but even more impressive was the structure with a really crisp crust and a wonderfully open crumb with huge impressive holes.

beer bread 1 (1)

Beer Bread made with an Overnight Starter

For the Starter:
90ml real ale
90g strong white flour
about half a teaspoon of dried yeast

This is all mixed together in a bowl, covered in clingfilm and then left overnight after which time it’ll be frothy and bubbling and smell very beery.

For the Bread:
all of the starter of course
350g strong white flour
25g strong wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon dried yeast
350ml lukewarm water
1.5 teaspoons salt

Mix all the ingredients into a smooth dough and then knead, either by hand until you just can’t knead any more, or (what I do) combine and knead all the ingredients in a mixer (a Kenwood Chef of course). It’ll be a rather wet dough but that’s what you want. Then let it prove in an oiled covered bowl ever 30-40 mins or so until it’s doubled in size and then folding it a couple of times before letting it rise again. After a couple of hours of doing this shape it (either on a baking cloth or in a proving basket) and get your oven as hot as it will go either with a baking stone in the middle or a heavy metal baking tray and put another tray of vessel of some kind on the bottom of the oven. Flour the risen dough, slash it, and get it on the tray or baking stone (with a peel if you have one) before pouring a cup of water into the tray at the bottom of the oven to create steam. Then give it about 12 minutes at the hottest setting before dropping the heat to about 200 degrees for another 30 minutes.

Let it cool before slicing it or it’ll squash flat, but you won’t be able to wait too long because it’s going to smell amazing.

Now, get yourselves over to the brewery in Partridge Green because there’s a great shop in there and everyone’s lovely.
(George)

Pulled Pork Again

It’s my birthday today. Happy Birthday to ME. I had a steak sandwich for brunch (Flat iron. The best). Rather filling, but very nice. Lamb for dinner.

But onto other matters! I’ve ‘done’ Pulled Pork before in this blog, but only in photo form. HERE. No recipe on that occasion, so coming up is the method.

The first time I made Pulled Pork some years ago it was a novelty, a Southern US Barbecue speciality that caused people to frown and ask ‘What’s that?’. Now it’s everywhere. It’s even in McDonalds. Rather a pity really but then that’s what happens to good things. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with something becoming mainstream, of course there isn’t, but it’s when the imitation isn’t even a shadow of the original that it becomes a shame. And of course, all that said someone who really knows how to do it might look at my version (a bastardised fusion of a Felicity Spector ‘The Perfect…” recipe from The Guardian, something from one of the River Cafe Cookbooks of the nineties and influences from Michael Pollan’s descriptions from ‘Cooked’) and say just the same thing I’ve been bemoaning about Maccy D’s.

Still, this tastes great, I promise.

pork

Pulled Pork
2-3kg piece rolled pork shoulder
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp black pepper
4 tbsp cider vinegar

Put the oven on to 225ºC. Dry the pork all over and let some air get to it.

Mix together all the dry ingredients in a pestle and mortar but don’t worry about crushing the seeds. Then rub about half the mixture all over the pork, on the skin, underneath, in all the cracks.

Either have a big pot with a lid that can go in the oven or line a baking tray with foil that can be gathered up over the pork, but roll it back so the pork is exposed. Put the pork in the tray and give it 40 mins in the oven.

Take it out and cover with the lid (or roll the foil into a ‘tent’) and drop the temperature to about 120ºC. Then put the pork back in for about seven hours.

Go and do something else.

Take the pork out and carefully lift off the skin. It’ll be black and shiny and rubbery. Put it on a clean baking tray. Increase the heat back up to 225ºC and leave the pork to rest. Put the lid back on or re-make the foil tent.

When the oven is back up to temperature put the skin back in for a strict 12 minutes. When it comes out it’ll seem rubbery still but put it on a cooling rack and leave it alone. After 10-15 minutes it’ll be crisp and shatter like glass.

Now get stuck into the pork. Take two forks and tear it up mixing the quivering fat into the stringy lean, the blackened outer into the pink inner. Fold it through the juices that are in the bottom of the pan. There’ll be a lot and it’s mostly fat, but don’t get all bothered about that.

Next sprinkle over the rest of the dry seasoning splash over the cider vinegar and fold together again.

Once the skin is crisp that can be chopped/smashed up and added, or sprinkled over separately when you serve it.

You can leave it now for a day and then rewarm in the oven. It tastes extremely good after everything’s had a chance to meld together a bit. But it’s really very good straight away too and I’d challenge anyone not to have a few too many ‘testers’ while tearing it up. It’s also great reused later in other things – fillings for pasties, in a ragu, on a pizza…

(George)
I’m currently touring my absurd comedy/cooking show ‘George Egg: Anarchist Cook’ around the UK. Next weekend I’m in Bath. After that it’s Scotland. And then, New Zealand! Dates and links to tickets are here.

Potato Pie

The Real Patisserie in Brighton sells potato pie. Essentially a classic dauphinoise sheathed in shortcrust pastry it’s solid and heavy but comforting and not at all decadent. In fact the simplicity of the filling makes it feel rather modest. I made it once before, (well a version of it, out of my head), and it took ages but wow it was worth it. I don’t know why it’s taken so long to do it again, but the other night Meg and I did. Nothing was measured, so I can’t offer the weights, but the method was pretty simple.

pie

You need a cake tin with a loose bottom. The one was used was about 8 inches diameter, I think. And it need buttering generously.

Potato Pie
Shortcrust pastry (450g flour, big pinch salt & 200g butter)
About 1.3kg new potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3 onions (thinly sliced)
3 cloves garlic (finely sliced)
cream, milk, stock, thyme

The bottom and sides of the pie dish were lined in pastry which was then chilled.

Some cream (most of a 300ml pot) was added to a pan with about the same amount of chicken stock, lots of thyme, seasoning and a splash of milk. Into this went the potatoes and it was brought to the boil and simmered very lightly for about ten minutes. This was then left to cool.

Meanwhile the onions were sweated over a low heat.

The potatoes were spooned into the pie with a slotted spoon, pressing them down and topping up with the creamy sauce and layered with onion until it was full. Then the top went on, crimped at the join and decorated with pastry leaves.

It was chilled again before being egg washed and put into the bottom of a 180ºC oven for about an hour.

(George)

A not-junk salad for burgers

A quick one, just because there’s a salad that I make a lot, and Nikki (Mrs Egg) just said to me “what’s in that salad again?”, so I thought I’d make it, and blog it, and then it’s up there for next time.

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Sometimes you want a junk-food hit but you don’t want to be popping the last mouthful in with a feeling of regret and shame. When that’s the prevalent mood I make what we call ‘healthy festival burgers’ because they taste like the sort of thing you’d have from a stall at Glastonbury mid-way through the festival when you know you’ve already over-done it a bit and this just hits the nail on the head. It’s a cheat, in that the burgers are shop-bought vegeburgers (usually Asda own-brand which are really rather nice), and they’re put into buns (wholemeal, yes), with cheese if you’re having cheese (processed cheese of course, it’s got to feel a bit ‘bad’), a blob of mayonnaise and tomato chutney and then as much of this salad as you can cram in. It’s raw-galore with so much crunch you’ll finish with an aching jaw and a pious feeling of aren’t-I-being-good?

Healthy Burger Salad
Red cabbage (finely sliced)
White cabbage (finely sliced)
Carrot (grated)
Onion (finely sliced)
Garlic (1 clove, finely chopped)
Radishes (sliced or chopped)
Loads of soft herbs (I had dill, parsley, coriander and mint)
Loads of toasted seeds (I used sunflower, pumpkin, pine nuts, sesame and poppy)
Salt and Pepper (lots of pepper)
Juice of 1 lemon (or lime)
Olive Oil (A generous glug)
Date syrup (about a teaspoon)

That’s it, all mixed together, super simple. And completely adjustable depending on what you’ve got. I’ve added thinly sliced raw courgette, the flowers from heads of broccoli (they look fab), anything sprouted (beans, seeds or lentils), turnip, celery, spring onion. A splash of soy sauce is nice, with raw ginger too to give it an Eastern feel. Pomegranate molasses too to both sweeten and sour as a replacement for the lemon and the date syrup. Maple syrup too has worked well.

And of course this works extremely well with the steak I did in the last blog. Nice balance.

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Finally, on the subject of festivals, if you want a laugh I urge you to go to the Wilderness Festival website and watch their film. I’ve been asked to do a cooking talk there this year, and I’ve heard it’s a really nice gig. I’m sure it’s lovely. But their film is SO hipster it hurts *affecting a semi-transatlantic drawl like someone who’s lived stateside for a couple of years* “yah, I’m a Blacksmith, but at the weekends I do taxidermy and shoot my bow to relax. What’s that? Do I earn a living as a smith? Oh yah. Well, I’ve got a trust-fund too obviously”. Have a look. The film’s here.

(George)
I’m currently touring my absurd comedy/cooking show ‘George Egg: Anarchist Cook’ around the UK. This coming weekend I’m in Sutton and Maidenhead. In a few weeks it’s Bath and then Scotland. Dates and links to tickets are here.

Steak. Yup.

Matt and I started this blog to document the food we cook so our kids have something to refer to when they’ve left home and want to know how to make it the same way. This has lead to all sorts of other tangents and diversions, but here’s one that’s more true to our original intentions.

There’s plenty of ways I do steak – over naked flames, under the grill, in the pressure cooker even (if it’s to be braised), or raw even much to the nose-upturning of my family. This is the most common way though.

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Meat:
I’ve just cooked some rump. That’s what’s in the photo. Rump is good and rump is also reasonably cheap but I’ve been getting excited about other cuts – secret ‘butchers’ cuts. A few times recently I’ve got hold of some feather blade which is supposed to be cooked low and slow, but I discovered that if you cut two steaks either side of the seam of sinew (one above and one below) you get two irregular-shaped steaks that are just superb. Very smooth, very close textured, almost liver-like. I think (but I’m not certain and please correct me if I’m wrong) that one of these steaks is a flat iron, and the other… I don’t know. Help me out butchers. Anyway, they’re great.

So I say experiment. If you go for something odd and it turns out to be a bit too tough then just slice it really thin with a very sharp knife. The flavour will probably be superb as it seems to be that the tougher steaks are usually much tastier.

Preparation:
Pat the meat dry and season it on both sides with salt, or salt and a few other things. I’ve a really cool looking metal tin of Old Bay Seasoning. Though way past the Best Before date its blend of salt, celery salt, paprika and other spices generously sprinkled over the meat seems to really help to tenderise a tougher cut. Once seasoned it needs to be left for about 24 hours uncovered in the fridge on a cooling rack so the air can get all around it.

Pan:
Something heavy. Cast iron is of course perfect, but equally good is a decent black steel pan. You want something that you can leave, with nothing in it, over the flame for a good five minutes to get really really hot without it buckling or melting, or you getting all worried and panicky and anxious about it. Then it’s just a case of putting it on the heat and leaving it. If it has a metal handle, get yourself a cloth because it will get hot.

Post-Cooking Marinade:
In a bowl mix together some thinly sliced garlic, chopped parsley (but do try other herbs: thyme, coriander, rosemary), black pepper, crushed chilli, olive oil, lemon juice and a splash of red wine vinegar. This is basically an Argentinian mix called Chimichurri. Feel free to muck about with it though.

Cooking:
If you’ve got an extractor, put it on full. Or open a window. Or do both. And warn any strict vegetarians that they’re about to get offended/tempted/wistful/conflicted. Take the steak and rub a little oil on the outside, don’t put any in the pan, just on the meat. Then carefully lay it in the pan and leave it alone. It depends on thickness and temperature, but if the steak is about 2cm thick, give it about a minute before turning it over and doing the other side. If there’s a thick layer of fat along the edge it’s worthwhile holding the steak on its edge with your tongs and giving that fat a good minute all to itself. That’s it. If it’s very rare don’t be concerned because it’ll continue to cook a bit while it’s resting.

Resting and Post-Cooking-Marinading:
Remove the steak from the pan and put it on a plate. Spoon over the marinade and cover with an upturned bowl.

Waiting and Other Things:
You could slice some bread and lightly toast it and make the steak into a sandwich. You could throw together a punchy salad of bitter leaves. You could pour yourself a cold beer. You could chop up some onions and mushrooms and fry them in the steak pan even, that’d be nice (it’s what we did the other day). But whatever you do, resist the urge to cut into it for at least five minutes, preferably ten minutes.

Eating:
Put it on something wooden and sprinkle with salt, Maldon Smoked Sea Salt is good. And treat yourself to a really sharp knife, the sort of knife that if you got it out at the dinner table you’d attract some attention. Enjoy slicing it thinly. It probably won’t need anything else, but mayonnaise or mustard will certainly work with it.

(George)
I’m currently touring my absurd comedy/cooking show ‘George Egg: Anarchist Cook’ around the UK. This coming weekend I’m in Sutton and Maidenhead. In a few weeks it’s Bath and then Scotland. Dates and links to tickets are here.

Rhubarb Vodka and other home-made alcoholic drinks

As followers of this blog will know there’s little I like more than food that’s cheap, or even better free. Whether it be a ‘Whoops’-labelled sausage bap from the hot counter at ASDA bought on a whim mid weekly-shop* or a jar of Wild Garlic Pesto from spring foraging (see this entry – and take note because it’s coming up to Wild Garlic season soon), if it’s less than full price, I’m ‘in’.

rhubarbvodka

My initial foray into the world of wine-making while still at University was relatively short-lived. I have what a friend often refers to as a ‘Mr Toad’ attitude when it come to new ventures. I get rapidly obsessed and wade into a new project up to my waist often before I’ve really figured out what or how I’m supposed to do it. And this was how it was with wine. It was the days when Boots the Chemist still sold kits and the big branch in Brighton was well-stocked. I bought loads of them as well as all the associated paraphernalia and within a couple of weeks the cupboards in my shared kitchen were groaning under the weight of a row of multicoloured demijohns, their airlocks ‘plipping’ away merrily. Those were impatient times for me and wanting instant gratification the kits that promised wine ready-to-drink in a matter of weeks were just too attractive. I couldn’t even wait that long though and after a staggeringly (literally AND metaphorically) drunk night when Matt and I were guzzling half-ready still-fermenting booze directly out of the demijohns with the syphoning tube, or racking it into pint milk bottles and having ‘downing’ races, (a night which culminated in us trying to take my motorbike up to the Brighton Waitrose car park to ride it around – thank goodness we were so ‘gone’ that we couldn’t even get it off the stand and found it on it’s side in the garden the next morning), I gave up wine-making and moved onto whatever the next pursuit happened to be, before first nursing a blinding headache and apologising to my flatmates about the mess (sick, shattered glass, broken toilet seat etc.).

Five or so years ago I ventured back into the world of home-made alcohol but this time it was beer. Kits again, but with some experimentation (the addition of some chopped ginger to a batch, or crushed toasted coriander seeds were both very successful), but most often kits just as instructed. It seemed that the world of home-brewing had moved on considerably with some brands producing a product that really was as good as something from the pub (Woodford’s Wherry I can’t recommend enough). I got as much pleasure from this renewed hobby when designing the labels as I did from actually drinking the stuff, and there’s little that beats the feeling of having a full barrel of good ale on tap in your garage, especially when the packaging is cool.

But it’s only in the last year that I feel I’m doing things properly, and by that I mean using real ingredients, and even better foraged ones on occasion. It started last spring when, under the excellent instruction of John Wright (using his River Cottage Handbook ‘Booze’) I made some Elderflower ‘champagne’ with, of course, foraged elderflowers. It was delicious, and even better really cold out of a slim flute with a splash of Aperol. It was also quick, satisfying the impatience I mentioned above. As the year progressed, and busy enough with other projects I seemed to be able to curb that impatience and I’ve actually got some long-term wines on the go. Just this week I racked** my Elderberry Wine (foraged ingredients again), Mead (not foraged) and Rose Hip Wine (foraged – and this one was really stunningly good already). I’ve also been infusing (of course not as advanced as wine-making but still hugely satisfying none-the-less and even more so when the ingredients are found in the hedgerows) and bottled my Sloe Vodka, Rose Hip Vodka and Blackberry Whiskey.

Last week in Lewes Waitrose they had rhubarb reduced in price and I used it to make Rhubarb Vodka, so sort-of a combination of foraging and bargain hunting and making, all rolled into one since the bright pink forced stems were super-cheap. Bloody hell I love the colour of it and this one’s pretty fast (most of the others listed above should be left to mature for at least a year whereas this is ready in a couple of months – just in time for summer cocktails). It’s very simple – a 1 litre jar, thin slices of rhubarb (4 stems in all) stacked between layers of white sugar (150g) plus a couple of slices of ginger and then the jar is filled with vodka, shaken a bit, and left for a couple of months.

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(from left to right: Elderberry Wine, Mead, Rose Hip Wine, ‘Slider’***, Rhubarb Vodka, Elderflower and Apple Sherry, Blackberry Whiskey, Sloe Vodka, Rose Hip Vodka)

*’weekly shop’ indeed. Who am I kidding, I seem to go to the supermarket every 16 hours or so.
**’racking’ is where you syphon the wine from one demijohn to another leaving the lees**** behind.
***’Slider’ is made by refilling the sloe vodka jar of vodka-soaked sloes with still cider, left for two weeks and then served with glee.
****’the lees’ is the sludge at the bottom of the demijohn that collects as the wine clears.

(George)