There’s little I enjoy more when holidaying in France than visiting a market. Often more frequently even than once a week every tiny town and village has one, and yet despite their ubiquity the quality and variety of produce on display rivals that of the frankly epic Borough Market in London. As pleasurable as these Gallic bazaars are to peruse, the experience is somewhat tainted by the depressing feeling that in the UK we just don’t even come close.
I live in Brighton and some years ago our only market space, the rather depressing ‘Open Market’ (with it’s shabby collection of lack-lustre characters and their unappealing produce), was levelled and rebuilt with the promise that it would emerge as a French-style, Borough-like culinary Eden. We all got excited, but the reality was sadly very different. After the unveiling those same lame stalls returned – the uninspiring fruit and veg seller with their plastic bowls of baggy peppers that look like yesterday’s birthday party balloons, the world-weary butcher who when I asked for onglet steak, or flatiron, just shrugged his shoulders and said he ‘didn’t get it’, the stall that sells bacon and eggs, cheery people at least, but who’s products, I don’t know why, seem just slightly… ‘dodgy’. Maybe I’m doing it a disservice. There’s a very nice falafel stall and a reasonable cafe, but I don’t think it’s what any of us expected and certainly not even close to what we’d hoped for.
Stroll around any French village market on a Saturday and you’ll likely happen upon a stall the sight and smell of which will make your saliva glands start to work double-hard: A trailer atop which stands a wall of bright orange electric elements and majestically revolving in front of them, row upon row of chickens, perhaps a few ham joints, but mostly chickens, golden and glistening and dripping onto a tray of neatly peeled new potatoes, lying below like yellow pebbles bathing in the hot fat. It’s quite something.
I think tinned vegetables are nice. Nothing like their fresh friends, but as long as you don’t think of them as the same thing they have their own charm and distinctive flavours. They remind me of camping, and that’s a good thing. Tinned new potatoes are particularly good for many things, not least speed and efficiency as well as a limited budget. We’ve been having them recently in curries, and they’re great sliced, lightly oiled and grilled with poached eggs. But a few days ago my son pointed out how similar they were in taste and texture to the ones that lie there looking up at the aforementioned spinning fowl. So tonight we tried an experiment and it really worked.
We’ve got a rotisserie in our oven. You probably have too. Check. I think they’re pretty standard in lots of models but people just don’t know, or forget because it’s a bit of a faff. But it’s a faff that’s worth …the faff. If you haven’t then I’ve got an alternative method which I think would work just as well. So here’s my method for French village market style roast chicken and potatoes which I implore you to have a go at.
French-Market Rotisserie Chicken
1 medium-sized chicken
2 tins new potatoes, drained
1 pot chicken stock concentrate (the Knorr ones are what I use)
salt and pepper
*when we holiday’d in Spain some years ago I bought a little tub of ‘paella powder’. It’s got a bit of flavour in it but I think it’s mostly colouring, even so it really does make a paella look good. It also made the tinned potatoes look extremely authentically French-yellow. You could use a little turmeric instead, though not too much as the flavour mightn’t seem right.
Dry the chicken out for an hour of so (if you have an hour or so. We didn’t), before rubbing it all over with a little olive oil and dusting it with salt, pepper and a bit of paprika. Them mount it on the spit.
In a bowl whisk together the stock ‘pot’ with a little oil and a dash of water and then add the potatoes, about a teaspoon of paprika, a dash of the paella powder (or a pinch of turmeric) and a generous grind of black pepper. Give it a stir and pour the contents into an oven tray which will fit under the revolving chicken.
Put the grill on, get the chicken spit revolving and place the tray of potatoes underneath so the chicken juices drip onto the potatoes and wait for about an hour.
That’s it. We had it with a sliced up baguette, some dijon mustard, some mayonnaise out of a tube (both items from previous French holiday supermarket stocking-up shopping trips) and some rough red wine, while listening to Les Négresses Vertes on Spotify.
We then went upstairs and filled the bath with multicoloured plastic ducks before trying to get them out with hooks on sticks. Not really.
If you don’t have a rotisserie in your oven
Spatchcock the chicken (look here) and season it just the same, place it directly on the bars of the oven shelf and grill it over the tray of potatoes turning it three or four times during the cooking process.
I’ve been preoccupied with my new show. It’s been ages. Sorry.
It was my dad’s 82nd birthday this week and so I travelled to London with a cold box and various tupperware tubs containing the components to build (I dare say) an epic curry dinner. We had Chicken and Potato Balti (I say ‘Balti’ though I’ve no idea how authentically Balti it was – nice none-the-less), an aubergine and tomato dish using those tiny egg-sized aubergines cooked whole (in this I was trying to recreate a dish from the film ‘The Lunchbox’), Channa Dahl, and rice cooked with cinnamon. But the dessert excited me the most. It’s sharp citrus offset the hot and spicy main course perfectly, both feeling decadent whilst simultaneously cutting through the fattiness of the curry. It’s so easy, keeps in the fridge for ages and tastes just fantastic. I made a fancy topping for it too and it looked great. The recipe below makes enough for 6 pots.
Lemon and Lime Posset with Rose Sugar and Pistachio Praline
For the possets
600ml double cream
150g sugar (caster or granulated, and white or golden ideally)
a big pinch of powdered ginger
a small pinch of powdered nutmeg
For the topping
a handful of shelled unsalted pistachios
about 60g white sugar (must be white)
For the rose sugar
some dried rose petals
granulated white sugar
Make the possets first by combining the cream, sugar, ginger, nutmeg and the zest of both the lemon and the lime in a pan over the stove. Bring it to the most gentle simmer (be so careful it doesn’t boil up and over) and then let it simmer away for about two minutes.
Juice the lemon and lime. Remove the cream from the heat and whisk in the juice before pouring through a sieve into six little pots or glasses or teacups or whatever you fancy serving them in.
Put them in the fridge for at least a couple of hours to set.
Make the two toppings, first the praline. Toast the nuts in a dry pan until lightly toasted, then set aside. Now make a caramel by pouring sugar and a little water into a pan with a silver or white interior so you can see when the caramel starts to form. Set over a medium heat tilting the pan hear and there to get the sugar to melt and start to boil. DON’T STIR IT OR IT WILL CRYSTALLISE. AND DON’T STICK YOUR FINGER IN IT OR YOU’LL NEVER FORGET IT! The sugar will boil clear for a while before starting to turn pale golden brown and starting to smell like caramel. Don’t let it go to far or it’ll taste bitter and burned. As soon as it’s caramel brown and smells good take the pan off the heat, pour in the nuts, tilt the pan around and pour the contents onto some baking parchment resting on a heatproof board and leave it to set. It should look like amber with nuts set in it.
Now make the rose sugar by simply grinding sugar and rose petals together in a pestle and mortar until you have a light pink powder that smells like Turkish Delight.
When the caramel is rock hard chop it up with a knife until you have a fine crumb. You could also do this in a food processor.
To assemble, sprinkle a pinch of rose sugar on top of the possets, then a layer of praline crumb, then a pinch more rose sugar and finally, if you have any, an edible flower.
As I said at the beginning I’ve been rather preoccupied developing, practicing and performing my new anarchic cooking show. It’s coming together. Presently it’s called George Egg: Anarchist Cook Part Two ‘Second Helpings’, but when it gets to the Edinburgh Fringe in August it’ll be called George Egg: DIY Chef. On the surface it’s about cooking with tools. If you want to get deeper it’s about resourcefulness, rebellion, independence and eccentricity in a painful and disturbing world of change, uncertainty and chaos. Something like that anyway.
Click HERE for dates.
I’ve been having fun. I’m developing a new show which is sort-of going to be a sequel to the current show but which won’t be a ‘part two’ that one won’t be able to enjoy without having seen the first. It’s called Anarchist Cook again, but with the addition of ‘Second Helpings’. At least that’s the working title at the moment. I’ve other titles in my arsenal (‘Extra Portions’, ‘Nicely Seasoned’, ‘Well seasoned’, ‘Urban Forager’…).
Needless to say the show is going to be another cooking show and cooking once again using unconventional methods and non-culinary appliances and equipment. So I’ve been playing around with tools, office equipment, and ingredients.
This is a single scallop, which I cooked in its shell. I placed a tiny knob of butter on it and blasted it for about a minute each side with a DeWalt DW340 paint stripping gun. Once beautifully caramelised I sprinkled it with a little smoked sea salt, a pinch of dill, some pepper and a squeeze of lemon. It was honestly one of the nicest things I’ve ever eaten in my life.
I played with the DeWalt heat gun again with this piece of sirloin. Rubbed with a little olive oil and then blasted, the meat sitting in on the blade of a shovel. I made a chimichurri of sorts with olive oil, lemon, garlic, chilli and dried oregano and shaved in some raw fennel using a Stanley wood-workers plane. And then sliced tomato (sliced with a junior hacksaw).
A plumbers blow torch cooked this fillet of rainbow trout, crisping up the skin. It was simply dressed with a smear of wasabi and a splash of soy sauce.
This linguine was made using an Elpine desktop paper shredder. Perfect 3mm ribbons. Boiled in a kettle, dressed with uht cream pots, parmesan, garlic, salt and pepper. And a pinch of chopped parsley.
The other fillet of trout (1st fillet blasted with heat – see above) was poached simply in a Morphy Richards Voyager 800 travel kettle. Poached trout skin isn’t as appetising as poached bass or bream skin so that was removed before the fish was dressed with a smear of english mustard (from a sachet), soy sauce, mint, chilli and cracked black pepper.
And finally, another steak again cooked in the shovel blade with the DeWalt gun. This was a Bavette steak. Once cooked it was topped with a few slices of gorgonzola and some toasted walnuts (toasted alongside the steak) before being sprinkled with some fresh red chilli and parsley.
I promise you all, ‘Anarchist Cook Two’ is going to taste really really good!
Oh, and a final note. Of course ‘Anarchist Cook’ (show one) is very good too, in fact it’s brilliant and has won awards and garnered rave reviews and stars-galore and toured the world and all that, and is still touring, so do have a look at the website HERE to see where it’s playing. There’s lots of dates still pending all over the country, as well as a rather nice mini-tour of the Scottish Highlands. The last and ONLY remaining chance to see it in London will be on March 15 and 16 at the Soho Theatre, in the main theatre space, at 8:30pm. It’s a big theatre and it’d be a pity not to fill it, so please do come if you can, and bring some/all of your friends/associates/family/work-mates… Here’s a link to tickets for those dates.
This isn’t a blog post. Not a proper one with a recipe and thought-provoking copy. It’s little more than an enhanced photograph. I made some Käsespätzle yesterday (there’s a recipe for it from an old blog right here), and this morning the leftovers had set into a solid block, so for breakfast I cut a neat slice and gently fried each side in some olive oil. With a fried egg and a sprinkling of hot chilli powder is was rather ace. So do it.
Comedian Kerry Godliman did a routine on Live at The Apollo recently that had me in stitches. In it she talks about being an exasperated mother, shopping at the supermarket with difficult children who claim that they prefer one pasta shape to another. It’s such an accurate observation and so brilliantly and hilariously acted out (especially when she looks up to challenge the shopper who must be observing the confrontation from afar). It’s HERE (this link expires tomorrow at 10:30pm, so watch it NOW – scroll to 16:40 for the bit I’m talking about).
But while I empathise with her plight (my ‘kids’ are 16, 19 and 20 but still claim to prefer bows to shells), I’ve got to admit that I stand with them when it comes to there being an overall victor, because I do prefer one pasta shapes to others, and I’m proud to say that spaghetti really is the best and that’s that.
I could eat a plate of perfectly cooked spaghetti with a little butter or olive oil and some seasoning and nothing else. I could eat it every day, twice a day. But it does have to be cooked properly and that means the ‘are you sure this doesn’t need a little bit longer?’-side of al dente.
If that’s a bit too simple for your palette and doesn’t feel quite ‘dinner’ enough then do this recipe. It’s a standard go-to meal that takes minutes and has very few ingredients. So few that it’s the sort of thing you can throw together when you’re away from home in an Air BnB in Edinburgh (as I was when I made, photographed and enjoyed the plate pictured above) that doesn’t have anything in it’s cupboards apart from salt and pepper and oil, and you want to cook without the hassle of having a load of half-finished ingredients leftover. You’ll need to buy 5 items and they’re all the sorts of things you could easily get in a small shop.
Spaghetti With Garlic, Chilli, Parsley and Raw Tomato
1/2 a packet of dried spaghetti
lots of extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 red chilli, thinly sliced
1 punnet cherry tomatoes (halved or quartered)
1 bunch parsley (flat leafed or curly – I prefer curly, it’s stronger)
salt and pepper
Bring a big pan of well-salted water to the boil, and I mean well-salted. I remember watching Delia once grind a few twists from a salt mill into a pan containing what must have been about 4 litres of water. Utterly pointless. It wouldn’t have made any discernible difference. There’s a saying that the water you boil pasta in should be as salty as the Mediterranean, so for a large pan you’ll want two or three dessertspoons of salt. At least. Maybe more.
When the pan is boiling hard drop the pasta in, get it under the water and give it a few good stirs every now and then for the first few minutes to make sure it’s not sticking and not clumping together at all.
Right, now you’ve got about 8 minutes to do the rest so get a move on.
In a cold large shallow pan pour a lot of oil (so put in as much as you think, and then put some more in), then add the garlic and the chilli and then put it over a medium heat. You can’t burn the garlic or everything will be horrible (not just this meal, but everything everywhere). As the heat comes up underneath, the chilli and garlic will start to sizzle and as soon as they do drop the heat really low.
Chop the tomatoes and the parsley and mix them together.
Keep an eye on the garlic and as soon as it starts to go pale gold throw in the raw tomato and parsley. It’ll cool everything down so you can afford to bring the heat up higher but only for a minute or so, and keep it all moving by shaking the pan or stirring. The water in the tomato will emulsify with the oil making a silky garlicky sauce. Then turn off the heat.
The pasta should now be nearly done. Test it. It really does want to be very al dente, because it’ll continue to cook when it’s out of the water and in the sauce.
Drain it really quickly and immediately pour it into the pan with the tomatoes so that you retain a fair amount of the pasta water as it clings to the spaghetti. Shake and stir, plop it onto plates, add more parsley and black pepper and eat straight away.
IMPORTANT: This sauce will NOT work with pasta shells, pasta bows, tubes, twists, dinosaur shapes, barbie shapes or any other shape. Despite what Kerry says. Except Tagliatelle, or linguine. But spaghetti is best.
I had some roast beef left (see beginning of last post). Not surprisingly, the joint I’d cooked was a two and a half kilo piece of prime rib which I’d come away with after a butchery class at The Ginger Pig in Marylebone. The leftovers were a bit of a mishmash, there was a fair bit of nice pink medium rare ‘middle’ (a decent portion of which I sliced thinly and enjoyed cold in a wholemeal flat bread with fresh ripe tomato, rocket, red onion, parsley, and a horseradish mayonnaise), but then a lot of well-done end, and some scrappy bits which looked less appetising once the fat had cooled and returned to it’s opaque white nightlight-like state. I also had a lot of cream left (for dessert after the roast beef meal I’d made a brioche and chocolate bread and butter pudding – recipe for that to follow, it’s easy and it’s outstanding) so I made a stroganoff which, along with Beef and Noodles is a great way to use up leftover roast.
Leftover Beef Stroganoff
1 onion – thinly sliced
1 garlic – thinly sliced
lots of mushrooms – thinly sliced
leftover roast beef – sliced into medium thickness mouthfuls
paprika – about a teaspoon
some white wine or cider (if you have it, no biggy if you haven’t)
leftover gravy – some
cream – lots
cooked white rice to serve it with
Fry the onion and garlic in E.V. rapeseed oil (if you have it, any oil will do though) over a medium to low heat until they’ve softened. Take them out of the pan. Now fry the mushrooms on a slightly higher heat and get them nicely caramelised. Take them out. Turn the heat up, add a bit more oil and flash fry the beef so as to crisp up the outside but not over-do it – if the heat is high enough it’ll take a minute, if that. As soon as it looks good, drop the heat and put the mushrooms and onions back in.
Add the paprika and stir around for a minute or so and then pour in some wine or cider, if you have it – about a glass full. Let it reduce down until it’s almost disappeared and then add the gravy and the cream. Bring it to the boil, have a taste and add salt or a splash of soy sauce if it needs it, a squeeze of lemon if it’s tasting too sweet and a pinch of sugar if too sour. Grind in lots of black pepper.
Cook white rice (in a pressure cooker which you MUST have it will take no more than 3 minutes), and serve the stroganoff on top with more black pepper, lots of parsley and a scattering of chopped cornichons.
Put on a big fur hat and tuck in while singing the Russian National Anthem in your head.
I took enormous pleasure in cutting up a big piece of cow earlier this week. Sorry vegans, I know you’re out there in your hoards, but it’s true. I took part in a beef butchery class at The Ginger Pig in Marylebone and while I think the class itself could have been more comprehensive I still felt I learnt how to deal properly with a two and a half kilo piece of aged prime rib. I carefully cut away the chine bone, I tore back the cap and removed the paddywhack, French-trimmed the bones and tied it all back together. Back home I roasted it with nothing but salt and pepper and served it with roast potatoes, creamy courgettes and a salad of beetroot, sugar snap peas, rocket and balsamic and the most outstanding gravy made from the roasted bones and resting juices. It was absolutely epic.
Vegans, you don’t know what you’re missing, but then conversely all you adamant anti-vegans out there, you don’t know what you’re missing either. Because here’s something that you’d shun if offered I’m sure, though you’d be fools to do so. I think I’ve perfected my vegan Chilli Con Carne (a contradiction in terms I realise so hereafter called more accurately Chilli Sin Carne). It’s rich and oily and very spicy and it’s also bloody quick. I threw it together last night in less than twenty minutes (plus simmering time though it doesn’t need long like a beef one would).
(By the way, I’ve been informed that one of the ingredients on the list isn’t actually vegan, but see below for a slight alteration to the recipe that sorts this little problem out.)
Chilli Sin Carne
Olive oil and plenty of it
6 or 7 mushrooms (finely chopped)
2 onions (try finely chopped)
1 carrot (very finely diced)
1 celery stick (very finely diced)
2 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1 heaped teaspoon hot chilli powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tbsp normal paprika
2 red chillis (1 sliced, 1 left whole)
a scant handful of raisins or sultanas (chopped)
1 bag of frozen Quorn* mince
1 packet of TVP (soya mince) rehydrated
1/2 cup of cold black coffee
1 bottle of pasatta (about 700g I think)
2 tins red kidney beans, drained
a scant handful of picked jalapeño slices, roughly chopped
some sugar, honey, date syrup, molasses – anything sweet, even jam will do
about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of gravy browning**
*it’s been brought to my attention that frozen Quorn mince isn’t actually vegan as it contains some egg derivatives and I think some milk too. SO, if this is a problem (rolls eyes and shakes head a little bit) then simply use two packets of rehydrated soya mince instead. You may need to up the gravy browning (see below) too to get the required appetising appearance.
**yes, gravy browning is just brown food colouring but, ladies and gentlemen, we eat with our eyes and if your chilli looks deep and rich it’ll taste deep and rich too. Trust me.
Get a nice big casserole on your hob and bring the heat up underneath. Pour in a really generous amount of olive oil and then your mushrooms. Don’t move them around at all for quite a while because you want them to catch and to caramelise. When they’ve got a nice bit of colour on them throw in the onion, carrot and celery and give the whole lot a good fifteen minutes over a nice gentle heat. Again it’s colour and flavour you want to encourage. You can pop the cinnamon stick in now too, and the whole red chilli. the chilli will impart some flavour, but it’ll also look the business and if anyone’s feeling particularly brave at dinnertime they can eat the whole thing, which is a fun challenge after a few tequilas.
Once everything is nicely coloured add the cumin seeds, the raisins or sultanas (they add a lovely sweetness that’ll balance the heat beautifully), the other chilli chopped up small, the garlic, the Quorn mince, the rehydrated TVP*** and the chilli powder and paprikas and give it all a good stir and a fry. The spices might catch a bit and if they do add a splash of water.
Next pour in the coffee. It’s going to add a bitter note that’s not dissimilar to the flavour of charred bones you get from a good beef stock. Let it reduce down a bit before adding your pasatta and giving it all a really good mix together, season with lots of black pepper and about half a teaspoon of salt. But taste to check the balance.
Now, at this stage it won’t look especially appetising. In fact it’ll look a bit insipid, maybe even a little bit like sick, so here’s where you deploy your secret weapon – the gravy browning. This stuff is a VERY POWERFUL colourant, and as Raymond Blanc says, you can add but you can’t take away. Put a little bit in, stir, if it still looks too pale then add a little more. Bear in mind that the sauce will darken as it cooks and you can add more later if you want, so don’t overdo it. Get it looking a bit richer, bring it to a simmer and let it cook for about thirty minutes.
By now it should be rich, reduced, dark and oily and really meaty-looking, and tasting. If it needs a further boost you can add a bit of Marmite, or just some more salt and pepper. If it’s too acidic then put in a bit of brown sugar, molasses or honey. Add the beans and the chopped jalapeños. And if it’s too thick add a splash of water. Bring it back to a simmer and give it another ten minutes or so. When it’s done trickle on some more olive oil on top.
Serve it with rice, with baked potatoes, or just with a big hunk of bread. Trickle over a little cream, or a dollop of sour cream (unless you’re still a vegan in which case you can substitute the cream for water or ice – just kidding – maybe use some soya yoghurt). Sprinkle with fresh coriander, a big squeeze of lime and some fresh raw chilli and flakey salt. Oh and if you’re feeding it to a meat-eater, don’t tell them, they won’t realise.
***TVP is something I talked about in an earlier blog. It’s what we used at school Home Economics lessons instead of too-expensive meat. It’s a real throwback to the days of early vegetarianism but it really does the job.