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.
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
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
EV Olive Oil
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
I first came across a Waldorf salad probably in the way most people of my generation did, not by eating it but through the much loved BBC comedy series of Fawlty Towers. (I couldn’t find the original clip but only a ‘Waldorf Salad remix’) This classic episode features a brash American couple that come to stay and arrive late as the hotel kitchen is about to close. Upon discovering this, Mr Hamilton, the short-tempered guest offers Basil £20 to keep the chef on for a bit longer. The American first confuses Basil Fawlty by asking for a couple of Screwdrivers – a drink Basil has never heard of and then proceeds to order something else not on the menu; a Waldorf salad. When Basil is confused and annoyed for a second time, the frustrated and demanding American lists all the components of the salad; “Celery, apples, walnuts, grapes, topped with mayonnaise.” The list had to be repeated angrily several more times for Basil to get it right and as was the norm with Fawlty Towers, total rip-roaring hilarity and chaos ensued with the plot getting more and more convoluted with Basil getting increasingly worked up. Ah, fond memories…
I’ve made versions of a Waldorf salad many times but last night had a flash of inspiration to incorporate some of those flavours into a simple chicken risotto. The risotto came about because, as I’d already made some lamb stock from butcher’s bones the day before, (which was now tucked away in the fridge) I realised I needed to use up the chicken stock I’d made that day out of the whole chicken we’d eaten the previous night…sounds confusing but I had made two stocks and didn’t want to keep both. There is no better way to utilise an amount of stock than in a risotto. Well, unless you’re making a soup or a biryani or a paella or a…etc. etc.
This combination of flavours and textures in this risotto worked surprisingly well and much better than expected. I didn’t include apples as such, but cooked the dish with a dry Normandy cider for that ‘applely’ nuance. I caramelised some celery with the onion before adding the rice and left some raw as a rather satisfying crunchy topping together with the walnuts and parmesan shavings. The grapes didn’t get a look in but then again I don’t think I’d include them in a regular salad either.
INGREDIENTS (4 persons)
a big glug of EV olive oil
1 large onion – chopped
2 sticks of celery – chopped finely
large handful of leftover cooked chicken – picked from the bones or elsewhere
a pinch of dried chilli flakes
a good, big pinch or grind of the pepper mill.
2 large cloves of Garlic – finely chopped or sliced
300ml arborio rice or similar
300ml dry cider
500ml chicken stock
extra simmering water, if necessary
salt – to taste
lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
a lump of butter – around 50g…slightly less maybe.
a handful of walnuts – semi crushed
a stick if celery – finely chopped or sliced
EV olive oil
parmesan shavings – to taste
extra salt and pepper
- In a heavy pan, slowly caramelise the onions and celery in the olive oil until soft and translucent.
- Add the chicken, chilli flakes, pepper and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes
- Add the rice and cook for a minute or two covering each grain and mixing well
- Add the cider and turn up to medium heat, continuing to stir the rice
- Once the the cider has been absorbed/evaporated, add the stock a ladle at a time, whilst continuing to stir the risotto
- Turn the heat down if necessary to keep the dish at simmering temperature.
- Stir the risotto every 20-30 seconds and keep adding stock or hot water as it needs it.
- Once the rice is ‘al dente’ – with each grain cooked and creamy on the outside but still retaining a bite within, turn off the heat, add the butter and season to taste.
- Stir in the butter and cover for 5 minutes and just leave it
- The risotto will be lovely and creamy by the time you dish it out.
- Plate up, topping the rice with the celery, the broken walnuts, a good drizzle of olive oil, the parmesan shavings and extra salt and pepper.
ps. I also had some roasted squash that was sliced and added to the topping – very nice. (don’t bother roasting 1/4 of a squash for this but add if you have some leftover from a previous meal – on second thoughts, it may be worth it.)
Edinburgh Fringe Perfectly Balanced Salad
Avocado (broken into chunks with the fingers)
Mozzarella (torn into large pieces)
Kalamata Olives (pitted)
Really really good tomatoes
Parma or Serrano Ham
Red Onion (really thinly sliced)
Red Chilli (really thinly sliced also)
Radish (sliced quite thinly)
Tinned Anchovy Fillets (cut lengthways into thin strips)
E.V. Olive Oil
Mint, Dill and Basil (shredded)
Black Pepper and Crunchy Salt
There’s no rules. Judge the proportions yourself according to taste but something similar to the photograph seems to work. Arrange on a plate as you wish, neat or scattered, before dressing with the oil and lime juice and finally the salt and pepper. I assure you, it’s really very good. You’ll be wiping the plate with your finger.
Each autumn performers from all the corners of the world and from every genre of the arts converge on the Scottish capital for a month. This August I was amongst them. I took ‘Anarchist Cook’, the show I’ve been ripening and maturing this last year and a half, to the world’s largest arts festival, the Edinburgh Fringe, to perform every day in one of the hundreds of theatre spaces created for this wholly unique performance fair. From August 5th to August 31st at 2:45pm (except for one Monday that I took off – I was going to take two Mondays off but I ended up doing an extra show on one of them for reasons I’ll come to shortly) I performed the show to a full house. The room I was in (The Balcony at The Gilded Balloon) was only a sixty seater but even so I’d mentally prepared myself to be ready to entertain audiences in the single figures, though after the first preview was half-full, every show following that was rammed. A combination of an original idea well written and passionately performed I suppose. Extremely satisfying and gratifying whatever the reason.
Being away for a whole month my cooking and eating habits went a bit awry. When I’m at home I find myself catering for the family most nights. Similarly in Edinburgh I was catering for a theatre full of people every day (cooking the exact same three course meal twenty six times in a row), the difference being that unlike at home where I get to eat the meal I cook with everyone else, in Edinburgh those plates went off with the audience and I rarely got more than a few leftover scraps of bread and perhaps the odd bit of neglected salad. So I had to fend for myself a lot.
The intensity of the show’s production (resetting everything in the morning and then flyering before a lightening-fast set-up at 2:30 and an equally frantic strike at 3:45, followed by washing up and dropping the clean dishes behind the stage at 5:00) meant that despite having the best intentions before heading up there, once in the swing of things I didn’t cook a great deal. Apart from a couple of meals to share with my flatmates (excellent comedians John Robins, Matthew Crosby and Matt Ewins) I found myself eating a mixture of takeaways and the most abominably un-gourmet oven-ready or even worse microwavable dinners. It was rather absurd that I was cooking such genuinely tasty and deluxe platefuls on stage while eating, excuse me, ‘shit’ either side.
One day I cooked for Jay Rayner. Yes, that Jay Rayner. He was performing a show in Edinburgh too, (just on one day, not for the whole month like me), and he got in touch to let me know that he’d like to come and see my show. He figured that since his show finished at 1:45 he’d be able to jump in a taxi and get over to the part of town where I was performing for my 2:45 start. I agreed and said I’d make sure there was a ticket waiting for him. It wasn’t until half an hour later that I suddenly realised that the day he proposed to come was my day off! I got in touch with my venue and set about putting on an extra show on that day to accommodate him. We did so, and managed to sell out that show too (in fact it proved to be quite a celebrity audience on that occasion since not only was Jay Rayner present, but also comedians Daniel Kitson, Alex Horne and Tim Key. And a critic from The Times). Absurdly though, despite cooking the finest cuisine for The Observer’s most famous food critic and the cream of the Edinburgh comedy elite, for breakfast that same day I had a Gregg’s roll, and for dinner…
…a microwaveable Rustler cheese burger*
But on some days I did look after myself. I put together the above salad one early evening and it was so good I recreated it as a starter for my flatmates on another occasion. It was creamy and decadent while managing to be also crunchy and refreshing. A balance of bitterness from the olives, sourness from the lime, heat from the chilli and the radishes, salt from the anchovy and the ham, and all this calmed by the mild avocado and mozzarella with the herbs singing on top. Try it.
*Nostalgia’s a huge factor in the success of a dish. When I was a teenager I went on a number of wonderful youth hostelling holidays with my brother and our friends, and every trip, on the train heading back to London we would treat ourselves to a cheeseburger from the buffet car. It was microwaved in it’s bun with a slice of processed cheese before getting a squirt of ketchup and sometimes mustard too. The bun was always weirdly wet on top and hard underneath, the burger itself possessing an alien quality only achievable by this method of preservation and reheating. Disgusting of course, but Rustlers microwavable burgers taste just the same, and the memories, good ones, like the train we’d dine on, come hurtling home.