Thursday, March 29

Char-Grilled Chicken, Greek Salad

Is anyone else staggered at the warm weather we are having this week? Twenty two degrees in my garden today - is this Global Warming? Well I'm going to make the most of this environmental apocalypse with the first barbecue of the year.

Yes, I understand that this is a well trodden recipe and I am absolutely sure that you will all have eaten one of these salads at some point. But it is just so bloody tasty and perfectly fitting for this unseasonal weather. It is a classic, but don't feel bad about adding stuff you like and removing ingredients you don't. Straight after I took this picture, my missus threw load of chopped coriander on top. It's not traditional, but soft herbs are lovely in a salad and the citrusy notes of the leaves worked really well with the chicken. Serves 2

Free range chicken breasts - 2
Garlic - 1 clove, crushed
Fresh oregano - 2 or 3 sprigs, stems removed and leaves chopped
Ripe tomatoes - 2 large, chopped or use a handful of cherry vine tomatoes
Yellow pepper - 1, deseeded
Cucumber - 1/2
Kalamata olives - 1 handful
Red onion - 1 small, peeled and finely sliced
Lemon - 1
Best extra virgin olive oil - 50 ml
Feta cheese - 1 packet, cubed
Salt and freshly crushed black pepper

Marinade the chicken for an hour or so with the garlic, a little olive oil, oregano, a squeeze of lemon and a a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Sliced the cucumber through the middle lengthways and using a teaspoon remove the seeds, then slice into thin 'half moons'. Toss together the cucumber, onion, yellow pepper, tomato and olives. Season lightly and squeeze over some lemon juice and dress generously with olive oil. Transfer to your serving plate and top with the feta cheese - do this last or the cheese breaks up in the salad and can look a bit messy. Season and chargrill the chicken on the barbecue, slice up and throw over the salad. 

Wednesday, March 14

Picked Crab, Wye Valley Asparagus, Herb Mayonnaise

OMG - spring is finally here and the foodie milestone for me is the arrival of British asparagus. I found a bunch in my local greengrocers from the Wye Valley just a few miles up the road. I've gone all out and paired it with freshly picked crab meat and a home made herb mayo. This is less a recipe, more an assembly of good ingredients, and nothing wrong with that. Some musings on asparagus:

1) Thick ones are better than thin ones
2) The heads should be dry and plump, the stems should not have a trace of wrinkle through dehydration.
3) Buy British in season, and don't buy any out of season - Peruvian asparagus is just not cricket.
4) Trim the bases, but not excessively so. People are over paranoid about fibrous stems, just nibble down until you hit a woody bit.
5) With a small knife, do remove the 'scales' lower down on the stems, they can be a bit tough. I don't bother to peel them - why would you?
6) Cook to your taste. I like mine when the heads just start to wobble about when held by the base. If you like yours more crisp or soft, then cook more or less (but don't murder them please!)
7) I've not found asparagus to enhance the libido, but it's smell can be apparent in your urine. There is a great anecdote that Gentlemen's clubs in the 1800s would put up signs to encourage "Gentlemen not to urinate in the umbrella stands during asparagus season". How wonderfully British!

A bunch of British asparagus
A pack of fresh picked crab meat - 1/2 white, 1/2 brown, 200g
1 free range egg yolk
100ml vegetable oil
1 heaped tsp dijon mustard
A good squeeze of lemon juice
A few sprigs of tarragon, dill and chives picked and chopped
Buttered Toast
Salt and pepper

With a whisk beat the egg yolk, a squeeze of lemon, a pinch of salt and pepper and the dijon together in a bowl. Slowly dribble in the oil beating all the time until all the oil is incorporated and you have a mayonnaise (it is that easy!). Add your herbs and set aside.

Pass the brown crab meat through a sieve and pick through the white to remove any fragments of shell.

Boil/Steam the asparagus for approx four minutes (or more/less depending on how soft or crisp you like it). Toast your bread, butter it, serve up.  

Wednesday, March 7

Chicken alla Milanese

I love fried chicken and used to be quite partial to a late night drunken visit to my local fried chicken establishment. Sadly those days are gone and I now spend my evenings sober and managing the zombie like night feeds of our little baby boy. Although this recipe is not of the 'Southern Fried' variety, it does still tick the crispy fried chicken boxes. If I have a few cold beers as well maybe it will feel like the old days........who am I kidding! For two:

Free range chicken breasts - 2
Eggs - 2, beaten
Dry white breadcrumbs - enough to bread the chicken, maybe 250g
Plain Flour - 100g
Spaghetti - 120g
Chopped tomatoes - 1 tin
Garlic - 3 cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
Olive oil (not extra virgin) - 100ml
Basil - 1 small bunch, leaves torn up
A good pinch of red chilli flakes
Red wine vinegar - a splash
Caster sugar - 1 tsp
Parmesan, grated

Lay 50cm of cling film on a work top. Place the chicken breast in the middle of one half. Fold the cling film over the chicken and beat with a rolling pin to evenly flatten the chicken breast. Repeat for the other chicken breast and set aside. Season and dip each beaten chicken breast in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs - set aside.

Heat a splash of olive oil in a sauté pan and gently fry the garlic until just golden. Toss in the tomatoes, chilli, vinegar, sugar and season well with salt and pepper. Gently simmer until the sauce begins to thicken then set aside.

Boil some water for the pasta and cook to al dente - approx 9 mins but check the packet instructions. While the pasta is cooking, heat a non-stick frying pan with the remaining oil and gently fry the chicken breasts over a medium heat until golden and cooked through. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm.

Toss the cooked pasta through the sauce with the torn basil. Correct the seasoning and plate. Top with the breaded chicken and generously grate over some parmesan. You will notice I have no parmesan in my photo above. I would like to say that my aim was not to hide the pasta.....but  actually I forgot to buy any!

Friday, March 2

Beer Battered Pollack, Tartare Sauce

The quintessential British dish and sold just about everywhere. Why then is it so hard to find a good version? I am positive it has something to do with with the British perception that our national dish should only cost a few quid. Perhaps this is historic. I'm getting ridiculous images in my mind of 1920's children in poor Northern mining towns, eating only once every two days and looking forwards to a steaming bag of chips and a scrap of fish bought for a hard won shilling. Of course nowadays the take-out food market covers the gastronomic globe. It all costs more than fish and chips but we don't bat an eyelid. 

Lets take pizza for example: a 9.5 inch cheese and tomato pizza from a well known brand (beginning with a 'D') costs £7.99. Bread, tomato and cheese - the raw ingredients cost nothing. A standard cod and chips at my local costs £5 - for a good portion of cod.....and loads of could barely make it yourself for that price. And herein lies the problem. Corners are cut, fish is bought in frozen from who knows where, batter is from a pre-mix powder, the frying oil is not as clean as it could be.

You gets what you pay for. To be the best, fish must be fresh not frozen. Local and sustainable fish is also a possibility for a few pennies more. So next time you find a really great fish fryer who is cooking - to order - day boat caught Cornish Whiting, please support him. Give him your pizza money and enjoy a real British treat done right. 

You will need a deep fat fryer for this - you can use a chip pan but I find the result inconsistent and they are dangerous. Buy one second hand, they don't cost much. You may also want some chips with your fish. Look here to see my musings:

Skinless pollock fillets - 2x200g (not too thick or thin, ask for cuts from the centre of the fillet)
150g Plain Flour plus 50g for dusting
250ml room temperature ale or lager
7g sachet dried yeast
Egg yolk - 1
150ml vegetable oil plus more for deep frying
Capers - 25g
Gherkins - 25g
Tarragon - 1 small bunch
Dill - 1 small bunch
Lemon juice -  a big squeeze

Mix 150g flour with the yeast and beer. Beat until smooth then set aside for 1/2 hour to ferment. Take your fish out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature - this ensures the fish cooks at the same time as the batter.

Meanwhile make your tartare sauce. Beat the egg yolk with the lemon juice and a generous season of salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the oil whisking all the time to make a mayonnaise. Chop the capers, gherkins and herbs together until somewhere between finely and roughly chopped. Mix into the mayo, taste and correct the seasoning and lemon juice.

Heat your fryer to 180c and remove the fryer basket - you want to fry straight into the cooking well. Season then dust your fish with flour. Dip into the batter, allow to drain quickly then gently dip 2/3 into the oil carefully holding the other end of the fillet with fingertips. What you are trying to do is allow the batter to bubble and set so the fillet floats when you finally let go. If you drop the fish straight into the fryer, it may stick to the bottom. When the fish seems to be floating, let go and repeat with the other fish fillet. Turn the fillets after a few minutes and continue to cook until deeply golden - the whole process should take about 10 minutes. Drain your fish well and serve.