Introducing Guest Chef Finn Baird

Click here to book for the Finn Baird Guest Chef Supper Clubs

This is Finn.

Finn has been my best friend since the age of 9, a professional chef since he was 16, and for 4 glorious months in 2013, my business partner under the name Urban Picnic – the make-all-the-mistakes-and-get-out-before-they-find-the-bodies precursor to Smoke and Thyme. Since I’ve known him he’s worked in some of my favourite restaurants in London, Oxford and Bristol as well as starting one of his own in rural Worcestershire, raised his own pigs and cultured or cured just about everything he’s been able to get his hands on.

While I’m in New Orleans, Finn is going to be the Guest Chef at my Supper Clubs so that Smoke and Thyme can “continue” to “run smoothly” in my absence. He’s an extremely capable and imaginative chef who will be bringing a great many fresh new ideas to the supper clubs. I’m going to be working closely with him on the menus – passing back new recipes that I’ve found in New Orleans and doing the same kind of ruthless refinement of each other’s ideas that we do whenever we cook together. Continue reading “Introducing Guest Chef Finn Baird”

Hogget Casserole

This casserole is exactly as simple as it needs to be, which is to say, it is exceptionally complicated. I make no apology for this. Each step has its reason, and the reason is that it’s worth it. If you want an easy life, stay tuned for next week’s slow roast shoulder recipe. It is delicious. But if your obsession for the perfect casserole is equal to mine, you will learn here everything I know about how to make it, and in a fraction of the time I took to discover it.

Hogget Casserole

  • 1 hogget shank
  • 1 hogget knuckle
  • 1 hogget neck
  • About 1 litre flavourful liquid e.g best quality lamb, chicken or beef stock, beer, red wine or any combination of these (see note below)
  • 4 large onions
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 3 large carrots/8 small carrots
  • 1 bouquet garni (2 bay leaves, sprigs of rosemary, thyme, parsley and/or oregano tied with a small piece of string)
  • 2 large parsnips
  • 1 small celeriac
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Knob of butter
  • 1 tbsp honey or demerara sugar

Season the meat and fry in a flame-proof casserole dish over a hot heat until well browned all over. Remove the meat and deglaze the dish with a little stock/wine. The browning adds flavour to the meat and the deglazing ensures that the flavour of the little bits that stick to the pan is not lost.

Create a vegetable trivet by putting a couple of stalks of celery, a carrot sliced lengthways down the middle, and an onion cut into 1cm thick rounds on the bottom of the casserole dish. The trivet vegetables will be cooked so long that their texture becomes undesirable but their flavour will enrich the sauce. 

Arrange the browned meat on the trivet of vegetables – top up with liquid to just below the level of the meat. Add the bouquet garni. By using a minimum of liquid, the flavour from the meat won’t be diluted but will be concentrated within an intense sauce. The meat sits atop the trivet and almost steams, rather than boils. 

Cover with a tight-fitting lid and transfer to the oven. Cook for 2 hrs at 140C or until the meat is very tender and falling off the bone. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Cooked for too long, the meat will lose flavour. Check regularly and stop cooking once the right level of tenderness is reached. 

Once cooled remove the pieces of meat and put to one side. Wring out and discard the vegetable trivet but retain the braising liquid. Allowing the meat to cool in the liquid causes it to draw up the moisture and avoids it drying out.

Fry the remaining onions in a little oil until very well browned. Grate the parsnips and celeriac and fry in oil until very well browned. Combine all these vegetables and pour over the braising liquid. Simmer over a very low flame until sauce thickens. Shred the meat by hand and mix through the sauce. Season the casserole to taste. Cooking the vegetables separately gives greater control over their texture. You can cook the casserole up to this step well in advance – the flavour improves with a night in the fridge. 

Cut remaining carrots into rounds/oblique shapes. Place in a saucepan with a knob of butter, pinch of salt and honey/demerara sugar. Add just enough water to cover the carrots and bring to the boil and simmer until tender (approx 8 mins). Add carrots to casserole and serve. Cooking the carrots in this way preserves their colour, which helps greatly with presentation of the casserole. 

 

Notes on stock

“Flavourful liquid” glosses over a great deal of hidden work that went into this recipe. I started with my best quality chicken stock – made in a pressure cooker from well-roasted chicken carcasses. I then roasted ALL of the unused hogget bones and all the vegetable ends and peelings from the entire seven course meal, added those to the strained chicken stock and effectively made a double stock. I then added half a bottle of red wine, half a bottle of beer and the liquid from pressure cooking caramelised onions to the stock and reduced this down into the “flavourful liquid” that I made the casserole with.

I cannot in good conscience recommend that you engage in this kind of madness, but I will observe that it did taste bloody good.

 

Strawberry Custard Tart

Served as part of my June Supper Club menu, on the 5th and 13th of June.IMG_0652IMG_0831

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This last photo is from Medley Manor Farm, on the inside of a rustic little shack where you weigh and pay for your pick-your-own strawberries. It’s a quote on the topic of strawberries from Reverend John Fuller, circa the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and it reads “Doubtless God could have made a better berry. But doubtless God never did.”

What more can you say?

——–

Picking your own strawberries is one of the more agreeable ways to spend a sunny afternoon in June. However if you spend as much as a whole afternoon picking, you’re liable to end up with an infeasibly vast amount of strawberries – these are quite literally easy pickings and 15 or 20 minutes is long enough to snag a kilo or so (about 2 large punnets).

There’s not much of a saving in picking strawberries yourself compared to buying at the supermarket. The real benefit is in quality. Strawberries are at their sweetest and most flavoursome when they’re perfectly ripe – but they don’t pack or travel so well at this point because they’re so soft. As such, to look good on a supermarket shelf, strawberries are bred and picked for firmness over flavour. Fresh from the field you can handpick and lovingly transport home only the reddest, ripest, juiciest, most yielding and tender berries, and the few that get bruised on the way home are acceptable jammy casualties for the privilege of what you’re about to eat.

My strawberry custard tart is my attempt to celebrate the berry that God did not trouble Himself to improve upon. I blind bake an almond shortcrust pastry shell – first with beans until it will hold its shape and then open and empty until golden brown, at about 190 C. With the tart shell still in the oven, I pour in hot custard from a jug right up to the brim, and turn the oven right down to 100 C and let the custard slowly cook, without browning the pastry any further, until it sets with only the barest wobble to indicate the creamy unctuousness below its surface. The strawberries, hulled and quartered, are sprinkled with caster sugar and just a few drops of balsamic vinegar to macerate in their own juices for a hour or two until the tart has cooked and cooled down, and then arranged across a slice like a bright red slash with a few leaves of basil or mint from the garden to garnish. I also use this combination of strawberries, basil and balsamic vinegar in one of my favourite ice cream flavours. I make a basil ice cream by infusing the cream with fresh-cut basil for three days. I cut strawberries quite small and drizzle with balsamic and sugar before roasting them gently in the oven to dry out and concentrate the flavour. After churning the basil ice cream until almost completely set, I swirl in way, way too many of the diced strawberries, and reserve in the freezer for a few hours. Sometimes there’s even some left by dinnertime.

Crabcakes and Asparagus Ice Cream

Crabcakes

This is an update and review of a dish from my April Supper Club, held on the 17th. The next supper club date is Saturday the 9th of May. To attend, please email me at smokeandthyme@gmail.com, letting me know how many guests you’d like to bring, a contact phone number and any special dietary requirements I need to be aware of. The menu changes every month and the price is pay-what-you-want.
Lemongrass, coconut, coriander, green chilli. Fish sauce, ginger, soy. My Thai soup with mussels demanded a perfectly smooth sauce, which meant sieving out a heartbreaking amount of immensely flavoursome but slightly stringy pulp from my green curry sauce. Not until after I’d thrown the first batch of it away did I get the tip from a friend that this lumpy by-catch could be mixed with mashed potato and cooked crab for a fantastic green curry crabcake.

With cauliflower still in season and my previous pairing of it with seafood  in mind, I wanted to test out a non-potato binding for another type of crabcake. Adding cayenne and paprika and sumac gave the mixture a dark, red-brownish colour, and unable to pick a favourite between the green Thai or the red cauliflower crabcakes, I decided the colour contrast would justify putting both on the plate.

Asparagus ice cream

As with so many weird food trends, the blame for savoury ice cream lies with Heston Blumenthal and his infamous bacon and egg flavour frozen treat. Much as I adore Heston’s cuisine however, challenging my diners’ preconceptions isn’t usually my main goal. I was concerned that asparagus ice cream in a starter would be too much like a gimmick – like I’m trying to make a point of doing something wacky. So I was delighted when my guests recognised it for being just a really nice (if slightly unusual) combination of flavours, textures and temperatures.

The cream melting over the deep-fried crabcakes is like any cream sauce on seafood, except for being cold, which cuts through the spiciness of the crabcakes. Asparagus, especially when paired with salty samphire, is perfect with crustaceans or anything else from the sea. Sadly at this point we run into my mistake – not nearly enough asparagus flavour to the ice cream. So pungent when boiled or steamed, asparagus’ water-soluble flavour molecules are not taken up so well by fats and oils, and the cold seems to lock them away as well. The temperature and textural contrast of the ice cream worked great, but against the bold, spicy flavours of the crabcakes the asparagus flavour was much too mild.

Verdict

Ultimately, though I liked the taste of the spiced cauliflower crabcakes, I found it too hard to explain what they’re all about to want to serve them again. The thing I liked best was that they provided an alternative to the stodgy, flavour-absorbing mashed potato of a typical fishcake. The Thai green curry ones on the other hand were both delicious and well defined. My next experiment will be to use the same flavours but with a crab risotto (instead of mashed potato) to bind them, and a tempura batter rather than breadcrumbs. The asparagus ice cream will be back, bigger and stronger, and other savoury ices may make their way onto my non-dessert courses in the future.

Photo Update: from the BBQ

Sorry for the lack of recent content folks. Here’s what I’ve been doing this summer while neglecting my blog:

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Fire

Cured pork 2 ways

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Reminder: you can find me at the James St Tavern in Oxford, every Saturday from 2pm – 10pm. Also, starting this week, I’m going to be at The Library (the pub, not the actual library), on Cowley Road every Wednesday from 5pm – 10pm. Menu changes constantly, so keep coming back and it’ll be new every time.

Book Report

I’m running tastings every weekend next month to test out some new dishes. Please get in touch if you’d like to come and try what I’ve been working on.

 

I’m departing from the normal format of this blog to talk about a couple of cookbooks I’m reading at the moment or have just finished. I’m a fan, not a critic, so this post (and others like it, if there are to be others) is about books that I love, that I have devoured, that have inspired me or delighted me or have made me cry, not an objective appraisal of them.

The French Laundry Cookbook

 

If the Queen was coming to dinner, this is the book I’d reach for. Thomas Keller apparently doesn’t discuss prices with the suppliers for his 3 Michelin starred restaurant, and that does put some of his dishes (like the Roasted Maine Lobster with Foie Gras) into the “occasional luxury” column. But the recipes are covered in such detail that I’d feel completely confident about cooking it, even if it was for the first time, even if I had to mortgage the house to shop for it.
Continue reading “Book Report”

Pickles: Tips for Geeks

Ploughman's lunch with butter
Pickling has infinite scope for variation based on personal preference. If you prefer your pickles sweeter, add more sugar. Milder, add more water. Increase, reduce or eliminate entirely the salt content of the brine if you wish.

Spices and herbs can be tailored to whatever it is that you’re pickling. If you like aniseed-y flavours (I can’t stand them), they infuse really well into the pickling liquor. You can use fennel seeds or star anise to pickle fennel or onions which will then go great with pork.

 

Pickle jar open
Radishes will stain pickling liquor a striking shade of hot pink, and any cucumbers in
that liquor will take on a more delicate shade. If you’re not keen on this for
presentation, keep radishes and cucumbers separate. If you’re only about the eating of
them, don’t worry about it. If you actively seek a vivid pinky/purple colour, add a few
slices of beetroot.

You can use regular cucumbers for pickling but there are varieties of pickling cucumbers
available (I usually find them at Indian grocery stores) and they are exceptionally good.

Thicker cuts of vegetables take longer to pickle and have firmer mouthfeel. Play around to
get the size/shape you like best.

 

 

 

 

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You can get a couple of uses out of a batch of pickle liqueur. You may need to top it up
with more vinegar, sugar or salt – the water inside the previous batch of veg will have
diluted it. Boil it and allow to cool to repasteurise it. As in all things, use your best
judgement – throw it away if it doesn’t smell or taste nice.

A short list of things I’ve heard of or tried pickling: courgettes, pears, chillies,
apples, watermelon rind, kholrabi, cabbage, celeriac, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots. It’s
well worth trying things out, even unusual ideas

If you want to store pickles at room temperature, official advice is that they need to be
sterilised and then kept sealed to prevent recontamination. It’s possible that the acidity
alone will prevent bacterial growth, and I’ve heard ph 4.2 or below cited as a target.
However, I don’t have the ability to measure ph, and I prefer my pickles chilled anyway,
so I keep them in the fridge.

You may find yourself with quite a bit of leftover brine once you’ve eaten all the
pickles. Here’s a great way to use it up:

 

Pickleback

Recipe: Pickleback

  • 25ml Bourbon
  • 20ml Pickle juice

Pour the bourbon into one shot glass and the pickle juice into another. Drink the bourbon, then drink the pickle juice. The pickle juice will cleanse the palate and leave you ready for another bourbon. Repeat as necessary.

How I Learned to Love Cooking for Vegetarians

I’d like to break from my usual format and take a moment to talk about every chef’s least favourite species: vegetarians. I think most chefs I know would rather eat a vegetarian than cook for one. Only the well-done steak eater inspires more contempt.

This has to stop. IMG_9364 Firstly, I feel it’s important to mention that I am not a vegetarian. I eat meat or fish almost every day. I adore bacon fat and chicken stock and sirloin steak. And until about 10 months ago, I did not give a damn about vegetarians or vegetarian food. But now I spend more time thinking about the vegetarian options for my menus than almost anything else.

What changed? Basically, someone asked me what vegetarian options we were planning to serve at our pop-up restaurant. Before I could answer, another vegetarian piped up about the time she went to a really top notch restaurant and got served a stuffed pepper, again. Which caused the first to start telling me how sick she was of having to eat goats cheese tart or mushroom bloody risotto every time. At which point I crossed “goats cheese tart” “mushroom risotto” and “some sort of stuffed pepper” off my list of vegetarian food ideas. Which didn’t leave me with much of anything to answer that question with. IMG_9352 I went away and I talked to and cooked for vegetarians and came up with new ideas. I tried to learn what vegetarians actually like to eat. Frustratingly, it turned out they all like seem to like different things – almost as if they’re a group of individuals who enjoy creativity and imagination in their food and have a range of tastes and preferences instead of being one homogeneous group. Overwhelmingly though, I heard about disappointment with the standard of vegetarian food they get when they go out, and the impression that chefs and restaurants don’t really care about doing right by them.

It became clear to me that I was going to need to work a lot harder on this branch of my cooking. At least as hard as I was working on everything else. I decided that my vegetarian dishes wouldn’t be coming with a side of apologies, that they would be striving for quality and originality and inspiration just like anything else. I decided that, if I wouldn’t want eat it, if I wouldn’t be proud to serve it, if it’s not just as good as any other dish it sits alongside, it’s not going on the menu. IMG_9355 Sometimes, I find this a pain, because it’s complicated and it’s difficult, and because I really want to get it right. But in the last ten months I’ve reframed it from the pain of something that’s a nuisance to the pain of something that’s a challenge.

Every chef I know will pride himself on his ability to whip up something extraordinary under challenging conditions. The electricity went out in the kitchen. A table of fifteen just arrived and they want one of everything on the menu. No one prepped any chips this morning. The kitchen porter AND the commis chef didn’t turn up for work today. Everyone came back to my place after the pub and they’re all hungry and I’ve got nothing in the cupboard but a can of chickpeas. Each of these scenarios is the start of a story that ends with the chef who’s telling it making the. best. damn. thing you’ve ever tasted and guess who’s God’s gift to cooking. But I’ve never heard a story that began with “three vegetarians walked into a gastropub” and doesn’t end up with everyone feeling disappointed. IMG_9360 A brief manifesto then: You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to please everyone. But if you are a chef who doesn’t care about your ability to cook vegetarian food that’s as good or better than any other dish that you cook… then you do not have my respect as a chef.