August Supper Club Date and Menu

New Supper Club Date: Saturday August 8th, at 205 Divinity Road, Oxford.  Book here. New dates to be added as demand requires – stay tuned.

Although I’ve only had one (very necessary) month off from doing a supper club, it already feels like I’ve been away for far too long. Which has only inspired me to go for broke this time. The menu:


Starter
:
Fish tasting platter
A selection of fish themed dishes and accompaniments including beetroot cured salmon.

Salmon beetroot and orange zest cure
Mains:
Ratatouille confit byaldi with gnocchiRatatouille cooked dish

then

Lamb cutlets with baba ganoush,
(Vegetarian: beetroot tart tatin)

Baba Ganoush and Peppers wood

Dessert:
White peaches and white chocolate

Plus a couple of special extras, to be selected from the six or seven I have in mind.

June Supper club: Fri 5th, Sat 13th. Strawberries and Fried Chicken

Update: June 13th now full also. No further dates for the June menu available – check back for July date(s) TBA shortly.

UPDATE: Extra date added due to popular demand. Friday 5th sold out. Book now for Saturday 13th June

IMG_1572Here we are again already. After the sell-out supper club on the 9th May, I really felt like I owed it to everyone to push the boat out for the June instalment. Without further ado then, here’s the menu:

  • Starter: Crab/apple salad
    (Vegetarian: Avocado salad)
  • Main course: Spicy buttermilk & cornmeal fried chicken with green vegetable medley
    (Vegetarian: Fried risotto primavera and courgette fritter with green vegetable medley)
  • Dessert: Strawberry custard tart with almond shortcrust pastry

Oxford strawberries are running a little late this season, but I still feel confident that I’m going to have some in time for the supper club, one way or another. I continue to be delighted by this season’s asparagus from Medley Manor farm, so that’s going to be making a reappearance alongside the fried chicken (pictured above) that I’ve been patiently tweaking for weeks now. I’ve also got a secret or two up my sleeve this month but you’ll have to attend to find out, or else read and weep about them on the blog here the next week.

As ever please let me know when booking if you have any dietary requirements. I’m already planning for vegetarian and gluten-free alternatives but it’s still very important that I know numbers for these, and if you have anything else you can’t eat please, let me know in plenty of time and I’ll find some way to accommodate you.

BOOK HERE, BOOK EARLY, BOOK OFTEN

Supper Club Info

Friday 5th June (SOLD OUT)
The Church Farmhouse, Holton, OX33 1PR. 7.30pm
Price: Pay what you want, BYOB

Saturday 13th June
205 Divinity Road, Oxford OX4 1LS 7.30pm
Price: Pay what you want, BYOB

March Supper Club

This is an update and review of my March Supper Club, held on the 7th of March.
The next supper club date is Friday the 17th of April (changed from Monday 6th). 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.

Scallops with Bacon and Roasted Cauliflower Puree

Although this dish kicked off the meal, it was actually the last that I decided on. I’d kept the budget well under control for the main and dessert courses, so I had some room to splash out on this one. One of those ingredients that I truly love but can only occasionally afford are scallops.

IMG_1436

Though mild, scallops are often paired with very bold flavours. My former partner Finn had told me years ago about a dish he served with scallops and a cauliflower puree. When I worked at Borough Market, Shellseekers Fishmongers served scallops with bacon and onions in their own shells. After a quick test of roasting up and blending a cauliflower, I knew how I wanted to go – a dollop of spiced cauliflower puree in a scallop shell, a sautéed scallop and a garnish of diced crispy bacon and fresh coriander.

One of my guests suggested adding saffron to this dish. Although I’m not a great fan of saffron myself, I think in this case it would go really well in the roasted cauliflower puree. The other blindingly obvious addition that I can’t believe I forgot was a squeeze of lemon – both the scallop and the cauliflower would have been enhanced by this. Other than that, I think this dish both presents and tastes beautiful, and I’d definitely do it again.

 

Roast Beef with Blue Cheese Butter and Bone Marrow Mash

IMG_1380
I had bought a piece of beef almost a month ago to experiment with dry-aging. Good beef can be hung for anywhere between three weeks and two months, but it’s an expensive process because it loses weight and requires space and attention. The results however are well worth it.

Silverside isn’t one of my favourite cuts, but I got a bargain on a really well marbled piece. I kept it on a wire rack to help the air circulate and kept an eye on it until I thought it looked ready, which fortunately turned out to be right before the date for this supper club. Cutting off a slice and frying it up, I decided that it was a bit tough to do a steak, but the flavour was really good (a common tradeoff). So I decided to roast the beef and slice it extra thin, letting my knife rather than my guests’ teeth do the work.

IMG_1356

Choosing what to serve with the beef was less about coming up with ideas and more about narrowing them down. Bone marrow mash (from the Pitt Cue cookbook and sold on the name alone), blue cheese butter (a pick from Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection series), caramelised onions (because caramelised onions), and gravy made the final list. The picture in my head of the plate I wanted didn’t have anywhere for veg, but I decided a big bowl of braised cabbage on the table would finish things off nicely.

Verdict: I knew that this one was always going to be a crowd pleaser, but my concern was that it wouldn’t look or be sophisticated enough to fit with the rest of the meal. Turned out I needn’t have worried – this dish looked elegant and the flavours were comforting and traditional but still complex. I liked the table dish of cabbage – it kept the plate presentation delicate while adding to the community feeling of the night. I loved the slick of blue cheese butter on top of the beef, but I think that next time I might mix the blue cheese with the marrow and put those two great flavours right up front, and let the buttery mash stand for itself, or even substitute it for a parsnip dauphinoise or just some more of that fantastic cabbage.

IMG_1370

Mint and Candied Pistachio Ice Cream

When I’m looking for things that will go well together, I often try to find something in common that they share. This can be a flavour, a season, or a location, or in the case of this dessert, a colour. Pistachio and mint are not just green, they are famously green – they’re shades-on-the-Dulux-chart green. And in an ice cream parlour, they’re the green ones. This is what was in my head when I decided to try pairing them. I also decided that, rather than the homogenised and occasionally grainy texture of pistachio ice cream, I would preserve and enhance the crunchiness of the pistachios by coating them in a hard crack sugar syrup, rather like a boiled sweet

IMG_1416

Another thing that mint and pistachio share, at least in my mind, is a Middle Eastern connection. Baklava – the combination of nuts, sugar syrup and filo pastry, accompanies mint tea. Just a couple of weeks ago when I was cooking Paul Liebrandt’s Gold Bar dessert, I was struck by the crossover potential of one of the elements of the dessert – the crepe dentelles. These fine, flaky, brittle sheets are halfway between pastry and sugar work, taste like a super rich and buttery version of an ice cream cone, and a stack of flat squares perched atop a scoop of ice cream reminded me of baklava. The connection was irresistible to me – the dentelle would not overshadow the ice cream that I felt really deserved to be the star of the dish, but would enhance it and tease at the baklava connection that I had already made in my mind.

IMG_1427

After testing this dish out, frankly I just loved it. Elegant, simple, clever, sophisticated yet easy to make, this was probably the dish of the night for me. Immediately my mind was spinning off into other flavours of ice cream with a Middle Eastern theme – orange, cardamom and ginger, lemon, honey and pistachio, pomegranate and rosewater – watch this space.
IMG_1428

Pulled Pork

 

IMG_0166

I am absolutely nuts for pulled pork, but I don’t cook it that often. Mostly this is because the way I do it makes it one of the most impractical things to cook. Not because it’s difficult to do, but more because it’s logistically ridiculous. My method requires:

  • About five kilos of pork
  • About 18 hours of cooking
  • Dragging the barbecue out of the shed
  • Topping up a wood burning fire every 30 minutes
  • Enduring the inevitable rain that is magnetically attracted to barbecues
  • Picking about 4kg of pork off the bones and shredding it by hand
  • Mixing in a vat of bbq sauce (which needs making as well)
  • Half a fridge shelf to store it

And then, since I’ve got a hell of a lot of meat and live on my own:

  • A commitment to eat nothing but pulled pork for a week.

IMG_0297

So, there are a few sensible reasons to make this more of an occasional treat rather than a regular thing. And then there’s the issue of the chorizo madness.

In 2011, I was working at probably the most profitable four-and-a-half square metres of the whole of Borough Market: the barbecue chorizo sandwich stall at Brindisa. And while I loved working in the food mecca of the world’s greatest city, I did not always love working on my own all day for three out of five days of the week. Between the solitude and the monotony of cutting 86,000 odd pieces of chorizo, I may have gone a little bit nuts. I won’t give you all the gory details, but just as an example: once during prep someone asked me for the time and rather than look at my watch I just counted how many boxes of chorizo I had cut (4 1/2 boxes at 9 minutes per box) and correctly told him it was 4:42pm. I was diagnosed by my coworkers with chorizo madness – a disorder caused by working on the barbecue stand too long – shortly after this event.

As you can see, spending a lot of time on my own with a vast amount of spicy, barbecue-cooked pork has not always been a positive thing for my sanity.

IMG_0287

The chorizo stand was also where my love of barbecue started. One of the things I did to distract myself was slow cook joints of meat next to the coals. There’s something insanely great about the smokey flavours that infuse over the long cooking time.

Smoking, for me, is the real barbecue technique. Grilling is fine, but smoking meat just takes it to the next level. Instead of the intense, direct heat from the charcoal, the meat cooks off to the side in the warm smokey air from a scattering of damp wood chips on the coals. It’s more challenging, and requires a maddening amount of patience and more than a little trial and error to get the low, even heat just right. But there’s just nothing quite like it.

IMG_0244

Could I make my method a bit more practical? Possibly. Am I going to? Nope. Aside from the fact that I actually kinda enjoy making things a little bit challenging for myself, pulled pork is already dangerously tasty and a threat to my mental health. Making it easy to cook would give it more power than any dish should wield.

Continue reading “Pulled Pork”

Lamb Casserole

IMG_0159

Sometimes a simple thing stays with you. This blog is meant to be for my own ideas, but I can’t talk about my dish without first telling you about a byriani that’s been living in my head for a while now.IMG_0057

It was from a London restaurant called The Dock Kitchen (I don’t review restaurants but I urge you to go there if you get the chance). One of their specialities is a lamb byriani that surprised and amazed me.

It has to be ordered for at least two people, and the price will be more than you’ve ever thought of paying for a bowl of rice and meat. It comes to the table in an earthenware pot that’s been sealed with a dough lid baked golden brown, anointed with rosewater and garnished with a tiny square of gold leaf on it – an extravagant touch that screams “this is valuable!” and does quite a bit to reframe your perception of a dish made from a cheap cut of meat. You also get a small platter of cashew nuts, pomegranate seeds, rose petals, crispy onions and coriander leaves, as well as a copper saucepan of rich, thick sauce. You crack the bread seal with a spoon as if it were a hard boiled egg and serve yourself from the pot of slow cooked lamb nestled within the saffron rice. And beautiful as all of that is, none of that is the reason I can’t forget this dish.

IMG_0104

After eating too many stewed dishes where the meat was either undercooked and chewy, or was tender but had lost all its flavour to the sauce, I’d all but given up on casseroles with long cooking times. I thought the tradeoff was inevitable for these cuts – “Cheap for a reason” I’d told myself, and if I wanted better I’d just have to pay more. My first bite of this byriani did not merely prove me wrong, it completely blew my mind. Each piece of lamb was so tender you could have cut it with a spoon, but the flavour was still there in the meat itself.

It’s the simple things.

IMG_0130

Once I knew that the tradeoff was not inevitable, I was determined not to resign myself to it, and I slow cooked lamb over and over until I figured out how to get it right. This recipe is not a re-creation of The Dock Kitchen’s byriani, but it is heavily inspired by my memory of it.
Continue reading “Lamb Casserole”

Chicken Liver Pate

IMG_9919
There’s no accounting for taste. This goes double for delicacies. Don’t get me wrong – I like truffles, caviar and champagne just fine, but there’s no rational basis for the  abnormally high desirability that drives fish eggs, fungus and fizzy wine to their infamous price tags.
IMG_9963
For example, if you’d told me after the first time I’d tried them that chicken livers were an expensive delicacy, I’d easily believe it. And I could construct an explanation that makes sense: the quality most prized in meat seems to be tenderness – cuts like fillet steak and lamb cutlets run much dearer than brisket or shoulder. But in them, tenderness comes at the expense of flavour. Chicken livers, like most types of offal in fact, are both exceptionally tender and have a bold, distinctive flavour of their own. Plus you only get one liver, maybe a couple of ounces, per chicken. So if they taste amazing AND they’re limited availability – it makes perfect sense that they would be a rare delicacy with a price to match. I mean, if you had to pick one word to describe chicken liver pate, it would be “rich”.

IMG_9936

But no. Chicken livers are one of the cheapest cuts you can buy. And I don’t understand why. Are they difficult to prepare, or do they take a long time to cook? No, you can fry them and have them on toast with a sherry cream sauce inside of ten minutes – easier than a steak. Is it hard to turn them into something that both looks elegant and tastes luxurious? Nope – the pate recipe here is beautiful and almost dangerously simple. Are they slimy and disgusting to handle when raw? Well, yes, but that hasn’t stopped oysters from entering the echelon of extravagance, they have to be EATEN while they’re slimy, disgusting and raw.

Are chicken livers totally capable of being something completely decadent, a cut fit for a king at a price suitable for a pauper? Yes. I don’t know why they aren’t a delicacy. But I’m taking advantage.

Continue reading “Chicken Liver Pate”

Sweet Cured, Slow Roast Pork: Tips for Geeks

See the original recipe here

Pork belly curing

The effects of the curing process that I use in this recipe is not easy to understand. In fact it is highly counter-intuitive. The meat ends up MORE moist and tender, even thought the cure draws out water and firms up the meat.

The reason for this is that as the chloride ions from the salt penetrate the meat, it causes a change to the proteins in the meat that bind the water to the flesh more tightly, and resists the shrinking of muscle fibres that would force water out when cooking. For more information on this, see Modernist Cuisine, vol 3, p154
In theory, brining meat in a solution of salt and sugar should be even more moist than the dry-rub curing I use in this recipe, as the dry rub draws water out by osmosis, whereas the brine would not. However, I cannot support this theory – testing out two pieces of pork cut from the same belly, one dry cured similarly to above and one brined, I found the dry cure tastier and more succulent.
The role of sugar in the cure to balance the taste of the salt. Much as with the brining issue, I can find no support in books I read for a cure with as high a ratio of sugar to salt as I use here (2 parts sugar to 1 part salt). Modernist Cuisine, for instance, has their SWEET dry rub at a 1:2 ratio – twice as much salt as sugar, 4 times as salty as my cure. That’s the ratio I use for my SALTY cure (when I make bacon, for instance). As I say, I cannot account for the dramatic divergence between my use of sugar and what is used by apparently everyone else – I can only assure you that it’s not a typo: twice as much sugar as salt is my recipe, and I have tested a range of cures to find the best one for this purpose.

Pork belly (raw)

Although I call it “slow roast”, the proper term for this dish would be “pot-roast” or “braised”. Although it’s simple to put meat, liquid and possibly some vegetables in a pot, put a lid on it, and leave it alone for a few hours, from a scientific point of view, a pot-roast is remarkably complex. It uses convention, conduction, radiation, as well as both wet and dry heat.

The liquid keeps the meat and the air around the meat moist.  It also (and more importantly) it keeps the food from scorching by quenching any hot spots that occur on the base of the pot. This does not require a lot of liquid, and it’s better not to use more than required – if you use too much, the meat will boil rather than braise, and will lose it’s flavour into the liquid. Some flavour does of course go into the liquid, making it into a sauce that you can serve with the meat or reserve for use in another dish.

Covering the pot with a tight-fitting lid has a number of effects. Radiant heat from the lid causes the meat to brown (Malliard reactions), which creates great flavour. The lid also stops those flavours from escaping into the air. And by trapping the moisture in the pot, the meat cooks more quickly (because moist air conducts head better than dry air – “it’s not the heat it’s the humidity”) and dries out less because evaporation is reduced by the air already being full of moisture. For these reasons, if you don’t have a lid and have to resort to a foil cover, try to get the tightest fit you can with it.

Roasting juices

Skimming a sauce is to remove the oil/fat from the water-based portion of the sauce. Because oil and water don’t mix and the latter is more dense, the oil will “float” on top of the water, if you leave the sauce to settle for a minute. You can “skim” this off with a spoon by dipping it carefully into the oily layer and scooping it out one spoonful at a time (if you do so, you may find it easier to use a less wide container for the liquid as this will increase the depth of the oil layer).
However, a much easier and more effective way is to put the sauce in a pint glass or a pyrex measuring jug and put it in the fridge (glass will allow you to see the two layers clearly). As it cools to fridge temperature, the fat in the sauce will set solid at the top and can be scooped out. If there is enough gelatin in the water-based layer, it may also set solid.

I recommend not using the skin of the pork for this recipe. It’s not really possible to get a satisfying crackling to come up, so the skin will either be rubbery and flacid or hard and leathery. You can ask your butcher to remove it, or you can take it off yourself with a sharp knife while raw, which is not very hard but does requires some patience. This allows you to use the skin for another recipe (like pork rinds, or to enrich a stock/stew). Alternatively, if you’re short on time and did not have the butcher remove it, you can cook the pork up to right before the glazing stage, and remove the skin easily from the tender meat at this point.

Sweet cured pork belly cut

Pork belly often comes with the belly ribs in. If you wish, you can bone out the ribs/have your butcher do it for you. Then you have a rack of ribs which you can cook any way you like. Personally though, I tend to leave the ribs in when I cook the pork, and cut them off at the end of the cooking time (the meat is very tender so this is easy). The ribs are a chefs treat – ugly, but delicious. There is a certain amount of cartilage to watch out for though, which you CAN eat, but it has an al dente kind of mouthfeel that I personally find quite unpleasant.

As with most pork recipes, if you like fennel or aniseed-y flavours, add some fennel seeds or star anise to the rub or to the glaze. Please don’t make me eat it though – I can’t stand the taste of aniseed.

Sweet Cured, Slow Roast Pork

Pork belly sliced closeup

As we’re now into the second week of January, I guessing that it’s safe to assume that everyone has abandoned all resolutions of eating better and getting healthy, correct? Excellent, because I’m here to talk to you about pork belly. Anyone still labouring under delusions of virtue, don’t worry, this post will still be here when you rejoin us.

Pork belly unglazed pot roast

For those still with me, here’s why I think that this is an entirely appropriate time of year to be eating sticky, unctuous, sweet cured pork belly: In almost all cultures, the darkest part of winter is marked by some sort of festival that revolves around a meat-laden feast. A big practical reason for this is that, historically, surplus livestock needed to be slaughtered while they were still fat from the autumn harvest in order to save having to feed them with the dwindling winter stores. And when you’ve got a whole pig or a whole cow that needs eating, might as well invite the neighbours round to give you a hand and make a party out of it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that shortly after all the good food is eaten and gone comes the date for making resolutions to eat less.

Pork belly curing 2

If it’s to last more than a couple of weeks, the meat would have needed cured to keep it edible. And my god is it edible – the curing process draws out water and concentrates the porky flavour. This is what makes bacon a sacrament rather than just mere food. What once was done out of necessity, now is done for flavour.

The striations of fat in the pork belly gives it a self-basting quality that makes it my favourite cut not just of pork but possibly of any animal at all. And this is the best way I know to cook it – supercharged with the flavours from the cure, honey glazed and slow cooked to create a sweet, sticky, meltingly tender slab of meat. Continue reading “Sweet Cured, Slow Roast Pork”

Un-Roast Chicken

Sliced breast and ballotine

There’s no meal more perfect than a classic roast chicken for Sunday lunch with blah blah tradition family gravy blah.

The legal requirement of anyone writing about roast chicken to recollect food memories and discurse on the essence of tradition and family dinners. It is left to authorial prerogative to decide whether it was a mother or a grandmother accountable for roasting the bird, and we get to select your own unique method for getting the impeccably crispy skin or the most succulent meat – popular choices include basting and an internally applied lemon.
The cold hard truth is that the Arcadian ideal of roast chicken lingers large in the memory but lacks a little in reality.

Chicken jointed

Lets break it down.

Chicken, like every other animal, has a number of different cuts that are all cooked best in completely different ways. The largest cuts of chicken are the breast, which is a lean, tender cut that doesn’t need a lot of cooking, and the legs, which are tougher, fattier, and are best cooked for longer at a low temperature. This means that by the time the legs of your chicken have completed roasting, the breast is dry and overdone.

“Dry and overdone” is what everyone has been drilled to learn is the minimum standard that poultry should be cooked to, but this conventional wisdom is safe to discard. On health grounds, there is no scientific justification to treat poultry differently from any other meat. Perfectly cooked chicken (with an internal temperature around the 60-65C mark) should be illegal only because it is so delicious.

Breast vac packed

To get roast chicken right, some traditional methods are going to be replaced by modern technique and technology. The bird isn’t going to make it to the table in one piece – we’ll be disassembling it. And technically speaking, we’re not going to be “roasting” anything, but rather cooking it sous vide in a temperature controlled water bath. But if that mythic memory of the perfect roast chicken can ever be truly replicated, this is the closest I’ve come to it.

We’re keeping the stuffing though. Some traditions are sacred.

Continue reading “Un-Roast Chicken”