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Cor Blimey!! Cockney Food Gone All Posh!

16 Apr

Didn’t we ‘ave a loverlee time!

Time was when these were a working man’s staple down in ‘ole London town. A little bit of malt vinegar and a toothpick to pull out the grit and you were away.

Dirty Whelks

Whelks are sea snails and grow around the coast of Britain and elsewhere and these days our whelks seem to have found themselves a market in South Korea. There is more information from the Marine Conservation Society here. I was actually unaware that there was any pressure on them when I bought this lot but still it’s a bit of a shame that there is no longer a natural market for them over here. Apart from some very good restaurants or the dying breed of cockney fish vans traditionally found in pub car parks, there doesn’t seem to be anything in between.

under water

I’ve eaten whelks but never cooked them. It always sounded like a bit too much effort. When I’ve had them before, they’ve been either very nice or very rubbery. Still, I couldn’t resist picking up some to see how they would turn out once placed in my foolish hands.

I said it sounded like a bit too much effort and I half still think that. Basically, this is because you have to clean the blighters forever to get rid of the grit.  Now, there is a man whose recipes I generally trust and who goes by the name of Mark Hix, you may have heard of him as he is quite famous over here, and I chose to follow a recipe of his from his book British Regional Food.

Basically, it’s a simple snails in garlic butter recipe but strike-a-light it was blummin’ long-winded. The first step was cleaning them as best you could, which I did. It has to be said they were quite dirty on the whole and it was good 10 minute job. I was glad the Profesorette wasn’t taken with the idea of having a serving or I would have had to have spent more time at the sink. They were then drained and put into a bowl with some salt and left for two hours. I was already bored by this stage but did eventually find something else to do to fill my time. After this step, you are supposed to leave them rinsing under the tap for 30 minutes but in these dry, dusty days of hose pipe bans I decided not to be quite so wasteful and just rinsed them in a couple of changes of water.

The next stage was creating the cooking liquor. 1 onion, 12 white peppercorns, fennel seeds, thyme , 1/2 lemon and some white wine were all put into a pan and the whelks were added. The pan was then topped up so they were covered with water and some salt added. This was brought to the boil before lowering the heat and simmering for 45 minutes. At this point, I was a bit worried that 45 minutes seemed a long time and that they would be sure to come out rubbery but, uncharacteristically perhaps, I stuck with the recipe.

After the 45 minutes, they were taken off the heat and allowed to cool down in the liquid for yet another hour, and to think I had originally planned to have them for breakfast! Fortunately, I was around the house most of the day yesterday so when they were cooled, I plucked them out of their shells and chopped them up, being sure to remove the foot and any grey sacks from them.

Whelks and Beer

The butter mixture was made with garlic chives, butter, lemon, salt and pepper and the meat was mixed into it. The shells were then given another clean and the mixture stuffed into them. Nearly there! Puff, deep breath!

Salt was spread along the bottom of an oven dish and the filled whelks were rested on this to prevent them slipping and the butter leaking out during baking. Needless to say, I didn’t quite get this right!

Just put the ruddy things in the oven!

Last bit!!!!! Into the oven at Gas 6/200C for 12-15 minutes and they were ready. Finally! It’s tiring me out just writing this.

Verdict/Conclusion: Really nice, better than garden snails and best of all I managed not to make them rubbery – take note Essex! However, I wish more restaurants and pubs would do them properly so I could eat more of them without having to hang around all day preparing them. Would I make them again? If I had a sous chef maybe.

Non-gritty, non-rubbery, cor blimey Whelks done all posh like!


I’m a Sausage Fiend, Don’t You Know?!

14 Apr

When I moved house a couple of years ago, I didn’t just leave a little love nest behind, I left my local butcher behind too. He used to do the best pork and leek sausages of all time, in the world, ever, etc. While I found quite a decent butcher’s nearby, I was quite underwhelmed by their sausages. I took that as a challenge, bought my own mincer and have never looked back. If you don’t mind handling slippery meat, I thoroughly recommend you doing the same.

I’ve been doing them for a while now and have only ever had one ‘alright’ one. The rest have been immense, which I admit sounds a bit cocky but there’s nothing quite like pulling out your own sausage when people come round to eat. It impresses people no end for some reason. The feedback has been excellent so I’ve continued to do them, especially as they are so easy to do, even if they are a little labour intensive.

One of my fallback sausages is the Italian Spice sausage and here are two such sausages looking very happy together!

One of them is now sitting, even more happily, in my stomach. Somebody thank that pig!

I once enjoyed a Westmalle Dubbel with a spicy sausage in Bruges but alas, the two have never been seen in the house at the same time.

Just in case I make a foray into the sausage business* I won’t give you the precise measurements but because I’m feeling good today here are the ingredients:

Pork Shoulder, Pork Belly, Cold Red Wine, Parsley, Salt, Garlic, Cayenne, Fennel Seeds, Chilli, Paprika

*This is a lie actually. I just can’t remember them all off the top of my head!

What’s up doc?

6 Apr

Some time back when I was travelling in the Andes I put this in my mouth and swallowed it.


This is an Andean Guinea Pig which has been traditionally baked in a hot oven on a hot rock of some description. They go by the name of cuy. This particular cuy was consumed on a balcony overlooking the colonial-style main square in the Peruvian town of Arequipa. People in the Andes are thought to have first domesticated these animals some 5000 years ago and not because they are cute and furry. They were domesticated to provide food. When I was trekking through the countryside in the Andes, there weren’t too many households where you didn’t see them being kept in outdoor enclosures for exactly that purpose.

I only ate the one cuy but that wasn’t because it was horrible, it was just a bit too much of an effort to eat for so little meat. You really need to get your hands greasy to get the meat of those little fragile bones. It did make me think about the meat we eat in the world though. If everyone in the world develops a taste for the same protein sources, beef, lamb and pork, where are we going to farm them all? On the area currently known as the Amazon rainforest perhaps? I might be stretching things there but you do get the point. It is a serious environmental issue.  One thing that puzzles me is why we don’t eat more of what is abundant near to where we live.

One such animal here, and I suspect in many countries around the world, is the rabbit. Often scoffed in the UK for being peasant food or more recently because they are cute little bunny-wunnies, these animals are a plentiful source of meat and very often a pest in the local habitat. They are also very, very cheap. You won’t be surprised to learn that I picked up 2 for £5 at a local farmers market recently. Eating them would seem to be a win-win situation. The meat is good, wild and there is certainly more on them than on the cuy that I ate.

They are a seasonal product and the rabbit season finishes at the end of February so I froze those last two before cooking them. Historical and traditional recipe books always have a few rabbit recipes in and amongst all the mutton recipes that also seem to have disappeared from modern tables so I decided to try a couple of new ones back to back  (almost) and see how they turned out.

The first was a fairly typical recipe with cider, tarragon and mushrooms. When it came down to it though I didn’t have any cider so I chopped some apple up and used some of my homemade oakleaf wine. I guessed this might come out a lot sweeter and a bit less refined than using a dry cider and I was correct. It was pretty tasty.

rabbit 1

The second recipe came from a torn out page of a recipe magazine and was called Craddock’s Hazlenut Picada. I’m guessing Craddock refers to Fanny Craddock, the legendary mad-as-a-lorry TV chef from the distant past, but please correct me if I’m wrong. I think this recipe could be Maltese in origin or perhaps Spanish but I’m not sure. Again let me know if you have any information. Anyway, I enjoyed this one too. It’s quite rich but I liked this recipe more. Then again that could be because I didn’t tinker with the recipe!!!!

Braised Rabbit with Mushrooms and Cider (Official Version)

Ingredients: 30g butter; oil; 4 rabbit portions; 4 small onions;  375g of quartered mushrooms; 300ml dry cider; parsley; tarragon; 300ml single cream

Method: Brown the rabbit in the butter and oil and remove; add onions to pan and stir until golden; add mushrooms and cook for 3-4 minutes; return the rabbit and add cider, parsley and tarragon, season and bring to boil; cover and cook at 160c/325F/gas 3 until rabbit is tender (90 minutes); remove rabbit and reduce sauce then add cream, season and garnish.

Craddock’s Rabbit with Hazlenut Picada

Ingredients: Rabbit; Olive oil; 4 tomatoes chopped; onion; garlic; parsley; 250ml white wine; thyme; celery; paprika; 75g hazlenuts toasted; garlic (I like a lot); a few strands of saffron; chopped red chilli peppers

Method: Put hazlenuts, 3-5 cloves garlic, saffron, chilli peppers and some oil into a blender and press ‘whizz’; In a pan fry onions and olive oil until translucent; add tomatoes, garlic and parsley and reduce until you get a thick sauce; brown rabbit pieces in another pan in some more oil; add rabbit to the reduced tomato sauce; add everything else except the sauce in the blender; cook the rabbit for 25-35 minutes until it is nicely cooked then remove from sauce; now add the contents of the blender to the tomato sauce and cook to the right consistency; pour over the rabbit pieces and drizzle a bit of olive oil and sprinkle some paprika over the top.


For my next mission, I will eat a squirrel. There are too many of the blighters running riot across this country. Again, a plentiful source of protein. Anyone know where I can eat it?

Olde English Fish Recipes

1 Apr

There’s no doubt travel makes you think about things. Not always at the time of travelling mind you, it is often many months or even years later that you look back on things and understand or appreciate them. Food is a fundamental thing in all cultures around the world and understanding what food is, was and could be in your own country was something that certainly came to me after travelling. While I grew up in a house with a very good cook, I was blissfully unaware of the fact until I flew the nest. Getting older and getting to know new cultures makes you ask questions and I took those questions back home with me. They’ve led me to many interesting discoveries and the other week I was reminded of a couple of historic fish recipes that I came across whilst looking through the history books which turned out well.

Whiting in Ale

This is a recipe from 1600s England. Whiting is a fish from the Cod family and there are several varieties apparently, but I only used the variety named …’Whiting’!

  • 3 chopped onions
  • 250ml brown ale
  • 250ml lighter ale ( I’m not sure this distinction was in the original recipe)
  • 30ml raisins
  • 1tsp mustard
  • 500g Whiting
  • breadcrumbs

Simmer the onions in the brown ale for 9-12 minutes before adding the lighter ale, the raisins and the mustard. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Put the fish in a dish, pour the onion sauce over it, cover and bake. Thicken sauce slightly with breadcrumbs before serving. Simple and tasty. (Adapt the quantities to the quantity of fish you have.)

Mackerel with Fennel and Mint

Mackerel is my favourite fish and is, luckily for me, available here most of the year. This is a regency recipe, which means  the second half of the 18th Century.

  • 4 Mackerel boned/butterflied
  • 1/2 fennel bulb finely chopped
  • 55g unsalted butter
  • breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • loads of fresh mint chopped
  • 4 anchovies chopped
  • 1 lemon
  • salt & black pepper

The fennel is fried in just under 20g of the butter and the breadcrumbs are added when the fennel is softened. Next the nutmeg, mint and seasoning are added and the whole thing is stirred. Slit the fish diagonally and fill the slits with the mixture and the  inside too. Grill under a hot grill.

Mash together the rest of the butter and the anchovies and put over the fish. Serve with more mint and lemon wedges.

Both dishes are remarkably simple and I’m surprised they didn’t catch on!

Pics to follow.

Cauliflower – Welcome Back!

31 Mar

It’s been a long time! I’ve always hated cauliflower cheese, which is how most people in the UK get fed cauliflower, and boiled or steamed cauliflower has always just left me reeling in wonder at why someone had gone to all that trouble of growing the thing in the first place.

Not so bad after all!!

I’d completely written off cauliflower as something that might just thicken a soup or be curried to death. Then a couple of years ago, I went to Morocco where I was given a simple dish of … cauliflower. I have no idea what they did to it but it must have been marinated in something and there was a subtle taste of cumin. Cauliflower grows well here and I’ve had plenty of opportunities to cook it over the years but I never once thought of just frying it!!!

By frying or stir-frying with some basic spices, you can ensure that it keeps its form much better and to my palate at least it brings out a real tasty nuttiness. A far cry from soggy white veg or being covered in a stodgy white sauce. This is so obvious I feel a bit stupid. I now feel like the football manager who bought a player pre-season only for him to get injured before the season started and who now sees the return of this player – “It’s like a new signing.” A new signing for the kitchen.

With all this in mind, I’m convinced that there is a way to make cauliflower cheese appetizing. This is my mission, and I choose to accept it!! No doubt I’ll get some more cauliflower in the veggie box in the next couple of weeks and I’ll report back on the results.