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Posts Tagged ‘fish and chips’

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Agatha Christie’s Detective Poirot famously said, ‘The English do not have a cuisine; they have food. Overcooked meat, boiled vegetables, inedible cheese. And the day they invent English wine, I am retreating to the Continent.’ *

I should emphasize I’ve only been to Scotland, sadly missing England, Ireland, and Wales, not that it’s forever. I’m going. But despite one meal in Scotland, strictly average fajitas eaten at the sole restaurant at the edge of Rannoch Moor, everything we ate was incredible.** The trick, always and forever, is to eat where the locals eat, and to eat what’s locally sourced. In the space of one week we put 800 miles on our little rental car, driving across the central part of the country. Coast to coast, from Oban to St. Andrews, we feasted.

From a remote farm we bought bags of wonderful homemade granola with bright orange marigold petals in it. At the Gateway to the Isles at the western coast we ate tiny succulent mussels, harvested at a nearby island, and no bigger than the tip of your finger. At the opposite coast in Anstruther (pronounced ‘Enster’), at the recommendation of a portly policeman, we had crisp, tender fish and chips with malt vinegar. All week we ate a proper English breakfast with eggs, rashers, and bangers prepared by the house manager, a small, wiry English expat (our host called him Wee Jim). And of course we tried haggis, although made unconventionally: tater tot-sized, fried, and served with a creamy garlic dipping sauce. Conventional or not, it was rich and satisfying. And everywhere there were local brews of beer and whisky.

But travel aside, I’ve loved the British dishes I’ve prepared at home, and there have been quite a few. This year I’m going to tackle more of them. The poor reputation is getting pushed aside. I want to try out classic dishes; I want to learn about this region’s great tradition of simple, comforting foods; and I want to talk about it.

My Cooking of the British Isles (Time-Life, 1969) will be my chief guide. I’ve already made Scotch Woodcock, Traditional English Christmas Cake, and Irish Christmas Cake. I tried Spiced Beef in Christmas 2014 and failed because the recipe didn’t emphasize that I needed to season every inch of the meat. But that’s on the editors of the book, not on the whole of the British Empire. I’ll try it again sometime.

For now, I started with Eve’s Pudding, a recipe from James Dunlinson, an Englishman who was the design director for Martha Stewart Living. Yesterday I was cooped up inside for most of the day while the outside was blizzarding. Today I put butter in a bowl to soften, shoveled out my car for an hour and a half, then came back inside and made this lovely thing.

It’s basically a cobbler, full of cinnamon and apples (would Eve have it any other way?). Warm out of the oven, with my extremities still red from cold, it was was a profoundly comforting experience. The British know from cold and raw; they built up a tradition of cooking to counter it. And it’s worked for a few years.

Poirot can stay a little smug; I always giggle at his statement. But not too smug.

*For best effect, say ‘food’ with a nasal French accent, the way he did. And it’s worth noting that Christie herself was an Englishwoman. Whether the statement was a sly personal editorial on the food of her homeland or her best guess of a Belgian’s opinion of it, we don’t know.

**Who in the name of all that is holy eats fajitas in the West Highlands? Well…I hadn’t had a vegetable in a week. It’s hard to find them in pubs in Scotland. When you see ‘salad’ on the menu chalkboard, they mean tuna salad or ham salad. Nothing green. As we were eating, an elderly Englishman approached our table gingerly about what he called ‘the fajitas,’ pronouncing the ‘j’. ‘Are they nice?’ he asked. If you need vegetables, and you probably do, then yeah.

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Those who know me well know I’m a bit of an Anglophile, as evidenced right there in the preceding Englishism. I don’t know why. English literature, English movies, the BBC—I love it all. Yes, the food, too. What exactly do people have against shepherd’s pie, clotted cream so thick you can stand a spoon in it, and fish and chips with malt vinegar? Do these people have no taste? This I consider their problem. Moreover, across the pond a renaissance has been going on for a few years now, one characterized by embracing the local and homegrown, and doing several yummy things with both. So there to the unwashed masses who do the pooh-pooh.*

I’ve never been to England**, which I hope to remedy sooner rather than later, but in the meantime I was excited to try Jenny Davies’s (of Jenny Eatwell’s Rhubarb & Ginger blog; URL below) recipe for a curry as part of my cooking project. Curries are a favorite English takeaway meal. Here in the States—in central New Jersey, anyway—curry isn’t a common thing for takeout (our own expression). I can count my experiences with curry on one hand, delicious though they were, even the one at Whole Foods’s food court. The nearest Indian restaurant is about a half hour away. This is a great sadness in my heart. The below helps to remedy that.

A few notes about the below to accompany Jenny’s always-charming language:

I edited lightly, and parenthetical additions following dashes are mine. It looks like a lot, but Jenny simply broke down each step for us. I listened like a good girl and spread out the process as she suggested, though—a wise idea. Loved seeing the basmati rice get longer instead of fatter like ordinary rice! Should have used a red chile, but Trader Joe’s didn’t have one, so I used a nebbishy jalapeno. Had to add red pepper flakes to the final product to make it spicy enough for me. I didn’t know what a donkey carrot was; Googled it, even asked a friend who works with Brits to make inquiries, both to no avail. And not having a donkey lying around, I couldn’t ask one to clarify. So I just used two big carrots. Didn’t use a tomato because this time of year in the northern hemisphere, they taste like a squishy wet nothing.

The result was a warm, flavorful, comforting dish that makes you feel as though you are taking very, very good care of yourself for once…and you are.

CURRY BAKED CHICKEN, VEGETABLE CURRY WITH RICE AND PEAS   (Serves 3 with leftover vegetable curry)

Ingredients:

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts

3 tbsp plain (Greek) yoghurt

1 tbsp mango chutney

1.5 tbsp curry paste.

3 tbsp sunflower oil—(I used olive)

2 onions, sliced finely

2 fat garlic cloves, chopped finely

1 hot red chilli (seeds are optional)

1 donkey carrot, peeled and diced

3 tbsp curry paste

2 tbsp tomato puree

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

6-10 mushrooms, washed and quartered

6 baby red peppers (or one red pepper, cut into pieces), top & tailed

250ml coconut cream—(about 1 c)

1 tsp chicken stock powder or a low salt chicken stock cube

Enough water to just cover the contents—(I used chicken stock instead of the powder/cube and water)

3 heaped tbsp red lentils

3-4 cauliflower florets, broken into small pieces

3-4 broccoli florets, broken into small pieces

1 large ripe tomato, quartered (or smaller) into wedges

A large handful of fresh coriander, chopped.—(In the U.S, we call this cilantro)

1 cup of uncooked basmati rice

Sea salt

Half a cup of peas—(defrosted, or freshly shelled).

Method:

1.  In the morning, mix together the yoghurt, chutney and curry paste in a large bowl.

2.  Trim the chicken breasts of fat and gristle, then score lightly across the top to allow the above marinade to more easily penetrate the meat.

3.  Add the chicken to the marinade and mix gently to ensure every little bit of chicken is covered in marinade. Cover with cling film and refrigerate until 30 minutes prior to cooking.—(I placed this in a Pyrex dish and covered with foil instead, then later put it in the oven as is.)

4.  To make the vegetable curry (which I recommend should also be done in the morning), heat the oil in a large, deep saucepan. Add the oil.—(Medium-low heat works.)

5.  Add the onion – and a small pinch of salt – and cook for around 10-15 minutes until golden brown, but not burned. Add the garlic and stir quickly, then add the chilli and stir.

6.  Next, add the carrot pieces, which will help to cool the pan and so avoid burning the garlic.

7.  Next add the curry paste and tomato puree and stir well to combine with the rest of the ingredients.  Cooked until the oil is released – just a few minutes.

8.  Add the potato/mushroom/red peppers and stir well to ensure they are coated with the curry mixture.

9.  Add the coconut cream, stock powder and water and stir gently to combine. Do not add any salt at this stage, but if you’re yearning to – add a little black pepper instead!—(Jenny, I like you.)

10. Stir in the red lentils and let everything simmer gently together for around 20-30 minutes until almost cooked.

11.  Finally – for this stage – add the cauliflower, turn off the heat, cover and leave to cool.—(I put mine in the fridge.)

12.  Several hours later and when you’re ready to prepare the dinner proper, begin by turning on the heat under the vegetable curry and pre-heating the oven to 200degC/400degF/Gas 6. Line a shallow baking tray with silver foil (optional – but it helps with the washing up!) and place the chicken onto the foil. Spoon any additional marinade over the top of each chicken breast. Place into the oven for 25-35 minutes or until the juices run clear if pricked with a knife.

13.  Three-quarters fill a good-sized saucepan with water, add a pinch of sea salt and place it on a high heat, to boil.—(2 c water worked for me.)

14.  Put the dry rice into a sieve and run it under a hot tap until the water runs clear. Once the water in the pan boils, add the rice and cook – simmering – for 7-9 minutes. 2 minutes before the rice is due to be ready, add the defrosted peas.

15.  As the rice is cooking, the vegetable curry should have come up to temperature. Remove the lid and allow the sauce to reduce a little as you add the broccoli, tomato and three quarters of the fresh coriander. Stir from time to time, to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

16.  Once the rice is ready, drain and return to the warm pan. You can add a little of the chopped coriander for some extra flavour, if you like.

17.  Once the chicken is done, serve with the vegetable curry and green pea rice – with an added flourish of a sprinkle of chopped coriander for garnish.

Cheers, Jenny!

jennyeatwellsrhubarbginger.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/curry-baked-chicken-with-vegetable.html

*I’ve argued this point before, the one about eating what the locals eat.* It fails not.

**I have been to Scotland, which soaked into me like butter on a hot scone; and flying home passed over Ireland which, even from the sky, is an ethereal green. Someday I will get there. Wales, too, and not just to see Cardiff, though that’s an obvious draw.

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Much can be said for everyday pantry and fridge staples, the Monday night spaghetti and meatballs, the Thursday night chicken tacos. Who hasn’t sunk gratefully—heart, soul and tummy—into a warm bowl of alphabet soup? Like old Nat King Cole standards, these mealtime standards soothe, comfort, and never let you down.

Which is great.

But there comes a time, I hope, when you’re ready to shake the dust off, to get out of the comfy chair and try something new. And by new I mean something off center. Way off center is even better.

To wit, the llama burger above.

Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to the NOFA-NJ (Northeast Organic Farming Association of NJ) Winter Conference at Princeton University as a representative from Edible Jersey magazine. There I met some truly fascinating folks, including Linda Walker and her son, Brent. At their farm, WoodsEdge Wools Farm in Stockton, NJ, the pair raise llamas and alpacas for fiber and meat.

…Meat? That threw me. But when Brent grinned and his eyes lit up describing the flavor, I knew I wanted in. Two pounds of ground meat was snatched up on the spot, and the next night I was in my kitchen, a hefty patty sizzling in a hot skillet, an earthy, rich smell saturating my place. It was such a mild night that I opened my back door, sending the aroma wafting over Loch Arbour and tormenting the neighbors. (Sorry, folks. The website link’s at the bottom of the page here. Order away.)

As much of a treat as the smell was, the flavor and juiciness were astonishing. Imagine the best hamburger you’ve ever had. Got it? Now imagine it made with filet mignon. That’s the best descriptor I can come up with. Since it’s fat that makes meat tender, and Brent told me it’s much leaner than beef, I can’t explain why it’s the tenderest burger I’ve ever had.  But some things are just fine left as a mystery, and this is one of them.

From Stockton to Scotland, now, for the next food adventure. A breathtakingly beautiful country, it doesn’t typically come to mind when one thinks of wonderful food. But you can eat very well in Scotland (and most anywhere on the planet, I believe) as long as you do two things, and never waver from them:

1) Eat what the locals eat. You wouldn’t order pasta bolognese in Mexico, would you? Ask a country to do what it doesn’t do, and you’re asking for disappointment.

2) Be curious. Words to live by, but especially when you have the opportunity to try something new. Go ahead and have a bias or two (I will never eat a worm, delicacy though it may be on some remote rock in the Pacific) but try to keep that mind opened.

In Scotland, I ate what Scotland does best: heaps of pub food and seafood. Not surprisingly, they were consistently stellar. I’ve never much liked shellfish, but I wanted to learn to appreciate it; the country, a peninsula, knows it intimately. Tiny mussels harvested from the waters surrounding one of the nearby islands burst with briny flavor, and now I love mussels. Salmon has always been a favorite, but the poached local salmon I had in Scotland was unlike anything I have had before or since, so whisper-soft that it almost dissolved on my tongue. It was like eating an entirely new food.

One misty day, on the road to St. Andrew’s, I stopped in Anstruther (pronounced Enster) to try fish and chips, something I’d never had before. (Heck, no, I don’t count Arthur Treacher’s.) I’d read that the locals are the best source to go to when looking for the best food, and almost as if I had dreamed him up, a stout policeman with friendly blue eyes and chubby cheeks appeared as I rounded a corner.

He blushed and smiled, jotting down the name of a tiny shop at the water’s edge. All at once he became very serious, and leaned in conspiratorially. “Don’t go to the place next door, the one with all of the signs saying it’s the best. Be sure to go to the place next to it.” The woman behind the counter handed me an order of cod, along with chips and malt vinegar. I found a bench next to the boats and tucked in. The enormous filets were delicately breaded and fried with no frills at all, and they didn’t need it. It’s full-circle beauty, sitting by the sea while tasting something from the sea.

Back to the country’s interior—Dunblane, for dinner.

Haggis (come on, you knew I was going to bring it up), a sheep’s heart, liver and lungs mixed with oatmeal, onions and spices and cooked, is loathed and feared by many outside the UK. Many, I should clarify, who might never have tried it. It’s among the humblest of peasant foods, fitting in with pasta e fagioli or the aforementioned tacos. Because of my love of peasant food, and because haggis is so well-loved in its homeland, it deserved a try.

Although the pub I visited didn’t serve it the traditional way, stuffed into a sheep’s stomach and served with turnips, it was still wonderful—almost overwhelmingly rich, but full of heady, pungent flavor. Here I am, holding a nugget of haggis the size of a tater tot, fried and dipped into garlic cream sauce.

I’ve cooked for people who have looked warily down at their dishes and I say, “Try it. Try it and hate it, for all I care, but try it.” If you in fact hate it, you’re no worse off than you were before. If you love it, your world gets bigger.

http://www.alpacasllamaswoodsedge.com/

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