Monday, 25 May 2009

Soft Shell Crabs

It was Dom's birthday Saturday and we had a barbecue and food thing round his house. I thought I would attempt to cook some soft shell crabs like the ones I had at Vietnamese restaurant Song Que recently.

I obtained the crabs from Longdan which is a Vietnamese owned oriental supermarket. There's one opened on Hackney Road near the Shoreditch end. I've been going there quite a lot recently to buy tofu and oriental vegetables as they are incredibly cheap compared to the same stuff in a normal shop.

When I've been in there buying that stuff I've been bothering the staff, asking about what soft shell crabs they sell. They only come frozen, for £34 you can get a giant box and for £7 you can get a box which is still very big. I went for the £7 box. They are in a solid block of Ice so if you do buy them they will take at least 12 hours out of the fridge to defrost.

I've done a bit of research as to what soft shell crabs are. They're crabs which have been killed just after they've molted their shells so the new shell they are growing is very thin and soft.

I decided to deep fry the crabs as they were when I had them in the restaurant. I dried out some cheap bread rolls and grated them to make bread crumbs. I added a decent amount of salt, pepper, paprika and chilli flakes to the bread crumbs.

I then dusted the crabs with flour, dipped them in a bowl of beaten egg and then coated them in the breadcrumbs.

The crabs were then fried two at a time in hot vegetable oil. I always test the heat of the oil by dropping a bit of the breadcrumb into it to make sure it's at frying temperature.

I fried them for about 2-5 minutes each. They give off a delicious smell when frying and the grey bluey bits go pink and red while cooking. Be careful as I've heard that they can pop and spatter although I didn't have any problems.

I wasn't successful at replicating the oriental style I was going for however the crabs had an English seaside feel to them like posh scampi. They were very good. I had them with some sweet chilli dipping sauce.

I remembered that when I had them before they were not served with the large claws as I discovered you cannot bite through these. The larger legs were also a bit difficult to eat whole and it was easier the suck out the meat. If I do them again I'll probably give them a trim of the hard bits.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Sesame Snaps

I've been finding myself in a lot of organic and health food shops recently as Mathilde has been eating some of that stuff.

There's a lot of odd foods, odd people and overpriced vegetables in these types of shop but one constant that is in every health food shop that I do enjoy is the humble Sesame Snap.

I've had a go on their chocolate and coconut coated versions but nothing beats the plain and original type. You can properly get into eating loads of these and they are only 25p each.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Song Que Vietnamese Restaurant

My friends Mike and Carmel for a joint birthday booked a table for seventeen of us at Song Que on Kingsland Road, just above Shoreditch. It's suppose to be a good restaurant, it gets all good reviews and whatever but if you do go prepare yourself for the rushed service.

I understand that at seventeen people we did have the biggest table at the restaurant but the feeling that they want to serve you, take your money and then get the table ready for the next customers is apparent before you've even sat down. This is because of the panic and urgency of the waiting staff which reached it's peak when one of the waiters got an angry little tantrum on when someone asked for more time before choosing their meal from the menu. The waiters calmed down once we ordered our mains and from that moment on the atmosphere was fine. We were well behaved and did actually eat, pay and leave in our allocated two hour window.

The food was mostly good here is some of it.

I got the Soft Shell Crabs for my starter and they were pretty fucking decent. They are battered and fried with a burning hit of chilli. I've had the same thing at Ping Pong but their crabs are small, expensive and tame. You only get two sets of legs at Ping Pong at Song Que however you get a decent portion size that contains all the whole bodies of a few crabs chopped and put in a much spicier batter. You can tell from the texture if you've got a chewy set of legs or a squishy centered, seaside flavoured bit of body. If you were wondering yes you eat the shell cos it's soft, hence the name.

Here's some vegetable spring rolls that Mathilde had. They were good, not too much bean shoot but I will say the batter was a bit KFC.

For my main I got Fresh Water Eels. They were battered and fried with lemongrass, loads of chilli, and some funnily chopped large chunks of onion. If you look at the photo above you can see the battered things are the bits of eel.

They were good. I've never had eel before but they had loads of tiny soft bones and the meat was like white fish but denser with a more oily flavour. I think the onion was a bit undercooked and there was so much of it I think it was being used as a filler.

Birthday boy Mike had this Beef and Tripe Noodle Soup. I didn't taste any but he tells me it was good. Apparently that's the meal all the reviewers like.

There was also a nice selection of condiments on the table. I'm a fan of the condiment. You've got chilli flakes in oil, soy sauce, chilli sauce, hoisin sauce and a fish sauce which was similar to Thai nam pla except you could actually sniff and taste a bit of it without vomiting.

To go with my meal I had a few bottles of imported Vietnamese beer Halida and it was good to see that the other more well known Asian beers they sell are also the real thing, imported from Asia and not brewed under license in the midlands.

All in all it was a good meal and pretty cheap too. We all paid £21 each, almost all of us had a starter, two drinks and that included a decent tip.

Dom chose exactly the same meal as me so here's a picture of him stuffing a chunk of battered crab down his throat.

Ellie King's amazing barbecued leg of lamb

This Sunday, to celebrate Steph's birthday, we headed over to Ellie and Mike's house for a special lunch.

The weather was a bit blustery so despite the food all being cooked on the BBQ we ate indoors around the table.

Ellie was following a recipe from 'At Home With Jamie', I think you can find it here if you don't want to buy the whole book although a cursory glance suggests it's a worth a look, on the Telegraph web page look for the recipe entitled 'Best barbecued meat and homemade barbecue sauce'.

A leg of lamb was marinaded in all sorts of herbs, spices and lubrication's and roasted in the oven until the meat was still pink in the middle. The fat and juices from the meat and the marinade had coagulated into an amazing glaze, this glaze was key for the next stage.

Once the BBQ was at cooking temperature onions, with some butter and rosemary in the middle, and sweet potatoes, dusted with chili and salt, were wrapped in foil and put amongst the embers whilst the leg of lamb was put on the bars above the coals.

The meat was brushed with the remainder of the glaze and turned every few minutes so it could develop a nice sticky crust. Once the meat was nearly ready some foil parcels containing greens with lemon and olive oil were put above the coals to steam for a few minutes.

It was some of the best lamb I have eaten in a long time, the BBQ had given it an amazing smokey flavour, within their skins the sweet potato had collapsed down to almost a mash like consistency perfect for sopping up the juices and the green veggies were fresh and zingy tasting.

As if all this wasn't enough we then had homemade rice pudding with big dollups of jam, I was in hog heaven!

Happy Birthday Steph!

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Cheese Round Wedding Cake

I was invited to my friends Garry and Nicola's wedding reception last weekend. They said they didn't like normal fruit cake which wedding cake is normally made of so went for something else, a cake made from rounds of cheese.

I've got no pictures of the rounds assembled into the wedding cake as I missed the unveiling I must have been distracted by the free bar or something.

The cheeses included a stilton, a smoked cheddar, a mature cheddar, two small rounds of goats cheese, a soft cheese which was like a posh port salut and a large round of hardish cheese which I couldn't work out what it was. It's on the left side of this picture next to the bride and groom figurines.

My favourite was the goats cheese rounds. They were covered in a thick crust of blue mouldy rind but were silky and delicious underneath that.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Chicken Shop Grime

In which grime crew 'Red Hot Entertainment' spit bars about the different special meal deals available at chicken shops in and around Canning Town.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Fish Balls

I found these in the Kosher section of Sainsburys. They looked interesting and Dom brought them cos he said he'd had them before and they were nice.

They're made with minced white fish, potato, onions and matzo meal. It says on the packaging you can eat them hot or cold. I tried them cold and it it tasted weird. They are potatoey just like fish cakes are but they have a tangy sweetness to them. After 15 minutes in the oven they were far more edible but there still is something odd and cheap about them. The insides are a bit rigid and stodgy.

I much prefer your standard fish cake from a reputable fish and chip shop. Faulkners on Kingsland Road does the best I've ever had although I have never done any extensive research into high quality fish cakes.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Ben's Decent Three Course Meal With Squirrel

My friend Ben took the plunge a few months ago, he's always wanted to work in a kitchen so he left London and moved to Dorset as he got the chance to work and train in a professional restaurant. It's a proper posh resturant with one of those Josper charcoal ovens and they do that sous vide slow cooking water bath thing that Heston Blumenthal does on the TV all the time.

Ben came back to London for a day to perform this special meal cooking for us. You could tell he'd been planning it and with some help from Ella, his girlfriend, we were treated to some proper well decent food.

The starter was quail. One bird per person was rubbed with olive oil, salt and pepper and then put in the hot oven for about 20mins to roast.

When they had roasted they were simply and brilliantly put on our plates and we ate them with our hands occasionally dipping them in garlic mayonnaise. "The perfect starter portion sized bird" Ben mentioned as we ripped them apart and threw them down our necks.

The squirrel came next as the main course. Ben had kept it a mystery to all as to what the meat was only hinting what it could be by showing us the hazelnut stuffing he was going to serve it with as a pun.

The Squirrel was braised for four hours by Ben during the day and he brought them round to mine in a tupperware box. The stock for the braising was a mixture of home made chicken stock and trotter gear, a pigs trotter based stock that St John chef Fergus Henderson invented.

To finish the meal the stock was reduced a bit, then the squirrels were added with some fried pancetta. I've added a picture of the pancetta being diced so you can see Ben's badass black ceramic knife that looks like some mythical demon blade.

Squirrel was served with Jersey Royals and savoy cabbage along with the puntastic hazelnut stuffing.

Squirrel smells like a game bird such as pheasant when cooking. Ben added star anise when braising and this kind of extended but also cleaned that smell making it more fragrant. We were only eating the legs and saddles so at first we all thought it was some small bird or frogs legs. The taste like the smell is similar to pheasant but stronger and darker. The texture of the meat to the eye looks like bird but it's a far denser meat which is closer to the taste and texture of rabbit meat.

That was not the end, more suprises were to come. The pudding was on it's way.

Ella made an incredibly decently sharp rhubarb jelly and put them in some cat moulds.

The Jelly was served with brown bread ice cream which was fucking sublime. All the decentness of a bread and butter pudding distilled into one substance. I ate fuck loads of it not willing to give in to the dark stomach pains of over consumption.

It was a truly amazing selection of things to eat.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Easy Jerk Prawns

Longdan opened a store opposite my house towards the end of last summer, they sell all sorts of Asian produce at bargain prices.

On the way to the BBQ this Saturday I dropped in and found them selling frozen raw shell-on freshwater king prawns at £5 a bag - bargain!

Once they were defrosted I added a good three table spoons of Walkerswood Jerk seasoning paste - none of that 'Reggae Reggae Sauce' nonsense here. This is proper stuff and is potent with the smell of scotch bonnet chilli's, onion, nutmeg and allspice.

This was left to marinade for as long as possible, the prawns were then put on the BBQ until they turned pink and the shells charred a bit here and there.

They were seriously hot and initially I was worried that I had added too much of the paste. However they were also seriously delicious, aside from the heat the paste had given them a delicious tangy flavour and the prawnyness was still there underneath all this.

After the fourth or fifth I realised that as well as being tasty they were also very addictive. The heat had given way to a sort of light headed giddiness as the endorphins kicked in. I've enjoyed chilli's all my life and despite reading about it I've never had such a druggy experience from them as I did last Saturday!

Tandoori Style Paneer Kebabs

Continuing the BBQ theme, a couple of months ago, when at a curry house, Thilde opted for a Tandoori Paneer wrap as a vegetarian option. Unfortunately the Paneer had neither been marinated nor cooked in a Tandoor so it amounted to warm cheese in a nan with some salad and onion and mint sauce - very disappointing!

I was determined to do this recipe justice. Firstly because, as a meat substitute, Paneer is one of the best and secondly to even up the vegetarian to carnivore ratio of dishes at our BBQs. I was certain that if done right, with the cheese properly marinaded and cooked so that it had those delicious charred bits, it would be amazing.

I bought three packets of Paneer, it's not hard to find, it's in the cheese section of the supermarket near the Halloumi, It's a bit like Halloumi actually but far lest salty and with a more satisfying meaty texture.

I cubed the Paneer, a top tip is to not make the cubes too small otherwise when you try and skewer them the cubes break in to pieces rather than stay on the stick.

In a bowl I added half a tub of plain yoghurt and three generous table spoons of tandoori paste, if you are making this on a whim other curry paste in your fridge will do, a Korma curry paste is probably not strongly flavoured enough though and don't think you can use one of those curry cook-in sauces, the raw ground spices are key here. Of course you could make your own tandoori paste if you wanted to go all-out, I was lazy and used some Patak's paste.

You should now have a bowl full of brown spicy smelling yoghurt, add the Paneer and marinade for as long as you can, meanwhile soak some wooden skewers in water so they wont burn when they go on the BBQ.

Whilst the Paneer was marinading I mixed some more yoghurt with dried mint, garam massala a pinch of salt and strips of cucumber to make a raita – chilli fanatics might add some finely chopped fresh chilli here.

When you are ready, skewer the Paneer, making sure that the cubes keep their coating of marinade. Cook on the BBQ until they are nicely charred in places and serve with some Indian flat bread, you can warm this on the side of the BBQ if you like, the raita and some salad.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Fran's Vegetable Kebabs and Barbecued Asparagus

Fran's contribution to the barbecues we've been having recently was to pander to the vegetarians.

Vegetable kebabs - we've all seen them before but these ones were different. Normally I find grilled vegetables a bit tasteless and therefore pointless. Roasting to me has always been a better way to get the best out of them. This time however the vegetable kebabs turned out pretty special.

Fran chose her vegetables well pepper, mushrooms, aubergine, tomatoes and courgette. These are all good kebabing ingredients used often by the top kebabing nations. They provided a good solid base but the thing which really elevated them above normal vegetable kebabs was the delicious honey and mustard sauce that was basted on the the kebabs before and during cooking.

The basting sauce was made by mixing olive oil with honey and whole grain mustard. It added a nice sweet and warm coating that because of the sugar also encased the vegetables in a sticky caramelish covering sealing in some of the flavoursome juices.

We also basted the mixture onto some asparagus as we grilled them also on the barbecue. They were fucking decent. Barbecue is a good way to cook asparagus, makes them look really good and photogenic as well.

And remember if you want to pander to the vegetarians properly cook their food on the barbecue first when the grill is clear of charred flesh and the smoke untainted by delicious meat juices.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Lamb and Beef Kebabs for the Barbecue

I got a pack of lamb mince and a pack of beef mince and decided to make some kebabs with them which would be fit for grilling on the barbecue.

With the lamb mince I mixed some finely diced onion, oregano, dried mint and chilli flakes. I was going for a Turkish kofte style with this one.

The beef mince had some different flavouring than the lamb. It had onion, a load of cumin and paprika and a very healthy dose of Encona sauce added to it. I don't know what style I was going for with this one but I think I was inspired by the flavour of extra hot Pepperamis.

Both meats were then kneaded together with their respective ingredients until they appeared to be thoroughly blended. The meat was then put onto wooden skewers. The slightly red ones are the beef kebabs and the paler kebabs are the lamb ones.

The kebabs were then put on the barbecue to grill. You can have the barbecue nice and hot while you do these as a bit of meat charring only adds to the flavour just remember to turn them occasionally. You'll want to cook them so there nice and flamed on the out side but still giving and moist on the inside.

Both types of kebabs turned out good cooking wise. I thought I put a lot of spice in both but after tasting them I think I could of got away with bit more. The beef was moderately spicy hot but I think they could have been a bit more extreme. The lamb kebabs were very fragrant and nice but again a little more chilli would have sorted them out a treat but still they went very well with a yogurt dressing in a flat bread.

One thing I will say though is I should have soaked the wooden skewers in water before using as a few of them caught fire while cooking. Even better though would be a set of metal skewers.

English Lumpwood Eco Charcoal

The blogs going to go a bit Barbecue style for a bit. We've had barbecues round mine for the last two weekends and got some decent food in us from them both.

One important thing I've learned while barbecuing recently is you've got to do it to use the coal cooking method for its benefits and not because it's cool to play with fire. Most of my life with family barbecues I attended as a youngster the fire was a fad and the food cooked was just frozen burgers and sausages which apart from being a bit more blackened than if they were cooked in the oven they didn't really exploit the power of the coals.

To start with I think you need some decent charcoal. Dom found us two bags of this stuff. Lump wood charcoal is far more superior than briquettes.

It was made up of really nice chunks of blackened wood. It was also very quick to light only needing four small firelighter blocks underneath.