Don’t stop ’til you brine enough

Our delivery of beautiful Shorthorn briskets arrived from the East London Steak Company and so I’ve been brining all weekend in preparation for Popstrami!

Firstly, look at these chappies!


And I couldn’t resist posting this picture of a bonus White Park brisket, sourced from Berkswell Traditional Meats (near Berkswell – where the cheese comes from).


Beautiful.  Check out the marbling! Fat is a crucial ingredient for a high-quality meaty sandwich. The briskets are also well-aged, at least 28 days which improves the flavour no end.

So, I set to brining. For brine afficionados I am using a 7.5% concentration brine which gives a nicely salted end-result. We are doing the brine old-school which means a nice long immersion, none of that fangled injection cure nonsense.

Flavourings come from sugar, bay leaf, garlic, pepper (lots of pepper), coriander, yellow mustard seed, allspice, juniper, cloves, star anise, ginger, cinnamon, dried red chilli and mace. Plus a touch of pink curing salt to ensure the meat is lovely and red in colour.



I filled three 28 litre plastic tubs with briskets (plus the occasional ox cheek). Getting the tubs involved a drive to Smethwick, but I’ll spare you the gory details. I also had to buy another fridge.

I managed somehow to heft the full tubs into the fridge – it took a lot of effort, and I got brine all over me.

These babies are going to get 14 days of curing at around 3 degrees C.


If you are excited by all that – and how could you not be? Get to Popstrami!

There’s more than just meat – there’s amazing rye bread, desserts, and traditional NYC soft drinks!

Even after 4 years in Birmingham I’m still finding hidden treasures. In this case, it was L

Even after 4 years in Birmingham I’m still finding hidden treasures. In this case, it was Lap who introduced me to Berkswell Traditional Meats ( which is so off the beaten track you wouldn’t find it even if you got lost in Berkswell. Turning into the drive you pass happy (at the moment) free-range geese and chickens. Inside it’s an Aladdin’s cave of meaty joy – Richard is cutting an amazing looking sirloin which came from a member of the 14-strong (well, 13 now) herd of Dexter cattle in Preston Bagot. A phenomenal side of White Park brisket already had my name on it, as marbled as anything I’ve seen. But the real reason to get down here is for the North Ronaldsay “seaweed eating” mutton. The shoulder I had was from a small animal but had fat galore and a beautiful dark colour. It slow-roasted up an absolute treat with some braised vegetables. For those thinking “ugh, muttony” I would counter “what lamb is supposed to taste like”. The leftovers will make a cracking shepherds pie. There’s also beef dripping and Berkswell cheese in the fridge. My new favourite butcher in the Midlands.

A tale of two briskets: Excited was not the word when Mike strolled into the office clutching a b

A tale of two briskets: Excited was not the word when Mike strolled into the office clutching a bag from Schwartz’s legendary deli in Montreal. Beyond my wildest expectations he’d smuggled a demi-brisket of their legendary smoked meat in his luggage. Smoked meat belongs to the pastrami family, but it is distinctly not pastrami. Cutting it open I think I can see one reason why it’s legendary. Look at the fat on this mother!!! I’ve never seen a brisket with such a huge fat streak along it. It smells sweet, garlicky and mustardy but not particularly smokey. I know it’s going to be insane. However, I am not despondent, because I have a secret weapon – a Welsh wagyu brisket, which I’m hoping that will give it a run for its money!

Turner’s of Harborne: I still can’t believe this place is on our local high street. W

Turner’s of Harborne: I still can’t believe this place is on our local high street. We had a terrific meal last night. As always the meal is an unhurried affair, with plenty of extra courses thrown in. I thought Richard Turner was quite brave sending out veal tongue with parsnip espuma as an amuse, but I enjoyed it. Standout dish of the night was the Anjou pigeon which came with the softest, silkiest ravioli of foie gras. Another highlight was Hannah’s rhubarb tasting, and particularly the rhubarb and elderflower cheesecake component. And my starter of confit pork belly with crayfish risotto and wild garlic was spot on.

Popstrami Update: 4 weeks to go!

The first Popstrami is just 4 weekends away! It’s getting serious.

We’ve been busy with the planning. Hannah had to go and buy a new sewing machine in order to make some appropriate themed bunting!

Tom has been exploring recipes for lacto-fermented sauerkraut.

I have been playing with various brine recipes and strengths. In a moment of madness I even ordered some Welsh Wagyu brisket to test out later in the week. This probably won’t be on the menu at Popstrami #1 but if it’s good perhaps at the next one (it’s £16/kg though!).

The biggest issue we are wrestling with is how much meat to order! We initially figured on about 75 people turning up to Popstrami #1 – but the huge response has made us think maybe that’s an underestimate.

Getting quantities right is a critical question to answer because we are about to place our meat order at the East London Steak Company. Right now we’re looking at 40kg of brisket. That’s a lot of brining and smoking! I’m going to need a bigger bucket …

Evan and Leo at Wise Sons Deli – they can now call themselves the “original deli pop-up” – took the time to talk us through their logistics. They sold an amazing 140 sandwiches – that’s 75kg of fresh brisket within 2 hours of opening. Of course that is in San Francisco, which we can perhaps agreee is “not Stirchley”. These guys are an inspiration. Check out how they make their borscht!

We don’t want to let you guys down who make the journey to us, so I am going to err on the side of over-provisioning!

Next weekend will be even more serious when the meat arrives and we get to brining!

Harborne Famers Market: Report 12-Feb-2011

At a bright and sunny Harborne farmers market yesterday (every 2nd Saturday of the month) Phil Hulland and I were lamenting the lack of publicity for good farmers markets. I love my local market and want to support it. Rick Stein really helped small producers with his Food Heroes book and series back in 2005, but I am not aware of any campaign since then.

So, I thought I would help draw attention to the excellent producers we have attending Harborne by writing a little report each time. I can also “mark the seasons” by way of available produce.

It being February the market wasn’t at its very best, but there was still plenty to keep me interested. Phil from Lightwood Cheese returned after a months absence and had some lovely fat Chasers on display (a soft, full-fat cow’s milk cheese). Unfortunately no butter (his churn had broken) or our favourite goat’s cheese. Talking of which I mentioned that I’d seen his “Bewdley Blue” in the deli at Bewdley and wondered what it was. Turns out this is just a cutting size Rhapsody – rebranded to keep the Severn Valley railway-goers happy!

Charbel’s biodynamic stall reflected the time of year – with just cabbage, beetroot, potatoes, leeks and carrots on display. The cabbage hearts were tender enough to eat raw but I know Charbel will be desperate for this new year’s growing season to start.

They tend to sell out very early so I had to rush to the top end to see if Lyon Farm had anything left. The lamb is older now and more flavourful, not quite hogget but much more interesting than the “spring lamb” that gets people excited around Easter time. I snaffled the last pack of lamb cutlets meaning there was just a solitary breast of lamb remaining. I’d quite like to attempt breast of lamb Ste Ménéhould one day but I left that pleasure to someone else.

Wenlock Edge Farm continue to impress with their range of home-made charcuterie. I’ve tried their coppa, proscuito, braesola and chorizo (all very good) in the past. This time I picked up half a salami. They also do good sausages, bacon and faggots. They also had pork roasting joints – I picked up some leg with a decent covering of fat for today’s roast.

I picked up some potted ham and some smoked mackerel pate from Karen at the Homemade Pate Company. It’s a running joke that her husband will offer to “change your life” with his homemade tarts – although they’ve never done anything for me. She seems stoic, having to listen to his unchanging schtick at every market.

I finished off at Woodhouse Farm who usually have some interesting pork cuts – in this case a piece of belly pork as long as my fridge is wide. I’ll brine one half as a roasting joint and turn the other half into pancetta.

All in all, not bad for February. But bring on spring!

Roast quail with lentils. Definitely recommend getting your grubby hands on some quail, they are

Roast quail with lentils. Definitely recommend getting your grubby hands on some quail, they are delicious when simply roasted and require much less precise cooking than other game birds (although quail is mainly farmed not wild-caught). In fact they love being cooked well done. I’ve started cooking lentils much more frequently now I have discovered Castelluccio lentils from Umbria (I got them at Carluccio’s). Unlike what they write on the packets of other lentils these genuinely do cook to an edible form in about 35 minutes. My experiences with Puy have mainly been uneasy kitchen stand-offs waiting for them to soften and cursing my late dinner. As always with pulses you are best to season right at the end (and they do take a lot of salt!). I added some celeriac to the mirepoix which resulted in no significant issue.

A picture of my Bradley smoker setup – an early birthday present from Hannah means I am now the p

A picture of my Bradley smoker setup – an early birthday present from Hannah means I am now the proud owner of the official cold smoker accessory. The extension tube permits genuine cold smoking between 20-30 degrees. Thanks to the efforts of stepfather-in-law Andy I have a much more ergonomic outdoor setup. To celebrate I am hot-smoking some pheasant breasts over cherry for lunch and then later we will have a proper cold-smoking session with 4 sides of salmon and an entire truckle of Keen’s cheddar (for Mr. Capeling), to be smoked over oak and apple.