Cook-off: Smoked Ice Cream

Smoked ice cream – another insidious concept, once you’ve heard of it, you’ve got to cook it (right?)

And where better to debut such a dish than tomorrow’s cook-off?

This particularly piece of insanity is from Extebarri – a restaurant rapidly developing legendary status. The owner, Victor cooks virtually everything over charcoal, using specially made adjustable height grills. Of course the charcoal is home-made. I can’t really think of anything greater than this.

If you are watching Rick Stein’s latest program on Spain you will have seen it featured in episode #2. Rick also seems quite happy with the concept.

The ice cream recipe is actually fairly standard. The difference is that before you make the custard, you hot-smoke the cream, milk and in this case glucose mixture over oak for about an hour.

Having just made it I can tell you the resulting milk is absolutely delicious. I was drinking it direct from my Pyrex jug. I could even see this being served on its own – maybe as a posh dessert course, or perhaps set into a clever take on burnt custard (you heard it hear first, ok?).

If you fancy trying it, here’s the recipe, lifted and adapted from the brilliant book Planet Barbecue! by Steve Raichlen. I reckon it’s easier to do with a Bradley Smoker but you could do it on the BBQ, probably for less time.

2 parts double cream to 1 part whole milk (the higher the fat content the better IMO)
3/4 part glucose
1/4 part sugar
5 egg yolks per litre of ice cream

Combined cream, whole milk and glucose. Smoke over oak chips at 250 degrees F (120 degree C) for an hour or until it has developed a rich smoke flavour.

Whisk egg yolks and sugar until creamy.

Add hot milk in steady stream while whisking (don’t allow to curdle).

Add mixture back to pan and cook whilst stirring until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon (again don’t let it curdle).

Cool down over night and then churn in an ice cream maker.

Cook-off: 20 hour Wagyu Brisket

Brisket, it could drive a man to the brink of madness. A fickle mistress – some days she will offer herself up willingly, others you must plead for hours and be rewarded only with gristle.

What I’m saying is: cooking BBQ brisket is tricky. I think that’s probably why BBQers like it. It takes a bit of skill, a lot of experience, and some luck.

Now unlike most Internet posts on the subject of BBQ I will not pretend to have all the answers on how to do proper Southern Texan BBQ. After all I am based in a quiet, residential area of Birmingham (West Midlands, not AL).

But I do feel through bitter experience I now know a few things which I will relate to you now!

Assuming – like me, your ideal brisket will have a lovely pink smoke ring, an appetising crust and a moist interior, I have one major tip for you.

Get the right brisket.

This is rule one. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and you can’t make great brisket with crap meat.

Other than the usual rules (not from ASDA) you are looking for something specific. Fat.

Lots and lots of fat, specifically intramuscular fat – marbling. I don’t think it’s possible to have enough.

This gives most living in the UK an instant headache – getting well marbled beef is tricky. You genuinely won’t find it in the supermarket. Even most butchers will struggle.

Even your super-expensive butcher – identified by tens of badly parked 4x4s outside – may not do it.

Indeed, even the most lovingly raised, organic rare breed beef – think of Longhorn and Shorthorn, White Park and Dexter won’t necessarily fit the bill.

My solution is to buy some of Ifor’s Welsh Wagyu, supplied by Alternative Meats (that sounds like an advert, it isn’t!) which is down the road in Shropshire. This isn’t the same as Kobe beef – that distinction is reserved for Wagyu cattle raised in certain Japanese prefectures, meeting certain standards. But like the Japanese stuff, it is hella marbled.

I had a fun time trying to explain the exact cut of brisket I wanted with Rachel over the phone early this week. And what she sent me on Wednesday was absolutely amazing, a 7kg monster which looked very well aged and had a great covering of fat.

OK. That’s my tip over. I’ll blog the recipe in stages, as I do them.

First stage is, paradoxically, to trim a little of that surface fat off and trim out the thick ribbon of fat. Fat is very good but I need my dry rub to get somewhere near the meat surface. I’ll save the fat to make some dripping for roast potatoes.

Next step: the dry rub

It actually seemed a bit of a shame to rub such a lovely bit of meat, but I tried to be restrained. It’s not really Southern BBQ without an intensely flavoured crust.

My improvised dry rub consists of paprika, salt, pepper, brown sugar, celery salt, garlic powder, some dried oregano from the garden and some ground mulato peppers (as that’s what I had in the cupboard).

After rubbing, it gets wrapped in clingfilm to sit in the fridge overnight.

After a night in the fridge, I take it out and let the brisket come to room temperature. This takes quite a few hours because it’s so big.

Smoker goes on about 5pm – bring it up to 250 degrees F.

I decided to smoke with a mixture of mesquite, apple and maple. I find that mesquite – although the definitive Southern flavour – can be overpowering used on its own. The maple adds a sweetness that I think goes very well with beef and the apple has a kind of floral quality.

Into the smoker and I try to monitor the temperature (with an oven thermometer, not the Bradley built-in thermometer which is rather inaccurate due to its location). I’ll try and keep it around 220-250F.

Rotate the brisket rack once in between cooking.

I waited until about 11:30pm and took the brisket out. Into an foil tray, add some apple juice and tightly cover with multiple layers of foil. Into the domestic oven at 93 degrees C / 200 degrees F overnight.

The next morning I wake to the rich aroma of smoked meat. Downstairs in my dressing gown to check it – a fork or skewer should go through the thickest part with little to no resistance. It’s perfect!

Let it cool a little and then wrap the brisket tightly in several layers of foil, then a tea towel and then into an insulated cool box (I had a polystyrene container that the brisket originally shipped in).

It will still be warm when you come to eat it – in our case about 6 hours later.

The finished article!

I’m brining Pickle Back …

YSL asked if we were having pickle backs at Sunday’s BBQ cook-off and I initially had no plans. But this insidious question has eaten away at me all day and I decided in fact we WERE to have them.

But a problem; how do you make something that you’ve never tried before and you have no recipe for? A problem – but surely not an insurmountable one?

What’s a Pickle Back exactly? It’s a shot of whiskey (yes, with an ‘e’) with a pickle juice chaser. Simple. It sounds amazing (to me) but Hannah didn’t sound very keen. I doubt Alan Partridge would order one.

It’s an American thing – clearly – but has come to my attention by the excellent sounding Pitt Cue BBQ pop-up in London.

The whiskey bit is easy enough – and for my Southern BBQ quite clearly it should be rye, something like a Sazerac.

But the pickle juice. Now quite clearly to me that needs to be home-made and not from a jar. The idea of drinking Mrs. Hamisha’s by-water is too disgusting to contemplate. Not that people don’t use jarred juice – this impressive blog tried out 4 different “pickle juices” including the juice from a jar of pickled eggs. That’s quite an extraordinary effort.

Their conclusion was that Claussen half-sours had good pickle juice.

But really making my own pickles and juice is necessary. My first thought was that I should just make my normal dill half-sours. But then I thought; would dill-flavoured lactic acid water really be correct. I don’t mind admitting I got my confused face on about now.

Perhaps vinegar pickles are more appropriate?

YKL suggested I should ask for some help from the Twitter account of PittCueCo, they suggested:

“Indeed vinegar is in the brine. Almost 50/50 vinegar / sugar. Not quite. Long live the pickleback.”

Long live the pickleback indeed.

Are they really suggesting a brine of 50% vinegar and 50% sugar? I suppose it’s possible, I don’t really make vinegar pickles usually.

I clarified if water was replied. They replied.

“use some of the extract from the salted cucumbers. Tasty water!!”


OK, so here’s an entirely off-the-cuff pickle back recipe which I will now try out.

Enough salt to liberally cover them
500ml vinegar (white wine would be a good choice)
400g sugar
A couple of cloves of garlic, bashed
pickling spice

Salt cucumbers (Whole pickling cucumbers or sliced large cucumbers), reserve the water.

Bring vinegar, sugar and pickling spice to the boil.

Wait for it to cool.

Add cucumbers to brine in a Ziploc bag. Add the cucumber water. Refrigerate.

Then after a few days, drain and reserve the pickle water and serve with rye whiskey!

Don’t do this yourselves until I’ve tried it first.

Any suggestions welcome.

Update: I just tried this and it seems terribly sweet. Perhaps the salt from the cucumbers will balance this, if not I will add some more vinegar.

Oh my gosh, time for a Cajun ‘que cook-off!!

The problem with having a load of food obsessives as buddies is that everyone wants to do the cooking! What’s the solution? A cook-off! And even better if everyone documents the preparation of their dishes so we can recreate them in future. And give you, dear reader, some nice pictures to look at!

Since returning from Nawlins I’ve been craving both creole cooking and Southern BBQ. I still have a strong taste memory of the awesome ribs at The¬†Joint, down in the Bywater. This was a real downhome shack with a scrubby little back garden, a huge-ass smoker and a bunch of very happy punters munching their ribs, pulled pork and brisket – all liberally doused with vinegar sauce. I also can’t quite shake the taste of fresh boudin sausage from Cochon, and those little duck ham sliders. Oh gosh.

So cook-off #1 is gonna be Southern ‘que, Louisianan style. We probably can’t recreate the swamps, the humidity, the flies and the edgy neighbourhoods – but this is Birmingham and we’ve got crap rainy weather, slightly dodgy neighbourhoods (well Quinton is 5 minutes walk) and the occasional moth. And a huge ass smoker. Good enough.

BBQ is in vogue right now. There’s the Pitt Cue pop-up that YSL has been to which sounds pretty good (I like the idea of pickle back shots even better than the pulled pork). The Guardian, guardians of food trends, have done a load of articles recently including Tim Hayward on pulled pork (not a bad guide) and Felicity Cloake on ribs (sacriligous nonsense – we had to get involved in the comments).

Unfortunately with any trend there’s a load of chancers waiting to jump on the wagon, including the crappy sounding Red Dog Saloon that Jay Rayner reviewed and the Adam Perry Lang/Jamie Oliver abomination that is Barbecoa.

Anyhoo –

Here’s the draft menu. I’ll link up blogs for each dish as they get prepared. I should say my new bible for Cajun cooking is Donald Link’s fabulous book Real Cajun.


Boudin balls (Tom)

Crayfish boudin (Nick) – depending on availability!!

Andouille (Lap)


Lap’s famous secret pork ribs (Lap)

Bruce/Mark/Obama’s Kenyan-Texan chicken wings (Bruce)

Mesquite 20-hour smoked brisket (Nick)


Southern-ass baked beans (Gordon)

Dirty Rice (YSL)

Slaw (Tom)

Wop Salad (YSL)

Hush puppies (Tom)


Flakey Pastry Apple Pie (Hannah)

Buttermilk ice cream (Nick)

Smoked ice cream (Nick)


Cherry bourbon cocktails

Pickle backs

Comments welcome as ever.

Check out Loaf Online and Brummy Tummy for other cook-off updates!

Review: Selfridges Food Hall, Selfridges Restaurant, Bullring, Birmingham

Photo by my wifelet Hannah

The few times we’ve been to the Selfridges restaurant – usually on a Sunday lunchtime – it’s been the same story. A half-empty restaurant. Glacially slow service. Warm Coke, with too little ice served from the always-disappointingly small 250ml bottle (that’s a mixer size in my view). Burgers are bought-in, evidenced by their regular shape and harsh onion flavour which you know will linger all afternoon. Chips are limp and too thick. Hannah’s tomato soup has the rasping acidity which comes from tedious and unripe glasshouse tomatoes. The chef doesn’t even the sense to roast them to give sweetness. Red mullet was, in the words of Alan Partridge, “burnt to a crisp – so it can only be identified from its dental records”. And the long, lingering “can we get the bill”, “now can we pay the bill” stalemate usually involves the walk of shame to the cash register. Like you don’t know the procedure for paying in a restaurant.

The food hall is no better. Yo Sushi! (!!) has turned into a grim vision of a future without fish. So infrequently now does anything containing fish pass along the conveyor belt you could give it 50 points in I-Spy. Your protein options are the ubiquitous tofu and chicken tonkatsu. The worst sushi in the world – the hideous Californian roll – waves past every 30 seconds. This hides a crab-flavoured stick (again, thanks Alan). When you do spot tuna it’s buried as a near invisible sliver, deep in a maki roll.

The Tiffinbites concession is worse still, a Pakistani friend still winces at the memory of eating their sad, reheated curries which have the lifeless colour of having sat around for a day or two and taste only of what Harold McGee would describe as “leftover flavours”. I remember the early Tiffinbites near Liverpool Street which served reasonably cheap, lively, vibrant curries. That’s not what you get here.

I’ve never tried the noodle counter which is always packed. But my friend Lap says that the laksa is “pretty good” but it’s the “only thing he’ll order there”.

Pret A Manger is a good option if you can fight your way over the mums wielding toddlers and prams like an offensive weapon.

The sad Selfridges diner concept which can’t decide if it’s American or not and is a similar story to the main restaurant. The burgers are sad and ¬£5 too expensive.

The rest of the food hall is little better. They used to have a cheese counter with overpriced, poorly affineured cheese. That’s gone now. Fresh food options are virtually nil. They used to sell the estimable Walter Smith’s pork pies, albeit for a large premium over the same pie from Walter Smith in the indoor market. His pies are both great-tasting and locally made – so this couldn’t last and they swapped them out for the inferior *East* Midlands Mrs. King pie (they are OK but not a patch on Walter’s).

The biltong counter does an inexplicable trade.

There’s no fresh meat or fish or veg. London Selfridges has Jack O’Shea’s fine meat counter, with a range of aged beef that brings tears to the eyes. Here the best option for umami is marmite chocolate.

It’s sad that this icon of Birmingham, still the place we take visitors to first for its fabulous exterior has such poor eating options.

A massive missed opportunity.