Birmingham Indoor Market and Wholesale Market

We’ve been remiss here on SmokeandUmami, a Birmingham food blog and no mention of two of our most precious resources. Except for a short hiatus whilst the Bull Ring was being redeveloped, the Indoor Market has always been there to serve the city with fresh fish and meat. Down the road is its ugly sister the Wholesale market, threatened with extinction but hanging on for salvation. Both markets hold some wonderful fresh produce, the only thing they ask of you is to be brave and get stuck in. So to help you out here’s a guide to some of my favourite stalls in both markets, what’s good to buy and what to avoid. All opinions are my own, a Brummie who has been using the markets for over 30 years. Let’s start with the INDOOR MARKET:

George Smith and Pearce’s

These two have been here since the old days when the market was in the dank basement of the old Bull Ring. The rivalry between them has pretty much stayed the same too, which is a good thing because between them Birmingham is served with some great shellfish. You can buy fresh (by which I mean live) shellfish such as lobsters, crabs, scallops, mussels, oysters and clams six days a week Monday to Saturday. Out of habit I prefer George Smith’s to Pearce’s because I think they’re friendlier. But really the quality is about the same. I love buying live brown crabs, I think they’re the most delicious shellfish of all. The folks at Smith will let you handle and choose the one you want, they always seem to have more ‘in the back’ too. Pearce’s are a bit funny about you handling their critters. Both have beautiful native lobsters when in season, which I urge you to buy in preference to the dark shelled Canadian lobsters. The flesh of our blue native lobster are denser and sweeter. Both shops have an eat-in shellfish bar that serve prepared crabs, lobsters, oysters, whelks, mussels, cockles and even jellied eels. Though only Pearce’s sell live eels when in season.

H Satchwell*
Possibly the most unassuming fishmongers in the whole market. A small unit next door to George Smith’s, with only ever half a dozen fresh fish on display singly. Each fish is draped in a clear film, all in all a very sparse looking fish counter. But if you look closer, every fish is the best example of its kind and very fresh. If I were to open a sushi bar in the market I would make Mr Satchwell my very best friend. He always has wonderful flatfish such as brill, dover and lemon sole, large chunks of halibut and tuna. Again he only displays his fish singly but has more in the back. What’s more he has the best selection of kippers, smoked haddock and mackerel. I love kippers, try the Craster type if you’re a kipper fan. They’re fatter and juicier than the Manx kippers.
*not to be confused with W Satchwell, a new stall run by a cousin
AJ Barlows
In the centre of the market, this large three sided unit is half poultry and half fish. But that fish half consistently has the largest selection of fish in the whole market and is always bustling with activity on busy market days. I often buy their trays of farmed sea bass or gilt-head bream, usually 4 for a tenner, which makes them cheaper than the wholesale market. The turbot is always good here too, possibly my favourite fish much prized by Cantonese cooks for its firm white flesh and thick gelatinous skin.
All Seasons Fishmongers
Specialist in exotic fish from warmer waters, mostly previously frozen but impressive all the same. Especially the freshwater Rau a monstrously big river-fish from India, which one day I will pluck up the courage to buy. They only thing I do buy here regularly is octopus. These are the meaty twin sucker kind that taste much better than the single sucker variety that the rest of the market sells.

I don’t buy much meat at the market. The quality in general is middling at best but cheap! So here’s a very short list of what to look out for:
Walter Smiths
Greatest Pork Pie you will ever eat, that is all you need to know. Ok maybe one more thing; point to the one you want otherwise they’ll pick out the oldest one for you. All market butchers are inately crafty.
Usually a bit of bun fight at this pork specialist, if you can cut a swathe through the Chinese folk then the pork isn’t bad here. Though not all their pork is British, you have been warned.
Hong Keen
New kid on the block, a Chinese butchers with some decent cuts of beef and pork. Nice line in beef and pork offal, if you’re into that sort of thing.

China Mini Market

This place is the literal meaning of the word gem, something tiny and precious. Here you will find all you will ever need to make any Oriental (far Eastern) dish. From its awkwardly shaped frontage you will find fresh produce ranging from tofu, fish balls and noodles to Thai basil, banana leaves and galangal through to durian, mangosteen and rambutan past gai lan, choi sum and tong ho. Peek at the back wall and it’s crammed with every Oriental cupboard staple; soy sauce, chilli sauces, coconut cream, spices… Shout up here, the ladies that run it don’t stand on ceremony and don’t like to waste time. Essential one stop shop for all your Oriental needs.
Global Produce
Run by the same lot as the China Mini Market. Some of the produce here is replicated but sells more Western groceries. Apples, pears, oranges, leeks and celery replace pak choy and green mangos. However this shop has a slower turnaround and the produce is a little more tired than its Asian counterpart so choose carefully. Occassionally you will find something extraordinary here, a golden tamarillo anyone?

There are numerous West Indian stalls in the market, two near the Dudley St doors African Foods and Claras back onto each other and basically sell the same goods. Look out for the city’s finest patties Fenky Janes on sale at African Foods.
There are Halal butchers at the market too and I’ve bought the occasional mutton from them, the quality is variable though.
Mr Fish specialises mostly in game! But don’t fall for their patter, a lot of their stuff is very tired looking indeed.

100 metres down the road out of town is the concrete carbunkel of the Wholesale Market, the largest of its kind in the whole country. The market is split into four blocks: Meat, Fish & Poultry, Fruit & Veg and Horticulture. It’s open from 4am onward Monday to Saturday and is accessible to the public. For a few years there was a guard on the gate that stopped public vehicles from entering, you had to be in a trade vehicle or have a permit to drive in. So there was no choice for members of the public but to walk in. But I’ve noticed this year that the guard has disappeared so you can drive in now, just be careful of the forklifts and where you park. Of course as with any wholesale market in the world you need to get there early. I usually go around 7:30am to make sure there’s still plenty of fresh fish available, because seafood is the primary reason I get up early on either a Wednesday or Thursday (these are the best days for fresh fish). The fish & poultry section is to the right of the complex as you enter, follow the fork right and it’s the large building on the left. It used to house a dozen or so wholesalers but now it’s only half that and dominated by two large companies J.Vickerstaff and Caterfish.
Vickerstaff has more variety, stocking African and Asian species and salted dried fish from around the world. See if you can spot the box of red herrings that always seems to be there. To my eye though the quality of the fish at Caterfish is consistently better and they always have lots of good looking salmon, bass and bream. Caterfish also have 3 live lobster tanks in their cold storage room, if you are a lobster fan then ask to be shown inside where you can dunk your hands into the chilly waters and pull out your own fresh lobsters.
But my favourite fish wholesaler is WS Scott, a smaller operation nestled between the two big boys. Fresh prawns galore from little ones to banana sized ones from Africa. Always the best turbot here, usually two sorts wild and farmed. I prefer the farmed, from icy cold clean Norweigian waters they taste wonderfully clean. Dover soles, lemon soles, live crabs, lobsters, scallops, razor clams all usually very good quality. They are the only stall where I’ve bought live sea urchin. For that reason alone they will always be my favourite!
The poultry and egg section is adjacent to the fish market. H Bellingham sell Label Rouge French chickens which is essential for one of my ultimate dishes Hainan Chicken Rice. They also sell duck, game and around xmas time whole lobes of foie gras.
The wholesale fruit and veg market is enormous and there’s not a lot that the average punter can buy here except if like me you are a mango fanatic. Get your boxes of Indian or Pakistani mangoes from Bidwalla when they are in season.

Usain Bolt’s* Pecan-smoked Jerk Pork Ribs!

* not officially endorsed by Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt is a legend, and one of the world’s greatest sprinters. Usain Bolt is also officially Birmingham’s favourite adopted son. He and the Jamaican team trained at the University of Birmingham, and he bigged us up not once, but twice during his post-race interviews with the BBC.

Sadly Usain Bolt didn’t make it round our house for tea when he was in Birmingham but if he had, this is what I would have cooked him.

Pecan-smoked Jerk Pork Ribs

I didn’t think I was a big fan of jerk seasoning until I tried Lap’s pecan-smoked jerk chicken which were a revelation. Good jerk, as in Thai cooking, has it all; sweetness from molasses, acid from lime juice, spice from pimento seeds, searing heat from Scotch bonnets, umami from the meat and smoke – in this case from pecan wood, which goes fantastically well with jerk seasonings (hickory would also work).

But Lap’s jerk chicken had something different, undefinable, kicking it up another level. He wouldn’t tell me for ages, just occasionally wafting his seasoning under my nose – taunting me. Eventually, with electrodes wired to his nipples and the threat of water-boarding hanging in the air, he finally confessed his dirtiest of dirty secrets; he adds Malibu to his jerk seasoning.


Now this jerk seasoning works great with chicken (although curiously, the judges at Grillstock didn’t much care for it), but it is something else entirely with ribs. I used baby back ribs, and here comes another dirty secret; they were from Costco. And they were actually very good. More importantly you can actually go and buy 8 racks (or whatever) of ribs there, something many butchers struggle to be able to provide.

As with all such things, exact recipes are both difficult to record and somewhat inappropriate as they are so personal. Lap says you have to feel such things. Certainly you will feel the Scotch bonnets as their juice sprays into your eyes, so be mighty careful.

My rub has the following ingredients: garlic, ginger, allspice, molasses sugar, Scotch bonnets, lime, Malibu, thyme, salt, black pepper and for some additional savouriness, Dunn’s all-purpose seasoning.

A few guidelines:

  • Use a blender to make a paste of garlic and ginger
  • Use approximately equal amounts of garlic and ginger.
  • One lime per Scotch bonnet.
  • You’ll want to remove the seeds from the Scotch bonnets or you will likely die.
  • Make sure the final result is well-balanced, it should be sweet, hot, sour and salty. You want plenty of sugar in there.
  • You want LOTS of all-spice. This is the dominant flavour.
  • Thin it out with rum to make a wet rub.

Once made, liberally rub your pork ribs which you ideally would have removed the paper-thin membrane from the backs of. Use more rub on the front than the backs of the ribs.

Marinade in the fridge overnight to let the flavours permeate.

Light up your smoker and smoke at 200 degrees fahrenheit for at least four hours to get a good smoke. Remove from the smoker, and apply the pineapple glaze:

Pineapple Glaze

1 cup pineapple juice
molasses sugar
cider vinegar
75g butter

I actually didn’t have any pineapple juice so I used some Levi Root’s mango and pineapple drink instead, which I reduced first. That is not a recommendation.

Again this is to taste. Combine all the ingredients, bring to the boil and allow to reduce into a sticky glaze. Again it should be sweet, acidic and thick enough to coat the ribs.

Liberally paint over the ribs and return to the smoker until they are cooked (they should bend easily and you should be able to pull the ribs apart by hand, but they should not be falling apart). If this is taking too long and the glaze is burning then wrap in foil until finished.

Red Stripe would probably be the correct accompaniment, and perhaps some sweet sweet soca music.

To di world!

If you are interested in trying some of Usain Bolt’s** Pecan-smoked Jerk Ribs then you should think about coming along on Saturday 18th August to “SDS FIRE” where the Backyard Brummies have teamed up with Soul Food Project to provide some meaty treats. There are still tickets available and the price includes more meat than you can handle as well as drinks.

** Please don’t sue me

Malted Milk Ice Cream

My current food obsession is with my new ice cream maker and David Lebovitz’s superb book The Perfect Scoop.

So far I have tried his vanilla ice-cream recipe (superb), his turron ice-cream recipe (not universally loved due to excess of orange peel) and his frozen yoghurt (good and easy). On the list to try include his “tin roof” ice cream, coconut ice cream, green tea (matcha) ice cream and of course the king of ice creams, salted butter caramel.

Most recently I have been addicted to his recipe for malted milk ice cream which you know will be brilliant even before you’ve made it. Everyone loves malted milkshakes but they are often let down by the quality of the ice cream that goes in them. This combines a rich, thick, smooth custard with the nostalgic flavour of malt (well, nostalgic for 50s Americana things that British kids only experienced vicariously through things like Happy Days and Back to the Future, and ersatz British versions of US diners – think Wimpy and Ed’s Easy Diner).

Anyway, I’ve adapted Lebovitz’s recipe a little. A curious thing in The Perfect Scoop is that although the author expresses his preference for ice creams made with a ratio of 2:1 double cream and full-fat milk, quite often the recipes instead call for 2:1 double cream and single cream. If you use malt powder like Horlicks (which contains wheat so this isn’t gluten-free) this causes the recipe to become rather thick, and so I think milk is a better bet.

I made this yesterday and it was thought to be a little too sweet, so perhaps dial down the sugar a little. I would like to substitute the Horlicks for malt syrup or maltose powder in future to see how it affects the texture. A great tip in the book is to add salt to sharpen up the flavours, which really is miraculous.

Malted milk ice cream

250ml full-fat milk
500ml double cream
150g sugar (try 125g)
3/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
good pinch of salt
6 yolks from large eggs
90g malt powder (Horlicks)

Put most of the cream and the malt powder in a separate bowl, whisk thoroughly and place a wire mesh sieve on top. Combine the milk, a little of the cream, sugar, salt and vanilla essence in a heavy-bottomed pan and bring to the boil. Separate the eggs and whisk until well mixed in a separate bowl. Allow the milk mixture to cool for a minute or two and add to the whisked eggs, keeping the mixture moving so you don’t accidentally make scrambled eggs. Add the mixture back to the pan and on a medium heat until you have made a thick custard (the mixture should cling to your spatula), stirring all the time so bits don’t form. It’s really important that you make a thick, “custardy” tasting custard and don’t quit too early otherwise the ice cream won’t have the flavour you want. In my experience being a bit wimpy and pulling the mixture off too early during this stage is the main reason for less than stellar ice cream. Quickly add the custard to the bowl of cream-malt mixture and stir until well mixed.

If you have an ice cream maker with a refrigerated unit like I do, there’s no reason not to add the mixture straight into the machine and churn until set (takes about 50 minutes from warm on the Cuisinart). If you don’t have one you need to chill the mixture down first.

Serve with a load of maltesers smashed on top.

A collection of BBQ menus

Been doing a lot of big BBQs recently and trying to mix up the menus, as to be honest I am getting a little bit bored of the American BBQ classics. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but I am not a fan of cooking the same thing over and over.

Getting the menu right for a BBQ is just as important as the individual dishes. I am constantly trying to figure out harmonious menus, to the point where a Saturday morning reverie on the topic is often interrupted by a frustrated “CAN YOU HOLD THE BABY PLEASE FOR A MINUTE”. I’m looking for the elusive trade-off; when entertaining I want the appropriate amount of wow-factor, but practical issues of makeability (is that a word) and the likely impact on the state of the kitchen are also to the fore. Thus you need a mix of things that can be prepared in advance, low and slow cooking that can be left, and a few a la minute bits and bobs. Of course the menu should generally jel, and ideally should be the kind of thing that will get your guests juices flowing when you tell them what’s coming up. I guess we’re prone to overindulgence when catering, but ideally everyone should be left full but not stuffed to the gills.

My best advice when planning a BBQ is to try and move as much of the cooking on the day out into the garden, so you can be with your guests and relaxed, rather than running between the kitchen and garden.

“Less is more” I reckon with such menus. It’s kind of daunting to go to a BBQ and be presented with 10 or 15 cold side dishes, and it means people tend to load up with the “wrong” stuff. Serve less, but put more effort into each part.

Tomorrow’s menu currently looks like this:

Smoked jerk pork ribs with potato salad

Grilled whole sirloin with chimichurri
Israeli couscous with butternut squash

Vanilla ice cream with sticky toffee sauce

A few recent menus:

Guacamole with homemade tortilla chips


Pulled pork sliders with coleslaw

BBQ Turbot with salsa verde

Vanilla ice cream with sticky toffee sauce

Guacamole with homemade tortilla chips

Smoked ribs with coleslaw

Smoked brisket, BBQ beans and potato salad

Malted milk ice cream

Jamon with grilled chicory + sherry vinegar dressing

BBQ spiced quails with chickpea salad

Simon Hopkinson rice pudding

Well you get the idea!