Walter Smith Butchers: Branches in Harborne, Indoor Market, elsewhere

pork pie 2-large

Look into the window of this Harborne High Street pensioners favourite, and the display of bright red beef untroubled by marbling, pre-marinated meat and the frankly terrifying/hilarious lamb “long-boat” might make you wonder why I have sent you here ….

Don’t be scared dear reader, such off-putting wares are to protect the shop from any influx of foodies/food bloggers/hipsters/Southern shandy drinkers from getting to the prize on offer: the legendary Walter Smith Pork Pie.

It’s like the bit at the end of Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail.

If you have braved the display and have come inside, elbow past the trolley-wielders waiting to blow their still warm post office cheque on half a pound of stewing steak and a couple of kidneys and fight your way to the cooked meat counter.

Try not to worry too much about corned beef and haslet. Instead, in your best Brummie – ask for a large pork pie. Those are the ones adorned with a ‘Great Taste Award’ sticker, and for once the judges are bloody spot-on.

Before eating, take a good look at your treasure. Marvel at its reassuring dark, burnished exterior of perfectly baked short-crust pastry. Cut into quarters, or simply sink your teeth in. Note how the filling is made of just the right proportions of pork meat and fat. Enjoy the hit of black pepper and spice at the back of your throat. Delight in the correctly judged jelly component which hardly ever reminds of dog food.

So then, truly a king of pork pies, and certainly better than any I have tried in the East Midlands (Yes, I am trying to start a second civil war in the Midlands, bring it on Melton Mowbray!).

Whilst you are there, you may wish to note the availability of plentiful ham hocks, usually at giveaway prices. Their pork sausages are also way above average, and if you are in the mood to BBQ they can usually rustle you up a few racks of pork ribs or a whole pork shoulder on the bone.

Just don’t get between the elderly and their tea.

There are other branches of Walter Smith across the midlands, check their website for details.

Find other great places to eat and buy food in Birmingham on the Birmingham Food Map!

Persia in Brum: Kashk Bademjan, Fesenjoon and Pars Supermarket

I had a gentle introduction to persian cuisine via Sally Butcher’s rather nice book Veggiestan. But it wasn’t until Hannah came home with a copy of Pomegranates and Roses that I got a real thing about cooking some “authentic” persian. But where to start? The choice was problematic for me, having no real frame of reference for Persian food, coupled with the use of unfamiliar ingredients, plus the fact that all the pictures just look kind of brown and unappetising.

So as always, Twitter to the rescue:

OK! I figured the aubergine and whey one was kashgeh bademjan, a dish containing aubergine, caramelised onions and kashk. The kashk, judging from Internet searches is a bit hard to pin down exactly, but it seems to me to be a cultured, salted whey product which comes either fresh or dried. Needless to say, having tasted it, neither yoghurt nor buttermilk would be an appropriate substitution. This would be served as an appetiser, with some lavashk or nan bread.

Fesenjoon seems to be something like the persian national dish, being a stew made from freshly ground walnuts, pomegranate molasses (Ariana specifies only Iranian brands will do here) and in modern times chicken, but more traditionally duck with the optional addition of little lamb meatballs. This is a real banquet dish in Iran, served at celebrations.

For pudding, I figured a sour cherry and almond ice-cream would be in keeping with the theme not relishing my chances of getting hold of any selap – wild orchid – powder.

So, the next challenge was to get hold of some of the ingredients; specifically kashk and pomegranate molasses . This time Twitter didn’t come to the recipe, but a little site called Iranian Birmingham did. I spotted two Persian supermarkets, one in Smethwick called Yaas and one on the Hagley Road called Pars, probably not coincidentally near the Persian restaurant Shiraz.

Wasting no time, I headed down to Pars and was delighted to find the owner very friendly, and interested to hear I was cooking fesenjoon. I found the pomegranate molasses, the kashk and was delighted to see all manner of other strange ingredients. Even better, they operate a bakery with a tandoor at the back and will cook fresh to order nan breads (4 for a £1) during their opening hours Tuesday – Sunday! A great find. I love the way that the simple act of wanting to cook something different opens up a whole new world previously hidden. They also have a decent selection of biscuits and baclava, and I picked up some excellent frozen sour cherries for my ice cream. Result!

So to the cooking – I found a few recipes for kashke bademjan, including this one which is informative on the subject of kashk. In the end I used the one by Sabrina Ghayour, as it was her version that was recommended to me on Twitter. All I would add to this recipe is that I chose to let the dish cool down to room temperature which brought the flavours together compared to a taste straight out of the pan, and that I needed a bit of salt in addition to the kashk.

For Fesenjoon (or Fesenjan) I had a quick look at Ariana’s recipe, but was surprised to see that a slow cooked dish like this called for chicken breasts, as well as some other esoteric ingredients including lavashak (persian fruit roll) and gold leaf for finishing. Now I don’t know about you, but my experience with slow-cooking chicken breast without fail will result in tough, dry meat. So I had a quick word on Twitter with Sabrina who reassured me that chicken thighs were the way to go here. Makes sense, so I decided to go with her recipe. I figured chicken thighs will both slow cook nicely and add some decent flavour to the dish without having to use chicken stock. I also thought I’d throw in the little lamb meatballs as well, using the recipe at Turmeric and Saffron.

On the side, I tried to make rice with a decent tahdik (the brown bit on the bottom of the pan) by using yoghurt and beaten egg and saffron in the first layer. However, our guests decided they would turn up a few hours late, so it kind of burnt to the pan. Oh well.

The ice cream is just the regular ice cream recipe, with chopped almonds added to the milk and sugar at the start (drained) and then sour cherries in syrup added after churning the ice cream.

How did it all work out? Well it’s pointless me describing it all except to say this is a completely different style of cuisine– the fesenjoon was dark and rich and complex but cut nicely by the sour pomegranate. Although there are no spices in the dish, one of my co-eaters was convinced there must be. The kashk aubergine had a complex, very grown-up flavour which encouraged huge wads of bread to be stuffed down. And obviously the ice cream was nice.

I hope you will be inspired to give this style of cooking a try, I certainly will be trying more persian dishes now!

Fesenjan with meatballs – OK maybe still a little brown but bloody delivious

Nick’s taco corner

The obsession was growing already, but a recent trip to San Francisco and it’s awesome Mission District has sealed my love for “proper” mexican food, and particularly tacos. So I have been experimenting with different fillings and toppings, and wanted to keep track of them on this page. There’s absolutely no point doing this unless you make your own tortillas, in which case you just need a tortilla press (cast iron are good) and some masa harina.


Pork carnitas — as more than adequately explained by Lap on this page here.

Cochinita pibil — good page on Helen Graves’ blog here (

Carne asada — trying this one out today,

Guajillo braised short ribs — a la – I did this in the pressure cooker for speed

Smoked Texan beef clod — something Lap has tried

Grilled lobster — and why not!


Pico de gallo – tomatoes, onions, coriander, lime, sugar, salt

Pickled pink onions – red onions, lime juice, salt

Pineapple salsa – tomatoes, pineapple, coriander, cucumber, lime, sugar, salt

Scotch bonnets and orange juice —

Guacamole (of course) — avocado, salt, olive oil, minced garlic, red onion, salt. Diana Kennedy rather controversially eschews lime juice here.

Roasted tomato salsa — or

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!

The smoke&umami guide to spaghetti bolognaise

Spag bol has enjoyed a recent renaissance in the smoke&umami household due to Hannah’s current insatiable appetite for meat .. which she claims is a result of breast-feeding. But we can’t eat steak for every meal, even though she’d like to, so spag bol is making a regular appearance in our weekly roster.

In recent times I’d all but stopped making spaghetti bolognaise. Partly because Hannah claimed it gave her heartburn. But shamefully, I think it might be because it got a bit naff. What with all these purists like Carluccio telling us it doesn’t even exist in Italy. I guess everyone knows now it’s *correctly* a meat ragu, shouldn’t have tomatoes in it, and should be served with flat noodles – never spaghetti.

GET OUT! I’m sick of Italian food purists, especially as you can’t ever be right in Italy anyway, with disputes over recipes carried out with fierce localism. Two villages 5km apart will happily wage a bloody vendetta over whether it’s permitted to put a splosh of cream in a carbonara sauce (er, probably).

But, to be fair, I did find that I was getting bored with my usual, “traditional” recipe which was essentially onions, red wine, mince and tomatoes.

I’ve made it much more ragu-y by dialling down the tomatoes and adding beef stock.

But the thing that really makes this dish sexy again is the liberal addition of chicken livers, which gives it a proper grown-up taste that kids presumably would hate.

The other thing that’s rekindled my love of this dish is being able to make it in my pressure cooker (just like people did in the 70s/80s!). This means you can get it done in under an hour from start to finish and the results are as good, if not better than slow cooking.

And of course, this dish when done properly can serve up a huge whack of umami. Meat is a good source of umami, as are tomatoes and of course the obligatory parmesan on top. But there are plenty of ways to boost umami further; I use Worcestershire sauce (bet they don’t use that in Emilia-Romagna) and tomato paste. Some use fish sauce. A judicious splurt of umami paste wouldn’t necessarily be a bad call. And the Waitrose beef stock that’s branded Heston has konbu in it as well. No wonder it tastes so good!

And, to be fair to the Italians – serving this with a thick ribbon pasta like papardelle or tagliatelle is probably more appropriate than spaghetti. Don’t forget to add a a good knob of butter at the end.

The brave Felicity Cloake tackled spag blog on her “Perfection” series on the Guardian website – I don’t really agree with her conclusions, but it’s worth a read!

I reckon most readers of this blog have got their own recipe for spaghetti bolognaise. Here’s mine.


1kg beef mince, fatty
200-400g chicken livers, preferably organic (it’s nice to know what your offal has been up to) – the amount will depend on how much you like the taste of chicken liver!
1/2 bottle of full-bodied red wine
2 onions, chopped
2 small carrots, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
bundle of fresh thyme
2 fresh bay leaves
500ml beef stock (Heston’s cheaty Waitrose stuff is excellent)
2 tablespoons tomato paste (umami!)
1 x 400g can plum tomatoes
good sploosh of worcestershire sauce (more umami!!)
And if you want even more umami, add some umami paste / umami powder

papardelle/tagliatelle/spaghetti to serve – always dried, ideally a decent brand, never supermarket fresh crap

The way I do this is to sweat off the onions, carrots, celery and garlic – as I chop them – in that order – in the pressure cooker with a little vegetable oil. When softened, remove from the pan and into a bowl. Next, fry off the mince in stages over a very high heat, trying to get as much colour on the mince as possible. Remove from pan. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and reduce by half. Then add all the cooked ingredients and the rest of the ingredients to the pressure cooker, cover, bring to high pressure and cook for 30 minutes. If the sauce is too runny, strain the liquid into a smaller pan and boil rapidly until the sauce reaches the desired consistency, and add back to the meat. Pick out the bay leaves and thyme if you are posh.

As with all such things this is better the next day, and even better the day after. This will make enough for at least 10 servings, so I like to freeze what I don’t use.

Birmingham places I want to check out, but haven’t yet

Just a placeholder page for places I want to visit but haven’t got around to yet:

  • Sushi Passion: a small sushi place in Birmingham Indoor Market
  • The Karczma: billed as a traditional Polish restaurant, near Moor Street
  • The King and Thai: supposed to be a good Thai restaurant doing properly hot Thai food in Broseley, Shropshire
  • The Vine: near the Hawthorns, supposed to do good Indian BBQ, according to Dom Clarke (alternative: The Sportsman, suggested by Gary Weir)
  • The Wildmoor Oak: Bromsgrove, for jerk chicken
  • The Hop Pole: Bewdley, supposed to be a good food pub.

Is there a good place for sushi in Birmingham?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Still no, I’m afraid.

I am a fan of the small, independently-run Mount Fuji which somehow survives as a small oasis in the culinary desert of the Bull Ring complex. The restaurant is squeezed on all sides by low quality chain offerings. Note how Jamie’s Italian and Wagamama are always full on a Saturday afternoon, but Mount Fuji is usually half-empty. You can eat fairly well here if you stick to the small plate options; I like a little plate of sushi, usually some eel, the dashi tofu, chicken karage, tempura vegetables and a miso soup. But the sushi is not great, it’s not really even good by standards of anyone who’s eaten at a half-decent Japanese restaurant. But I mention it simply because little independent places like this desperately need some support in Birmingham.

Yo! Sushi = No! Fuck Off! Sushi.

There’s also Ocean Dragon which YSL has been to, and thinks is OK. But Lap hates it, I think.

So where to head for good sushi? Your closest option is Ebi Sushi – in Derby! – which Lap blogged about way back in 2008. Sushi in Derby? The explanation is that Derby has a Toyota factory, and this restaurant caters to the Japanese managers. If you have a sushi craving, point your vehicle East (!!) for an hours drive and Mr. Ebi will see you right with some spanking fresh fish served in a very traditional style, including cuts of the fatty belly tuna, toro.

After that, you need to head further afield. We like Sushi of Shiori very much. OK it’s in London, but Sushi of Shiori is but a chopstick’s throw from London Euston. You could get there, have a meal and get back to Birmingham in just over four hours, if you timed it right.

A new place – Sushi Tetsu has just opened in Clerkenwell and we are keen to check it out soon as the early reports are very good.

Update 6th July 2012: There’s a new sushi joint in the Birmingham Indoor Market called Sushi Passion – needs to be checked out!

Red battered fish and chips

The whole calendar has been hijacked by various causes, some worthier than others. You’ve missed “Farmhouse Breakfast Week” (22-28th January) and already in February there’s been “Safer Internet Day” (wear a condom whilst browsing?). Next week there’s the quite thrilling “Fair Trade Fortnight” which should sort lots of things out no doubt.

Do I care? Not normally – and I also wouldn’t care about National Chip Week, even though I like chips and I encourage them in my own special way, were it not for the fact that my favourite fish and chip venue – the Black Country Living Museum – tweeted rather enigmatically that they were frying “red-battered chips” this week in celebration.

What are red-battered chips and more importantly why haven’t I heard of them until now? Google is no help. But a bit of incidental conversation on Twitter about West Midlands specialties (balti, pork pies, pork scratchings, faggots & peas, groaty pudding, Fenky Jane’s caribbean patties since you ask) also threw up orange battered chips. Sounds very similar. Apparently these are a Black Country specialty, the origins of which are a source of great controversy.

But – what are they? Well they are simply battered chips. Etymologists amongst you will not be surprised to find out that they are orange. Those who have eaten food, or observed teenagers in the Black Country won’t be surprised to find out this is achieved by adding tartrazine to the batter.

So what of the red battered chips? Well, with today’s beautiful spring-like weather I decided to go and find out for myself. Turns out Black Country museum on a weekday in February isn’t very busy, and I was first in line at Hobbs & Son.

“Why are they called red-battered chips not orange?” I enquired, trying to sound like I didn’t really have a middle-class Southern accent. “Because they are red”. Mystery solved. In they went to the fryer with a hunk of cod and I waited outside in the glorious winter-into-spring sun for them to be ready …

They were blimming lovely. Bostin’. Black Country museum fish and chips are already the best ever, cooked to order in beef dripping with quite the best crispy flavourful batter and perfectly steamed fish within. So adding some extra batter to the chips as well as a generous helping of crispies tucked in the bottom of the cone just serves to make the whole experience more decadent.

National Chip week runs until 26th February – in case you give a shit.