Kabayaki unagi


I’m a bit of a fan of eel, you might have read my thoughts on smoking one in an earlier blog. Love eating them but hate having to deal with them. But with anything sometimes you have to do the dirty stuff in order to get to the good stuff. The good stuff in this case being one of my favourite dishes. Simple grilled eel done the Japanese way with a sweet sticky soy based kabayaki sauce. “Oh yeah so what” you murmur “I can get frozen eel from Wing Yip “. Yes you can, it’s also the same kind of eel that’s on top of everyone’s favourite nigiri sushi. It tastes great but you really don’t know how great until you’ve tried the real thing fresh off the coals. Come on, think about that hot eel fat dripping down onto the hot charcoal, igniting, the vaporised lipids bonding with the kabayaki sauce as you lacquer it on. If you like Japanese food, then you owe it to yourself to try kabayaki unagi as soon as possible. It’s one of the most beloved dishes in Japan where specialist unagi restaurants exist to perfect it.

But now we come to the crunch! Where can you actually eat this dish? Certainly not in any Yo! Sushi or other high street Japanese restaurant. Even the high end places such as Tetsu, Shiori, Roka or Umu don’t do it. From my extensive research the closest is Nodaiwa in Paris, an offshoot of the Michelin starred one in Tokyo! You know I love this dish so much that I recently went to Paris and ate it there. But then I wouldn’t be much of a cook if I didn’t try to make it myself too. I mean how hard can it be? Well it’s not that hard at all except for one caveat. You have to fillet them and eels are the most difficult fish to fillet. But after that it’s all downhill!

Dispatch your eel
I’m assuming of course that you’ve bought a live one because what would be the point of buying a dead one? Eels go off very quickly so cook them as soon as possible. My preferred method of dispatch is to lock one up in a pot with a slurry of salt. An hour should do it. Remove the eel and scrape all the slime off its leathery skin. Cut off the long fins that run along the top and bottom.

This is the hard part. Because of the shape of them and the tough leathery skin they’re tricky to fillet conventionally. But when you come upon a fish conundrum you just have to ask yourself “what would the Japanese do?” as no doubt they’d have come up with a simple elegant solution. In this case the shape and tough skin has been turned into an advantage. Make a small drill hole in the top right-hand corner of your largest chopping board (if you’re right-handed) and peg the head securely to it with the belly facing away from you. Make an incision behind the side fin and zip your knife along the backbone to release the top fillet and open the eel out like a fishy baguette. Cut out the guts (hardcore unagi eaters skewer these and grill them separately). Snip the backbone near the head and cut out the bone in one long piece starting at the head. The tough skin will make sure the head is still firmly pegged to the board so you can give it some power if the bone is being stubborn. This is a lot easier with a traditional Japanese style single-bevelled deba knife, a useful investment if you eat a lot of fish or have a knife fetish.

Steam and Grill
Cut the fillet in half and thread the two halves onto thin metal skewers so that they are easier to grill. You can grill the eel from raw with just a little salt if you prefer but if you want to brush them with kabayaki sauce then it’s better to par-cook the eel first as the the sauce is likely to burn over prolonged grilling. Very gently steam the fillets for 7 to 8 minutes before gently grilling them directly over coals brushing with the sauce:

Kabayaki Sauce 4 parts light soy, 1 part mirin, 1 part sake, 2 parts white caster sugar by volume. This is the basic sauce, simmer until thickened. I like to add star anise and a whole clove of garlic too.

The grilling should not be rushed, take your time, brush as often as you like with the sauce. I like to do it six or seven times on the flesh side only as I like to make sure the skin is nice and crispy and plenty of the fat has rendered off. Give the flesh a final lacquering before cutting into bite sized pieces. That’s it, told you it was easy. Just serve over a mound of tender Japanese rice and lashings of the sauce drizzled over the top. Or if you’re a real Japanese food nerd, give it another grill over a tabletop Konro before you pop into your mouth. Truly one of the best mouthfuls of food there is.


Chilli Bean Paste – Taste Test

Reorganising my jar and bottle cupboard in the kitchen, you know the one with all the different vinegars (3 types of balsamic, white/red/rice wine, cider, strawberry), I found that I’d accumulated 5 different brands of chilli bean pastes. I don’t really know how this has come about but it’s a handy opportunity to do a taste test on them!


Chilli bean paste is a Chinese store cupboard essential. A mixture of chilli and bean (broad bean or soy bean) that’s been fermented together to give a deep complex umami flavour. It’s used in stir-fries, braises, hot-pots or anytime you want that addictive chilli hit. Particularly in Sichuan cookery where the chilli bean paste produced in Pixian county, Chengdu is considered the best. I’m not a Sichuanese expert so can’t comment on authenticity but I’m comparing them to chilli bean pastes from other parts of China so each of them is assessed on taste alone.

1. Lee Kum Kee – Chilli Bean Sauce 李錦記辣豆瓣醬
Salted chilli pepper, water, fermented soy bean paste, fermented broad bean paste, white sugar, garlic, modified cornstarch, chilli pepper powder, soy bean oil, acid


This is the one most people who cook Chinese food at home will have. LKK are a Hong Kong brand so is the most established in Chinese supermarkets here in the UK and in Western shops. Unusually it’s the hottest of the lot with a sweet garlicky flavour that doesn’t linger long. It doesn’t really have that fermented lactic flavour so it’s not really suitable for Sichuan dishes. The pale colour gives the game away a bit. I can’t imagine big vats of this having been fermented in the open for years at a time. A bit one dimensional, however it is good in stir fried prawns.

2. Juan City Brand 鹃城牌红油豆瓣
Chilli, broad bean, salt, wheat flour, vegetable oil, spices, food additives (potassium sorbate)


This plastic jar has a handy carry handle but unhandily if you don’t read any Chinese then it might be difficult to spot that it’s a Pixian style chilli bean paste. Ok there’s a clue in the company name in small print Sichuan Pixiandouban Co Ltd otherwise the jar I have has no other indication in English, not even ingredients. Which I’m sure is pretty illegal in this country. The importers need to sort this out. However I’m glad they’ve smuggled it in because the taste of this red oil 红油 version is fantastic. Rich red colour, well balanced flavour, mild to medium chilli, not too salty, perfect for twice cooked pork, the oily richness is lip-smacking.

3. Chuan Lao Hui – Hong Yau Dou Ban 川老滙郫县红油豆瓣
Chilli, broad bean, salt, wheat flour, sugar, pickled ginger, pickled garlic, vegetable oil, flavour enhancer


Comes in the same plastic jar with carry handle as the Juan City Brand. I wonder who is copying who? At least this jar has some English stuck on it from the importers Day In. This is also a red oil version of Pixian style chilli bean paste with extras. It has the same deep lip-smacking flavour but, probably due to the pickled ginger and garlic, is really too salty to use in the same quantities as the Juan City Brand. But the less you use the less umami impact you get in your food. I struggled cooking with this until I started using it as a base for hot-pot flavouring lots of chicken stock.

4. Fu Chi – Chilli Bean Sauce 富記辣豆瓣醬
Chilli, soy bean, barley flake, salt, sugar, sesame oil, acidity regulator


Taiwanese brand, the only one not to have any broad beans in but not lacking in deep rich flavour. The mildest of the lot, least salty, sweet round flavour so great to use in larger quantities. My favourite for fish-fragrant aubergines.

5. Sichuan Dan Dan Seasoning Co Ltd – Pi-Xian Fermented Broadbean 丹丹郫县豆瓣
Chilli, broad bean, salt, wheat flour


The purest Pixian chilli bean paste here and it comes in the most darling wicker basket! First saw this on Fuchsia Dunlop’s blog but could never find it anywhere so when I spotted it recently on http://www.souschef.co.uk/ I snapped it up. There are two plastic sachets of the chunky paste in the basket that you have to decant elsewhere. This is not a red oil version like the other two Pixian pastes, it’s quite dry, slightly saltier than Juan City Brand. Even used sparingly it gives a great hit of flavour. I definitely wouldn’t waste this in a hot-pot! Great in braises.


Piña colada sorbet


What could be nicer in weather like this? Tropical flavours, a bit of alcohol and freezey cold on your tongue.

I asked Hannah to pick out a recipe from David Lebovitz’s peerless ice-cream and sorbet manual, The Perfect Scoop, and this is what she went for.

It couldn’t be simpler: a nice large ripe pineapple, 250g sugar, a can of coconut milk (not cream), a decent slug of rum and a squeeze of lime juice. Peel and core the pineapple, cutting off any gnarly bits, chop into chunks and blend with the other ingredients until smooth. I added a sprinkle of salt too, thinking it might sharpen up the flavour a bit. Give it a taste and adjust the rum and line to taste. Finally, churn the mixture in an ice cream maker.

I noticed the Guardian recently posted a buyer’s guide to ice-cream makers. If I may add my two pence, I would definitely recommend getting one with its own refrigeration unit – pricey, perhaps – but the ease of use means you will definitely use it more than with a bowl type. I had a Magimix Gelato but it broke almost immediately, and was a bit rubbish when it was working. Now I have a Cuisinart ICE50BCU, and this is a great buy. It has a decent powered freezer unit, doesn’t require any alcohol to be added between the freezer and the bowl, and has been rock-solid reliability. The only issues are a slightly fiddly lid fitting, which has resulted in me snapping off a bit of plastic, and the noise. It is sufficiently noisy that I churn the ice cream in another room with the door closed. Can honestly say this is one of the best kitchen investments I’ve ever made.



Razor clams. Musings and some recipes.


I was thinking the other day that I don’t eat enough razor clams. They’re plentiful, cheap and delicious. So to address that I bought a kilo of them and scoffed them all on my own! Almost 30 of the buggers for £8, I was in razor clam heaven for an evening. They don’t take much to prepare either, the six dishes that I tried out only took a couple of hours from start to finish. Seafood is fast food.

The first two dishes require no cooking at all. There is an adage that you should do as little as possible to fresh seafood. All seafood loving cooks know this. So what’s simpler than just eating raw clams? But first you have to clean them, razor clams notoriously can be full of sand. Shuck one open and see how much grit you have in there. It will wriggle a little, you’ll see the main fleshy muscle ‘foot’ where most of the sweet meat is surrounded by the stringy abductor muscles that keep the clam shut. At the top is the siphon, at the centre there’s the digestive tract where half-digested food and most of the sand will be hiding. Check this part carefully with your fingers. If it feels soft then you’ve got a clean batch. If not then soak your clams in cold water for an hour, this will help degrit them. Luckily I bought a clean batch this time so I was ready to go!


Shuck open half a dozen clams, take out the prime fleshy muscle ‘foot’ only, butterfly them open, scrape along them to make them curl up like ferns. Dress them with sea salt, lemon, caper, shallot, parsley and olive oil. Eat.


Moving away from the Mediterranean, I hear that the Japanese like to eat raw seafood too. Again using only the fleshy foot, slice it on the bias and return the pieces to the shell on top of finely shredded daikon. Dress with salmon roe, ponzu and very fine Thai basil (I couldn’t get hold of shiso).

Cantonese Steamed Clams


There are two classic variations we have in the Cantonese repertoire; Black Bean Sauce and Ginger Spring Onion. Prepare the clams first by opening them and loosening them from the shell. When cooked most of the clam is good eating, even the half-digested stuff in the sac.
Traditionally the black bean version is stir-fried because the razor clams you get in Asia are quite small. But with bigger clams I like to make an extra rich black bean sauce separately and dress the raw opened clams with this sauce, mild red chillies and steamed for two minutes. The sauce is made by frying garlic, ginger, spring onion and crushed fermented black beans together till aromatic. Add a splash of shaosing then stock, chicken preferably but instant dashi is a good for convenience, simmer for 5 minutes. Season with sugar and soy then thicken with starch. Strain the sauce before using it.
Even simpler is the ginger and spring onion variation. Dress the raw clams with this finely shredded stuff, add salt then steam for two minutes. Add a splash of soy to the clams before sizzling with smoking hot groundnut oil. Finish with some fresh curls of spring onion.

Grilled Clams with Fried Shallot and Sherry Vinegar

Nick was raving about this dish he had at the Quality Chop House in London. Sounded simple enough but I couldn’t quite get my head round the taste combination. So like foodie monkey sees he does… Deep fry the shallot first and season them with a little salt. In a searing hot pan or hotplate place your clams so they open downwards, add a little olive oil, a splash of lemon and clamp a lid on for one minute. Remove the clams right away, slice them and return to the shell, dress with the shallots and a drizzle of the best sherry vinegar you can afford. Any doubts I had about this dish were dismissed with the first bite, it’s a taste sensation. Try it now, I dare say this combination of crispy fried shallot and sherry vinegar would work with a lot of things.

Sautéed Clams with N’duja

I’ve been curing my own n’duja, as you do, that spreadable spicy Calabrian salami. Except I couldn’t find any Calabrian pepper powder so I used the reddest chilli powder I could think of, Korean Gojugaru. The addition of the fish sauce has seen it renamed Kim Doo Ya! But the essence of deep spicy funky pork fat is still there.
Shell your clams first and slice them into chunks. Start frying off the n’duja in a pan, it should melt into a crimson slurry of pork fat, cook it out a little then add garlic and then the clam meat. Cook for one minute, at the end season with lemon juice and smack it with parsley*. That’s it, serve them back in the shell or just as it is with some bread to mop up all those juices.
I think frying some breadcrumbs till crispy in the n’duja first would be a good variation, will try it next time but as it stands clams with n’duja is pretty good eating. Pork and clams eh?

Hopefully you can see that preparing and cooking Razor Clams is actually really simple. Try out these dishes and let me know which is your favourite. I know which are mine.

* yeah I said it.

How to Butcher a Pork Shoulder for BBQ


I eat a lot of pork, maybe it’s because I’m Chinese – we were the first to domesticate pigs you know. The default word for meat in Chinese means pork. So collectively we’ve eaten a LOT of pork. It’s a wonderfully versatile meat, good thing really because you can’t milk a pig or spin soft wool from it’s bristly hair and don’t even try to plough a field with one. No, pigs are bred for eating and when the sun is out there’s no better way of cooking them than low and slow in a smoky barbeque pit. In particular pork shoulder for pulled pork. Let’s be clear about this, pulled pork means smoked barbequed pulled pork. In fact we say that pulled pork that isn’t barbequed should be banned or at least renamed slow-roast pork. Putting a barbeque sauce on mushy overcooked slow-roast roast pork doesn’t make it pulled pork either. You culprits know who you are!

So where do you start with pulled pork? Well with a pork shoulder of course. Now this is where things can get confused and where this guide can help you. Most BBQ blogs about pulled pork will be American and will talk a lot about Boston butts or picnic hams, cryovacing at Trader Joes or the Duroc crosses at Niman Ranch. None of which mean anything to your average UK butcher. They understand what shoulder, neck, hock and hand are. Most BBQ blogs start with a perfectly trimmed Boston butt but this blog will show you how to get to that stage.

In the photo below is a whole shoulder, it’s basically the front part of the pig called the front primal. Most butchers cut this using the first three spare ribs as a guide. This primal has been taken from the right side of the pig and the head, were it still attached, would be on the left of the photo. At the bottom of the primal you can see that the trotter and hock have been removed, equivalent to removing your arm up to the elbow (yes get over it). The other side has been skinned and a thin layer of fat left on:


You could BBQ this whole of course but much better to take the neck bone off along with the ribs so the spice rub and smoke will penetrate the flesh. Follow the bone around with a thin boning knife and the whole lot should come away easily in one piece. In this next photo you’ll see that I’ve done this and I’ve also separated the top section to show you what British butchers call the neck. If you are BBQing you should not separate it like this, keep it whole, this is for demonstration only:


Butchers like to sell you neck, it’s a common cut. When cured like bacon it’s called collar bacon. Cantonese cooks like it because we make Char Siu from it. It’s a perfectly acceptable cut for pulled pork but it’s a bit small and the loin end tends to dry out a little. What’s the loin end? Follow the neck back down the spine and the next section you’ll get to is the loin where you get the standard pork chop. So this end of the neck will tend to dryness because there’s less inter muscular fat and no connective tissue and it’s this stuff that makes pork shoulder so juicy and well suited to low and slow cooking. When a British butcher has separated the neck out the rest is usually called the shoulder, it’s often boned and rolled and sold as a roasting joint. This is fine for pulled pork too. Just get them to skin it for you first.

Below is a close-up of the neck, where I’m pinching is what competition BBQers call the money muscle. We like to separate this slightly and serve it sliced. This muscle stays really juicy and properly cooked melts in the mouth. A good way to demonstrate to BBQ judges that you know what you’re doing:


Ok now this first shoulder I’ve been demonstrating on is not ideal for BBQ because I’ve separated the neck too much. Good thing it’s being used for carnitas! So here’s another shoulder, this is what’s known as the Boston butt in the US. This is the basically the upper half of the shoulder primal and twice as big as the neck. To get to this piece I’ve sawn straight across the front primal in half through the base of the shoulder blade. The top of the shoulder blade should still be buried in the Boston butt. You can bone it out but I like to leave it in because when it comes away clean after smoking you know your pork is perfectly cooked. The top of the pig is on the right of this photo, you can see that I’ve separated the money muscle out competition style but you don’t need to do this at home.


The Boston butt or upper shoulder is the ideal cut for pulled pork as it’s big enough to stand up to a long slow smoke. The ratio of bark to juicy meat will be perfect. So now you know what you need, go forth and ask for it with confidence at your nearest quality butcher!

Cooking a Fat Steak at Home


There is the most transcendent joy in eating a beautifully cooked steak at home. Simply cooked, with a crusty charred outside and juicy pink inside. The added satisfaction that it’s cost one quarter what you’d pay in a high-end steakhouse. All you need is good beef to begin with and the rest is obvious isn’t it? Well no, at least I don’t think so because if it was then everyone would be eating top quality steak at home regularly and I don’t think they are. Not nearly as regularly as they should be. So here’s a guide to cooking and eating the best steak possible at home.

The Beef
When I talk about steak I mean a fat steak at least 4cm thick. A forerib on the bone (the French would call a Cote de Boeuf), a wing rib, sirloin on the bone or a T-bone steak. The T-bone (or Porterhouse) steak is the one made famous by New York steakhouses such as Peter Luger where a steak for 2 can cost up to $100. It’s supposedly the best steak in NY and by extension the world, or at least that’s what NYers would like you to think. Peter Luger has first choice of the USDA Prime beef that comes into the city so eating there is truly a pinnacle of steak eating experiences. The steak there is wonderful; soft, juicy and buttery unlike anything us Brits can produce. But there is a deep dogma in the USDA grading system that means beef is graded purely by the amount of fat marbling apparent in the meat (like in Japan). This has led to decades of breeding animals that react better to the hormones fed to fatten them and to the copious amounts of grain used to finish the cattle in the weeks prior to slaughter. This consistently gives fatty marbled meat that is so visually appealing and tender but has ultimately led to the most important aspect being overlooked, beefy flavour.

In the UK we’re unbeholden to grading systems and rely on our senses to judge whether a cut of beef is top quality. I have my favourite cuts of meats; forerib and T-bone. What I look for is properly dry-aged meat at least 4 weeks. The dry-ageing not only improves the flavour of the meat but tenderises too. To my mind it makes all the difference. Good marbling is nice but not as important as breeding and feeding. What do I mean by that? Well take a look at the 6 week dry-aged grass-fed forerib of Dexter beef in these photos. It just screams BEEFY! You will never find this in a supermarket or ordinary high street butcher, that is why specialists like Berkswell Traditional Farmstead Meats and Aubrey Allen are so important.

The Cooking
Everyone knows how to cook steak, right? Put it on bbq and let the flames lick it till it’s done. Or stick it in a screaming hot pan to sear the outside and leave the inside pink. Well you could do that with a thin steak but with a really thick one you might get dodgy results. The outside might be too burnt before the inside is perfectly medium rare or you overcompensate and cook it too slowly and get a grey overdone steak. My favourite way of cooking a steak indoors is the Ducasse method. Which has never failed to produce a great crusty steak with the perfect pink centre. I even prefer it to chargrilling which sounds crazy because surely there’s nothing better than the chargrilled taste of beef fat atomising onto hot coals then permeating back into the meat? Let me explain the method to you then, named after legendary French chef Alain Ducasse:
– Cook your steak on low to medium heat in clarified butter on one side for ten minutes.
– Flip and cook it on the other side for another ten minutes. All while basting with the clarified butter.
– Let it rest for another 10 minutes before carving into thick slices. Dress the meat with the beefy butter left in the pan. That’s it!


It feels counter-intuitive cooking a steak for so long but provided it’s thick enough you will get the most awesome buttery crust that’s packed with umami-rich Maillard compounds. Let’s not forget where most butter comes from, no wonder it has such a wonderful affinity with beef. If you were so inclined you could even add a sprig of rosemary and a couple whole cloves of garlic to the pan. Once you tasted this simple way of cooking steak you will always go back to it. A point to note, if there a fat cap on your steak then gently render that first for 5 minutes. If you like your steak rarer then cook it straight from the fridge. If you like it more well-done then I can’t help you at all…

Honestly, I think this method produces a better tasting steak than in any steakhouse restaurant. The high-end places use Josper or Inka grills and make a selling point of these special chargrills. But really I just want someone to stand over a pan basting my steak for 20 minutes! There’s not a steak restaurant in the world that will do that so that’s why I like to cook steak at home. The result is clear:


When do you season a steak, just before hitting the pan? Ten minutes before? How about ten hours before? I favour the last, the first is acceptable but never ten minutes before. The following three photos shows why:

The first shows the steak freshly sprinkled with salt, when this hits the pan a nice salty crust will form but the meat inside is not really seasoned.

The steak after ten minutes, the salt has drawn out the water from the meat and it’s pooled onto the surface. When this meets the pan the meat will tend to stew preventing the formation of the nice flavoursome crust. The meat is not seasoned and it’s lost a lot of moisture, bad news all round.

After a few hours the salty water has been drawn back into the meat seasoning it from within. The surface is dry so there’s nothing to stop a great crust from forming.

So it’s clear, it’s best to season on both sides a few hours beforehand. Or if you’re in a rush season on one side just before frying that side and season again just before flipping. Never ever do anything in between.

Sesame Miso Sauce
Ketchup, bernaise, pepper, chimichurri? There are a lot of options when it comes to saucing. But here’s a recipe for a Japanese style steak sauce that might make you forget all those others. I retro-engineered it from one I had in a steak restaurant in Fukuoka. It should be mixed with freshly ground toasted sesame before dipping your meat into it. In the restaurant we each had a small bowl with grooves etched into it called a suribachi. The sesame seeds are ground in this before the sauce is added. The combination of the sweet deeply savoury and deep nuttiness of the sesame is simply sublime (it’s also great with pork):

200ml ichiban dashi made from katsuobushi and kombu
100g brown miso
120g mirin
75g sugar
50g rice wine vinegar
Simmer the above for 15 minutes then add a teaspoon of finely grated ginger and simmer for another 5 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in one tablespoon of yuzu juice (or a mixture of lime and Seville orange). The sauce will keep for a while in the fridge.


Fenky Janes


Wah gwan bredren?! Everyone loves Caribbean food right? Curry goat, jerk chicken, rice and peas, saltfish and ackee, fried fish, festivals, curry patties. The canon of West Indian food is like comfort food for spice lovers. But I had big issues with curry patties though, for some reason the bright yellow patties from the likes of Island Delight never cut it with me. They were well rarted! The pastry is crumbly and dry and the filling is like some kinda slop, give me a Ginsters any day.

Fenky Janes Caribbean Patties are a local treasure. Find them in discerning West Indian outlets or better still get them from the small factory unit in Hockley. Buy them by the dozen because they freeze really well and you can bake them from frozen. The flaky pastry is perfection and all the fillings are great but my fave is the Ackee & Saltfish. Quite simply you have not eaten a curry pattie until you have tried one of these. They are proppa!

(Some people say that Russells in Lozells make the best patties but not to start a turf war or anything, them people are damnfool)

Fenky Janes
Unit 6, Park Trading Estate, Birmingham B18 5HB
0121 507 0660

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

Berkswell Traditional Farmstead Meats

On a back lane (literally) somewhere between Solihull and Coventry in the Warwickshire countryside is our favourite butcher shop; Berkswell Traditional Farmstead Meats. Or simply Berkswell. You drive down the short gravel path to what can only be described as a hut with some other out-buildings. In that unprepossessing hut Phil Tuckey and his son Richard work their socks off to sell the best meat from farmers across the region and beyond. Phil has a deep passion for proper meat, that’s why he champions meat from rare-breed or heritage breed animals. Beef from Dexter and White Park cows. Pork from Berkshire and Tamworth pigs. Mutton from far away North Ronaldsay in the northernmost tip of Orkney Islands. These old British breeds are slower growing than the commercial mass produced meat you find in most butchers and supermarkets. They’re also generally smaller and lower yielding so it’s only really artisan butchers like Phil who deal in these meats. But once you’ve tasted a sweet Tamworth pork chop then there’s no going back to that flaccid Tesco offering.

The difference between the pork that the supermarket/high street butchers have been fobbing off on us for so many years and what Berkswell offer is striking. See the pork chops in the photos below? The first set are from a Berkshire pig, the fat is almost 4cm thick on it! When was the last time you saw anything like that on a supermarket chop? That’s because these pigs have been grown slowly and allowed to get as fat as possible before slaughter. Closer to a year old than the few hormone boosted months of that other pork. On a properly fattened pig there should be slight marbling of intramuscular fat that makes every morsel succulent and delicious.

But it’s not only pork. Properly dry-aged beef is a speciality of Berkswell. The 60 day aged Dexter t-bone I’ve had for my tea tonight could not be bettered by any steakhouse in the land. Dexters are getting more and more popular, they’re small but easy to grow and produce very high quality meat. Hereford and Longhorn beef is more the staple of the shop but sometimes Phil will have something very special like a White Park carcass. When they come in you can be sure that I’m not too far away.

So please get yourself over there and support them. There’s no one else doing what they do in the area. Sure you have Aubrey Allen in Leamington, their beef and lamb is consistently excellent but don’t have the variety of breeds and personal service of Berkswell. They’re a small business in what is still a very niche market in this part of the country so need all the custom they can get as their location receives no footfall at all.

Being a small business I always call ahead to ask what they have in stock. So make sure you do that too to avoid disappointment (01676 522409). Their address is:
The Farm Shop/Larges Farm/Back Lane, Coventry CV7 7LD

Here’s a gallery of meat from Berkswell;

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

How to smoke an eel

Blimey, 30 quid a kilo that’s how much silver eels are nowadays. Around 8 months ago they were 22 quid, and I thought then that they were dear. So this maybe the last time I get to prepare and cook them before they price themselves out of my reach. Or before they become extinct. Nick and I smoke a lot of things on this blog, from ice cream to brisket, there are a lot of food that’s enhanced by the magic of wood smoke. In particular oily fish are great for smoking. There’s something about the complex flavours of smoke that’s amplified by the oiliness of fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and of course the oiliest of them all, eel. If you’ve never eaten smoked eel then it’s hard to describe how rich and oily it really is, a little goes a long way. If, like me, you think the taste of smoked eel is astounding then you really need to try one hot out of the smoker. It has to be the greatest smoked food ever, EVER [*]!

So why am I not eating this amazing food every day? Well aside from the price, anyone who has ever handled live eels knows they are horrible to prepare. First thing that is obvious is their snakelike appearance, they wriggle and thrash a lot, produce a lot of sticky slime and due to their many vertebrae are really difficult to kill. A dead eel will still twitch and judder long after any sensible animal has, literally, given up the ghost. This enduring quality is seen as virile in many cultures and that’s why, coupled with their deliciousness, they’re prized as food – you are what you eat. But it is for those reasons that I really don’t like handling them, I’ll only pluck up the courage to do it a couple times a year. This time you have the pleasure of accompanying me in this step by step guide in how to smoke an eel.

Step 1 – Buy and kill

Get your fishmonger to choose the most lively eels, 1 kilo in size is just right. Any smaller and the yield is poor, much bigger and they’re difficult to handle in a normal kitchen. I get mine from Pearce’s in the Indoor Market, they won’t kill them for you but if your fishmonger does then get them to do it and clean them too, making sure they leave the head on. Some people just go for it, whack them over the head and gut them whilst they’re still thrashing but I like to handle them as little as possible. So in a suitably sized pot with a lid scatter three or four big handfuls of coarse salt all over the bottom and pour in a little water to make a grainy slush. Tip the eels into the pot and clamp the lid down tight. Leave for an hour, the eels will thrash around for a while but the salt will eventually kill them and help to deslime. You can tell they’re dead when the eyes go blank, they usually go belly up too.

Step 2 – Clean and Gut

Remove the eels and rinse them under plenty of cold running water. A lot of the slime will be left in the pot but there will still be some on the eel. You have a choice here, you can rub this off with some more coarse salt or scrape it off with a sharp sturdy knife. It’s a messy job either way. When the eel has been fully deslimed, gut it from it’s anal vent to it’s jaw and remove all it’s innards making sure to clean the bloodline. Most other fish are quite easy to gut but eel guts are particularly tenacious, you may need sturdy fish tweezers or pliers to make a really clean job of it. Most importantly when gutting eels you need slice a couple of inches towards the tail to get the kidney out. The tip of my knife in the last photo is where the anal vent was located, you can see how far to cut in that direction.

Step 3 – Salt and Dry

For every kilo of eel rub 50g of salt into the cavity and all over the outside. Place covered in the fridge overnight, preferably 24 hours, redistributing the salty brine at least once in that time. The next day rinse the eels off and dry them quickly with a clean cloth inside and out. Place the eels on a rack uncovered in the fridge overnight for a sticky pellicle to form on the skin and in the cavity. A pellicle allows smoke to adhere better to food so make sure that the eel is as exposed as possible while it’s in the fridge, that’s why a rack is useful. The resting in the fridge also helps to redistribute the saltiness throughout the eel.

Step 4 – Smoke

You’re ready to smoke your eel. Prepare your hot smoker for a 80-90C burn for up to 90 minutes. It’s very important that you don’t smoke them too hot or they will split and all the oil will burst out. If you’re using a horizontal smoker, lay the eels carefully belly up, you may need a small skewer to stop the eels from turning over. More commonly eels are smoked vertically, tie some string or twine around the throat just below the side fins and use this to hang them head up. If you don’t do this and simply insert a hook straight into the jaw then as the eel cooks it softens and will fall off the hook – a complete disaster! I like to use oak chips, it’s a classic flavour with fish, robust and sweet but really you can use any smoking wood. Check your eels after an hour, they should be nicely smoked, leave for up to half an hour longer if you’ve got particularly fat ones.

For posterity, a 987g eel at the market weighed 751g after smoking and produced 482g of pure meat. Enjoy, it’s worth it.

[*] Yes really, above smoked ribs, chicken, sausage, salmon, pastrami etc. The only thing that comes close is Nick’s Wagyu Brisket burnt ends.