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;

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.

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:


SHELLFISH
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.

FISH
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.

MEAT
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.
Enochs
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.

GROCERIES
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?

OTHER
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.


WHOLESALE MARKET
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.

An Ode to the Reuben Sandwich

What’s your favourite sandwich? It’s the eternal question with an infinite number of answers. If you can eat it then you can put it atop or between pieces of bread. A sandwich can be anything your heart desires; a Bánh mì bursting with savoury pork and fresh coriander in a crisp light airy Vietnamese baguette, a beef burger crusty on the outside but pink in the middle with it’s juices soaking into a toasted light brioche bun, or for me the mighty Reuben Sandwich. That combination of corned or pastrami beef, melted cheese, sauerkraut, russian or thousand island dressing and rye bread. It’s a combination that’s hard to find in the UK, where are you going to get good corned beef or pastrami from huh? No, the first Reuben sandwich I ever ate was in the near legendary Katz’s Deli on East Houston St in New York City. Giant slabs of the softest juiciest pastrami topped with sauerkraut and melted Swiss cheese. The bread is a side note just there to fool you that it is a sandwich, honest! These are the mythological sky-high NY deli-style sandwiches that your friends have told you about in their holiday stories. Their expressions become manic as they describe to you the heft and wonder of these beasts.

A pastrami Reuben from katz’s

At Katz’s the server slices the freshly steamed pastrami thickly in front of you before laying on a piece of rye with sauerkraut, russian dressing and swiss cheese. He microwaves it to make sure the cheese is nice and melty before topping it off with another slice of rye smeared with mustard. There’s no doubt here that the pastrami is the star of the show. The bread is there to keep your fingers clean initially but at the end of the sandwich you’re just shovelling slabs of savoury cured beef into your gob with careless abandon. That’s why napkins were invented.

So coming back to Blighty after that first trip to New York I just had to try and smoke my own pastrami. It’s quite a straightforward process really, buy brisket, brine it, smoke it, steam it. But achieving the level of pastrami excellence that you find at Katz’s is not simple at all. The biggest barrier is the meat, you just can’t get the heavily marbled stuff here unless you really look for it. An epic grail quest that Nick has been on and returned triumphant! Myself? After a number of less than satisfying attempts at smoking brisket I gave up trying to recreate that Katz’s sandwich though the yearning for it never left me.

When Mishkin’s in Covent Garden opened to rave reviews I couldn’t help noticing that they had Reuben on their menu too. It’s very different to the Katz’s version as you can see.

A Mishkins’s Reuben Sandwich

This one is much slimmer, the pastrami has been sliced thinly and the whole lot looks to have been put in a panini press. But the revelation is that I actually enjoyed this more than Katz’s version. Mishkin’s Reuben is a grilled cheese sandwich, all the component parts are in balance and fused together. Although the thinly sliced pastrami looked less impressive it still tasted wonderful, every bite had a little bread, sauerkraut, cheese, dressing and a hint of caraway seed. It was just a completely different eating experience to the mile-high sandwich at Katz’s. I knew that I had to try and recreate this. Luckily a Reuben topic cropped up on egullet at around the same. Apparently to real Reuben aficionados the mile-high offerings are abominations, Reuben purists insist that it should be a thin grilled cheese sandwich made with corned beef not pastrami. Well, I wouldn’t call myself a purist but I’m certainly a grilled Reuben convert and so with a freezer full of beef cheeks I decided to make pastrami with them so I could feed my craving. Why have corned beef when you can make pastrami with it?

Here’s my brine recipe, heat all the ingredients together so that the salt is dissolved. When the brine has cooled put 4kg of trimmed beef cheeks in it and fridge it for 3 days:

7 litres Water
780g Salt
175g Sugar
44g Pink Salt (#1 cure)
4 Cloves Garlic minced, 6 pieces Mace , 15g Coriander Seeds, 20g Whole Black Peppercorns, 6 Fresh Bay Leaves, 1 tsp Ground Ginger, 1 Cinnamon Stick, 6 Cloves, 1 Star Anise

After 3 days rinse and dry the cheeks. Grind equal quantities of black peppercorns and coriander seeds enough to cover the cheeks evenly. Let the cheeks rest uncovered on a rack overnight for a pellicle to form, this will help the smoke to adhere to the meat. Set up your smoker and hot smoke the cheeks at around 100C for 3 hours. I like quite a heavy smoking as I think beef can take it. Also, a heavy smoke is preferable because after 3 hours the cheeks are wrapped in several layers of foil and steamed in a 130C oven till they are tender, test it after 3 hours – a knife should slip straight in.

Beef Cheek Pastrami

The cheeks are a lot easier to slice thinly when it’s cool and you want to slice them as thinly as possible for the perfect Reuben sandwich. But not only that you have to squeeze dry your sauerkraut first before gently frying in a dry pan with some caraway seeds. This will cook out the sauerkraut, if you use it uncooked then it can be wet and stringy. You are now ready to make your Reuben sandwich.

Generously butter the outside of your bread before assembling, preferably rye but sourdough is a great alternative. Lay the pastrami on first then the sauerkraut, Russian dressing next and finally the Swiss cheese. Remember balance is the key, no one component should overpower the other, though I will forgive you if you lay the pastrami on just a little thicker. You are only human after all. Griddle (grill) the whole lot in a frying pan pressing it down till it’s all crispy and the cheese and pastrami is hot and melted together.

My Reuben Sandwich

Beef cheeks make a lot of sense for the home cook, they’re easy to handle and portion. Half a cheek is usually enough for one sandwich. But above all else beef cheeks give an extra sticky juicy quality to the sandwich giving it another dimension of awesomeness. I’m proud to say that it’s the best Reuben I’ve ever eaten and it’s my perfect sandwich.

A Guide to Buying Indian Mangoes

Just like a child waiting for Christmas (so I’ve been told), the anticipation builds up months prior to the season of sweetness and joy. I’m talking about Mango season of course, which I love above all other foodie times of the year. You can keep your asparagus, wild garlic, mushroom and Seville orange seasons, there’s only one food item that has me actually drooling at the thought of eating them. Yeah, but, you can get mangoes all year round, like I’ve seen them in Waitrose you may say. Quite frankly I don’t count those green-red Kent varieties from Israel/Cuba/Brazil/Kenya/etc as mangoes, they’re monstrosities. If they’re not from Asia then they just don’t cut it. No, in particular I mean Indian mangoes, the most famous of all being the divine Alphonso. If you’ve never eaten a ripe Alphonso (or Alfonso) at the peak of the season then you’ve never eaten perfection. Nothing can really describe the heady perfume and the juicy sweetness of it. No wonder it’s called the King of Fruit. But it’s not only Alphonso you should seek out, for every King has his Queen, and in the case of Indian Mangoes it’s the most beautiful Kesar. Then there’s Rajpuri mangoes and the most amazingly sweet Badami too.

The photo below shows from left to right; Badami, Alphonso and Kesar. The Badami is much larger and flatter then the other two. Alphonso is usually the smallest. Kesar more elongated with a very distinctive beak:

Three more Kesar mangoes, see how beautiful they are? Gorgeous blushing from the Queen on the right, you can see the profile of her beak:

A Badami alongside an Alphonso, the flesh of the Badami is much paler and firmer than the bright orange of the Alphonso:

This season started on Wednesday for me when I bought my first box of Alphonso and Badami from the usually trustworthy Sujal of Mumbai. At least that’s what they were labelled as, I only gave them a quick inspection at the market to check for rottenness. But upon closer examination at home they were all Badami! Looks like they’re trying to pass them off as their more illustrious little brother. Which actually I didn’t mind because the Badami last season were a lot better quality. That’s one reason for writing this guide so that you can tell them apart. Another is that I love Indian mangoes, like the fruit themselves the season is so short and intense, you must make the most of them!

Cantonese Lobster Noodle 龍蝦麵

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Lobster Noodle is one of the classic Cantonese celebration dishes and there’s much to celebrate this week in smokeandumamiland! The deep red colour of lobster is considered lucky and they also symbolise wealth. Though the latter maybe because a decent Cantonese restaurant will charge you about £40. That’s why I like cooking it at home. I can buy a 1.5lb lobster from the market for about £12 and feel slightly wealthier through some pseudo-thriftiness. The choice of noodles is up to you; crispy or soft, short or long, narrow or wide. They are usually egg noodles though, I don’t think I’ve ever come across rice noodles used in this dish. At home it’s easier to cook soft noodles, long Yee Mein are good and symbolise longevity (I told you this was a classic celebration dish!). But I find that a lot of Chinese egg noodles are dyed yellow and aren’t all that great to eat. Instead I like to use Italian egg pasta, the De Cecco brand Taglierini all’uovo is particularly suited to this dish.

Ingredients – Serves 2

Lobster – 1.5lb
Taglierini – 250g
Shang Tang – 500ml*
Ginger – 7 thin slices
Garlic – 4 cloves halved lengthwise
Spring Onion – 5 medium stalks cut into 5cm batons, keep the green and white parts separate
Shaosing Wine – 50ml
Soy Sauce
Cornflour (cornstarch)
Oil for deep frying
Oyster Sauce (optional)

*Shang Tang is superior stock used in fine Cantonese dishes. I make a cheat’s version with pressure-cooked chicken wings, pork and Iberico ham bones. Chinese chicken stock will do.

Dispatching and chopping your Lobster the Cantonese way.
Insert a long thin chopstick or blunt skewer up it’s anal vent all the way up through the body. When the skewer is removed the lobster will release some unwanted by-product that Cantonese cooks believe causes off-flavours. Rinse your lobster under a cold running tap after you’ve done this and place on a sturdy chopping board. Locate the weak point at the top of the shell near the front and chop the head off across the body at a slight angle following the natural seam of the shell (see photo). Cantonese cooks do it this way as we like to present the head whole*. Remove the claws, separate the knuckles and crack the shells slightly. Now you can split the lobster in half lengthwise. Discard the instestinal tract but reserve any tomally or roe in a separate bowl. Chop each half of tail into three chunks. You are now left with two body halves with the legs attached. In total you will have 15 pieces of lobster; 1 head, 2 body, 6 tail, 2 claw & 4 knuckle.

*this is how you know a proper Cantonese cook has prepared this dish. Most cooks will have just split the whole lobster in half.

That’s the difficult part done, the rest is simple:
1. Sprinkle the cut sides of lobster with a little cornflour then deep fry in hot oil till the shell has just turned red. Do this in batches, the claws will take longer. Drain and set aside.
2. Clean out your wok, add a little fresh oil and gently fry the garlic, ginger and onion whites to release the flavour. Add the lobster, crank the heat up, sizzle the wine around the side of the wok then add the stock and the reserved lobster innards. Stir-fry everything together for a couple of minutes and season to taste with soy sauce. Add the green onion near the end of cooking. If you’ve used a light stock you may wish to add a little oyster sauce. There should be plenty of sauce, thicken it with some slaked cornflour.
3. During step 2 you can cook your noodles, drain and plate them up ready for the lobster.
4. Pick out the lobster pieces and arrange them on top of the noodles. Pour over the sauce so that everything is coated.
5. Eat and celebrate.

Hainan Chicken Rice 海南雞飯

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The response was immediate: “Chicken Rice!”, when I asked her indoors what she wanted to eat for Valentine’s Day. Simple poached chicken and chicken flavoured rice. Yet as every good cook knows it’s the care in preparing these simple dishes that really sets them apart from other cooks.

So what sets my Chicken Rice apart? Well, only using the best chicken I can find is a good start and years of refinement also helps. If you make chicken rice with a hormone-fed-2-for-£5-special from T*sco then you’re going to get an insipidly bad result. When poaching a chicken it’s important to start with a good one because you’re not adding any roasting Maillard flavours or marinating it with herbs or spices. I’m a fan of the French Label Rouge chicken, they taste fantastic and have a firm toothsome texture. The French know how to breed chicken for flavour above all else. I would love to make Chicken Rice with a Poulet de Bresse one day – the ultimate French chicken. The other thing about the Label Rouge chicken is that they have a big plug of fat in the cavity. Trust the French to know that this is an essential ingredient, it’s a shame I’ve never found this is any chicken processed in the UK. You see, if you’ve ever tried cooking Chicken Rice at home and was disappointed with the rice, the reason is your stock was weak. It’s only one lightly poached chicken after all, unlike in a specialist shop where they are poaching dozens of chicken and producing deeply flavoured stocks. So it’s the chicken fat that helps the home cook to really bring back the flavour of chicken to the rice. The chicken itself should be moist, the meat just cooked through, the thigh bones still rosy pink. In Hong Kong, they poach their chickens so that the leg bones are still bloody inside. So when they chop the legs you can see the bloody bone-marrow spraying over the pearly white flesh.

Here’s my recipe for Chicken Rice, which a Malaysian friend once proclaimed “Luxury Chicken Rice” because of the way I’ve pimped it!

Serves 3-4

For the Chicken
1 Chicken – medium sized about 1.5kg
Ginger – peeled thumb sized lightly bashed
Spring Onion – 3 stalks
Salt

In a pan that is just larger than the chicken, boil enough water to submerge it. Add the ginger, spring onion and salt. Taste the water for saltiness as this will eventually be used to cook the rice. Lower the chicken gently into the boiling water, dipping it several times breast side down so the skin tightens and won’t split during cooking. Lay the chicken breast side up in the pan and bring the water back up to a simmer. Simmer gently for 10 mins covered, turn the heat off and let it finish cooking in the residual heat of the stockpot for another 50 mins. To stop the cooking plunge the bird into iced water for 10 mins, hang the bird upside down for at least an hour, preferably more, at room temperature for the flavour to fully develop.

For the rice
40g Chicken Fat
150g Shallot, finely sliced
1 Garlic Clove Large, finely minced
450g Jasmine Rice, rinsed
4 Dried Scallops (conpoy) soaked till soft
2 Pandan Leaves, shredded and tied into a knot
1/2 Sheet Kombu

Whilst the bird is hanging, render the chicken fat and slowly fry the shallots for 15 mins till they are brown, add the garlic and cook briefly before adding the washed rice. Toast the rice in the aromatics before adding the chicken stock and the water used to soak the scallops. Shred the scallops into the rice, add the pandan and kombu and cook the rice in your usual way (I transfer the whole lot to a rice cooker).

Once the rice is cooked serve the chicken neatly chopped up in the Chinese way and devour with the non-optional ginger-scallion oil and the optional sweet chilli sauce as accompaniments.

Ginger-Scallion Oil
70g Ginger, finely grated
35g Spring Onion (Scallions), equal amount of white and green parts finely chopped
15g Coriander, mostly stalks finely minced
1 tsp Salt
75ml Groundnut or Vegetable Oil
Soy Sauce

Combine the ginger, spring onion, coriander and salt in a heat proof bowl. Heat the oil in a small pan till it is smoking. Make little wells with a chopstick in your ginger mixture and pour the smoking oil all over it. It will sizzle, lots, the little wells will ensure the hot oil reaches all the nooks. The mixture should be a runny oily paste consistency. If it isn’t sizzle some more oil into it. Finish with a merest dash of soy sauce to round the flavour off.

Sweet Chilli Sauce
8 Large Red Chillis – medium hot
3 Cloves garlic
30g Sugar
Fish Sauce
Squeeze of Lime

Blitz the chillis and garlic with enough water to make a loose mixture. Pour it into a small pan, add the sugar and simmer gently for 20 mins. Add more water if getting too thick, add more sugar to taste. Take off the heat and add fish sauce and lime to taste. Let it cool, this tastes better the next day.

Birmingham Chinatown Roast Meat Battle!

Soul Food is the cooking of the poor American South, the food of slaves, with its roots in Africa and its branches now covering many US regional cuisines. Collard greens, cornbread, gumbo, jambalaya you get the picture. Now when I say Cantonese roast meat is Soul Food I don’t mean it in that respect. What I mean is the other definition; simple food that represents the very heart of your food culture. Food that above all others you keep turning back to because it’s food that you know will satisfy your soul.  三 燒 飯 Triple Roast Rice – a plate of sweet slightly charred char-siu, crispy tender pork belly, a succulent roasted duck leg sitting atop perfectly steamed Jasmine rice. A few greens, a drizzle of sweet gravy, some spiky chilli oil to dip your meat into and a cup of tea – that is the food of my soul. Huh, get down!

Most Cantonese people would never roast their own meat as a) they don’t have ovens and b) it will never be as good as they can buy it. Now I do have an oven and I’ve practised enough that actually yes my roast meat is as nice as they make in Chinatown. But I can only roast one duck at a time so if I want a Triple Roast Rice then I do what every Cantonese person does and visit the specialist roast meat shop to get my fix. For years, I’ve been going to Peach Garden in the little alley behind China Court restaurant. They know me, I know them, their duck is always good, their pork can be temperamental. The place itself is a little cramped and grubby but authentic in that Hong Kong back street way. But I thought it was time to test my loyalty, I was going to be in Chinatown for three lunches in a row. I will ask for a Triple Roast Rice at The Village Café, Peach Garden and New Sum Ye and see who wins my mini Birmingham Chinatown Roast Meat Battle!

The Village Café, 6 Ladywell walk

First up is The Village Café on the main road next to Malaysian Delight.  Years ago these two units used to be one shop, the only roast meat joint in the whole city, run by the rudest, angriest old Chinese lady you would ever likely to meet. So there’s an attachment to this location, a link to a time before the Arcadian centre opposite was built, when Chinatown consisted of just the Chung Ying restaurant and here. In all three cafés I asked for the triple roast rice with a duck leg and was I pleasantly surprised that they didn’t charge extra for the leg here. You see if you don’t specifically ask for a leg or a breast then you may get a very bony portion of duck. As the legs are the most popular cut, most places will charge extra if you ask for it.  In all three places the duck leg is very good, succulent, tender, slipping off the bone easily. The fat fully rendered, the skin thin and melting. The Char Siu (bbq roast pork) is also good here, the balance of sweet and savoury just right with a proper charred glaze covering the moist meat and unusually a little of the glaze was smeared on the meat after chopping. Siu Yuk (crispy belly pork) was sadly very tired and tough, the crackling not at all crispy. The rice I found to be a little claggy and the Chinese leaf hiding under the meat was but a token gesture.  Not enough of the sweet gravy had been poured over the meat..

Char Siu – 4 (out of 5), Siu Yuk – 2.5, Duck – 4.5, Other – 3,

Overall 14 (out of 20)    Cost £6.50 (free tea)

Peach Garden, Unit 3 Wrottesley Street

In the grubby little alley behind the China Court building there is a hairdresser and three cafés. It would be the dankest smelliest alley in the whole city if it wasn’t for the perfume of roasting duck and pork that lingers in the air. Peach Garden hang their wares in the window, like in Amsterdam you can see the flesh before you buy it, glistening carcasses of roasted duck and sides of belly pork dripping their juicy goodness onto trays of offal. It is somewhat of an institution as it’s the only place I know where you can order a whole roasted suckling pig for celebrations. In that respect it’s held dear by the Chinese community in Birmingham. I sit near the front and order my usual triple roast and ask for a duck leg which is an extra £1. They chop up the meat neatly and efficiently, lay it on the rice with a generous amount of Chinese leaf. Then shock, horror, they microwave the whole plate. I wonder why they have done this at lunch when the meat should have been freshly roasted, have they always done this? The duck leg survives this treatment the best, it’s still juicy but the crackling on the belly pork is not crispy at all now. I’ve always found the char siu to be poor here and this portion lived up to expectation. Scrappy pieces of over-dyed meat with not much flavour. Nice sauce and the rice was good. They’ve had another bad pork day though.

Char Siu – 2, Siu Yuk – 2.5, Duck – 4, Other – 4,

Overall 12.5    Cost £7.30 (free tea)

New Sum Ye, B105 Arcadian Centre

The New Sum Ye has had another refurbishment, the signage juts out now in parabolic tribute. The interior has been jiggled, there’s a lot more room and the counter position makes more sense. Like Peach Garden, the burnished duck breasts press against the glass luring you inside. I don’t come here often, maybe once every couple of years, I’ve been pretty faithful to Peach Garden. But everytime I walk past I’ve been tempted, the meat looks delectable. It always looks busy which is a good thing as holding meat at these temperatures dries them out. I order the holy trinity, again the duck leg adds £1 to the price of the dish. This is the most generous portion of the three, each meat has been chopped with great skill and care. They’ve been laid at a jaunty angle across the biggest mound of perfectly cooked rice. Draped across the meat are two small heads of pak choy and everything is well dressed with the sweet savoury gravy. The char siu is wonderfully tender with a great sweetly charred exterior, it’s meaty too, they’ve roasted larger strips of pork neck. The duck leg is in top condition and slips down easily. But above all else it’s the Siu Yuk that is the revelation. It’s perfect, the crackling is so thin and crispy, the meat solid but moist. The chilli oil here is different from the other two places. It has a deeper flavour from the dried shrimp. I wolf this dish down.

Char Siu – 4, Siu Yuk – 5, Duck – 4.5, Other – 4.5,

Overall 18    Cost  £7.30 (tea is £1)

Verdict

So it’s pretty obvious which one wins my BCRMB – New Sum Ye. I’ve been back half a dozen times, the excellent quality is consistent, the place is clean and spacious. The Peach Garden could tempt me back with their special Pi-Pa roast duck if I’m in the mood but after thinking for so many years that it was the best, I have now seen the light – New Sum Ye has saved my soul.

New Sum Ye on Urbanspoon

Peach Garden on Urbanspoon

San Francisco Cookoff: Carnitas

“Why don’t you write about those Carnitas on my blog, I made an account for you” said mr smokeandumami enthusiastically.  But I wasn’t sure, this blog is like a diary isn’t it?  If not a diary then it’s Nick’s personal expression of his love of good food.  So at best I’m going to feel I’m doodling over another man’s thoughts.  At worse it could be even more personal, it could feel like playing with another man’s todger!  I know in these enlightened times that that’s kinda ok, but you know I’ve just never been that way inclined.  After a few days though I’ve warmed to the idea, maybe it’s more like he’s thrown me the keys to his Ferrari and I’d be foolish to turn down the opportunity to give it a blast around the block.  So here goes, wheelspinning away on the first proper collaborative contribution to smokeandumami.

Last Saturday there was Popstrami reunion round at Nick and Hannah’s where we had a nice casual dinner with a San Francisco cookoff theme.  This had been brewing for a few months and originally the main course was supposed to be Mission-district Burritos, massive tortillas overfilled with rice, refried beans and meat.  Truly a meal (or two) in itself.  I’ve had these from a Mexican street cart in New York and to be honest, they weren’t that great.  What are great are Carnitas, and as I’d volunteered to do the main then that’s what I’m going to cook!  Carnitas translate to little meats, these are little open tortilla parcels filled with highly spiced shredded pork, a little salsa (pico de gallo usually) and guacamole.  Here’s how I made them the other day, it was enough to feed ten hungry people – about 30 portions.  Although there were only 7 of us!

  • Cut up one whole pork shoulder butt into big chunks and season them liberally with salt.  Whilst the pork is salting, gently toast 3 pasilla, 4 ancho and 8 chipotle chillis in a dry pan till they are soft and malleable.  Don’t overdo them, they shouldn’t be too dry or brittle.  Remove the stalks and seeds and cut the chillis up into small pieces.  Cover with boiling water and let it soak for 15 minutes until the chillis are soft enough to blend into a smooth puree.  Whilst they are blending add 6 fat cloves of garlic and a tablespoon each of cinnamon and cumin.  That’s the mole made.
  • Brown the pork chunks all over in a shallow wide pan so that the meat is in one layer.  Add the mole and enough water to just cover the pork, stir well then stick the whole lot in a 150C oven uncovered for about 3 to 4 hours.  You will need to turn the pork occasionally when the top browns, maybe once an hour.
  • The pork is done when 80% of the liquid has evaporated and the meat is fork tender.  If too much liquid has gone before the meat is tender then simply add some more water.  Remove from the heat and when cool enough shred the pork with your hands.  The mixture should be moist and sloppy, ready for your carnitas!
  • Some people like their meat drier, you can after shredding put the meat back into a hot oven to crisp up but I like mine nice and sloppy!
  • Slap some meat on your tortilla (I prefer corn tortillas), add salsa and guacamole.  Eat and repeat till well stuffed.
Cheers Lap aka Prawncrackers aka Oishinboy

 

 

The World Wakes up to Birmingham’s Food

By now most of the newspapers have picked up on the New York Times’ choice of Birmingham as a “place to visit in 2012”. Generally stories plough the same tired furrow. After covering off the obligatory line of ‘Birmingham!? Really? Yeah, I know I bet you thought it was a shit-hole.‘ will go on to point out the regenerated Bull Ring and Selfridges, mention our three Michelin-starred restaurants, and perhaps the Balti Triangle (it’s got loads of curry restaurants!). Maybe a mention of the canals, of defunct industry and if you are lucky a little dig at the accent too. And Cup-a-Soup. And Tizer.

To many, this is all old news at this point.

So I was very happy to get the opportunity this week to speak to Nick Wyke from the Times and give him my (opinionated) view of the cities food offerings and perhaps help represent a more interesting view of Birmingham’s offerings.

And I was absolutely delighted yesterday when I read his piece that that he’d managed to get so many of my suggestions into the piece. Of course he mentioned the great Turners, Simpsons and Purnells but he also covered:

  • my favourite farmers markets, Harborne (2nd Saturday of the month) and Moseley (4th Saturday of the month), and a few local producers including Lightwood Cheese
  • the two best delis in town, Anderson and Hill and Capeling and Co
  • our burgeoning coffee scene including Urban Coffee Co and Six Eight Kafe
  • the incredible Birmingham Wholesale Market (save our markets!!) – mentioning sea urchins and alphonso mangoes, two seasonal imports available at this fantastic place
  • the Chinese quarter, including the Golden Pond where we like to have dim sum
  • alternative (and superior) options to the Balti Triangle: Lasan and Jyoti’s as well as stalwarts Al Frash and Al Faisals
  • my favourite meal of all: the dripping-cooked fish and chips at the Black Country Museum

I also re-iterated my thoughts that Birmingham has great high-end options and decent cheap eats (mainly Indian and Chinese) but very little in the middle bracket, with the exception of the awesome Carters of Moseley.

So now we have risen above the cliches, I am hoping this article (and this blog) will show the city council that there are other options than reflexively granting permission for new Nando’s, Pizza Express or Cafe Rouge when they sit down to plan.

In the long run, as demonstrated by the interest from the New York Times, this could do a great deal for Birmingham’s tourism industry as well as our own enjoyment of the city.