04 November 2013

Roast brisket

For some reason brisket isn't something we eat much of in the UK, we might cure it and make salt beef, but we rarely roast it. Whereas in America, brisket is basically the (historic) staple of any Jewish celebration.  

Slow roasting it ensures the fat and collagen melt slowly and baste the meat as it cooks.  I'd also suggest asking your butcher to hang your brisket as you might rib before you roast it.  It adds significant depth of flavour to the final dish.

This is the recipe I used at my recent demonstration at JW3.

Serves: 10/12 

Timing: 4.5 hours (4 hours + 0.5 hour resting) 

Ingredients

  • 2.5 / 3kg brisket
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried
  • 2 carrots - peeled & cut into large dice
  • 2 onions - peeled & cut into large dice
  • 1 stick of celery - peeled & cut into large dice

Heat the oven to 165ºC.

Place the carrots, onions and celery into a roasting tray.  It will need to be relatively large to fit the beef, but you want it to fit snugly.

Place the beef on top of the vegetables.

Liberally rub into the beef salt and pepper.  Add more than you think you need.

Make sure the beef is fat-side up i.e. you can see the fat.  When it cooks this allows the beef to be self-basted.

Sprinkle the cloves and the bay on to the beef.

Add a dash of liquid to the dish. This could be water, wine, cider or stock.

Cover tightly in silver foil.

Place in the middle shelf of the oven.

After 4 hours remove from the oven, leave the foil on and allow it to rest for 30 mins.

Once rested, slice against the grain and serve.

31 October 2013

Salt beef, a 7.5% cure

This is not the first time I've written about salt beef but it's only now that I feel I've got a recipe I'm really happy with.  It is a bit more straightforward than my previous attempts so do give it a go.

One word on temperature, I'm cooking at 90ºC because it is between the heat required to melt the collagen (about 80ºC) and where it dries out (over 100ºC).

Serves: 10/12 

Timing: 10 days brine & 4 hours cooking

NB: 7.5% cure refers to the amount of salt, expressed as a percentage of the weight of the water.

1 ml of water weighs 1 gram, 1 litre weighs 1 kg etc.  Therefore 4l (the amount of water required for the brine) weighs 4 kg or 4,000 grams.  7.5% of that is 300g - which is the amount of salt added to the brine. 

Brine

  • 2.5 / 3kg of fresh brisket
  • One large non-reactive, food safe container
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 300g sea salt
  • 12 juniper berries
  • 12 cloves
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried
  • 4l water 

Salt beef

  • 2 carrots - peeled & cut into large dice
  • 2 onions - peeled & cut into large dice
  • 1 stick of celery - peeled & cut into large dice
  • 2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried
  • 1 bunch of thyme
  • 3 cloves of garlic - peeled
  • 12 peppercorns

 

Brining

Place all the brine ingredients in a pot and bring to the boil.

Allow to cool thoroughly - ideally overnight in the fridge.

Place beef in container and weigh down with plate or similar and ensure it is fully submerged.

Add brine - ensure the beef is thoroughly covered.

Leave in cool dark place. i.e. fridge, out house etc for 10 days. 

 

Cooking

Place all the cooking vegetables and herbs into a pot.  Do not use the herbs in the brine.

Take the beef out of the brine and rinse well under running water.  Rub it as you are rinsing to ensure you remove as much brine as possible.  You can discard the brine and all the aromatics.

Add beef to the pot.

Add cold water to cover the beef and place lid on at an angle.

Bring the water up to 90ºC.

Skim regularly to remove scum.

Leave to cook for 4 hours.

Remove from the pot and slice and serve.  If you aren’t carving all the beef at once, return the meat to the water, but remove the pot from the heat.

16 September 2013

I'm cooking brisket & salmon at JW3

I'm doing two cookery demonstrations at JW3, the soon-to-be-opened Jewish community centre in London.

The first event is on 24 October at 8pm, when I'll be showing you a couple of the ways I cook brisket. I'll demonstrate how to turn brisket into salt beef,3 how to brine it, how best to prevent poisoning your family and friends and then cooking the meat itself.  Then, I'll show you that salting and boiling isn't the only thing that can be done with brisket and will demonstrate the wonders of low and slow cooking.  

The second event is on 5 December at 8pm. I'll demonstrate how to cure your own salmon, with two recipes: one in using the middle Eastern spice-mix bharat, the other using a dram or three of Laphroaig. Please don't be put off if you don't like whiskey, Silverbrowess is no fan of drink of kings but is rather keen on this smoky, peaty and sweet cured salmon. 

At both sessions I'll do my best to ensure there is lots of food to taste and recipe hand outs for everyone who attends.

If you want to come to the brisket session book here.  And you can book for the salmon session here.

If you have any queries about either session please feel free to leave a comment below, or on Twitter @silverbrow.

13 May 2013

The Beckford Arms

Initially we weren't supposed to be staying at The Beckford Arms, they didn't have any rooms available when I first inquired and unfortunately a stay at The Lime Wood was on the cards.

Like a super-hero being in the right place at the right time, a tweet from The Beckford, indicated that their new lodges, known as The Splendens Pavilions were now open and there was an introductory offer.  A quick email and call secured the room and ensured I wouldn't be subjected to The Lime Wood's hospitality.

The Splendens lodges are newly built, located on The Fonthill Estate about a 10 minute walk from the pub. There are two adjoining lodges.  Each has its own kitchenette, a couple of swish TVs and most importantly a wood-burning stove, allowing me to light a fire and BE A MAN.  I was also pleased to see I had no mobile service, a rare treat indeed. This was spoiled somewhat by the wifi.  But there was a roll-top bath overlooking the fields to make up for the inconvenience of being able to receive emails.

The pavilions are meant to provide a bit of splendid isolation, away from the vague hubbub of the bar and hotel.  The kitchenettes are there to fulfil your culinary needs and in particular to break the arduous hours of fasting that generally accompanies asleep.  Usually the fridge is stocked with the ingredients for a full english.  Eschewing pig, they offered us smoked salmon. And eggs, yoghurt, bread made in the restaurant, wonderful jams, orange juice, decent coffee, milk and a couple of chocolate bars. It was a big breakfast.

There are a couple of odd touches to the room, first among them being the lack of anywhere to put your clothes away. There was no cupboard or drawers, which meant living out of a suitcase.  It turns out none of the rooms have this basic convenience. The owner reckons guests don't stay long enough and it takes up space.  But still.  I'd also have liked a super king size bed rather than just the king-size.  I am greedy I know.  

As for the the pub, the most striking thing were the sweet staff.  From those behind the bar, only too keen to ply you with their excellent bloody mary (mixing the tomato juice and herbs is the first job of the day for the bar manager) to the waiting staff, nothing was too much effort.  And they didn't give the impression that anything was any effort at all.  Just so long as guests were enjoying themselves.  Many of those guests seemed to be doing what we were, relaxing, unworried by a dress code, eating and drinking too much.

All of this wonderfulness made up for food in the restaurant that could be a bit hit and miss.  The crispy duck egg, dandelion, beetroots, turnips, radishes with wild garlic and walnut pesto read well on the menu, but needed a good salting and peppering.  The pesto rather underwhelmed.  However, fish and chips was at it should be - well battered with nicely steamed, flaky fish.

A surprising hit was the curried Israeli couscous with halloumi.  As someone who regularly looks to the veggie options on the menu, it was good to see something slightly different.  This dish was not too far from kedgeree and similarly comforting.  No problems with seasoning here.  Whitebait were large, lightly fried and served with an aioli that wasn't embarrassed by its garlic heritage.

Overall, it was a great experience and one I would strongly recommend.  The Beckford Arms was everything that Lime Wood was not.  There was hospitality, there was an eagerness to please and serve and there was enormous generosity of spirit.  Which, when I go somewhere for hospitality, like a hotel or restaurant, is what I want.

Google Maps 

The Beckford Arms, Fonthill Gifford, Tisbury, Wiltshire, SP3 6PX, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1747 870385

29 April 2013

Lime Wood

To be clear, this isn't a review of Lime Wood’s rooms or the food in its restaurant. This is a review of its service.  

First some context: A kind offer from the in-laws meant that Silverbrowess and I were going to get a break. As any parent of young kids will empathise, a break means the opportunity to catch-up on sleep. I'd tried The Beckford Arms but they were fully booked.  I tried a few other places and in the end the only one with availability was Lime Wood. It does look beautiful and I was intrigued by the restaurant.

When I inquired about the room, I was told they only had a Forest Suite available at an eye wateringly expensive £495 per night.  I noticed that in the booking confirmation there was no mention that the rate included breakfast. Shurely an error?  When I called to check, they confirmed that breakfast wasn't included and never is on weekends.

That is unjustifiable.  As Nicholas Lander and Danny Meyer both emphasise in their respective books The Art of the Restaurateur and Setting the Table, the hospitality industry is about just that, being hospitable and giving an impression of generosity. Charging breakfast in addition to that sort of room rate is mercenary.

Anyway, desperate to get away and not let the opportunity of fobbing off the Silverbrowlettes to willing grandparents, I acquiesced. Foolishly I convinced myself that it would be worth it in the end.

The hotel asked me if I'd be eating with them on the Friday and Saturday nights. As this was going to be a weekend of sloth, yes I would be. And when would sir like a table. Well, it's a month away so sir doesn't know exactly what time he wants to eat, but don't worry we can sort that out nearer the time. Ah, no we can't sir as the restaurant gets busy.  I'm sure it does, but we're staying with you so surely you can accommodate us. Oh no we can't. *Battered and wearied* Ok fine, we'll have a table for 8pm. Perfect, we'll organise one for as close as possible to 8pm.

I should have paid more attention to that closing line.  I received an email informing me that my tables were booked for 8.15pm and 9.15pm.  Yes, an hour and a quarter after the time I requested. Now thoroughly exasperated I pointed out the small difference in time and through the goodness of their hearts, they were able to change the 9.15pm reservation to one at 7.30pm. Only 45 minutes earlier than requested.  The generosity, the munificence.

I despair of this kind of service. The sheer arrogance to charge such iniquitous prices and make clear you couldn't care less about the customer is staggering.  I know Meyer and Lander were writing about restaurants and restaurateurs rather than hotels, but I think the premise is the same: the quality of the product matters greatly, but the quality of service and hospitality matter much more.  On the basis of my experience, Lime Wood doesn't do hospitality.

Which is why I was delighted to cancel my reservation.  A room became available at The Beckford Arms, where I had a wonderful weekend at a fraction of the price, with fantastic service and good food.  I took particular pleasure whilst at the Beckford to read Marina O'Loughlin's review of her meal at Lime Wood's restaurant. As the review and a subsequent twitter exchange made clear, she also experienced the hotel's own brand of service and hospitality. The idiots even chose to retweet her review. As I said, arrogance.

Lime Wood, Beaulieu Road, Lyndhurst, Hampshire, SO43 7FZ, UK
Tel: +44 (0)23 8028 7177

03 January 2013

Doughnuts (or sufganiyot)

I'm not sure if they're donuts or doughnuts.  'Ugh' sounds ugly but with or without it, do(ugh)nuts and sufganiyot, the Israeli doughnut, are delicious. 

They are however are an extravagence.  It is very rare that you can justify getting some bread, add sugar, deep fry it, squirt in some jam and add more sugar.  So if I'm going to eat them, I want to be sure that they are the very best.  I think I've found the very best but they're a bit of a shlep, the Doughnut Plant is in New York and Roladin, has various outlets around Israel. 

With my favourite doughnuts many miles from London, I was left with little choice this past Chanucah but to bake my own. In an attempt to limit the risk of being disappointed I went straight to Dan Lepard's recipe in Short and Sweet. These are excellent, truly delicious.  Even my duff first batch tasted outstanding.

A couple of words on process.  I deep fried in a saucepan using sunflower oil.  I imagine that a deep fat fryer is ideal, but my method worked fine, once I had a sugar thermometer.  My first go round I started making them before remembering I'd chucked out my old sugar thermometer.  They were burned as a conseuqence.  I then bought a decent thermometer and it made a massive difference. 

Dan advises very long resting periods throughout.  I generally didn't rest it quite as long as he suggested and I'm not sure my specimens were any worse off.  

As ever, make sure to read the recipe fully before you start baking.  This one requires a bit of planning.

Makes 6 doughnuts (I'd seriously recommend simply accepting that 6 is not enough and double up).

  • 100ml warm milk
  • 1tsp fast acting yeast
  • 250g strong white flour
  • 1 medium egg
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 25g melted unsalted butter
  • 3tsp vanilla extract
  • 2tsp glycerine (Dan says its optional, I disagree, I think it's necessary. Gives the doughnuts a beautiful, soft, smooth finish.)
  • 1/2tsp fine salt
  • sunflower oil for kneading and frying
  • warm jam for filling
  • icing sugar and ground cinammon (make sure it's fresh) for dusting

Mix the milk, yeast and 100g of flour and leave covered in a warm place/somewhere without a draft for 1.5hrs.

Whisk the egg and sugar until thick and pale with an electric mixer.  Then beat with the yeast mixture, melted butter, vanilla and glycerine until smooth.  Add the remaining flour and salt and knead it into a sticky dough.

Briefly knead the dough on an oiled work surface.  Return it to the bowl and leave for 1hr.  Knead a couple of times during that period.

Divide the dough into 6 pieces.  Shape into balls and place on an oiled tray, cover and leave for 1hr.

Quarter fill a deep sided saucepan with oil, or your deep fat fryer, and heat to between 180°C/350°F and 190°C/375°F.  This is when that thermometer becomes essential.

Fry the donuts in small batches.  Keep a close eye on them as they brown.  At this temperature, should take 1/1.5mins each side.

Remove from oil and drain on paper.

Make sure the jam is warm.  Using the long nozzle on an icing bag, make a hole in the doughnut and squirt in the jam.  I found I used a lot more jam than I'd originally thought.

Dip in the sugar and cinammon and eat.

In Dan's recipe he says that if you don't dip in the sugar then they can be reheated at a later date and are as though they are fresh out of the oven.  I have to say, I didn't think they were quite that good and had gone a bit soggy.

Anyway, all you want to do is eat them fresh.  The problems of reheating are academic.

28 December 2012

Oslo Court

If British food in the 1980s was so bad, why is Oslo Court still going and remains so popular? 

If you haven't been there don't fool yourself into thinking that this place isn't a representation of what is considered a dark age for food in London.  This is the apotheosis of 80s dining. It's got the menu with over a dozen starters and mains, plus the 'specials' that miraculously are the same every day.  There's the salmon wallpaper, the entrance through a cloakroom and the obsequious staff.  Oh and it's located in a block of flats occupied entirely by alter kakers, on a street that if we're honest, is lucky to be able to call itself St Johns Wood.  Nothing about this place screams success.  There are no burgers, it's not east London, nor is it part of the Soho House group, tight jeans and dodgy moustaches are not de rigeur and neither is ennui.  

And yet, it is a roaring success.  Or at least, it's always busy and everyone comes away raving. I think I've cracked their rather complex formula, so for those not mathematically minded please bear with me:

a + b = c

where a = good ingredients well cooked; b = hospitable service (focused on the customer) and c = a good meal.

So yes you do have to walk into a block of flats and yes it does remind me of grandma's and papa's in Golders Green.  It's a bit like that block of flats in Poirot.  Then there is the entrance via the cloakroom into the Hyacinth Bucket inspired salmon wallpapered dining room.  But, there are also the staff who seem genuinely pleased to see you, the melba toast on your table that is crisp and the balls of butter that are well salted. Also on the table is a large plate of crudités and a punchy aioli.  Soon enough the menus arrive, so does some warm bread.  It's all so slick, pleasant and enjoyable.

The cynic might think that they're filling us up to sate our appetite before the measly/insipid food arrives. The cynic would be wrong.  I started with a fish soup, that was good, although not the best I've had and did leave me with diner's regret for not ordering the salmon and trout terrine.  Main course was a large, perfectly cooked sole meunière.  The sole was firm, but came away from the bone in large slugs with a small tug of the fish knife (I know).

The one duff note was the famed side dishes.  The restaurant is renowned for serving an obscene choice of sides and if you so much as raise an eyebrow in interest, they serve it to you.  I found all the sides we tried a disappointment, largely through oversalting.  The roast potatoes had been sitting around too long.  The deep fried courgettes were soggy and salty.  The cauliflower cheese lacked flavour and was also soggy, as was the spinach. Despite my high expectations being dashed on the rock of reality, it wasn't enough for me to write off the meal.  It was a disappointment but given it was just the sides, I will let them off.  Perhaps I'm getting soft.

Desserts are another highlight if only because they are served by Neil, who is surely the campest man alive. Camp or not, he loves his dessert and has a certainty rarely seen that whatever he is selling is the greatest dessert known to man.  I can vouch for the very good, but rather too-large strudel.  Flaky pastry and well flavoured apple filling.  A fitting end to the meal.

It was mostly well cooked food, served with care and at times passion.  At just over £40 per head, it is reasonable for what it is. Perhaps the 80s were a high point for British food, we just forgot for too long how to do the good bits. 

Google Maps

Oslo Court, Charlbert Street, London NW8 7EN, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7722 8795

What others think

Matthew Norman - ...so far as serving precisely what the punters want with warmth and patience, the Spanish family who run it are in the premier league.

Howard Jacobson -  I don't say that eating at Oslo Court proves his ordinariness, because there is nothing ordinary about the place, but it shows an unconventionality and daring, not to say exuberance, we don't normally associate with him.