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6 posts from December 2009

30 December 2009

Simon Hopkinson's new column

I've just spotted that Simon Hopkinson is writing Stove Notes in Intelligent Life, The Economist's lifestyle spin-off.

The column is billed as going "beyond the received wisdom to give tips on well-loved dishes".  The first such dish is risotto.

Hopkinson reminisces about some great risotto's he's had from two particular restaurants, one in Paris, the other Burano, an island in the Veneto.  Both restaurants have different ways of making risotto, in Italy, it's adding a local freshwater fish to the stock, in Paris it's the mantecare.

I was particularly interested to read about mantecare as I'd read about mantecatura in Giorgio Locatelli's Made in Italy and I assume they are the similar techniques.  Although as with so many things Italian there seems to be a bit of disagreement as to what it is.  According to Hopkinson it's "a vigorous, final beating-in of butter".  According to Locatelli mantecatura involves beating in grana (i.e. grainy cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padana) and butter, whereas Marcella Hazan advocates parsley as well as the butter and cheese. Whichever, a bit of beating the butter seems important to good risotto.

It's nice to see with this column that the trend for interesting, intelligent food writing is going from strength to strength.

10 December 2009

Crowd saucing salt beef

UPDATE: At long last I've got a recipe I'm happy with. Please use the new recipe, rather than the method below.

What with hailing from the shtetl (a century or so ago), perhaps my love of salt beef can be attributed to genes, or Proust.  Maybe it's just that it's very tasty when done well.  Whatever, it is one of my favourite comfort foods.  The simple thought of it makes me happy. 

It is easiest, and therefore, best cooked in large hunks, it therefore rewards the greedy or generous.  It has to be cooked for a long period, so no item of clothing or furniture lacks the telling whiff of bay, pepper and meat. 

When you finally get to eat it, your taste buds have spent the last three hours limbering up as the smell of the dish permeates the house.  As the lid is lifted off the pot you're hit with an intense waft of meaty steam.  Then out comes a glistening hunk of fatty meat.  And then the real anticipation begins.  Not just of taste, but of the cut.  Has it cooked for the right amount of time?  Are you about to get a stringy mass of meat, or lithe slices? 

And what of the taste?  Umami and a hint of salt are all you need to worry about. 

It should be self evident why I decided I really needed to turn my hand to brining and cooking the dish for myself. 

Which brings me neatly on to my first experiment and my recipe below.  Let's start at the end.  I was deeply disappointed with what I made.  It was overly salty and pretty darn tough.

The best I can say is that before carving or tasting it, I had immense satisfaction lifting it out of the pot and knowing I pickled the bugger.  It's just what came next that deflated my smugness.

Before we progress, a word about the beef.  Mine was from the blade end.  It was quite fatty and I didn't trim it.  I wonder if this is the source of error.  I'd thought that by leaving it on it would make it even more moist.  I wonder if in fact it made the meat tougher by contracting rather than relaxing the meat.  Is this bollocks?  Is it possible to have too much fat when boiling meat?

I should add for the assumption-jumpers reading this that of course I removed the fat before eating it.

So, I post this recipe here as a starting point.  It is an aide memoire for me.  I'm going to make this again and want to remember what I did first time round.  More importantly, I'm posting it here because I'd like to get your thoughts on where I went wrong.

The recipe I used was largely based on Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's in the excellent Meat.  Unfortunately, many of my cookbooks are still in storage and I was unable to dig out Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited, I'm certain there must be a recipe in there.  I triangulated HFW's recipe with others I found on the internet and by scouring recipes in as many books as I could get my hands on.  The tweaks are minor - I didn't use juniper berries, he recommends them and the like.

So, in this instance more than any other I'd be delighted to get your thoughts on where I went wrong and how to ensure the salt beef of my dreams.

For the salting/brining

  • 3kg brisket
  • 5L water
  • 500g demerera sugar
  • 1.5kg salt
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 5 cloves
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 30g saltpetre

You will also need a large non-metallic container to hold the beef whilst it's brining.

Cooking the beef

  • 2 bay leaves
  • Bunch of thyme
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stick, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic

To salt the beef

If you are unable to view this image, please visit www.silverbrowonfood.com

Day 1: 3kg of brisket

Put all the ingredients for the brine in a pan and bring to the boil.  The salt and sugar will dissolve.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.  And remember that means completely.  Unless you want to get on first name terms with your local A&E team, you don't want your beef cooked in tepid water for the thick end of a week.  So let it cool down.

Once the brine is cool (got it, cool) put the beef into your container and cover with the brine.  You may need to weigh down the meat to stop it floating in the brine.  I used a couple of small Le Creuset dishes as you can see in my Bailey-esque photos.

If you are unable to view this image, please visit www.silverbrowonfood.com

Day 1: The meat just after it has gone in the brine

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Day 1: The meat in brine

My 3kg of meat spent 5 days in the brine. 

As per HFW's instructions I left the brining meat in a cool room.  However, I have to admit that three days in I got cold feet and, as this was due to feed a large proportion of my nearest and dearest, I did put it in the fridge.  I knew this would slow the brining process - perhaps that was why it was so tough?  But then again, would it have been even saltier if I'd let it brine at room temperature?

Throughout the brining I checked on it regularly and over the days the beef clearly changed colour and throughout it smelt very good - spicy and of cloves.

If you are unable to view this image, please visit www.silverbrowonfood.com

Day 5: The meat shortly before it comes out of the brine (the weird circular indent is the mark left by something that was weighing it down)

I removed it from the brine five days after putting it in.  I had expected the meat to be quite soft, instead it was much firmer than I expected.  In my notes I wrote that it was very firm.  I did get slightly concerned at this point.  I've cooked pre-brined salt beef numerous times and that had attuned my expectations, I don't remember it being quite so stiff.  Again, my unscientific mind wondered whether the copious fat had played a part, perhaps too much of it resulted in the whole brisket toughening up in the salty brine?

The meat was also browner than I had expected. I wonder if I didn't use enough saltpetre. 

If you are unable to view this image, please visit www.silverbrowonfood.com

Day 5: The meat out of the brine

Nonetheless I was hopeful as I rinsed it under the tap - it was very slippery so hold tight - and then soaked it in fresh cold water for 24 hours.  I think over that period I changed the water three times.  The meat shouldn't float in this water - it's no longer chilling in the Dead Sea.

If you are unable to view this image, please visit www.silverbrowonfood.com

Day 5: The meat in clean, fresh water

Now comes the cooking.  Put the beef in a pot with herbs and vegetables and cover with fresh water.  As I always do, I cooked it on a low heat on the hob for approximately 3 hours.  You want it to be a rolling boil and by that I mean: the water's gently bubbling rather than furiously splashing.

And that's it.  The cooking bit I've done before and never had a problem.  This was a disaster and I'd love to know the reasons.  Did I simply not cook it long enough?  Was the brine mix wrong? Was there too much fat? Was it a mistake wimping out and putting it in the fridge?

I want to crack this, so am hoping to give it another go shortly.  Any further thoughts before then are gratefully received.

08 December 2009

Latkes in Covent Garden

Last week's latkes were sensational.  I have it on good authority that this week's are set to be an improvement. 

To the uninintiated a latke is a food that deserves due reverence.  To dismiss it as a bit of fried potato, onion and egg is to misunderstand the alchemy that occurs when those three ingredients are combined, salt is added and they're deep fried to a crisp puck.

The University of Chicago is the home of some of the greatest (/most controversial) economists of our time.  It is also home of the annual Latke vs Hamantaschen debate.  You don't need to worry about what Hamantaschen are, but suffice to say latkes are the clear winners, however obscure the debate gets.

Chanukah starts this Friday, and as I mentioned last week, we tend to eat fried foods on Chanukah and that means eating latkes.

Which is why Dan Young of Young and Foodish is not only freezing his tuches off in Covent Garden this Thursday and Friday, but will also be lighting chanukkah candles on Friday at 4pm.  I'll overlook the minor issue that he'll be lighting candles once Shabbat has come in and instead focus on the fact that he's a mensch.

Fress and be merry.

04 December 2009

Getting your branding right

One minute I was reminded of some of the best ads of the last decade.  My personal favourite is the Honda cogs.  A great director and a shed load of money can be a wonderful mix for a brand.

Within minutes of seeing them, I saw this video from Henrietta Lovell, The Rare Tea Lady, and you realise that with imagination and a camera the internet lets you do great advertising on what I'm assuming is a shoestring budget. 

It has to be the case that in many ways the internet hasn't changed things for food companies - or anyone selling any product - marketing is absolutely crucial.  The internet has simply democratised it.  But, as ever with democracy comes responsibility.  Because if Henrietta had ballsed this up, her brand would have been badly damaged and the wonder of the internet means it's not easily forgotten.  Ask Neals Yard Remedies.

I think other high end food / drink producers could learn a lot from her marketing savvy.  It's not luck that she has a great product and a great reputation.  If she doesn't already do it, she should go into consultancy.

BTW I agree with the psycho-looking tattooist, jasmine silver tip is sublime.

02 December 2009

David Sax podcast

As flagged yesterday, I got to speak to David Sax tonight and you can listen to the podcast below. 

He is undoubtedly committed to the cause of saving the deli and his recipe isn't so complex: stick to doing the basics of deli food and do it better than anyone else.  Whether that is sufficient to overcome the almost non-existent margins in serving sandwiches stuffed a foot high with expensive meat, is questionable.

Nonetheless, it's tempting to give it a go.  Which is why I want to make special mention of Daniel Young, a man similarly on a mission who will be selling freshly made latkes tomorrow at Covent Garden Market.  He's a mensch, go and support him.

Returning to my interview with David, I should apologise to him and you for the pretty piss-poor sound quality.  Blame Skype.  Next time I won't do a skype-to-skype call for these purposes.  Thankfully though he sounds better than I do.

Link to mp3 of Shaun Hill podcast
Anthony Silverbrow - Silverbrow on Podcasts

01 December 2009

Forthcoming podcast with David Sax, Save the Deli

I'm interviewing David Sax tomorrow, author of Save the Deli, the blog and book

He is a man posessed by the delights of pastramis, knishes, kishkas and the like.  He is a man who can spot the best schmaltz at a 100 yards and have talmudic discussions about the best rub for pastrami. 

I hadn't fully appreciated what a US phenomenon deli actually is.  It is about old world, Eastern European Jewish cooking rather than kosher food per se, an important distinction and one I want to talk to him about more tomorrow.

I've found his single-minded crusade fascinating and sobering.  I've long held a dream of opening up a deli and his account is a helpful reality check.