17 posts categorized "Silverbrow elsewhere"

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.

07 June 2012

Not just a chicken bagel recipe

I was asked to write a piece for The Forward's Jew & The Carrot blog on my favourite Shabbat meal.  As I say in my piece, they tend to be fairly uninventive.  I wanted to write about chopped liver, but turns out they already had that covered.  So instead, I turned to an old standby that is a pre-dinner snack, rather than dinner itself, heaven forfend.  Perhaps it is somewhat denigrating to refer to it as a snack.  


This was originally posted on The Jew & The Carrot.

Being from solid Ashkenazi stock, Friday night dinners invariably meant several ways with chicken: chopped, boiled and roasted. Although it was the least glamorous — the boiled chicken — that most excited me.

Chicken soup is a much loved dish and I’m always partial to a bowl or two, especially with my mother’s kneidlach. But it was the by-product that got my taste buds going.

I shouldn’t call it the by-product because the chicken is the main event, everyone just forgets about it and goes straight to the diluted version — what is soup if not a watery take on a solid? Chicken soup is genius in so many ways, but particularly because you can remove the primary ingredient and the soup is in no way diminished and the chicken tastes delicious.

I realized this curious fact early on in life and it led to a pleasurable pre-Shabbat ritual. Returning home from school I would sneak into the kitchen and sidle over to the large glass rectangular dish that contained the chicken. It would sit there looking somewhat wan. The skin had probably fallen off in the pot and other than boiling water and some aromatics, there was nothing to give it a hint of color. But I could readily overlook the aesthetic shortcomings. I was focused on a sandwich and no good sandwich will ever get mistaken for an oil painting.

Ideally the chicken would be warm but not hot and sitting in some broth that is mostly liquid, but at points is quivering into jelly. I would take aim at the breast, barely having to exert any pressure as the meat gladly parted company with the carcass.

Once enough chicken had been liberated I’d root around the bread bin to find a fresh sesame-seed bagel. Still with the merest hint of warmth from the bakers oven, they were nutty from the sesame, had a hint of sweet and salt and the all important features of a bagel, a chewy crust, but a forgiving center.

Split in two I would now be at a crossroads. The only one in this process. Either I would go down the purist route or I’d pimp my sandwich a bit. The purist route would be to pile the chicken onto the bagel, add a little squeeze of ketchup and generous dousing of chicken soup to ensure continued moistness, taking full advantage of a bagel’s rigidity.

The more outre version was to add half of a thinly sliced avocado, a dab of mayo and a couple of spritzes of Tabasco to the purist.

I like to think of this wonder as the kosher lobster roll. (I say that never having eaten a lobster roll.)

At this stage I was ready to retire to a quiet corner of the kitchen to contemplate the Shabbat meal that was just around the corner and ponder a question that had been vexing me for years: why was I never as hungry as everyone else when the chicken soup, chopped liver, roast chicken, roast potatoes and crumble made their post-Kiddush procession onto the table? I’m still wondering.

Makes 1 sandwich

  • 1 breast chicken, taken from a bird recently used to make chicken soup
  • 1 sesame bagel
  • Tomato ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon of broth from the chicken soup

If you’re going for the pimped version

  • Half an avocado sliced
  • Tabasco to taste
  • Mayonnaise

Take a fresh bagel slice it. Ideally it is still a bit warm from the baker. If you don’t have anything that fresh, then put it in the oven to warm it. Don’t toast it. This is not a sandwich that requires crunch or crumbs.

Peel the breast away from the carcass. You can use knife and fork if you insist, but I prefer pulling it away with my fingers as it comes away in nice clumps. Remove any skin that is lingering on he chicken.

Take one bagel half and compose as you see fit. I tend to put ketchup first, then chicken, then avocado, mayo and Tabasco.

Pour the broth over the other half of the bagel so that the bread soaks up the liquid and close the sandwich.

Eat in quiet contemplation awaiting the arrival of Shabbat and your dinner.

30 May 2012

Debating the future of kosher food in London

This was originally posted on The Jew & The Carrot.

Fressing and kibbitzing. Eating and talking. It’s what we Jews do so well, which is why on an unseasonably cold Sunday, the beautiful Ivy House, HQ of the London Jewish Cultural Centre, was heaving with over 500 people for this year’s Gefiltefest.

Setup in 2010, Gefiltefest — a British celebration of all things food and Jewish related — is now in its third year. Organized by the perennially cheerful Michael Leventhal, it is the ultimate Jewish food conference across the pond. Warmed by fragrant samosas topped with chili and yogurt made by a collective of North African women who call themselves Spice Caravan, people gathered for a mix of talks, panel debates and stalls more or less all focusing on the wonder that is food. Topics ranged from the silly — making edible portraits for kids — to the more serious like the panel debate I hosted on the future of kosher food.

The other panelists were all kosher restaurateurs, of one shade or another. Kenny Arfin runs Bevis Marks The Restaurant, one of London’s smarter kosher restaurants; Elliot Hornblass is one of the backers of The Deli West One, a New York deli style restaurant and Amy Beilin is the force of nature behind Kosher Roast, London’s first kosher pop-up (as far as I’m aware).

The first question I posed was whether it matters if there is a future for kosher food. With the Jewish population in the UK at under 300,000 realistically how many people are religious enough to care? And even if they do care, are there sufficient numbers to make it commercially viable.

The conclusion was that there is a future because even if the market is small, there are enough people who care passionately to keep it going. Where the panel had differing views was on the cause and cure of the current stasis in the market.

There was consensus that suppliers and religious kosher authorities don’t help the situation. One example given was chickens. There's only one major supplier in the UK for kosher chickens, meaning limited price competition. Similarly, there are only a handful of kosher certifying authorities and they err towards a conservative approach.

These are not uncommon complaints from kosher restaurateurs, but one area of difference among the panel was the role of the customer. Kenny felt that the customer invariably is conservative and expects traditional Ashkenazi fare when they eat out, reflecting views of what “Jewish” food is. At an event he recently catered, he tried to serve pareve cheese on top of hamburgers, but these were widely rejected.

Amy took a different line, she felt that her experience showed the kosher customer wants more innovation, that there is an expectation of good food, clever marketing and a decent drinks menu. Surly waiters and meat with the consistency of shoe leather — two features of sorely missed Blooms restaurant — are a thing of the past. If she’s right the kosher consumer is catching up with their secular cousins. At long bleeding last.

If questions from the floor are anything to go by, Amy’s view, supported by Elliot are a fair reflection the London Jewish community. Kosher keeping Jews are clamoring for their food to catch up with their values. It’s no longer good enough for food to be kosher — provenance, appearance and flavor have entered the kosher lexicon.

It will be interesting to see whether the market changes over the next year and by Gefiltefest 2013 we are talking about how the public has at long last got what it wants.

13 April 2010

Kosher Food Week

I can't remember which book it was, but in one of his earlier works Bill Bryson declares his love for local newspapers.  He argues that it's only by reading what's going on at the community level can you get a feel for the people who live there.

Whilst I wouldn't deride The Jewish Chronicle as merely a local paper, it is as the title suggests a community paper and is rightly proud of it.  It can generate rather mixed feelings across the UK Jewish community, some think its too parochial, others argue its too sensationalist and others still just enjoy reading it after dinner on a Friday night.  (As an aside, if you really want to see a parochial title go and check out The Jewish Telegraph.)

Personally, I don't agree with everything I read it in the JC, but that's true for any paper and being challenged is good.  Under the editorship of Stephen Pollard the JC has at last embraced the internet and has been running some pretty interesting content on its still-slightly-clunky website. 

I was particularly taken by a series of guest articles proposing suggestions for how best to improve the Jewish community in the UK.  The ones I liked most were those focused on making the most out of being a small community: creating a community service programme to provide further support to the least fortunate in society and streamlining our charities to ensure they are providing the right services.

Obviously I couldn't pass up the chance of offering my thoughts on how we could do more with our food and it is on the site now.  For context, it's worth noting that I wrote this during the recent festival of Passover, during which the Seders are the ne plus ultra of Jewish festive dining.

The basic premise of my idea is that we really need to be reminded of the value of what we're eating.  For a community that sets so much store in food, we seem blithely unconcerned about it.

One final point, in the JC article they've titled my idea Kosher Restaurant Week, that was just one idea, part of a bigger picture. But I like it, as this post's title shows though I'm keen to widen it beyond restaurants to kosher food in general.

This is cross-posted from the JC's website.

I know the point of maxims is that they are poignant because they ring true and for me “They tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat." is a nice encapsulation of the Jewish approach to eating. Along with images of bubbes or Jewish mothers force-feeding their offspring, food is both perceived as, and is actually, central to the Jewish identity.

Yet as a community in the UK, food is rarely a topic for debate. Food is something we all do, it is something we sometimes do together as a community, but it is rarely a topic of discussion.

In the United States there is a vocal movement discussing the ethics of kosher food. These are not debates about shechitah, rather it is a discussion about why is kosher meat so expensive? Why have animals destined for the shochet`s knife lived in conditions rarely much better than factory farms? Is it all about quantity, or does quality matter as well?

The secular world has handled similar issues, focusing on provenance, animal husbandry and alternative farming methods. The kosher community in the UK blindly goes on eating puffy, watery chickens and heavily processed foods.

In the UK, kosher shops or restaurants get credit for selling food approximating treyf [not kosher] equivalents, not the quality of their produce.

I'm advocating that we shouldn`t just be celebrating with food, we should celebrate our food.

We should have a kosher restaurant week where restaurants show off the quality of their cooking rather than crowing that they can cook kosher versions of sizzling beef or an ersatz version of the already ersatz chicken tikka massala. Butchers should do blind tastings comparing organic-style and `normal` chickens. Fishmongers should remind us that it was Jews who brought fish and chips to the UK.

It’s time to embrace what we eat and how we eat it and stop being so reticent about something so self-defining.

27 November 2008

Silverbrow on Food one of top 10 food blogs around the World

Seriously?  No shurely, not.  It can't be.

Well, so says The Times and I'm not one to argue with The Thunderer.

I'm rather chuffed to be on The Times' website, I have to say. 

But I'm really chuffed that the article was written by Simon Majumdar, one half of Dos Hermanos.  The man knows more about his onions than a frog with a string of them around his neck.  He also knows a fair bit about blogging.  It may not be fair to describe the Evening Standard as a pudding, but it does provide some proof of my hagiography by listing him as one of the 1000 Most Influential People in London

Which is why I'm chuffed.

Whilst I'm in such a good mood with Simon, I'm going to plug his forthcoming book Eat My Globe: One Year to Go Everywhere and Eat Everything. I haven't seen it so I've no idea if it's any good and it's not out for yonks. But, read his blog and the assumption has to be that it's going to be excellent.

Check out the other blogs on the list, they're ones I read and admire.  They, unlike me, deserve to be there.

28 October 2008

The first meal

This is cross-posted on the Observer's Word of Mouth blog.

For the last few nights I have been peeling, chopping, stewing and pulping vegetables because our daughter, Silverbrowlette, has started eating. She's still on the breast-milk wagon, but she needs a top-up of something more substantial. So far, solids have been only part of one meal. From tomorrow however, she moves on to having solids for breakfast and lunch.

We can look at first meals one of two ways: either the po-faced but serious approach of what the hell do we actually feed the sprogs - is the received wisdom of organic baby rice the way forward, or are there other options - or, we could indulge our fantasies and wonder what we would choose for this formative experience if we could travel back in time and keep down more than slop.

First let's be serious. In every possible way I want to give my daughter the best start in life. I want to make sure that everything she eats is good for her.

I also want to do everything in my power to ensure that she isn't a fussy eater and that she appreciates her food. It's not an easy task, especially as there's no agreed theory as to what makes for a fussy child.

So far, she has quite happily scoffed baby rice, stewed and mashed carrots, pears, apples and sweet potatoes. The larger the portion, the happier she is - that's my girl.

To many people, that list of fruit and veg might read like a mishmash of relatively sweet staples, which is true, but for the parents out there who have recently weaned their babies it is as a semaphore signal that tells you a lot about the way we're bringing our daughter up. It tells you whether Silverbrowlette is a Gina Ford baby or an Annabel Karmel baby and those in the know will identify her as the latter.

The approaches of these these two arbiters of feeding are fundamentally different but as parents you become wedded to one or the other. What if you want to plough your own furrow? After all, I rarely eat what an overbearing woman tells me to eat.

From what I can see, unless one follows the strictures of Karmel or Ford, you're on your own - and it's bloody scary. For example, received wisdom dictates that baby rice should be on the menu very early on. Let's dismiss the issue of being a slave to received wisdom and instead focus on the horror of arsenic in baby rice. Yes, arsenic. According to the NHS we shouldn't worry. But it's arsenic ... in baby rice. Does it come much more scary?

In the UK, the NHS baldly states that it's breast milk until at least six months, but the reality in our household and that of many of our friends, is that the baby needs proper food before that. Silverbrowlette started diving for the knife and fork at about four and a half months old. Does that make the NHS advice worthless? Probably not, but trying to get a clear answer to that question is tough, because after all, it's the NHS. They must know what they're talking about ... I think.

There is surprisingly little independent guidance (ie not written by those trying to flog a series of books) on what babies should be fed. There's a mini-industry around last meals, there's a lot of gnashing of teeth about what to give early meals, but first solid meals seem to be overlooked.

Is any meal more significant than our first? For the food obsessed, does it get any more existential than pondering what to pass between our lips for the very first time? I have a gut feeling that the first meal will determine how that child approaches food for the rest of their lives. I'm interested to hear what you fed your baby as their first meal and why.

And what about you? If you could choose your first meal what would it be? For me it's either a beautifully roasted side of beef or bollito misto. Both reflect the type of food I love to cook and eat. They're big and bold dishes but with subtle flavours and are best eaten with a glass of red wine and surrounded by family. Both also benefit from my wife's astoundingly good roast potatoes.

29 July 2008

Yankee superiority?

This is cross-posted on The Jew & The Carrot a food focused blog written by the team at Hazon - a US based organisation that has the stated vision to "create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community -- as a step towards a healthier and more sustainable world for all."  The website and blog have some great content.  I strongly recommend you read it.

Earlier this year, Leah asserted that Great Britain could claim "foodie superiority" over the US thanks to the work of Jamie,  Hugh and Gordon.  But while television shows are good indicators of the cultural zeitgeist, what interests me is the quality of food and in particular, the  quality of kosher food.

And it's there that I believe we in the UK are the laggards.

There is much the US cannot be proud of: Agriprocessors and additives  are two good examples.  But when it comes to ethical, good quality food, the US is  miles ahead.  We need look no further than The Jew and the Carrot.  Hazon is an organisation that has around it a thriving community and has received national recognition.   It's an organisation that asks bold questions of its members.

In the UK, not only is there nothing comparable, there's not even a conversation, not a murmur of discourse about what we as Jews should be eating.  One week I  try to convince the readers of the Jewish Chronicle (the leading  British, Jewish newspaper) of the sheer awfulness of much that we consume in the name of our religion, and the very next week the editors are extolling the virtues of kosher food, just because it's kosher.

British kosher consumers, in particular kosher meat consumers, seem to have a total disregard for what they eat.  How can I justify such a sweeping statement?  Because all the facts point to it being the case.   There is no call to arms.  Not a single religious leader has pointed out that the quality of our food is appalling, nor have the community screamed for it.   Equally, the butchers haven't dragged us into the modern era and imposed high quality food upon us.  Instead, there has been a collusion of silence from consumers, religious authorities and those selling our food, and everyone, bizarrely, seems quite content with the  situation.

Here are a couple of examples of what we have to put up with:

- The London Beth Din, one of the largest British certification authorities, only allow battery farmed eggs in kosher shops. (see update below)  The reason, as far as I can tell is because chickens that grow in small cages and rot in their own faeces tend to  breed eggs that are sufficiently unnatural that they don't have blood spots - or  at least blood spots are easier to identify in factory farmed birds.

The LBD, the  body we look to for spiritual guidance, prefers abnormalities to nature.  It's an interesting choice from the agency that  says (scroll all the way to the bottom) The motto of every Kashrut agency should be the words of Rashi at the end of the Parsha of Kashrut: (Shemini Chapter 11 Pasuk 16) "To distinguish between the impure and the pure".  I suppose if one is being fair they can't be faulted.  They are as good  as their word, they've distinguished between pure and impure, it's just a  surprise which one they prefer.

- Kosher, Organic Meat, until very recently, it was impossible to get a kosher, free range chicken in London.  In fact, it was possible, from the right supplier, but protectionism got the better of the London Beth Din and they decided their butchers needed their pound of flesh.

So why the parlous state of affairs?  I reckon it's a combination of naivety, protectionism and a good dose of embarrassment.

Naivety on behalf of many consumers who assume that kosher food is good to eat, because 'it's  religious, so it must be good'.  Yet I guess that many of these consumers are the same people that are driving sales of organic produce in the leading supermarkets and doyens of the various box schemes (similar to CSAs).

Complicity on behalf of religious authorities who benefit financially from their very uncompetitive existence.  In the US there is an interminable roll-call of authorities that dole out heckshers.  In the UK, there are barely a handful.  Any high-school economist can tell you that a lack of competition means the consumer loses out.

That same economist will also fully understand the implications of supply and demand.  As I wrote in a  recent article in the JC, there is a race to the bottom when it comes to kosher food in the UK.  Not enough people buy kosher meat which understandably makes it more expensive.  But is collusion the inevitable outcome of that?  To me the religious authorities and meat processors are embarrassed by what they do, they seem to obfuscate at every turn.  They imply kosher meat is healthy, but the uncomfortable facts tell the truth.

Am I being unfair to my fellow consumers, the religious authorities and those selling us our meat? If I am, I have yet to see proof to the contrary.

So Leah, right back at ya.  Things might be  bad in the US, but cheer up, you don't have to eat kosher food in the UK.

UPDATE: I was delighted when I spotted a poster tonight in the window of Menachem's, my preferred kosher butcher, announcing that they are now selling free-range eggs.  Maybe I should cut the LBD some slack? No, not yet.