Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Songs of Salivation

Songs of Salivation

     20 songs that reference something edible.  Do I love food more than music?  Well, ten or so years ago, (yeah right...last week) I gave up believing I was going to be the greatest rock star poet ever to grace a stage.  Seeing as I don't actually play an instrument any more; and I'm not in a band, but I do eat constantly...the winner is clear.
     One thing is for certain- people love to blur the line between food and sex...  

     And now, in no particular order and without further ado, my all-time favourite food-themed songs...

20. Cherry Pie- Warrant
I absolutely despised this song and its devotees when in high school.  Now I can accept it on a fromage level of nostalgia.  So glad I wasn't into this shit when it hit the charts.
Tasty Lyric- 'Mixed up the batter and she licked the beater.'  Indeed.

I never liked skinny blondes with big hair.  Good thing, they often had a penis.

19. Strawberry Fields Forever- The Beatles
Not their best track, but of it I am fond.  Of course, I would never diss the men that drafted the blueprint for all future pop music.  English strawberries are velly, velly good.
Tasty Lyric- 'It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out, it doesn't matter much to me.'

Doc Octopus and his three page boys circa '67

18. Rock Lobster- The B-52s
How can you not love the B52's?  Filled a niche.  We'll forgive Kate and that god awful REM collaboration.  Blame it on Stipe. 
Apparently this track shook John Lennon out of a five year hiatus.
Tasty Lyric- Uh, yeah...read a Dr. Seus book.

Sometimes music should just be fun!

17. Milkshake- Kelis
Everything tells me to not like this song.  What is it men think with again?  I'm confused.  I love milkshakes.
Tasty Lyric-  'Just get the perfect blend, plus what you have within.  The next his eyes will squint that he's picked up your scent.'

No comment.

16. Peaches- The Presidents of the United States of America
Peaches are certainly a sensual and erotic fruit.  Fuzzy, juicy and ever so fragrant.  Yum!
Tasty Lyric-  If I had my little way, I'd eat peaches every day.  Sun-soakin' bulges in the shade.'

'Millions of peaches, peaches for me.'

15. Peaches- The Stranglers
Again with the peaches!  Much more overtly sexual this track...hell, nearly lecherous.  This tune slugged it out on the charts in '77 with 'God Save the Queen'.  
Tasty Lyric-   '...you got some suntan lotion in that bottle of yours, spread it all over my peelin' skin baby.  That feels real good.  All this skirt lappin' up the sun, lap me up.  Why don't you come on and lap me up.'

'Walking on the beaches, looking at the peaches.'

14. Eggs & Sausages- Tom Waits
Along with U2; the only artist that when I first heard the music, I went out and bought the entire back catalogue.  Tom Waits is the king of cool.
Tasty Lyric-  'Eggs and sausage and a side of toast, coffee and a roll, hash browns over easy
chile in a bowl with burgers and fries. What kind of pie?'


13. Mayonaise- The Smashing Pumpkins
A great song from a classic album.  Not sure why they called it 'Mayonaise' or why they spelled it wrong.  No matter.
Tasty Lyric- Not really worth it...tepid love lyrics.

Despite all his rage, he is still just a rat in a cage.

12. Egg Man- Beastie Boys
From that seminal album, 'Paul's Boutique'.  Samples galore on this one.  Everyone from Costello to Mayfield to Sly to John Williams.
Tasty Lyric- 'Humpty Dumpty was a big fat egg.  He was playing the wall then he broke his leg.  Tossed it out the window three minutes hot.  Hit the Rastaman he said "bloodclot".'

Eminem can kiss their asses.

11. Big Sugar- Sugar in My Coffee
An underrated Canadian band belting out classic blues rock.  Love this song.
Tasty Lyric-  'I don't want no sugar in my coffee, makes me mean, it makes me mean.'

Buy it...now.

10. Candy- Morphine
The deep and dark grooves of Morphine.  Unique and short-lived jazz rockers.
Tasty Lyric-  'Candy told me nothing really matters any more, when I ask her what she means, she says I oughtta know.'

Mark Sandman R.I.P

9. Black Coffee- Black Flag
Sometimes, one just needs to rawwwwwkkk!
Tasty Lyric-  'Staring at the walls, think I know what I see...anger and coffee, feeling mean.'

Thank-you for cutting your hair Mr. Rollins.

8. Catfish Blues- Jimi Hendrix
If Jimi were a catfish, he wudda never got caught.
Tasty Lyric-  'Well, I wish I was a catfish swimmin' in the, the deep blue sea.  I have all you pretty women fishin' after me.'

'I been imitated so well, I even heard 'em copy my mistakes.'

7. Pork Soda- Primus
Not many odder than Les Claypool, but he sure can tap that bass.
Lyric Check-  'Grab yourself a can of pork soda, you'll be feeling just fine.  Ain't nothin' quite like sittin' 'round the house swillin' down them cans of swine.'

Wonder if he ever did get a gander at Wynona's big brown beaver?

6. Jambalaya- Hank Williams
Good ol' Hank getting some good eats and a woman down the bayou.
Tasty Lyric-  'Jambalaya, a crawfish pie and a file gumbo.'

'You got to have smelt a lot of mule manure before you can sing like a hillbilly.'

5. Coconut- Harry Nilsson
Two important rules of the '70's- don't go out on the town with Nilsson and Lennon, and don't stay at Harry's flat in London.
Tasty Lyric-  'She put de lime in de coconut, she drank 'em bot' up.  She put de lime in de coconut, she drank 'em bot' up.  She put de lime in de coconut, she drank 'em bot' up.'  Ok Harry, whatever you say.

The Smothers Brothers were not amused.

4. Shortnin' Bread- The Cramps
I remember my Mom singing this song to my brother and I all the time.  Of course I got quite a kick out of The Cramps version of this old Negro plantation tune.  Twisted childhood nostalgia.
Tasty Lyric-  Pretty much the title over and over and over.  Mammy's little baby loves shortnin' bread!

Poison Ivy & Lux Interior

3. Savoy Truffle- The Beatles
What a track!  Seriously, one of my all-time favourite songs.  A George Harrison penned bluesy-rocker with a great horn section.  Apparently a tribute to Eric Clapton's chocolate addiction.
Tasty Lyric-  'Cool cherry cream and a nice apple tart.  I feel your taste all the time we're apart.  Coconut fudge really blows down those blues.  But you'll have to have them all pulled out after a savoy truffle.'

'While his guitar gently weeps.'

2. Brown Sugar- The Rolling Stones
Whoa, Mick was really pushing the card with this one.  Now you wouldn't catch the old geezer putting his rep on the line with this kind of risque take on s&m slave rape.  Sir Mick indeed.
Tasty Lyric-  'Scarred old slaver know he's doin' allright.  Hear him whip the women just around midnight.  Ah, brown sugar, how come you taste so good?'  Let's just stick to shakin' our booties and thinking he was merely penning a tribute to a Nubian princess.

Love the Queen B.

1. Closer to the Bone- Louis Prima
My all-time favourite food-themed song.  Louis Prima is a god.  Such clever lyrics and so much fun.  If you haven't got this track, off to itunes with ya!  Thanks for listening.
Tasty Lyric- So many to choose from.  'Now she'd make a good thermometer if she drank a glass of wine, she's built just like a garter snake, she climbs up like a vine.' 

'Closer to the bone, sweeter is the meat.'

There are countless others, many of which have come to me after the fact.  I'll store them up for another entry, another day.  Requests welcome.

Musically and 'culinarily' yours,

DJ Hardboiled

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

My Michelin

The Michelin Guide:

Michelin's red guide is the definitive culinary ratings book for Western Europe and, more recently, several other major cities around the world.  Michelin operates on the principle that only anonymous, professionally trained experts can be trusted to make accurate, impartial assessments of a restaurant's food and service, as opposed to some guides that rely on customer reviews.

One star: 'A very good restaurant in its category'.
Two stars: 'Excellent cooking and worth a detour'.
Three stars: 'Exceptional cuisine and worth the journey.'


     Thoughts regarding Michelin have bounced around in my head since not long after I first started cooking professionally sixteen years ago.  Although; really, it was a good few years before there was anything professional about my technique or approach to cooking.  Mine is not a typical rise through the ranks with first stop in the dish pit.  But enough about me.
     Let’s be frank.  It really has always been us and them.  You either have a star or you don’t.  There are those that care and those that don't.  God knows the most profitable restaurants certainly don't have Michelin stars, although I would say the stars elevate and secure the chef more than the establishment.  Of course, there is much truth in the adage- ‘If you are a chef that dismisses stars; you don’t have one, and you may secretly covet them.’  It is easy to hide in your kitchen and spout bravado to the effect of, ‘What we do is real cooking, rustic cooking.  Proper portions.  We don’t play to the elite.  I would rather have a full restaurant of happy, buzzing people than a few well-heeled morons sucking up the latest trend.  Why would you want to sing to another man’s tune?’  I am guilty of bolstering my junior chefs with these snarled comments; and, for the most part, meant every word.  But would I cast a Johnny Rotten shadow and refuse a star if tossed one?  Would I fuck.  The Michelin Guide, in my mind, for better and worse is all we've got.  Well, that...and word of mouth.  For all Michelin's faults, they are a league unto themselves.  What you will read here is a very subjective accumulation of my thoughts and, (primarily UK/Ireland based) experiences on this mystical and hallowed book and some of the starred restaurants in which I have eaten.  One chef's musings on the sidelines of Michelin. 

 A footnote on AA Rosettes:

     The Automobile Association of Great Britain awards rosettes to recommended restaurants.  There seems to be very much a divide between London and the rest of the country regarding rosettes.  In London no one seems to notice; whereas, beyond the pale, they are often highly regarded. Through my own experiences of their awarded establishments and their judging process, I fall very much into the Capital's mindset.  I was a year into working at Daphne’s in South Ken when I stumbled across a stack of dusty rosette plates in a cupboard stating our two rosette status through the years.  The restaurant manager glanced over and told me to bin them. 

Stars in my eyes

     My first taste of stardom occurred January 5, 1999.  My twenty-fifth birthday celebrated with great aplomb at one-starred Patrick Guilbaud’s in Dublin.  An epiphany of perfect service and plates composed of clean lines with a technical skill I was not aware existed.  I instantly knew that the food I was producing at a very busy and respected restaurant elsewhere in the city was not in the same ballpark.  Of course, the fact that Bono and Gavin Friday were having a lively time two tables away, and the raised mains cloche revealed tickets to Paris from my then girlfriend...well, the meal would have had to be pretty bad indeed for me to have had an off day. 
     At some point most young chefs make an important decision.  Work like a dog for nary a penny and be brought up in the Michelin manner; or, continue on the fast track to higher wages and promotion a click below the perceived standards of these establishments.  The day after this lunch; I enquired, got the scoop, and stayed on my path.  Regrets?  Well, I am not really one to dwell.  Regrets and guilt don’t generally factor into my life; but, once in awhile, in those quiet moments...would it really have hurt me to take a year out, partied less and grafted for peanuts for the experience of working in a Patrick Guilbaud's?  C’est la vie.  But I will never forget the first time I gazed down at my reflection in a perfect jus.  So pure...it set me on a path to make it myself, so all was not lost.

Falling Flat

     Time rolls on and skills strengthen, the repertoire grows, a palate refines.  If I went back to Guilbaud’s now, would it still wow me?  Could it possibly live up to that fine day?  Doubtful Bono would be sitting at the next table.  A lifetime of enhanced techniques have been downloaded into my brain across those eleven years.  Do I encase that memory or try to relive it?  I hear they have two stars now...might be worth a trip.  But, if the website pics are anything to go by, not my cup of tea.  Now, I may not be able to speak with the same authority as Marco about the state of Michelin these days, but his words ring true.  ‘They are giving away one stars like candy’.  Of this I am in no doubt.  If you play their game, dance to their tune, you will get results.  As I am not a ‘civilian’, the decorum would state that this will not become a chef/restaurant slagging piece, (Lord knows I am not speaking from a plateau of perfection, more reflection and observance.) but rest assured that the five one-star establishments I have eaten in around the South West in the last couple years were a huge disappointment for all at table.  Bear in mind I don’t dine exclusively with chefs before you blame our fine-tuned and uber picky sensibilities.  My wife is an excellent barometer of the typical diner and I have altered menus and recipes immediately due to snide comments dripping from her ample and disappointed lips. 
     The restaurants in question were either dated in presentation and service or were boringly typical in their slate serving, foam fuming, pureed drag-in presented, fairy-liquid-foreign-microcress redundancies.  The worst of them served up vile trifle, dried and cracked cheeses, shell laden white crab and three profiteroles for a tenner.  The best of the lot was technically perfect but exactly like a better known grand house near Chagford.  All of the food was tepid to cold, (a major problem with fussy food; so many fingers, so little time) and virtually none of it was value for money.  Listen carefully here, value for money does not mean a bag of burgers from Lidl for three quid.  It does not mean two for a fiver Sunday lunch at a Wetherspoon’s.  It means- myself and my diners received a valuable and memorable experience of excellent food and sublime service for the money spent.  We didn't. 
     Don’t believe the hype.  Don’t be tricked by the multitude of rosette plates and framed awards bombarding you when you walk into these places.  Ever since that manager bid me ‘toss them in the bin’, I grind my teeth when I am faced with twee plates/awards hanging tacky above the reception area.  You win awards, you are held in high esteem?  Carry on with style and class, I don’t need to be smacked in the face by your pride.  There is a one-starred restaurant not far from where I live that actually has a massive oil painting of the chef; in whites, arms crossed, standing in a field, assessing your suitability before entering his dining room.

Fergus Henderson of St. John, inspiring chef and true gent.
     And then there is St. John.  One of my all time favourite restaurants.  It was a shock to many when they received a star a year or two ago.  Not because they didn’t deserve whatever accolades came their way, but because they certainly don’t fit the Mickey mold.  On one hand it makes you delighted; the other annoyed, because you feel that anyone can do ‘Half Guinea Fowl & Mushy Peas.’  I can only hope that this award was due to the vast influence this restaurant has had on a generation of chefs.  Literally, a shift in Western cooking has emanated from this Spartan room.  Now it is all marrow bones and pig’s heads, and rightly so.  But here is the rub, you never know with Michelin.  They are like the bloody Illuminati, did they give the award for politics and trend setting or, as they always say, ‘First star for the food.’  Well, if this is the case, then I hope they own the Milky Way...to even the balance they would have to dole out countless stars.

Up a notch

     Now, if you want to talk about two and three Michelin starred joints, the game changes.  This is where I believe Michelin still holds onto much of its integrity and authority.  Gidleigh Park is a setting unsurpassed.  Michael is of a generous spirit and made myself and my colleagues feel like kings with his special treatment pre-dining and tailored tasting menu.  The amuse bouche and the petit fours were the best I have ever encountered.  True, it was slightly stuffy dining and we did have a bit of a laugh at the waiter’s uncanny vocal resemblance to Hugo Weaving from The Matix. ‘I see your water has rapidly depleted Mr. Anderson...allow me to refill your glass.’  Snigger.  This aside, Gidleigh Park is a very special place that I hope to eat at once every few years.
     Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road.  Three stars, the pinnacle.  As his personal and business life begins to crumble all around him, I have no doubt that all the big bastard really cares about is hanging onto those three stars.  Life may once again become that narrowly focused for the Wrinkled One.  Again, a birthday.  My wife treated me to a thirtieth to remember.  Subdued, hallowed dining with flawless food.  I feel privileged to have partaken in what I am sure was Marco’s perfect lobster ravioli replicated down the years by the protege...and how does he make those apple crisps so perfect?  The highlight had to be Gordon’s old Maitre d’; his name escapes me, a perfect gent, softly singing happy birthday.  I mean, how could he have resisted my wife’s private request?
   The Fat Duck.  I am lucky enough to have eaten there years ago when it had one star, and then to see the exquisite editing process that achieved three stars.  The Fat Duck hands down has the best and most knowledgeable service of any restaurant I have ever experienced.  Finally, a Michelin star restaurant with relaxed and supremely confident service.  It seems one star means you are shitting yourself about losing it, two stars is the purgatory before three...and what of three?  You've made it.  Big sigh of relief. The Fat Duck buzzes with certainty, filled with a mixed clientele of bored rich and chefs in awe.  The kitchen, (thank-you Jocky on both counts, hope you like the knives) is amazingly accommodating for you to hang about and have a gander and a chat.  Notice I haven’t even mentioned the food.  Heston beats to his own drum and is a national treasure.  Not everything works, but the package as a whole is out of this world.       
      And don't knock it when things do go wrong at one of these multi-starred restaurants.  They seem adept at the art of mopping up.  Sending back some underdone halibut at, (Marcus Wareing's first on St. James' Street) Petrus suited my brother and I just fine when we got free desserts and digestifs.  Best damn port I ever drank.  When mistakes happen they usually bend well forward to make up for the momentary lapse.


     So where are we going with all this?  I truly hope that Michelin can hold onto its integrity past the one star stage.  I  can only speak of my own experiences which are much less than some.  I have made a point of eating at as many Michelin starred restaurants as I could afford; as I wasn’t working in them, I felt duty bound to keep my finger to the pulse of perceived perfection.  Yet I will be hard pressed to be persuaded to try another one star establishment. 
     My own personal view?  You don’t need stars, you don’t need to need stars.  It all smacks a bit of grade school- ‘Here is your gold star, what a good boy!’  But you dismiss them at your peril.  Much original thought is born and fantastic methods drip feed down the ranks from these gilded emporiums.  Just because I am a Blood doesn’t mean I don’t like the Crips.  South Central has changed a lot since I first picked up a chef’s knife.  I refuse to set myself exclusively in the camp of illustrious mentors ++++ & ++++ who seemingly shun anything not in their remit.  I feel it is unnecessary to be so cut and dry.  I am comfortable having Caprese on the menu next to Foie Gras Torchon with all the trimmings.  And as for dessert there can be more to life than the perfect Sticky Toffee Pudding or Eton Mess.  I love how the French always finish a meal with a bang.  Just ice cream, monsieur?  Not without an umbrella and a sparkler.  Afters should wow.  It is fun to play at times as long as everything on the plate has a reason and the hero is always the flavour rather than the look.  People do expect more these days and if you are going to keep it rustic and simple, classic and real, little flourishes and signatures are needed to not leave the diner feeling they could have just stayed home and made it themselves.  As long as these gold-starred boys and their pacojet circulator syringes use their tongues first, their eyes second and they don’t empty my entire wallet...they won’t get a drive-by.  And, please...if you keep taking that slate off your roof, the diners are gonna get wet.


     The best food I have had this year was in a private box at Lord’s Cricket Ground, a Thai gem called Phansit’s Kitchen in Bideford and a little hotel in Dartmouth called Brown's. Granted, we did have our first child this year so eating out has been pretty low down the list of priorities, but I have been out and about a bit and these three places killed on a couple big London names.  So, what do we want from a  restaurant experience?  Certainly the answer will vary slightly, but surely it is to feel at home and comfortable in a great setting be it opulent or rustic, to be cared for like honored guests and to partake in memorable food.  So often starred joints are stuffy chapels where you don't want to swallow too loud for fear of disrupting the library atmosphere. 
     I will always remember the sirloin steak I ate at Brown’s, melt in the mouth, perfectly rested and full of flavour.  The compound butter just melted and cherry vine tomatoes roasted to perfection.  The respect I instantly had for the clean and efficient chef on show at Phansit’s assured me beforehand that the hot n’ sour soup was going to be spot on.  The royal spread at Lord’s proved to me that chaffing-dish banqueting can be on par with the very best fare and I filed this one away for when my own place of work re-opens.  Do I remember the details of individual Michelin-starred dishes?  Rarely.  Bits and pieces.  As stated, the one stars a disappointment, the two and threes very good to outstanding experiences.  But how much can be placed on the fact that I generally do not remember what I ate?  At those prices?  What do you remember when asked what was the best food, the best dish, the best morsels ever to cross your expectant lips?  Do I remember the epic 'fruit de mer' at Scott’s, the oysters in that little place near Perpignon, the gnocchi from Osteria alle Testiere in Venice or the Poulet des Landes for two at The Ivy?  All moments of near sexual indulgence and perfect culinary consummation without a star in sight.  I will wish for them all again; repeated in succession, under gold cloches and served up to my death bed by sylph-like wood nymphs.  All else will fade away like forgettable fancies, passing trends and falling stars.

Bon appetit and a toast to hard working chefs everywhere...whatever their goals.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Back on the Game

Bambi Bolognese?


     Eat more.  Nowadays, much more of an all round delicacy than just autumn/winter fare.  The West Country is so fortunate to have an abundance of this wonderfully lean and flavourful meat.  Venison is superb for slow cook cuts such as shoulder and rare cooked saddle.  It is even wonderful raw as carpaccio.  Venison liver is also a real winner.  Maybe if we start eating enough of it the supermarkets will take notice and start to stock this local treat.  I got a bit of a reprimand from the powers that be when I put 'Bambi Bolognese' on the daily specials menu.  A swift change to 'Venison Ragu' killed the fun. 

     As a chef, if you can buy the 'whole hog', you'll save money and rest well in the knowledge the entire animal is going to be used.  Few things are more satisfying than breaking down a whole carcass.  Lovingly boning out an entire beast, all the while mulling over what to do with each cut.  Duty bound to use every scrap until all that is left is a pile of bones begging to be used as stock, consomme and sauce.

Pipers Farm Venison, Beetroot & Sloe Gin Casserole

     I remember the odd bit of venison when I was a child.  Often too 'high' flavoured.  Possibly hunted at the wrong time?  I am surprised Canadians don't eat it more as we have a near unlimited supply.  Maybe a Canuck reader can school me on why I remember deer to be too strong a flavour when I was young...   I have heard that the hoops one has to jump through to get deer on a shop shelf is almost not worth the effort in North America.  Would love to hear the full story.  Comments welcome.

Seared Exmoor Venison, Pumpkin & Sage Risotto

Ingredients for 2:

200gm Risotto rice (vialone nano, carnaroli or arborio)
350gm Venison loin (from the saddle)
150gm Diced pumpkin and/or butternut squash
4tbsp Dry white wine
4tbsp Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
6tbsp Cold cubed unsalted butter
2tbsp Toasted pumpkin seeds
1ltr Pumpkin stock
1 Minced garlic clove
2 Diced shallots
Sage leaves
Flat leaf parsley


1) Bring the stock to a boil and leave it to simmer.
2) Rub the venison with sunflower oil, season and sear in a hot pan.  
Brown on all sides, reduce the heat and baste in butter until medium rare.  Set aside.
3) Heat 2tbsp of butter in a pan and add the finely diced shallot and garlic.
4) Cook until softened and glassy. 
5) Turn up the heat, add the white wine and reduce. 
6) Add the rice and toast, stirring for a couple minutes.
7) Add the stock one ladle at a time, never adding more until the previous has  
been absorbed.
8) Continue this process for 15-20 minutes.
9) Stir in the diced pumpkin and continue to cook and stir for another 5-10 
minutes, or until the grains have softened but are still al dente.
10) Reduce the heat and stir in the remaining butter and Parmesan cheese. 
11) Stir in the flat leaf parsley and some chopped sage.
12) Warm the venison in a hot oven or under a grill and slice into medallions.

To serve:

     Immediately divide the risotto between two plates and top with the venison slices, a few fried sage leaves and some toasted pumpkin seeds.  A good quality Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel will compliment this dish.

     Well, I can't put this dish in the frame without commenting on risotto.  So dear to my heart, so responsible for my girlish figure.  The amount of risotto I had to taste and finish on the pass at Daphne's makes me wonder how I can still find enjoyment in the eating.  Yet it is still a firm favourite and one of the few preparations I would confidently cook competitively against any chef.  So, Gordo, I know mine is better than what I had at Hospital Road.  Risotto should never be served from a ring mould.  I mean, really!  Risotto should be like lava when it hits the plate...slowly yearning to reach the edge.  If it doesn't move, back in the pot for some loosening up.
     Risotto is the perfect dish when executed properly.  If you lack love or patience it will be a stodgy mess unfit for the family dog.  I see the stock as being equally as important as the rice.  Few things set me off more than being served a risotto without the corresponding stock.  If you are eating mushroom risotto...you need mushroom stock, pumpkin risotto, pumpkin stock etc.  Sweating off a bit of mirepoix and diced pumpkin with a few aromats of your choice and simmering for 30 minutes then straining through a fine sieve...it's not rocket science and the end results will be well worth the extra 'effort'. 

The Importance of Italian:

The rice.  Vialone nano or carnaroli are the best.  Arborio is acceptable but contains the most amount of starch, so it may give out more than it absorbs which means it may become sticky and dense.  You may find you have to add much more stock.

The risotto base.  The saute shallots or onions and/or garlic with white wine.

The 'toasting' of your rice in the soffritto on high heat before the addition of hot stock.  It brings out the nuttiness of the risotto and gets the grains working.

The most important stage.  That golden moment at the end when you beat in your butter and Parmesan.  Serve quickly as your rice is a living thing that will continue to absorb and stodge up. 

     And remember, risotto is a starter.  Primo piatto.  A massive plate of risotto for a main course would be too sickly.  A cappuccino is for breakfast, not after a meal.  Who am I too argue with people that invented so much heaven?

Personal favourites:

Risotto Nero con Calamari: 
Black as sin risotto cooked in squid ink and topped with flash fried squid.

Risotto alla Milanese: 
Saffron risotto often used as a garnish for Ossobuco.  Obviously risotto can be served as a main course when playing a supporting role.

Risotto ai Funghi Selvatici: 
Wild mushroom risotto.  Says it all really.

Risotto al Tartufo Bianco: 
How I miss dodgy little Iannucci, fresh off the Tube with his duffel bag full of white truffles.  £2000.00 per kilo and worth every pence.  Bryan Adams would suddenly become a regular in white truffle season, often sitting on his own, an aged little pock-marked rocker in a wrinkled white T and leather trousers, tucking into a £35.00 plate of rice.  Or how about the two Yanks that requested ketchup?  Off with their heads.

White Truffles on risotto rice in a box at Ramsay's.

Parting Shot:

'The trouble with eating Italian food is that 5 or 6 days later you are hungry again'.
-George Miller

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Importance of Chicken Stock

Evil looking feckers, I say.  Get 'em in the pot!

Chicken Stock


1 Leftover roast chicken carcass, chopped (or 6 raw chicken wings)
1 Medium carrot, peeled and chopped
1 Small white onion, peeled and chopped
1 Stick of celery, chopped
1 Piece of leek chopped
1/2 Head of garlic
2 Bay leaves
Sprig of thyme
Small bunch of parsley
Small slice of lemon (optional)


1) Using a ratio of roughly 2-1 one, (water to bones) cover your carcass in a large saucepan with cold water.
2) Bring to the boil and skim any scum that may arise.
3) Add all the other ingredients and simmer for 2-4 hours.  Ensure you are at a very low simmer or 'tick'.
4) Strain slowly and carefully through a fine mesh sieve and cool quickly in a large tray or bowl over ice.
5) Chicken stock will keep up to three days in the fridge.  

Marco Pierre White swimming in Knorr stock cubes.
'Knorr- The best thing that has happened to cooking since me.'
Indeed, guffaw.

Two schools of thought here:
1.  The man has achieved everything possible in his chosen field and inspired generations of young cooks.  He arguably changed the landscape of serious dining and for this we can forgive whatever substandard products are lining the pockets of his descent into aged caricature.  Lord knows he flogs it with style.
2.  In the words of the late, great Bill Hicks- 'The moment you accept money for advertising you start sucking Satan's cock.'   When the products are this bad, and you make your living as a cook, you swallow.
(Thank-you Susyb for the insight.) 

Enfant Terrible no more.
     Chicken stock.  What can I say? So important yet oft ignored, nay shunned by the domestic cook.  Ok, so Marco has condoned stock cubes.  Does that give you the right to toss that left over chicken carcass in the bin after a Sunday feast?  I think not.  A creature dies and we are duty bound to make use of every scrap.  Stock is but a flavoured water that in this case gets its mojo from the connective tissue and cartilage of the chicken bones.  Connective tissue contains collagen which converts to gelatin which in turn thickens and enriches the liquid.
     Chicken stock is the starting point for so much joy.  Firstly, it imparts a fabulous scent whilst simmering that fills your home with warmth and childhood memories.  A throw back to the days of the cave when a bubbling cauldron of bones promised nourishment in a cold season.  
     If you crave simplicity and ease, simply season your stock and add some noodles with fresh herbs of your choice and you have a light and flavourful broth.  Reducing the stock thickens and intensifies the liquid where you can then jazz it up with butter, alcohol and cream what have you for a luxurious sauce.  In a professional kitchen I would use chicken stock as a base flavour to make other meat stocks with the addition of roasted bones and varying aromatics.  And, of course, it is perfect for many soups.

Top Tips:

- Always bring the bones to a simmer first.  It is much easier to skim scum before you add all the vegetal and herby bits.

-Pressure cookers are the way forward.  Contained flavour in a fraction of the time.

-Reducing a stock will intensify the flavour.  So, not to worry if you feel something is lacking.  Crank up the heat and bring that baby down.

-A leek bouquet garni is a nice touch.  Using a length of leek as a sheath, stuff and tie it with the bay leaf, thyme and parsley.  Much easier to remove when finished cooking.

-Fancy a remouillage?  Once your stock is strained, there is still hope for that tired and spent mess in the pot.  Repeating the process will provide a suitable, albeit weakened flavour.  After all, you can always get two cups of tea out of one teabag.

-Ice cube trays.  You can always spot the anorak cook.  He's the guy that has taken the time to cube up all his stocks in the freezer for a rainy day.

-Always use cold water.  If you use hot this may seal the collagen rather than promoting its extraction.

-No salt.  Season later.  If you need to reduce, you could easily end up with a too salty result.

-Do not boil.  A boiled stock is a cloudy one.  Tick it just right and you will end with a near consomme.

-End result too fatty?  Chill it and the fat will solidify on the top for an easy removal.

-The addition of a small slice of lemon is entirely left up to your own discretion/taste.  I am very partial to a hint of citrus and often treat lemon like a seasoning.