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Côte d’Ivoire – Diombre

Football:

I can’t start talking about the Côte d’Ivoire without mentioning the two players that are expected to take this nation to the second round of the World Cup and beyond: Yaya Toure and the ageing but still incredibly influential Didier Drogba. Yaya was the driving force behind Manchester City’s English Premier League title, which they won last month. If you ever watch him play you will see a powerful and skillful player that makes passing a ball look effortless. I very rarely see a pass go astray, which I am sad to say looks like a dying art these days. As for Didier Drogba; Chelsea fans still bask in the days when he was a formidable predator with his quick and effective style and potent scoring touch. He may be getting on in football years but he is still a major influence.

The Côte d’Ivoire has qualified for the last two World Cups but has yet to make it out of the group stage. It has started this campaign really well by coming from behind to beat Japan 2-1. Struggling to get a grip in the game and losing 1-0, Drogba came on as a substitute and the team seemed to be given a huge lift. Within 5 minutes it was 2-1 up. Its next game will be a tough one against Columbia, which I reckon will be an end to end game with an onion bag full of goals.

 

Dish:

I have learnt so much about African food in the last couple of weeks, from the fermented rice cakes from Nigeria to the ponkie (pumpkin) stew from Ghana. The hard part has been selecting which dish to cook for each country. The Côte d’Ivoire is no exception with dishes such as futu (meat, dried fish and okra stew), atieke (cassava with meat and vegetable sauce) and the one I have cooked for the World Cup, Diombre.

Diombre is a meat and tomato stew which has the key ingredient of crushed okra. The crushed okra when rehydrated in the tomato sauce gives the stew a mildly mucilaginous texture, the kind that fresh okra is known for. It’s important to use a good cut of meat as the stew is cooked fairly quickly, and a cheaper cut of meat will be tough.

Diombre is usually served with fufu, a savoury pudding-like carbohydrate which is commonly eaten throughout Africa. It’s pretty much made from yam or cassava flour, and water. I couldn’t find the right flour in time for this post, so I served it with steamed rice, which works really well.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 10 minutes   |   Cooking Time: 30 minutes

 

Ingredients:

500g Rump steak | Trimmed of fat cut in to 1 cm cubes.
1 tsp. Sea salt |
2 sprigs Thyme |
3 tbsp. Grapeseed oil | Or other non-flavoured oil.
1 Brown onion | Diced.
1 tbsp. Tomato purée |
3 medium Ripe tomatoes | Diced.
1 tsp. Chilli powder |
50g Butter | Cubed.
1 sprig Thyme | Leaves only.
20g Dried okra | Crushed in a mortar. Can be bought or *See below for how to make it.
Seasoning Sea salt |

 

How to:

Add about a litre of water to a medium saucepan. Add the rump steak, teaspoon of salt and two thyme sprigs and bring the water to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Drain the meat discarding the thyme and water. In a deep frying pan or heavy casserole dish heat the grapeseed oil over a medium heat and add the meat. Fry until browned and then add the onion and fry for a further two minutes, stirring to prevent the onion from burning. Add the tomato purée, stir, and then add the diced tomatoes. Cook for 5 minutes and then add the butter, chilli powder, thyme leaves, dried okra and seasoning. Cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes over a low heat.

Serve with fufu, cassava or boiled rice.

* To make your own dried okra: Take 300g of fresh okra, top and tail each piece. Slice each okra ‘finger’ into long strips and blanch in boiling water for a minute. Drain and then lay out on two baking sheets lined with baking paper. Put in a 70°C (160°F) oven for 12 hours. Put the dried okra in a mortar and pestle and grind to a powder. This will yield about 20g of okra powder.

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina – Burek

Football:

Bosnia and Herzegovina are the babies of the World Cup in Brazil. Considering that their first ever international took place in 1995 in Albania, they have come on in leaps and bounds to qualify for their first World Cup. Although, saying that they have come remarkably close to qualification on two previous occasions missing out only through the heartbreak of a playoff each time.

We are now in to the territory of every team having played a game in the World Cup. Bosnia and Herzegovina have started out with a narrow loss to Argentina. Everyone is talking about how wonderful Messi was and how great the goal he scored against them was. True, he opened up for the shot well, but on close inspection you will see it was a deflection off the shin of the opposition, the original shot looking like it was going wide. I would like to reserve my praise for the way Bosnia and Herzegovina attacked the game and give the team of Argentinian stars a run for their money.

For the next two games against Nigeria and Iran I am looking for Edin Džeko to step up and show the goal scoring prowess he has shown for his club Manchester City this year, having helped them win the English Premier League last month.

 

The Dish: 

I have taken some classic street food for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s dish; food that you could well imagine fans eating at the football in downtown Sarajevo. The börek is a family of pastries consisting of meat, cheese or vegetable fillings parcelled in flaky phyllo pastry; iconic throughout the Balkan nations. The burek is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s take on it, usually in the form of a filled spiralled pastry tube. Thinking about it many nations and continents have their own pastry equivalents; England has the old Cornish pasty, there is calzone in Italy, the kringle in Scandinavia, the empanada in Latin America and the Samosa which can be found throughout Asia and Africa.

The fun in making the burek is in the pastry. Pushing and stretching on an oiled surface without tearing it is an art. It’s messy and creative but done well produces a great flaky pastry. I have seen the experts making and flinging metre diameter paper thin sheets of pastry in the air to create perfect circles. I am afraid that there would be some serious kitchen decoration if I tried – but feel free to give it a go.

The filling is a typical meat one enhanced in flavour through the use of sweet paprika, allspice and a touch of cinnamon.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 45 minutes   |   Cooking Time: 15 minutes + 30-40 minutes each burek

 

Ingredients:

For the filling:
3 tbsp. Olive oil |
3 Brown onions | Finely diced.
2 pinches Sea salt |
375g Beef mince | Topside or blade.
375g Lamb mince | Shoulder.
1 tbsp. Sweet paprika |
1 tbsp. Allspice |
½ tsp. Cinnamon |

For the pastry:
500g Plain Flour |
Pinch Sea salt |
150ml Cold water |
1 Egg | Beaten.
Non-flavoured oil | For storing and forming the pastry.

 

How To:

For the filling: Heat the olive oil in a heavy based frying pan over medium heat and when hot add the onions and salt. Sauté until golden and then add the beef and lamb mince. Keep stirring and breaking up the mince as it cooks and browns. Once browned add the spices and cook for a further minute. Test for seasoning and then remove from the heat and let the mixture cool.

Pre-heat an oven to 200°C (390°F).

For the pastry: Add the flour and salt to a mixing bowl. Gradually add the water and either using your hands or a food mixer with a dough hook mix until a dough is formed – you may not need to use all the water. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead for 5 minutes until the dough is very smooth and elastic. Split the dough in to 4 portions and press each one in to a 2.5cm thick disc. Put the discs into a small bowl rubbing a little oil in between each so they don’t stick. Now fill the bowl with oil until the pastry is covered.

Rub some oil on to a non-porous surface i.e. not wood, to coat it. Take the first pastry disc and allow any excess oil to drip off. Place the disc on the oiled surface and from the inside out press the disc to increase its size and decrease its thickness. When about half a centimetre thick take the edge of the disc and gently pull it outwards, doing this motion evenly around the disc. Be careful not to tear the thinning pastry. When the pastry circle is about 70cm in diameter place one quarter of the meat filling in a straight line along the edge of one quarter of the circle (on the chord for any geometricians). Now roll the pastry tightly around the filling and keep rolling until you have a tube. Carefully spiral the tube and brush the top with the beaten egg. Place the uncooked burek on an oiled baking tray and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown. Repeat this process three more times for the rest of the filling and pastry. Eat hot and enjoy the football.

Iran – Chelo Kebab with Tabouleh

Football:

Iran caused one of the greatest heartaches in World Cup qualifying history; at the expense of Australia. I was still living in England and the reason it became so well known in those parts was due to the English coach that took Australia to the brink of the World Cup in 1998, Terry Venables. Iran held Australia to a 1-1 draw in Tehran, in front of over 100,000 fans, and was widely expected to be comprehensively beaten in the return leg in Melbourne. And that beating was on the cards as Australia dominantly led 2-0. Australia then lost momentum and Iran unbelievably scored two quick goals to take the aggregate to 3-3, which it stayed at. Iran went through on the away goals rule; a great comeback that inflicted heartbreak on Australia. Coincidentally, Iran’s only other presence in the World Cup was in 1978, at the expense of…Australia.

Realistically, Iran are real underdogs and are not expected to progress from the group stages in Brasil. However, in qualifying they topped their group ahead of favourites Korea Republic so go in to the tournament confident. I reckon their main strategy will be a defensive wall with quick breaks down the wings and pinpoint crossing in to the box. Watch out for Javad Nekounam, Ashkan Dejagah and Reze Ghoochannejhad.

 

The Dish: 

I was relishing cooking some Persian delights as Middle-Eastern food is generally not something I cook that often; every time I eat it I am astounded as to why I don’t cook it more. Iran has given me the kick I needed and through it I have been able to explore the flavours I love; from ingredients such as cumin, mint, parsley, lemon, sumac, yoghurt and fatty beef and lamb.

I’m not half loving this food project you know.

So, for Iran’s World Cup food presence I have cooked chelo (Persian rice) kebab with tabouleh and a mint, lime and cucumber yoghurt dressing. Persian rice is something that I have wanted to make for a while, so I’m delighted to have now done it.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 40 minutes   |   Cooking Time: 60 minutes marinating + 30 minutes cooking

 

Ingredients:

For the kebab:
550g Minced beef and lamb | I minced my own in the ratio of 290g beef topside : 185g lamb shoulder : 75g fat.
1 Brown onion | Roughly chopped.
½ tsp. Turmeric |
1 tsp. Ground cumin | Freshly ground if you can.
1 tsp. Dried mint |
½ tsp. Sumac |
¼ tsp. Bicarbonate of soda |
1½ tsp. Sea salt |
Black pepper to season

 

For the tabouleh:
1 bunch Flat leaf parsley | Finely shredded.
10 Mint leaves | Finely shredded.
2 lemons Lemon juice |
2 tbsp. Burghul |
3 Ripe tomatoes | Finely diced. I used Roma tomatoes.
4 Spring onions | Finely sliced. Use both the white and green parts.
Glug Olive oil | That’s about a tablespoon or two.
Seasoning Sea salt and black pepper |

 

For the yoghurt dressing:
250g Plain yoghurt |
½ Continental cucumber | Finely diced.
5 Mint leaves | Finely chopped.
½ lime Lime juice |
Pinch Ground cumin |
Seasoning Sea salt and black pepper |

 

For the rice:
500g Rice | I used basmati.
A pinch Saffron strands |
3 tbsp. Water |
60g Butter | Cut in to small cubes.

 

How To:

For the kebab: process the onion to a puree and then either squeezed through muslin cloth or pressed in to a fine sieve extract the onion juice. For the kebab we will use the solid onion (pulp) that is left.

To a bowl add the mince, onion pulp, turmeric, cumin, dried mint, sumac, bicarbonate of soda, salt and black pepper and mix thoroughly using a stirring and squeezing motion with your hands. This squeezing aids in binding the meat proteins together so that the kebab does not fall apart. Cover the bowl and put it in the fridge for an hour.

For the tabouleh: Soak the burghul in the lemon juice for 10 minutes, or until it has softened. To a bowl add the finely shredded parsley and mint, burghul and lemon juice, tomatoes, spring onions, olive oil and seasoning. Mix and taste, adjusting the seasoning if necessary.

For the dressing: To a bowl add the yoghurt, cucumber, mint, lime juice, cumin and seasoning. Mix and taste, adjusting the seasoning if necessary.

For the rice: add the rice to a large pan of salted boiling water. Cook until the rice has softened, but still has resistance, and drain. Put the rice in a wok or similar pan and mould it in to a dome shape. Add the saffron to the 3 tablespoons of water and stir for a minute or so. Pour the saffron and liquid over the rice. Now place cubes of butter spread evenly over the rice. Put the wok on a low-medium heat, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes or so. Remove from the heat and leave covered until ready to serve.

Preheat a broiler (grill). Take the mince mixture from the fridge and form long thin sausage-like kebabs. Cook under the broiler for 5 minutes each side (top and bottom) or until done.

Serve the kebabs drizzled in the yoghurt dressing with a side of the Persian rice and tabouleh. Ensure that everyone gets a little of the crusty rice which has formed at the base of the wok.

Ghana – Ponkie

Nigeria was supposed to be next but a little setback with the recipe means that it’s Ghana today and Nigeria tomorrow. But hey, that’s entertainment for you.

 

Football:

Ghana strikes gold with me; not because of their World Cup exploits but because of a player that lit up the Premier League in England in the mid-90s with explosive power, sublime skill and a scoring prowess that would leave me breathless. I am talking about a player called Tony Yeboah. He burst on to the scene for my home team Leeds United, and brought to the game a level of excitement I have seen little of since. His legacy is in a 35 yard volley that crashed in off the underside of the crossbar leaving the 6ft 5in goalkeeper helpless. He was a Ghanaian hero to many. Unfortunately for Tony Yeboah he never made it to a World Cup as Ghana’s first ever qualification was only in 2006, where they made it to the last 16. Amazingly, they made it to the quarter-final in 2010.

Up against the USA, Portugal and Germany in Brazil it will take an heroic effort for Ghana to progress to the last 16. However, the belief of the fans is such that they expect them to qualify. Ghana has a wonderful midfield in Sulley Muntari and Michael Essien, and a potentially potent strike force of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan. I have a sneaky feeling they may just qualify for round 2.

 

The Dish: 

I once knew a wonderful couple when I lived in Tooting in London; a partnership from Jamaica and Ghana. Needless to say that eating there was a joy to behold as I remember ackee and saltfish, plantains, fresh and smoked fish, and lots of wholesome pulses and vegetables; a true mix of the Caribbean and Western Africa. Eating there was a real celebration of family and food, and I used to leave with a full belly and utter contentment.

During this project I want to get a balance of food types such as fast food eaten at football matches, street food, desserts, spicy food, and some well tasty wholesome food; and recalling my experience in Tooting, I can tell you that Ghana has it aplenty. So, the wholesome dish I have chosen is known as ponkie, which means pumpkin. It is simplicity itself, but what I love is that all the ingredients are allowed to speak for themselves with an underlying little kick from the addition of hot cayenne pepper. This, for me, is a classic African stew, and served with steamed and mashed cassava is nothing short of magical.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 20 minutes   | Cooking Time: 35-45 minutes

 

Ingredients:

1 medium Aubergine (Eggplant) | Diced into 2 cm cubes. In Ghana they are known as ‘Garden Eggs’.
1.5 litres Cold water |
20g Table salt |
2 tbsp. Olive oil |
1 Brown onion | Diced.
500g Beef topside mince | This is a lean cut and breaks down really well in to the stew.
¼-½ tsp. Hot cayenne pepper | Amount depending on heat required. ¼ tsp gave a nice little kick.
1½ tsp. Ground coriander | Freshly toasted and ground is ideal, but already ground is good.
1 kg Pumpkin (Ponkie) | Diced in to 1cm cubes. I used a Jap pumpkin that worked really well.
1 Green pepper (capsicum) | Chopped.

Salt and Pepper for seasoning
Coriander leaves for garnishing

 

How To:

Dissolve the table salt in the 1.5 litres of cold water and then add the diced aubergine. Soak for 20 minutes and then rinse the aubergine thoroughly and pat dry.

Put a large pan or casserole dish over a low-medium heat, add the olive oil and when hot add the onion. Soften for about 2 minutes so that it becomes translucent – we don’t want any browning. Add the minced beef, cayenne pepper and ground coriander, stir and cook for a further 10 minutes or so. Now stir in the pumpkin, aubergine and green pepper, and season with salt and black pepper. Turn the heat to low, cover the pan and cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. The aubergine will probably be the last one to soften completely.

Add some final seasoning and serve, garnished with coriander leaf. I served this with steamed and mashed cassava (with a little olive oil, milk and seasoning), and ended up with a fully belly and very content.

Beef Cheek Bourguignon

Introduction:

This recipe marries two incredible entities; the classic French dish of Bourguignon and the sumptuously meaty flavour of beef cheeks, or joues de boeuf.

The Bourguignon first: although associated primarily with beef, the term à la Bourguignonne is a general one for anything that is cooked in red wine e.g. meat, fish, sautéed chicken and poached eggs. It is often served garnished with button mushrooms, baby onions and a good dose of fatty bacon lardons. Most famously though the term is associated with the regional fare of Burgundy. I recently asked a Frenchman here in Melbourne what wine he uses in his Boeuf Bourguignon, as Australia has an incredible selection of good wine.

He looked at me and went “puh…Côte-du-Rhone naturellement!” I couldn’t really argue, mainly because my French was not up to scratch. And in truth, French wine is pretty darn good.

So, beef cheeks? They are a very much an underrated carnivorous offering that are often dismissed due to a misjudged perception that they are not going to be good to eat or to lack of patience in the hours needed to tenderise them.

The cheeks are not the most enticing of lookers; well not until they are trimmed. They are literally the cheeks of the cow and as such do an incredible amount of work during a bovine’s life-time. All the chewing and grinding of fresh grass and cud leaves these muscles incredibly tough and potentially nuclear resistant. However, this is a signal for those in the know that we are looking at a phenomenal taste profile if a little patience and technique is applied.  If you have a penchant to smell real beef then smell a fresh beef cheek; it’s carnivorous nectar.

In this recipe I curl the cheeks in half and tie them. Once cooked and untied they retain this wonderful shape.

So on to beef cheek Bourguignon – there is not much of a story behind this; no sabbatical to the depths of Burgundy, for example. This dish came about simply by the love of beef cheeks and cooking à la Bourguignonne, and how desperate I was to try the two together. Bon appétit.

 

Serves: 5   |   Preparation:  marinade 3 hours + prep 45 minutes   |   Cooking: About 4 hours

 

Ingredients:

2 Carrots | Peeled and sliced.
2 sticks Celery | Sliced.
1 Bouquet garni | See here for bouquet garni.
1 Leek | Sliced. The outer skin can be used for the bouquet garni above.
2 Brown onions | Peeled and roughly chopped.
4 Garlic cloves | Peeled and halved.
450ml Veal stock | For homemade stock see here.
750ml Red wine | Make sure the wine is good enough to drink. I used an Australian Shiraz – but if you have a good French red use that!
5 Beef cheeks – trimmed | 5 trimmed beef cheeks is about 1.3kg of meat.
4 tbsp. Olive oil |
1 tbsp. Plain flour |
1 carrot Sliced |
1 tbsp. Olive oil | To fry the bacon
100g Streaky bacon | Cut in to lardons (small strips).
250g Button mushrooms | Swiss browns are excellent.
16 Baby onions | Peeled. Pickling onions can be used.
40g Butter |
1 tsp. White sugar |
1 tbsp. Plain flour |
2 Sprigs Parsley | For garnish.

 

 

How To:

Ensure the beef cheeks are trimmed of any outer sinew and fat. Fold each one in half and tie with butcher’s string.

To a large heavy based casserole dish add the beef cheeks, 2 carrots, 2 celery sticks, bouquet garni, leek, brown onions, garlic cloves, veal stock and bottle of red wine. Leave to marinade in a fridge for 3 hours. After 3 hours remove the beef cheeks from the marinade and set aside. Then drain the vegetables and bouquet garni and set aside. Reserve the marinade.

Preheat an oven to 150 deg C. (300 deg F.)

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the heavy based casserole dish and add the beef cheeks. Sprinkle one tablespoon of flour over the cheeks and brown them on all sides. Set the beef cheeks aside. Add a further 1 tablespoon of oil to the casserole and brown half of the vegetables and set aside. Repeat with the other half of vegetables and set aside.

Add the marinade to the casserole, bring it to the boil and on medium heat reduce by one third. Skim any foam scum that rises to the surface. Once reduced, add the beef cheeks, vegetables and bouquet garni to the marinade. Cover the casserole dish with two sheets of foil and then the lid. Put in the oven for 3 hours.

Meanwhile, blanch the carrots in boiling water until tender. Remove the carrots and then add the bacon lardons to the water. Blanch for about 30 seconds and then drain. Blanching the bacon removes the smokiness, a flavour that is not required in the Bourguignon.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and fry the drained lardons until browned, then set aside. In the same pan add 15g of butter and fry the mushrooms until browned and slightly soft to the touch. Set aside.

Add another 15g of butter to the frying pan and sauté the baby onions until browned. Then add a little water (a tablespoon or so), one teaspoon of white sugar, and salt and pepper for seasoning. Cover the frying pan with a lid and on a medium heat cook the onions until tender. Add a little more water of they start to dry out.

After 3 hours remove the beef cheeks from the oven (leave the oven on). Very carefully remove the beef cheeks and set aside. Now drain the vegetables and bouquet garni and discard; reserve the cooking liquid. Clean any leftovers from the casserole dish and pour in the reserved cooking liquid. On the stove bring to a simmer. Take the remaining 10g of butter and 1 tablespoon of flour and mix until a smooth paste is formed (known as beurre meunière); add this to the simmering cooking liquid and whisk until all the butter has melted. Take the liquid off the heat and carefully add the beef cheeks, carrots, mushrooms, bacon and baby onions. Put the lid on the casserole dish (no foil this time) and put it back in the oven for a further 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, garnish with chopped parsley and serve immediately – one cheek per person. If there are only four of you then one lucky onion gets an extra cheek!

 

Notes:

  • This method seems a little long-winded but it really is so worth it – and those cheeks are so soft and the strands separate at the mere flick of a fork.

Delectable Burger with Honey Mustard Sauce

Introduction:

I have for some time been trying to create a beef patty that when you bite in to it feels like you’re sinking your teeth in to the brawniest Angus, after which the patty melts away like candy floss. To conjure such an illusion has taken much trial and error, as well as a little science.

I have tried many variations, including using binders such as breadcrumbs, panko crumbs, eggs, cornflour, tapioca flour…you name it I have tried it. I have also added various flavours, such as grated onion, tomato paste, garlic, and innumerable herbs and spices, but truth be known, and I am a pretty modest chap, all I have ever wanted was to have a beef burger that was, well just that, beef.

Two things have helped me significantly on my quest: a new mincer and understanding the binding process.

Firstly, now that I am the proud owner of a mincing attachment to a fairly popular brand of mixing device, I have been able to experiment with mincing various cuts of beef, and playing around with texture. From various experiments I have come to the conclusion that beef topside (from the hind quarter of the cow) is a great, and inexpensive, cut for mincing in to beef patties. To the topside I add (about 10-12% in total mix weight) pork back fat. The addition of the fat gives the burger a moister texture; with just topside I found the burger to be a little too dry. When mincing I ensure that the meat and grinding plates are cold – grinding meat when it is warm can cause it to become mushy and for it to lose its juices.

Secondly, salt binds protein and beef contains protein. So salt effectively holds the whole patty together. The level is crucial as too much salt will not only give you a burger that is unpalatable, but the patty will be too tough. Too little salt and the patty will just fall apart before it reaches your bun. The key, therefore, to binding that patty is to get the salt level just right ensuring that the salt seasons the burger perfectly too. I settled on a level of 1% of the total meat and fat content.

With the combination of topside and pork back fat, and an optimal salt level that gives a great balance between binding texture and seasoning the last major variable is how the meat is minced.

To do this I consulted notes from Mr Heston Blumenthal and discovered the ingenious method of mincing the meat so that it lays in the one direction. Usually beef is minced straight in to a bowl and becomes a random network of interlinked proteins. By mincing and laying the meat in one direction we create ‘strands’ of meat that traverse a horizontal plane. If we then create a cylindrical sausage from these ‘strands’ and cut the burgers as discs, when you actually bite through the burger you are effectively biting across the grain which means that the burgers break easily when chewed. Finally, it is worth noting that I use a coarse grinding (mincing) plate to give the desired texture.

So there we have it – a pure beef patty that melts in your mouth.

 

Serves: 4-6  |   Preparation:  30 minutes   |   Cooking: 20 minutes + 2 hours resting

 

Ingredients:

For the beef patty:    
570g Beef topside | Cut in to strips so that it is easy to mince. And make sure it is cold.
70g Pork back fat | Cut in to strips so that it is easy to mince. And make sure it is cold.
6.4g Sea salt | 1% of the weight of the meat and fat total. If using flaked salt grind it to a powder first.

For the honey mustard:    
125g Dijon mustard | A good strong Dijon is required here.
1 tbsp. Honey | A great floral and fragrant honey adds real character to this sauce.
¼tsp. Lemon juice | Adds a hint of acidity.

For the burger:    
6 Burger buns | I used Turkish bread in this recipe but use what floats your boat.
6 Beef patties |
1 tsp. each burger Honey Mustard Sauce | As made above.
Salad, Pickles, Cheese etc. | Your call 🙂

 

 

How To:

Ensure that your topside, fat and grinding plate/ parts are really cold. Mince (coarse grinding plate) the beef and back fat into a bowl. Add the sea salt and mix well with your hands. Put the mince in the fridge for an hour. Also wash the grinding plate/ parts and put them in the freezer for an hour. After an hour take the mince out of the fridge and mould it into a few sausage shapes so that they easily fit into your mincer’s delivery tube.

Prepare a chopping board by laying two layers of cling-film (cling wrap) over it.

Add the mince ‘sausages’ to your mincer and begin to mince. This next part is crucial for the break-away texture. Hold the prepared chopping board up to the mincer. As the beef mince is being extruded ‘lay’ it in the same direction across the chopping board. Due to the interference of the mixer arm of my popular branded mixer I lay the mince along half the length of the chopping board and then turn it round and do the other half. The photo below is what you should end up with.

Now carefully wrap the cling film around the mince to form a cylindrical shape. Don’t’ wrap too tightly though. Put the mince in the fridge for another hour to set.

Remove the mince from the fridge and unwrap it. Now, very carefully using a sharp thin knife, cut the mince cylinder in to 6 even disc shapes. Take each disc and gently pat and mould into a burger shape, all the while bearing in mind that we are trying to keep the mince loose, yet bound.

To cook the patties, heat the oil in a hot heavy based frying pan and then add the patties. Flip them every 30 seconds to ensure an even cooking and heating. Cook them for about 5-6 minutes. The patties should be nicely browned and very slightly pink in the middle.

For the honey mustard sauce add the Dijon mustard, honey and lemon juice to a bowl. Whisk together for about a minute until smooth.

I served these burgers with Black Russian tomato, Lebanese cucumber, vintage cheddar and the honey mustard sauce. But it’s a burger so dress it to suit your fancy.

 

 

Pho Bo – Beef Noodle Soup Hanoi Style

Introduction:

Where phở originally came from has proven inconclusive to researchers. From my little bit of digging around in Hanoi (Hà Nội) I found three theories each with their merits, but one in particular sounding the most likely. First off is a nice little theory that phở originated from the French word feu (fire) as in the dish pot-au-feu (a dish of soup, boiled meat and vegetables). The theory is plausible in that phở is pronounced the same as feu, and that it is a soup dish usually served with boiled meat. However, most of the ingredients in phở and pot-au-feu are different, and in the French version the meat is usually eaten separately from the broth whereas in the Vietnamese version the meat is in the broth, along with the noodles (phở).

Second off is the story that phở was invented during French rule by a talented cook in Nam Định City, which at the time was Vietnam’s largest colonial textile centre. The industry there was an amalgamation of French employers and Vietnamese labourers and the chef, whose name I couldn’t find, decided that to please both the colonialists and the locals he would base a soup on noodles (appealing to the Vietnamese) and beef (appealing to the French) and a few other available ingredients.

Finally, and the theory considered to be the most likely (according to the book PHỞ a Speciality of Hà Nội by Hữu Ngọc and Lady Borton) is that the birthplace of phở was in the village of Vân Cù in the Nam Định province. The story goes that impoverished villagers created phở and then peddled their dish in Hanoi, about 100 kilometres ways. The phở was a huge success amongst both the poor and wealthy residents of Hanoi and this success may explain why several of the best phở chefs in Hanoi originate from Vân Cù Village. Vân Cù villagers do not know who created phở, they only know that in about 1925 a villager named Van became the first person to move to Hanoi to open a phở stall.

Although a year has passed since my 5 week sojourn to the astoundingly brilliant Hanoi, the memories of phở bò in particular remain entrenched in my bank of culinary experiences. The phở that I have created and posted here is a culmination of all the soups I tasted in Hanoi and advice I was given from the Vietnamese friends I made over there. I have tried to stay true to the Hanoian style: a simple, clean and uncomplicated soup that has a deep rich meaty and lightly spiced flavour, with a subtle hint of sweetness. The secret to a great phở is the broth – the broth will make or break your soup. This version is based on phở bò chin (boiled beef) and phở bò tai (rare beef).

 

Serves: 8  |   Preparation:  30-40 minutes   |   Cooking: 4 hours + resting overnight

 

Ingredients:

For the broth:
2 kg Brisket |
2 kg Beef bones | Get your butcher to cut them in to pieces.
300g Pork rib bones | Adds a ‘sweetness’ to the broth – advised by my Vietnamese friends and connoisseurs of phở
6-7 litres Cold water | Enough to ensure the bones are covered.
1 tbsp. Sea salt |
5 large Asian or French shallots | Unpeeled.
1 bulb Garlic | Unpeeled.
100g Ginger | Unpeeled.
1 Brown onion | Unpeeled.

For the spice pouch:    
5 pods Black cardamom |
3 quills Cinnamon |
10 Cloves |
6 pods Star anise |
1 tbsp. Black peppercorns |

Other flavourings for the broth:    
150ml Fish sauce | Also have some extra if the broth needs seasoning at the end.
90g Yellow Rock Sugar | This sugar tastes both richer and subtler than refined, granulated sugar. It also gives the broth a beautiful lustre and glaze. White sugar can be used but reduce the amount to about 60g.

Additions to the final Soup:    
200g per person Phở (Noodles) | Buy fresh from an Asian grocers.
1 bunch Garlic chives | Finely chopped.
250g Rib eye fillet beef | Sliced thinly.
25g per person Bean sprouts |
6 Spring onions | Chopped.
2 Birds-eye chilli | Finely sliced.
1 to 2 Lemon or lime | Quartered.
1 bunch Asian basil | Discard the roots, wash and split the bunch into small sprigs.
1 bunch Coriander | Discard the roots, wash and split the bunch into small sprigs.
1 bunch Perilla leaves | Discard the roots, wash and split the bunch into small sprigs.
1 bunch Vietnamese mint | Discard the roots, wash and split the bunch into small sprigs.
To season Fish sauce | Only of required.

 

 

How To:

Over a charcoal grill or a very hot griddle pan place the shallots, garlic bulb, ginger and brown onion and char-grill for about 20 minutes. We want the outer skin burnt and the inside soft; this really adds a depth of flavour of the broth. When done remove the burnt outer skins, discard and then chop up the rest in to smallish pieces.

Again over a charcoal grill or hot griddle pan toast the black cardamom pods, cinnamon quills, cloves and star anise pods for about a minute until really fragrant. Remove the spices from the heat and along with the peppercorns roughly grind them in a spice grinder or with a pestle and mortar. Make a pouch out of muslin cloth and add the spice mix. Tie up the pouch and set aside.

To an 11 litre (or similar) stock pot add the brisket, beef bones, pork rib bones, cold water and sea salt. Ensure that the water covers the bones completely. Bring the meat and bones to the boil and then reduce to a rolling simmer for about 15 minutes. During this time skim any impurities that rise to the surface (usually a brownish foamy scum). By removing these impurities you will end up with a clear broth. Now to the bones add the chopped char-grilled shallots, onion, garlic and ginger, spice pouch, yellow rock sugar and fish sauce and then bring back to the boil. Now turn down the heat to low, cover the pan and let it simmer for about 3 hours. The broth will reduce during this time, which is what we want.

After 3 hours turn off the heat and then allow the broth to cool for about an hour. Now carefully pick out the pieces of brisket. Leave them to cool overnight. Now, strain the broth through a fine sieve into a smaller stock pot (I use a 5 litre one) and then allow it to rest overnight in the fridge.

Once rested in the fridge the stock will have a layer of solid fat on the surface. Strain carefully through a fine sieve lined with a double layer of muslin and then return the broth to your smaller (5 litre) stock pot. You should see a lovely translucent brown stock. Discard the muslin cloth as it should now contain all the filtered fat.

Now to prepare the rest of the ingredients: take the Asian basil, coriander, perilla leaves and Vietnamese mint and put in to a bowl of iced water. This will ‘crisp’ the herbs. Drain them just before serving. Heat the broth to just below a simmer and season with fish sauce if required. I added about 1 teaspoon. Thinly slice the cold boiled brisket (used to make the broth) discarding any ‘lumps’ of fat.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. In a large enough sieve place 200g of the noodles and blanch in the hot water for about 20 seconds. Loosen the noodles carefully during the blanching. Place the noodles in a serving bowl and repeat the process for the other serves.

Each serving bowl should now contain noodles. To each bowl add a good sprinkle of the finely chopped garlic chives, the bean sprouts, a few chopped spring onion pieces, a handful of sliced brisket and a few slices of the raw rib eye fillet. Now pour 3-4 ladles of hot broth into each bowl so that it looks like a soup. Serve immediately.

Prepare as a side a bowl containing the herbs and a dish containing the lemon/ lime quarters and sliced chilli. People can then add as much herb/ chilli/ lemon or lime to their soup. Remember a phở connoisseur first lightly stirs the noodles, then drinks a mouthful of the sweet broth.

Spaghetti Bolognese

Introduction:

Hovering over a cauldron of hot meat, somewhere in a poky flat in London, two students of chemistry fervently debate what they honestly believe to be the finer points of an Italian classic. No, no, one must dissolve the stock cube in 40 degree water before-hand…ah but my learned friend, one can just simply sprinkle it straight in to the meat, and considering the energy coefficient of solubility it will be fine. We beg to differ, but surely anyone worth their salt would cook the meat first and then add onions. Oh my fellow collegiate, it is all but obvious that one cooks the onions first and then adds the meat. But why Balsamic? I mean why are you throwing a carboxylic acid in to a meat sauce, you’re mad…..Ahh yes but this acid will be offset by the coefficient of not really knowing what we are doing.

Through all of this intense, and what we thought was intellectual, debate not once was the true understanding of what we were doing discussed. In particular thinking about flavour, texture and the science of what really happens.

I remember a two day residential course during my A-level years (16-18 year old) at a university in the North of England and being bedazzled by the professor of organic chemistry who could synthesise the most incredible molecules from basic reagents. But this is not the reason why the experience has stuck with my all these years later. It was the sheer brilliance of the man when it came to making coffee. And it was brilliance because it was so bad. A lumpy (undissolved powdered milk), weak and tepid mess that was more Damien Hirst than Delia Smith.

Luckily for me, I managed to overcome the handicap of being a chemist to be able to cook with a degree of flair and efficiency, I hope. Years on from that meat cauldron I  have been able to understand more about what happens when cooking – and do now consider flavour- and feel confident enough now to share with you my latest, and proudest, version of the Italian classic, spaghetti Bolognese.

Fortunately I discovered two things: the first is the wonderful mirepoix, and the second is that I can cook the meat and onions at the same time, in different pans. Now try telling that to a professor of chemistry. Enjoy.

 

Serves: 8   |   Preparation:  30 minutes  |   Cooking: 2 ½ hours

 

Ingredients:

1 kg Pork and veal mince | Of course lean beef can be used, but I love this combination.
2 Pork sausages | If you can, purvey good English style pork sausage from a good butcher – or the equivalent weight in sausage meat.
5 tbsp. Olive oil |  
100ml Red wine | Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz – not too expensive though unless you are going to drink the rest.
1 tbsp. Balsamic vinegar | A good aged one works well. There is something about the balsamic that seems to ‘lift’ the flavour of the sauce.
2 Carrots | Finely diced.
1 Brown onion | Finely diced.
2 Celery sticks | Finely diced.
1 Baby fennel | Finely chopped – this is optional but does add a super subtle aniseed note.
1 Leek | Finely chopped – white part only.
2 pinches Sea salt |
250ml Vegetable stock | Chicken or beef can be used. See here for chicken or beef stock.
2 tsp. Tomato purée |
2 x 440g cans Diced tomatoes | This can be made with fresh tomatoes, but quality tinned tomatoes are just as good.
To season Salt and black Pepper |
Your call Spaghetti | Dried or fresh. If I have time I will make fresh, otherwise dried is perfect.
A glug Olive oil | Used to loosen the spaghetti when cooked.

 

 

How To:

Pre-heat your oven to 150 deg. C (300 deg. F).

In a large heavy based frying pan over medium to high heat add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. When hot add the mince and work with a wooden spoon to break it down as it cooks. Cook until brown.

In the meantime add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to a large casserole dish or heavy based pan that can be put in the oven, and put over a low heat on the hob. When the oil is hot add the carrots, onion, celery, leek, fennel and 2 pinches of sea salt. Mix well so the vegetables are coated with oil and sweat the vegetables for 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Do not allow the vegetables to brown (caramelise).

Back to the mince: once browned add the sausage meat. If using sausages squeeze tiny balls of meat from the skin and add to the mince. Once it’s all added, stir and cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes. The mince will start sticking which is good, as this will add lots of flavour to the Bolognese.

Once the vegetables are soft and translucent add the tomato purée and stir. Once the meat has cooked add it to the vegetables and put the frying pan on high heat. Add the red wine and balsamic, and scrape the stuck on bits from the pan’s surface. Once the wine and balsamic have been reduced by half, add to the vegetables and meat, ensuring that the loosened sticky bits go in as well.

To the meat and vegetables add the stock and tinned tomatoes, stir and bring to the boil. Cover with a tight fitting lid and put in the oven for about 1hr 45 minutes. After an hour check the sauce. If it is looking a bit dry add a little hot stock or water to moisten.

Meanwhile for the spaghetti, cook according to the instructions on the packet. Once cooked, drain and reserve about a tablespoon of the cooking water. Put the spaghetti back in the pan, add the reserved cooking water and a glug of olive oil, stir and the cover the pan. This should keep your spaghetti fresh for 10 minutes or so.

Remove the Bolognese from the oven, season according to taste with sea salt and black pepper, and serve on the spaghetti. Buon appetito.

Vietnam – The best Pho in Hanoi is…

…a very difficult one to call. Before I give the final answer, a subjective one of course, it’s important to define what actually makes a good pho (in case you haven’t read my other Vietnam posts, pho is the general name for the thick rice noodles served in broth). Here is my take on it:

1)      For me the whole dish hinges on the broth. And I found that a Hanoi pho has a distinct broth which is sweet (not by sugar) and homely, and does not contain additives like chilli sauce, vinegar or garlic. I hear that connoisseurs of pho like to lightly stir their noodles in the broth and then take a mouthful of the sweet broth. Straight away you know if it is good or not.

2)      The next thing is the quality of the meat. We came across two main types of pho: pho bo (beef) and pho ga (chicken).

Pho Bo: here brisket is usually used, which is from the front underside of the cow. I came across three variants of pho bo. The first was pho bo chin, which uses a beef that has been boiled, hung up to dry and is then sliced. The second was pho bo tai, where the fat and tendons are removed from the beef. The beef is cut into small pieces, put in a ladle and the ladle is half submerged in the vat of broth. The meat is pulled out when semi-cooked.  The third variant I saw was pho tai nam. This one is similar to pho bo tai except that cooked meat is served with raw meat. In all instances the beef is placed on the noodles in a serving dish and then broth is poured over.

 

Pho Bo Sign in Hanoi

Pho Bo Sign in Hanoi

 

Pho Ga: I only saw one variant of pho ga. In Hanoi only the chicken breast is served in this noodle soup, so to get a good mark, mentally in my head anyway, the breast had to be nice and tender and full of flavour.

 

Pho Ga - Chicken Noodle Soup

Pho Ga – Chicken Noodle Soup

 

3)      The noodles are another important part. They should be nice and slippery with no ‘sliminess’. To be honest all the noodles I tried in Hanoi were near damn perfect.

4)      Additions. This is really about what was served with the pho. Usually the pho is served with spring onions and garlic chives. Also, an additional bowl would be served containing anything from the following; perilla leaves, Asian mint, coriander, Vietnamese mint, crisp lettuce, miniature limes and fiery chilli. I can’t remember any pho being served with bean shoots although when I eat pho in Little Vietnam in Melbourne there are always bean shoots. I actually think the pho is better without them.

I worked out that we have eaten pho at nearly every type of establishment, and have eaten it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Apart from one which was average (it was an international chain of Pho restaurants), all of them have been unique and ‘insanely great’ (stole that one from Mr Jobs, RIP).

We had the honour of eating pho ga on Christmas night with the owners of the apartment and all the other tenants. This was a wonderful experience with in an international group of people socialising, laughing and telling stories whilst lapping up beautiful noodle soup, spring rolls, sticky rice and punchy and herbaceous salads.

We had memorable pho bo and pho ga on the edge of the mountains in Sapa – it was cold there, so the hot noodle broth for breakfast instilled a warmth that would carry you through to lunch.

We have eaten pho at little places we have discovered in Hanoi; usually tiny holes in a wall kitted out with miniature plastic stools and tables, and serving the most incredible pho.

But the winner of the best pho, and the place that completes number 10 in the top ten of must eat street food experiences, goes to a place that is renowned for its pho in Hanoi, and the one that I saved till last to eat in. Located in the middle of the Old Quarters this pho joint is mentioned in a couple of publications that we have in Vietnam with us; Luke Nguyen’s book ‘Songs of Sapa’ and Lonely Planet Vietnam.

I awoke at 6.30 in the morning and took the 25 minute walk from our apartment to Pho Gia Truyen, the name of the pho stall. I was greeted by a queue of locals that were being served by a Vietnamese lady with an intimidating looking meat knife. She was delicately cutting slices from the big piece of brisket.

 

Number 10 -  Pho Bo (Pho Gia Truyen)

Number 10 – Pho Bo (Pho Gia Truyen)

 

As my turn arrived to be served she barely lifted her head, but I could see her eyeballs stretching to look at me. She gave me the look of ‘are you going to order or what?’

Nervously, I said “pho bo, cam on”. She raised her head, gave a little smile and pointed to the menu. There were three things all of which I had never heard of so I plumped for pho tai nam (see above). I sat down at a small table where my knees covered my ears. Everyone let out a big gesticulation of laughter and they pointed to a bigger table. Smiling, I moved and was then served the most sweet, beefy and heart-warming broth that I had eaten in Hanoi.

 

Pho Tai Nam Beef Noodle Soup

Pho Tai Nam Beef Noodle Soup

 

The meat was incredibly tender, the noodles were unctuous and the herbs, although few, harmonised with the whole dish. My best pho in Hanoi.

Slow Cooked Roast Beef with Spinach, Sorrel and Truss Cherry Tomato Salad

Introduction:

I remember the days of roast beef when I was a nipper (Northern England parlance for young child) – endless chewing on what could only have originally been a precursor to boot leather. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, and was only offset by the saviour of Yorkshire Puddings and gravy. However, as the years have passed on this mortal coil beef has morphed in to a far more pleasant experience for me. Not only have I personally learnt a lot about the preparation and cooking of the meat, but I think the influences from chefs out there have shown us that this staple of the carnivorous can be transformed in to a dish that is flavoursome and delicate. Also in my younger years there was a fear in the consumption of ‘uncooked’ or ‘semi-cooked’ meat due to health reasons, and that in part has rescinded.

One of main tests of a cook or chef is being able to cook a steak perfectly, which I will at some point embellish on in another blog post. For now, I wanted to share this gargantuan of steak dishes – the very slow roasted rib of beef. It’s been inspired by Heston Blumenthal and by Harold McGee, the amazing writer and food scientist that has challenged a lot of the traditional ways of cooking by understanding the science of what happens in the kitchen and applying practical theories to better prepare food.

This dish takes over a day to prepare. The technique used here is to slowly roast the meat so that the internal temperature reaches 50 deg C. For the heat to transfer to the middle of the meat takes time, but in doing so slowly there is no chance of over cooking the beef, as with the traditional boot leather method. Also the slow cooking helps to retain the moisture in the meat as well as break down the connective tissues (sinew). It is one that I have made twice, and one that I still want to play around with. For example, does the beef need to be cooked for so long? But whatever the answer, there is no denying that using this method steak has taken on a new and untouchable level of culinary pleasure.

To accompany the beef I wanted something simple so I serve it with a beurre noisette, or brown butter, and a cracking little salad that just came to me one day.

 

Serves: 3 very good portioned steaks   |   Preparation:  30 minutes   |   Cooking: 24 hours + 4 hours resting

 

Ingredients:

For the Beef
Weight is variable but about 1.6kg A 3-boned rib of beef | If you can buy aged meat it will improve the quality of the final dish.
30g in total Salt and pepper mix | Equal measures of sea salt, smoked salt and black peppercorns. If you don’t have smoked salt then replace it with sea salt.
5 tbsp. Grapeseed oil | Used for frying.

For the Beurre Noisette
100g French Butter | French butter has something magical about it. I use Lescure unsalted.

For the Salad
2-3 handfuls Baby Spinach | I am lucky to have this growing in the garden – it is so good.
About 10-15 large leaves Sorrel | This has a wonderful citrusy kick to it – again something I grow in the garden.
12 or so Truss Cherry Tomatoes | I get these on the vine as they seem to have more flavour, but there is no real need to.
A drizzle Caramelised balsamic vinegar | You can use a good aged balsamic instead. It brings the whole dish together.
To season Sea Salt |
A drizzle Olive Oil |

 

 

How To:

The first thing to note before starting this dish is that you need a good oven that can retain an average temperature of 50 degrees Centigrade. Also, an oven thermometer is vital to ensure that the oven is the correct temperature. My experience is never to trust the scale on an oven temperature adjuster. Set the oven temperature to 50 deg C (112 deg F).

Ensure the beef has had chance to come to room temperature; out of the fridge for about 2-3 hours. Take the three boned rib of beef, rinse the outside with cold water then dab dry with kitchen paper. Put a heavy based frying pan on high heat, heat until the pan is very hot and then add 3 tbsp of the grapeseed oil – the oil should be smoking once added. Now quickly sear the outside of the beef until browned. Take care as this spits like there’s no tomorrow. Also take care not to start cooking the flesh of the meat – it just needs browning.

Once browned put the beef in a roasting tray and then pop it in to the preheated oven. It takes about 4-6 hours for the centre of the meat to reach 50 deg C. Cook then for a further 18 hours. Get some sleep.

After the 18 hours are up, take the beef out. The outside will look dry and unappetising, but the inside will be beautifully medium rare and full of moisture. Put the meat on a rack over a drip tray, cover with foil and leave to rest for about 4 hours. Once rested, cut the meat from the bone, cutting down along the ribs and then across the chine (backbone). Carefully trim away the dry outer of the meat and then cut the meat into three equally thick steaks. Set aside and put your heavy based frying pan on high heat again.

For the salad pre-heat your oven to 210 deg C. To a roasting tray add the cherry tomatoes, on the vine if yours have a vine, sprinkle with the sea salt and then drizzle with olive oil. Use your hands to ensure the tomatoes are completed coated with oil. Put in the oven for about 20 minutes. They will eventually sizzle and spit as they soften and their skins split. After 20 minutes, or when you feel they are done, take out of the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

For the salt and pepper mix add the salt(s) and peppercorns to a mortar and grind with a pestle. The back pepper should still be a little course. Sprinkle each steak (both sides) with the pepper mix, add the rest of the grapeseed oil to the hot pan and when smoking put the steaks in the pan. Cook for 30 seconds, and then turn. Repeat this until the steaks have been cooking for 4 minutes (I then put the steaks on their edge to render any fat – for about 20 seconds). Remove the steaks from the pan, cover with foil and leave to rest on a rack with drip tray, for about 5 minutes.

To finish the salad, add the washed and dried spinach leaves to a bowl. Stack the sorrel leaves, roll the stack lengthways and then shred across the width – this technique is known as chiffonade. Add the shredded sorrel to the spinach, then pick the vines from the tomatoes and add the tomatoes to the salad. Drizzle balsamic over the salad, and then get your hands in there to coat the leaves with the juices of the tomatoes and the balsamic – it’s good to squash those tomatoes gently.

Finally drain any oil from the steak pan, put back on a medium heat and add the butter. Whisk the butter until it has melted and has turned a lovely nutty brown colour.

Serve the steak and salad in your own creative way, and spoon that unctuous nutty brown butter over the steak. Bon appetite!

Notes:

  •  If any come to me I’ll add them here