Wednesday, January 17, 2018

6.1 Beef & Veal - Completed!

#213 Boned Roast Sirloin

The National tendency has always been towards beef, the roast beef of old England.
Jane Grigson, English Food

 I have now completed the Beef & Veal section of the Meat, Poultry & Game chapter of English Food. It’s certainly had its highs and lows and has covered quite a broad set of dishes; introducing me to the delights of the underused cuts such as shin of beef, marrow bones and wonderful sweetbreads as well as the delectableness of the pairing of beef with oysters.
#319 Marrow-Bones

Britain has been a world leader in both producing and cooking beef; the British countryside being the perfect environment for cattle. We were experts at roasting beef on the spit, it was elevated to our national dish in the early 18th Century when beefsteak clubs were opened in London and we were Christened by the French as rosbifs.
Selective breeding to produce high-quality and high-yield breeds, such as Aberdeen Angus, began in earnest in the mid-18th Century, coinciding with the movement of folk from countryside into the cities to eke a living. In these places, most households couldn’t be self-sufficient and keep their own livestock.
A century later, the population had doubled and we as a country, had to import meat from other countries. It was this point, I believe we started on the road that has led us to pre-packaged meats in plastic trays, losing our connection with nature and our own food chain.
It is nigh on impossible to buy really good beef in a supermarket; carcasses are rarely hung for the three to four weeks required, and if they are, they end up getting vacuum packed, drawing out all the moisture. Good beef should be dark red (not supermarket pink!), dry with just a slight stickiness, marbled with fat and covered in ‘a good layer of fat’, according to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his Meat Book.

#204 Minced Veal & Eggs
Veal is slowly losing its standing as a taboo food; in the UK the crate system is illegal (unlike in mainland Europe and the USA). UK calves can walk around quite happily and because of this exercise, their meat is not white, but a pale pink and for that reason is called rosé veal. For more on this, read this clumsily-written early post.
Low point: the BSE crisis

Because of the BSE crisis at the end of the last century, and the safeguards put in place in its aftermath means it is very difficult to source UK calves’ brains, so I had to use a Dutch supplier to cook the two recipes that require them. See this post for more information on the BSE crisis.

Calves' brains

This section of the book covered quite a lot of ground in its sixteen recipes; there were prime cuts, underused cuts and offal recipes as well as two recipes for Yorkshire pudding. All the recipes from this section are listed below with hyperlinks and the scores I awarded them. It scored a mean mark of 7.4 (and a median and mode of 8.5, for those who like their stats), making it the third highest score for a section or chapter so far. It should have scored much higher because three recipes scored full marks! It’s great that a prime #213 Roast Sirloin can score the same as #41 Shin of Beef Stew – proof that ‘low status’ cuts are not poor quality. You really must try the high scoring recipes from this chapter.
The average was dragged down somewhat by the vileness of #411 Calves’ Brain with Curry and Grape Sauce. It really was bad, not because of the brains, but because of that awful cloying sauce. I don’t know what Jane was thinking when she decided to include that recipe in the book! My poor cooking of tougher cuts didn’t help the mean score either; #11 Braised Beef with Carrots being a case in point, I know now that one does not actually boil the meat, but very gently simmer it. The two Yorkshire pudding recipes weren’t great either. Hey ho.
I do notice some glaring omissions in the book – there are recipes using ox cheek or calves’ liver (tongue does appear in the Cured Meat section). Plus, there is no beef Wellington and I would have expected at least a mention of mock turtle soup. I would have liked to have seen some roast veal recipes too. Hey-ho, at least I have some subjects to write about on the other blog.
If you can think of any classic beef & veal dishes not listed below, please let me know in the comments section.





#51 Shin of Beef Stew part 1 & part 2 10/10










#317 Skuets 8.5/10

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

#425 The Prize-Winning Chinese Yorkshire Pudding


I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to this one – it should have been low-hanging fruit really…
This recipe is the second of two Yorkshire pudding recipes in English Food; the first (#181 Yorkshire Pudding) was a bit of a disappointment, cooked in the early days of the blog when my skills were not quite a good as today. This one supposedly produces a huge, light and crisp pudding which “swell[s] to the height of a coronation crown.” Hmm, we’ll see about that!
The recipe comes from a Mr Tin Sung Chan a Hong Kong chef who skilfully beat five other British chefs at their own game in the ‘Great Yorkshire Pudding Contest’ which took place in the great Yorkshire city of Leeds circa 1970.
As we all know, there is nothing more British than roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and Yorkshire folk have naturally become very proud of their pud; it is certainly the most famous food in the Yorkshireman’s edible arsenal. Unfortunately, the pride is a little misplaced because there is nothing particularly Yorkshire about it. Batter puddings have been cooked around the country for centuries (and not always with beef either). The first recipe for such a pudding appears in the 1737 publication called The Whole Duty of Women where it was called a dripping pudding. However, a few decades later, in The Experienced English Housekeeper, we see it called Yorkshire pudding for the first time. 
In Yorkshire – like many things – the Yorkshire pudding is associated with thriftiness where is not customarily served with the roast but as a starter with gravy; the idea being that the family filled up on cheap pudding and therefore ate less meat!

A batter pudding made in the traditional way under spit-roasted meat (source: historicfood.com)

The traditional way to cook a Yorkshire pudding was to lay a large tin called a dripping pan beneath the roasting meat so that it could heat up and catch some meat fat. Once a good layer of it had formed, the batter was quickly tipped into the pan. All of this could happen underneath a spit-roasted joint or within an proper oven (something to consider next time you cook a roast, perhaps..?).
One of the biggest points of conjecture between cooks is the method of cooking – just how does one ensure a good rise? I have had many arguments. What are the proportions? Plain or strong flour? Beef dripping or sunflower oil and just how hot should it be? For how long should you beat the batter and for how long should it rest? How much batter should be used and should it be chilled or at room temperature?
With all this fuss and debate, it is good to see that this recipe is pretty straight-forward:
In a bowl beat together half a pint of milk (I went for whole milk), four eggs, a scant half-teaspoon of salt, a little black pepper and half a teaspoon of tai luk sauce*. Let the mixture stand for 15 minutes and heat the oven up to 230°C. 


In another bowl sift eight ounces of plain flour. Make a well in the centre and pour in around a third of the milky mixture. Beat in with a whisk. Pour in the next third and whisk until smooth and then the last of it, beating again. This technique of adding the liquid in stages should give you a nice lump-free batter.


If you’ve just roasted a joint of meat, pour the dripping fat into a clean roasting tin. Alternatively, add your own lard, dripping or oil and heat in the oven or hob. Once good and hot, pour in the batter and pop in the oven for precisely 20 minutes and 52.2 seconds.


#425 The Prize-Winning Chinese Yorkshire Pudding 6/10. This was an okay Yorkshire pudding, but it certainly did not ‘swell to the height of a coronation crown’! I reckon my own recipe is pretty good and definitely beats it...unless of course, there is a nifty trick or two the Chinese chef did not divulge. (By the way, my current recipe is different to the one I posted on the blog many years ago, I need to update it I feel.)

*which does not exist: ‘For years’, says Jane, ‘I puzzled over tai luk sauce, asking at Chinese groceries without success. Then an enterprising niece found what seems to be the answer: her request for tai luk was greeted with much laughter: apparently it means ‘mainland’, i.e. ‘mainland China’. So tai luk was a kind of secret-ingredient joke, an amiable joke at the expense of Yorkshire patriotism.’

Monday, September 11, 2017

Neil Cooks Grigson is 10!


Blimey! What a milestone to reach with the blog – I can barely believe that I am still writing entries for it. I know they are rather infrequent now, and I am really trying to spend more time writing, but starting this blog a decade ago unwittingly made me a bit of a busy bee today.

Four-hundred and twenty-four recipes in means I only have 26 more to cook so there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I started the blog back in 2007 because I had just began my PhD in evolutionary biology at The University of Manchester; I knew I’d have to do a lot of writing, so a blog seemed like a good idea. Having never heard of Julie & Julia, I thought cooking a whole cookbook was a pretty original idea.

Those first few posts are rather badly written as I had never done any of this sort of thing before, but I soon settled into a style and found I really enjoyed the history side of things, hence starting the second blog British Food: A History.

So much has happened from the blog it is startling! If I had known the potential of writing a blog I might have chickened out.

I’ve started a food business, The Buttery, from market stall via a pop-up restaurant in my own house  to a restaurant with my business husband Brian Shields, founded a community market in Levenshulme, Manchester, come second in a Telegraph cookery competition for bloggers and Radio 4’s The Food Programme and been nominated for a Manchester Food & Drink Award. More recently I’ve been working on an episode of a history programme with Channel 4 as well as my first paid writing jobs. The restaurant is also going to be expanding in the next year: wait til you hear about that!!

All of this is because of Jane Grigson; none of this would have happened had I not forced myself to cook dishes containing ingredients such as brains, eels, sweetbreads, quince and the like. Jane opened me up to exciting and scholarly food writing and a whole unknown world of exciting British food. She is also an excellent teacher.

I’m going to try my best to work through the remaining recipes, some of which I have no excuse for not trying yet. I promise to pull my finger out. A bit, at least.

Finally, of course, I wouldn’t be writing blog entries if you good people didn’t read them and send such great comments.

So many thanks to all of you and to Jane herself, because without you I wouldn’t be on this unexpected journey!

Monday, July 31, 2017

#424 Chilled Mange Tout Creams


Here’s a straight-forward recipe from the book that I have never gotten around to cooking, mainly because it sounded like it might be a bit boring. These days, however, I reckon I can spot a good subtle recipe, and thought I should give it a go. It’s one that requires careful seasoning as the only ingredient with flavour is the mange tout peas; not the strongest of flavours and served chilled too! You’ve got to use the salt, pepper, sugar and lemon juice in this recipe with a little abandon to pull this one off.

The first edition of English Food was written in the 1970s and this recipe is very much a thing of its time. Jane calls these creams, but they are basically a savoury mousse, the only other savoury mousse I have made from the book was the disastrous #313 Jellied Eel Mousse with Watercress Sauce I cooked back in St. Louis in 2011.
A colour plate of the range of pea cultivars, including mangetout just below centre (New Oxford Book of Food Plants)

In the ‘70s the mange tout was quite an exciting new vegetable, though they were old hat to gardeners. A mange tout (or snow pea, as it is called in the USA) is a regular pea that has been bred so that the pod is much less tough than usual, so that the normally flavoursome but inedible pod can be eaten. The pea has been loved by gardeners because of the diversity of variants that can be easily produced, and it is worth mentioning a particularly important pea gardener, Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics.
Gregor Mendel

The monk bred mange tout peas and noticed, simply by looking at traits – and the proportions of the traits – passed down from parent plants to their progeny. He looked at traits such as dwarfism, seed colour and seed texture. He concluded that factors (i.e. genes) were passed down from parents, these factors came in different versions, called alleles. For example, seed texture came in two forms, smooth and wrinkled. One seemed to be dominant over the other, so which two versions of the gene an individual had determined how it looked (its phenotype). For more on this click here.

Scientists in the 1920s combined his findings with Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, to come up with the Modern Synthesis, providing us with a framework for thinking about genes, selection and evolution.

Ok, enough science waffle, back to the cooking…

You’ll need a pound of topped and tailed mange tout for this recipe. Keep aside a quarter of the peas and put the rest in a saucepan containing half a pint of boiling water along with two teaspoons of finely chopped spring onion green (later the recipe requires gelatine, if using powdered gelatine, keep a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid aside for dissolving it in). 


When the peas are tender, liquidise the whole lot and push through a fine sieve, pushing the pulp through with a ladle.

Dissolve one 11g sachet of powdered gelatine in the remainder of the hot liquid and stir into the puree. If using leaf gelatine, use the appropriate number of leaves according to the pack; factoring in that there will be eight fluid ounces of cream added later.

Season well with salt, sugar, pepper and lemon juice – it’s best to slightly over season here as the flavours will be less pronounced once chilled. Pop it in the fridge and chill until it has the consistency of egg white. Take it out and fold in eight fluid ounces of double or whipping cream, whipped until floppy. 

Next, fold in two egg whites that have been beaten until stiff. For maximum lightness, use a metal spoon for this task.

Jane says to pour the mixture into sixteen moulds, but I poured it into eight moulds, to make easier for service. Cover, pop in the fridge, and the mousse set overnight. It should keep four or five days, so you can make this well in advance.

Blanch the remaining mange tout in boiling water for two minutes, drain and plunge into iced water.

To turn the moulds out, dip them in boiling water and invert into plates, or use a blowtorch. Decorate with the blanched mange tout in an appropriately artistic fashion. Serve with Melba toast.

#424 Chilled Mange Tout Creams. These were great – light and refreshing and perfect this time of year – I put them on the menu as Mange Tout Mousse, seeing as that is what I made. They didn’t sell! I think the word mousse maybe made them sound like they were on the naff side of retro; should have kept Jane’s name for them. All that said, I would say to give them a go. It has made me think that mousses need a bit of a comeback. I give it a solid 7.5/10.

NB: You could use lots of different vegetables for this dish if you don’t like peas. Just make sure you only blanch the vegetables to the point of just becoming tender, you want them as fresh-tasting as possible. Asparagus, carrot and red pepper spring to mind.

Monday, June 5, 2017

7.4: Biscuits - completed!


So, I have completed another section of English Food! The Biscuits section of the Teatime chapter was quite short with only nine relatively easy recipes; yet it has taken me all this time to bake them!
That said, it’s a surprise that it is so short, as there is a great tradition of biscuit-making with many diverse regional recipes. Jane reckoned that biscuits are one of the few successes of the manufacturing industry, meaning folk are more reluctant to bake them today. She’s probably right, and I expect it is why the section is so short.

Grasmere Gingerbread II
Biscuits come in essentially two forms in Britain: sweet and savoury, the latter more often called crackers. They all have a common ancestor: the ship’s biscuit. A hard, dry rusk that could survive long journeys at sea without spoiling. They were boring, but provided sustenance, often crumbled into broth or hot drinks; our love today for dunking our biscuits into tea and coffee is a throwback to this.
The original biscuits were made from breadcrumbs, reformed and baked in cooling bread ovens (biscuit literally means ‘twice-baked’). Biscuits began to get rather more interesting during the times of the Crusades where the laying down of the spice trading routes, brought not only spices but also sugar (then considered a spice) to Britain. More upmarket biscuits were a mixture of honey and fresh breadcrumbs and were highly-spiced – a Mediæval recipe is included in the book and very good it is too.
But it is descendants of the hard and dry ship’s biscuits that have survived  – Grasmere gingerbread, shortbread, digestives, Rich Tea, Hob Nobs, cream crackers, Ritz crackers, Nice biscuits are all based on them! The list is almost endless.
Cheese and Oat Biscuits
Perhaps it is not the most exciting part of the book, but I there are some real gems in here. I have used  Jane’s recipes for Shortcakes and Grasmere Gingerbread since I first started The Buttery, and the excellent Brandy Snaps were used as part of the dessert in my very first pop-up restaurant. I’ve not found better recipes to this day.
Biscuits are much easier to make than cakes or breads, so if you haven’t done much baking, they are probably a good place to start – though they do have to be watched as they do catch easily.

Making Brandy Snaps
All the recipes in the section are listed below as they appear in the book with hyperlinks and the score I gave them out of ten. The section scores an average of 7.6, the second best mean score so far; the recipes were perhaps not particularly exciting but they were reliable

Saturday, May 20, 2017

#423 Mediaeval Gingerbread


Here’s a recipe from English Food I have been meaning to make for a while but never have gotten around to until now. I love nothing more than having a go at making these very old recipes – a true window into the past. I can think of no other way than experiencing history. It doesn’t even matter if it tastes good! Quite often some of them have become part of our repertoire at The Buttery, but will this one?
This is an interesting case – mediaeval gingerbread doesn’t resemble modern gingerbreads (like #174 Grasmere Gingerbread I) or even ginger cakes like parkin or Jane’s Ginger Cake (#53). It’s literally ginger and bread mixed with honey and some other spices, so it turns out that this gingerbread is the predecessor of treacle tart too! (I’m sure if I tried hard enough I could produce some kind of family tree of food.)

Mediaeval woodcut, c. 1485
Jane doesn’t give the original recipe, though I have managed to track it down; it’s from an undated medical manuscript known catchily as BL MS Sloane 121, thought to be late fourteenth or early fifteenth century. Many of these Early and Middle English recipes are difficult to decipher, but this one isn’t too tricky:
To make gingerbrede. Take goode honye & clarefie it on the fere, & take fayre paynemayn or wastel brede & grate it, & caste it into the boylenge hony, & stere it well togyderfast with a sklyse that it bren not to the vessel. & then take it doun and put therin ginger, longe pepere & saundres, & tempere it up with thin hands; & than put hem to a flatt boyste & strawe theron suger, & pick therin clowes rounde aboute by the egge and in the mydes, yf it plece you, &c.
Today there is no need to clarify honey, so that step can be missed out, but then it is simply a case of heating up honey and adding some spices; ginger, long pepper (a very common spice then, which has been superseded these days by peppercorns) and sanders (heated and powdered sandalwood) for colour. Stir these in making sure nothing gets burnt, then shape onto a flat tray. Extra sugar can be scattered over and it can be decorated around the edge and middle with cloves. Often gingerbread would be decorated with gold leaf. Other spices used include saffron, cinnamon, galangal, nutmeg, mace and cardamom.
Oddly, Jane found some recipes for gingerbread that do not contain ginger! This could be a mistake by the scribe (these manuscripts predate the printing press so were all handwritten) or it could be that gingerbread became a word for any spiced honey-bread mixture. Jane flags up the point the point that in some European countries the gingerbread used to make gingerbread houses don’t contain ginger!
Jane’s method:
I made some gingerbread…and found you needed about 1 oz of breadcrumbs to one heaped dessertspoonful of honey…Some kind of colouring was needed, because the mixture would have been too pale without it: I used powdered saffron. By stirring the crumbs into the very hot honey, I made a thick paste which could easily be handled and moulded into shape, like almond paste. When the cake was cool, we ate it in slices…
She doesn’t actually say which spices she used, but it seems she used ground ginger, cinnamon and black pepper as in the original recipe. She doesn’t give any proportions of spice either.
My method:
I used the fact that this mediaeval gingerbread was the precursor to the treacle tart, and made a honey-ginger tart.
900g honey
1 tbs ground ginger
2 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp ground cardamom
pinch saffron
zest and juice of 1 lemon (optional, see below)
325g stale breadcrumbs
a 10-inch blind-baked sweet pastry case
To save yourself from a horrible sticky mess, measure the honey straight into your saucepan and warm it gently. Add the spices, crumbling in the saffron and stir in with a wooden spoon. 


Give the mixture a taste, if you want to add more spice, you can; if it tastes far too sweet add the juice and zest of a lemon. Pour in the breadcrumbs and stir thouroughly.
If you want, you can pour this mixture into a lined tin, even better pour it into the pastry case. Either way, bake the mixture for around 20 minutes in a low oven, around 150C to help it firm up. You can then let it cool and cut up appropriately. If the top looks a bit pale and boring – as mine did – quickly brown it with a blowtorch.
We were quite impressed with the result and put it on the menu with a nicely-placed blob of Frangelico flavoured sweet cream.
#423 Mediaeval Gingerbread. It’s always good to find these excellent ancient recipes, especially when it produces something delicious. For our modern tastes, it definitely needed a bit of lemon, and only really needed the ginger, ground mixed spice and black pepper; the saffron and cardamom were a bit unnecessary. Anyway, a lovely peek into our mediaeval past, 8/10.

Friday, October 7, 2016

#422 Peppered Redcurrant Jelly


This is the last fruit jelly recipe in the book, and I’ve become somewhat of a seasoned jelly maker, making up my own recipes and these days cooking them up at The Buttery to go with meat and cheese platters, roast meats and the like. This is the second of two redcurrant jelly recipes from English Food.

Redcurrant jelly is considered a rather niche preserved, being served with rich meats such as lamb, venison and other game, or as an ingredient in Cumberland Sauce, but it is versatile; I like it with cheese.

Redcurrant jelly is very much the preserve of the gardener – the delicate berries do not transport well and have a short shelf life, which is why they are expensive to buy fresh. On a recent walk around nearby Chorlton Meadows I found dozens of sprays of ruby-red currants growing out of sight beneath a huge mass of thick brambles. Typically in these situations, I brought neither bag nor tub and so I ate them straight from the bush until acid reflux began. It was a shame really, as I could have made a huge amount of jelly. Hey-ho, I’ll remember this secret spot next year.

Our cultivated redcurrants are actually made up of three distinct species, and the less common whitecurrant is simply a variety of redcurrant that has lost the ability to produce the distinctive red pigment. There is also a pinkcurrant.

Country houses and kitchen gardens particularly in the 18th Century, grew vast amounts of red and white currants; their pectin-rich and tart juice used as a base for dozens of other preserves and sauces. I have never made whitecurrant jelly, and I wonder why one doesn’t see it anywhere?

This redcurrant jelly is enriched with red wine and contains cracked black peppercorns, I imagine it would work just as well using whitecurrants and white wine.

This recipe can be easily scaled up or down, depending on how many redcurrants you have, and the great thing about making a jelly is you don’t have to go through the rigmarole of stripping the berries from their stalks as they all get left behind during straining.

Put three pounds of redcurrants in a saucepan. To this, add around 2 ¼ pints of liquid; between 8 and 16 fluid ounces of it should be red wine, the remainder water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the currants are soft and pulpy. Pass through a jelly sieve or bag and allow to drip overnight.

Next day, place the juice in a saucepan or preserving pan with three pounds of granulated sugar. Put over a medium heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the spoon and turn the heat up so that the fruity syrup boils enthusiastically. At this point put a saucer in the freezer so you can test for a set later.

After 15-20 minutes boiling, test to see if the jelly has set. There are two ways: (1) use a thermometer, pectin gels set at 105C; (2) the wrinkle test where a few drops of jelly on a cold saucer cool and wrinkle when you scrape them with a finger. I usually do both to be on the safe side. If the jelly isn’t set, boil for another 10 minutes and retest.

Finally, roughly grind about a teaspoon of black peppercorns using a pestle and mortar and stir in right at the end of cooking. Allow to sit for 15-20 minutes before potting in hot, sterilised jars.


#422 Peppered Redcurrant Jelly. This is a delicious jelly, spiked with rough spicy peppercorns giving it both interesting flavour and texture. The red wine doesn’t make it too rich, as you might expect it to, so be generous with it. I am going to use it for some future lamb dishes I think, though I did try a little sample with some good cheese, butter and bread. Very good, 8/10.