Monthly Archives: October 2011

Braised Lamb Shanks

Here is a recipe of mine that I cook on a regular basis these days. I love lamb, but it is a wee bit pricey over here in the States compared to Britain, so to cook it here regularly, I go for the cheapest available cut – the shank. When I think of famous British lamb dishes, it is one that springs straight to mind, and yet, it is missed out of Jane Grigson’s English Food. (For those of you not in the know: I am trying to cook every recipe in the aforesaid tome – this link – and part of this blog’s job is to fill in the gaps.) At some point, I shall write a blog post about lamb and mutton in general with a list of British dishes – I will be aiming to add every recipe for those dishes too.

The shank is the bottom part of the rear legs of the sheep, and it is normally removed from the upper portion; the meat in the shank is much tougher than the rest of the leg and therefore needs to be cooked longer, if you wanted to roast an entirely whole leg, you would either end up with tough shank meat, or overcooked leg meat. So long, slow cooking is what you need for lamb shanks – if you look at one, you’ll see that there is a lot of connective tissue there, and it is this that takes time to break down. If you haven’t cooked this cut of meat before don’t be squeamish – this tough tissue becomes wonderfully soft and unctuous if you treat it right and it is very easy to cook. All you need is a little time…

When I was doing the research for this recipe, I expected to find many old recipes for this classic, and yet I couldn’t a single recipe for it from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries – many books mention the cut, but use it only for stock-making. However, they do suddenly appear around the time of the Great War. So perhaps rationing made this dish popular. If anyone has any information on this, I would be most grateful.

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The recipe I give here is simple and straight-forward and can easily be played around with. Adding some tomatoes and warming spices as well as some dried fruit such as raisins or prunes would give it a Moroccan touch, or adding some chilies, cumin, coriander seed and leaf as well as some crispy-fried onions and yoghurt would make it an Indian-style feast. I am, for the purposes of the blog, going for the classic British style. What makes this recipe good is the inclusion of gently fried onions and a good health dash of Worcester sauce.


2 large, or 4 small lamb shanks

one roughly chopped onion

one roughtly chopped carrot

one roughly chopped celery stick

one leek, sliced, with trimming reserved

8 peppercorns

a spring each of rosemary and thyme

parsley stalks

a bay leaf

a glass of red wine (optional)

a tablespoon of sunflower oil

3 thinly-sliced cloves of garlic

one thinly-sliced onion

4 oz thinly-sliced mushrooms

one carrot, diced

one leek, sliced

Worcester sauce

salt and pepper

Place the shanks and the chopped onion, carrot, celery and leek trimmings in a roasting tin and roast for 25 minutes at 200⁰C (400⁰F). When nicely browned, place the lamb and vegetables in a large heavy-duty pan, along with the herbs and spices. Deglaze your roasting tin with the optional glass of wine, or simply use some water.

Pour the nice burnt bits along with the wine or water into the pan. Add water to almost cover, bring to a boil and simmer with a close lid for three hours.

When the meat is cooked, fish it out and put on a plate and strain the stock into a jug. Give the pan a quick wipe with a cloth and put it back on the heat along with the oil. When good and hot add the onions and garlic keep them moving in the pan and after three or four minutes, add the mushrooms. Fry for until the onions are tinged with brown. Now add the stock back to the pan along with the carrot and leek and bring to boil, and reduce the stock by around half its volume.

Place the shanks in the pan, turn down the heat and let them warm through again. Season with the Worcester sauce, salt and pepper.

For me, lamb shanks must be served with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable such as broccoli, kale or cabbage.



Filed under food, history, Meat, Recipes

The Dumpling Eaters

For those of you not in the know, in England a dumpling is a small ball of suet dough that has been poached in water, milk, stock, soup or stew. Dumplings have been around for a while, and started life just a mixture of flour and water.

The Roman invasion force under Julius Caesar lands in Britain met by a horde of natives

by Mary Evans

During the Roman invasion and occupancy, somewhere around AD50, their own version of the dumpling was introduced that was made of lentils rather than flour. They didn’t catch on. As time passed, our own British dumpling began to get a little more complex: milk was added along with extra ingredients and became larger and larger until it had to wrapped in some cloth. It was at this point the pudding was born.  I’m not going to talk about puddings in this post as they need their own one themselves. The British then became famous for their puddings. The humble dumpling still remained very popular though and became quite upmarket in rich households: they were enriched with ingredients such as butter, bone marrow and sugar. Fresh and dried fruits were also popular.

King John signing the Magna Carta in Runnymede on 15th June 1215

King John (1166-1216), was a massive consumer of dumplings, and thought it necessary that on a Sunday every man in his court should breakfast on wine and dumplings. The king was advised by a Sir John and it was he who got King John into eating them. He was found out as a witch because he “had perform’d many Hellish and Diabolical Ceremonies”, including one that caused the king to think that the moon was made of green cheese. No-one seemed to blame the Magna Carta or the losing of the crown jewels on witchcraft though. His dumplings and puddings were so delicious that it was assumed that the reason for this but be that he was in league with the Devil. People soon realised it was because he put nice things in them, and forever onward, Sir John was named Sir John Pudding.

These two Johns were Dumpling Eaters according Messrs Thomas Gordon and Henry Carey in their bizarre essay from 1726: A Learned Dissertation on Dumpling; Its Dignity, Antiquity and Excellence With a Word upon Pudding; and Many other Useful Discoveries, of Great Benefit to the Publick. Snappy title, eh? The original Dumpling Eaters, they say, were a race that split from the Romans during their British occupancy. When the Romans left, these Dumpling Eaters ‘wisely resolv’d never to go Home again’, because they had devoped such a taste for them. They spent their time eating many dumplings and worshipping the god Bacchus rather heavily, if you get my meaning.  The Dumpling Eater Doctrine was still around in the early eighteenth century, where they could be found in their club house where they would eat ‘not only Dumplings but Puddings; and those in no small Quantities’. What became of the Dumpling Eaters, I do not know. I do hope there still an Order of them around.

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There are many recipes for dumplings around, both sweet and savoury. I thought I’d share this recipe with you for wild mushroom dumplings which I made not too long ago. At my local Farmer’s Market, there was a stall selling locally picked mushrooms and I couldn’t resist. I had some duck stock that I had made in the freezer (see this post for recipe), so I thought I would make a nice clear duck soup into which I could poach my dumplings. I shall give some more recipes for dumplings as I find more recipes for them. The soup is of my own invention and the dumplings recipe comes from the always excellent Lyndsey Bareham.

For the soup

1 1/2 pints of duck stock

1 carrot, finely diced

a bay leaf

2 springs of fresh thyme

For the dumplings

2 oz self-raising flour

salt and pepper

1 oz suet

1 oz of wild mushrooms, finely diced

1 small shallot, finely diced

To make your duck stock clear, you need to clarify it. There are many ways to do this, but by far the easiest is to freeze it and then wrap it in a piece of muslin or a cloth and allow it to defrost slowly in the fridge.

You should find that the stock that comes out is perfectly filtered by the cloth. You’ll also be surprised at the solid bits left behind in the cloth.

Anyways, pour the stock into a pan along with the carrot, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for around five minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

During the simmering time, whip up your mushroom dumplings: mix together all the ingredients in a bowl and mix in just enough water to make a soft dough.

Take pieces of dough and roll them into balls a little smaller than a walnut. Place the dumping in the simmering soup, turning up the heat so that they cook through. They should be done in no longer than 15 minutes.


More dumpling recipes:

Horseradish Dumplings


Filed under food, history, Meat, Recipes, Soups, Vegetables

To make duck stock…

Here at British Food, we don’t like anything to go to waste, so apart from the history behind our food and the recipes that go alongside it, I am also going to provide recipes that use up the left-overs. We’re always being told of the mountains of food we are wasting and what we should do about it; in the past, of course, nothing went to waste, so I suppose by adding recipes for stock and things like that, I am still being historical. In the past, people didn’t want to waste money – that doesn’t just go for the average families, but also rich homes, where the cook really had to have a knack for meal planning and budgeting. We really need to look at our ancestors to see how our food can be better managed. I try and get as many meals as possible out anything I buy these days and have really cut down on my grocery bills, this way I can afford to buy meat from farmers markets and the like all the time now.

So, I have already told you about ducks and given a recipe for roast duck, so now here’s what to do with your left-over carcass. I made soup with my carcass, but duck stock also makes great risotto (but that is not very British, so there’s no recipe for that!).

The ingredients are not set in stone, so use whatever suitable veggies you have lying around that you think would be nice. Any road, here’s the recipe for a nice subtly sweet duck stock; it makes 2 pints.


one duck carcass

a large carrot, roughly chopped

a celery stick roughly chopped

leek trimmings

two cloves of garlic, lightly crushed

bouquet garni: several sprigs of thyme, a bay leaf, parsley stalks, a strip of thinly pared orange zest, 6 peppercorns

any left-over scraps of jelly or gravy

2 1/2 pints of water


Preheat the oven to 200⁰C (400⁰F). Put the broken-up carcass and stock vegetables in a roasting tin to brown and slightly caramelise in the oven for 25 minutes. Place the carcass and vegetables, along with the bouquet garni, peppercorns and the left-overs, into a pan. Put the roasting tin over the heat and deglaze it with a little of the water, using a wooden spoon to get off all the nice burnt bits. Add this to the pan with the rest of the water. Bring steadily to the boil and simmer for around 2 hours.

Pass the stock through a sieve into a bowl, jug or other pan. Season with salt and let it cool completely. Skim any fat that will have risen to the top. The stock can be used straight away or refrigerated or frozen for future use.

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Filed under food, Meat, Recipes

Roast Duck

Bora: Why in the middle I would have a rich favoury foup.   

Lazar: Made with Craw-fifh – Good!  

Bora: At the top two delicate white Trout just frefh from the river. 

Lazar: Good! Excellent! go on go on.  

Bora: At the bottom – a roaft Duck.

Lazar: A duck! a fcavenger! an unclean bird! a wading glutton; his bill is a fhovel, and hif body but a dirtcart: away with your Duck – let me have a roast Turkey, plump and full breafted, hif craw full with marrow

Exerpt from The Hotel by Robert Jefson, 1775

Okay, not everyone likes duck, for those that do, the best way to show it off, whether Aylesbury or whatever, is to roast it, seasoned with just salt and pepper. It’s also the most common way to serve duck. I did look at old recipes for it, hoping to find some crazy over-the-top recipe with many embellishments, but, alas, it was not to be: at best, there was a stuffing. Keept it simple, chaps. It did seem very common to scald the bird in boiling water for a few minutes before roasting it, though modern ones don’t seem to (unless, that is, you are making some Chinese crispy duck – that requires a kettle of boiling water to be poured over it and then drying it thoroughly to achieve the crispy skin).

One of the great things about buying duck is that they always come with their giblets, unlike many chickens these days, so put them to good use. I have included a recipe for some nice rich giblet gravy to go with.

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For the roast duck:

one duck

salt and pepper

For the gravy:

a tablespoon of oil

the neck and giblets of the duck, chopped

one onion, unpeeled, roughly chopped

one garlic clove, lightly crushed

one carrot, roughly chopped

one stick of celery, roughly chopped

one bay leaf

a few sprigs of thyme

about 6 black peppercorns

splash of red wine

1/2 ounce of butter

1/2 ounce of plain flour

one teaspoon of redcurrant jelly or juice of half an orange (optional)

salt and pepper

First of all, place the duck on a large plate and dry it all over with kitchen paper and keep it in the fridge until it is needed. It is important to take it out of the fridge a few hours before you want to cook it though – when you are following roasting times for any meat, it is assuming the meat starts off at room temperature.

The first thing you need to do is get started on the gravy. Get a pan nice and hot,  add the oil, giblets and stock vegetables, when they are good and caramelised, add the herbs and peppercorns.

Pour over a pint of water, cover, bring to a boil and then let it simmer gently for the length of time it takes for you to cook the duck.

Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F) and calculate the cooking time for your duck: 25 minutes per pound plus an extra 20 minutes. Using a fork or skewer, prick the fatty parts of the duck, i.e. the breast and the area where the legs meet the body. Make sure you prick only the skin – if you stab right through the fat, you’ll lose meat juices, and we don’t want that, now do we?

 Season the duck inside and out with salt and pepper, place in a roasting tin with a rack, and pop it in the oven. After 20 minutes, turn down the heat to 180°C (350°F). After the first 45 minutes or so, baste the bird and every 20 minutes thereafter. It is important to do this if you want good, crispy skin. To test if the duck is done, poke a knife or skewer into the thick part of the leg and if the juices are clear, then the duck is ready. I would check it around 20 minutes before the total cooking time. When cooked, remove from the oven and let rest for at least 15 minutes before carving it.

Whilst the duck is having a rest, finish off the gravy: strain the stock through a sieve into a jug. Pour off any fat from the roasting tin and pour the meat juices into the gravy. Don’t you dare throw that fat away! It keeps in the fridge almost indefinitely, and you can use it for roast potatoes (they will be the best roast potatoes you have ever made).Put the roasting tin on the heat and deglaze it with the red wine, making sure you scrape off all the nice burnt bits. Tip that into the gravy too. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and when it begins to foam, stir in the flour and cook for a minute. Now whisk in the gravy and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Finally stir in the jelly or orange juice (or even better, the syrup from some preserved oranges – see this link here for a recipe). Correct the seasoning and pour into a nice gravy boat or jug.

There you go: a delicious, scavenging unclean bird!


Filed under Meat, Recipes, Uncategorized

Ducks: A Potted History

Mary Simmons of Hartwell’s prize-winning Aylesbury ducks

Long before the chicken became the country’s favourite fowl for the dinner table, there was the duck. The Chinese domesticated it 4000 years ago and it is still their meat of choice. The Egyptians were not too far behind the Chinese; they captured eggs that were hanging about in nests amongst the reeds on the banks of the Nile. The duck truely is the “veteran of the henhouse”. Britain too did love its roast duck, though duck breeding did suffer greatly during the World Wars and never really recovered.

All farmed ducks today are all descended from the seemingly ubiquitous mallard. Farmed ducks and mallards differ greatly in size: farmed ducks are commonly double the size of their wild cousins and are often seen capturing and eating whole frogs in a single bite! Prior to domestication, many of the duck species that were caught and eaten were migratory, coming and going like clockwork as the seasons passed.  Heavy symbolism was therefore attached to the eating of them, and they were integrated into feasts. They are still eaten in Romania at the vernal equinox.

In Britain, the most well-known duck breeds are the Aylesbury and Gressingham, though they are by no means the most common. Many breeds dwindled in number so much that they went extinct, though some have been saved, such as the Silver Appleyard. The most common ducks that are reared for the table these days are the Pekin and Barbary ducks; the latter of the two must be rather stealthy as it is very common to see escapees hanging around ponds in Britain (and indeed the USA).

The Aylesbury Duck

When people think of British ducks, they think of the Aylesbury – with their gleaming white plumage, orange legs and feet and sturdy bill set high upon their skull. Even if one did not know of the Aylesbury duck, I am sure that this is the picture one would have in their head. Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle-Duck was an Aylesbury  for example (though she lived up North). Aylesbury ducks were not originally bred for their meat at all, but for their quills. In the nineteenth century, however, the switch was made. The reason being the folk of Aylesbury saw an opportunity to feed the ever-growing London population. Selling was successful – it must have been quite a sight to see the drovers walking the ducks from Aylesbury to London every week to be sold at market.

This seems all very picturesque, but in reality it was far from it. The ‘Duck End’ area of Aylesbury, where the ducks were bred was unsanitary, ducks were not kept in farms but were allowed to roam free, and taken into people’s homes at nighttime. However, Aylesbury’s attraction endured and conditions were better by the twentieth century. Then came The Great War, which damaged duck farming greatly and World War Two almost wiped it out completely. By the 1950s, there was just one significant flock of Aylesburys left and by 1966 there was no more breeding of Aylesbury ducks. Birds were often sold under the name Aylesbury, but they did not ‘contain a single Aylesbury gene’.

It is not all bad news though: some individuals did remain, though most had cross-bred with mallards. However, there was a large effort to bring back the breed and so the small mongrel population was selectively bred and we now have Aylesbury ducks once more.

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Duck Dishes

Ducks are no longer commonly eaten and are certainly considered a treat, save for special occasions. The most common way to eat them these days is by roasting them, though you can buy the breasts quite easily now, but for a large price – they are sometimes more expensive than the whole bird. Ducks were commonly simmered with herbs and vegetables, preserved in curative brines and, most bizarrely, sent through a press to make the infamously opulent dish duck in blood sauce. Anyway, below is a list of British duck dishes, some of which are rather old or obscure. I intend to tell you all about each one in separate posts, and hopefully I’ll be cooking most and providing recipes. I have also included some recipes outside of Britain that I think have influenced our cuisine in some way. Some I have already tackled as part of my other blog. Any that I have written up as a post will have a lovely link to send you straight to it. If there are any omissions, or you have your own recipe, let me know and I shall add them to the list. Here goes:

  1. Roast Duck
  2. Delia Smith’s duck with Morello cherries
  3. Duck with mint
  4. Stewed duck
  5. Duck stewed with green peas
  6. Duck terrine
  7. Fois gras
  8. Isle of Mann salt duck
  9. Duck baked in a salt crust
  10. Duck in blood sauce
  11. Confit of Duck
  12. Duck á l’orange
  13. Duck á la braise
  14. Duck á la mode


Filed under food, history, Meat

Bubble and Squeak


and squeak is one of my favorite left-over foods. It’s difficult to give a recipe for it as you just have to use whatever vegetables you have leftover from a nice roast dinner. It turns out it didn’t begin life as fried mashed potato patties, but as something quite different. In The complete economical cook, and frugal housewife: an entirely new system, Mary Holland – in 1837 – describes a recipe that makes use of leftover boiled beef, not potatoes. The beef should be thinly sliced and fried up with chopped boiled cabbage in butter and some salt and pepper. This recipe goes back as far as the mid-eighteenth century. Indeed recipes for it in this form run right up the mid-twentieth century. It cannot be a coincidence that the dish went from beef-based to potato-based at around the same time as the Second World War and rationing.

Well, here is my recipe for the more familiar – and surprisingly modern – bubble and squeak. It’s hard to give amounts as it is just left-overs:

You have to use some mashed potato as a base and then stir or mash in leftover boiled cabbage, broccoli, carrots or whatever you have. Good additions are kale or dulse that have been crisped up in the oven or frying pan before being crumbled into the spuds

I would say that you should keep the ratio of potatoes to vegetables at least 1:1.Though it is very delicious if all you have left is mashed potato (in my house growing up, we often had fried mashed potato sandwiches with brown sauce!).

If you like, you can stir in an egg; this is especially useful if the potato is dry and difficult to form. Season with salt and pepper.

Get some fat nice and hot in a frying pan. It is extremely important that you use an animal fat such as lard. I like to fry some bacon in the pan first and then use the fat to fry the bubble and squeak in.

You can add your mixture in a single layer or as separate patties. You don’t need any flour to help seal it as it will burn. Instead, add your mix and press it down firmly and then leave it undisturbed for at least 5 minutes. When a nice crust has formed, use a spatula to turn it over. Do this in parts – there’s no way you’ll be able to turn it in one piece.

When both sides have achieved a nice dark-brown crust, it is ready to serve up. I like it with bacon, poached eggs and a good dash of Worcestershire sauce.

The name of the dish comes from the noise it makes in the pan as it cooks – the super-hot and densely-packed vegetables create pressure that’s let out through any gaps. If you didn’t use animal fats, you can’t achieve the high temperatures that give you the bubbles and the squeaks, plus the crust isn’t quite as burnt and satisfying.

If you like, you can fry them one day, and warm them up in the oven a few days later.

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Filed under Eighteenth Century, food, history, Recipes