Monthly Archives: September 2012

Pickled Eggs

With today’s farming techniques it is hard to believe that eggs were a seasonal food just like fruit and vegetables: the cold winter temperatures were not conducive to incubating developing chicks, nor was there enough food during those lean times to produce eggs in the first place.

When most people think of pickled eggs, I am sure they picture those sat in huge jars full of dark brown malt vinegar like grotesque biological specimens at the back of the fish and chip shop next to the pickled onions. I remember having one as a teenager and it was so, so foul; the malt vinegar was so strong and acrid it took my breath away, and the yolk had disintegrated into a brown pulpy acid mush. God knows how long they had been pickling for. Needless to say, that incident put me off them. However, I have rediscovered them and they don’t have to be like the chip shop ones – they can be piquant, subtly spiced and certainly mellow enough to eat on their own or in salads.

There is no need to pickle eggs these days of course, except for the love of pickles themselves. Below is my recipe that is based on a recipe by Mary Norwack that appears in Jane Grigson’s English Food. The harsh malt vinegar is gone, getting replaced with much milder cider or wine vinegar, and they are further improved by the addition of some spice.

First of all you need your eggs – you can use any kind you want, large, small, bantam or tiny quail’s eggs. I got small hen’s eggs from Abbey Leys Organic Farm via lovely Manchester Veg People, who are sourcing some of my food for the stall. These eggs are truly free range and organic, delicious, and more importantly cheap! People today don’t want small eggs any more, but their loss is my gain as far as I’m concerned.

This recipe should be enough to fill at least 2 litres (4 pints) of pickling jars. You can do one huge one or several small ones.

Ingredients

Hen’s or quail’s eggs (see recipe)

1 litre (2 pints) of white wine or cider vinegar

3 or 4 dried red chillies

15 g (½ oz) fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

15 g (½ oz) brown mustard seeds

15 g (½ oz) peppercorns, black or white

10 g (⅓ oz) coriander seeds

First, select enough eggs that you think will fill snugly inside your jars. Put them in a pan with cold water and bring them to a boil. Simmer the eggs until hard-boiled; this means just 2 minutes for quail’s eggs up to 8 minutes for large hen’s eggs. Tip away the water and let the eggs drain and cool.

Meanwhile make the pickling liquor by pouring the vinegar into a saucepan. Add the spices and bring to a simmer for five minutes. Strain, then cover and let cool.

Shell the eggs and rinse them under the tap and get to work squeezing them into sterilised jars. Then cover with the pickling liquor, making sure that the eggs are completely covered. Place a few of the spices in each of the jars and seal tightly.

Leave the eggs for about 2 weeks in a cool, dark place and then enjoy!

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Tail to Nose Eating: Oxtail Soup

‘Nose to tail’ eating is en vogue these days and thank goodness it is. The stigma that offal and cheap cuts of meat are of poor quality has been around since at least the Victorian era. The anglophile French chef Alexis Soyer despaired that so much good food was going to waste; he couldn’t understand why we turned our noses up at it whilst countries like France ate the whole animal without worrying about such things. This was all compounded further during the rationing people faced, where there was no choice but to eat cheaper cuts and offal.

Alexis Soyer

Now that times are tough these cuts are appearing in our butchers’ shops once more; hopefully it is also because of the good work of today’s chefs and food writers promoting and cooking with these ingredients and showing us all that good food does not mean expensive food. When our counry’s finances turn around, I do hope that offal doesn’t get dropped for the expensive cuts again. It is so important that we treat our animals with respect by eating the whole thing, after all it helps the environment by reducing waste, and whilst we are doing this, we are opening ourselves to whole other gastronomic world previously veiled by sirloins and silversides. It can only be a good thing.

I have always been an offal fan and I can honestly say whether liver, kidney, sweetbread or brain, I have never eaten a bit of animal that I have not liked. All those odd bits, wobbly bits and squidgy bits have such an amazing range of textures and flavours and I thought I would add my favourite recipes to the blog. I am going to start this a little backwards with oxtail soup – I suppose I am championing tail to nose eating…

Oxtail Soup

My favourite soup of all time. A few years ago this was actually quite an expensive dish to make – offal was unpopular, inflating the price. These days you can pick one up for about £4 from your high-street butcher. This soup is full of rich beefy flavour that is heightened by the inclusion of a bottle of stout – the darkest you can find, Guinness works well though I like to use Marston’s Oyster Stout. The most important ingredient here is time – to make a good soup with large tender pieces of meat you need the soup to be barely simmering for at least 2 hours. A full simmer often leads to tough meat that loses too much of its flavour to the surrounding stock.

The recipe itself only seems to appear in the latter half of the eighteenth century and apparently came from France. I can’t believe this recipe is so recent, I imagined that we’d been eating a version of it for a millennium. If anyone can find an earlier reference, please let me know.

beef dripping or lard

2 oxtails, cut into 2-3 inch pieces and trimmed of very large pieces of fat

2 onions, finely chopped

2 leeks, finely sliced

3 carrots, peeled and diced

3 sticks of celery, diced

3 or 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

4 healthy sprigs of thyme

2 bay leaves

300 ml stout

1.5 litres (2 ½ pints) beef stock

salt and black pepper

1 tbs Worcestershire sauce

1 tbs mushroom ketchup (optional)

4 tbs finely chopped parsley

Heat a small amount of dripping or lard in a heavy-based stockpot or large cast-iron casserole on a high heat – the highest you dare go – add the pieces of oxtail and brown thoroughly on all sides – this should release their fat, quickening the whole process. Don’t overcrowd the pan; cook in batches if need be. Remove the oxtail and set aside before browning the onion, leek, carrot and garlic. Add the thyme and bay leaves then the stout, making sure you get all the burnt bits scraped off that will have built up from all that hard-frying.

Add the stock and browned oxtail and bring to a simmer. The soup needs to quietly tick over for at least two hours, three if you can.

Strain the soup into another pan and remove the pieces of oxtail, picking out the meat which should come away easily from the bone. Cut into small pieces of you do so wish. Return the meat to the rich stock. If you want you can throw away the vegetables, but I prefer to pop them back into the pot too. We need our roughage now, don’t we? It’s best to let the soup cool so that you can skim off any unwanted fat – plus a little waiting time helps the flavours to develop.

Reheat and season well with salt and pepper, add the Worcestershire sauce and mushroom ketchup if using. Taste and add more if you like. Finally stir through the parsley and serve hot with buttered toast and a glass of stout.

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The Edible Hedgerow

I went a little foraging escapade last week to see what wild food I could find in Chorlton Meadows, one of my favourite places in Manchester. The hunter-gatherer is not quite dead. Today’s aim was to find some fruit for some nice hedgerow jelly; something you don’t find in the shops, no siree. I wonder how many people do this anymore? It’s shocking that there are tiny punnets of blackberries in the supermarket selling for 3 or 4 pounds when you can get them free from the brambles!

The first thing you need to find if you want to make a good hedgerow jelly is some crab apples. There’s an area of the meadows called Hardy’s Farm and I knew that there was plenty of apple trees around there so I headed straight for it. The poor summer we’ve had – very wet and warm – has been the perfect environment for moulds and other fungi, they had managed to infect every tree I came across except for one! Some trees didn’t even have fruit or flowers on them. A sad, sad state of affairs. It is a little early for apples though, so perhaps they’ll get their act together.

Some of the few crab apples that weren’t diseased

Crab apples, or any windfall apples really, make up 50 percent of the jelly because apples provide the pectin that sets jelly once it is cooked.

The great thing about these jellies is that you can use berries that are normally far too sour and astringent in their unsweetened form. I found several species though many of them were not quite ripe.

The rowans were laden with berries

Two of the best examples of this were the two most bountiful species: hawthorn and rowan. These are very common trees found in hedgerows, forests, scrubland and gardens.

The brilliant red berries seemed to glow against the rather miserable grey backdrop of the rain and clouds – especially the rowanberries. If you look closely at them, you can see that they are just tiny apples themselves.

Rowanberries are simply tiny apples!

(to be botanically correct: apples are just large berries)

There was also a few ripe rosehips, so I grabbed some of those too. The other species I found were no way near ripe enough or in high enough numbers: sloes (the wild ancestor to damsons), blackberries, elderberries and some wild plums.

Some rather unripe blackberries and hips

Hedgerow Jelly

Once you have collected your fruit you can now get making your jelly – and don’t worry if crab apples are the only thing you found because they make a delicious pink-tinged tart jelly themselves. (Notice that I have suddenly gone metric, there’s a reason for this, but that’ll have to wait for another post. I shall endeavour to add Imperial measures though.)

1 kg (2 lbs) crab apples

1 kg (2 lbs) wild berries

1.2 litres (2 pints) water

granulated sugar

Wash your fruit – you don’t want hedgerow and earwig jelly. Roughly chop your apples; don’t core or peel them, it is the core and peel that contain the most of the precious pectin.

As for the berries, I give them a quick blitz in the food processor. Place the fruit in a large heavy-based stock pot. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until the fruit is mushy.

In order to achieve a nice clear jelly, you need to strain the juice through cloth – I use muslin and a proper jelly stand for this, but it’s perfectly fine to use a large sheet of muslin, cheesecloth or even an old pillowcase. Scald your material in boiling water to sterilise it. Put the jelly bag on its frame with a bowl beneath it to catch the drips. Pour in the mushy fruit and juice and allow it to drip through in its own time overnight. If you don’t have a jelly bag, you can tie a bundle of cloth to the handle of a cupboard above a bowl.

The next day, measure how much juice you have – it should be between 1 and 1.2 litres – and pour it into your stockpot or preserving pan (I am saving up for one of those). For every 600 ml (1 UK pint) of juice you have, you’ll need 450 g (1 pound) of sugar. Add this to the pan and turn on the heat to medium, stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is completely dissolved, then turn the heat to maximum. Boil the fruity syrup until setting point is reached: this is easy to judge if you have a thermometer, because pectin sets at 104.5⁰C.This should take about 10 or 15 minutes. If you don’t have one then, turn the heat off and place a drop of the jelly on a freezing-cold plate. Let it set, then push it with your nail. If it wrinkles, then it is ready. If it doesn’t, put the heat on again for 10 minutes and try again.

Once setting point is reached, skim away the skum and pour into sterilised jars. The way I do this is I put the jars and lids on a clean baking tray in the oven for 30 minutes at 120⁰C.

Variation: Mulled cider jelly. Use 2 kg of crab apples, and add a 500 ml bottle of dry or sweet cider along with 700 ml of water, along with a cinnamon stick, some cloves, a star anise and a piece of nutmeg. When it comes to the point where you add the sugar, use 100 g less as the cider lends a lot of sweetness itself.

Mulled cider jelly

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