Tag Archives: soup

Mock Turtle Soup

“Neil, it’s your butcher, Mark.”

“Hi Mark, what can I do for you?”

“Did you by any chance order a calf’s head a couple of weeks ago? It’s the kind of thing you would order.”

“You’re right it is the sort of thing I’d order, but I didn’t, sorry.”

“Well someone did, but I can remember for the life of me who it was!”

“Oh dear. Well if you don’t find the culprit, let me know, I’m sure I can take it off your hands.”

And that’s how I became the owner of a calf’s head; and I knew exactly what I was going to make with it once it got my hands on it: the mysterious Victorian classic, Mock Turtle Soup.

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Mock turtle soup was invented from necessity – turtle soup had become immensely popular in the 1750s after sailors coming from the West Indies landed a couple of them upon British soil. Sailors would catch them and keep them alive on their ships as a source of fresh meat. They were very delicious, and it’s a surprise that any even made it back. Those that did, were readily snapped up by royalty. Now everyone wanted to get their hands one and suddenly no banquet or dinner party was complete without its turtle soup. At its peak in trade, 15 000 live turtles were being shipped live from the West Indies per year. Of course, these huge beasts were very expensive, and because such numbers were being caught, trade was not sustainable and the green turtles were almost hunted to extinction, driving up price even further.

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But why were they so popular? Obviously the royal family enjoying themgot the ball rolling, but their huge bodies were made up of different cuts of meat tasting of veal, beef, fish, ham and pork!

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So real turtle soup quickly became out of the question for all but the super-rich, and so mock turtle soup was invented. Recipes vary in their ingredients containing beef, ham, oysters, vegetables, skin, tongue and brain in an attempt to replicate the diverse tastes and textures of turtle meat. One ingredient common to all of the recipes I’ve seen is calf’s head – an economical addition with plenty of tastes and textures in itself. Recipe-writers are quite particular about the fact that the head should have the skin on – the fat and skin adding to the texture and flavour of the dish. My head arrived skinned and it still tasted good. If your butcher sells veal, see if you can get hold of one. Mine cost a fiver!

Some recipes are very complex, but are essentially a consommé of meat served with the meat cut into chunks with various accompaniments such as forcemeat balls (or fish balls or egg balls), fried brains, oysters and fresh herbs.

Mock turtle soup became a British classic; Heinz even made and canned it! Alice in her trip to Wonderland met a real Mock-Turtle, depressed that he was no longer a real turtle. He was quite tiresome if I remember rightly.

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Alice meets the Mock-Turtle

I adapted a recipe for an ‘old fashioned’ mock turtle soup from the 1845 book Modern Cookery for Private Families by Eliza Acton, then my chefs Harry and Matthew and I got to work on producing it as a special for the restaurant.

 

To make mock turtle soup

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As the butcher to split the head. As soon as you get home, remove the brain carefully and place in a bowl of well-salted water, cover with cling film and keep in the fridge until needed. You don’t need to include the brain if you don’t want to; it is tricky to prepare, but it is delicious. We didn’t use the brain as we took our time over a couple of days to make this in-between regular food service, and brain doesn’t really keep more than 24-hours. Because the head had already been frozen, we couldn’t re-freeze it either. If you don’t have the same issues as we did, get it cooked! There are brief instructions below on how to prepare  brain, but for more detail, check out the sister blog here.

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1 calf’s head with tongue, brain removed, split and soaked in salted water for several hours

4kg beef neck or shin

75g butter

1 smoked ham hock

4 large onions, quartered

3 large carrots, peeled and halved lengthways

2 heads of celery, quartered lengthways

Bouquet garni: rosemary, bay, thyme, pared rind of a lemon

1 dsp black peppercorns

 

Rinse the calf’s head and place in a large stockpot, cover well with tepid water and bring slowly to a bare simmer. Skim any scum that rises to the surface of the water, then cover with a lid and let the head cook for 90 minutes.

In the meantime, heat up the butter in a large frying pan and fry beef until well browned. Add this, along with the butter, to the pot with the ham hock, vegetables, bouquet garni and peppercorns. Turn the heat up a little and bring back to light simmer, letting the whole lot tick over for seven hours.

Carefully remove the larger pieces of meat and bone and strain the soup well. If need be, reduce the resulting broth to produce a more concentrated flavour. Discard the vegetables and herbs and carefully remove the meat from the bone. Skin the tongue and cut away any gristle and bone from the root end. The meat can then be either shred or cut into even-sized pieces.

 

To finish the soup:

Beurre manie of equal amounts of butter and flour mashed together to form a paste

200ml sherry

½ tsp ground mace

¼ tsp Cayenne pepper

Salt

Double cream (optional)

Forcemeat balls (see below)

Prepared brain (see further below)

Chopped parsley

 

As you prepare the meat, get the strained stock back onto a simmer. Whisk in knobs of beurre manie until the soup is as thick as you like, add the sherry and spices and season with salt. Return the meat to the pan. If you like, add cream to the soup.

Serve the soup in bowls topped with forcemeat balls fried in butter or lard, breadcrumbed brain slices and chopped parsley.

 

For the forcemeat balls:

300g streaky bacon, chopped

100g grated beef suet, fresh is best, but the packet stuff is fine too

75g fresh breadcrumbs

1 tbs chopped parsley

1 tsp chopped marjoram

2 eggs, beaten

Freshly grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper

 

Mix together the first six ingredients together in a bowl and season with the spices and salt. Roll into walnut sized pieces. Fry in butter or lard over a medium heat.

 

For the brain:

The brain, soaked in salted water for several hours in the fridge

Seasoned flour

1 egg beaten

Dried breadcrumbs

Sunflower oil or lard for frying

 

A brain is covered by a membrane of blood vessels which need removing. To do this, gingerly place the brain on a chopping board, with its underside facing upwards. Here the membrane is thickest, and is the easiest place to begin. Carefully pull the membrane away. This is quite tricky and takes a little practise. Ease your fingers between the folds and get as many of blood vessels pulled away.

Now poach the brain in salted water for about 6 minutes. Remove, drain and cool.

Cut the brain into thick slices, pulling away any bits of membrane you might have missed.

Set out three plates: one with flour, the other with beaten egg and the last with the breadcrumbs.

Coat the brain slices in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs.

Heat up the oil or lard in a frying pan and fry the brain quickly until golden brown – don’t overcook! Fry for three minutes maximum.

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How to Make a Basic Veal Stock

To me, life without veal stock…is a life not worth living

Anthony Bourdain

A while ago, I started up a series of posts on stock-making, and thought I should continue it.

When it comes to stock-making the home cook needs to keep out an eagle-eye for off cuts of meat and bones to sequester in the freezer ready to whip out for a stock. This I always do at Levenshulme Market (of which I am a Director), where the excellent Wintertarn has a stall selling organic cheese and –being good, sustainable dairy farmers – their organic rose veal too. I always have a nosey for any odd bits and I’ve managed to stockpile a few calves’ tails and a calf’s heart, amongst other things.

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These sorts of bits are great for making meat stocks – muscle for meaty flavour and bones for gelatinous body.

I thought I would give you my recipe to make a basic veal stock ready for classic soups, stews and sauces. It is the stock favoured in posh restaurants with kitchen run by French chefs, but it is easy to make, and cheap too, if you know where to look. It’s always a good idea to make friends with your local butcher, for this very reason. The reason it is liked so much is that it as there is no dominating flavour as there can be with beef stocks, yet there is plenty of body.

I have written a post already on general stock making, so it might be a good idea to have a look at that if you haven’t made stock very often.

This recipe is guidance really, most quote veal knuckle (the veal equivalent to a pig’s trotter) and veal shin, but you can use any cheap/free bone and muscle combination. You only need to the basic aromatics too – this is a simple, yet elegant stock, of course you can add other vegetables too. Notice there are no peppercorns; if you want a clear stock they need to be avoided as they can make the stock cloudy. If you don’t care, add half a dozen.

 

1 kg of veal knuckle, split, or tail, or other bones, chopped up

750g shank, or other well-used muscle cut into pieces (heart, tongue, skirt, osso bucco etc.)

2 carrots, peeled and halved lengthways

2 onions, peeled, halved and studded with 2 cloves each

2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped

2 whole garlic cloves

a bouquet garni made up of thyme, parsley stalks, 2 bay leaves

 

First, get a large pot of water on the boil, and blanche the meat for 5 minutes. This gets rid of the scum, that otherwise would rise to the surface and require skimming. Drain the meat and give it a quick rinse. Place in your stock pot with the vegetables, packing everything in tightly. Pour cold water to just cover, around 2 litres.

Bring to a simmer very slowly, it should take at least 20 minutes. If you do this correctly, you won’t get any more scum rising to the surface.

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Once the water is barely gurgling, move the pot onto the smallest hob on your cooker, set at its lowest heat. Keep the pot covered and let it tick over for 5 hours. It may seem like a long time, but it really needs this long slow bathe. It’s not like you have to stand over it. Tip your nets, grout the bathroom or take the dog out or something in the meantime.

Strain the stock through a sieve into a clean pan, bring to boil and reduce by a third. Cool overnight and take away any fat that has solidified on the stock’s surface. You should have a pale coloured jellied stock that can be seasoned and used as required.

If you want a richer brown stock, the bones and vegetables can be browned in the oven first.

In the next post I’ll give you a recipe that needs a good, home-made stock like this.

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Dulse

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The Dulse Gatherers by William Marshall Brown, 1863-1936

Nobody really eats dulse, or any other seaweed for that matter, in England these days, though they used to. It is a pity because I do like the stuff. It is eaten in Ireland and parts of Scotland still; I ask friends to bring back a bag of it whenever they cross the seas. I recently received a bag from my friend Hugh.

Dulse had been eaten for over one thousand years in North-Western Europe, the ancient Celtic Warriors of old ate dulse as they were marching, and during the seventeenth century British sailors ate it to prevent scurvy (although it was originally used as an alternative to chewing tobacco). Even today, its healthful properties are noted; my friend Evelyn from Ballymena, Northern Island tells me:

When I was pregnant, the midwife thought I was very healthy as my blood pressure and iron levels were so good. Iron goes up to 17 mg/dl max but I was the first person she’d seen that had 15 – apparently quite unheard of for a lady, especially a pregnant lady! We put it down to the dulse (nothing else remotely healthy going on at that time in my diet), and she’s been recommending it to everyone.

Its popularity in Ireland as well as Scotland led to dulse being popular in the USA too when they emigrated over the Pond, although none of my American friends seem to have heard of it.

The dulse industry has obviously died a bit of a death in England, and the rest of the UK and Ireland, compared to days of yore. Charles Dickens, writing in 1858, reminisces about childhood holidays in Aberdeen where there were often over a dozen ‘dulse-wives’ selling dulse:

[O]f all the figures on the Castlegate, none where more picturesque than the dulse-wives. They sat in a row on little wooden stools, with their wicker creels placed before them on the granite paving stones. Dressed in clean white mutches, or caps, with silk-hankerchiefs spread over their breasts, and blue stuff wrappers and petticoats, the ruddy and sonsie dulse-women looked the types of health and strength… Many a time, where my whole weekly income was a halfpenny, a Friday’s bawbee, I have expended it on dulse, in preference to apples, pears, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, wild peas and sugar-sticks.

He recalls a conversation:

A young one would say: “Come to me, bonnie laddie, and I’ll gie ye mair for yer bawbee than any o’ them.”

An old one would say: “Come to me, bonnie laddie, and I’ll tell what like yer wife will be.”

“Yer dinner ken yerself.”

“Hoot aye – I ken brawly: she’ll hae a head and feet, an mou’, and eyen, and may be a nose, and will be as auld as me, if she lives as lang.”

“Aye: but ye gie me very little dulse for my bawbee.”

“Aye,” replies the honest woman, adding another handful, “but sic a wife is weel worth mair siller.”

The dulse-wives exploded into laughter, when the woman suggested some one like herself, as the ideal wife which youth is doomed always to pursue and never to attain.

Oh! those dulse-wives.

My friend Evelyn reminisces:

It comes with shells and little crustaceans on it; my friend Maisie used to spend hours ‘cleaning’ dulse & would then give me nice little bags with no icky bits on them. Strangely it doesn’t seem to fall under any health and safety rules. Old men that live by the sea just grab a load and dry it on the rocks in the sun.

You can also buy it dried and flaked in sealed bags looking  like reddish tea leaves. Even better, of course, you can forage for it. I must say seaside foraging forms a hole in my knowledge. I should try and remedy that.

Cooking with Dulse

Dulse can be eaten as is, or used in salad and sandwiches. I personally think it is best eaten cooked so I’ve included a couple of simple recipes for you.

Mashed Potato with Dulse

This is a great recipe and much healthier than regular mash because it uses olive oil as opposed to butter. It’s vegan and gluten free too, so you shouldn’t get any complaints from anyone!

It could not be easier, really. First, scrub and then boil some potatoes in their skins without adding any salt. Remove the skins and mash them. Next, finely shred the dulse and fry it in olive oil – you’ll need about 15 grams of dulse for every kilogram of potatoes used. Of course, if you are using the flakes, you can sprinkle them straight into the hot oil. This takes just a few seconds. Add the oil and dulse to the spuds and mix, mashing in some extra olive oil if need be. Season.

Serve with lamb, beef, chicken or fish

Lamb & Dulse Broth with Dulse Shards

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I came up with this soup when I found some frozen lamb stock secreted at the back of a freezer-drawer recently. It draws on that classic combination of lamb and seaweed. This recipe requires the rock-dried dulse to make the sweet-tasting shards, but any dulse can be used for the soup itself.

Ingredients

1 tbs butter or olive oil

1 carrot, diced

1 stick celery, diced

a sprig of thyme

a sprig of rosemary

a bay leaf

60g red lentils

2 or 3 tbs dried, chopped dulse

1 litre well-flavoured lamb stock

salt & pepper

For the dulse shards:

‘leaves’ of dried dulse

sunflower, groundnut or rapeseed oil for frying

 

Melt the butter or oil in a saucepan, add the carrot, celery and herbs. Fry gently for 10 or 15 minutes until the vegetables are soft and translucent. Add the lentils and fry for another two minutes before adding the dulse and lamb stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for around 20-25 minutes until the lentils have cooked and broken up, thickening the broth. Season.

Meanwhile, prepare the dulse shards. Heat up some oil in a frying pan and when hot, throw just one or two dulse pieces into the oil. The dulse will immediately sizzle, crisp and change colour as if by magic. After just a few seconds, remove and drain on kitchen paper. Fry all your dulse pieces in this way, and break them up into shards and place them gently on top of your finished soup.

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To Make Vegetable Stock

As promised in my last post a good recipe for a basic vegetable stock which is definitely robust enough to be swapped for chicken or fish stock in any recipe.

It is hard to be exact when making stock because it depends upon the vegetables you like, the vegetables you have and what the stock is to be used for. It’s also worth mentioning that if you don’t have tomatoes, for example, don’t worry, just include something else to make up for it.

The basics are fundamental. You need at least three of the following: onion, leek, carrot, celery and garlic and then everything else is a bonus. I would say you should use at least 3 more vegetables.

The good thing about a vegetable stock is that because it is only simmered for 20 minutes you can get away with cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, or any other brassicas before they go all farty. Asparagus trimmings, sweetcorn, pea pods, and anything else you can think of all count. Keep your trimmings in a freezer bag until they are required.

The same goes for herbs: freeze parsley stalks and anything else that is looking a bit sad sat in the bottom of the fridge. Avoid mint as it tends to overpower vegetable stocks.

The spices I like to use are peppercorns, cloves and then either some fennel seeds or some allspice berries, but it’s up to you really; cumin or cardamom, nutmeg or mace, chillies or lemon peel have all worked successfully in the past.

Remember: the whole point of making your own stock is that you don’t get the same thing every time. I have never included a vegetable that hasn’t worked, even ones you won’t suspect like beetroots, cucumbers, lettuces and courgettes.

For more general information on stocks click here.

This recipe makes around 1 ¾ litres of stock.

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Ingredients

At least 3 of the following: 1 large onion, 1 carrot, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 sticks celery (with leaves), 1 leek (include the green top)

75g brassica – e.g. cabbage, broccoli, turnip &c

2 tomatoes

½ fennel bulb

Any other vegetable trimmings (if using all trimmings, go for at least 300g in weight)

30g butter or 2 tbs olive oil

2 bay leaves

6-10 parsley stalks

4 springs of thyme

1 sprig rosemary

6 peppercorns

6 allspice berries or a teaspoon of fennel seeds

3 cloves

around 2 litres of water

 

Begin by preparing your mirepoix; a mirepoix is just vegetables chopped very small so that the maximum amount of flavour can be extracted in the minimum amount of time. I go for the easy option and use a food processor.

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Heat the butter or oil in a pan and fry the vegetables for around 10 minutes so that they soften but don’t colour.

Tip the vegetables into a large saucepan or stockpot along with your herbs and spices. Cover them with cold water and slowly bring to a bare simmer. Try and make sure the stock doesn’t boil. Simmer the stock on the smallest hob on the lowest possible heat so that it merrily ticks away for around 20 minutes.

Let the stock cool slightly before straining it off. Avoid seasoning it with salt – wait until you’ve made the dish you are to use the stock for.

Your vegetable stock is now ready to use.

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If you want, you can reduce it, but you must be careful not to boil it hard as the subtle flavours will evaporate and the stock will look and taste like overcooked sprouts. The best way reduce it is to pour the stock into a wide pan and let it simmer and reduce gently.

 

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Stock-making, a quick guide

Stock is the body and soul of soups – Lindsay Bareham

I have been making my own stocks for years now and it is part of my regular kitchen routine. I sequester bones, meat offcuts, fish heads and trimmings, vegetable peelings and herb stalks in bags in the bottom of my freezer so that I can combine them appropriately whenever I need to. It’s a thrifty way of living; often making a large batch of stock costs only the price of the fuel that cooked it.

For those that do not cook much at home, stock-making is sometimes regarded as some kind of alchemy, yet this is a misconception, and indeed there are many very complicated stock recipes, but the home cook (I include myself here) need not bother with these. The chances are you have made stock several times and have thrown it down the sink without a second thought, because in its most basic form, the water you cook your vegetables in is a good, light vegetable stock.

From a history point of view, one cannot pin-point when stocks were first made, and one cannot unravel the origins of stock from soup. Take this example from Good Things in England by Florence White:

[The soup] is nothing more than the water in which young cabbage has been boiled…It is extremely good and delicate and tastes very much like chicken broth. It is not merely an economy but a luxury; one of the best of health and beauty drinks.

Wise and thrifty cooks throughout the millennia used the water that their tough meat joints were simmered in or their fish poached in and used them as the base of another dish. One of my favourite dishes is poached silverside of beef which consists of beef, herbs, a couple of veg and water. The resulting broth makes beautifully-tasting soup.

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Poached Silverside of Beef

Seeing as we are trying to be thrifty folk, I thought I would give you a quick guide to stock-making. As I have mentioned, it will save you money, and – like when you make your own bread – you will see how sublime it can taste. Every stock you make will taste a little different each time and it can be tailored to suit its use, e.g. add a few fennel seeds to a stock for a fish soup. Best of all, your soups and stews won’t taste of stock cubes. There is nothing wrong with having a stash of them in your food cupboard, I would do too, but with my very frustrating onion and tomato intolerances, I usually have to do my own. The point is, that when you use bought stock cubes, every soup and stew ends up tasting the same.

What makes up a stock?

This is the beauty of stock-making; there are no hard-and-fast rules with respect to ingredients.

All good stocks should contain some flavoursome vegetables and aromatic herbs and spices, often called a bouquet garni, as well as the main ingredient: this might be meat and bones, fish, or, more vegetables. The stock might be seasoned or enriched with salt, wine, soy sauce, Worcester sauce, tomato puree, mushroom ketchup or any number of other things, though it is usually best to do this once the soup or stew that the stock is being used for has been made.

Stock vegetables

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The vegetables used in your stock are often key to the quality as they add a lot of depth. The three basic vegetables used for most stocks are carrots, celery and onion, though I personally add garlic and leek to this ‘trinity’ (a trinity in five parts?). My general rule of thumb is to try and include at least three of the five. Anything else is a bonus, really. Fennel is a good addition, if used sparingly, as are tomatoes, mushroom peelings, pea pods. Lentils, parsnips and potatoes add an earthiness, but should be avoided if you don’t like your stock cloudy. Brassicas such as cabbage, cauliflower, of sprouts should be used very sparingly, especially in meat or poultry stocks that have a lengthy cooking time, they are great in vegetables stocks though. Vegetables need to be roughly chopped in long-cooked meat stocks, and chopped small (a mirepoix as it is called in the trade) in quick-cook vegetable and fish stocks. A food processor makes an easy job of it.

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Herbs, spices and other aromatics

Like the vegetables, the herbs and spices you add will depend upon what you have and they are essential. Must-haves herbs include bay leaves, parsley stalks, thyme and rosemary. Other herbs are great if you can get hold of them. Dill stalks in a fish stock are delicious as is a tiny mint sprig in a summertime lamb stock. I keep and freeze all my herb stalks to use later in stocks – there’s no need to throw them away. Must-have spices include black peppercorns, cloves and allspice berries.

The thinly-pared rinds of citrus fruits are also used quite a lot: a strip of orange peel transforms a game stock and lemon rind really lifts chicken, vegetable and fish stocks.

These herbs and spices are often tied up into a faggot or bouquet garni, though I never bother to tie mine up for stock, though I do for stews and soups where careful and efficient removal is required.

Poultry, meat and game

Use whatever you have – raw meat and bones, or bones from a roast. A little goes a long way: I have made game stock using a single woodcock carcass that still tasted great. It is best to avoid bones that have already been stewed as most of the flavour will already have leached out, but do add any left-over pan juices, jelly or gravy. Raw meat or bones will benefit greatly from a quick roasting in a hot oven for 20 minutes or so.

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The important thing here is to treat your stock meat properly – if you boil the stock hard, the tasty amino acids and textural gelatine will not go into your stock, but will either form a nasty grey scum or will be trapped within the meat. Low simmers and long cooking times are essential.

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It is best to avoid kidneys and livers in stocks, as their flavour is far too strong, but hearts, tongues and heads all make good additions.

Fish

Fish stocks, in contrast to meat stocks, can be made in minutes. Use bones and trimmings in your stock, but avoid oily fish such as mackerel and sardines. Mussel, clam, cockle or oyster liquor would be delicious, if you ever have any.

Clarifying Stock

You might want to clarify your stock after straining it. This is straight-forward enough to do and there are several methods. The quick method is to whisk a mixture of egg whites and broken egg shells into the hot stock. The eggs grab hold of and magically mop-up the cloudy substances. The slow – and best – method is to freeze the stock, tie it in muslin and let the melting stock drip through. This method makes beautifully clear stocks.

There are a few tricks to avoid cloudiness in the first place: Don’t use starchy vegetables like potatoes, lentils and parsnips and avoid peppercorns. The best way is it leave the stock be; prodding, poking and rearranging items is the surest way to cloud it.

Some stock-making rules:

  1. Start with cold water and bring to a simmer slowly. This is the most important rule of all. As the water gradually heats, the flavours leach out and don’t boil away and connective tissues break down to release their gelatine. The stock should never get hotter than a bare simmer; you want the odd gurgle, nothing more
  2. Remove the scum before you add the herbs and spices. If you don’t the scum gets all caught up in it, making a nasty grey mess. Skim the scum, then add the aromatics.
  3. Remove the layer of fat. Nobody wants greasy soup. The best way to do this is to let it cool and then scrape the fat layer away. If time is an issue, lay paper napkins on the stock’s surface.
  4. The amount of water you use depends on your pot. Don’t follow the recipe when it comes to adding water. Arrange the ingredients in your pan with few gaps and add enough water to just cover.
  5. Break the bones and cut up the meat. This increases the surface area and therefore increases the flavour of your stock.
  6. When storing stock, cool it quickly and keep in the fridge up to 2 or 3 days. Any longer than that, freeze it.
  7. Reducing stocks enhance the flavours and mean you can store more in the freezer. You must strain the stock and skim it of fat before reducing it. Meat stocks you can boil it quite heard, but vegetable and fish stocks need to be treated a little more gently.

Stock recipes

Every post I write that I write that gives a stock recipe or information about stock I tag it appropriately. Click here to see the posts.

I will post a very good vegetable stock recipe in the next day or so, as it is the most useful of all the stocks and I already have posted a duck stock recipe.

The best advice is really to use stock recipes as a guide only, use what you have to hand. Keep your vegetable and meat trimmings in a bag I your freezer and you’ll find that you’ll quickly fill them.

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Poaching sweetbreads in a light vegetable stock called a court-bouillon

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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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Filed under Britain, cooking, food, Meat, Recipes, Soups

Celery

The great about celery is that it is two vegetables and one spice all in one.

The large familiar swollen stems are actually greatly enlarged leaf stalks and make up most of the plant visible above the soil. The celery we know and love was selectively bred in 14th century Italy from the wild plant that is “rank, coarse, and…poisonous” according to the celery expert Theophilus Roessle. It is these stalks that join onions and carrots to produce the trinity of stock vegetables – indeed it is for stock, or for salads, that celery is commonly used, but it does make a great vegetable on its own. It was very popular to serve celery sauces with poultry, or served covered in a cream sauce with pheasant.

In Good Things, Jane Grigson gives us two valuable pieces of advice: firstly, that celery is a seasonal vegetable that is at its best from November and December. We have lost this seasonality and it is a shame, I expect few of us have eaten prime celery improved by the ‘first frost’. The second piece of advice is how to eat the vegetable raw; once you have procured your first-frosted celery, you should trim it and spread down the curved length of the stem good butter. Next, sprinkle with sea salt. “Avoid embellishments”, she says “a good way to start a meal.” To prepare celery for eating, it is often a good idea to string it – this is particularly important if it is to be cooked. It’s very simple to do because the strings are quite near the surface of the stalk; take a vegetable peeler to its curved underside and peel the strings away. Easy.

If allowed to flower, the seeds produce a spice which was used to make celery vinegar, a popular condiment in the 18th century. It is also the part of the plant that is used to make celery salt, an ingredient in a classic Bloody Mary cocktail. To make it, just grind up some celery seeds and mix with double the amount of good quality sea salt.

Celery plant showing off its stalks and root

It might surprise you to know that celery is a member of the carrot family, but if you look beneath the soil surface you will find a large swollen root, though it doesn’t look very much like a carrot; it is round, creamy and white and covered in small knobbly roots. This is celeriac, sometimes just called celery root. It goes really well with game and can be roasted like parsnips or pureed with some potatoes. Raw, it is an excellent ingredient in coleslaw.

Here are a couple of recipes that show the celery stems off at their very best. Both can be made from one head of celery.

 

Braised Celery

This is my favourite way of cooking celery and it is also very simple – the most difficult bit is remembering to take it out of the oven! It requires the inside stalks of a head of celery – don’t throw away those outer sticks, you use them to make celery soup (see below). It is best made with beef stock and served with roast beef or game, in particular pheasant.

one head of celery, outer 8 stems removed

2 oz of butter

8 fl oz beef, chicken or vegetable stock

salt and pepper

Separate the sticks of celery, string those that need it and slice them in half and place spread out in a single layer in a shallow ovenproof dish. Dot with the butter and pour over the stock. Season with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with a well-fitting lid or some foil. Bake in the oven at 160⁰C (325⁰F) for 2 ½ hours.

 

Celery Soup

This is the best way of using up the really stringy outer stalks on a head of celery. It’s pretty low-fat (you could swap the butter for olive oil) but has a nice ‘cream of…’ look and feel but without the actual cream. To achieve this, all you need to do is to stir in a couple of fluid ounces of milk after the soup has been liquidised. One of my favourite soups.

2 oz butter

1 bay leaf

¼ tsp allspice

8 sticks of celery including the leaves, sliced

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium potato, diced

1 pint of vegetable or light chicken stock

2 fl oz milk

good pinch of ground white pepper

salt

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, when it stops bubbling add the bay leaf and allspice. Cook in the butter for 30 seconds or so before adding the celery, onion and potato. Mix well to coat the vegetables with the butter. Turn the heat down to low-medium and cover the pan. Let the m cook gently for 20 minutes until the vegetables have softened. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil and simmer gently for a further 30 minutes. Let the soup cool a little before liquidising in a blender. Push through a sieve if you like your soup super smooth. Add the milk and a good seasoning of white pepper and salt; the amounts are up to you, but I use around 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 of a teaspoon of pepper.

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Filed under Britain, history, Recipes, Uncategorized, Vegetables