Seared lamb neck fillet with adobo marinade

Lamb neck doesn’t exactly sound tasty. It’s that terminal ‘k’ sound, I think. It’s hard to sustain an appetite in the face of a harsh wet plosive. Indeed, lamb neck isn’t something I started cooking with until quite recently, having written it off as a slow-cooking cut less interesting than shank or shoulder.

A mistake, but an understandable one.

Adobo lamb neck fillet

On the bone, lamb neck slow cooks nicely – there’s plenty of fat and flavour. But the filleted neck behaves a bit differently. Raw, it looks like a well-larded pork tenderloin, and you can almost treat it in the same way. It’ll flash fry, barbecue, or grill. It loves a bit of char, and a deep marinade to carry some flavour through that harsh cooking.

This one’s pretty simple, and the marinade is inspired by Rick Bayless’ adobo in Authentic Mexican*, which is my go-to for good times with chillies.

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Milk-braised pork tortelloni with a lemon zest finish

Elizabeth David is probably best known for bringing French cuisine to British tables. But her 1954 book Italian Food made a reasonable stab at introducing rural Italy’s fresh, simple flavours to a United Kingdom only just relaxing from the grip of rationing.

One of the fun things in Italian Food is a scrappy, half-explained braise of pork in milk with marjoram. Plated up as a main it would have all the appeal of stringy cement. But conceptually it’s a nice way to keep slow-cooked pork moist and flavoursome.

So how about wrapping it up in pasta, a rich carby cloak to hide its shame?

Milk-braised pork tortelloni

Tortelloni are great (even if I did fold mine wrong), and keeping them large cuts down the hassle. What’s fun here though is the addition of a little lemon zest, just before cooking. It steams in the filling so that when you slice into the pasta, you get this flash of zingy aroma, but the flavour doesn’t overpower.

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Drinking around the Niagara peninsula

Canadian wine. It’s not really a phrase to set the world on fire, is it?

IMG_4861The thing is, when you’re on the same basic latitude as most of Burgundy – with a lake shore microclimate that keeps the air warm and fresh – you’ve got a shot at belting out some serious grapes. Pinot Noir, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, a bit of Chardonnay – it’s all going on around the Niagara Escarpment. There’s Syrah and Gamay in the mix, too; not to mention the funky hybrids and the icewine. No, Ontario’s got a lot going for it as wine growing country, and the actual oenology is getting serious.

In 2011 we visited wineries around Lake Erie, and were not wowed. In 2015, we spent three days tasting around the Niagara Peninsula. Four years had passed, and the grapes we saw on the vine in 2011 were now on sale in bottles. We hit a different region, one or two more up-scale wineries, and had a knowledgeable local guide. That is to say: I don’t honestly know if the wine has got better, or if we were just drinking better wine, but it was pretty great.

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Tinga Poblana (pork, chorizo, and chipotle stew)

When I was a teenager, my dad taught me to cook. I mean, he tried. I was a truculent little fucker even then, and I doubt I really listened. Still he taught at a catering college, and somehow some basics of technique and flavour sank in. I don’t think I really learned to cook though until a bit later, living in a grotty shared house, having rage-quit the family home, post graduation.

As tantrums go, “I’m moving to Cambridge” was a bit dumb, and more than a little expensive. But not wanting to let the cooking shtick wither entirely, my dad packed me off with a few books. Some core catering texts, a well-thumbed Delia, and a couple of quirky extras that have since become two of my favourites. They were Elisabeth Luard’s European Peasant Cookery, and Rick Bayless’ Authentic Mexican, and they massively influenced my early cooking forays. The latter introduced me to Tinga Poblana, one of the first things I learned to cook then really ran with.

Tinga Poblana

 

It’s bound up in a whole bunch of memories – if I cook for you at all in person, the odds are you’ll have eaten some version of it. Hell, I’ve been titting about with Tinga Poblana for about ten years, and this won’t be the final version I settle on by any means.

It’s smoky and deep, with a sweetness I’ve brought to the front using sweet potato and extra onion. The chorizo and chipotle give some and darkness, so you don’t need much extra by way of spice. But I do like to add some allspice just to round it all out. Continue reading

Dolcelatte lentils with seared cauliflower (or chicken, I guess)

Like a gentler, more subtle Gorgonzola, Dolcelatte is one of those creamy-sharp soft blue cheeses, but with a bit of sweetness that lets it be a flavour enhancer as well as a big main kick.

Still though – lentils with cheese? Yeah, I know, but stay with me on this one. It’s all about the creamy savoury.

Dolcelatte lentils with seared cauliflowerThere are plenty of dairy-backed lentil dishes, often sausage casseroles or general piggy constructions. In fact, there’s a sensational one in Pork and Sons. But I wanted something that would be a big veggie umami fest, with a sharp hit to go through what can otherwise be a bit of a cloying set of flavours.

You could think of it as a kind of cockeyed dal makhani, but then you could do a lot of things.

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Pork in a Dijon mustard sauce

A few months ago on some product management training, I had the opportunity to geek out about cheese with a lovely French lady called Mirissa. She was also kind enough to share her mustard pork loin recipe with me, and it was bloody tasty.
Pork loin in creamy mustard sauceUnable to leave well alone, I’ve tweaked it a bit, so what’s here is an onioned-up version of a quick and easy French classic.

The mustard cuts through the cream without being too vinegary or overpowering, and you can get this together in a little over half an hour.

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Koya, Soho – any noodle as long as it’s udon

Koya is a Soho noodle bar, up Frith St, just past the jazz club.
(Someone just filled their bingo card).

Sadly, it’s also set to close in May this year. Sadface. Much sadface. Thankfully its sister bar (two doors down) will remain.

I say “noodle bar” – it serves mostly udon, with a range of soups, sauces, and dressings. Some are hot, some are cold, the specials are nifty, and it’s a good time. Koya, crab and cockles We ducked in for lunch, making it barely in time for their 2:45 last orders, and there was still a (very short) queue. That’s encouraging. As was the service – friendly and attentive, and from a gentleman who seemed like he’d be more at home in a Jeffrey Bernard era Soho all-night Italian dive. Splendid.

Décor is simple, specials skew seasonal, livening up the rather dull basic sides, and udon are probably my favourite noodles.
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Egg yolk ravioli (Uova da Raviolo)

Egg yolk ravioli are rich and creamy and incredibly simple. They’re just what they look like – large, round or square pasta parcels encasing a runny, just-cooked egg yolk, and a little soft cheese. You can add a few flavours (here, pecorino because it’s delicious), but the core idea is to foreground the eggs.

Egg yolk ravioli (Uova da Raviolo)

They’re surprisingly easy to make, but not all that quick. I won’t lie to you – this is a horrendous parade of buggering about. It’s fresh pasta, what else would it be? But if you’re careful with the yolks, these are simple, reliable, tasty, and kind of impressive.

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Chicken liver Ragù

Right, ok, so – you make a slow-cooked, tomato-based pasta sauce, but with chicken livers, and you put some dill in it. Honestly, you probably don’t need to read the recipe now.

Nigel Slater managed to blag a twelve quid paperback onto bestseller lists by filling a couple of hundred pages with “ideas for dinner” that aren’t a whole world sturdier than that. But he’s got the media platform of a kind of chorizo-coated Stephen Fry, and I’m going to have to work a bit harder than that.

This is something I’ve been cooking for years. It’s been through a few iterations, but I think this is the simplest it’s been while I’ve still liked it. The nice part is that because chicken livers cook down pretty readily, you can get to the texture of a painstaking slow-cooked ragù in a fraction of the time. They’re also dirt cheap. The dill is a little twist that freshens up the heaviness of the liver.

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Hot sour chicken shawarma

The lamb shawarma recipe in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem is one of my favourite things to do with a kilo of dead sheep. It’s rich and deep and tasty, and a great workaround for not having a rotating vertical spit. With its four hours of cooking time and day of marinating, however, what it is not is especially practical.

Chicken is a fuck of a lot quicker to cook, so here’s a rich, spicy, kebab-style dish that’s lightened out a bit to play nicely with chicken thighs and a more realistic timetable. You still need the long marinade, but the cooking’s much shorter. Oh, and the spices are remixed with an achari-influence to be kind of lighter and hot-sour.

Obviously, at this point, everything that would qualify it as shawarma has been reinterpreted, worked around, modified, or otherwise engineered out, leaving only a vague shell of the concept, an association in mind and palate. It’s the wrap of Theseus, if you will. And for those who quite rightly won’t, it’s a tasty thing to put in pita bread with a load of peppers and green bits.

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