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.
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 →
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.
There 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.
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. Unable 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.
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. 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. Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.
The lamb shawarma recipe in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalemis 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.
This is a quick update about poutine. Poutine? Poutine! It’s Canadian! Poutine! Why would you even do that? Poutine! Because it’s fucking delicious. Poutine! Get with the programme.
Growing up in the North of England, I’m no stranger to cheesy chips, or chips and gravy. But it took Quebec to really elevate this to something special. Oh, don’t worry – I’m not getting too misty-eyed. It’s still a big bucket full of grease, starch, and gravy (which is, let’s be honest, grease and starch suspended in water), but it’s definitely one of the tastier junk foods, and it’s only just breaking into the UK market.
Poutine is chips, gravy, and cheese curds. Think a more solid cottage cheese, though ideally we’re looking for something that tastes and squeaks like the awkward offspring of feta and halloumi.
Lagging as it does 2-3 years behind Soho, Cambridge has started to accrete gussied-up burger joints at some speed. I went to two last weekend. I wasn’t even trying to have dinner. It just kind of happened. In fact, you’re probably in one now – slices of structurally-unsound brioche passing through you like crumbly, stylized, cosmic rays.
Here’s a quick look at two new-ish ones. Butch Annie’s, which opened a week or two ago in the dead centre of town, and the latest incarnation of The Alex(andra Arms) out Mill Rd way. Spoilers: they’re both reasonably credible alternatives to Byron.
…and with apologies to most of Germany, and a chunk of the British armed forces. Probably bits of France and India, too. In fact, this one might be worse than that time I ate a black pudding and cheese bagel.
Look, currywurst isn’t sophisticated. It never has been, and given you can now buy it from a little electric contraption balanced on a burly German’s crotch, it ain’t getting any better.
It is – however – getting wrapped in pastry:
Cuyrrywurst is iconic-teutonic street food of the dirtiest, most delicious stripe, and I grew up wolfing it down the way my dad made it. Which was the way he made it during a stint as an army chef. Which was with a thickened curry gravy, rather than the more traditional spiced ketchup.