Down a side street in Soho – and not far from my favourite comics shop – is a Lebanese place called Yalla Yalla. It’s tiny, street-food-inspired, and really rather good. Particularly excellent is the Sawda Djej – a little dish of chicken livers, fried with handfuls of garlic, and finished with sticky-sour pomegranate molasses.
That’s more or less the recipe right there, and it’s amazing. It’s like Ottolenghi devised something just for me.
I’ve tried to recreate it here, and I think I’ve got pretty close. The original doesn’t have the onions or pistachios, but those are doing two jobs: adding some extra sweetness and body, and making me feel a bit better about knocking off a restaurant dish.
It’s incredibly piquant and intense, and it’s also done in about twenty five minutes. Not bad.
You really should try it at Yalla Yalla, but it’s pretty simple if you want to have a go at home.
Reynard is a trickster figure, a Loki-ish fox dude from Medieval picaresque. “Renard” is the French word for fox. Foxes are of course iconically partial to a spot of chicken, and Reys is a rotisserie chicken restaurant that’s gone in hard on the impish vulpine branding. All orange and jaunty furnishings, the chairs have foxtail stripes. That’s certainly cuter than blood and feathers in the henhouse.
They sell roast chicken. It tastes like good roast chicken, and it doesn’t cost too much.
Everything else is just a little peculiar. There’s this slight Korean edge running through the menu that doesn’t quite sit with the Ikea farmhouse ambience, never really explained. The starters are cursory. But the chicken is fine. It just all doesn’t quite make sense.
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.
I’ve not really been able to shake the idea of meat and fruit since that brief dalliance with ox cheeks and plums. For all the slow-cooked stewy vibe, meat and fruit seem to play nicely with the summer. Plus, my blinking, befuddled incomprehension at sweet flavours makes it all a bit funky/novel.
This particular example came about when I was mulling over fruit recipes, and my partner suggested pairing chicken with raspberries.
That may well be a concept for another time – I was not quite brave enough. But from there to chicken with apricot is a short and plausible leap. Heck, it’s a path strewn with tagines. Perusing a few of those gets you to almonds, and from there a bit of cardamom seemed pretty sane.
It’s time for miniature vegetables in all the sherry. Yeah? Yeah. Sherry is great – more on that later.
Without the disembiggened carrots and twee micro-onions, this would just be a pallid coq au vin. But because the base flavours are quite timid, it felt like an opportunity to let the sherry shine. Plus, I really wanted to write a recipe that included the instruction “now pour in a bottle of sherry”. I’ve stopped a little short of that, but you’ll still need most of a pint of crisp, delicious fino.
When going for curry, there are a few things I’ll order almost on auto-pilot, taking no shame in the cliché – jalfrezi, achari, and anything with spinach. Cooking any of them at home, however, is something I’ve more or less resisted. A lot of food writers have spent a lot of time and ink trying to help Britons synthesise caricature curry house dishes at home, and it’s rarely a success. If nothing else, it’s not very practical to make the industrial quantities of base sauces.
To try and duck that failure – and with zero claims to the remotest authenticity – this is a simplified mash up of some of my favourite curry flavours.
This recipe takes the basic spicy/sour pickle flavours of an achari curry, bolts it onto a standard onion-thickened base sauce, and then throws spinach at it. Because spinach. You can skip that part if you’re some kind of pervert.
It’s a synthesis of a couple of recipes I found on the usual pointless content farms, the odd decent site, and the waterzooi I made months ago. It has an egg-thickened sauce, which gives it a rich creaminess, without any dairy.
I grew up in the north East of England. Bits of it are lovely. There is gorgeous moorland, there are lakes, the odd vibrant city, or historic cathedral town.
Then there’s Middlesbrough.
It has a population of around 130,000, a fairly mundane 19th century industrial centre, and a credible modern art museum featuring a very large Claues Oldenberg sculpture. It was the birthplace of the explorer James Cook, and is about as pleasant to spend time in as an industrial wood-chipper.
In fact, it is one of the very few places I less enjoy spending time than my nearby home town of Darlington.
But where Darlington has made precisely no contribution to the culinary field, Middlesbrough has, in an odd way, distinguished itself. For Middlesbrough has given us the Parmo.
Think of it as a gnarled and diseased branch of the Parmigiana family tree; one that’s moved up north in some nameless disgrace, and opened a takeaway. It’s some of the dirtiest fast food you can hope to put in your face, and this weekend I have been re-creating this regional delicacy for some of the good folk of Cambridge and Ely.
It’s a gorgeous afternoon. I’ve just had a slice of excellent pizza from the newly-opened Norfolk Street Bakery. Their bread and butter pudding cake looks astounding. I’m in a great mood, and I’m putting off playing Pokémon for the OneMetal Podcast. So it’s time to crack open a St. Idesbald Tripel and build a Waterzooi recipe.
Waterzooi is the most interesting thing I came across on a recent trip to Belgium. The most interesting edible thing, anyway. There were some fucking splendid beers, and a lot of interesting art, too, but gastronomically it was the Waterzooi that stood out. So I’m going to have a crack at recreating it.