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Dig In The Ribs

images-3This month I am embracing all things American – In the kitchen anyway. And what more quintessentially an American dish can there be than BBQ ribs? Our Yankie cousins across the pond are so passionate about cooking them that huge national competitions are held every year to celebrate this particular form culinary jiggery pokery.

Every May in Memphis, Tennessee over 250 teams from 50 States compete for the title of Grand BBQ Champion and a prize of $100,000 – Yes, you read that correctly A HUNDRED GRAND! Just for grilling a bit of pork. But this is no ordinary cook off this is primal, this is ‘Man make fire’, this is cooking as blood sport.

In the States all the supermarkets stock what they call baby back ribs which is not something you will find easily in the UK. I asked my butcher why this was and he explained they come from the top of the rib cage and that in the UK butchers don’t tend to separate them from the loin to which they are also connected. So every time you are nibbling at that really succulent bit of meat attached to the bone of your pork chop you are eating baby back ribs. Spare ribs on the other hand are from the belly end and have much less meat on their bones. A polite word in your butcher’s ear should be enough to secure you a rack or two but if not you could always give it a whirl with spare ribs instead.

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So, armed with a couple of racks of baby backs I decided to have my very own cook off – albeit a cook off against myself. I prepared each with a completely different marinade / basting sauce and set out to see which one would win the prize. I fired up the BBQ and did all the pre-requisite marinating, basting and braising and gave them both a damn good licking from the flames of my Webber. But just like children I found it impossible and ,dare I say it, unfair to choose between them. So I ate them both.

This is the food for which phrase ‘finger licking good’ was invented as these juicy little babies leave you with no choice but to pick them up with your hands and eat like a caveman. They came off the grill so tender that the shreds of meat just fell away from the bones. Sheer heaven just as they were but next time if I can be trusted to wait until the ribs are cool enough to handle I’m going to try shredding the meat from the bones and serving it in a bun for the ultimate porky sandwich

Rum n’ Coke Ribs – serves 4

2 racks of baby back ribs

1 cup of dark rum

3 cups of full fat Coke

1 1/3 cups tomato ketchup

a splash of Tabasco

2 crushed cloves of garlic

4 tablespoons hoi sin sauce

Method:

The night before, mix all the ingredient together and marinate the racks in a non metalic container in the fridge.

Reserving the marinade remove the ribs and place on a baking tray in a gentle oven ( 150°c / gas mark 4 / 300°F) for 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat the BBQ about 45 -60 minutes before you want to cook and when the coals are glowing beneath a layer of white hot ash place the ribs on the grill and cook for 20 minutes basting throughout with the reserved marinade.

Cut between the bones and served heaped on a warmed platter with some lime wedges

Ginger and Soy Glazed Ribs – serves 4

2 racks of baby rack ribs

For the braising liquor:

1 thumb sized piece of ginger chopped roughly

5 stalks of lemongrass bashed with a rolling pin or other heavy blunt instrument

1 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3 cups water

For the glaze:

3/4 cups ketchup

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons mirin

2 teaspoons soy sauce

3 cloves garlic crushed

1 thumb sized piece of ginger chopped roughly

Method:

Pre heat the oven to 150°c / gas mark 4 / 300°F. Place the braising ingredients into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes and remove from the heat.

Place the ribs in a deep baking dish and pour over the braising liquor. Cover tightly with foil and place in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Allow to cool in the liquid. This can be done the day before if that simplifies matters for you.

Make the glaze by combining the ingredients in a heavy based saucepan and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Preheat the BBQ about 45 -60 minutes before you want to cook and when the coals are glowing beneath a layer of white hot ash place the ribs on the grill and cook for 20 minutes basting throughout with the glaze.

Cut between the bones and served heaped on a warmed platter with some lime wedges

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A Lobster Walks Into a Bar…..

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“There once was a man from Nantucket
Who kept all his gold in a bucket.
But his daughter, named Nan,
Ran away with a man
And as for the bucket, Nantucket”

30 miles south of Cape Cod on American’s Eastern seaboard lies the island of Nantucket in the sate of Massachusetts. Originally a 17th century whaling port it is now the summer holiday destination of choice for wealthy Americans from the neighboring states of New York, New Hampshire and beyond. The population swells from 10,000 to over 50,000 in the summer months and this huge surge in visitors lends the island an air of a Ralph Lauren ad campaign sponsored by Jeep.

This area is renowned for it’s seafood and rightly so. Maine lobsters are up there with their Scottish cousins in terms of quality and abundance as well as a large variety of clams. Until coming here I had only ever cooked European clams such as French palourdes or English cockles. Delicious, but nothing like the little neck clams I had the other night which were shucked like oysters and eaten raw. The taste was somewhere between a very mild oyster (without so much of an iodine taste) and a cooked mussel but creamier.I loved them so much that the following night I served them still raw but tossed through hot linguine with parsley and garlic and the results were spectacular.

In the hot summer months clam and lobster bakes are common place on the beaches of Nantucket where large groups of friends gather to dig a pit in the sand, line it with seaweed and fill it with layers of lobsters, whole potatoes, local sweet corn, mussels and clams. The whole thing is covered with another layer of seaweed and set on fire. 60 minutes later you have perfectly cooked seafood with all the side dishes you need for a beach dinner to end all others.

lobsterbake-lowI realize that digging a pit on the beach may be easier said than done for many of us. Particularly if, like me, you live in Brighton which has pebbles where the sand should be. So, what else to do if you find yourself with a couple of lively (literally) lobsters? It may be easier to say what not to do to them first….

Never;

A – Over cook them

B – Subject them to a cheese sauce ( as my Italian friend said to me once “A cow can never swim with a fish”)

C – Buy frozen ones – they taste of nothing and are of dubious origins.

One of may favourite things to do with them is to combine them with cooked potatoes for a potato salad to remember. It’s an old Italian recipe I was given years ago and it works really well with good quality shrimps too.

Lobster and potato salad – serves 4

1 x 1 kg live lobster

4 x Medium sized waxy potatoes such as Charlotte

1 – 2 cloves of garlic depending how much you like it

1 x small bunch flat leaf parsley

The best extra virgin olive oil you can afford

The juice and zest of an unwaxed lemon

Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt

Method:

First of all place the lobster in the deep freeze for 20 minutes to render it unconscious (According to the RSPCA this is the humane way to dispatch your lobster in case you were concerned). Then have ready a large pan of heavily salted water at a brisk boil. Boil the lobster for 20 minutes. When the time is up lift it out and allow to cool completely. Meanwhile cook the potatoes left whole and in their skins. Cook until completely cooked but not falling apart (about 10 minutes). Drain and cool in cold running water. When cool enough to handle slip the skins off and cut into rough chunks. They will break down a little more when the salad is mixed. Break open the lobsters straight down the middle and pull out the tail meat. Crack the claws and remove the meat. Discard the main bodies but if you are of a patient nature pick the meat from each of the legs. Chop the meat into similar sized chunks to the potatoes and combine in a bowl. Finely chop the garlic and parsley and add to the bowl. Now add enough olive oil to lubricate the whole lot. Add a good grinding of black pepper and a generous pinch of sea salt followed by lemon juice and zest. Serve at room temperature.

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Return of the Mac

macncheese2I’ve never really bought into the theory that as soon as the first day of the year arrives we should all jump on the healthy eating band wagon. There will be plenty of time for virtuous soups and crunchy stir fries in the coming weeks but right now as far as I’m concerned just having to go back to work is a good enough reason for some comforting eating. In my house the ‘go to’ dish for days like this is without doubt macaroni cheese.

As early as 1937 Kraft developed the first dry packaged macaroni and cheese product and branded it “Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner’ soon to be forever shortened to ‘Mac n Cheese’. The original recipe has changed little since then and comprises of a powdered cheese sauce sachet to be reconstituted with water or milk, butter or margarine. Despite it’s eye watering list of artificial flavourings, colourings, trans fats and associated e-numbers packaged mac n cheese remains like catnip for many American kids.

A million miles away from the packet version a home made mac n cheese is a thing of true beauty. The trick is using a really good cheese like Keens cheddar which is strong and sharp tasting and taking the time to infuse the milk for the sauce. These two things make the difference between junk food and comfort food. A word of warning though, this is comfort eating at it’s most soporific and has enough carbs to send you into a post supper slumber moments after the last forkful has passed your lips.

You can add all kinds of extras like chunks of cooked ham or crispy pancetta but in the spirit of never gilding the lily I make and eat mine plain. You could also make a nod towards creating a balanced meal by serving a nice crisp salad along side but to be honest what’s the point? Save your greens for another day and indulge in some serious cold weather comfort eating.

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Macaroni Cheese – serves 6

750 ml milk

50g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

50g plain flour

1/2 Onion studded with a couple of cloves and a bay leaf

1 teaspoon dry mustard powder

400g Strong cheddar such as Keen’s or Montgomery

Salt and ground black pepper

300g macaroni

50g Finely grated Parmesan

4 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

Cook the pasta in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water for 2 minutes less than the instructions on the packet suggest. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. Place the milk in a saucepan with the onion and bring to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat and pour into into a jug or bowl and set aside for 10 minutes to infuse. Rinse out the pan and place on a medium heat. Melt the butter and stir in the flour and mustard powder. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes stirring constantly. Then, gradually add the milk a bit at a time whisking constantly to avoid lumps forming. Don’t worry if it does look a bit lumpy just whisk a bit faster and the lumps will soon disperse. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes stirring frequently. Add the cheese and stir to melt. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Grease your baking dish with butter. Stir the pasta into the sauce, then pour it into the dish. Mix the Parmesan and breadcrumbs, sprinkle over the top, and bake for 30 minutes, until a lovely golden brown colour and bubbling at the edges. When the time is up remove from the oven and rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

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Remains of the day

164622_mediumThere’s nothing like the New Year for a good clear out be it the cupboard under the stairs (Maybe I’ll do that next week) or a ruthless purge of the fridge. I opted for the latter as I knew that at least my efforts would be rewarded with a decent meal.

Amongst the items that were consigned to the bin was a batch of home made mincemeat which, instead of maturing nicely until next year like Delia said it would, decided to grow a thick white winter coat of mould. Lets hope thats not some kind of culinary omen for the coming year.

However, much to my delight nestling between the jars of out of date pickles and a forlorn looking lump of cheese was the leftovers from Sunday’s roast. A handful of roast potatoes, some sprouts that had been cooked with chunks of chorizo, a couple of carrots and a little bit of stuffing. All the perfect ingredients for bubble and squeak.

It’s said that the name originates from the noise the vegetables make as they sizzle away in the pan but I’ve been making it for years and I’ve yet to get a squeak out of mine. That said, it’s a fantastically satisfying dish to both make and eat and if your New Year’s resolution involves anything vaguely connected to cutting back you will be left feeling smug long after the leftovers have been used up.

Bubble and squeak can never really be distilled down to a recipe as, by definition, it depends on whatever you have left over. It should ideally contain left over roast potatoes and some kind of cabbage but even that is open to interpretation. I do think that a heavy cast iron pan is necessary though as this encourages a nice crispy bottom which will be further enhanced by cooking what ever vegetables you are using in a small dollop of duck fat.

Heat some oil or fat in a heavy cast iron skillet and add the vegetables. As the veg begin to sizzle take a potato masher and roughly mash the whole lot together. Pat down lightly so that the mixture fills the pan neatly and place in a pre heated oven (200 deg C) for about 15 – 20 minutes or until the top is nicely browned. Serve in wedges or simply dollop out onto the plate. I like to serve it with a runny yolked fried egg on top and lashings of brown sauce

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Spuds You Like

roast-potatoes2

Is there any sound finer than the one that ricochets around the inside of your head when you bite into a perfectly crisp roast potato? And conversely, is there anything more depressing than being served up a flaccid, oily apology for a roastie? But despite what you might read to the contrary the perfect roast potato is not the result of any kitchen trickery or insider knowledge. It’s 2 ingredients – the right choice of potato and oil or fat. How you marry those two ingredients is crucial to the quality of the end product but tricky, it ain’t.

First of all, lets deal with the thorny question of which potato variety makes the best roastie. I always use Maris Piper or King Edward because they are equally floury and thats the quality you need for a crunchy exterior and fluffy interior. There are other varieties out there but these to are the most widely available.

I allow 1 1/2 potatoes the size of a small fist per person. This gives you a generous quantity with guaranteed left overs or seconds. Peel the spuds and cut them in half. If the halves look a bit too big just trim a bit off and discard. Place the cut spuds into a large pan of cold water with a tablespoon of salt. Bring to the boil and then simmer cook for 5 minutes. Gently drain into a colander and shake gently until the edges of the potatoes are slightly roughed up. Place on a tray and allow to cool completely. The potatoes can be chilled in the fridge like this for 24 hours if necessary.

Heat the oven to 220 ºC / Gas 7 / 425 F and put approximately 2 cm  vegetable oil or duck fat (for the tastiest roast potatoes duck fat rules) in a solid bottomed baking tray. The tray should be solid enough that it doesn’t buckle in the oven. A Pyrex dish can be used for smaller quantities. Place the tray in the oven and allow to heat for 10 minutes or until the oil or fat is smokingly hot. With great care and oven gloved hands remove the tray and gently introduce the cold potatoes to the hot fat. The safest way to coat the potatoes evenly in the oil is to turn them one by one with long handled tongs. This will lessen the chances of splashing yourself in hot fat, something guaranteed to happen if you try the same thing with a spoon.

Cook for 45 minutes to an hour turning the potatoes just once half way through the cooking time. Do not fiddle with them or attempt to baste them unnecessarily. When done, lift them from the tray with a slotted spoon and place briefly on kitchen paper to soak up any unwanted oil or fat. Place in a warmed serving dish and serve.

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