Thursday 14 February 2013

Sussex Pond Pudding

I’m sure many would be surprised to learn that, despite my svelte athletic frame and whippet-like trim, where it comes to pudding, I favour traditional British varieties. Not for me the charms of an ethereally light, whipped to within an inch of it’s life, uppity frou-frou fancy, as favoured by our continental cousins and finer dining establishments. No. I want a bowl containing a ‘lump’ of pudding, definitely not a slice. Preferably consisting mainly of suet. It will be a squat, heavy almost leaden mass. It will be steaming hot. The only acceptable accompaniment will be cream or custard. This is the type of dessert that powered a globe straddling empire. Accept no substitute.

Is it any wonder then, when invited to dinner at the rather swanky Hix Mayfair (ensconced in Brown’s Hotel), for a meal that was planned, incidentally to celebrate duck (more about that later) I only had eyes for the dessert - the intriguingly named Sussex Pond Pudding. This was to be the first time I’d ever tried it. Of course I’ve heard mention of it, studied pictures and recipes but it always seemed a bit of an oddity. In case you don’t know, it’s suet based (praise be) but in the centre there sits a whole lemon. It’s always kind of put me off making it, as I just couldn’t imagine what it’d taste like or if it would be any good.

Well ladies and gentlemen, wiser and significantly plumper, I’m here to tell you it’s absolutely frigging top drawer. Hello sticky, sweet suet sitting in a puddle of buttery, caramel, lemon juices, get down my hatch pronto. One of the best British puddings I’ve ever tasted, possibly even better than spotted dick and that, is almost taking the piss.

I ate four massive portions. The rest of the assembled guests (including Mark Hix himself) looked on with what I can only describe as a mixture of awe, admiration, disgust and perhaps pity as I refused to submit and ate as much as I possibly could. Seriously, it was ridiculously good.

A week later, the memory of this exemplary pudding scored deep into my brain, I decided to have a go at making it myself.
I used Mark Hix’s recipe from British Food. It turned out looking exactly like the picture in the book, a broken, ruined skyline of suet with a lemon protruding through the rubble. The restaurant version unsurprisingly, was much neater. I notice they’re using shallower but wider bowls, perhaps that’s the trick. In any case it tasted amazing, even it if wasn’t exactly aesthetically pleasing. Elly wasn’t such a fan. This is verging on treason as far as I’m concerned. Over 3 days, I ate the whole bloody lot myself. Every last bit.

Here’s the recipe…

Sussex Pond Pudding

Serves 4-6 (or just me)

You’ll need: -

250g self-raising flour, plus extra to dust.
125g shredded beef or veggie suet
150ml milk
300g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra to grease,
200g soft light brown sugar
1 large unwaxed lemon

Mix the flour and suet together in a bowl, then gradually mix in the milk to form a dough. The dough should be soft but firm enough to roll out.

Roll out the dough to a circle large enough to line a 1.5 litre pudding basin. Cut a quarter out of the circle for the lid and to ease the lining of the bowl. Butter the pudding basin well, drop the pastry into it and join up the edges where the quarter was removed.

Mix the butter and sugar together and put into the lined basin. With a roasting fork or skewer, prick the lemon thoroughly, all over, so the juices can escape during cooking, then push into the butter mixture.

Remould the pastry for the top and roll it out to the correct size. Lay it on top of the filling and press the edges together to seal in the filling. Cover the top of the basin with a generous piece of foil, making a pleat down the middle to allow for expansion. Secure in place under the rim with string, making a string handle so it can be lifted out easily.

Lower the pudding into a pan containing enough boiling water to come halfway up the die of the basin, Cover and simmer for 4 hours, topping up with more boiling water as necessary.

To serve, lift out the basin and allow to stand for about 30 minutes, then remove the foil and loosen the sides with a small sharp knife. Put a deep serving dish over the basin and quickly turn the whole thing upside down – it may collapse a little (like mine did) but it’s to be expected.

Eat the whole frigging lot with cream, except the lemon, unless you REALLY like lemons.

As for the aforementioned duck dinner…
I was an enthralled witness to an immaculately turned out, white-jacketed waiter pouring a roaring napalm furnace of alcoholic fuel onto a duck pinioned upright, presumably by virtue of a pole up it’s harris. The heady smell of scorched flesh with perhaps a smidgeon of singed eyebrow wafted across the table. This act, played out in the luxurious, suave, civility of the wood panelled Hix Mayfair dining room, felt akin to Cary Grant taking a flamethrower to a Bichon Frise.

I highly recommend it.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Meat Mission - London

There’s been something of a ‘junk food trend’ backlash of late with one of the more respected national restaurant critics bemoaning the fact ‘gourmet junk food’ was so prevalent in 2012. I can see her point, but now that I call Bristol home and have the perspective that 100 miles or so of M4 motorway gives, from where I’m sitting I’d say, it’s very much centred in London. Personally, I’m not quite tired of it yet.

Although there are more places than I can count on my fingers and toes churning out gourmet junk to stuff your gob with in the capital, there are not many who are actually doing anything that’s really original or interesting.

With these very thoughts framed in my tiny mind, I recently found myself in Hoxton heading to the latest incantation of Yianni Papoutsis’ rapidly expanding empire, Meat Mission.

I’d already eaten at the older siblings in the group, Meat Liquor and Meat Market. With regards to ML, I wasn’t quite convinced. Don’t get me wrong, the food itself was great (I’m a big fan of the Dead Hippie Burger) but I’d eaten there during the daytime and it was the general environment that I found a bit much; gloomy lighting, pounding music, wall to wall customers, indifferent service, artfully exposed wiring and graffiti. It almost felt like it was trying just a bit too hard, a kind of TGI Friday’s for Hipsters. To be honest, I couldn’t eat up and clear out fast enough.

Strangely enough, I liked Meat Market a lot more. Despite having much in common, menu wise, with ML it has a very different vibe; less Hollister’esque, and more New York-Japanese neon and chrome, industrial cool. Having eaten there a couple of times now, I’ve come to appreciate the concept a lot more and was really looking forward to trying Meat Mission.
Housed in a former Christian Mission, (hence the name) Meat Mission is pretty damn big, dark, loud and absolutely rammed. The pulpit and carved stone memorials remain in place, now bizarrely co-existing with a stained glass effect graffiti ceiling. Almost all the things I previously disliked about ML were present and correct, but weirdly I didn’t mind that much. I figure it’s because it was the evening, and that kind of atmosphere just feels right after dark. During the day, it’s just disorientating, a bit like when you’ve spent hours ensconced in the cinema and walk out, somehow expecting night and instead squinting in the late afternoon sun.
It was so heaving I ended up squeezing myself in at the end of the bar and studying the menu masquerading as a hymn sheet, nice touch. As well as the ML and MM classics, there’s a load of entirely new stuff. The sheer inventiveness of the menu is definitely one of the restaurant’s strengths. Yeah, it’s the usual filthy US inspired trash food ingredients but in most cases re-worked into something entirely new, combined with a cheeky wink and huge grin. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Briefly consulting the (mostly) ever-reliable oracle, Twitter, I’d been offered a pretty much unanimous consensus, on what I should be trying; Monkey fingers and Peckham Dip.
Monkey fingers; strips of chicken fillet encased in a strangely flabby batter, which is itself coated in a sticky chilli sauce were an absolute mess to eat, I got frigging covered in it, all over my hands, my face and up my arms. But there’s no denying they were bloody good. The portion is fairly hefty, which is no bad thing. The seemingly all-pervasive chilli coating had a nice kick and combined with a monkey finger dipped in the accompanying pot of blue cheese dip was total bliss.
Unfortunately for me and my dry cleaning bill, the Peckham dip was just as messy to eat. A roast beef and fried onion roll with a bowl of bone marrow gravy and some horseradish sauce. The idea here is you dunk the beef roll in the bowl of gravy as you eat, in the US this is known as a French dip, originating in Los Angeles. Lovely. But gravy dip aside, the beef roll itself was strangely reminiscent to me of a much loved fast food item from my youth, growing up in Basildon, Essex. It was suddenly 1am. I’m in a car park behind ‘The Lakes’ near Ashlyns roundabout, joining a raucous queue of taxi drivers, lairy drunks, furtive track suited teenagers billowing clouds of skunk and saucer eyed clubbers all shuffling slowly towards a glowing, steaming hatch and the most amazing steak rolls. Unbelievably the Peckham Dip tastes exactly like the ones I used to eat in Basildon, the same kind of seasoning, even the roll itself looks similar. Don’t get me wrong. This is no bad thing. I took many a wide, stumbling drunken, detour just to procure one of these so I was well happy. I doubt Meat Mission will be much flattered by the comparison though.

After that, I was stuffed silly; I pretty much rolled out of there on my stomach.

I liked Meat Mission a lot. Yep, it’s loud, busy and in your face, the closest comparison would be eating in a nightclub. But the menu is clever, inventive, fun and most importantly, the food is bloody good and pretty cheap. As a temple to Gourmet junk food, it’s one altar worth worshipping at.

Meat Mission
14-15 Hoxton Market
N1 6HG

Telephone: 020 7739 8212

Sunday 3 February 2013

Salmon in pastry with currants and ginger

This is a really interesting recipe. Almost certainly ye olde English in origin, with it’s combination of spice, sweet fruit and fish, it became something of a signature dish in the 1950s-60s for George Perry-Smith at his groundbreaking Bath restaurant, The Hole in the Wall. Later, Chef Stephen Markwick who’d trained with Perry-Smith also had the dish on his menu, right up until his recent retirement. Interestingly, it doesn’t end there, Chef Andrew Griffin, at Tart Cafe in Gloucester Road, Bristol, who previously worked for Stephen Markwick has also been known to cook it. So, it’s been passed down through different restaurants and chefs for at least 60 years. How about that for a dish’s lineage, eh?

As for the recipe itself I doubt I’m the only one that struggles to envisage the combination of salmon with the sweetness of currants and preserved ginger, but what the hell, I gave it a go anyway and found it works ridiculously well. In fact it’s surprisingly subtle.

I served it with new potatoes, little gem (inspired by my recent lunch at Green Man & French Horn), and Hollandaise…that split, repeatedly just as I was about to serve up. Bastard.

The recipe below is pinched from the incomparable Roast Chicken & Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson; who credits George Perry-Smith.
Salmon in pastry with currants and ginger

Serves 4

You’ll need:-

375g puff pastry
3-4 globes of stem ginger
2 tbsp currants
110g butter, softened
salt and pepper
pinch of ground mace
4x 175g pieces filleted salmon, skinned and boned, cut from a central piece.
1 egg yolk

Divide the puff pastry into four 75g pieces. Roll out very thinly (approx 2-3mm) to approximately 15cm squares (this is of course, dependent on the dimensions of your salmon pieces). Chill on a lightly floured tray in the fridge.

Cut the stem ginger into slivers, and pour a little boiling water on the currants and leave to swell up for 5-10 minutes.
Drain the currants and stir into the butter together with the ginger, salt and pepper, and the mace.

Spread the top of each piece of salmon with the seasoned butter and chill.

Mix the egg yolk with a splash of water and with a pastry brush, paint one side of each piece of puff pastry. Place a piece of salmon in the middle of the egg washed side, butter-side down, and then form a parcel around the fish with the joint on top.

Turn the parcel over, so that the butter side is uppermost. Chill again for 30mins.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C.

Brush the salmon parcels with more egg yolk and if you fancy it, mark a criss-cross pattern on the top using the blunt side of a small knife.

Place on a buttered baking sheet and cook in the oven for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown.
Apparently George Perry-Smith used to serve this with sauce Messine (A herb and cream sauce) but Simon Hopkinson prefers Hollandaise lightened with whipped cream).