The Shed

If I can't eat it I don't want to know. Unless it gets me drunk.

Sevilla day one: some new things

Given my propensity to half-arsed-itude with this blog, there’s no danger of a new post every day I’m on me jollies. But I tried some new, weird shit this afternoon and my parents are both asleep, pretending to listen to podcasts on their iPads. So a blog post it is.

Today we had a fantastic market and tapas tour with the ever brilliant Sevilla Tapas, Shawn as she’s generally known to her face, or Queen of Tapas according to The Times (they’re not wrong). She’ll guide you around the city and the food of Andalusia, easing you in gently with a plate of jamon then before you know it BAM! you’re eating…well, we’ll get to that.

We begin at la Plaza Encarnación with a breakfast of churros and chocolate at the Centurian Cafe – named after its proximity to and part in the annual Easter hoo-har (I hear they’re big into their religious stuff over here). We had media rations today, and will be back for full portions tomorrow – even my mum finished hers, approximately the twelfth meal I have seen her eat in its entirety (clearly, I take after my dad).

See those shadows? They are caused by SUNLIGHT. Oh, how lovely.

We head into the market (which is underneath this wondrous thing, the largest wooden structure in the world) to gawp at the barrage of completely awesome stuff. Mountains of cheese, no fewer than five meat counters, loads of huge, misshapen vegetables and fish fresher than the Prince of Bel Air chasing a good Christian girl. Living in London it’s easy to become complacent about fresh food, to forget how utterly shonky the UK can be for buying what I blithely consider the basics, and this is really accentuated by my parents’ sheer exuberance at the market. The meat lacks a bit of the finesse I’m used to [*London face*] but still looks pretty decent, and makes up any aesthetic shortcomings with lamb heads and dead fluffy bunnies.

To prepare a lamb head one simply pulls the jaw apart, CRACK!, wiggles out and slices off the tongue, lops off the top of the skull Indiana Jones-style and plucks out the delicate squishy little think-sponge. Yum.

It’s the fish counters by which I’m most impressed; big prawns, little squid, lots of fish – all at pretty fantastic prices too. They have the GIANT RED PRAWNS London types lust after at the moment, and at €72/kg it’s heartening to note we’re not actually paying over the odds in the UK, despite the GRP’s Spanish origin. My parents and I do the appropriate face one should pull on viewing large vat of live, escaping snails (“it’s the season!” exclaims Shawn) and we go on our merry way to hunt for jamon, queso, jerez etc (down with the locals, me).

We arrive at a stall thoroughly bedecked in bits of cured pig, where scores of locals are hanging about waiting for their jamon to be hand-sliced by one of a number of wiry Spanish blokes. Cunningly, Shawn has called ahead and pre-ordered to avoid the half-hour wait for such artisanal service, however the wiry Spanish bloke in question thought we were coming tomorrow, and has subsequently prepared bugger all. Unfazed, he continues slicing for the lady he’s serving, and only Shawn notices that he’s utilised a ‘one for you, one for the-pre-order-that-I-didn’t-prepare’ distribution method. A quiet genius, that man.  We pay, we go buy cheese.

Shawn is your divining rod for all that is delicious in Sevilla, offering food tours and guidance for a nominal fee. As such, she’s treated well by those to whom she brings custom, and she has a deal with the bloke who runs the market cafe that means we can eat some of our market spoils while paying for his booze and olives. Shawn deposits us at a table and goes up to get the drinks, returning not just with booze and olives, but with a bowl of aforementioned caracoles – yep, sensing my burning curiosity, she’s brought me some tiny snails.

Diminutive – that there’s a teaspoon
The only snails I’ve had before were the typically French variety – big, boiled and covered in garlic butter. I found them a bit chewy and, well, odd – more an excuse for garlic butter than a delicacy in their own right, and I need nothing more than bread or mushrooms as an excuse for garlic butter. These little buggers are teensy in comparison to their French cousins and prepared simply by boiling in a salty court bouillon. As delicate as a well-cooked mussel and fairly similar in taste too – they’re delicious, an adventure taken and won.
Me: scared. Mum: gleeful at the prospect of me being scared.
Oh sweet lord. How happy this made me. 

The second market, Mercado de la Feria, sees us wind around a more ye olde Spanish-looking affair, but it is largely filled with the same [fantastic] produce. The fish hall is beautiful, but lacks the fierce air conditioning of the first market; fine in May, an assault to the senses in the 35°C+ heat of summer, we’re told.

Fish hall
Pretty bags of beans

We end up in La Cantina, one of those tapas joints you might not risk as an uneducated tourist but which proves to be an unpolished – not to mention supremely popular – gem. Chicharones aside this place is strictly seafood, and it seems to live and thrive by the sensible rule of a fairly restricted menu in order to keep everything jumping fresh. La Cantina works in the way that all low-key Spanish seafood bars should – you ogle a counter of fresh sea creatures, tell them what you want then they yell your name when your food is ready.

State of the art glass chilling system
GAMBAS. These were fantastic.

It’s here that Shawn presents me with my second challenge – sea anenomes. I’m not going to lie, it hadn’t event crossed my mind to eat these weird, wavy, floaty specimens, never mind that they might be good.

Raw
Battered and deep fried. Obviously.

And they are good. The flavour of the sea, but not in the same salty, zinc-fresh way as an oyster; they have a rich, earthy character to them, not dissimilar to the flavour of sea trout. Where the legs are crispy and firm (gimme fried strands of anything), the centre has a delightfully weird wobble and looks like an oil slick – I won’t lie, a teensy bit overwhelming on my first go, but I know I’ll be trying them again. Chocos fritos (deep fried cuttlefish) is about as tender as you’ll find, and the potato salad is oil-rich and well seasoned, pepped with thin slivers of red onion and green pepper. Five sherries, three beers, four glasses of wine and very generous nibbles for five comes to just €35.

We leave with my own idea of the holy scripture, the rules by which we shall live our (short) time in Seville: Shawn’s restaurant recommendations. Salud!

ADDENDUM: my mother feels extremely hard done by in my rash assumption that she was asleep. She was, in fact, ferociously busy with her Facebook, email and “Twitters”.

Why you should be friends with your local fishmonger

…or isn’t Twitter nice sometimes? And serendipity. Quick shout out for that too.

Anthony Bourdain theorised that butchers are all heart and fishmongers are miserable buggers, but I’ve met lots of people who disprove the theory and Jonathan Norris is one of them. Whether freezing off his unmentionables manning his Pimlico fish stall or ensconced in his almost-as-chilly Victoria Park shop, Jonathan offers brilliant service always with a smile and fantastic quality fish. The kind of chap who will fillet you a line caught mackerel while taking the piss out of your football team, then ask how your dinner was on Twitter.

Meanwhile, near Tottenham Court Road today, Chris Pople proved himself entirely unable to just have a sandwich, instead nipping into Fino for a spot of lunch. On their menu is MASSIVE RED PRAWN, which Chris professed to be life-changing and to taste like it had been injected with bisque. Twitter was awash with curiosity, envy and bragging, and being an only child who likes fancy crustacea obviously I joined in.

Being a social media maestro and thoroughly lovely chap, Jonathan sent me a DM telling me to hot foot it to his Hackney shop where he had a little present. In the interests of fair exchange I grabbed some pork tenderloin and lamb neck fillet from t’Pig on the way, but feel that with the twenty odd quid of wild gambero rosso I was gifted, I still owe Jonathan a sausage or two. Jonathan keeps the smaller sized prawns in stock because the biggies tend to represent larger investment than most are willing to make for a single shrimp, and because although this bit of Hackney is now veh, veh nice, it’s still the East End, innit. I say in stock because, like Birds Eye’s best peas, they’re actually fresher freshly frozen than they would be transported any other way from Southern Italy, so he keeps a few in the deep freeze. And they’re properly, actually wild unlike most prawns out there – meat’s my specialist subject these days, so I’ll point to this excellent post for more info.

Such precious prawns need careful treatment, advice was sought from Thomas Blythe, Fino’s head front of house chap and writer type, someone with whom I have a small history of begging for recipes (at least he got a novelty egg cup for the last one). On the grill for about 60 seconds each side. Little bit of salt as they’re already quite salty – thanks, TB!

I did a single prawn test run at lunch, and it was so delicious I ended up eating the shell and giving the head a good chew too – quite unlike anything I’ve tried before, just so very sweet and prawny. Chris nails the description with his bisque comment above.

If you’re in the market for some, get in touch with Jonathan – if you haven’t already legged it to Fino.

Jonathan Norris of Pimlico (and Hackney)
207 Victoria Park Road, E9 7JN
Tachbrook Street Market

An open letter to PETA

Dear PETA
When you have made as much noise about the poor state of British poultry and pork farming as you have about foreign furs and foie gras; when you have hounded the owners, shareholders and decision makers of McDonalds, KFC, Tesco, ASDA, Bernard Matthews, Chicken Cottage, Sainsbury’s, Nandos, 3663 etc etc etc about the billions of tons of cruel and destructive meat they sell each year; when you have put your single-minded, ill-thought, juvenile approach style behind you and actually used some sense and decency to appeal to the wider public in a hope to persuade them to make more ethical choices, only then should you feel comfortable emailing my personal email address asking me to pay heed to your blind-sighted, inverse snobbish, pseudo-emotional and vaguely threatening campaign against an issue which is responsible for an infinitesimal proportion of the animal cruelty you should be trying to end.
Get some perspective.
Nicola

Mersea spoils: Dover soles as cheap as chips

If there’s a question mark over the provenance of some of the seafood, the same cannot be said of the wet fish counter at The Company Shed. Brimming with plaice, flounders, sprats and soles so perky they can’t have travelled further than day boat-to-building, the exception being salmon which can only have been Scottish. As well as rigor-stiff freshness another giveaway is the price, almost half of what you’d give a decent London fishmonger.

They had as many Dover soles as sprats on this occasion which may have further reduced the damage, and at £15/kg (you’ll often pay upwards of £25/kg) for generous one-portion fish it would have been rude and silly not to.
Who you looking at?

Ironically, Dover sole is easier to deal with when it’s a few days old so I had a fight to pull off the sandpapery dark grey skin (I left on the white). If stored appropriately Dovers can be eaten up to two weeks after they’ve been caught, which probably tells you something about their popularity with restaurants.

You make a slit across the tail and pull the skin off across the body, which is a complete ballache – 20 minutes! – when the fish is just out of the water. Thanks @LeCafeAnglais and @angus_macnab for the fishy tips!

I grilled the fish for 3-4 minutes either side with just seasoning and a bit of butter for company. A caramelised fennel, tarragon and lemon zest butter (finely sliced fennel slowly cooked in butter until golden brown, fresh chopped tarragon, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt. What can’t you make better with more butter?) to pour on the finished fish and some roasted squash on the side and job’s done. Firm, sweet, delicate and succulent fish, almost worth the Mersea trip alone.

Mersea Island, The Company Shed, the only way is Essex

Just sixty miles from London, Mersea Island is a great weekend getaway if you like buckets of cheap seafood, a handful of decent pubs and very few people for miles around. I dare say it’s a busier fish kettle mid summer but then you don’t get yer oysters and the weather is probably rubbish anyway. Go now, it’s good.

When Sheds Collide


The draw for many is The Company Shed, barely more than a shack on the shoreline serving straight-up seafood and very little besides. Fancy it ain’t, but ours would be a nicer world for a few more honest places like this. Communal tables decked out in wipe clean tablecloths, BYO bread, wine and mayo and a wall of help yourself glasses give the place the warm informality of a very relaxed supper club. Even in chilly, off-season January it’s totally full, so arrive either by midday and grab a seat or a good half hour – apparently up to two hours in busier months – before you want to eat, stick your name on the list and toddle off and build a sand castle.


How much of the menu is locally sourced is questionable – I’ve yet to eat a tiger prawn pulled from British waters – but everything we ordered save for a bowl of slightly gritty mussels was damn fine. We left the cold mixed platters alone preferring to spend a bit more – we’re talking a mere few quid – on individual plates of seafoody stuff, all a well-rehearsed exercise in simple-but-great. It went a bit like this, this being two meals’ worth given we were so happy on day one we returned for seconds the next.

Colchester native oysters. You can bet your boots on the bivalves not having travelled far. A salty, zinc-fuelled slap and proper taste of the sea, served on a built-for-purpose oyster plate (I NEED ONE OF THESE IN MY LIFE PLEASE?). When in Rome…
Big prawns, little prawns, E5 bread. The Hackney Wild sourdough is so very awesome that it’s all I’d consider taking with me. Team it with oyster stout – containing actual oysters! – from the Mersea Island Brewery and Vineyard and a load of hot-dang seafood and you’re basically winning. Sweet, succulent crevettes at a pound a pop – very reasonable – and a bowl of small prawns left me crying out for a blob of good mayo but were nonetheless delicious with a healthy squoosh of lemon.

Stonking-fresh scantily dressed crab – just seasoning and no messing it seems – and tiger prawns hot from the grill with aioli. A few pounds a plate and as good as the best tapas in Seville (good, then).


More hot stuff. Massive, perfectly – barely – cooked scallops grilled with streaky bacon and cherry tomatoes, served with baby leaf salad (such frippery!), flour-dusted, seasoned sprats with bread and butter, oysters grilled with Parmesan and cream. All excellent, the scallops and the oysters particularly so.

Play with your food, eat your friends: the remnants.

And the damage? You can’t really spend more than £15 a head unless you’re an enormous fatty, and I can eat Quite A Lot


…proven by this. Very fine fish and chips at the West Mersea Oyster bar after sinking a few at The Victory. Homemade tartare sauce, mushy peas, the lot.


So stick a fork in me, I’m done. A great weekend of great seafood and a reasonable quantity of decent beer. Still winning.

Stew fried aubergine

Embracing Penury as the new January, here’s my attempt at recreating Gourmet San’s stew fried aubergine at home*. It’s basically a salty, oily, sugary, umami-y slap around the face with a silky aubergine. So, pretty good, then.


*if you’ve yet to visit Gourmet San, this review should jolly you along a bit.

To serve six as a side, three – four at a miserly push – as a main with sticky rice

2 big aubergines
Salt
2tbsp (heaped) fermented soy bean / miso paste
1tbsp (heaped) caster sugar
1tbsp rice wine vinegar
200ml hot water from the kettle
Sunflower, vegetable or groundnut oil for frying
1 white onions, finely sliced
1tbsp light soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Handful chopped coriander

1. Cut the aubergines into big fat chips, roughly 6cm long and 1.5cm wide (don’t lose sleep over exact measurements). Scatter them across a board or work surface, sprinkle with salt and leave for 20 minutes.

2. Mix together the soy bean paste, sugar, rice wine vinegar and water until combined.

3. Give the aubergine pieces a cursory wipe with a bit of kitchen paper and heat a wok until medium hot. Batch fry the aubergine slices until golden brown; stir almost constantly and don’t be too shy with the oil (couple of tablespoons per batch). Put the aubergines on kitchen paper once fried.

4. Once all the aubergine pieces are browned, turn down the heat down medium-low, offer a prayer to the gods of heart disease prevention and add a final sloosh of oil to the wok. Stir fry the onions for a few seconds, then add the soy sauce and garlic. Continue to stir fry until the onions are soft and have a bit of colour, then pour in the saucy stuff. Turn up the heat until it’s all nice and bubbly then taste and add a bit more of whatever you think it might need; you want a balanced salty/sweet/slightly tangy/savoury thing going on without any of the aforementioned attributes dominating the taste. Once you’re happy with the flavour, chuck in the aubergines and cook for a further 5-10 minutes, until they’re all gloopy, squishy and delicious.

5. Add the coriander, stir a bit, then serve with sticky rice and a healthy dollop of Sriracha sauce.

Pizza tomatoes


A barely there recipe for a barely there blog. Current favourite breakfast, tomatoes-that-taste-like-pizza on toast. Slice a beef tomato into discs and arrange in a single layer on a baking tray. Douse with olive oil, scatter with sea salt and pepper, add a few tiny slivers of garlic and a sprinkling of fresh (preferable) or dried thyme. Grill under a high heat for five minutes, scoop onto toast, eat.


Still here, still eating lots. Just not writing it down 🙂

Chipotle beef back ribs, butter rice & scotch bonnet sauce

FACTOID: short ribs are the back of the ribcage, near the flank and sirloin bits, and the meat is on top of the bones. Back ribs – rather confusingly – are from the front end near the tasty rib-eye stuff, and the meat is between the bones. There’s a higher bone to beef ratio with back ribs but they’re subsequently cheaper – the racks below were £3 each from Ginger Pig in Hackney – and, with all that lovely fat, have bags of flavour. Nose to tail kids, nose to tail.

Nice rack.

Serves two very hungry people (or one slightly less hungry person four times)

For the ribs

2 racks of beef ‘spare’ ribs

2 red peppers, roughly sliced

15 shallots, peeled

2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped

2 carrots, roughly chopped

6 cloves garlic

The stems from a bunch of coriander

1kg vine tomatoes – you can go for fairly big ones, they don’t need to be tiny – cut in half

1 scotch bonnet chilli

2l beef stock

A massive, massive cooking pot, suitable for the oven

Spices and stuff

2 chipotle chillies

3tsp ground cumin

1tsp ground coriander

2tsp smoked paprika

½ tsp turmeric

3 star anise

6 bay leaves

3tsp sea salt

1tsp ground black pepper

To finish the sauce

Large bunch of coriander

1 scotch bonnet chilli – without or without seeds as is your preference, I included them

2tsp caster sugar

Juice of 2 limes

Butter rice

200g rice

50g butter

1tsp salt

Heat the oven to 150 degrees C / gas mark 2.

Chop the racks in half by following the edge of one of the central bones with your knife.

Split the chipotles in half and flatten them before tipping them seeds and all into a hot, dry frying pan. Toast for a couple of minutes – be sure to stick your nose above the pan and inhale the deliciously evocative smoky pepper smells – then remove from the pan.

Add a massive glug of olive oil to your massive, massive cooking pot, and gently cook the peppers, shallots, celery, carrots, garlic and coriander stems until they start to soften and smell sweet. Chuck in the spices and stuff, and cook for a further ten minutes. This bit also smells ace.

FACTOID: turmeric isn’t really used for flavor – it tastes a bit gross – but is an excellent coagulant so keeps meat all moist and juicy, thus its prevalence in slow cooking and BBQ dishes.

Add the tomatoes to the pot, and leave them to get a bit squishy for ten or so minutes.

Add the stock along with 1 scotch bonnet chilli, then add the ribs, maneuvering the contents of the pot so that everything sits obediently just below the surface (you might need a smidge more liquid).

Cut a circle of foil large enough rest on the surface of the liquid and be wrapped over the top of the pan, and do just that. Stick the pot in the oven and go distract yourself for 3 hours…learn the rudiments of a foreign language…tidy your bedroom…paint your finger nails an attractive shade of purple before removing the whole lot because you can’t colour between the lines…I don’t care, just leave the oven alone.

Butter rice

Butter rice is essentially just an excuse to add even more butter to life. Rice is THE best carb and no one will convince me otherwise, and forcing it to absorb delicious, delicious butter is adds a subtle but welcome layer of additional food sexy. You can cook this between 30 minutes and an hour before you want to serve – it’ll stay nice and hot.

Put a pan of water onto boil and rinse the rice under cold running water for a couple of minutes. Add the salt to the water, then add the rice. Give it s stir, let the rice sink for a couple of seconds and pour off all but 2cm of the water. Add the butter, stir again before putting a lid on the pan and turning the heat down to a gentle simmer. Cook for 5 minutes then turn off the heat. DO NOT lift the lid or it’ll go all wrong. Just leave it alone until you serve, okay?

Back to the ribs

When the braising time is up, carefully remove the ribs from the pot. Skim the fat from the liquid, then boil rapidly and reduce by 1/3 – this took around 15 minutes. Add the sugar and scotch bonnet, blitz the lot, and pass through a seive. Add the coriander and lime juice, blitz again and taste – I added a fair amount of salt at this point. You’ll have LOADS of sauce, but it’s okay – it doubles as a spicy soup, or can be frozen in batches for future times.

To serve

Heat the grill as high as it’ll go – this would be FABULOUS on the BBQ but alack! I don’t own one – baste the ribs with the skimmed-off fat and sprinkle with salt. Stick them under the grill for a couple of minutes each side, until the fat sizzles and they’re nicely browned. Serve them with the butter rice, sauce and – if you can be bothered – some guacamole.

Tender beef that just FALLS off the bone, loads of chilli and fluffy rice. The only thing I will say is be careful with the bones: watch out for rogue bits. This will be even better the next day – let the ribs cool down in the cooking liquid, refrigerate. When you come to serve, heat the meat gently in the liquid and proceed as above (from the sauce bit).

Trotter beast goes East

However utterly lovely – silky, savoury, surprisingly delicate – the chicken in trotter jelly was, there’s only so much of it one person can eat. So…gently heat the jelly in a saucepan, add a dribble of water to loosen it a bit. Chuck in chilli flakes and fish sauce and let it simmer for two minutes, before pouring into a bowl and throwing in chopped spring onions and lime juice (I *wish* I had some coriander in the house). Really, really, bloooooody good. I surprise myself sometimes, I really do.


Chicken in trotter jelly

I wanted to make something meaty. I knew it should involve jelly. Thank you Lithuanian Jotter for providing a welcome spot of direction, and Ginger Pig for selling me random bits of animal.

Trotters aren’t really for the faint of heart, or at least the faint of feet. I’m not a huge fan, aesthetically speaking, of the human variety so these porkers turned my stomach a bit.

See?

So, tackle the feet. You may wish to pour yourself a fortifying drink now, or you might want to wait until the foot-hair-be-gone debacle is over and celebrate then. Or perhaps you do both and pretend to be Anthony Bourdain guest-starring in My Drunk Kitchen. Anyway, put a large pan of water on to boil and de-fuzz them feets. You can try to remove the bristles with a flame but I found this ineffective and TOTALLY stinky so got busy with a razor, all the while cursing epilation attempt number one for making my flat hum so heinously. Try as I might, I just couldn’t remove every hair from in between the toes (srsly, BLEEEEUUUUGGGGH), but as I was going to strain the liquid to buggery at the end I didn’t panic too much.

Add the trimmed trotters to the boiling water, allow to boil again and bubble for five minutes. Strain, discard the liquid, refill the pot with fresh water and set to boil once more. Being a glutton for punishment I gave the trotters a final once over at this point, but to be honest it wasn’t pleasant and I’d fully support you in not bothering.

Par-boiled trotters. I repeat, BLEEEEEUUUGGGGGH..

While the fresh water is coming to the boil, prepare the vegetables and assemble the aromatics. Chop two ribs of celery and two carrots into thirds, quarter two onions and slice a leek into fat rounds. For aromatics I used five bay leaves, a sprig of rosemary, two star anise, a handful of parsley, lots of black pepper and 2tsp salt. Should you feel the need, place everthing in bowls and on plates, in order to give that newly-minted cookery show-type feel.

Once the water is boiling, add the trotters, veg and aromatics, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and leave the pot alone for two hours. I gave the pot the occasional poke with a wooden spoon but that’s because I’m an only child and felt left out. I’m sure it’s fine left to its own devises while you do something constructive.

I’d bought some raspberries in order to pay on my card at the greengrocer, and at this point I squished them into a vodka, swigged gratefully and gave myself a little pat on the back for being such a brave girl.

After two hours, pop in two big, free-range chicken drumstick thighs (the leg and the thigh together), ensure they’re submerged in stock and poach them gently for an hour – until the flesh is soft and cooked but not overdone. Skim as much fat from the top of the stock as you can.

When the final hour is up, strain the bits out and for CHRIST’S SAKE do not let your megawesome stock disappear down the sink with a momentary brain fart. Discard all solids with the exception of a couple of bits of carrot and the trotters and thighs. Strain the stock through a fine sieve several times, before putting it back on the stove on a fast bubble and reducing for ten minutes. While this is happening, pick the meat from the chicken and trotters, breaking any larger pieces down a little. Slice the carrot pieces into thin rounds. Taste the reduced stock and adjust the seasoning if necessary – it should be savoury and well seasoned, as the flavour can dull a little when it chilled.

Add a couple of tablespoons of stock into the base of four, small, Chinese-type bowls. Add a few bits of carrot, the meat, then pour in the stock until everything is just covered, pushing any rogue bits down if needed. Allow the jellies to cool before covering in cling film and placing in the fridge.

They’re ready! Remove the jellies from the fridge, run a flexible knife around the edge, invert and shake gently until they ffffffffffffffffffffftssss satisfyingly onto waiting plates. Garnish with coarse sea salt and serve with toast and something acidic – I used pickled shallots.

Silky poached chicken set in spreadable, flavoursome pork juice. What’s not to love?