BBQ Tikka Chicken, from Feasting on Flames by Annette Yates – Cooking the Books, week 18

BBQ season is here! The evenings seem noticeably longer, almost every day, and it’s warm enough to hang around outside until sunset. And as if that wasn’t enough, it’s a bank holiday weekend here in the UK. So really, I had to go to the cookbook collection to find some BBQ cooking inspiration.

Finally insert skewers to hold shapeI have modified this recipe slightly – the original calls for six bone-in breast pieces, but I much prefer to do a whole bird. You could portion it up and cook the pieces separately, but I think doing it whole, as a spatchcock, is much more fun!

To make this, you will require –

  • One whole chicken, prepared as a spatchcock or divided into portions
  • 6 tbsp natural yoghurt
  • 1 small onion
  • Tikka BBQ ingredients2 large garlic cloves (I used smoked cloves, as I had them)
  • 2 tbsp garam masala
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • A thumb-size piece of fresh root ginger
  • 1 tsp malt vinegar
  • 1 tsp paprika (I used quite a mild, smoked paprika – you could use a hot paprika for a spicier result)
  • 1 tsp salt

Ingredients before mixingFinely chop your onion, mince or crush the garlic cloves, remove the zest from the lemon with a grater or zester (or use a vegetable peeler and slice the peel finely), and grate the root ginger finely. For a smoother result, you could put the onion, garlic, lemon zest and ginger through a food processor to get a thick paste.

Combine all the ingredients in a large wide bowl, and mix.

Make incisions into chickenTake your chicken, and make several deep slices into the breast and thigh meat, to help the marinade permeate. Before you start rubbing the marinade into the chicken, it can be useful to set a small bowlful aside for basting onto the chicken during cooking – it’s important to set it aside now, if you’re going to do this, as the rest of the marinade is going to end up mixed with raw chicken juices, and probably shouldn’t be put back on later in the cooking process!

Rub in marinade and set asideRub the marinade all over your chicken, top and bottom, and into all the slices, cover, and set aside in the fridge for at least a couple of hours (longer is fine!).

You can either cook this chicken entirely on the BBQ, or do most of the cooking in the oven, and then finish it off over the coals.

Cook over charcoalThe latter is a great idea if you’re not confident in cooking large items on the BBQ – I would roast it on a rack for about 1hr at 180C before finishing it over the coals. You can check that it’s essentially cooked with a meat thermometer before transferring to the BBQ grill. For a crispy skin, BBQ the ‘inside’ first, and then finish it skin-side down. Dividing the cooking like this is also really handy if you’re cooking for lots of people, as it leaves the BBQ grill free for cooking other items in the meantime!

Beautiful crispy skinFor full BBQ cooking, I like to start skin side down, turn over after about 20 minutes, and then turn back skin-side down to finish. Keep the chicken covered during cooking, with a tent of heavy tin foil or a BBQ lid (if you have one). We have a big old aluminium wok lid which is great for covering things while they cook on the BBQ. Keeping the chicken covered means it cooks much more quickly and evenly.

Divide up into portionsIf you’re going to cook this way, do use a meat thermometer to make sure your chicken is properly cooked through – you’re looking for a minimum internal temperature of 75C at the centre of the thickest part of the breast. If you’re at all unsure of your ability to find the thickest part, then shoot for a slightly higher temperature to give you a margin of safety.

Once your chicken is cooked, divide up into portions using a sharp knife – for me, half a breast portion and a thigh or drumstick per person is a nice serving size. Serve with rice and a green salad dressed with a nice mustardy vinaigrette.

Serve your tikka chicken

This is a really subtly flavoured, aromatic tikka and will suit those with spice-sensitive tastebuds. If you like yours a bit hotter, use a hot paprika and add a whole finely chopped fresh or dried chilli (or the appropriate amount of dried chilli flakes).

**
Feasting on Flames - coverFeasting on Flames, by Annette Yates
The Apple Press (Quintet Publishing Ltd), 1998
ISBN 978-1-85076-954-0
Soft cover, 128 pages, full colour. RRP £8.99.

[Full disclosure: This is our book, which we bought. I have received no payment or sponsorship for this post, nor have I accepted a review copy. I do not have an amazon affiliate account and do not profit from any links provided.]

This paperback cookbook pretty much does what it says on the tin, with a good variety of fish, poultry, meat and vegetable dishes, and even some deserts, for cooking on the BBQ. These are accompanied by a collection of side dishes, and some menu suggestions, making this a pretty decent one-stop shop for anyone who wants to extend their BBQ cooking beyond the classic sausage, burger and drumstick fare we’re all so familiar with!

Feasting on Flames - page viewI like the fact that these recipes (like the tikka recipe above) are based on fresh ingredients, rather than taking the short-cuts of using prepared sauces and pastes, but it does mean the ingredient lists end up being quite long. They’re not unusual ingredients, though, on the whole, and should be in most people’s store cupboards. These are pretty quick, simple recipes, which cover a wide range of tastes and cuisines.

Is it a must-have book? No, probably not. It does what you’d expect, pretty competently, without any real ‘standout’ moments. There are, I imagine, many like it. If you get the chance to pick it up cheaply, by all means do, but I probably wouldn’t specifically seek it out. If it’s already on your shelf, and has been a bit neglected, maybe dig it out again and give it another look?

‘Cooking the Books’ is my self-imposed blog challenge for 2014 – I’ll be trying to cook a new recipe from one of my (rather extensive!) collection of cookbooks once a week, write it up and review it. Wish me luck!

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Basic Butchery – how to spatchcock a chicken (or any other poultry!)

This is a really useful kitchen skill to master – and really straightforward! If you can portion a chicken, you can definitely do this – actually, spatchcocking is quicker and simpler. Why spatchcock a bird? Well, it’s a fantastic way to prepare a whole bird for the BBQ or oven, it opens up the carcasse, making it more even in thickness, and allowing the air to circulate evenly around both sides. And if you’re adding flavour in the form of a marinade, it’s easy to coat the bird generously on both sides.

Whole chickenIf you want to prepare a whole bird for the BBQ or grill (and why wouldn’t you – it’s so much more exciting and impressive-looking than chicken portions!) then this is the very best way to go.

Start by un-trussing your chicken, removing any string or elastic from it.

Cut from parson's nose towards neck endTurn the bird breast side down, and identify the ‘parson’s nose’. Now, with a stout pair of kitchen scissors, start to cut from one side of the parson’s nose, straight along the length of the bird towards the neck end. You’re cutting just to the side of the backbone, and through ribs and other quite solid grissly bits (this will be much less obvious on a poussin, quail, pheasant or other small bird) so don’t worry if it seems a bit tough!

Repeat the process the other side of the parson’s nose and backbone, and remove it altogether. See, simple as that!

Remove backbone  With backbone removed  Flatten breast area

Turn the bird over so that the breast side is up,and press down firmly over the breast area so that the wishbone snaps and the bird lies flat. Trim off the knuckle parts of the legs, and any loose skin from the neck area to tidy things up.

Finally insert skewers to hold shape

Finally, take two long skewers (ideally you would use metal skewers but mine are too short – bamboo bbq skewers like these are fine though) and starting at the thickest part of the breast, thread them through diagonally, ending up passing right through the thigh on the other side of the bird.

You’re done. How easy was that? Marinade them however you like (how about a whole jerk chicken using my fabulous dry jerk rub?) and get that BBQ going! What better treat this Bank Holiday weekend!

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Fillets Of Fish – how to gut, clean, and fillet a trout – Blog Advent (16)

After the ‘fishmonger’ at Morrisons managed to completely ruin some beautiful fish with a bodged filleting job, there was no way I was letting them have another crack at the task!  The replacement trout we chose were completely unprepared – a bit of a job for us, but at least we could make sure it was done properly this time!

There’s a tradition of fish-eating at Christmas in many countries, with carp featuring on many European Christmas tables.  We’ll often have fish on Christmas Eve, and whole fish make a great celebration dish – salmon can be a fabulous alternative Christmas dinner for those not so keen on poultry or red meat.

Lovely fresh fish

A lot of people are frightened by fish preparation, and there’s really no need to be. There are knacks, sure, and you won’t be very fast to start with, but preparing a whole fish from scratch is actually really quite straightforward (and, really, not at all disgusting!).

You’ll need two knives, a small pointy paring-type knife for gutting, and a long, thin knife for filleting.  Both need to be very sharp.

Whole rainbow troutFirst, you’ll need to gut your fish.  In most cases, this will have been done for you, unless you’ve caught the fish yourself.  Fresh fish doesn’t smell, but can be very ‘slimy’! This mucus coating helps protect the fish’s skin and scales, in life, and helps it move smoothly through the water.  It’s worth taking a bit of time to remove this, if you can.  I find it easiest to wash the fish in cold water and wipe the mucus away with kitchen towel.  Going to a bit of trouble to do this will make the fish easier to keep hold of, and, especially if you’re trying knife skills you’re not familiar with, will probably improve your success and safety!

Gutting fishWIth a small sharp pointy knife, make small stab incision just behind the head, between the pectoral fins.  Without stabbing too deeply inside the abdomen, extend this incision lengthways until you get to the vent, just in front of the anal fin.  Reach into the abdomen and gently pull out the contents.

Remove abdominal contentsThe end of the gut should come away from the vent at the back, with some gentle traction. The attachment behind the head is stronger, pull this out as well as you can, and then cut it away with the knife.  There will probably be a bit of blood spilled at this point – just wash the cavity out with cold running water.

Your fish is now ready to cook, if you’re planning to prepare it whole.  If not, then it’s time to fillet it.  Put your small pointy knife away now, as you want a long, thin, sharp knife for this bit.

Position of first filleting cutPosition your fish on the board with the dorsal fin towards you (belly facing away).  Make a cut behind the gills and pectoral fins, into the flesh, perpendicular to the backbone.  Stop when you can feel the backbone, don’t cut through.

Starting to cut the filletNow turn the blade 90 degrees with the blade pointing towards the tail, and, grasping the head firmly, start to cut the flesh parallel with, and as close to the backbone as you can. Go slowly – it’s not a race!

Continuing to cut the filletAfter you’ve cut a little way, you’ll be able to hold onto the fillet instead of the head, which will make the whole process a lot easier to control.

Your first filletCarry on now, all the way to the tail.  Congratulations, you’ve got a fillet!  Don’t worry if there are ribs attached at this stage – we’ll get to that later.

Second filletPut your fillet to one side, turn the fish over, and do the same the other side.  The head of the fish will be facing the opposite direction, ad you may find the whole process a bit ‘backhanded’ this way around.  Just go slowly and take the time you need.  Personally I don’t find it helpful to work with the fish’s belly pointing towards me for the second side, but you may find it easier, so give it a go that way if you’re finding it particularly awkward.

You can see from this photo, it’s a tidy job and almost no waste!

Trim the ribsNow you want to tidy up your fillet.  Gently scrape, and wash away any bloody material on the fillet under running water.  Now, using your long thin knife, insert it under any ribs that are left attached, and trim these away, trying not to take any flesh with you.

Finished filletPin bones are the little bones that you’ll feel running from the front of your fillet towards the middle, along the lateral line of the fish.  If you’re planning to cook your fillet, I probably wouldn’t bother with them – they’re easy enough to pick out once the fish is cooked, and pretty small and soft in a fish of this size.  I’m curing and smoking this fish, so I tried to remove them all.  You can cut them out in a narrow ‘wedge’ of muscle, or pull them out individually with tweezers.  Both are quite fiddly and time consuming and leave a bit of a tear in the muscle, so try both and see which works best for you!

All Done!

Finally, trim away any fins and tidy up any ragged edges. I’m quite proud of this batch of fillets and I’m sure they’re going to make absolutely lovely smoked trout for Christmas food and gifts!  They’re in the fridge, curing, right now.

So don’t be afraid of that whole fish – it’s quite likely you too can do a better job of preparing and filleting it than whoever the supermarket has working behind their fish counter today!

Advent - day 16

I’m trying to write a post a day during Advent, so, please come along with me while I try to Blog Advent – the Country Skills Way – and forgive me if I don’t quite manage it!

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Brilliant Bangers – in praise of the full English breakfast

Those of you who come here regularly will know this isn’t the sort of food blog (if it’s even a food blog, really?) where I regularly post photos of my meals.  This time, though, I’m making an exception.

This was my Sunday breakfast –

Full English breakfast

What’s so special about that, you might wonder?  Well, everything on that plate was made here, by us.  I’m not going to claim to have grown the mushrooms or the tomato, or churned the butter, but the bacon was home-cured and smoked, the bread was my own sourdough, the eggs were laid in the garden by our hens, and, most excitingly for me, the sausages were made here, in my very own kitchen.  Even the ketchup is homemade.

This blog started with bacon, over a year ago, and curing and smoking have been among the recurring themes as the months have gone by.  The trouble with sausages is that they’re so often so disappointing, so much less than they ought to be, a disposal route for otherwise less than tempting ingredients and fillers.  Of course, the more lovely the rest of your breakfast – the fresher and richer your eggs, the tastier your home-cured bacon – the more obvious the deficiencies of your bangers become.

The Porkert PP88I’ve wanted to make sausages for a very long time – so long, in fact, that we received a sausage press (the rather wonderful chromed cast-iron, sparsely named Czech ‘Porkert PP88’) as a wedding gift over six years ago.  I regret that, until last weekend, it hadn’t yet managed to have an outing!  I finally decided that enough was enough, and ordered some sausage skins from Weschenfelder, which arrived very promptly last week.  A trip to our friendly local farm shop butcher provided us with 1kg of minced pork shoulder, and we were ready to rock!

Sausage mixTo the kilo of minced pork, we added a bit short of the recommended 200g of breadcrumbs (I didn’t have enough – they were a mix anyway of shop-bought breadcrumbs I had in the cupboard, and a couple of slices of dried and crushed homemade sourdough), 200ml of water (this, along with the breadcrumb, is essential for getting the mix to a consistency where it will pass through the sausage press), a teaspoon of salt and a half a teaspoon of crushed black pepper.

Soaking sausage casingsThe sausage skins were already soaking in warm water – we had bought the ready spooled sheep’s casing as Hubby’s preference runs to smaller bangers.  Sausage skins are not pleasant smelling things!  So, don’t sniff them, would be my advice.  A lot of the odour disappears once they’ve been soaked, so I’d recommend trying not to think about it too much in the meantime!

Ours probably hadn’t been soaked for as long as they ought to, since when I loaded the first length, they were very tricky to feed onto the nozzle of the sausage stuffer – I put it down to inexperience, but the second length, which had had about half an hour longer to soak, went on much more easily.  As they can soak for 12 hours or so without harm, get started with the soaking early!

Feed your skins onto the nozzleOK, so there’s no polite way of saying this – there’s something unavoidably prepucial about sausage skins!  Feed your skins onto the nozzle of the sausage stuffer (ours were quite a snug fit on the 20mm nozzle), leaving a couple of inches, untied, dangling free from the tip.  And try not to contemplate the resemblance to condoms too closely!

Don’t overfill your sausage stuffing press, especially if it’s manually powered like ours!  Add a couple of hand-fulls to the barrel and start to push down steadily.  We discovered around this time that we didn’t have the mechanical advantage at counter height to operate the lever usefully, and moved the whole sausage pressing rig down onto the kitchen floor. Really, we should have had mounting bolts to allow us to seat the press firmly in position, but we had to make do without.  Something to add to my ‘fantasy kitchen’ wish-list, I guess!

Filling sausagesPut a nice shallow tray (a baking sheet is ideal) under the sausage press to catch the sausages as they’re filled.  Once you get the sausage meat flowing, you want to kind of let it fill the casing and pull it off the nozzle itself as it goes.  This is definitely a two man job with any kind of manual press, I’m afraid!  Don’t pull the skin away from the nozzle unless it seems to be getting stuck, but equally don’t let the skin be over-filled, as you’re going to need a bit of ‘freedom’ when you come to twist and link the sausages.

The skins will split in places – you might have weakened them when you were incompetently loading them! – but don’t worry, it’s not a disaster. Carry on until you run out of sausage meat, or skins!

Linked sausagesNow it’s time to link your sausages.  I looked at various diagrams and instructions in books and on the web, but in the end I just fiddled with them until they did what I wanted – one of these days I’ll try to take photos but it never made much sense to me at the time!  Still, by the end of the process I had two strings of traditionally linked sausages.  The first  – on the left – are noticeably ‘scrappier’ than the second, but I’m really thrilled with all of them.

It’s advised to hang them to dry for a while – the cabinet doors were useful here – and then let them rest overnight before eating them.  We refrigerated one breakfast’s worth and put the rest in the freezer.

They’re great sausages.  They cooked well under the grill, but I’ll admit the first mouthful was almost underwhelming, I worried they were bland but then realised that they were, by any commercial standard, just seriously ‘under-seasonned’ compared to what my taste-buds were expecting.  I have to say I’m now rather worried about how much salt must be in shop-bought bangers!  But on the second bite, the lovely sweet pork flavour came through beautifully.  I’m looking forward to experimenting with some herbs, spices, and other flavours in future batches – we intentionally kept this batch quite plain as a ‘baseline’!

Finished sausages

So, homemade sausages – the last part of the Holy Trinity of the great Full English breakfast of sausage, bacon and eggs.  Go on, try it!  And no doubt, there will be more sausage making posts in the future!

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Basic Butchery – how to butcher & portion a pork belly

Pork belly is such a wonderful and versatile cut, and so under-rated here in the UK.  Most of my bacon making is with belly, so we get through quite a lot of it.  As a result I tend to buy it most-of-a-belly at a time!  The process of butchering it to remove the ribs and prepare it for curing or roasting is quite simple, and worth learning, since it means you’ll end up with precisely the piece of meat you want for the task at hand, and a couple of little bonus items, too!

Large piece of pork belly

Your butcher will probably offer to prepare your belly for you, removing the ribs and trimming it to your preference, but you never quite seem to get exactly what you were after, somehow!  Doing the job yourself means you get exactly what you want.  This is my starting point – just under 2kg piece of pork belly .

Peel away the inner layer of fatStart by removing the layer of fat on the inside of the belly piece, if there’s one there.  You shouldn’t need your knife for this, it should just pull away if you work gently beneath it with your fingers, leaving a clean muscle surface beneath.  Once you’ve removed it, set it to one side (I usually keep an ‘offcuts’ plate or bowl handy when I’m portioning or butchering meats).  This is effectively pork suet.

Belly portion with fat removedNow you can get a better look at the anatomy of your piece of meat.  As it’s laid out in the photo here, the ribs are on the left, you can see the flap of diaphragm meat lying above them.  On the right side of the belly is a band of smooth muscle.  The ends of the ribs lie almost exactly where the visible edge of this muscle joins the diaphragm.

Cut beneath ribsTake a long, thin bladed, sharp knife and first cut beneath the ribs, as close as possible to them to reduce wastage.  The piece has been rotated 180 degrees from where it was in the previous photograph so that the ribs are now bottom right.  You should be able to feel roughly where the ribs end, so extend your cut beneath them as close as possible to this level.

Finding the ends of the ribsNow gently slice beneath the strap-like muscle we identified earlier, where it lies over the ends of the ribs, and peel it back,  You’ll find the ends of the ribs and the strips of cartilage which link them together.  Gently slice around these and then back underneath. By lifting the rib section it should now be quite easy to join up with the cut beneath and remove this as a block.

Rack of ribs, as removedEither put the rack of ribs to one side, or cut them up into individual ribs at this stage.  This couldn’t be simpler – just feel for the gap between each pair of ribs and slice down the centre parallel to them, your knife, if it’s nice and sharp, should cut straight through the connecting cartilage.

Ribs, divided up.You can trim away any strips of cartilage that area easy to identify – you can see this top left.  That bit is genuinely wastage, incidentally, so chuck it away if you want!  Bag your butchered ribs up, label them, and freeze them for another day (they’re great done on the BBQ with a jerk marinade!).

Pork belly with ribs removed

Now let’s turn our attention back to the pork belly itself.

You can really see now that mine is anything but rectangular! It’s actually sitting ‘upside down’ in terms of how it was on the pig – the top as we look at that photo is the part closest to the middle of the pig’s body, the rib side is towards the back.  As we get closer to the abdominal midline, the proportion of fat to muscle increases, so I trimmed the piece to rectangular, discarding the part which is most top-left in this photograph.

Pork belly, trimmedBecause I’m planning to prepare the belly as streaky bacon, this will give me more manageable, even chunks.  You can see the effect of the trimming in this photograph – the piece has been rotated again so the rib-side is now away from us.  Add your trimmings to the ‘offcuts’ bowl.

Belly pieces, divided upNow simply divide up your belly as you like.  Mine weighed almost exactly 1.6kg at this point, so I divided it evenly into four ~400g pieces.   A large piece like this would be fantastic roasted slowly whole, too, perhaps with chinese spices, for a special meal for a big gathering!  Roast pork belly has the *best* crackling.

Bag your ribs and your offcuts – these will make fantastic quite fatty minced pork for adding to any minced-meat dish that requires extra juiciness and succulence, or for sausages.  Then sit back and admire your work.

Fully-butchered pork belly

My belly portions were for curing, so I prepared a maple syrup cure made up of 100g of supracure and 90g of pure maple syrup, applied about half to all the bellies, and then bagged them together in the fridge. (More discussion of the bacon-in-a-bag ‘dry’ cure method can be found here.)

Belly pieces with maple syrup cureI’ll apply the second half after 48 hours and re-arrange the bellies so they’re skin-side together for the second half of the curing process.  The total curing time would normally be 5 days for belly pork, but these pieces are thicker than usual, so I may decide to let them go a day longer, depending on the texture and appearance at the 5 day mark.  It would be great to get some maple smoke into some of them – but that’ll depend on the weather.  I’ll keep you posted!

Read more DIY Cold Smoker & Home-Curing posts >>

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Opinion – thinking about animals as food, and food as animals

Look at this little lamb – isn’t he just gorgeous? All floppy ears, crinkly coat and frantic tail.

Growing lamb

Now think about eating him – a wonderful slow-roasted shoulder, perhaps, sweet and tender, running with glorious juice and served with a dollop of lovely mint sauce, or a couple of little chops, grilled to your liking with boiled potatoes & greens.

How does that juxtaposition make you feel?  Be honest now…

Hungry? If so, congratulations. You’ve passed!  But perhaps, if you’re honest, it makes you a bit uncomfortable? Unsettled? Maybe even faintly disgusted?  If you’re a vegetarian, you get to leave now, if you like, but if you’re a meat eater then you really should stay and read on.

So many of us today are so divorced from our food, and how it’s produced.  Its appearance on the supermarket shelf, all sanitised and shrink wrapped, so we’re not even used to the touch or smell of it, has allowed this huge chasm – this disconnect – to open up in our minds between our food and where it comes from.  We wince when we’re reminded, very often – how would you feel if you saw a whole roast suckling pig, a chicken dressed for cooking with head and feet still attached (probably on TV in some ‘less civillised’ country), or if you watched a whole side of beef being carried into a traditional butcher’s shop?

Back to our lamb – I’d like to argue that there’s nothing wrong with thinking about him as food – that’s his *purpose*, plain and simple.  If he wasn’t going to be eaten, he wouldn’t have been born.  In a few months, he WILL be on someone’s dinner plate.  Mine, I hope, since he looks to be growing rather nicely and will have enjoyed a cracking life out on that lovely pasture with his ewe and all his little lamby friends!  It’s imperative that we can think of livestock as meat, and step over that chasm, because we also need to make a habit of thinking of the meat on those supermarket chiller shelves as animals.

When you’re grabbing that matching pair of rather sterile-looking chicken breast fillets, sealed airtight in their protective atmosphere, from the chiller shelf, do you have a picture in your mind of the chicken who died to provide them?  It seems to me that to be ethical consumers of meat, we *must* carry just such images with us.  Allowing that disconnect to exist in our thought processes allows us all, thoughtlessly, to make bad choices.  We might say the right things about preferring free range, organic, or higher welfare meat and eggs,  but when push comes to shove, how often and how easily do we pick up that chicken salad sandwich, pork pie, or pack of BBQ burgers without the origin of the meat even crossing our minds?

Unless we’re prepared to think about our food – *really* think about it  – taking time in particular to think about the animals that have provided our meat, how they lived, and how they died, then we cannot possibly claim to be ethical meat eaters.  And if you can’t, or won’t, if ignorance is bliss, if you’d rather close your mind to the idea, and think prettier, less uncomfortable thoughts, if you prefer to pick up the packet of anonymous animal protein, and ignore its source and its story, do you really think you deserve to enjoy the fruits of these animals’ sacrifice?

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Jerk Pork Ribs – a bargain BBQ treat

Regular readers of the blog will know that I love to advocate using great quality bargain cuts of meat, even if that means a little bit of extra preparation.  Using the less fashionable cuts means getting to enjoy great, outdoor reared, higher welfare meat without having to shell out the premium price tag – and these cuts also reward the creative cook by being, very often, some of the most interesting to eat!

Jerk ribs on the BBQ

I often have a couple of bags of pork ribs in the freezer, as offcuts from the pork belly I make my streaky bacon from.  From that point of view, these ribs are basically free.  Last time we had some friends over and I wanted a few extra, my butcher sold me a 6 -7 inch chunk for 50p.  If you’re buying them as ‘ribs’ in packs from the supermarket, rather than as offcuts, you’ll pay more, of course.  Yet another reason to cultivate your friendly local butcher, and develop a few basic butchery skills yourself.

Pork rib sectionThis is how I expect your ribs will arrive – as a roughly square or rectangular piece with more or less loose tissue (from the diaphrgagm) attached to the inner (concave) side.  There should not be very much meat on the outer (convex) side, as the belly meat should have been cut away.

If the belly is still there, you can either remove it and prepare it seperately – as bacon, or as a roast pork belly – or you can leave it attached and make really thick juicy ‘streaky ribs’.  Beware, though, as these will be very fatty and consequently encourage your BBQ to flare up when cooked over coals.  Pork belly is so wonderful, there are better ways to prepare it, in my opinion!

Separating ribsYou need to divide up your rib portion into separate ribs, and this couldn’t be simpler.  Looking at this inner side, feel where the ribs are with your finger tips, and identify the gap between them.  Using a nice, sharp, long knife, place the blade midway between the ribs and cut parallel to them.  Butchered ribsThere’s some cartilage attachment up at the ‘knuckle’ end of the ribs, but any plausibly sharp blade should slide straight through this (bonus hint – keep your kitchen knives *really* sharp – a sharp knife is a safe knife!).

Ribs with seasoning appliedCarry on until all your ribs are divided up.  Now find a nice big dish large enough to contain them all reasonably snugly. Squeeze over the juice of half a lime, and a big glug of olive oil. Then sprinkle generously with your home-made dry jerk seasoning mix and rub in all over.  Turn the ribs over and apply some more mix to the other side.

Ribs, restingOnce you’ve finished applying your rub, wash your hands carefully or they’ll end up stained an attractive nicotine-yellow from the turmeric.  Cover the ribs and set aside in the fridge for at least an hour – if you’re able –  before cooking.

Once your BBQ charcoal is smouldering gently, without any flame, put your ribs on the grill and cook until done.  If I’m cooking for a large party, I like to start these ribs in the oven and then just finish them on the BBQ for that lovely open fire flavour without the extended cooking time.  You’ll still get a great result.  Then, sit back, and enjoy your tasty, juicy, spicy, bargain ribs with a nice cold drink!

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Jerk Seasoning – perfect for BBQ season, when weather permits?

Summer is here – so it’s got to be time to break out the BBQ!  Never mind the weather – here in the Midlands we’re in the middle of one of the wettest droughts anyone can remember, it’s rained continuously for several weeks now.  What better to give you a taste of the Caribbean sun – even if the local one isn’t co-operating! –  than home-made jerk pork or chicken kebabs cooked over a charcoal grill, served with a cold beer or a rum cocktail?

Jerk pork kebabs with pineapple, onion and pepper

[Please excuse the mix of weights & measures in this recipe – I created it more or less by eye trying to match a store-bought one.  Mine’s better.]

Making this dry jerk seasoning is really easy if you have a spice grinder.  If you don’t, you could either try using a pestle and mortar (though this may take you a very long time!), or you may be able to make something comparable using all pre-ground spices, though you’ll have to experiment a bit with the quantities and the texture won’t be so nice.  I don’t think you can buy ground bay leaves though, so I’ll leave that as an initiative test!

To make the dry jerk seasoning, take:

  • Whole spices for jerk seasoning15g whole allspice berries
  • 6g whole black peppercorns
  • 6g sea salt – I used salt that I’d smoked over alder and maple wood, for that bit of extra smokey BBQ flavour.  Plain salt is just fine though!
  • 2 tsp chilli flakes – or a couple of whole dried chillies – obviously the heat of the recipe will be affected by your choices here!
  • 2 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 bay leaves

Put all of these together in your spice mill and grind to a coarse powder.

Then add:

  • Ground spices for jerk seasoning1 tsp chilli powder (strength to taste)
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp soft dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp paprika (smoked, if you have it, and hot or mild to taste)
  • 1 tsp turmeric

Dry jerk seasoningAnd mix well, working out all the little clumps that may have formed around the soft sugar or minced garlic, which are a bit more moist than the rest of the ingredients. Store in a small airtight container – a jam jar is ideal. It will keep well for several months at room temperature.

To use, mix as a marinade with whatever meat you want to jerk at a ratio of 2 tsp dried spice mix, with aprox 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice and 2 tbsp olive oil. Rub in well with your hands and leave to infuse for a couple of hours in the fridge if possible.

The turmeric is mostly for colour and will dye your fingernails a really attractive shade of nicotine yellow. You might like to consider wearing gloves when rubbing in the marinade, or just leaving the turmeric out of the recipe, if you prefer.

Yesterday, I prepared jerk chicken drumsticks, legs, and wings for the BBQ, and jerk pork kebabs with pineapple, pepper & onion.

Chicken pieces in jerk marinadeThe jerk chicken portions couldn’t be more straightforward.  Either buy a pack of leg pieces from the butcher, or if you’re in the habit of portioning chicken at home, dig a couple of packs of legs & wings out of the freezer. Slash through the skin and into the meat several times on each portion – this helps the cure penetrate and also helps the thicker portions of the chicken cook evenly over the charcoal grill. Then squeeze over the juice of a whole lime, a good glug of olive oil, and several teaspoons of the jerk seasoning – I ended up using about 6 spoonfuls to get a good degree of coating on all the pieces.

Cover the bowl with cling film and leave in the fridge for several hours if possible before cooking, though you can cook immediately and the flavour will still be pretty good!  Cook over a charcoal grill, slowly, so that it cooks through without burning (a little bit of blackening on the outside is traditional, though!).  If you’re in any doubt whether the chicken is completely cooked, take it off the bbq, and place in an oven dish in a 200C oven for 10 – 15 minutes to finish cooking all the way through.  Of course, you can cook these entirely in the oven, if the weather’s not co-operating!

Prepared jerk pork kebabs with pineappleAny pork will do for the kebabs, really – I used half a pork tenderloin I had in the freezer. Cut into strips, and marinade like the chicken, with lime juice, oil and the dry seasoning mix.  Allow these to marinade for several hours if possible.  Prepare fresh pineapple by slicing thickly, removing the skin and cutting into square pieces.  Also slice a couple of onions and sweet peppers into similar sized pieces.  Then, just before cooking,  thread the marinaded pork onto skewers with the chunks of pineapple, onion and sweet pepper.

Kebabs cooking over charcoal

Get some good friends together, and marinade gently in some good drink and good company, while your jerk kebabs cook gently over a charcoal grill, then serve with salad & warmed pitta bread, and your choice of sauce (I quite like sweet chilli with this!).  Yum!  Dig in, and enjoy an early taste of summer!

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What’s Your Beef? Beth’s wonderful home-cured salt beef

Salt beef is quite a rarity these days.  I’m aware our American cousins (to whom it’s corned beef) think of it as an Irish thing and eat it with cabbage at St Patrick’s the way we eat haggis, neeps and tatties on Burns Night.  Despite having Irish heritage, I’ve never eaten salt beef, in this context or any other (honestly, Irish-American folks, that’s one tradition you’ve made up all for yourselves!).  But I was very excited to experiment with the idea when I saw a lovely rolled brisket of beef at our local farm butcher’s shop.

Cold sliced home-cured salt beef

A bit of asking around family brought me the information that my sister-in-law, Beth, and her family, were keen salt beef curers and consumers.  She kindly shared her recipe & process with me, which I’ve adapted slightly to suit my purposes.

Raw rolled beef brisket

You will require the following to salt your beef –

  • Piece of rolled beef brisket, mine was about 1kg, which was about right for a meal for two plus cold cuts, or would have served four for dinner.  You may need to find a real butcher’s shop, since brisket, despite being great value, is rather unfashionable and rarely available in the supermarket.
  • Curing salt (I used supracure, which is the pre-mixed salt-and-saltpetre mix I use for making bacon).  Alternately you can use plain salt with (or without) added saltpetre.  You won’t get quite the same flavour without the saltpetre, and the beef will be grey rather than the characteristic dark pink colour of salt beef.
  • Dark sugar, whatever sort you prefer
  • Whole peppercorns, juniper berries, cloves, bay leaves (dry or fresh), and a few sprigs of fresh thyme.  Or experiment with any other herbs / spices you think might work well!
  • A non-metallic bowl big enough to completely submerge your beef in
  • Large saucepan, kitchen scales & measuring jug

Herbs & spices for the brineOnce you’ve gathered all your tools and ingredients together, you need to make your brine.  First, work out how much brine you need.  Put your beef in the bowl and cover it completely with water.  Then take the beef out, and measure the water. That’s your target volume.

Now, for each litre of brine you require, weigh out the following into the saucepan –

  • 300g of supracure
  • 100g of dark sugar
  • Approximately 10 peppercorns, 6 juniper berries
  • A bay leaf, a clove, and a sprig of thyme (or whatever herbs and spices you fancy!)

Add the required volume of water (the more observant among you will notice that you’re going to end up with slightly more brine than you actually wanted, due to adding the dry ingredients – this is fine, don’t worry!) and heat to dissolve all the dry ingredients.  Boil the brine briskly for a few minutes, and then allow to cool (refrigerate once it’s at room temperature to get it down to about 5 degrees centigrade).

Beef in the brineOnce the brine is cold, add your beef.  Weigh it down with a small plate or saucer if required to keep it fully submerged.  This is quite a ‘hard’ (concentrated) brine and the beef will tend to want to float up in it.  Now put the bowl of brine & beef in the fridge, and apart from turning the beef over in the cure once a day, if you remember to, leave it alone. My 1kg piece of beef was in the brine for 5 days.  You’ll want a longer curing time for larger pieces of beef, perhaps up to 10 days or so.

After your curing time has elapsed, take your beef out of the brine.  It will have become considerably denser and firmer in texture (surprisingly so, in fact), as well as darker in colour.

After curing, soaking in fresh water

The alchemy that is salt-curing has happened now, so you’re going to want to soak the salt beef for 24 hours to reduce the saltiness of the finished product a bit.  Wash off the beef and submerge it in clean tap water (it will sink, so you don’t need to weigh it down this time) and return it to the fridge.  Change the water at least once during the 24 hours.

Salt beef after 24 hours soaking in fresh waterNow, either cook it straight away, or remove from the soaking water, and return, covered, to the fridge for a day or two until you plan to prepare it.

Salt beef with stock vegetablesI prepared my salt beef in the simplest way, by poaching it gently.  Add a quartered onion, a handful of roughly chopped carrots, a bay leaf and some peppercorns to the saucepan, and cover the beef with water.  You could also add some celery, but I don’t particularly like it.

Poaching liquid, after cookingBring to the boil and then simmer, covered, very gently for two and a half hours (longer for larger pieces), until it yields easily to a fork. Then remove it from the poaching water and rest for half an hour, covered with foil. The water you’ve poached the beef in will now look like a rich beef broth.

Sliced poached salt beefAfter resting, slice your beef thickly (it’ll fall apart if you try to slice it too thinly) and serve with your choice of side dishes.  Potatoes and cabbage appeared to be traditional (at least in some circles!) so I opted for boiled new potatoes and wilted spring greens, served with a white sauce made from a roux, some of the poaching liquor, a glug of cream and a big spoon of hot horseradish.

Salt beef with potatoes and spring greens

It was beautiful, though I say so myself.  The beef, served hot, is incredibly tender and succulent.  Cooled and sliced, the rest of the salt beef is also beautiful and will make cracking sandwiches.  It’s firm and dense, slices nicely, and has a lovely gentle aromatic flavour.  Home-cured salt beef is sure to become a regular culinary feature in our household.  If any of you have favourite ways of preparing or serving salt beef, I’d love to hear them.  Finally, thank you so much to Beth for her recipe and guidance, and I hope you all consider giving salt beef a try some time!

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Bacon Basics – bacon-in-a-bag method for ‘dry’ curing at home

Readers (& participants) in the Big Bacon Challenge will have noticed how little effort is involved in making dry cured bacon at home.  While I was teaching myself to make bacon by this process (which involves daily application of dry cure to the piece of meat), I came across several references to bag methods of ‘dry’ curing.

In this ‘bacon in a bag’ method, you apply the cure to your meat, put the whole thing in a plastic bag, seal it up, and leave it in the fridge for several days, turning occasionally, and adding fresh cure once in mid-process.  It removes the trivial once-daily intervention in the curing process, and the need to find space for a dish in the fridge for the length of the curing process, so might be even easier for busy busy folk… *if*, that is, the results stack up in terms of flavour and quality.

I used my normal black pepper cure for this experiment.  My total cure weight was 10% of the weight of the meat and made up of 4 parts of supracure to 1 part of dark soft brown sugar with about a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper added (see here for more advice on mixing your dry cure).

Dry cure applied, in bagIn addition to your piece of belly or loin pork and cure, you need a nice large freezer bag which is reasonably robust, and some sort of clip or bag tie to seal it.  Sprinkle a bit of your cure into the bottom of the bag, place the washed and dried piece of pork in the bag skin-side down, and then continue to rub cure on the meat until you’ve used about half of your total dry curing mix.  Seal the bag excluding as much air as possible, and put it in the fridge.

After 3 days, pickle in bagTurn the bag over from time to time (I turned it every time I went into the fridge for something else, but once a day is fine).  You will notice quite a lot of pickle accumulating in the bag.  After two days for belly, or three days for loin, take the bag out of the fridge.

Drain the pickle, and apply the rest of the cure, before returning the bag to the fridge for another three days.  Effectively we’re curing in a very concentrated brine made from the applied salt and the meat’s own water.  By this stage, at around the half-way mark, it’s already showing the changes I’d expect from successfully-curing bacon, which is a good sign!

Bacon out to restAfter these three days have passed (making a total curing time of five or six days depending on your bacon cut), take the bacon out of the fridge.  Remove it from the bag, rinse it off under the tap, pat dry carefully with kitchen paper, and return it to the fridge un-covered on a plate for 24 hours to finish drying and form a pellicle (that glossy, slightly tacky surface layer).  After that, wrap it loosely in a piece of baking paper and keep it in the fridge until you want to slice it and eat it.

I rested mine for three days before slicing – I was planning to put it through the smoker but the weather on my day off wasn’t particularly suitable.

Sliced for breakfast this morning, the texture and appearance on slicing was exactly as I have come to expect from my home dry-cured back bacon.

Sliced bacon

I sliced away but retained the outside piece for lardons before carefully preparing four slices for frying.  The piece of loin pork I used was very lean, and needed a little olive oil to the frying pan to really get things going.  The bacon re-arranged itself in the pan as the rind buckled, but didn’t noticeably shrink, and there certainly wasn’t any of that nasty white watery muck we’re so used to seeing in commercial bacon!

Bacon for breakfastBreakfast this morning was my bacon with some butcher’s black pudding and a fresh home-reared egg, served on a toasted English muffin.  What could be nicer on a lazy Saturday?

And tasting wise?  I would say I couldn’t detect a difference between bacon prepared this way, and my usual technique – but with one caveat.  One of my slices was the second-slice from the edge after the one I’d held over for lardons.  This slice, quite unlike the others, was unpalatably salty, with almost a salt ‘sting’ on the tongue.  I think this can probably be ascribed to the concentration of cure applied at once in this method, despite a good long resting period, the outside surfaces of this bacon are quite aggressively salted.  I would cut off a thicker end-slice in future when using this method – probably somewhere between 5mm and 10mm of the end grain at both ends.  Used in a stew or sauce, it would be fine, but it’s less than ideal to eat as sliced bacon.

So, if you want an *even* easier method for home-cured bacon, do give this one a whirl!  For me, though, it’s likely to be a technique I fall back on when I know I’m going to have a really busy week and still want some bacon for the following weekend.

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