Never Failed Me Yet

Cooking with offal was once truly common sense. You slaughtered Francis (I’ve always wanted a pig called Francis) in the late autumn, and it was not just respectful to his memory but entirely necessary to your own survival that you used every single bit of his fat pink carcass; except for the oink, of course, which had in any case departed when you stuck him. With the help of salt and smoke and many hands, each part would be rendered gradually edible, for today, tomorrow, or for the long winter ahead. Most of us no longer live like this.

Some parts which come under the broad heading of offal are still truly waste; my butcher gives me heads and feet, hearts and scraps for free, as they would only be destined for landfill, and I’m more than happy to take the time and energy to transform these stubborn pieces of meat into something delicious. Others, perhaps, are making the slow transition from unwanted cut to delicacy; a pig only has two cheeks, after all, and if everybody realised how good they were they would be prized higher than fillet, with a price tag to match. Still other bits are so hard to get hold of that their consumption becomes more performative than practical, in which category I’d put blood.

Fresh blood is hard to find, but even in its dried form it is cheap, nutritious and delicious; if we no longer need to use it to thicken or to bind, or just as a handy, sausageable form of protein, it is still worth doing, both – I’ll admit – for the B-movie fun of it and for the elusive, rusty flavour. Perhaps, too, by keeping a taste for it alive, we prepare for a time when its fresh form is not treated as a poison but used and celebrated at its abundant source. This southern Italian recipe would once have been a part of the pig-killing festivities; now, almost black and with a fudgy, spoonable texture, it is simply a delicious thing to eat. You’ll need, I’m afraid, a reliable thermometer.

SANGUINACCIO

Makes six little cups

35g dried pig’s blood

100g lukewarm (blood temperature) water

100g light muscovado sugar

200g dark chocolate, chopped

100g olive oil (a lowish grade is fine)

100g double cream

Whisk the dried blood with the water and a pinch of salt until you have a smooth liquid, rather thicker than water; pinch a drop between your fingertips to check it has all dissolved, then add to all the other ingredients in a heatproof bowl.

Set this over a pan of simmering water, and stir the whole lot together while the sugar dissolves and then the chocolate melts; keep stirring until it reaches 67°C, and then immediately pour into a waiting jug and from there into your six little cups. Put in the fridge for a few hours to set.

Serve, if you like, with candied pine nuts, raisins and orange peel, or with more cream. Ask your diners to guess the secret ingredient, and then await their wrath.

Rolo Pilaf

There is more to seasonality than the comings and goings of fickle vegetation. Alongside the inexorable march of the sun, our own petty customs and habits might seem small and insignificant, but they can have just as great an effect on the patterns of our diets. Some things, while not seasonal as such, are tied by temperature or texture to the weather outside – ice cream and granita, mashed potato and gravy – while others stake a place in one of our various religious calendars, which may be more or less related to the movements of the heavens.

 

Ramadan and its associate Eids are tied to the Islamic lunar calendar, for example; the daily cycle of fast and feast might take place in scorching heat or in autumn rains, which doesn’t seem to effect the consumption of harira and those little date things. Christian festivities, on the other hand, align suspiciously closely to pagan celebrations and thus to the seasons; at any rate, although they are marked at the same time each year, the food is not fantastically seasonal. You could eat a goose any damn time you choose, I suppose, and brassicas seem to grow at any time and any place; when we get to Mars, I suspect we will find that a small pernicious cabbage has go there first.

 

At any rate, this dish, traditionally consumed on the feast of St Valentine – after using most of the packet in cooking, the cook would offer her loved one “the last rolo” – has become, in recent decades, thoroughly associated with Easter, or rather, Yeaster, the Sunday after Holy Week. In the middle ages, Yeaster Sunday would start with a great slaughter of all the tame rabbits bought as Easter gifts, which were then cooked inside a brioche of tremendous proportions. Gradually, the practice died out, and households would instead hold a great feast of all the unconsumed chocolate in the pantry. It is this practice that has given us the chocolate mousse, the chocolate eclair, hare and chocolate ragu, chocolate mole, toad-in-the-hole, and Badger Surprise (the inspiration for the better known, and less surprising, Kinder). Whenever eaten, this dish is in itself a remarkable remnant of the fusion fad of Victorian Britain, which gave us kedgeree, ketchup and kumquat. A real taste of history.

 

ROLO PILAF

serves 4

CHOCOLATE STOCK – CHOCK

2kg chicken necks or coxcombs

4 onions, halved and then peeled

carrots and so on

at least 6 easter eggs in their wrapping

Place all the chock ingredients in a saucepan, cover with water, place the saucepan full of ingredients and water on a lit or otherwise operative hob, and leave for 6 hours. Strain.

ROLO PILAF

2 onions, fine dice

2 carrots, fine dice

2 sticks of celery, fine dice

12 cloves of garlic, minced

400g basmati rice (Tilda is best)

100g wild spaghetti, broken into 1-inch pieces

1l of chock (see above)

200g salted caramel spread (Bon Maman do a good one)

1 packet of rolos, the last removed, the rest julienned

lard

Melt some lard in a wide-bottomed pan, and cook the onion, carrot and celery until nicely softened and starting to colour. Wipe the garlic around the rim of the pan. When the edges start to sizzle, stir in the rice, counterclockwise, until each grain is vaguely translucent and fully coated in lard. Stir in the broken spaghetti (standard tree will do if you can’t find wild). Add the chock, bring to a boil, and let it bubble away until you can see holes start to appear. Put on a lid, turn the heat down and leave for 5 minutes. The rice should be cooked through and dry. Check for seasoning, remembering the salted caramel spread will be salty, then ripple it through and turn into a bowl. Pour the rice into another bowl, garnish with the julienned rolos, and let sit for 8 minutes before serving immediately. With a green crisp salad and a bottle of chocolate stout, this is a complete meal.

Brownie Points

photo (1)   Not just another cake recipe, but another chocolate cake recipe. I don’t know what’s happened to me. In my defence/aggrandisement, several customers have said this is the best brownie they’ve ever eaten, so see this as a public service announcement. I know, I’m too kind. Brownies are one of the easiest but also one of the most abused of cake recipes. Relying not on aeration and raising agents but on obscene amounts of butter and chocolate, they really are just as good as their ingredients. Unfortunately, not having the cachet of the Frenchified chocolate mousse cake, people seem more inclined to mess around with them. Start adding too much flour, add any baking powder, or worst of all, cook it past the point of gooeyness, and you’ve got a cake. Maybe a very nice cake, but definitely not a brownie. Their construction means they aren’t cheap to make, but neither should they be – if they were, we’d all be fat as houses. So. Your basic brownie is chocolate, butter, sugar, eggs, and generally nuts, held together with a whisper of flour. As you’re using the latter in such small amounts, and only for its binding properties, this is an ideal opportunity to go gluten-free, and make the coeliac in your life very happy. See this, however, not as some Hemsley-esque deprivation – I’m not going to start wittering about superfoods and broth – but as a chance to pile in more flavour. Your basic flour doesn’t really taste of much, which is rather the point, and neither do a lot of gluten-free flour blends, being made of ground rice and other tedious things. Buckwheat (not a wheat), however, has a pleasantly hoppy bitterness which cuts through the richness nicely. I used to have a very good brownie recipe gifted to me by my first head chef, but I lost it a couple of years ago, so the basic amounts here are taken from Justin Gelattly’s excellent Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding, which I freely recommend to everyone.

DARSHAM BROWNIES

Makes two small trays.

400g good dark chocolate, in drops or chunks

300g butter, cubed

5 eggs

500g light muscovado sugar

a pinch of fine sea salt

300g hazelnuts, roasted and skinned

100g buckwheat flour

Heat the oven to 180C/Gas 4 and line two small trays with parchment. Set the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, and leave to melt. Whisk the eggs and sugar together with the salt until just combined. Blitz the nuts with the flour (this’ll help stop the nuts from breaking down into butter), pulsing to keep the nuts mainly in discernible chunks. Whisk the chocolate mix briefly into the egg mix, again until just combined, and then fold in the flour mix. Pour into trays and bake for 25 minutes. The surface should be cracked and glossy, the whole not quite set. Leave to cool before attempting to slice. These are good from the fridge or even straight from the freezer.

Stolen Cake

I read with interest about Jonathon Meades’ (hopefully) forthcoming cookbook. (Go on, have a pledge.) I’ve written before about the misplaced focus on originality and ‘art’ in cooking, the bizarre idea (heavily encouraged by the publishers and writers of cookbooks) that everything must be new, groundbreaking, never-before-seen; the idea that recipes follow something like the folk process of fairytale and ballad is one that I’m interested in. After all, amidst all the clamour for bigger and shinier cookbooks, the absurd contortions of Masterchef contestants, a love of food can be fostered, at least partly, by childhood eating experiences, from Mum’s or Dad’s or Grandma’s recipes, passed down in turn. This alternative narrative, of food as a link of an unbroken chain to the past, is what we claim to admire about the ‘peasant’ cuisines of France, Spain, Italy; a link they manage to maintain, perhaps, because their cookbooks aren’t stuffed with new and exciting recipes for potato salad.

Leaving aside romantic notions about Continental cookery, it is interesting to see the ways in which dishes are passed around and down, with a tweak here, a misremembering there making each iteration slightly different. An attempt to recreate flavours without the slightest notion about technique, or with only rough approximations of ingredients, can yield something subtly altered; this is how cuisines are formed. No one is ever trying to do anything ‘new’, yet everything changes all the time.

All of which is a long-winded way of introducing this cake recipe. My Mum made this often when I was little; remembering it recently, I asked her for the recipe; in the course of finding it, she mentioned, in passing, to my brother, that it was based on one she had eaten somewhere, which he told me; there’s a little folk process for you. So, for anthropological purposes, I give you the recipe as she gave it to me, with my own notes and further alterations. It’s yours now – make it new.

CHOCOLATE HAZELNUT LOAF

“I went to lunch years ago with Therese Sellen, who had two daughters at Wincheap [Primary School] around the same time as Joseph and James [my older brothers]. (I think Helen Chandler was there as well [utterly irrelevant detail provides verisimilitude] .) Therese – who was Swiss – made this chocolate hazelnut cake for dessert. Before tasting this, I hadn’t been aware of the potential for replacing flour by ground nuts, but went home and later experimented with a madeira cake recipe from THE book (ie the battered radiation cook book, the source of all wisdom about domestic British cooking in the 1950s.”

We assume the original cake is a Swiss recipe, but who knows? Perhaps Therese based it on one she’d had at Helen’s house. Nowadays, of course, you’d just Google “swiss hazelnut loaf recipe” when you got home.

“The cake in question is an adaptation of mine of a madeira cake recipe. The standard recipe is:

6oz butter (though I used to use soft margarine, something I would no longer do)
6oz sugar (soft light brown muscovado for flavour)
4 eggs
9oz flour
1 teasp baking powder
A little milk if necessary
[the recipe pre-dates grams, obviously; it’s so easy to reset digital scales that I didn’t bother converting it]
To make the chocolate hazelnut cake replace the 9oz of flour with:
4oz plain wholemeal flour (not bread flour) [actually, I used a mixed granary bread flour, and it was great]
4oz ground hazelnuts
1oz coca powder (actually cocoa, NOT drinking chocolate!)
Make in the usual way [cream butter and sugar, add beaten eggs a bit at a time, fold in dry mix, beat in a bit of milk if too thick], and bake (in a loaf tin) for 1 hour 45 minutes, in the middle of the oven at Gas Mark 3.
I haven’t made this for ages because nowhere locally sells ground hazelnuts anymore [I couldn’t find them either – blitz whole hazelnuts with the flour and cocoa to stop them grinding down into butter]. I would probably use wholemeal spelt flour now – I like its taste.”
Note that my mother assumes I know how to make a cake but also that I need telling to use proper cocoa; she doesn’t specify whether to use dutched cocoa or not, though.
Timing is for a classic loaf tin; I used a long, shorter one (more like a terrine mould), timed the recipe by 1.5, and cut the cooking time by half an hour. Omnia mutantur, nihil interit.