Panacea

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Whatever some might say about the roast beef of old England, the pig is, in religiously amenable areas at least, the indisputed king of the eating animals. Although it arguably deserves this accolade for its belly meat alone, not to mention the succulent beauty of its shoulder, cheek, and plump double chins, a large part of the utility and therefore the beauty of the pig comes from its suitability for curing of all kinds, in nitrate-protected salamis, salted raw hams, chunks of smoked bacon and jowl, dry-cures and Suffolk-cures, treacle and beer and vinegar; its ability, in other words, to be charcuterised. Since time immemorial, or at least a short time after that, the pig has lent itself, from snotter to trotter, to the sausage-maker’s trade – and we should all be very glad of that.

Still, there are hams beyond the porcine. Turkey, which has a pickle culture to rival that of Poland, has the meats to match, the best known here being suçuk and pastirma, both made from beef, the latter related in etymology if not technique to pastrami, which has in recent years overtaken the simpler salt beef as the most famous cured meat product of the Ashkenazi Jewish deli culture which has brought dill pickles to so many disparate parts of this world. The beef being cured here is generally brisket, sometimes fillet; the parsimonious celebration of flesh gifted to the pig is, for the cow, mainly expressed in the search for ever-more niche cuts of steak, possessed of either odd French or quaint English names and cooked bloody as hell, bavette, onglet, hanger, butler’s, butcher’s, baker’s , and candle-stick-maker’s, though an honourable mention should go to the salted and pressed ox tongue, one of the few pieces of world charcuterie which requires its own, specialist device.

Where, though, is the cured lamb? Perhaps the climates where lamb is the main protein are ill-suited to the curing of meat; perhaps I am just extremely ignorant on the subject. Either way, I know of few traditional recipes for cured lamb. This is a shame, as it can be extremely delicious. I have made a Serrano-style ham with the leg of a hogget, which was a thing of beauty; you had the squidge and edge of a good raw ham, but with an almost overbearing sheepiness, not quite edging into rancidity … I can taste it now. It did, however, apart from the whole leg, take several kilograms of salt, besides space and time and probably, I suppose, quite a lot of luck; a charcutier of my acquaintance was surprised and jealous that I had managed to make a bone-in cured lamb leg without rot or mould. I suppose the chimney in which I hung it must have been a particularly hospitable environment.

Whatever the reason, it is not a recipe suited to repeating at home, and, indeed, I never have. We should be getting another sheep soon, so I will try again; until then, this is an excellent, and extremely easy, cured lamb dish. Lamb fillet can be pale and unappetizing, but a couple of days makes it as dark as a Carpaccio; if it looks like a Caravaggio, it’s gone off.

CURED LAMB, BROAD BEANS AND FENNEL

2kg lamb fillet

600g coarse sea salt

400g granulated sugar

zest of 4 lemons

2 tbsp fennel seeds

Mix the salt, sugar, lemon and fennel together, and spread a layer in a plastic or otherwise non-metallic tub. Nestle in the lamb, and cover completely with the cure. Leave in the fridge for two or three days, then rinse and dry. Slice thinly and top with

a handful of raw broad beans, from however many pods it takes to get a handful

2 bulbs fennel, sliced wafer-thin

dressed with

juice of two lemons

200ml extra virgin olive oil

a pinch of salt

a good 6 grinds of pepper

whisked together.

Anti-recipes

  

How many people actually follow recipes? Read them over, gather ingredients, and go through them step by step? Anyone with an interest in food writing will find themselves – through books, magazines, blogs – inundated with “new” recipes (which are almost the only accepted form of food writing now) for seasonal this or exotic that, but how many ever make it from page to plate?

There are, I suppose, two (very) broad categories of recipe – those designed to teach us technique, and those intended to suggest flavours. The first – a baking recipe, or for hollandaise, perhaps – does by its nature need following more closely, and might have something new to impart, a suggestion or explanation that clarifies a mystery of craft. The latter kind of recipe, though, barely needs to exist at all. When you read a recipe for a beef and orange ragu, you are really just reading the suggestion that Marsala and citrus go as happily with beef as claret and allium; the rest of the recipe is just padding, or to put it more kindly, a formal construction which allows the meat (sorry) of the recipe to be communicated.

With this in mind, here is today’s recipe.

SPRING LAMB, WILD GARLIC, YOGHURT

Pink, seared lamb, wilted ramson leaves, rich, seasoned yoghurt. Serves as many as you like.

Great Chieftain o the Puddin’-Race!

I’m preparing for Burns Night, the real foodie winter festival. It’s not that I don’t love Christmas (I’m deeply suspicious of anyone that doesn’t), it’s just there’re so many distractions – presents, decorations, family, carols – that it’s hard, sometimes, to just get stuck in. For Burns Night, on the other hand, there is just enough ceremony to provide an excuse for the meal, and no more – which is as it should be. Furthermore, as we’re not subjected to haggis sandwiches and three-courses-for-£25-office-Burns-Night-meals for a month and a half beforehand and are therefore not bored sick of the whole affair, no one has yet seen fit to mess around with the meal. Instead, we are bound by iron, delicious, tradition – and the fact that it involves offal and whisky makes it all the better.

Of course, such a limited menu gives you little scope for showing off – so what do you do? You make your own haggis. I should warn you in advance that it is quite an undertaking, at least in terms of sourcing the ingredients; Fergus Henderson, whose recipe I adapted, seems to assume you won’t even try to make it, as he neglects to mention how hard it is to get a sheep’s pluck. I asked a couple of butchers, and scoured the internet, with no luck, but reasoning that the lungs probably don’t taste of much, I went with what I could get. Accordingly, this recipe assumes you will use sausage skins rather than one whole stomach; a less impressive spectacle, perhaps, but still very satisfying to make.

HAGGIS SAUSAGES

Enough for 8.
Large branches of Tesco are good for lamb offal if your butcher can’t oblige; places like Lakeland normally stock sausage skins. The oatmeal might be hardest to track down – you don’t want rolled, porridge or jumbo oats, which are steamed. Try health food shops.

3 lamb hearts
400g lamb liver
Bay leaves
Peppercorns
1 carrot, roughly chopped
Half an onion
A leek, roughly chopped
2 large onions, finely chopped
A little lard or butter
100g coarse oatmeal, toasted in a dry pan
100g dried breadcrumbs (buy panko or pangrattato, or make your own)
200g beef suet
4 tsp coarse ground pepper
2 tsp ground allspice
A pack of sausage skins or similar

Rinse the offal, then place in a large pan with the whole spices and stock veg. Cover with cold water and a big pinch of salt, bring to the boil, then simmer for two hours, skimming off the scum (there will be a lot) and fishing out the liver half way through. Meanwhile, sweat the chopped onion in lard or butter until very soft and sweet.

When the lights are cooked and cooled (save 500ml of the stock), dice roughly then coarsely blitz in a food processor, using the pulse button – you don’t want a smooth paste. Tip the result into a large bowl, then add the cooked onions, the reserved stock, and the rest of the ingredients (apart from the sausage skins, obviously). Mix thoroughly with your hands, and salt to your liking.

When happy, stuff or pipe into your skins or whatever; I used a sausage gun designed for the purpose, but a piping bag, bought or improvised, would do. If you can’t be bothered with any of that, just bake it in a flat tray like Paxo stuffing; it won’t be as fun, but will still be delicious. Leave your sausages in the fridge overnight to firm up.

When you’re ready to eat, heat the oven to gas mark 5/190C/375F. Put the haggises in a deep, oven-proof frying pan, and just cover with water. Bring to a boil on the hob, let them bubble until the water’s half gone, then stick in the oven to brown up and finish cooking – another 15 minutes or so.
Serve with neeps and tatties , a wee dram (mandatory) and perhaps some greens and mustard. Get someone to recite ‘Address to a Haggis’ in their silliest Scots, and plunge your knives in at the third stanza. Enjoy!

His Mother’s Milk

A return visit to Istanbul. There is so much – too much – to be said about the food there, about the glorious collision of Ottoman and Arab, the creeping influences of Eastern Europe and India, its place on the spice route that has gifted it with saffron, pepper, aromats and unguents, the love of produce, of fish still twisted with rigour, gigantic, ruddy tomatoes, organ and muscle and milk. There is so much that I am not going to attempt to say it, at least not now.

Much easier to lump that varied cuisine into a few, very broad and simplistic categories. Firstly, you have the fish restaurants. Some are great, some are awful, most are much of a muchness – a selection of mezze to start, salads, grilled and fried fish, chips. Like I said, these are all pretty similar, at least on first inspection – it’s only when you start looking more closely – the exact selection of mezze, for example, the precise doneness of the fish – that they start to reveal their differences. Something for another time, perhaps.

Secondly – and this is a huge and varied category – you have the street food. Kebabs, yes – including ones we would recognise as doner or shish, but also the glorious, gravy-soaked tantuni, the fat-and-sweetbread-sausage called kokoreç – but also pilafs, potatoes, dubious molluscs, crisp flatbreads topped with lamb… you could wander the city all day, with a different snack every hour.

These foods, though – from restaurant or street – are not the food of Turkey. They are very much a product of Istanbul, of a dining and a drinking culture on the one hand, and of graft and city grind on the other. The food elsewhere in the country – as represented by a few restaurants – is relaxed, more varied and expansive, more redolent of home cooking than the fill-up-and-fuck-off haste of city cuisine. The undisputed king of these Istanbul restaurants is Çiya, in the heart of Kadikoy. As much an anthropological and historical project as an eatery, this restaurant – or restaurants, rather, with a few branches on the same street – serves an eclectic and ever-changing selection of mezze and main courses from all across Turkey, as well from Syria, Armenia, and other related cultures.

We had a pickled, twiggy sea vegetable there, stuffed lamb intestine, a yoghurty celeriac dish that seemed a distant cousin to remoulade; salads of purple herbs and soft white cheese, a heavy paste of beans and dill; and rich, long cooked meat dishes of beef and quince. This dish, though, is one that really stuck in my mind, as it seemed so un-Turkish. Apart from the typical Middle Eastern combination of lamb and yoghurt (which seems to have been concocted just to annoy the Jews, if the Lebanese dish ‘His Mother’s Milk’ is anything to go by) the flavours seem Northern, comforting and hearty – although with that light, green freshness that is typical of Turkish food.

SAKIRIYE

This recipe is as close as I could come at home; I think the original had vegetables not readily found over here. Enough for 4, with rice and bread and salad.

LAMB
1 breast of lamb, boned
1 onion, halved
2 cloves of garlic
1 red chilli

SAUCE
500g yoghurt – ideally live, which’ll be really tangy. If not, squeeze in some lemon at the end
1 tbspn cornflour
1 leek, halved, sliced, and washed
a handful of chard stalks, chopped (you could have the leaves on the side, blanched and dressed)
4 cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
2 tspn dried mint
olive oil
salt and pepper
pepper flakes, sumac, and fresh parsley, to garnish

Cook the lamb first. You could use other stewing cuts, diced, but breast is what I got. Place in a casserole with the vegetables, cover with water, season and bring to the boil. Cover and put in a gentle oven for a couple of hours until really tender.

For the sauce, you first need to temper the yoghurt. This is easier than it might sound – although I must admit I cocked it up the first time. All you are doing is stabilising it so the emulsion of fat and liquid doesn’t split when heated. First put the yoghurt in a large bowl, and really beat it until it loses its structure and liquifies. Then mix the cornflour to a paste with cold water, and beat than in too. Really make sure it’s mixed.

Scrape into a pan, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly – in one direction only, apparently, though I haven’t tested this. As soon as it starts to putter, turn it right down and simmer gently, stirring now and then, for 5 minutes or so, until it thickens nicely. I don’t know if it’s saveable when split; try not to let that happen. Just don’t let it get too hot. Thus nurtured, the yoghurt will last for a day or so in the fridge and will be able to handle a certain amount of cooking.

Ok. Sweat down the vegetables in a little oil – you want some structure, not a stewy mush – and then add the mint. When the lamb is ready, add this too, and stir in, letting everyone get acquainted, and encouraging the meat to break down further. Add your stable yoghurt, bring to the boil and let it all simmer, stirring some more, for around 15 minutes. Season liberally and garnish with spices and herbs.

There you are – fresh, comforting, filling.