Delhi is one of those cities that I think is quite hard to like as a tourist. As an arrival point in India, it throws you right in the deep end and leaves you wanting to escape the madness until you settle into the travelling lifestyle a bit more. This also had to do with arriving at a time of year when the hot summer sun and 90% humidity meant walking more than a few metres left you in dire need of a shower and lime soda.

Lucky enough to have a base outside of the city accessible by metro we managed to see most of the main sites in a few brief city trips. The one place that really took my breath away and was the the Spice Market situated on Khari Baoli.

The fact that it is the largest wholesale spice market in India should evoke some sense of scale, but it is only when you are there with every sense being invaded from every angle that you can fully appreciate the organised chaos of this famous bazaar. Vivid colours and scents of anonymous spices spill onto the street from hollow shop-fronts, then a sack of floral tea provides a brief relief before a rickshaw or cart laden with too many sacks of rice almost knocks you from your feet. It is intense but once embraced, a great experience.

Every town or city throughout India has a bazaar of sorts running along a main road or hidden down winding back streets. They were the best place to immerse oneself in the vibrancy of day-to-day life and get a feel for how this common ground was shared by all warps of life.

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Braised Rabbit and Zucchini Fritters

There are some films which momentarily transport you to another time or place as the story unfolds and then there are those which when finished have a more lasting effect and allow your mind to wonder and wish you had lived in that time or place. For me, one film that produces the latter effect is ‘The Talented Mr.Ripley’. Aside from the playboy lifestyle and amoral / sinister behaviour and eventual murder the viewer is immersed in an idyllic lifestyle spanning various parts of Italy. One of those places is the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, now a heaving tourist destination, back then it was as traditional and untouched as Islands come.

On Ischia, rabbit is the major source of protein as the steep hills make farming larger animals near impossible. The Italians have a vast variety of preparations for rabbit and this was the first I tried. In Valencia where I lived for the past year, rabbit was the main meat in the traditional Valencian Paella, it was therefore cheap and very available which is much more than can be said for England. Rabbits there were lean and flavoursome, so I was shocked at the large size of the rabbit I picked up from my butchers here but left wanting by the reduced gaminess of the meat.

This braise is quick and for me it is more of a summer dish so to accompany I made some light and creamy Zuchinni fritters by adding a few tablespoons of ricotta to the mix. It was the first time I had made them and I was so happy with the result. They would go great on their own or as a side to other things.

I am in Northern India for the next 3 weeks so this will be the last post for a while.

Coniglio All’Ischitana

Recipe adapted from the fantastic book ‘Al Dente’ by William Black. Serves 4

1 rabbit of around 1.5kg

olive oil

3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1 chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

150ml red wine

500g plum tomatoes, chopped or tinned

a couple of thyme, marjoram and rosemary sprigs

small handful of fresh basil

salt and pepper

Ask the butcher to cut the rabbit into large chunks, or do it at home yourself. Wash and pat dry before browning in batches in hot, smoking olive oil in a large casserole or flameproof terracotta pot. Add the garlic and chilli and replace all the browned rabbit.

Add the wine and bring to a boil to reduce slightly over a high heat before adding the tomatoes. Reduce the head to medium and add the thyme, marjoram and rosemary sprigs. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes. Add the basil 5-10 minutes before serving to leave a fresh, fragrant flavour.

The dish can then be served as it is, or for a thicker sauce (like I have done), remove the rabbit chunks and reduce the remaining sauce to the desired consistency. Passing through a chinois once or twice for an even more refined texture. Serve with zucchini fritters, the red wine used in cooking and bruschetta.

Frittelle di Zucchini

Makes 5-6 large fritters

2 medium zucchini

coarse salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Freshly ground black pepper

70g all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons ricotta

Olive or another oil of your choice, for shallow frying

Grate the zucchini or shred in a food processor into ribbons. Then mix through a teaspoon of course salt and place in a colander or sieve over a bowl with a weight on top to squeeze out the liquid (add extra pressure yourself to help squeeze out even more). Alternatively, place in a cheesecloth, tie and squeeze. Removing as much liquid as possible is vital to the mixture holding.

Then combine the rest of the ingredients with the zucchini in a bowl adding a little more salt if desired. When well mixed, leave in the fridge until ready to fry.

To fry, I used a cast iron skillet and poured a thin layer of oil in the bottom. Heat the oil over a medium heat and add a large spoonful (a serving spoon) of the mix to the pan, then flatten slightly with the back of the spoon. Leave for around two minutes before turning over with a spatula to fry for another couple of minutes or until lightly browned.

Over the past year the fig has climbed through the ranks to make itself my favourite fruit. This is no doubt down to having access to the best figs I had eaten in Spain and then during my trip to Italy, indulging in unhealthy quantities of ‘fichi caramelatti’. Their versatility as an ingredient seems endless in their fresh and dried forms, their aesthetics unsurpassed, whilst the previous fig post I made has been my most visited

Caramelisation of these sugar-heavy fruits is quick and produces some complex flavours, for me the near burnt caramel flavour really sets off the fresh sweetness that remains in the untouched seeds inside. Eaten raw or cooked, figs lend themselves to a huge range of preparations and combinations so try and buy in bulk and experiment especially with some conserves or jams. In the UK they are especially expensive but I have been fortunate enough to buy some cheap crates from the Italian baker near me who also holds a passion for figs and thus buys some serious quantities which he puts to use in some amazing cakes. We are also currently waiting for the figs on the neighbours tree which hangs conveniently over the fence to ripen.

Caramelized Figs with Ricotta Ice Cream and Fig Biscotti

The idea for this came from a ‘gelateria’ I visited in Italy which offered a fantastic caramelized fig and ricotta flavour. I decided the texture of the figs is too good a thing to put in an ice cream so serving them separately was logical. I made this at a dinner for 16 and so decided that quantity of ice cream wasn’t feasible with the small machine at my disposable and so asked my favourite Italian shop to make a batch. It is cream based and with a little sugar, but I can’t find a recipe on the web which sounds up to scratch, it had a really creamy texture whilst internet versions seem more flaky.

The fig and walnut biscotti recipe is from the infamous Smitten Kitchen which in turn is lifted from the Batali ‘Babbo’ cookbook – they are really flavoursome and worth making just to eat on their own. I omitted the cloves and probably left them in the oven slightly too long.

To Caramelize the figs, simply halve and sprinkle with sugar. Place cut side down in a skillet over a high heat until caramelized.

Millefeuille of Prosciutto, Burrata and Caramelized Figs

This could be a lunch for one, or divided as an antipasto dish. The combination of silky prosciutto with creamy mozzarella and the sweet fig flavours is fantastic and I feel this is a lovely way to display them.

Caramelize the figs as above and get layering!

Some snaps I got on my trip to Cesena last week (click an image to open gallery), got some more to put up soon. Next posts should be some recipes and ideas I picked up in my time spent in this beautiful part of the world.

At midnight last Saturday I stood with ten pigeons spilling out of a bin liner onto the kitchen counter, needing to be tended to before any flies could do their damage. Somewhat to my relief, my girlfriend’s father who had shot them all said there was no point in plucking the whole bird as they weren’t that big and so it was just a matter of cutting the breast out. This was relatively simple and caused far less mess than when I had attempted to pluck a couple at home the year before. Although it did seem like an awful waste to just cut out these tiny breast and discard the rest of the bird, at that time of night I wasn’t complaining.

I’ve always thought of pigeon as a particularly British game bird but it is put to use worldwide in all manner of preparations. In London I’ve always considered it as quite a delicacy, but this status also extends to Egypt and the Middle East where birds are stuffed and cooked whole; something I would definitely like to try. I had always associated a slow braise in red wine with the bird, but as I just had the breast I decided I would also go for a lighter, more ‘summery’ preparation and just sear the breast meat.

In Spain, the broad bean season is at the beginning of the year and each stall had machines through which the pods were fed, separating the beans to be sold and the skins to be put back to other uses. The fresh beans were then quickly bagged and sold that day. Although ‘de-podding’ broad beans isn’t such a difficult task, I quickly understood why they had these machines as after getting through a kilo I was surprised at how few I actually had to work with at the end; 250g would be my estimate, so enough for a small serving between 4 people. The beans have a wonderful sweet freshness, and my favourite preparation is one an Italian friend showed me, serving them raw or quickly blanched and tossed with balsamic, parmesan or aged pecorino. The freshness of this salad and subtle saltiness in the cheese paired excellently with the earthey and gamey flavours of the pigeon which had been marinated with juniper berries and coriander seeds.

I am off to Cesena, Italy to stay with the friend I mentioned above next week and so hope to return with a bounty of products and having learnt a whole set of new recipes. I am extremely excited, especially at the prospect of staying in a house with a wood-burning oven, a family with a passion for good food and of course, returning to a climate with some consistent warmth. I imagine I won’t get any more food posts in between now and my return, when of course I shall have a lot of photos and food to share.

Seared Pigeon Breast, Broad Bean & Pecorino Salad

serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main

For the pigeon:

6 small or 4 large wood pigeon breasts

1 tablespoon juniper berries

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

4 black peppercorns

1 tablespoon olive oil

sea salt

In a pestle and mortar crush the berries, coriander seeds and peppercorns until fine, stir with the olive oil and then pour into a ziplock bag. Place the breasts in the bag, seal and shake well ensuring they are well covered with the marinade. Leave in the fridge for a minimum of 8 hours.

When ready to cook, heat a frying pan or skillet with your preferred oil until the oil is smoking. Lay the breasts in the pan, being careful not to overcrowd the pan and flip every 15 seconds. A thin breast will take around 90 seconds, but obviously as size and heat varies, do one as a tester and apply this time to the rest. Allow to rest on a rack for a further 90 seconds or so before cutting.

For the broad bean and pecorino:

1kg fresh broad beans or 250g shelled broad beans

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon aged balsamic

sea salt

20g pecorino stagionato in fine shavings

Shell the broad beans, then separate them into large and small beans. Place the larger ones in boiling, salted water and balnch for 2 minutes. Drain and run under cold water to cool.

Remove the pale green casing which should have split whilst blanching and place the bright green bean with the smaller raw beans.

Mix the beans with the oil, balsamic and salt adding half the pecorino.

To serve, plate the broad beans and lay the warm sliced breast on top, sprinkle over the remaining pecorino shavings either on indivifual plates or a platter.

And for good measure here is a photo of the red wine braise I did the remaining breasts in; definitely more of a winter dish, but this is a British summer.

Some time since my last post as I found myself put straight to work last week and catching up with all the people I had left here in England. Serious respect for anyone blogging that manages to work all day then come back ready to cook and put together a post. The problem here is that by the time I’m home and cleaned up from a day at the building site, there is barely any light (just rain – anyone in the UK at the moment will feel my pain) and I don’t have the equipment to shoot at night, so I will try and set aside dedicated cooking and shooting days but until I start university again I feel my post count will decrease.

To bring some Spanish sunshine back into my life, I opened up the box of treats I brought back from ‘Rafa the anchovy man’ of whom I spoke in my last post. Just the sight of them made me happy and the smells reminded me of starting my day at his market stall with a glass of young wine and one of his creations. I quickly got used to strong flavours first thing. The quality of this cured fish means that preparation should be limited, i.e served very simply. For me the best way is on bread with some good tomatoes to cut through their richness. He had also packed some of his own sun-dried tomatoes which he assured me would be better than any other I had tasted, and I had no reason to doubt him.

We, in England have some amazing produce unfortunately little of it seems to filter down to the masses, instead being sold in expensive markets or snapped up by the catering industry. But one thing we do have is an endless demand for Italian products and thus a copious amount of deli’s, cafe’s and bakeries in the capital. I am fortunate to live around the corner from what must be one of the best. The Bottega del Pane supplies the infamous River Cafe and other restaurants with their baked goods and I challenge anyone to leave empty handed after seeing what’s on offer. So I bought some of their famous sourdough and some amazing tomatoes (English grown!) to make some ‘Tostas’, the Spanish crostini.

I served the anchovy and tomato on slightly thicker cuts of bread because I wanted some of the juices to be soaked up without making it soggy throughout. I am positive this quality fish cannot be bought in a supermarket, so you’ll have to splash out somewhere but remember a little go a long way.  The sardines should be on thinner slices as the flavours are more delicate and topping drier. The dried tomatoes were wonderful and very different to ones I had tried and slated before, and with the basil made for the perfect trio. These probably aren’t for standing up and eating at parties as these things have become fashionable for but would go perfectly at the start of a meal. Or if you are lucky enough to live somewhere with more that 8 days of sun a year then bask in its glory with some cold wine and make everyone in the UK jealous.

Anchovy and Tomato Tostas

sliced sourdough bread or similar

extra virgin olive oil

tomatoes, chopped finely

good quality fresh anchovy fillets in oil

Place the chopped tomatoes in a bowl with a tiny pinch of salt and pepper and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. For 4 tostas I used 2 tomatoes.

Preheat the grill/broiler to a high heat and toast the sliced bread until golden around the edges. Drizzle with a little oil.

Spoon the tomatoes onto the bread using a slotted spoon. Lift an anchovy fillet from the oil, let just a little of the oil drip off then lay on the tomatoes.

Sardine & Sun-Dried Tomato Tostas

sliced sourdough bread or similar

 sardine fillets in oil

sun-dried tomatoes

basil

Prepare the bread as above. Cut the sardines up into 1cm slices; the tomatoes into slightly smaller pieces and roughly chop the basil.

Mix well in a bowl with one tablespoon of oil from the sardines and one from the tomatoes. Spoon onto bread. Serve.

 

This is the first post I write in the UK, for after an incredible year in Spain I find myself back to a reality I had almost forgotten about. A year in which I learnt more than in any other, that changed the way I think and the way I want to live my life. Never had I imagined it would be so difficult to come home, but in a way I now feel very distant from home. Distant from the life and friends which made me happier than ever in Spain as I return to a grey normality that I have yet to adjust to.

I recount to you here a snippet of my experience and a lunch I had in the last few weeks of my time there with two stall owners in the market and two of the most enthralling people I have ever met.

“I’ve worked here for 21 years with my own stall and whenever I could before then at my mother’s. I’m up before the birds six days a week but never have I been tempted to miss one day here. I feel like I am the luckiest man alive; that everyday meets special people; works in a place with a wonderful, unique atmosphere; providing experiences and happiness through food which I grow, pick and sell; then every evening I return to a beautiful family and home”

I could not recall anyone speaking so passionately about their job as Rafa had just done, whose spoken Spanish dramatised the whole thing further. Perhaps it was the alcohol, but there was an atmosphere in the room that I could only have dreamed of before this lunch. There I was, sat with two people that for almost a year had befriended me, inspired me and educated me; and as the late afternoon sun filled my living room with a warm glow and glinted off the market below, a wave of happiness spread over me. No photograph could have captured the afternoon for me and I’m glad the image I have of the lunch remains so perfectly vivid in my head and nowhere else.

For the past four months I had spoken with these two nearly everyday, sometimes to buy from their stalls, sometimes just to chat, to laugh or share a glass of wine. For this is the true beauty of the market. Once you can draw your eyes away from it’s beautiful design, it’s detailed ceiling and ornate windows; once you can get over the sheer quantity and quality of products on offer in the expanse of stalls; and when the beginnings of personal relationships form, this is when it’s true beauty is exposed.

It excited me every time I set foot inside, when the hustle and bustle filled my ears and my eyes were able to gorge on the visual feast that awaits. What started as a nice idea to invite them to lunch had suddenly become a reality.

Rafa #1 I have referred to here before as my ‘go-to man for herbs’ but his offerings stretch much further than locally collected herbs. Large boxes of sorted salad leaves, edible flowers, rare fruits and vegetables available only there, and a daunting display of mushroom species. Selling them all is a man with a beaming smile and a humbling knowledge of food. He has introduced me to countless new tastes and flavours, wanting me to try any new products with a childlike excitement.

Rafa #2 sells cured fish, but that doesn’t really sell him or his products. He is the only person I know who has given up everything to chase a dream. Who gave up a comfortable life in technology to pursue a passion for curing the best fish money can buy. His little stall is fronted my a glass cabinet with around 15 preparations of fish neatly displayed. If one day you happen to stumble upon his stall, you, like I, may eat your first anchovy. For I’d thought I’d eaten anchovies before, the salty, small fillets that come in tins, but I was wrong. ‘From Cantabria’ he exclaimed when I had composed myself. His big grin reveals missing front teeth which aired with a bandana gives a distinct man-o-the sea look. I shall soon post on his other offerings.

I digress.

The food wasn’t of highest importance here as I wanted to spend as much time as possible at the table. So I just prepared a few quick dishes in the morning that were basically all ready for when they came. I felt the following simply exhibited some of the freshest ingredients in the market:

That they liked the food I prepared was one of the biggest compliments I have ever received, for they talk about food and cooking in a way that makes them seem like veteran chefs. And as topics moved from rice to the best time for collecting snails, and dessert moved to coffee and then to much whisky, not once did it feel weird to be sat with two middle aged me I had known for barely half a year. I was let into a different world and felt privileged to be sat with such personalities.

None of us realised the time until nearing 8pm and as they both left after lengthy goodbyes and thanks, it dawned upon me that like this lunch, this year had passed by in no time at all. That in a week the life I woke up to everyday would be a life that remained in memories and no longer a reality. That these experiences that may seem quite minor to anyone who has managed to read this far (thank you), have impacted me hugely and will shape my future in some way or form. If I can ever speak about my life in a similar way to them, or live and share a passion for anything in the way that they do, I will be very content.

I am already making plans to return there for a holiday later this year and to go on a hunt with both of them in the beautiful Valencian countryside. But for now I will adjust back to life here again for the next year until I can live away again, and learn to look a bit harder for some inspiration and goodness; for god knows it’s not going to come from the supermarkets.

There is a memory I have of sitting on a beach somewhere in Europe, sinking my teeth into the ripest, juiciest and most flavoursome peach of my life which seemed to melt in my mouth. So vivid was this bite that I have a near sensory experience upon thinking about it now and long to eat a fruit so perfect again.

Throughout my year in Spain I have eaten my way through the very best each season offers, purchasing from one of the World’s greatest food markets with a daily turnover of the freshest produce available. From this I have learnt the importance of exhibiting the natural qualities of ingredients and not over-loading dishes with too many flavours. I had thought about how to honour the glorious peach without just simply eating it, for I know back home in England that these fruits are not what I have become used to here over the last few weeks.

There is a distinct lack of sweet things on this site and I put that down mainly to lack of equipment here which just about stretches to an overheating hand blender. But a couple of weeks ago I met an editor who asked me to do a simple dessert for the 4th edition of her magazine ‘Revista Couche’. I was over the moon and immediately knew I wanted to do something with peaches, one of my favourite fruits, whose peak season is arriving and at least some Spanish people must be in search of new uses for the copious quantities they have.

I quickly decided on a ‘tarte fine’ as I feel its elegant simplicity wouldn’t vow for attention with the real star of the show, and to keep the recipe easy a shop-bought puff pastry can be used. I spent some time working on how to keep the peaches moist and flavoursome throughout cooking. Experimenting with poaching in syrups before baking but felt they imparted too much sugar and over-softened the already ripe peaches. However, this would work for the unripe offerings at home and allows for extra flavour to be infused if they were otherwise tasteless (star anise went particularly well). Finally, to retain their natural flavour I settled on a short maceration with brown sugar which drew out some of the juices but then allowed for a syrup to be poured over at the end of cooking, adding moisture and a rich peach flavour.

The idea for the rosemary pairing is taken from Heston Blumenthal’s peach ‘tarte tatin’ served with a rosemary and syrup cream. I instead infused mascarpone whose addictive creamy richness features more and more in my food. The aromatic peach boosted by a peach syrup sits perfectly alongside the subtle pine notes within the mascarpone upon a thin flaky pastry.

Unfortunately in a rather dramatic and rapid turn of events, the magazine has had to stop. Some powerful ans seemingly threatened competitors applied pressure upon the sellers of advertising space to cut their links and within two days the free magazine had no choice but to close. It is a shame and lost opportunity for me; but for the young, ambitious team behind it, it means losing their career and years of effort. I felt it captured the mood of the Spanish economy perfectly: the established staying put nicely at the top without many problems whilst the small man is left without any hope of joining and sharing with them.

Peach Tart with Rosemary Infused Mascarpone

makes 4 individual tarts

For the tart:

6 of the best peaches available

2 tablespoons brown sugar

250g puff-pastry

For the rosemary infused mascarpone:

4 tablespoons whipping cream

1 large sprig fresh rosemary

200g mascarpone cheese

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

For the peach syrup:

liquids remaining from maceration

oven @ 180C

Using a heavy knife aim to cut the peaches first in half and then cutting through the stone into thin slices (some impact from above onto the blade should slice through it nicely). By cutting through the stone, the slices retain their shape well. Use a small knife to then cut out the stone from each slice.

Place in a bowl and mix well with the sugar. Cover and leave to macerate 1 hour in the fridge. If using unripe fruit then this stage can be substituted for poaching the whole fruit in syrup or macerating for longer and/or with alcohol. 

Meanwhile, roll the pastry to a 2mm thickness and cut out four individual tarts of around 5″ diameter. Place on baking parchment and use a fork to poke holes in the centre of the tart, around 5 stabs is fine.

Lay the slices onto the tart bases as desired, allowing a second for any excess moisture to drip off back into the bowl before placing. Place the tarts on a tray in the oven for 25-30minutes, checking regularly and removing when the pastry is golden.

Meanwhile, place the cream and rosemary in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and turn off the heat before it boils completely. Allow to infuse for 20 minutes.

Using a fine sieve strain the infused cream into a high-sided bowl or jug, discarding the rosemary. Add the other ingredients and whisk for 5-10 seconds with an electric whisk to combine well, soft peaks should also form.

With the tarts removed from the oven and allowed to cool on a rack for 5 minutes, add the syrup which is left in the macerating bowl to a small saucepan and on a high heat reduce until a syrupy consistency. Stirring constantly. Don’t allow to thicken too much as it has to cover four tarts and will continue to thicken whilst cooling.

To serve, place a spoonful of the mascarpone into the centre of each tart. Then, using a spoon, drizzle each tart with some of the syrup. Enjoy warm or cold.

I once saw Nigella Lawson prepare this lamb in one of her shows and as usual was swept away by the beautiful simplicity and openness with which she makes and presents her food. There seem to be a few Nigella haters out there but I have nothing but respect for a woman with no training to make cooking sexy, inviting and easy for more than one generation of men and women. Besides how could I hate someone whose criticisms include: “flirtatious”; whose programmes include “scenes of gluttony” and who can “make dinner seem like the prelude to an orgy”.  Her huge success in the UK and abroad can be measured not only in her book and cookery line sales but the affect on sales of products she  uses in her shows; goose fat sales doubling in supermarkets after she named it as an essential Christmas ingredient.

This lamb shoulder became an instant hit with my family and everyone that has eaten it. A maximum of 10 minutes preparation and then it can be left to its own devices in the oven overnight to produce meat that happily falls off the bone to form a delectable mound of tender shreds ready to be plated.

I paired it with what I can only describe as a ‘high street’ Baba Ganoush. Not far off the real thing, retaining a strong smoky aubergine flavour but toned down with a little yoghurt for the masses. For me this smoky and slightly spicy dip goes perfectly with this the rich lamb and then is cut through with fresh bursts of pomegranate and mint leaves. What better way to eat it than wrapped up in a big flatbread I thought? And so I did; this is my kind of kebab.

Of course this lamb could be served on a large platter as an alternative Summer Sunday Lunch, served with some grilled peppers and tomatoes etc or mixed through with other herbs and fruits in season.

Shredded Lamb Shoulder and Burnt Aubergine Kebabs

serves 6

recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson’s found here

For the lamb:

2 1/2kg lamb shoulder (bone in) 

1 teaspoon ras-al-hanout

1 star anise

4 shallots halved, not peeled

8 cloves garlic

1 carrot, peeled

good quality sea salt

500ml boiling water

small handful of mint

seeds of one pomegranate

oven @ 120 C

Put the water to boil. Heat a little oil in a deep roasting tin on the hob until smoking and brown the lamb on the fat side. Set aside whilst quickly adding the spices, the vegetables and a good pinch of salt to the oil, frying for 2-3 minutes.

Pour in the boiling water, this will de-glaze the pan and carefully replace the lamb fat (skin) side up this time amongst the water and vegetables. Let the water come to a simmer before turning off gas.

Tent (seal) the roasting tin well with foil and then place in the heated oven.

Now you can leave it whilst you sleep and it will be ready to eat at lunch the next day. Alternatively start in the morning (early – mid morning) and it will be ready for dinner. At this temperature and in liquid the meat won’t dry out and will be perfect after around 10 hours, give or take a few.

For a quicker cooking time, have the oven at 170C and it will be done in 5 hours.

An hour before eating, remove from the tin and leave to rest for one hour. By then you will be able to flake off the meat with a couple of forks.

Finely chop the mint and mix with the shredded lamb and pomegranate seeds. Give another good sprinkle of sea salt and serve.

*at room temperature the fat will congeal so keep warm until needed. Any leftovers can be re-heated thus melting the congealed fat.

 

 for the Baba Ganoush:

2 large aubergines (eggplants)

3 tablespoons tahini paste

100g greek yoghurt

juice of 1 lemon

3 garlic cloves, peeled, de-germed and v.finely chopped or crushed

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes

salt to taste

Place the whole aubergines directly onto the flame of a gas stove or the coals of a BBQ, turning every so often until blackened and blistered all over.  This will impart the smoky flavour.

Leave to cool, covered. Then rinse under a cold tap to remove the skins and leave the flesh to drain a couple of minutes in a colander or sieve, applying a little pressure with a spoon.

Then shred the flesh, it should come apart easily in natural segments. If there are many seeds, try to discard them. Then in a large bowl mix well with the other ingredients, adjusting to personal preference. Serve.

It was the third time in less than a week that I was removing a pot of trotters from the oven. This time I had followed almost every step exactly and I was quietly confident that this would be a success. I donned my pink marigold and tentatively reached into the pot, barely able to look as I carefully pulled up one of the three trotters that had made it to this stage. The prized skin on this ‘little hand’ as the Spanish refer to it had split, revealing the unsightly bones and cartilage beneath as if trying to escape from their soft casing. I sighed. I had said this would be the last time I attempted the trotters for as important as it is to never give up or stop trying, one must also know their limits and know when to stop and after three attempts trotters and I seemingly weren’t destined to work together.

Nevertheless, I am posting this failure for what is a blog but to tell a story, to start a discussion or to share information. Some of you may have seen my start with a pig’s head, with which I was delighted at the end result and lack of complications. Like the head, trotters were a novelty to me, I had barely read anything on them before I bought 6 on special offer at the market. Upon closer inspection I was shocked at the lack of meat on them, it was just bone and cartilage! So after a bit of reading it dawned that the skin is what is wanted here. I searched for a Spanish style preparation for them but nothing really appealed to me so I went for the most distinguished trotter recipe of them all. Koffman’s stuffed pig trotter’s filed under ‘difficult recipes for masterchefs’ and made famous by Marco Pierre White at his restaurant Harvey’s, it is very 80’s and very, very French.  This video gives such an insight into a young and aspiring Marco Pierre White (and a timid Gordon Ramsay) as well as going briefly through the recipe in a professional kitchen whereas this blog excellently details the recipe stage-by-stage.

I decided to prepare the trotters in a similar way, just changing the filling. Less French (sweetbreads, morels, chicken mousse); more Spanish (black pudding, apple, serrano ham). I was actually happy with the filling as the black pudding called Morcilla de Burgos here is wonderfully soft, well-flavoured and spiced, whilst some finely chopped caramelised apple cut through it. Plus with my deadline fast approaching for cooking through a pig, I wanted to kill two birds with one stone. I also didn’t use veal stock as suggested. This undoubtedly affected the final colour and taste of the trotter, possibly even the texture but I can’t confirm that. I instead used a chicken stock I had already made, making a veal stock required another 3 days of labour in a kitchen that also functions as a sauna at the moment.

I obviously won’t put the recipe for this but I will score it like last time:

Porkiness: I really was not a big fan of the texture of the trotter. After a 3 hour braise in alcohol and stock it was soft and silky in texture but it just felt too fatty in the mouth. There isn’t much to be said for the flavour which is largely affected by the braising liquids, so a veal stock braise would be beneficial, but I can think of far better uses for such a fine stock. The saviour was the sauce which I followed from MPW in the video linked above, adding some of the gelatinous stock that remained after cooking it produced a rich, smooth, almost syrupy like ‘jus’ which went beautifully with the mustard pomme purée I served alongside. 4/10

Inconvenience: After two attempts this dish had become more than an inconvenience and my patience was non-existent. This is a 3-day dish for any normal person and if done like Koffman not a cheap one with ingredients that could be difficult to resource. I can almost imagine the young chefs in MPW’s kitchen festering hate for their boss as they hacked their way through the thirtieth trotter of the day. You need seriously sharp knives to initially prepare the trotters or a very nice butcher; this video outlines de-boning. Despite claiming about 5 minutes per trotter my attempt was one hour for 3. Next time I’d pay a restaurant to do the work. 10/10

Gratification: I imagined that the pain and frustration of making this dish would be forgotten if I had bitten into one of the best dishes in my life. But as I sat moving what felt like (and essentially is) very soft fat around my mouth all I could think about was why did I bother. For there are far simpler preparations with crispy skins which sound far more appealing as I write this. Perhaps I had just bitten off more than I could chew this time. 3/10

It is a shame that I can’t praise pig’s trotters in the same way as their heads. In a way I also feel like I haven’t exhibited and have let down the unpopular black pudding. Anyone that has eaten this outside of a greasy spoon can perhaps join me and appreciate its complex flavours and uses so I will try to revisit them shortly. In the meantime any suggestions of offal preparations would be greatly appreciated.