Easy recipes for the newbie cook, the beginner in the kitchen, the nervous novice: we all had to start somewhere, and you can start right here.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

How to Joint a Chicken

This follows a comment on my Coq Au Vin recipe, so I thought I’d do a quick post on how to separate a chicken into its various useful parts. As always, I recommend the purchase of free-range chicken and it is often much more economical to buy a whole bird, even if you just wanted, say, the breast for a recipe, and then use the rest at a later date, perhaps freezing the other portions until needed.

Jointing a chicken is very easy, especially if you have a decent pair of poultry shears or heavy (and, of course, sharp) kitchen scissors, but you can just do it with a good knife if you go carefully.


Snip the skin where the leg joints meet the body, and pull the leg back until you feel the joint break away. Use a sharp knife to cut through the joint, and any flesh and skin until the leg comes away. Repeat the other side.

Cut along one side of the breast bone with the scissors or VERY carefully with a knife. Open the bird like a book and cut away the backbone, again, preferably with scissors. Keep the breastbone for stock.

You now have two legs and two large breast portions. You can stop here, or break the chicken down further.

Cut each leg in half at the joint. Cut each breast in two, following the line of the ribs at a suitable point – one portion on each side will include the wing, but you can separate these if you like in a similar way to the legs.

That’s it; job done, and very easy. Remember, whenever handling and preparing chicken, however good its provenance, to thoroughly wash hands, knives, scissors and surfaces and give a good squirt with anti-bacterial spray.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Le Coq Au Vin – Cockerel or Chicken Cooked in Red Wine

Originally, the true French Coq Au Vin  (sometimes incorrectly spelled as Coq A Vin or Coq O Vin) was a country recipe, using the cockerel when he was getting a bit too elderly to, ahem, perform his duties.  By then he would be a bit of a tough old bird, and needed a long, slow cooking in wine to tenderise.

Nowadays, unless you keep your own flock, cockerels are harder to come by, so you’ll probably make this with chicken, and none the worse for that.  As always, I plead with you to avoid intensively reared poultry, and use a free-range bird.  It’s not only much better for your karma (or however you measure your morality) but will actually taste immeasurably better too.

You would traditionally make this with a whole bird, jointed or not, depending on which recipe you follow, and I have done either many times, but I have been inspired by fellow food blogger Dom at Belleau Kitchen who has posted some great recipes using chicken thighs.  Chicken thighs are cheap in a “wow, that’s a bargain” way, rather than cheap and nasty: they are full of flavour and very meaty, and two will make a good portion per person.

An equal inspiration is the always wonderful Elizabeth David: she made a career out of searching out true and authentic recipes, and this is adapted from the one in her classic “French Country Cooking”, which in turn was based on a very old recipe: frankly, I think this is the best Coq Au Vin recipe you will ever find, and therefore, apart from suggesting the use of thighs, I have fiddled with it hardly at all, which is unusual for me, although I have added garlic, which was strangely absent from her recipe.
Some old recipes include the use of the bird’s blood: unless you have slaughtered your own, this is unlikely to be available.  I have never used it, so I can only guess that you would add the blood towards the end of the cooking, and that it would need a fairly careful sieving to get rid of any coagulating lumps: doesn’t sound very appealing, does it?  Elizabeth David’s recipe does not use the blood anyway, so let’s ignore it here.

There are many variations that also use lardons of bacon, perhaps, and some suitable herbs.  By all means use them if you wish, but I like the true, uncomplicated flavour you get here.

Although there are several stages to this recipe, all are very easy, so don’t let it put you off.  Take your time, open another bottle of wine, and sip away while you wait.  You can cook this solely on the stove top, or, if it’s more convenient pop it into a low-to-medium oven (gas mark 4/180C/350F) after the browning and initial cooking

Ingredients (serves four)

One good free-range chicken, jointed or left whole as you prefer, or (my suggestion) eight, good, meaty chicken thighs.
Chicken giblets, if available (you can sometimes buy them frozen, which would be fine here)
Twenty button onions, peeled and left whole
Twenty button mushrooms, of a similar size to the onions, wiped clean and kept whole
Five or six cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
One bottle of good red wine (Miss David suggests Macon, Beaujolais or Chateauneuf Du Pape) but any good, rich red wine that you like will do – it doesn’t even have to be French.  It does not have to be a wallet-buster, either, but remember the old adage that if the wine isn’t fit to drink, it isn’t fit to cook with.
Another splash of red wine for the onions (less than half a standard glass)
A glass of brandy – around half a tumbler, rather than a typical bar spirit measure
3-4 oz/85-110grams of butter
A splash or two of olive oil
The juice of one lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A pinch or two of sugar

You will also need: a good, lidded stove-proof casserole dish or similar (I use a cast-iron pot), and a large, heavy based frying pan to cook the onions and mushrooms.


Season the chicken (inside as well as out, if using a whole bird) with the salt, pepper and lemon juice.  Melt half the butter with the splash of olive oil, which will prevent the butter burning, and brown the chicken all over.  Add the whole garlic cloves around half-way through this process, allowing them to soften and take on a little colour.  Remove the garlic and keep it to one side if it shows signs of beginning to burn.  Add the glass of brandy, and flame it.  When the flames have died down, add the bottle of red wine and return the garlic if you have had to remove it.  Bring to the boil, uncovered (this evaporates off the alcohol), then reduce to a very slow simmer, add the giblets if you have them, and cover.  This is the stage at which you can transfer to the oven if you wish.

Chicken thighs or joints will need around 45 minutes – if you are using a whole bird, probably around an hour and a half.  Chicken is one of those meats that either needs the minimum cooking to bring it to the safe temperature (75C/170F) and then serving while it is still juicy, or a lo-o-o-ong slow cooking, until it is very tender and almost starting to fall apart – anything in between, and it will toughen up and be chewy.  So, the minimum times, as suggested above, or at least twice as long if you want to start it early and leave it to its own devices while you get on with the rest of your day.

Once the chicken is simmering in the wine, get on with the mushrooms and onions.
Cook the onions gently in half the remaining butter, (with another little splash of olive oil) and once they have softened and taken on a little colour, add the splash of red wine and the sugar.  Turn them gently in the pan until the sugar has melted, the wine evaporated, and the onions glazed.  Remove from the pan and reserve.

Wipe the pan, melt the remaining butter in yet another drop or two of olive oil, and gently sauté the mushrooms until they have taken on a little colour and any liquids produced from them have evaporated. Remove from the pan and keep to one side.

When the chicken is nearly ready, remove the giblets if used, and add the onions and mushrooms.  When ready, remove the chicken, and carve if you’ve used a whole bird – keep warm.  If the sauce is not quite thick enough, raise the heat and let it bubble and reduce – if you wish, add a little beurre manie, which is a paste made of equal quantities of butter and plain flour (you will only need an ounce or two/30-55grams), and let cook out for a few minutes.

Plate the chicken, and pour over the sauce.  You could serve this on a large crouton of fried bread, or with noodles, rice or almost any kind of potatoes you like.  A salad on the side would be nice, or, in the colder months, perhaps a simple veg like green beans, broccoli or peas.  You will also want some nice crusty bread to mop up the juices.

You could, of course, adapt this Coq Au Vin recipe for the slow cooker – I would still suggest cooking the onions and mushrooms separately and adding them towards the end, and do brown the chicken first: it makes all the difference to the look and flavour of the dish.

You could also easily make a vegetarian version: either use your favourite meatless chicken substitute, or veggie sausages, or use some really good mushrooms in place of the chicken: big flat field mushrooms, or Ceps, if you can find and afford them – I would still use the button mushrooms, too, as the contrast of texture and flavour will be great.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Roasted Onions Recipe

Those of you who’ve read other posts on this blog will know that I love simple.  Of course, I enjoy fancy cooking too, whether my own or someone else’s, but there is something very satisfying about dishes that are so easy to create, yet so delicious.  As my main mission on this blog is to demystify cooking and encourage everyone into the kitchen, I can hardly get closer-to-task than with this simple method of roasting onions in the oven.

You can do a couple of these, and use them as an accompaniment.  You could do a few more and turn then into a feature of the meal.  You could do a big batch, and make them into roast onion soup, or keep them in the fridge for a few days and serve them alongside cold meats, charcuterie and cheese.  You could put them in a sandwich with something else, or even on their own.

A common way for people to roast onions is to peel them and pop them in the tray with roast potatoes, or around the joint of meat.  This is fine, but sometimes the juices can run from the onions and make the spuds soggy, or overpower the flavour of the joint.  The outer layers of the onions cooked by this method also usually turn brown and leathery.  There is a better way – in fact, there are two better ways.

I’ll give you the two methods here, and the first is so easy that I’m not sure it even qualifies as a recipe!

Method one:
Take the quantity of onions you need, good, fresh and of a medium size.  Don’t peel them.  Pop them into a roasting tray or dish – you don’t need oil, or any other liquid.  Yep, that’s right, just a batch of unpeeled onions in a dry roasting tin.  Put the tray into an oven at a fairly low-to-medium heat; say gas mark 4/180C/350F and bake for two to three hours.

Once cooked, the skins will slip off quite easily, but you can help the process by snipping the stalk end with a pair of kitchen scissors.  The smell, and the flavour, is absolutely delicious – in fact, the kitchen aromas of these oven roasted onions will drive you crazy long before they are ready.

Season with salt and pepper, and a little butter.

Method two:
This is hardly more complicated, but you do have to peel the onions.  Make a little parcel of each peeled onion with a nest of aluminium kitchen foil, drizzle in a little olive oil and/or a small piece of butter, a splash of balsamic vinegar if you like, a pinch of salt and a good grind of pepper.  Some fresh chopped herbs such as sage or tarragon would be great, as would a bay leaf.  Tightly seal the foil parcel(s), and pop into the oven with temperature and timings as the first method.  You don’t even need to use a tray; you can put these directly onto the oven shelves if you wish.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Simple and Basic Scone Recipe with Sweet and Savoury Variations

I recently wrote about flatbreads, and how they are probably the simplest flour recipe there is. Scones are probably the second simplest, and almost as easy. From bag of flour to tasty treat in less than twenty minutes. Whether you are constructing a classic Devon Cream Tea, or just want some quick cheese scones for a savoury nibble you can’t really go wrong: make ‘em, don’t buy ‘em.

Once you’ve got the idea of the basic recipe, you’ll find some variations at the end, including Drop Scones and Soda Bread.

As well as the ingredients listed below, you will also need a good baking sheet or tin, and a cookie cutter – any size you like. No cookie cutter? Improvise with a clean empty food can or jar. Or buy cookie cutters – once you have realised how easy it is to make scones, there will be no holding you back.

Click here to view Kitchen Craft Cookie Cutters from Amazon

To prepare the baking tin or sheet (non-stick or otherwise): grease all over with a light coating of butter, lard, oil or other fat. Dust with flour all over, and shake off the excess.

You will also need a cake rack, grid or grill on which to cool the scones.

Preheat the oven to: Gas Mark 7/220C/425F

Basic Scone Recipe:

8oz/225gram self raising flour or plain/all purpose flour with baking powder added to the quantity suggested on the pack – it’s best to go by the manufacturer’s recommendation as some baking powders have more “rise” than others, but the quantity will be somewhere around a heaped teaspoon for this amount of flour.
A good pinch of salt (important even for sweet scones)
1oz/30g butter
Approximately 1/4 pint/.150ml milk or milk and water mixed

Optional: a little icing/confectioners sugar for dusting after cooking.

Sieve the flour with the baking powder (if used) and the salt. Rub in the butter – by all means do it in a mixer or food processor. Add the milk (or milk and water), mixing to a soft dough. You may need a little more or a little less liquid, depending on your flour and the general humidity – you are looking for a dough that holds together and rolls easily, but is not too wet and sticky. Roll out onto a lightly floured board until about 1/4inch/1/2centimetre thick. Make rounds with the cookie cutter, re-rolling spare dough until it is all used up. Put the rounds onto the prepared tin, and place in the oven for around 8-10 minutes – perhaps a little longer if you have used a big cookie cutter, or made the scones extra thick.

Once baked, leave to cool a little on a cake rack. They can be served cold, but are best when warm. Scones will just about keep for 24 hours if kept in an airtight container, but should really be eaten on the day (preferably within the hour) you make them.

Once cooled, dust with a little icing/confectioners sugar if you wish.

To serve as a Devon Cream Tea: split the scones in half, spread each half with clotted cream (whipped cream if clotted cream is not available in your area, though it will not be quite authentic) then with strawberry (or raspberry – there is some debate) jam. A Cornish Cream Tea, by the way, is jam first, then the cream. Serve with a pot of tea.

A little tip: if you want to annoy someone from Devon, call it a Devonshire Cream Tea: there is no such place as Devonshire.

Yoghurt Scone Variation: instead of milk in the dough mix, use plain live yoghurt in roughly the same quantities as above – you may need a little more or less. The yoghurt gives a nice “tang” to the finished scone, whether sweet or savoury, and the lactic acid reacts with the raising agent to give a lighter scone.

Savoury Cheese Scones:
Add two ounces/55gram grated strong cheese – a cheddar, say, or parmesan/pecorino or a mixture, plus a good pinch of cayenne pepper to the basic or yoghurt mix, and cook as above.

Sweet Scones: Add two ounces/55gram of caster/fine granulated sugar to the basic or yoghurt mix, then brush the scones with milk or beaten egg and dust with a sprinkle of sugar just before baking.

Honey and Nut Scones: Add two tablespoons/30ml/1fluid oz of honey and one ounce/30 grams of chopped walnuts to the basic or yoghurt mix.

Fruit Scones: add two ounces/55grams dried fruit such as sultanas, raisins or currants (or a mixture) to the Sweet Scone Mix. You can pre-soak the fruit in milk, brandy or rum before using, if you like.

Anything You Like Scones: once you’ve got the idea, add, well, anything you like…

Drop Scones, Girdle or Griddle Scones: double the quantity of liquid in the basic mix. Drop spoonfuls into a greased pan and fry gently, turning occasionally – the whole process will take around 6-8 minutes.

Soda Bread: omit the fat from the basic mix, and cook in one piece for around 20-30 minutes

Monday, 24 January 2011

Bread and Butter Pudding

I’ve been concentrating on the savoury stuff for a long time, but after posting the Victoria Sponge recipe the other day, I thought I’d give you another dose of the sweet stuff. Here is that great British classic, Bread and Butter Pudding.

Many people use standard “wonderbread” type sliced for this, and it works okay. As I prefer not to use that kind of “plastic” bread elsewhere, I don’t see why I should use it here. Go to a “proper” baker, buy one of their white sandwich loaves and get them to slice it in their machine for you – unless you are a samurai-master of the bread knife, you’re probably not going to get the slices thin and regular enough by hand at home.

As the Guerilla Griller, I am less concerned about quantities and specifics than I am about understanding principles and adapting them, so I’ll give you a rough guide for four and you can take it from there. A lot will depend on the size of your baking tin or dish: you want a fairly snug fit.

Ingredients: you will need, for four people

Enough slices of buttered (NOT margarined!) bread, crusts removed, to cover the bottom of your baking dish/tin in one flat layer, plus eight slices of white bread (approximately, you may need a little more or less), not too thick, also liberally buttered, crusts removed and each slice cut in half diagonally.
Three eggs
4oz/110grams white caster/fine granulated sugar
One and a half pints/860ml of good full-cream milk
A couple of handfuls of mixed dried fruit (sultanas, currants, raisins etc)
A good pinch or two of ground mixed spice

To sprinkle on top before baking:
A little more sugar (golden granulated is good here)
About a quarter of a nutmeg, freshly grated


Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4/180C/350F.

Add the sugar to the milk, and whisk well until dissolved. You shouldn’t need to warm the milk to do this, but if the sugar is stubborn, use a gentle heat and let cool completely before adding the eggs. Whisk the eggs well, and mix into the sugary milk. Add the mixed spice. Here’s the best trick – add the mixed fruit to the sugary-eggy-spicy-milk mixture and allow to soak while you prepare the bread. This soaking stops any fruit on top of the pudding burning and getting that nasty bitter taste.

Prepare the bread as in the ingredients list. Grease a baking dish/pan with butter. Make a flat layer on the base of the dish with the whole slices of bread, then add rows of the triangular pieces, point up, until the dish is filled. The whole thing will look like a kind of surrealist sculpture of a choppy sea. Using a slotted spoon, strain out the soaked dried fruit and sprinkle over, pushing most down in between the slices of bread. Now pour or ladle the milk mixture onto the bread, making sure that every slice is well lubricated.

You can take it to this stage ahead of time (even the day before) and keep in the fridge until you are ready to cook.

To cook:

Sprinkle over a little more sugar and the grated nutmeg. Put in the oven for 45minutes – one hour. Have a look after half an hour or so, and adjust the temperature if necessary. You are looking for the top to be golden and crispy, all the liquid gone, and the base to be light and fluffy – almost soufflé-like.

Serve with a little fresh cream drizzled over.

Good variations: the bread can be spread with marmalade or a good jam along with the butter – if you do this, leave it to cool for a good five minutes before eating, or you will burn your mouth! You could also go a bit posher than the typical “cake ingredient” type mixed fruit – use some chopped, dried apricots, apple, peach, mango or whatever you like, and you could also add some chopped nuts for additional taste and texture.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

How To Bake a Simple and Easy Sponge Cake – The Victoria Sandwich

Unlike in many of my other recipes and methods, you will find me a little more specific in the instructions here.   This is because baking, while still an art like all cooking,  needs a bit of precision; we are talking chemical reactions here, and a little bit more or less of something can make a profound difference to the finished cake.  However, you do still have some leeway. You cannot eliminate all the variables: how dry is your flour, how exact is your oven thermostat, how big is a medium egg?  Take note of the result, and juggle your method a little next time – perhaps a slightly longer bake at a lower temperature will work best in your oven, for example.  Fine tuning is the name of the game here, but as long as you follow the instructions reasonably carefully you will end up with a perfectly good cake on your very first attempt.  It may be kitchen science, but it ain’t rocket science!

I am suggesting you use two 7inch/18cm cake tins, each at least 1inch/3cm deep, to give you the two pieces of your sandwich.  However, you can easily use a deeper tin and slice the cake in half horizontally once cooled.  Some writers will tell you that there are dire consequences for using the wrong sized tin; in fact, there is more flexibility than they allow.  If you only have a 6inch/15cm tin, then your cake mix will be deeper, so will need a slightly longer cooking at a lower temperature.  If you have 8inch/20cm tins, then you will need less time in the oven.  You could even use square or rectangular tins.  Or go buy the seven inch tins…
To prepare your cake tin(s):  Grease thoroughly but thinly with butter, then add a spoonful or so of flour, and shake well around, tilting the tin as you go, until there is a fine dusting of flour covering all the butter.  Tip out any excess flour.  This makes a pretty good non-stick surface (and you should still do it even if you are using non-stick tins) but you can also cut a disc of greaseproof paper or baking parchment to line the bottom of the tin if you’d like to be absolutely sure.

As well as the cake tins, you will need a cake rack/grid to cool the finished cake out of its tin.

A note re vanilla: keep a vanilla pod in the jar of sugar you use for baking – this gives a lovely flavour, and you won’t need to add vanilla to the cake mix.  If you don’t have vanilla sugar, use vanilla extract for a purer, cleaner flavour – NOT anything called “vanilla essence” or “vanilla flavouring”, as these are cheap-but-nasty and do not give you the authentic flavour.


4 oz/110 grams self-raising flour, or plain/all purpose flour with baking powder added to the quantity suggested on the packet (some baking powders are more reactive than others) – probably around a teaspoon or so.
4 oz/110 grams good quality butter, preferably unsalted
4 oz/110 grams caster sugar/fine granulated sugar
2 medium-to-large eggs, beaten
A few drops of vanilla extract, if not using vanilla sugar – see note above
A pinch of salt (this brings out the sweetness and the other flavours, and will not make your cake taste salty)

For the filling:
Strawberry jam
Cream whipped to stiff peak (you can turn the bowl upside down without the cream falling out), or clotted cream

Preparation time: 5 – 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 – 30 minutes
Finishing/assembly: 2 – 3 minutes


Set the oven to gas mark 4/180C/350F, with the shelf at middle height.

Cream the butter and sugar – this means to whisk, whisk, and whisk again until the sugar and butter have blended to a pale fluffiness.  Your granny will tell you to do this by hand, which is fine if you have strong wrists.  Frankly, it is much easier to do it with an electric whisk or in a food processor.

Add roughly half the flour, sifted, and half the eggs and whisk until blended.  Add the remaining flour and eggs, the pinch of salt and the vanilla extract (if using).  Whisk again, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until thoroughly mixed and you have a light, fluffy mixture.  (Adding the flour and eggs in two stages prevents any chance of the dreaded “curdling” of the eggs – I have made literally thousands of cakes by this method, and have never had one go wrong.)

Split the mixture between the tins, smooth out with a palette knife or the back of a spoon (you don’t have to be exact, it will find its own level as it cooks), and place in the centre of the oven.  If you can’t fit both tins on the same shelf, put one tin onto the low shelf of the oven and wait ten minutes until you put in the second on the higher shelf.  Shut the oven door as gently as you can, so as not to knock any air out of the mix.  Start the timing now.  Avoid the temptation to peek – opening the oven door too early can cause the cake to fall.

After twenty minutes, it is safe to look: the cakes may be ready now, or may need a little longer.  What you are looking for is the cake to be very slightly shrinking away from the sides of the tin, the top of the cake feeling “springy” to the touch, and a skewer into the centre of the cake should come out dry and clean.  If they need a little longer, you may also take this opportunity to swap the cake from the lower shelf with the higher if necessary.

Once cooked as above, remove the cakes from their tins to a cake rack and allow to cool completely (don’t forget to peel off the greaseproof paper/baking parchment if you’ve used it.

Once cool (now is the time to cut the cake horizontally in half if you’ve had to make one thick one rather than two thin) spread one cake with jam, the other with the whipped cream and sandwich together.  Dust the top lightly with icing/confectioners sugar from a dredger or through a sieve or tea strainer.

This all sounds a bit long-winded, but it is actually very simple and intuitive: once you’ve made your first successful cake, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is, and soon be baking up a storm.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Fish Pie

There are lots of fish pies: this is fish pie UK style, in a creamy, cheesy sauce, topped with mashed potato. My benchmark for this dish is a fish pie I had in a pub in Cornwall a few years back, made with the freshest local fish; perfectly done, with no frills. Some traditional fish pie recipes include sliced or quartered boiled eggs, tomatoes, and a handful of peas or other vegetables, diced fine – I prefer without, but, as always, it’s up to you.

You can make this in individual portion-sized oven proof dishes, as it was served in the above pub, but it’s easier, and usually more convenient, to make one big one. Due to the mixture of fish required, it’s probably not worth making this dish for one or two, so I have given the rough quantities for four; multiply accordingly, depending on who you are feeding.

This pie has a mashed potato topping. If good, floury spuds are out of season where you are, then use waxy new-type potatoes, sliced quite thickly, par-boiled, layered over the fishy mixture and brushed with a little melted butter.

As always with my fish recipes, please, please, please use ethically sourced fish from sustainable stocks – your fishmonger should be able to help you here, or do a quick google for sustainable fish in your area/country.

Ingredients – for four hungry people

Two pounds/900g boned fillets of fish – a mixture of white fish, salmon, and smoked fish is ideal, with a handful or two of shelled and cleaned prawn/shrimp. For economy, ask your fishmonger for offcuts - some will sell you their own “fish pie mix” which you can go with unless you want to be in total control of the combination.
Two pounds/900g floury potatoes, for mashing – or use waxy spuds as suggested above
Two pints/1140ml full fat milk
3oz/85g plain/all purpose flour
3oz/85g butter plus a little more butter for the mashed potato, to taste
4-6oz/110-170g strong cheese, grated (quantity depending on strength, taste as you go)
A good handful of finely chopped fresh parsley, with a few sprigs reserved as a garnish, if you like
Salt and ground white pepper
Lemon wedges to garnish (optional)


Preheat oven to gas mark 5/190C/375F

Bring the milk gently to the boil, reduce to a simmer, then poach the fish in it until it is just set and starting to flake. Drain, reserving the milk. Flake the fish into the base of your oven dish(es), removing any skin and remaining bones as you go – don’t pulp the fish, leave as chunky as you can.

Peel, cut, boil and mash the potatoes with the extra butter, seasoning with salt and white pepper to taste – I prefer to go light on the salt and heavy on the pepper.

Melt the butter, and cook the flour in it for a few minutes, stirring well. Add the fishy milk gradually, bit by bit, stirring all the time, until you have a smooth sauce. Simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes, until all the raw flour taste is cooked out. (You can follow my béchamel sauce recipe here, if would like a little more detail).

Add the grated cheese and the chopped parsley to the sauce, tasting as you go. Reserve a little cheese (or grate a bit more) for sprinkling on top of the pie. Add a little salt and pepper to taste – you may not need any salt, due to the cheese and the fish itself.

Pour the sauce onto the fish, and gently stir until it is well amalgamated – don’t make this too sloppy, so you may not need all the sauce.

Top with the mashed potato – the best way is to use a palette knife, starting from the edges and working inwards. Sprinkle a little grated cheese on top – just a little, as this is a final seasoning, not a cheesy topping.

Pop into the oven for 40 minutes or so, until thoroughly cooked through and the top is taking on golden brown crusty spots. Serve, garnishing if liked with the parsley sprigs and lemon wedges.

This probably needs no accompaniment other than perhaps some fresh peas or green beans etc but you’ll certainly want some hunks of crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Leftover Roast Lamb Recipes

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll soon have come across my passion for leftovers.  Economy is one reason: why on earth should we throw good food away?  And, notice I said good food.  I’m not going to chew my way through something rugged and tasteless just to be virtuous.  When I buy a joint of meat, I’m often thinking about getting two or more meals out of it – and this is useful and clever thinking, because a large piece of meat is often better value, and cooks better in the first place; more room for the juices to flow, and less likelihood of it getting all dried up and leathery.

There is also the moral argument that I’ve mentioned before; if I’m going to eat meat, I have to be aware that it came from a living creature.  It is just wrong on so many levels to throw parts of it away.

The simplest thing you can do with leftover lamb is to make a tasty sandwich.  Nice, thin slices, hopefully still a little pink and juicy, with a blob of redcurrant jelly, mayonnaise or grainy mustard, on your favourite bread.  Easy, yet often neglected, when we wouldn’t think twice about using chicken or beef in the same way.

Or, stuff some of the lamb into split toasted pitta breads, with some salad and some chilli sauce.

Leftover cooked lamb makes a good curry; I’m not going to give recipe for that here, but you can knock a quick curry together in almost no time at all by using pre-cooked meat.

What I am going to give you is a casserole, or stew, of roast lamb leftovers.  I can’t call it a recipe, because it’s obvious that I don’t know how much meat you’ll have available, and it is as usual vague as to what you can put with it.  What have you got, what’s available in the shops, what do you like?  It’s a method, if you like, that can be infinitely adapted.  And, of course, if it’s good for leftover lamb roast, it’ll surely be a decent template for leftover beef, leftover chicken, leftover pork…

Although there is no strict definition that everyone agrees on, a casserole is made in the oven, a stew on the hob.  If making a casserole, save washing up by using a pan that can be used both on the flame and in the oven.


Remove any unappealing bits such as bones, gristle, sinew and large chunks of fat, and cut the meat into bite-sized chunks. Slice or chunky-chop some peeled root vegetables such as onion, carrot, celery and/or celeriac, turnip, swede – as I said above, whatever you like.  I love garlic, and will add quite a lot here, as it mellows out considerably in a long cooking; peel and chop roughly.  All in all,  I like about half and half veg to meat, but of course this is an ideal vehicle for making a little meat stretch a long way, so by all means use a higher ratio of vegetables.

Brown the meat in a little oil, in batches if necessary so it doesn’t crowd the pan, then set aside and keep warm.  Brown the chopped veg in the same pan with a little more oil if needed.  Return everything to the pan, and add stock, wine, water, or a combination, to cover.  Add some herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, and/or bay leaf – fresh is usually best, but this is another occasion where that old pack of dried herbs would be okay.  Add a good couple of grinds of black pepper and a pinch or two of salt.

Bring to the boil on the cooker top, then reduce to a slow simmer, either still on the hob, or in a low to medium oven.  Cook on for at least an hour, stirring occasionally, until the veg are soft.  You could easily let this bubble away for almost as long as you like, but it will be best before the veg disintegrate.

And that’s it.  Serve with mashed potato, noodles, crusty bread or as you like.

A tin or two of chopped plum tomatoes (or some very ripe, skinned, fresh ones if available, depending on the season) go very well with lamb: add after the other ingredients have been browned.  You could add beans, lentils or pearl barley to this; it’s a very open canvas.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Simple Flatbread – the Quickest Flour Recipe There Is

Flatbreads go back a long way.  A long, long way.  Probably from the moment our ancestors first learned to grind grains.  They are unleavened (made without yeast, and this example uses no other raising agents either, such as baking powder.  This easy flatbread recipe is very quick – from bag of dry flour to plate in ten to fifteen minutes.  Use the flatbreads hot, with savoury or sweet dishes.

Start with the small amount suggested here, which will give you 4 small flatbreads, or 2 large (or one enormous!) until you get the hang of it.  The dough can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator, but it’s so quick you probably won’t need to.


8oz/225g/one and a half cups plain/general purpose flour (not self raising); you can use wholemeal flour if you prefer.
A pinch or two of salt, preferably a good one such as sea salt.
Enough cold water to bring the flour together into a dough – start with about a third of the volume of the flour.
A little oil for frying

You will also need a large, heavy frying pan and something to turn the breads with.


Mix the dry ingredients, and add the water carefully until you have a slightly sticky, soft dough.  You can do this with a spoon, and then knead with your fingers, or do it by machine, for 2-3 minutes.  Then turn onto a floured board, and knead for a minute or two longer on a dusting of flour, until it’s easy to handle and not sticky.  Add more dusting flour as necessary.  Leave the dough to rest for about five minutes, longer if you like, covered with a damp cloth.

When ready to cook, separate the dough into the number of pieces you like (see above) and either flatten into patties by hand, or with a rolling pin – make them as thin as you can.

Heat the pan – start with a medium heat, and adjust up or down as necessary.  Either add a little oil to the pan, or rub a little onto each piece of dough.  Fry the breads, in batches if necessary; don’t crowd the pan– you want the breads to puff up a little and get golden-brown patches here and there, but it is vital that the flatbreads cook through, so don’t get it too hot.  Once the undersides are done, flip over and continue to cook on the other side – total time 2-3 minutes a side, depending on thickness of flatbreads and the level of heat.

When I was a kid on camping expeditions, we used to call these flatbreads “dampers”, but dampers are more properly an Australian type of soda bread.  Whatever we called them, we would also take the dough, form it into spirals round clean, green sticks, and roast them over our campfires, turning frequently – we called these “twists”.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Making Chicken Stock

I included how to make chicken stock from scratch in a previous, longer blog “Mugged by Chicken”, but I’ve been asked to “pull” the recipe, let it stand alone and go into a little more detail.  Glad to oblige.  So, first of all, what is chicken stock?

Simply, it involves nothing more than simmering the chicken carcass in water, with other flavourings and aromatics, until you have a rich, chicken flavoured liquid: stock, in other words.  On another level, it is a way of wasting nothing.  You have already cooked your chicken, but don’t throw away the bones: there is a meal there, and/or a magical ingredient for several more.

If you’ve never made stock before, you may think it is some mysterious alchemy, and too much fuss.  You may also think it takes a long time.  Well, yes, it is a mysterious alchemy,  that turns a pile of bones into a delicious and useful ingredient, and it does take quite a lot of time.  The good news is that it’s hardly any fuss at all.  The preparation time is mere minutes, and you then let it take care of itself for three or four hours, with no more than the occasional stir and checking that it is not boiling dry.

Tip: if you don’t have time to make the stock within a day or two of cooking your chicken, you can freeze the carcass until you’re ready – break it up a little to save space.  The bones can be used straight from frozen, with no need to defrost first.

Here’s what to do.


One or more chicken carcasses, broken up a little – grab all the bones off the plates too, they are going to be very well sterilised, so no problem.  Include the skin and any other bits.  Make sure you remove any “good” meat, and reserve: even pop it in the freezer for future reference.
One large carrot (or two small, or three tiny etc), peeled, topped, tailed, cut into large chunks.
One medium onion (or two small, etc) peeled, topped, tailed and halved
One or two sticks of celery, cleaned and roughly chopped or broken into bits
Three or four large cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
8-12 whole black peppercorns
A sprig or two of robust herbs, such as thyme, and three or four bay leaves



Tip the whole lot into your biggest pot, and cover with cold water.  Bring to the boil, then simmer, the heat being correct when it is hardly bubbling.  Skim off any nasty looking scum that rises to the surface.  Keep simmering for at least three hours.

Strain through a fine sieve, preferably lined with muslin or similar.  Don’t worry if you haven’t got any muslin, the results will be fine, just maybe not as crystal clear.

This stock is great as it is, as a basis for chicken soup or for any other chicken stock recipes.  You can, however, reduce it to give you a stronger stock, where just a spoonful or two will add a depth of flavour to many other meals: chicken stock is a kind of “universal flavour” and does not need to be confined to chicken recipes.

To reduce: return to the cleaned pan, and boil hard until the stock has reduced to half, or less, of its original depth (I use the lines of holes in a slotted spoon as a “depth gauge”).  This makes a very rich, jelly-like stock, more powerful, quantity for quantity, than the equivalent stock cube or bouillon powder.

Either the original, thinner stock, or the heavily reduced stock can be used right away, kept in the refrigerator for a couple of days, or frozen down for future use.  The thinner stock is best frozen in at least half pint/290ml quantities, but the reduced stock can be frozen in ice-cube trays: just one or two cubes, straight from the freezer, will give a great depth of flavour to your cooking.

Remember, you haven’t used salt in the stock-making process – this is so the stock does not become too salty as it reduces.  Add the salt when using the stock in your recipes.

I hope I have convinced you that making chicken stock from the carcass is easy, is a great resource to have in your kitchen, is the great basis for many fine recipes, eliminates waste, and saves you money in your kitchen.

A great recipe for making chicken stock while poaching chicken can be found here It’s not my recipe, although you will see the similarities.  I do like the idea of making the stock at the same time as you cook your chicken.  Be warned; you can browse this website for hours!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

How to Make the Perfect Cup of Tea

Whatever kind of tea you like, whatever method you choose, making the perfect cup of tea should always start with these two steps:
1)    Use freshly drawn water, discarding any previously boiled water already in the kettle
2)    Make the tea the moment the water comes to the boil

These steps are crucial; the water must be boiling, or the flavours won’t develop properly, yet boiling removes the oxygen in the water.  You need the oxygen to give you a fresh, lively tea, so don’t let it boil out.  If you remember nothing else from this little article, remember “fresh water, at the point of boil” and your tea will improve immeasurably. It always amazes me how many people neglect these simple points, and yet they affect the finished brew perhaps more than anything else.

The choice of tea is up to you.  There are so many alternatives; black tea, green tea, white tea.  Darjeeling, Ceylon, Assam.  Then there are the blends such as Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Afternoon Tea…  And then there are the teas that aren’t really teas at all, such as Redbush, Camomile, Peppermint etc.

I’m going to talk about typical “everyday” teas here, and you can use the same methods for whichever you choose.

So, how to brew tea?  Here’s the thing; most people don’t brew their tea for long enough, thinking that it’s going to be stewed or over-strong.  In fact, the correct brewing time is essential – different levels of flavour and complexity are released at different points of the process.  The colour tends to release first, and, if you go by colour alone, your tea will not have developed properly if you pour it when it “looks right”.

So, what is the correct brewing time for tea?  The easy answer is to look on the side of the packet.  It will tell you.  Three minutes, five minutes, even seven minutes.  These teas are concocted by Master Tea Blenders who know what they’re doing.  If they have told you that this particular tea needs to brew for four minutes, then give it four minutes; no more, and no less.  If you have gone to a posh emporium, and are having your loose tea weighed out for you, then ask them in the shop how long it should brew: if they don’t know, you’re in the wrong place.

Which brings us to the thorny question of loose tea v. teabags.  Back in the “old days” it used to be said that teabags were filled with the sweepings from the floor where the loose teas were blended.  Whether or not this was so, nowadays teabags outsell loose tea by a huge multiple, so, if anything, the converse is more likely to be true.  Not that I’m suggesting it is, of course.

Generally, the tea in teabags is cut finer than the tea sold loose, so it can develop its colour and flavour more quickly, hence, probably, the “dust from the floor” story.  Remembering that the Tea Blenders know what they’re doing, you should therefore be able to get a perfectly decent cuppa from teabags.  However, the tea aficionados are probably correct in that loose tea will ultimately give you a finer (in the other sense of the word) brew, plus of course, you have more control over the amount you use, which will also influence strength, colour and flavour.

Personally, I like the tea I make from my favourite brand of teabags.  However, I also use loose tea when I’m in the mood for something perhaps a little more “refined”.  There is something immensely soothing about the ritual of making tea in the pot.

With either type of tea, there is one further point: do not stir, squeeze or otherwise agitate your tea, be it loose or in a bag, until just before pouring, or just before pulling the bag from the mug.  Stirring too early will release those “overbrewed and stewed” flavours that we want to avoid.

Teabag tea:

Often called “builder’s tea,” and usually made directly in the mug, it should be simplicity itself.  As long as you follow the rules I have given you above, it will produce a good, satisfying brew.

You will need, per person:
One nice big mug
One tea bag of your choice
Freshly drawn water at the point of boil
Milk and sugar to personal preference

Place the bag in the mug, pour on the boiling water, leave to brew for the time given in the instructions on the packet.  One quick stir and squeeze, then remove the bag from the mug, and add sugar and milk as you like.

Note: do not put the milk in the mug until the tea has brewed.  It would cool the water, and therefore negate the benefit of using it freshly boiled.

Tea in the pot: (we’re being civilised here, so why not get out your nice china or porcelain cups?)

You will need:
A nice teapot (and maybe a tea cosy or towel to keep it warm while the tea brews)
A tea strainer
One spoon of loose tea of your choice per person, plus the famous “one for the pot”.
Freshly drawn water at the point of boil
Milk and sugar to personal preference

Warm the pot; as you don’t want to delay pouring the freshly boiling water onto your tea, either use a good splash of water before the kettle has quite come to the boil, or use water from the hot tap.  Swirl it around in the pot, then discard.

Measure your loose tea into the warmed pot; as mentioned above, one spoon per person and one for the pot is the tried and tested quantity.  You are free, of course, to adjust this quantity to your own taste.  Pour in the freshly drawn water as it comes to full boil.  Leave the tea to brew for the time given on the packet, or as recommended by your “purveyor of fine teas”.  Once brewed fully, pour through a strainer into your cups.

Now comes the question of the milk, and it’s another thorny one.  Milk or tea into the cup first?  And full fat, semi skimmed, or skimmed (or no milk at all, of course).

The arguments are that if you put the milk in last, the temperature of the tea will scald it, producing a cooked milk taste that just isn’t right in tea.  On the other hand, if you put the milk in first, it is more gradually introduced to the hot tea, and therefore will not scald, but how can you be sure to get the colour right?

And some say that full fat milk is too creamy, therefore skimmed or semi skimmed produces a fresher cup of tea.  Others say that you have to use more of the skimmed or semi skimmed milk to get the right colour, so you may as well use the full fat milk in the first place.

For the record, I tend to put the milk in last, and usually use full fat, but I’m truly not that bothered one way or the other.

A note on teabag strength.  The large teabags sold in Britain and Ireland can produce a tea that is too strong for some if brewed in a mug.  Conversely, the small “teabags on a string” sold elsewhere in the world can be too weak.  One solution is to combine the two methods, and use teabags in a teapot.  You can use more of the little bags to get the strength you like, or use a bit more water for the bigger ones.

Finally, if you follow the guide above, you’ll come up with a great cup of tea, but at the end of it all, making perfect tea is down to personal taste.  A friend of mine puts a teabag in a mug, pours on the water, and immediately removes the bag without squeezing or stirring.  Taken without milk, it’s right for her.  Say no more.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

How To Cook The Perfect Roast Chicken

The thought of roast chicken is enough to get your gastric juices flowing; the reality sometimes doesn’t come up to scratch.  No-one wants undercooked chicken; even if we could ignore the health implications (which of course we shouldn’t), raw or semi-cooked chicken doesn’t have the appeal of a pink slice of beef or lamb.  So, knowing that chicken must be thoroughly cooked, far too many people overcook it, ending up with dry slices of breast and legs burned at the extremities.

There is a method, though, that ensures that the bird is properly cooked for safety and taste, while remaining juicy, moist and downright chicken-ey.  I’ll take you through it, step by step.  Don’t worry, it’s pretty simple.

You will, of course, start with a good chicken; at least free-range and preferably organically reared.  Yes, this will cost you two to three times the price of an intensively reared chicken, and so it should.  But my view is that the cheap chicken is actually not chicken at all, and if you buy one of these you are actually being conned out of your hard-earned cash.  Good chicken is a treat, if not a luxury; far better to have the real thing now and again, rather than a rubbery, tasteless one every week.  I explore the subject in more depth here.

Now, I don’t know how many people you need to feed, and therefore how big your chicken will be: that’s why I won’t give you exact timings, but I will tell you how to know when it is right.

As well as your good chicken, you will need:
Some soft butter, say a couple of ounces/55g
Chopped herbs (tarragon is great with chicken, but you could even use that pack of dried mixed herbs you have in the back of your cupboard, provided they haven’t gone too stale)
Freshly ground black pepper
A few quarters or chunks of lemon or orange (optional)


Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 7/220C/425F.  Have ready an oven tray or pan, preferably with a grid, trivet, or even a suitable sized cake rack, so the chicken won’t steep in it’s juices as it cooks.  If you don’t have a suitable grid, don’t worry too much; it’s a nice touch but not essential.

Here’s the crucial bit: you need to separate the legs from the rest of the chicken.  To do this,  remove any string or trussing from the chicken, pull a leg away from the body, make a slit in the skin with a sharp knife, and continue to pull back and twist the leg until you feel the joint start to give way.  Go down with your knife and cut through the joint, then through any flesh or skin until you can pull the leg away completely.  Repeat with the other leg.  If you are not confident, or a little squeamish, you could ask your butcher to do this for you.

This trick is the secret to the perfect roast chicken: by separating the legs, it ensures that the heat can get where it's needed, and all parts will cook evenly.  Leaving the legs on means that by the time the heat has penetrated to the thick part of the thigh and the breast, the rest will be overcooked and dried out.

Mix the herbs, salt and pepper with the softened butter and rub all over the chicken body and legs.  Place a couple of citrus quarters (if using) in the cavity.  This adds moisture and a subtle flavour to the finished roast.  You are not stuffing the bird in any other way, and it is important that the hot air can get into the bird, so the citrus should be loose and leave plenty of gaps.

Now, place the chicken, breast side down, on the grid, if using, or directly in the pan.  Put the legs alongside, but preferably not touching.  Cover the whole thing with a layer or two of kitchen foil, sealed tightly at the edges of the pan, and pop into the preheated oven.

Now, this is where the size of your bird enters into the equation; obviously, a big chicken will take longer to cook than a small one.

After about an hour, remove the foil, and turn the chicken breast side up.  This rotation of the chicken allows the juices to flow through the bird.  Now put the tray back into the oven, so the chicken can finish cooking, and the skin become a lovely golden brown.  The aromas of roasting, herby, buttery chicken will have you wishing the clock forward so that you can tuck in.  You must be patient.

Test the chicken for done-ness after perhaps fifteen to twenty minutes.  Use a probe thermometer, and make sure that the “coldest” spot you can find is at 75C/170F.  The sooner you can catch the chicken after it has reached that temperature, the moister and juicier it will be.  If you don’t have a probe thermometer, poke into the thickest parts with a skewer or sharp knife, right down to the bone: the juices should run clear – if there is any trace of blood, put it back in the oven for a while.  The legs may be done by now, so remove them to a warm place if necessary.

Once the chicken is cooked, you have to restrain yourself from immediately carving into it.  Put it in a warm place to rest for at least twenty minutes.  This resting period again allows the juices to flow back through the chicken, and really does make a difference.

While it is resting, you can be making a gravy with the pan juices, and adding the finishing touches to the rest of the meal.

A nice addition to the above is to scatter some unpeeled garlic cloves (as few or as many as you like) both into the pan and inside the bird with the citrus.  They can be discarded after cooking, or squeezed out of their papery skins and either added to the gravy, or used as a condiment for the meal; they will have developed a lovely toasty, almost toffee-like, flavour and consistency – any harsh raw garlic taste will be long gone.

Do remember to keep the carcass and any odd bones from the plates to make a stock.  You may also like to have a look at my recipe and method for the perfect roast potato here.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The Ultimate Recipe

Hmm, first time in over a month that I missed a day posting on here.  When I first started, I had intended to post maybe two or three times a week, but I got on a bit of a run there, for a while.  Whoah, horsey!  Don't worry, gentle reader, there is plenty more to come, just not maybe each and every day.  Feel free to subscribe, then you'll make sure you never miss a post.

Anyway, in my other life away from the pots and pans, you'll often find me with a guitar in hand and a microphone in my face, and it has been a very musical couple of days, hence the lack of Guerilla Griller action.  I have, though, found the time to come up with what I call How to Cook (Almost) Anything - The Ultimate Recipe, but for a bit of variety, and to explore new pastures, I have posted it here for a change of scenery.

Don't worry, though; I'll still be here, posting up new recipes, hints, cooking tips and techniques.  (Almost) every day.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Vanilla Ice Cream with Sweet Chilli Sauce

Not so much a recipe today, as an unusual dessert idea.  This is a combination that won’t appeal to everyone, but I urge you to give it a try: those that like it will REALLY like it.  It works by contrast, and in that the best things to mellow chilli heat are sweetness, coldness and dairy.  There is also a nice visual element too, as the sweet chilli sauce resembles the more familiar raspberry or strawberry sauces or coulis that you may expect to find here.

If you make your own ice cream, all the better, but otherwise choose a very good quality shop-bought one.  Likewise, you may make my Homemade Chilli Sauce, or use a proprietary brand; either use a sweet chilli sauce, such as Thai, or sweeten other types with a little sugar, honey or stock syrup before using.

No ingredients or recipe, as such, just the Method:

One scoop or two of very good vanilla ice cream per person
Sweet chilli sauce drizzled over, quantity dependent on bravery


Saturday, 8 January 2011

Fish and Lentil Soup Recipe

This is not a recipe for a fish soup in the light Mediterranean or Asian style – lentils form the body, the fish adds more flavour, and it is the type of warming, filling soup that sticks to your ribs and demands some crusty bread to mop it up.

This homemade lentil soup with fish will beat anything you can buy in a tin, as indeed will all homemade soups.  It should come as no surprise that I am posting this the day after my Easy Poached Fish recipe: I mentioned that I would be serving it with lentils, and ended up with leftovers of both – I love leftovers recipes.  If you don’t have leftovers, you can make it from scratch, referring to two of my previously posted recipes.

Timing: if using leftovers (or canned lentils), around ten minutes.  If starting from scratch, about an hour – mainly taken up by the lentil cooking time.

Ingredients: (serves four)

8oz/225g (pre-cooked weight) quantity of cooked lentils as in this recipe.  Or you could use canned lentils, total quantity 1lb/450g.
1 or 2 poached fish fillets, any kind, as in this recipe, skins removed.
Boiling water
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced/crushed (even if you used garlic in original lentil cooking, a bit of fresh garlic added here towards the end of the cooking adds a nice zing to the soup)
Salt and pepper if necessary

Some crusty bread, or rolls: it’s almost compulsory with this kind of soup.


Simmer the cooked lentils in a pan and add enough boiling water to loosen.  Even if you thought your lentils were already fully cooked, they seem to have the ability to soak up an unlimited amount of liquid, so be prepared to top up the water as you go.   Once the lentils are really breaking up, add the minced garlic then either tip the contents of the pan into a blender/food processor and whiz until fairly smooth (a bit of texture is good, though), then return to the pan, or use a stick blender directly in the pan.

Continue to simmer for a few minutes to cook out the raw garlic.  You’ll probably need to add a little more boiling water now, to get the soup to the consistency you like (I think it should be fairly thick, but it’s your choice).  Flake the fish into the soup, removing any last bones as you go, and allow to warm through.  Here you have the choice of blending again, or leaving the flakes of fish; your call.

Add more water if necessary and check for seasoning.  Serve with the crusty bread.

Good Variations:

You could add some chopped herbs, either blended in or as a garnish when serving, a squeeze or two of lemon juice, a little milk or cream, chopped chilli.  Ground cumin goes very well with lentils.  Use part or all fish stock instead of water, if you have it.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Easy Poached Fish Recipe

This is one of the simplest ways to cook fish that you can have in your cooking repertoire.  It’s so quick that the only danger is that you overcook the fish – and even then, it’s fairly tolerant; you can leave the fish waiting for a few minutes in its poaching water if the rest of the meal isn’t quite ready.  Do try, though, to be brave and accurate, only cooking the fish for the merest minimum, until it is just set.

Hopefully, you will realise that this is a fresh fish recipe; the fresher the better.  Don’t use frozen fish, or something lurking at the back of the supermarket chill cabinet – if you don’t catch it yourself, or have a friend to do that for you, make friends with your local fishmonger.  They will do all the nasty bits, like cleaning, scaling, trimming and boning – all the things that put people off.

There are any number of accompaniments you could have with this meal; baby new potatoes and peas, mashed potato and carrots, a salad and crusty bread, rice and stir fried veg.  I shall be having mine tonight on a bed of lentils, which is a great combination.


Per person - one fillet of fish, 6-8oz/170-225g, any kind you like (do make sure they are sourced from sustainable stocks – a quick Google for your area will tell you the ones to avoid).

A good pinch or two of salt, and a good pinch or two of crushed black peppercorns
A bay leaf or two  (or fresh dill is great for salmon, trout etc)
A slice or two of lemon to add to the poaching water, plus another to squeeze over your fish on the plate if you like

A pan large enough to hold the fish – a frying pan is ideal, as it’s easy to turn the fish.
Enough water to cover the fish in the pan.
A fish slice/egg flipper or palette knife to turn and serve the fish.


Bring the water to the boil with the salt, pepper, bay leaf and lemon.  Immediately turn down to the lowest simmer.  Put the fish in, skin side down.  Let it poach gently for only a  minute or two, then turn the fish so it is skin side up.  Depending on the thickness or your fillet, it could be ready in as little as another five minutes.  Check by lifting a piece of fish out, and see if the flakes are set and will separate, or, if it’s not a flaky fish, that it feels firm but tender to the touch.

Serve at once.

As I said above, the fish is ready so quickly that there can be a tendency to overcook it just to “be sure.”   The absolute minimum cooking time gives you the best flavour and texture.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Stir Fry Chicken Recipe

I’m getting a bit of a queue of recipe requests at the moment, and will do my best to get to them in the next few days; here I’m going to continue on the theme of healthy, but sustaining recipes for the cold winter days – although this particular dish is good at any time of year.

This chicken stir fry recipe is so quick, easy and simple that it will be ready almost before you have warmed the plates, laid the table and thought about what to do with the rest of the evening.

You could easily substitute a fairly tender bit of steak (rump, maybe rather than the more costly but less flavoursome fillet), pork, lamb, prawn/shrimp, or pretty much anything you like.  If you’re vegetarian, substitute tofu, nuts, or another protein that you enjoy.

Serve with rice or noodles, or, if you’re going the low carb/paleo diet route, how about on a nice pile of steamed pak choi or cabbage, perhaps dressed with soy sauce and sesame oil?

A stir fry is one of those meals where you do have to have everything prepared beforehand; have everything peeled, chopped, in reach and ready to go before you start.

Stir Fry Chicken


4-6oz/110-170g chicken, diced into bite-sized pieces, per person
2-3oz/55-85g mushrooms, chopped or sliced if large, per person
1 spring onion/scallion sliced into rounds, green and white parts, per person
1 clove garlic, crushed or diced, per person
Fresh ginger, shredded or diced fine, same quantity as garlic
A splash or two of soy sauce, to your preference and taste
A little oil, for stir frying – groundnut/peanut oil is ideal, as the flavour is neutral and will take the high temperature; olive oil, for example, will burn.
A small dash of sesame oil, to add at the end, for flavour; unless you really like it, sesame oil is too strong to use for the frying.

A splash or two of water, as needed (see method)

Optional: fresh chilli finely diced, or a splash of chilli sauce, homemade or shopbought, as much or little as you like
Also optional: you could also add a pinch or two of five spice powder, or any other Asian/Chinese flavouring/aromatic you like and have to hand.


Have a warm bowl ready.  Heat a wok or large frying pan to as high a temperature as you dare – it should be smoking.  Add a splash of oil, swirl around, and add the chicken – if you are cooking a lot, you may need to do it in batches.  Stir, stir and keep stirring – I use a slotted spoon, but you can use special wok tools if you have them.  The chicken pieces will quickly turn white on the outsides.  Keep them moving.  After only a few minutes, five at most, the chicken will be perfect.  Check with a probe thermometer (75C/165F), or cut the thickest piece in half to check that it is white all the way through.  Don’t overcook the chicken – catch it when it’s “just done” and still juicy.  Remove the chicken to the warm bowl.

If necessary, add a little more oil, then add the mushrooms, onions, garlic, ginger, and chilli if using.  Stir fry frantically for a minute or two.  Don’t let the garlic burn.  If the veg are still looking a little undercooked, add a splash of water – this will very quickly steam through the vegetables.   Return the chicken to the wok/pan, add the soy, sesame oil, and any other flavourings.  Stir well for a minute or two until the chicken is thoroughly reheated.  If necessary, and things are starting to stick, add a little more water, and let it bubble down.  Taste, add salt and pepper as required, and serve immediately.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Eat Healthy for the New Year Diet and Detox

A Fruity Breakfast and a Vegetable and Tomato Bake

I’ve been asked to provide some healthy meal ideas as an antidote to the post-Christmas binge.  We’re probably all a bit sluggish and jaded at this time of year, with our waistlines bulging a bit as we return to work after the break.  For many of us, though, this is a cold time, and we still need something warming, filling and comforting, so the temptation is to turn to yet more stodge for the winter fuel.

I too, will be looking to the rib-sticking stews, the casseroles with dumplings, the creamy pasta dishes, and I will post up some recipes for those here in the coming weeks.  But I also yearn for something equally comforting and tasty that will not leave me feeling like I’ve just eaten a bucket of cement.  And that’s when I turn to the fruit and vegetables.

There is no easier way of eating healthy meals, and to get healthy meal ideas, than to focus on the vegetables.  Those of us who eat meat often just see the veg as a side dish, a mere support player to the main event, and are missing a trick.  Put the fruit and vegetables at centre stage, for a change.

I also think there is a certain amount of sense in the increasingly popular Paleo, low carb and low G.I. diet ideas.  The scientific jury is still out, despite the vociferous supporters of such eating plans, but there is a logic to the idea that we are physically no different to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and therefore we should eat pretty much what they ate, and avoid what they didn’t.  Most of the heavy, starchy carbs simply were not available to our forebears: either such crops were not yet developed and cultivated, or they needed processing and cooking techniques that were not developed before the Neolithic.  So, out go the flour and corn based foods such as pasta and bread, no rice, no potatoes etc.

Now, I am never going to completely avoid those last items, but there is no doubt that I lose weight, have more energy and a bit more zing in my step when I cut back on them.

So, rather than the cereal or the toast and marmalade, try this as a healthy breakfast that will reboot your sluggish system, and give you loads of energy and goodness for the morning.

A Fruity Breakfast

Various fruits, your choice, such as banana, apple, pear, kiwi, grapes, melon, orange/satsuma/clementine.  Whatever you like, whatever good that’s available.  Peel and cut into bite sized chunks as necessary.  Put into a bowl with a little thick, live plain yoghurt.  Enjoy.  Simple, easy and a great start to any day.

Vegetable and Tomato Bake

Now for a supper dish, focusing as promised on the vegetables.  You can keep this completely vegetarian, or use it as a side dish to a meat meal; if you do use it as a side, though, put as much love, care and attention into it as you would the meat.  I have given a couple of alternative toppings, one with meat, one with breadcrumbs, one with cheese, which again you can use or not for pure veggie/low carb/low fat or whatever you like.

As ever, vary the quantities depending on how many you have eating, and by all means substitute other veg if you prefer them, or if something I suggest below is not available.

Any leftovers keep well for a few days in the fridge (or a few months in the freezer) and, if anything, will taste even better when reheated.


Two large aubergines, unpeeled, quartered lengthwise and cut into the shape and size of large lemon wedges (or any shape you like, as long as all the chunks are roughly the same size)
Two large courgettes, ends cut off, unpeeled and cut to a similar size as the aubergine
One or two large onions, peeled and cut into quarters or eighths, or a couple of handfuls of button onions, peeled and left whole (drop for a few seconds into boiling water to make the peeling easier)
Three or four cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
About a pound/450g of ripe, peeled chopped tomatoes (as always, avoid the supermarket hothouse varieties, and use a can or two from the storecupboard if really good fresh ones are not available)
A pinch or two of sugar if your tomatoes are more sharp than sweet (taste to find out)
About half a pound/225g mushrooms, any type, with the button ones left whole, and the larger ones cut into large chunks or slices.
The juice and zest of a lemon (or two)
A sprig or two of good, robust herbs such as thyme or rosemary, and two or three bayleaves.  A handful or so of fresh basil leaves, if available, to stir in at the end of the cooking – don’t use dried if fresh is not available, just do without.
One or two fresh chillies, finely chopped, or a good dash or two of chilli sauce (optional – if you don’t want the heat, leave out)
A little olive oil for the initial frying
Plenty of salt and pepper

The Toppings: use alone, in combination, or leave out completely.

Two or three rashers of bacon, fried or grilled until crisp, then chopped or crumbled
A handful or two of breadcrumbs
A handful or two of grated cheese of your choice, such as a good cheddar – about half the amount if using a very strong cheese such as parmesan or grana padano


It used to be common to salt aubergines before use to draw out any bitter flavours.  Modern varieties tend not to be bitter (although you can still get the odd rogue one) but the salting process does help to draw out some of the excess liquid.  So, place your cut aubergine and courgette chunks in a sieve or colander over a bowl or in the sink, sprinkle with a good quantity of salt, and leave to drain for half an hour or so.  Rinse off the salt, and pat dry with a suitable cloth.

If you have a pot that can be used on the hob and in the oven, you’ve saved on the washing up – I have an old, cast iron pot that is ideal for this.  If not, start the cooking in a large frying pan or saucepan, and tip into a suitable oven dish to finish.

Gently sweat the onion, mushrooms, aubergine and courgette in the olive oil  Keep cooking for about ten minutes or so until they start to take on a little colour and any watery juices exuded by the veg have evaporated.  Add the chillies, if using, and the garlic, and stir around for another couple of minutes – don’t let the garlic burn.  Now add the tomatoes, with the sugar if needed, the herbs except the basil, the lemon juice and zest (or, if you are going to top with breadcrumbs, mix the zest in with them for later), and season with salt and pepper.

If necessary, transfer the whole lot into an oven dish or casserole, or use your stove top pot if oven proof, and bake in a medium oven (gas mark 4/180C/350F) for around forty minutes, until the veg is cooked but not in a state of collapse.  This is a well-mannered dish, and you can easily turn down the oven and let it tick away more slowly if you like.

Remove from the oven and taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary.  Add the shredded basil leaves now, if using, and stir in well.

If you have decided not to use a topping, serve immediately.  If you are using the toppings, turn the oven up to gas mark 7/220C/425F, or turn on your grill to full.  Sprinkle on the topping(s) of your choice and either return to the oven or pop under the grill: it will only take a few minutes for the bacon to heat through, the cheese to melt, and the breadcrumbs (with lemon zest) to develop a golden crust, so go carefully – don’t turn your back.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Home Cooked British Traditional Fish and Chips

Cod and haddock are the traditional fish of choice for this dish, but there are concerns about sustainability and over-fishing; please consider this when buying your fish.  In the UK, gurnard and pollack are currently a good choice.  Consult your fishmonger (or the internet) for ethically sourced fish in your area.  And do use fresh fish – a defrosted previously frozen fillet will be tasteless, and give a “cotton wool” texture.

Also, please do not attempt this in the old-fashioned “house fire waiting to happen” chip pan full of boiling oil on the hob.  I once saw Ken Hom do a sketch on TV, cooking fish and chips at a fire station in a wok full of oil that teetered on a gas burner.  You could just see the crowd of firefighters tensing, while grinning for the cameras, waiting for the flames, and desperate to say “Don’t try this at home!”   Instead, use an electric, thermostatically controlled deep fat fryer.  I use a 3L stainless steel machine, which doesn’t take up too much worktop space, and stores away neatly (when cold) in the cupboard.

A note for non-UK readers: when the British talk about chips, we mean a thicker, chunkier version of French Fries.  Full instructions below.


The fish – 6-8oz/170-225g white fish fillet, from sustainable stocks, skin on, per person
The chips – about 8oz/225g raw weight of chips (cut from floury potatoes) per person
The batter – 8oz/225 gram self raising flour (important), a pinch of ground turmeric powder (optional), plenty of salt and ground white pepper,  enough cold water to mix to a coating consistency (see method).  One tablespoon/15ml/1fl oz malt vinegar.
(Or try Beer Batter – see very end)

Also, enough plain flour, liberally seasoned with salt and pepper, in a dish, to coat the fillets before battering – this helps the batter to cling to the fish
A large pan of boiling water
Oil for deep frying – see second paragraph above for safety advice


The chips – choose fairly large, floury potatoes.  Peel, then cut chips; we want old-fashioned chunky chips here, so try to get them about 4in/10cm long, and 0.5in/1.5cm deep and wide.  If you want to be cheffy, you can get them to an exactly uniform size, and square off the ends.

Step one – tip the raw chips into boiling water, reduce to simmer, watch carefully; when they are just starting to soften, and can be penetrated by a sharp knife/skewer, but before they become fragile and start to fall apart, drain and plunge immediately into cold water to stop any further cooking.  Dry thoroughly with a cloth, and leave to go cold.

Step two – heat oil to 140C/275F.  Lower chips in the fryer basket and let cook for five to ten minutes.  After five minutes or so, remove a chip and “taste test” it.  At this stage it should be fluffy inside, but not particularly crispy on the outside (this comes at the next stage) – if the chip is not fluffy, give them a little longer, then repeat the taste test until satisfied.

Step three – raise oil temperature to full blast; depending on your machine, this will probably be around the 190C/375F mark.  Return chips to hot oil, shaking and agitating now and again, until the chips are golden and crispy, and will make a “rustling” noise when you lift the basket to shake off excess oil.

Note: you can omit step one, and compensate by giving the chips at step two a little longer to cook and soften.  You are, however, going to get a fluffier, crispier chip by doing all three stages.   For convenience, you can do step one way ahead and refrigerate until ready.

The batter – mix all the dry ingredients.  The turmeric, although optional, adds a nice depth of colour to the cooked batter.  Whisk thoroughly by hand or machine, adding the water carefully – it is impossible to say how much to use, as flour varies so much in its capacity to take up fluids.  What you are looking for is a consistency somewhere between double and single cream.  Frankly, the best test is to dip your finger in it, and see that the batter clings to your digit.  Don’t worry about any little lumps and bumps in the batter, these all add to the character.

Add the vinegar, whisking well, just before you are ready to coat and fry the fish – the acid in the vinegar reacts with the bicarbonate of soda in the self-raising flour, and makes for a lovely, airy-yet crisp cooked result.

Cooking the fish: Oil temperature to 190C/375F, as for chips step three.  Dust the fillets in the seasoned flour, then dip into the batter.  Immediately, and carefully, lay the fillet into the hot oil away from you so you don’t splash yourself.  The basket in the fryer should be down at this stage.  After a second or two, give the basket handle a good shake, so the batter doesn’t cling to the mesh and the fish comes free.  You probably won’t want to do more than two fillets of fish at a time, or they will be too crammed in, won’t cook properly, and will stick together.

Continue to fry for six to seven minutes, depending on the thickness of your fillets.  After a couple of minutes, the fish will tend to rise to the surface, indicating that the batter is sealed and the air bubbles are expanding.  Using tongs, turn the fish occasionally.  When the batter is a nice golden brown all over, the fish is ready.

Remove from the fryer, and leave to drain.

How to get it all to your table, piping hot, when using a single domestic-type deep fat fryer.

Cook the chips as step one (remember, this can be done well in advance, even the day before) and step two.  Tip the chips into a bowl, cover with a towel and fry the fish as above.  When the fish is ready, remove to a rack in an suitable heat proof dish or tray, and rest in a warm oven.  Cook the chips as step three, shake off excess oil, then tip into a warm bowl.  Immediately return the fish to the hot oil, for only 30 seconds to one minute, which will ensure the batter is as crisp as possible.

Plate the chips, and pop a fish fillet on top of each pile of chips.  Add extras and garnishes such as a grilled tomato, peas (mushy or otherwise), tartare sauce, tomato sauce, a sprig of parsley, a lemon wedge, vinegar and more salt at your preference.

This meal will be the fantasy fish and chips that you’ve always wanted, but sadly, rarely get nowadays from a fish shop – all too often we are served tasteless once-frozen fish in a soggy batter, and lacklustre chips, probably also from a frozen bag.  If you have a good local chippy, treasure it, use it, and, if necessary, nag them about sustainable alternatives.

On the ethically-sourced fish note, I went to a fish and chip shop a few years back, and asked what they had apart from cod and haddock, as, I said, I was concerned about the sustainability, over-fishing, and general decline of the fish stocks.  “Don’t worry,” I was told, “We’ll always be able to get cod and haddock”, rather missing the point, I feel.

Note: Beer Batter.  This is another traditional batter used for fish.  If you’d like to try it as an alternative, follow the batter recipe given above, but substitute beer for the water.  Mix just before you are ready to use.  You will not need to add any vinegar, as the beer will react with the bicarbonate in the flour to aerate it.  Any alcohol will be cooked out by the frying process.