Beef shin, miso, ginger and chilli stew

Buying a small-sized cast iron casserole dish is very extravagant. If you're going to spaff £100 on a pot, you may as well make it a big one, right? More pan for your buck, make stew for days. Herein lies the problem. Unless you regularly feed a crowd, your pricey pot probably won't get much air time. It'll stoutly occupy a magnificent quota of cupboard space, patiently waiting for bonfire night or a wintry dinner party.

What you need, is a Chinese* clay pot. Chinese clay pots are great for 2-4 person braises, go straight from hob to oven (hurrah) and, importantly, are cheap as chips to buy - I have three including this one, which is available for under a tenner delivered right to your door, and is perfect for 500-700g of meat plus veggies and stock.

*or Thai, or Vietnamese...many cuisines have a form of claypot cooking, as evidenced in this Wikipedia entry. The Moroccan tagine is probably the one with which we're most familiar, but the pointy lid is a bit of a pain to store. 

Anyway, here's a recipe, which is delicious - meat, heat, sweet, sour, salty and savoury. On the off chance you don't have any dried porcini mushrooms hanging around, substitute another dried mushroom or use a stock cube (beef or mushroom). Serve with rice, crispy shallots and pickled vegetables - pictured below is one of Eaten Alive's fantastic new sauerkrauts, which launch in the next couple of months. If you want to try their gear in the meantime, their exceptional kimchi is served at Chick 'n' Sours and is available from a handful of retailers too (Mother Earth, Earth Natural Foods, HG Walter, De Beauvoir Deli, Palm 2, Portobello Wholefoods).

Disclaimer bit: no, I'm not being paid by Big Kimchi, yes, they are mates, yes, their products are great - give them a whirl if you come across them. I haven't been paid to say anything about clay pots either, I just like mine and the shop linked above is where my mum did Chinese cookery lessons back in the 80s.

This recipe serves 3-4 with aforementioned sides.

Ingredients

650g boneless beef shin

2tbsp cornflour

1tsp fine salt

1 white onion

3 spring onions

1tsp dried chilli flakes

20g dried porcini mushrooms

1tbsp miso paste, around 35g

6 slices of ginger

1 star anise

4tsp Demerara sugar

2tbsp rice or white wine vinegar

1. Heat the oven to 150°C. Cut the beef shin into large (4-5cm) chunks. Mix the cornflour with the salt and coat the beef. Sear in oil over a high heat until browned, set to one side.

2.  Finely slice the white onion and cut the spring onions into 3cm batons. Heat a little oil in your claypot (or a medium-sized casserole) over a gentle heat and fry both kinds of onions and dried chilli flakes for ten minutes. Rehydrate the porcini mushrooms in 500ml boiling water (or make 500ml stock from a cube).

3. Add the beef shin, mushrooms and their liquor, miso paste, ginger and star anise to the pot. Top up with water (if required) to ensure that everything is well covered, add the lid, and bake in the oven for two hours.

4. When the two hours is up, remove the pot from the oven, add the sugar and vinegar and stir well. The meat probably won't be super tender yet, but don't panic. Replace the lid, return the pot to the oven and cook for the further 90 minutes. 

5. When the cook time is up, remove the pot from the oven and allow to stand for 20 minutes - this is when the meat will yield. Shred the beef, and taste the stew for seasoning, adding a little more salt, sugar or vinegar as you like. Serve. 

On start-ups, small shops and the anti-snobbery brigade

When we talk about success within start-ups, we usually refer to the hyperactive tech-world merry-go-round that is raising capital, pivoting through a sequence of disruptive marketing strategies and eventual ascension to yay-we-sold heaven. That place where entre-WON-neurs are anointed with a Twitter blue tick, wads of cash and public speaking engagements where they talk about raising capital, the power of disruptive marketing and how to build a business for sale.

Given that 90% of start-ups 'fail', these measures of success are about as fair and realistic as saying that every kid who sang in a school choir needn't have bothered if they haven't wound up the next Adele. Concrete, unambiguous terms like failure are loud and unbending, drowning out the myriad joys and successes that accompany the pursuit of something good.

'Posh people's 'artisan' food delivery service bites the dust.'

Above is what someone tweeted minutes after Hubbub announced that they were ceasing deliveries after nine years, and 34 hours after everyone in the business found out that they were losing their jobs. Ignoring the mind-boggling levels of crass (do these morons realise that companies are made of real people?), the statement serves to highlight the continued inability of some to separate appreciation of nice food from an excess of privilege, furthering the assumption that people who choose to spend above average cash on above average food were born with a silver, caviar-topped spoon in their mouth.


Let me explain Hubbub. Hubbub delivered food from London's best independent food and drink shops - butchers, bakers, brilliant coffee roasters, fishmongers, greengrocers, delis and so on. Those shops are owned and staffed by the most passionate and knowledgable food lovers you could ever meet - and my goodness, what an enormous privilege it was to have those people preparing your weekly shop or the ingredients for your Christmas dinner. I have placed (actual) hundreds of orders with Hubbub and the novelty still hadn't worn off by the final one last week. Hubbub was the time-poor food obsessive's dream.

On the 7th January 2011, I wrote to Hubbub's founder, Marisa, and asked for a job. She wasn't hiring at the time, but seized the opportunity to bring in someone with 5 years in the food industry under her belt and a bit of marketing experience around food home delivery. Together with Marisa and Hubbub's first hire, Golnar, we set about growing the business through grit, determination, a lot of late nights and a complete obsession with good food. After Hubbub I became Creative Food Director of the Ginger Pig, then product developer of the meat category for M&S, and finally - four months ago - I went freelance. Who offered me my first contract? Hubbub. The learning curve has felt almost vertical at times, and particularly so at Hubbub (the first time around), where I was experienced enough to fill some important gaps but green as peas in lots of ways. 

Back to the silver spoon thing. I'm from a working class family in Scunthorpe. In my lifetime, my dad has been a driving instructor, a concrete slab-maker, a building site foreman and finally, for around 20 years, a shift worker in a pasta factory. Mum was a bookkeeper before going to work in a supermarket, after several unlucky stints working for businesses whose books were never going to balance. They took their first holiday 'abroad' when I was 16, rarely ate out, and cooked a lot of delicious roast dinners, chicken curries and sticky sweet and sour pork. They are now both retired, heavily involved in their local community centre, enjoy package holidays to places like Spain and Greece, and do the remainder of their adventuring through their daughter (hi) and their beloved iPads. The spoon in my mouth wasn't silver but locally made stainless steel, topped with my mum's rice pudding.

Do you get where I'm going with this? Spending money on nice things to eat and drink (my favourite pastime) does not signify privilege. Making the assumption that everyone is able to do so - that everyone should be buying £12 free range chickens, and has the time to make the most thereof - is a very different issue, but spending what's left after rent and bills on food is no different to being able to buy a new pair of trainers, a computer game, a yoga class or go to the cinema. Having money in the first place is a privilege (one we generally have to earn), and why choosing to spend it on better-than-supermarket food is seen by some as vastly different to going to a gig or buying cinema tickets is quite beyond me. 

Go into a restaurant kitchen. You'll find a room full of people who go mad-crazy for wild sea trout or new season asparagus, and I bet the number that didn't go to private school overshadows the number that did. Likewise, go hang out in Jonathan Norris' fish shop in E9 on a Sunday afternoon. You'll count as many of the East End old guard going in as you will thirty-something, 'done alright' leftie types like me. Next door you've got the brilliant Deli Downstairs, and across the road Bottle Apostle and The Ginger Pig. Between the four of them you've got the makings of, well, pretty much any meal. Roast dinners, frugal pasta dishes, birthday cakes or just Tuesday night's tea. Taken in isolation, you've got masters of sea and field, cheese nerds and wine boffins, but together you've got something magic, the ingredients of complete feasts and endless possibilities. 

That's what Hubbub did. Hubbub brought together London's community of small, passionate experts to create an unbeatably varied product range, added the convenience of supermarket-style home deliveries (online shopping, 1-hour delivery slots) and delivered the whole package with extraordinary customer care, fierce passion and enormous heart. What started with Marisa delivering directly from two shops in Highbury Barn (terrified, in her boyfriend's mini, just weeks after passing her driving test) became a fleet of vans delivering (almost) all over London from a hundred shops. When Hubbub announced last Wednesday that, after nine years, it was to make its last deliveries two days later, we were engulfed. There is simply no other word for it.

In less than 48 hours, Hubbub received more than 450 emails from people offering their condolences, praise, funding and even jobs. Customers and shops alike were heartbroken, and many regulars (myself included) simply don't know what they will do without Hubbub's brilliant service. I want to continue to spend my money with the fishmongers, butchers and greengrocers whose produce I love, but I don't have entire days to devote to picking up ingredients for work, and with fairly persistent neck and shoulder grumbles, I'm not really up for carrying the heavy stuff either. I don't want to move to Ocado, Abel & Cole or Farm Direct, I want Jonathan Norris and HG Walter, E5 Bakehouse and Hubbub's four fantastic greengrocers. 

Fortune magazine's analysis of 101 start-up postmortems found that the number one reason for a start-up to fail is no market, but the overwhelming response from Hubbub's customers suggests that here, there is. Whether it was ever quite big enough will remain a question mark. Were there ever quite enough Londoners who cared, who were at home enough to warrant having nice food in the fridge, who simply remembered to order?  What would have happened if the Evening Standard et al reported more often on good, solid, remarkable things rather than whatever brittle pop-up will be around for the next three months? Don't know. What we do know is that Hubbub's last week of trade - once people knew that they were placing their last orders - was genuinely profitable, and showed exactly what was required to sustain the business. We weren't a million miles off. We should have closed more often. 

What almost everyone who has been in touch over the last week has done, is to congratulate Marisa for her passion and her vision, and thank the whole Hubbub team and its shops for delivering so much amazing food. Customers didn't hear that Hubbub's deliveries were over, shrug, say 'that's a shame', and move on, they contacted the business in their hundreds expressing shock, sadness and even grief. They told us how much they would miss their deliveries, and how Hubbub had made their parties, BBQs, Christmases and Tuesday-night-teas so very special. If this decade of food, celebration and joy is a failure, then I'm afraid I can't agree with your metrics.

So long, Hubbub, and thanks for all the food. 

All dressed up

It's January, and I'm going to eat salad. I'll eat stews, curries, chips and pies too, but salad will be on regular rotation because I want leaves, vegetables and vibrancy in my life. Here are some simple dressing recipes.

Cauliflower with blue cheese, spring onions and tahini dressing

Cauliflower with blue cheese, spring onions and tahini dressing

Sriracha slaw

Sriracha slaw

Watermelon and cabbage 'som tam'

Watermelon and cabbage 'som tam'

The basics: make salad dressings in a small mug or jar - easy, jar has the handy advantage of being shake-able, and the smaller size (versus, say, a jug) encourages you not to add too much oil, which is often the cause of Bad Salad Dressing. Salt is the posh flakey sea variety, and I don't often advocate pepper - it's a bully, put it on your eggs instead. With the exception of some slaws, salad is best dressed just before you eat it. Most slaws benefit from lightly salting the vegetables for 20 minutes, then squeezing out and discarding the liquid before dressing. All of the below should cover salad for 1-2 people, and you should taste before you dress and tweak to your preference - I like acid, salt and savoury to lead, using sweetness to round things out a bit if needed. Dressing should taste a bit too 'strong' on its own, because it's got a lot of stuff to cover - I make my salad dressings like I drink my cocktails: strong and stiff. A little finely grated parmesan works wonders for most basic salads.

Olive oil, salt and lemon. Just that, applied sparingly, in that order, directly onto leaves. It's all you need for dressing lettuce or rocket, or a bowl of chopped cucumbers, tomatoes and red onions. Maybe you add a little shaved parmesan, or a handful of chopped herbs (parsley, chives and dill work well). Best for: the height of summer, when tomatoes taste fantastic and you can cook over a smouldering grill - but fine for a bowl of peppery leaves at this time of year too.

Simple mustard vinaigrette: 2tsp Dijon, big squeeze of lemon or 3tsp vinegar (red wine, white wine, cider), pinch salt, mix. Add 2-3tbsp olive oil, mixing well to emulsify. You can add 1tsp honey if you like, I prefer not to. What I do like is a teaspoon of fine slivers of banana shallot, added to the dressing before tossing with the leaves. Best for: any leafy salad, perhaps with tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers or olives. Also lovely on boiled green beans and potatoes, or finely shredded raw celeriac.

Caesar-ish: 1 chopped anchovy fillet, 1/3 of a garlic clove very finely smushed. Add 1tsp Dijon, 2tsp mayo or crème fraîche (I prefer the latter, buttermilk also works), 2tbsp olive oil, 2tsp very finely grated Parmesan (microplane), mix well, add a little pepper if you wish. Best for: lettuce leaves, chicory, boiled potatoes, olives, radishes, capers, green beans, asparagus.

Tahini dressing: 2tsp tahini, 2tbsp of cold water, juice of half a lemon, salt to taste. Easy-peasy. You can add finely chopped green herbs or a teensy bit of minced garlic, but not really necessary. Best for: lots of things, particularly roasted cauliflower. This dressing brings many a simple meal together - boiled egg, some feta and steamed green veggies? Drizzle tahini dressing over it. Green beans, asparagus, boiled potatoes...all lovely with this. 

Sriracha slaw dressing: I'm not a massive fan of sriracha, but it's great as a component of dressings and stir fry sauces. 1tbsp sriracha, big squeeze of lime, 1tbsp fish sauce, 1/2 to 1tsp caster sugar or honey. Best for: finely shredded carrot, iceberg lettuce, radishes, red onion, cucumber batons, cabbage. Chuck in some pineapple and toasted sesame seeds too, if you're feeling a bit disco.

Peanut slaw dressing (cheaty som tam): I love this one. 1 clove of garlic and a pinch of salt into your pestle and mortar, pulverise. Add two hot little green chillies, bash them about a bit (the more you bash, the hotter it gets...idea is to leave them still a bit intact, otherwise: FIRE). Add juice of a lime, 1tsp caster sugar, 1tbsp peanut butter and 1-2tbsp fish sauce. Mix really well. Best for: you can use som tam veg if you can find (snake beans, shredded green papaya, cherry toms, dried shrimp), but basically you need a sturdy base (shredded cabbage, green beans and carrot) and some pops of sweetness (cherry tomatoes, pineapple pieces or - my favourite - watermelon). 

Pots of gold

chicken rillettes

A simple equation of meat, salt, fat and time, rillettes are a complete doddle to make. Almost cheating, for the effort-to-reward ratio involved. 

They keep for several days in the fridge (making them an ideal Christmas starter), and not only are rillettes a cinch to prepare, they are also supremely versatile, good for more than just smushing into toast. Stirring through hot ribbons of pasta with grated parmesan, for a here's-one-I-prepared-earlier ragù type meal, or into potatoes with finely sliced shallots and capers, for a rich, warm, wintery potato salad.

If you're unsure of what rillettes are, let's not break the habit of a lifetime, let's ask Wikipedia:

The meat was cubed, salted and cured, cooked slowly over low heat until very tender, then raked into small shreds and blended with the warm cooking fat to form a rustic paste.
— Wikipedia

Isn't cubed, salted, raked, blended, fatty rustic meat paste all that we want from life?

Rillettes are traditionally made with pork, duck or goose - fatty beasts that render plenty of their own grease making them particularly suitable for this simple technique (frustratingly, you need to already have some fat in order to confit the meat, a process which creates even more fat). There's a knockout recipe in Hawksmoor At Home for 'pressed beef and bacon', in which beef chuck steak and smoked streaky bacon are cooked ever-so-slowly in beef dripping and stock spiked with anchovies, before being shredded and pressed into a terrine mould, and chilled until ready to slice. Toast is the vehicle featured in the book, but in their restaurants the Hawksmoor team serve this with dinky little Yorkshire puddings. Now, doesn't that sound terrific?

This method works for any of the proteins mentioned above and their relative fat. I used chicken thighs here because they're readily available (*cough* they were in my freezer *cough*), and because the aromatic chicken-schmaltzy-clarified-butter you're left with is unbeatably delicious. The amount of fat you need depends a little on the size of the meat and roasting dish; you need to have enough to cover whatever it is you're going to confit. If you're using goose or duck legs, salt for longer (4-6 hours or so) and cook lower and slower (130°C for 4-5 hours).

 
 

Ingredients

1 leek

1 white onion

8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (or four whole legs - thighs are a bit easier to submerge)

1 star anise

2 bay leaves

15 peppercorns

3 tsp sea salt flakes (only 1 heaped tsp if using fine salt)

500g butter, or 450g clarified butter/ghee

1 tbsp wholegrain mustard

8-10 cornichons

A little grated nutmeg

Method

1. Remove the top, tough part of the leek, discard along with the outer layer, and slice the remainder into discs around 1cm thick. Peel and roughly chop the onion

2. Place the leek, onion, star anise, bay leaves and peppercorns into a baking dish, ensuring that it is deep enough to completely submerge the chicken thighs in butter. Rub the sea salt into the chicken thighs, add them to the dish, cover with cling film and refrigerate for an hour.

3. While the chicken is salting, make the clarified butter. Place the butter in a saucepan over a low heat. Let it melt and sizzle for a bit, then skim off the solids with a big spoon. I find it's easier if you let it do its sizzle thing for a bit, skim, leave it a bit longer, skim. Don't be tempted to stir it or you'll make things a bit tricky. Discard the milk solids, marvel at your pot of hot fat. 

4. Heat the oven to 150°C / gas mark 3. Remove the baking dish from the fridge and wipe each chicken thigh with some kitchen paper to remove the moisture and excess salt. Carefully do the same to the base of the dish (without displacing the aromatics), and place the chicken back in the dish, skin side up. Cover with the melted butter, then with foil, and bake in the oven for 2.5 - 3 hours. Turn the thighs over after an hour or so, and back again after two. It's done when the meat can be prized from the bone with the gentlest of pressure. 

5. Leave the chicken to cool until you are able to handle it. Remove the soft chicken skin and set to one side, then pull the meat from the bones and finely shred with your fingers. Place the chicken meat into a bowl, add the mustard. Slice the cornichons into very fine little discs, add those too. Pull the leeks and onions out of the warm, liquid butter, and, if you don't immediately eat them all (they are unbelievably scrumptious), add as many as you like to the bowl, squishing them a bit. If you're a pepper fan, add the whole peppercorns too; these have softened during the long, slow cook, and add aromatic little 'pops' to the finished dish. Add 3-4 tbsp of the warm butter, and mix well with a spoon. Taste for salt and add more if required; you want the rillettes to be ever-so-slightly over-salted rather than under, because this will dull a little when chilled. I find pepper too big a bully for this, but a good grate of nutmeg is lovely. Mix again. 

6. Pot the rillettes into clean ramekins, jars or bowls, and create a flat surface at the top. Cover with cling film, chill for one hour. Carefully top the chilled, just-firm rillettes with leftover, just-warm clarified butter. Cover with cling film (or lid if you're using jars) and refrigerate until you're ready to eat. To serve, remove the rillettes from the fridge an hour before to allow them to soften, or simply pop in the microwave for up to 10 seconds to remove the chill.

So you're left with some chicken skin and chickeny butter

Slice the chicken skin into ribbons, season with salt and a pinch of sugar, shallow fry or bake until crispy and delicious, then drain for a few minutes on kitchen paper. Now you have chicken scratchings, and no, you don't have to share.

The chickeny butter can be used in place of normal butter, unless you're baking a cake or vegetarian (unlikely given the above); I whipped some into cauliflower purée, and also used some to fry steak (much higher smoke temperature without the milk solids). It makes for very tasty toast, and is delicious when used to fry chilli and garlic to mix with pasta, lemon zest and capers. It's more than a little disappointing that butter doesn't come already imbued with pleasing hint roast chicken. 

Amchur and chilli dhal recipe

amchurdhal

A simple, hot-and-sour dish devised to have a play with a lovely new (to me) ingredient. Amchur or 'amchoor' is a powder made from dried unripe ('green') mangos, and has a sherbet-like acidity that breathes life into dhal, stews and curry pastes. It can be mixed with salt to create a zingy seasoning, which is delicious sprinkled over crispy fried things like fritters, battered fish pieces or squid. Thank you to flavour mavens World Of Zing for sending me the amchur powder, and for encouraging me to give it a bash.

250g split red lentils
2tbsp groundnut oil (or any flavourless oil)
1 white onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 inch piece ginger, grated or minced
1tsp dried chilli flakes
1 cinnamon stick
2tsp cumin
2tsp amchur powder
650ml water
1/2 tsp salt
75g baby spinach leaves, washed

  1. Heat a wide, heavy-based frying pan over a low heat. Add the lentils and toast for 3 minutes, moving them around almost constantly to prevent burning. Remove the lentils to a bowl and set to one side.
     
  2. Heat a medium-sized saucepan over a low heat and add the oil. Gently fry the onions, garlic, gingerchilli flakes and cinnamon stick for 10-12 minutes, or until translucent and soft. Do not let them caramelise - this will affect the flavour of the finished dish.
     
  3. Add the amchur and cumin and cook for a further minute, then add the lentils, salt and water, bring to a gentle simmer, add a lid leaving a small gap to allow steam to escape, and cook over a low heat for 35 minutes, stirring regularly. When the dhal is cooked, it should be quite thick with tender lentils and not at all watery.
     
  4. Add the spinach, stir, and cook until wilted. Taste for seasoning, add a little extra salt if you wish, and serve with rice, slivers of raw shallot or red onion and Indian pickles (shop bought is just fine).