English Food (3)
last updated 31st August 2000
This is another classic American dish, the main standby of the chuck-wagon cooks, pork and beans sweetened with molasses. You need a deep oven-proof dish with a lid for this since it is casseroled in a slow oven. You need about a pound of haricot beans, which you should soak in cold water overnight beforehand, about 12 ounces of belly of pork- cut the rind cut off and dice the meat, an onion chopped, a tablespoonful of black treacle (molasses), salt pepper & a teaspoonful of mustard.
The recipe Scrote has suggests the ingredients should be assembled raw and put in the oven, but Scrote prefers to brown the pork in a little oil first, then fry the chopped onion to colour them somewhat and then add the haricot beans, the molasses, mustard, salt & pepper, and enough of the soaking water to cover everything and bring it all back to the boil before putting it in a medium oven for two to three hours to cook. The beans will absorb a lot of liquid, so keep an eye on it and top it up with water if it looks as though it is drying out. Scrote also likes to add some tomato puree to improve the black colouring produced by the molasses, and the taste seems better.
This is a dutch/ german one-pot casserole bake, known as 'Heaven and Earth' made with bacon or belly pork, onion, potatoes and apple.
You can either pre-cook the ingredients (by par-boiling the potato chunks, adding the apple chunks to the potatoes half way and frying the bacon or pork and onion) and then assembling them in a casserole and baking them, or you can fry the diced meat, adding some chopped onion, then adding the sliced or diced potato, then the sliced or diced apple and again finishing it off by casseroling it in a slow oven for an hour.
Breast of lamb is a strange joint which is pretty nearly inedible unless you have this recipe. It is the bit of the sheep they don't include in expensive lamb chops because there is hardly any meat on it. It is a thin strip about 2 feet long and 6 inches wide and includes a big wedge of fat at the top and the lower part of the ribs back to the belly. When Scrote was unemployed and living on social security, he & I ate this nearly every day. We found a butcher who sold them for 3p each, or 4p for a big one. OK, this was in 1974, but even then that was only the price of a can of tomatoes. We weren't slumming either- done like this it is delicious, a full sunday lamb roast with all the trimmings. All it requires is a bit of work on your part and your sharp knife.
First of all, get your breast of lamb. Get a whole one from a butcher in one piece, the bigger the better. For some reason, supermarkets, although they do occasionally sell breast of lamb, feel a need to take an axe to them first and they chop them into bits. This may be so that they can get them into those cellophane packets, but it ruins the joint. Get a whole one. Next, with your sharp knife slit around and under each rib (without piercing through to the outside), and bone out all the ribs (which are joined at the breast bone) in one piece, leaving all the meat behind still in one piece. Make sure you get soft ribs as well- you can feel them by flexing the meat. Cut off any excessive fat at the front, and throw away all the waste. Where you cut along the ribs you should be able to push your hand in and make a deep pocket for the stuffing.
Now make the sage and onion stuffing. Take two slices of fresh or stale bread (wholemeal or white) and chop finely into crumbs. Chop a small onion very finely and mix it in. Add salt, black pepper and dried sage. Break an egg into it and mix thoroughly but lightly. (Do not use a food processor to do this- it will reduce the breadcrumbs to a dense sludge). You now have a bowlful of stuffing.
Lay the boned breast of lamb out on a board, and cover it with the stuffing pushing it into every available crevice. We want to get a lot of stuffing into this joint, but we don't want it all to fall out again during the cooking. Now roll the joint up from the thin end so the fat is on the outside. You can truss it up with string but Scrote generally finds that he can secure it with just one or two skewers through it if he is careful. If you want, at this stage you can make little stabs with the knife and push rosemary leaves into them under the skin for extra flavour. This is a joint you stuff to within an inch of its life.
Put the joint in an oven-pan in a medium to low oven and roast the joint slowly for two hours, so that it has been cooked tender right through, but it is crackly and crisp on the outside and the fat has been rendered out of it. Put the roast potatoes in after about an hour. Prepare the vegetables you are going to have with it (brussel sprouts or carrots or green beans or whatever) and put them on to boil about 20 minutes before the joint is due out.
Do not attempt to carve the joint at table, unless you like your food cold. Carve the meat beforehand by simply cutting the whole joint into thin slices, handling them carefully so the stuffing doesn't fall out. Then arrange the slices on a serving dish and put them back into the oven for a few minutes to get hot again until you are ready to serve.
Make the gravy. This joint does not make good gravy because not much in the way of meat juices escape from it, but there should be enough to make something. Drain most of the fat from the roasting pan, leaving the burnt on meat juices. Put the pan on the heat and throw in about a teaspoonful of flour. Mix it about just as though you were making a sauce and then add a big cupful of water, for instance some of the drainings from the boiled vegetables. Stir it about a bit to incorporate the meat juices and bring it to the boil to thicken it. Taste it and if necessary, season with some salt and pepper. You now have about half a pint of gravy- keep it hot, and pour into a jug at the last moment before serving. All you need to do now is drain the remainder of your vegetables and serve everything on to the plates, piping hot. Put a pot of mint sauce on the table to go with the lamb.
In England, for some reason, each meat has a specific sauce to accompany it when it is roasted. It is very, very traditional. A roast dinner is traditionally rich fare, and the English see nothing wrong in providing not only the correct sauce for the meat, but gravy and other garnishes as well.
Another classic English sunday roast. Providing a little care is taken over the timing it is not very difficult. You need a good roasting chicken (preferably free-range), about 8 rashers of cheap fat streaky bacon with the rind on, and about half a pound of chipolata sausages (these are smaller than ordinary British bangers so you get 16 to the pound). You also need a roasting dish and an oven of course.
First of all, make a sage and onion stuffing from two slices of bread finely chopped, a small onion finely chopped, salt, pepper, a good pinch of sage, some parsley and a raw egg. Other interesting stuffings you can use with chicken include bread stuffing flavoured with thyme & lemon (use shreds of the zest or outer peel of the lemon), or with mushroom and sweet chestnut.
Take your chicken, check that it has been properly cleaned and remove any large lumps of fat or bits of insides from the body cavity. If you like yet another flavour you can stick a whole lemon or lime inside, but do not put the stuffing inside- both the stuffing and the chicken will cook better if the body cavity is empty. Instead, where the neck has been cut off, enlarge the pouch of skin at the front. Push all the stuffing inside this pouch and close it by folding the spare skin under the chicken or if necessary by sewing it shut with a small wooden skewer. Lay the chicken on its back in the roasting dish. Drape the rashers of bacon over the top (supposedly to baste the chicken, but actually to make crispy bacon to go with it). Lay the chipolatas around it.
Put the chicken roast in a medium oven (you don't want to destroy the bacon) and roast it fairly gently for about 25 minutes for every pound of chicken by weight plus another 25 minutes. If in doubt, overcook chicken rather than undercook it. Meanwhile prepare your roast potatoes and put them in the top of the oven about an hour before you intend to serve, then prepare and put on to cook whatever vegetables you are having with the chicken.
About 20 minutes before you serve, remove the roast chicken from the oven and its roasting dish. Rapidly joint the chicken into 'drumsticks' (the lower leg), thighs, wings, carve the white meat, slice the stuffing in its crispy skin into portions, separate the crispy bacon and sausages, arrange it all ready to serve on a dish and return it to the oven to reheat.
Keep the roasting dish out and make a gravy in it on the top of the stove. Drain off most of the fat, but retain all the meat juices. Add a teaspoonful of flour to the fat and stir it in, heating it. Add about half a pint of water (or vegetable drainings) and stir it thoroughly to incorporate the meat juices. Heat the gravy till it thickens, taste it and adjust the seasoning with salt & pepper. Pour the gravy into a jug piping hot, and serve everything. Provide (bought) cranberry sauce or red-currant jelly at the table, a traditional English accompaniment for birds.
This is the plain white sauce which underlies a lot of flavoured sauces. It is essentially milk thickened with flour, although there is a bit more to it than that.
You will need 2 oz butter, about a dessertspoonful of flour, about three-quarters of a pint of milk, plus a dash of salt & black pepper for seasoning. A non-stick pan really helps when cooking with milk, as it sticks easily and burns unpleasantly.
To make the basic white sauce, first melt the butter gently in the pan. Now add a good-sized handful of plain flour, and stir it in so that a greasy paste is formed. If in doubt, adjust the amount of butter or flour slightly. Throw in the bayleaf, a pinch of salt and some ground black pepper, and make sure the paste hot. (Strictly speaking you should warm the milk separately first with the bayleaf in it, to infuse the milk with its flavour, but Scrote finds it easier and just as effective to infuse the sauce itself with the bayleaf during its making.)
When the flour and butter are properly and evenly mixed into the greasy paste, and heated through, remove the pan from the heat and add a good slosh of the milk. Stir the flour/ butter paste quickly into the milk- it is important to dissolve the paste as evenly as possible in the milk at this stage. As the initial sauce thickens from the heat of the pan, add some more milk- you can add quite a lot now- and stir the thickened sauce thoroughly into the cold milk. Return the pan to the heat and heat it gently, stirring thoroughly all round the pan so that the sauce does not stick to the bottom or sides. As it nears boiling point, the milky sauce mixture will start to thicken again. Adjust the sauce with more milk and re-heat it until you reach a suitable consistency.
In general, almost everyone agrees that the basic white sauce should be flavoured with bayleaf infused in the milk. The Italians however also put nutmeg in Besciamella. In English cookery, white sauce once formed the base of several other sauces. Cheese Sauce and Onion & Parsley Sauce are given elsewhere, but the addition of either capers, anchovies (mashed), shrimps (small shelled prawns) or chopped hard-boiled egg also makes the other now mostly forgotten sauces, Caper Sauce, Anchovy Sauce, Shrimp Sauce or Egg Sauce.
This is a bit of a lone curiousity which serves no noticeable purpose. Spring Greens are a strange English vegetable which appear to consist of tired cabbage tops. They are virtually inedible and Scrote can only assume that people ate them in the past because nothing else could be got in late winter. However there is a way of making them attractive.
Slice the greens into strips and carefully deep fry them gently in oil. They go crisp & a deep shiny green. With a sprinkling of salt they become an exotic snack which looks like crispy seaweed. It is quite remarkable, and comes from China.
A classic soup which uses the tiny red lentils. Unlike other pulses, lentils generally do not need to be soaked before use. There are several sorts of lentil- all share the same characteristic flattened spheroid shape. You need 4 ounces or so of lentils, a small onion, a carrot, some celery, an ounce of bacon pieces and some herbs. Some tomato puree or tinned tomatoes is a good addition.
Chop the bacon as finely as possible and fry it gently in a little olive oil in a deep pan. Chop the onion finely and add it. Chop the celery finely and add it. Grate or chop the carrot finely and add it. Season with a little salt, some pepper and a few herbs. Add the tomato puree and the lentils. Add about a pint and a half of water, stir, and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer very gently for about an hour, stirrring occasionally. If you have the where-withal, sieve or mash the soup. Serve hot, and garnish with chopped parsley or croutons or a swirl of cream.
This simple but laborious muddy-green soup has an unusual, delicious flavour. Unlike most soups it has to be made by hand as a blender cannot be used, and it can only be made when fresh peas in their pods are in season. However it is well worth the making. You need a few spring onions with the green bits and a good quantity of peapods from which you should shell the peas. The peapods must be green and fresh- discard any that are becoming dried or yellow and wrinkled. You need to keep a good handful of the shelled peas for the soup, but the rest can be used in another dish.
Roughly chop the spring onions and fry them gently in some butter. Add all the peapods whole and toss them quickly in the melted butter to enhance the green colour. Top up with a little water (or a stock if you have some) and season with ground black pepper. Cover and simmer gently for about three quarters of an hour until the peapods are very tender. Drain and reserve the liquor. Take the hot peapods and draw them through the fingers, stripping the soft green pulp from the pod into the liquor and keeping back the pod membranes and strings which are inedible and discarded. (Do not attempt to liquidise the soup- the pod membranes are just like cellophane and merely get chopped into small sharp pieces.)
The basic soup is now made. Adjust the liquid content and throw in the handful of peas that were reserved earlier. Bring the soup back to the heat and simmer for another ten minutes to cook the peas. Check to see if any salt is needed- the soup is naturally very sweet from the young peas that have gone into it. Serve the soup hot with crusty bread, or it can be frozen and stored.
Commercial tomato soup is a strange fluorescent orange liquid with a characteristic, powerful flavour. Most domestic recipes produce a soup with little apparently in common with its corrosive cousin, but strangely there is a relationship. Commercial tomato soups (and their cousins the ubiquitous & glutinous sauces that bathe tinned baked beans and spaghetti) are rather surprisingly wholesome and are generally without added colourings, flavourings or preservatives. The secret of the powerful taste is in the enormous quantity of tomato used, the pepper, the sugar and the dried milk powder in the commercial soups.
Tomato soup is a smooth soup, and even if you do have a mouli or a liquidiser, you need to chop all the ingredients very, very finely. You will need at least two cloves of garlic, an onion, a blade of celery, a carrot, and about 2lb (1 kg) of ripe plum tomatoes. Unfortunately fresh plum tomatoes tend to be difficult to obtain and quite expensive. Salad tomatoes are far too anaemic and sour to be used. In theory you should scald, skin, sieve and pulp the tomatoes, but in practice it is a lot easier to use tinned tomatoes, or pasata (Italian sieved, pulped & bottled tomato puree).
Chop the garlic and onion very finely, and set them to stew in a pot over a gentle heat in some good olive oil. Finely chop the blade of celery and add it to the pot. Put the carrot through a fine grater and add that as well. Add a little extra oil if necessary and stir it all together. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper, and a good pinch of basil. Add half a glass of white wine. Add the sieved or tinned tomatoes. Add some water to bring the contents to the required soupy consistency, cover tightly and simmer over a very low heat for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Before serving, check the seasoning, add some finely chopped parsley and stir in a good dollop of cream, sour cream, natural yoghurt or creme fraiche. Do not boil again after adding the cream- it will curdle it. Serve immediately with a generous amount of parmesan cheese freshly grated (not the commercial pre-grated rubbish in pots) and eat while hot.