Chicken liver ragu

Food & drink
Chicken liver ragu

Chicken livers are extremely good for you.

They’re a rich source of protein, packed with iron and vitamins. They’re good for your brain, good for your fertility if you’re a woman, and great recovery food after a tough workout.

They should be top of the shopping list, but instead, they’re criminally underused, relegated to sad little packs in the supermarket fridge with all the other weird bits that nobody wants to buy.

This is a great tragedy, a travesty. Chicken livers are delicious, and worth so much more than a good blitzing to form a pate, although that’s a fine and noble thing to do with them.

I sometimes buy a pack of chicken livers, fry them off with nothing more than a little salt and pepper and eat them for lunch over the course of the next few days. Three or four lunches for about a quid? Thanks very much.

And yes, they’re ridiculously cheap, cheap out of sync with the massive flavour punch they deliver. More …

All the water, all the yeast, half the flour

Food politics
Bread dough pre fermentation

I’ve been making bread for a long time, mainly using a simple recipe that I know by heart.

It’s very straightforward – a kilo of flour, 600ml of water, 20g of salt and 10g of yeast.

It makes an unpretentious, dependable loaf, but has the flexibility to take on new forms. Substituting half the flour for wholemeal, or mixing it up with a hundred grammes of rye or a couple of handfuls of oats makes the finished loaf very different, but borne of the same simple recipe of a kilo of flour and 600ml of water.

I’ve strayed all over the place, of course. I’ve bought book after book about baking bread, and tried dozens of different methods. High hydration loaves (don’t bother), sourdough, milk loaves, baguettes, all of them. All have their place. All are good, but still the simple recipe remains a backstop in my kitchen.

A kilo of flour and 600ml of water.

Some things are best left as they are. Some things don’t need to be messed with, don’t need to be improved, and this is one of those things. It isn’t fancy, it isn’t artisanal, but it is good and honest.

I’ve done one thing, made one tiny change to this decades old routine, and it’s worked. It’s made things better.

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Etxebarri, by Juan Pablo Cardenal & Jon Sarabia

Books
Etxebarri, by Juan Pablo Cardenal & Jon Sarabia

A couple of years ago, I bought a pizza oven, a proper one, one that took four people to lift into place. I burn kiln-dried logs in it, and it hits almost 500c. It cooks a pizza in about two minutes, maybe less, and those pizzas are like nothing else I’ve ever tasted. The wood is alchemical, it performs magic, its smoke and heat grabbing hold of the food, enveloping it, transforming it. Later, when the fire burns down and the heat seeps away a little, I often roast a chicken in the oven, next to the glowing coals, an hour and a half or so of gentle, smokey heat. It’s the best way I’ve ever found of roasting a bird.

I’ve been converted to wood-fired cooking. It isn’t easy, not in the slightest. Controlling the fire and choosing the right moment to cook is a balancing act, a game of judgement and skill, one which I often get wrong. But that’s half the fun, that and smelling of smoke for the rest of the day.

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Rok, London

Eating out
Rok, London

We had a weekend in Shoreditch the other week, and stayed at some achingly hip hotel, the type that has a lobby that people use as an informal shared work space.

I’ve honestly never seen a higher concentration of Macbooks anywhere.

For dinner one night, we ate at Rok, a loosely Scandinavian place on Curtain Road.

Rok ticks all the Shoreditch boxes – exposed brick painted white, open kitchen, big focus on smoked things, industrial type furniture, artisan this and that, and it’s absolutely wonderful. The dining room is stark, entirely white, warmed up with big pendant lights and bare wooden tables, bar and shelves. It’s understated and business-like, and most of the business happens in a tiny open kitchen tucked into the back of the space, a streak of smoke staining the wall over what’s evidently a ferocious grill.

The menu is broadly divided up into starters, mains and sides, not that these things seem to matter anymore in a world of small plates, and we started with a couple of pickles, a small dish of pickled carrot and a similar dish of beetroot. Each was light and fresh, barely fermented. Good. More…

The Taste of Portugal, Edite Vieira

Books
The Taste of Portugal, Edite Vieira

Portugal is very small, a slim slither of a country clinging on to the side of the Iberian Peninsula, battered along its western coast by the most magnificent of Atlantic breakers, its interior parched under a southern European sun. The strip along the bottom is a tourist haven, its capital, Lisbon, one of the most fashionable destinations in Europe right now, and its second city, Porto, looking set to steal that crown.

It’s a wonderful country, with a varied and elegant cuisine that’s indebted to both the mighty Atlantic and the scorching Mediterranean.

Here, salt cod is king, vast slabs of bacalhau hang in every grocers, ready to be rehydrated and turned into salt cod fritters or cakes, patties of cod fried in breadcrumbs until irresistible. Then there are sardines, grilled over charcoal on a beach in the Algarve, served with nothing more than a little too much salt and a good squeeze of lemon, or preserved in brightly coloured cans, each a work of art in its own right. There’s chorizo from Spain, and olive oil, and cakes and pastries, the famous pasteis de Nata,  the very best of which come from a shop in Belem, a short tram ride outside Lisbon, the shop with the blue awning, whose pasteis will change any day for the better.

Portugal is an excellent place to visit and an excellent place to eat.

Edita Vieira’s book, The Taste of Portugal, was originally written in 2000, and is now in its fifth edition, and there’s good reason for that.

Vieira’s book is as comprehensive a collection of Portuguese classics as you could hope to find. There’s plenty of salt cod, plenty of sardines, but also the taste of the country, stews of rabbit and chicken, kid marinated and cooked slowly in red wine, suckling pig.

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