I spend a lot of time wandering around the market in Leeds. I go there at least a couple of times a week, mainly at lunchtime as an excuse to get away from my desk and see the city at its best.
I’ve shopped there for a while – getting the right things is a game … fruit and veg is generally a little B-grade (fine if it’s fresh but gnarly, not so fine when it’s already on the turn), meat is better than any supermarket, if you use the right butcher, but use the wrong one and it’s diabolical. Spice Corner is still the best place to buy huge bunches of flat leaved parsley to make you feel properly cheffy.
And then, there’s the fishmongers.
Now, landlocked Leeds has a motorway that stretches right to the East coast at Hull and Grimsby, where most of the local catch lands. Freshness is not a problem, and nor is variety. This time, the stall at the top of the row had a full hand of useful cephalopods – squid, cuttlefish and octopus.
All three of these are interchangeable to some extent, and they share similar characteristics. Squid is done a disservice if it doesn’t become calamari, cuttlefish lends itself to stuffing, but what about octopus?
Part of the reason I buy from the market is to freak out my colleagues with some random weird thing stashed in the office fridge. Live crab and lobster have been my highlight, but octopus is a new one, greeted with exactly the mix of terror and bemusement you might imagine. More …
We went on holiday to Sicily this year.
It was roasting hot, in the mid forties most of the time. The Italians sweltered, and complained that they’d never experienced anything quite like it. We were thankful for an air-conditioned apartment and hire car.
One day, we drove out of Cefalù to a town in the hills, up and around a series of death-defying hairpin turns and on roads that seemed to have an unrealistic view of how capable an average family car is at climbing very steep inclines. There was a restaurant up there, and we wanted to try it for lunch.
The meal was excellent, a menu based simply around what the kitchen had been able to get hold of fresh that morning. Lot’s of seafood, all scrawled out on a big blackboard lugged around from table to table and propped up on an empty chair for people to read. The terrace, overlooking the sea, was closed because of the heat. Everybody was glad to be in the shade of the building.
As we finished eating, the owner and general whirlwind of the place produced a freezing cold bottle of his home-made limoncello and insisted we try some. It was sweet and sharp, a perfect balance, potently alcoholic, but not overpoweringly so. It had a greater depth and smoothness than limoncello I’ve had before, which, really, I’ve always lumped together with Bailey’s in the ‘too disgustingly cloying to drink’ bucket.
Skånsk mustard comes from the south of Sweden, and it’s commonly found smeared all over hot dogs, as well as serving as a traditional accompaniment to a Christmas ham.
It’s a coarse-grained condiment, made with a mixture of seeds supported by a sweet underbelly of honey. It’s excellent with anything strong and robust – sausages, hams, smoked fish.
There isn’t much to this recipe, just a little combining of ingredients and a quick blend. A quarter of an hour’s work now will gift you a jar of Skånsk mustard to sit quietly and unobtrusively in the fridge until it’s moment to significantly improve an otherwise uninteresting plate of leftover meat or fish arrives.
It’s all in the preparation.
People have dried meat to preserve it for thousands of years.
The practice seems to have arisen independently in both South America and Africa, with the two traditions cross-pollinating with the Spanish conquests of the Americas. The Native Americans eventually adopted the Spanish word for their dried meat, ‘charque‘, changed the inflection and morphed it into the word ‘jerky’.
Jerky was borne out of necessity.
The vast spaces across the continents meant that travellers had to have a reliable way of preserving meat without refrigeration, and drying provided just that. Jerky is light, portable and nutritious, packed with protein, and it lasts for months in good condition.
Today, jerky is still synonymous with the Americas, both north and south. It’s still a popular snack, and the flavour combinations are vast.
It’s also very straightforward to make, simply a matter of flavouring and then gently dehydrating strips of meat, most likely beef, but goat, or even buffalo or kangaroo work well, too. More…
The most important things that any half serious cook owns are a couple of good knives.
Not a block of sixteen assorted flimsy efforts from IKEA, but two decent knives – one big cook’s knife and a smaller version – either German or Japanese, their edges honed to a razor-sharp finish on a steel or preferably a whetstone.
These knives are the workhorses of the kitchen. Any cutting task can be accomplished with just those two knives. There are other specialist knives out there that might tempt the eye, and yes, heaving around a great big cleaver (six quid from your local Chinese supermarket) is kinda fun, but none of them are strictly necessary.
Two knives, the best you can afford, German or Japanese, one big, one small.
These knives are pieces of engineering marvel. They’re milled to micrometre level specifications by some of the world’s most skilled manufacturers. Looked after well, they’ll last a lifetime. Looked after poorly, and well, you may have well have just used one of your crappy IKEA knives to shred through £100.
The second most important thing in any serious cook’s kitchen is a chopping board. More…