Monday, 28 February 2011

At Home: Japanese Sticky Chicken Wings

These tasty umami-rich morsels are great party food. Not for a smart do, mind you. Sticky fingers are inevitable, and napkins essential.

For the host, they are a godsend. 10 minutes prep the day before, and chuck them in the oven while you get ready for the first arrivals. Easy as that.

You will need:
  • 1kg chicken wings
For the marinade:
  • 1 tbsp mirin
  • 4 tbsp sake
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar (or try using apricot/peach juice instead, as a sweetener)
  • 4 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • thumb-sized knob of ginger, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 red chilli, thinly sliced
  • 1 red chilli, spring onions, and toasted sesame seeds, to garnish
The day before the party, get them marinating. Prepare the wings: trim off the tips, and cut through each wing at the joint with a cleaver, or large knife. Mix them in a large bowl with the marinade ingredients, cover, and put in the fridge.

An hour before your guests arrive, preheat the oven to 200C. Put the marinated chicken wings in the largest roasting tray you can find, and cook them for 45 minutes, basting and turning them once with tongs. If you haven't got a particularly large roasting tray, you may need to do this in two batches so that the wings bake rather than steam.

Garnish with sliced chilli and spring onions, and a scattering of lightly toasted sesame seeds (toast in a dry frying pan over a low heat for 4 minutes, shaking the pan frequently to stop them burning).

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Royal Inn on the Park

Sunday lunch is a sacred and sacrosanct British tradition. So, I'm always amazed when it goes so wrong, so often. Is it really that hard to make a decent gravy and roast potatoes in a catering environment? Too often, the meat is overcooked, the vegetables soggy, and the potatoes sodden and tasteless. I've spent a few lazy afternoons in The Royal Inn on the Park (next to Victoria Park, Hackney, E. London) since our little boy was born, catching up with friends, sinking a few pints, and leering at the plates passing us by. It was time we ate there.

I'll be brief. It's good. Not mind-blowingly out of this world, but good quality ingredients, cooked well. The menu is traditional: lamb, chicken, beef, or pork roast (and a token veggie dish: I would only recommend this place to meat eaters), and chocolate tart, crumble, or sticky toffee pud for dessert.Roast beef with Yorkshire pudding. A generous plateful, and well-cooked flavoursome beef.

Roast pork belly with apple sauce. Jon loved it, but I thought the crackling looked a bit disappointing (not given a chance to try it!). It needs to be well blistered to get a proper crunch.

My roast chicken was enormous. Half a chicken with a lump of lovely bread sauce, sitting heavily on the vegetables. I think it took me 40 minutes to eat it all.

One sticky toffee pudding, and a table of four. Three of us were furiously jealous. It was decadent, rich, and the epitome of comfort food. Full marks.

Meat lovers and beer lovers won't be disappointed.

Royal Inn on the Park on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Braised rabbit with mustard

I'd been wanting to (try to) replicate the memorable slow cooked rabbit with mustard sauce I ate at Les Deux Salons last month, a supremely comforting and aromatic dish. Our fluffy friends are not widely available in East London, however, so I had to seek them out. Our local butcher in Walthamstow had some lingering in his freezer, and chopped them into portions for me.

à la moutarde: I got the gist of it - shallots, garlic, mustard, wine, cream, and slow cooking - but needed some guidance, having never cooked rabbit before. I consulted some experts.
Larousse Gastronomique: Recipe is a simple one. Rub meat with mustard, season, and roast, basting frequently, adding wine and cream to the meat juices at the end to make a sauce. Suggests serving with pasta.
Leiths Cookery Bible
: Recommends marinating the rabbit overnight, and adding tarragon and bacon to the creamy mustard sauce.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall gives rabbit generous coverage in his wonderful Meat Book. He's not too pleased with the popularity of farmed rabbits, finding their meat "terribly bland", and intensively bred for size rather than flavour. But farmed was all I could find. He stews rabbit with bacon, cider and a touch of honey.
Nigel Slater: Not surprisingly, the simplest rabbit recipe - just cream and mustard - cooked for only 25 minutes (not long enough, surely?).
Gary Rhodes: Rabbit Carbonara, a twist on the French classic, replacing the mustard with Parmesan, and poaching the meat separately in chicken stock before adding it to the made sauce.

I eventually decided to keep it classic, and adapted Raymond Blanc's recipe from February's Observer Food Monthly magazine. Here's the recipe, and I urge you to try it. The meat was moist and succulent, the sauce indulgent and rich. I couldn't get hold of fresh tarragon, but do add a sprig or two should you have some to hand. I added cream, thyme, and a touch of lemon juice, and cooked the dish for longer than he suggests.

Serves 4
  • 2 small wild rabbits, or 1 large farmed rabbit (ask your butcher to joint the rabbit for you)
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 rounded tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 4 tbsp plain flour
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 medium white onion, peeled and cut into 6 wedges, or 6 shallots
  • 6 garlic cloves, skin on
  • 150ml white wine
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 150ml water
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • 100ml double cream
  • 1 tbsp chopped flatleaf parsley, to garnish
Preheat the oven to 140C. Put the rabbit pieces in a large bowl and season generously. Add the mustard, and turn the pieces to ensure each one is coated in a thin film of mustard. Scatter the flour on a plate. Dip each piece of rabbit in the flour to coat, patting off any excess.

In a large flameproof casserole over a medium heat, melt the butter and heat until lightly foaming. Sear the rabbit pieces in the hot butter, in batches if necessary, for 7-8 minutes, turning only once or twice, to colour them all over.

Meanwhile, heat a glug of olive oil in a small pan and sweat the onion and garlic over a medium heat for 10 minutes, seasoning lightly after a few minutes. In a separate small pan, boil the wine for 30 seconds to reduce.

Add the wine vinegar to the rabbit and reduce the liquid down to a syrup. Add the garlic and onion, reduced wine, water, peppercorns, and herbs. Stir, then cover with a lid and cook in the oven until tender, stirring occasionally, approximately 1 1/2 hours. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding a small squeeze of lemon juice.

To finish the dish, using a slotted spoon, transfer the rabbit to a warmed dish. Place the casserole over a high heat, add the cream, and reduce the liquid by one-third. Pour the sauce over the pieces of rabbit, and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with braised lettuce and peas, French beans, boiled/sauteed new potatoes or warm crusty bread. Or, de-bone and serve with pasta, as Lizzie of Hollow Legs suggests (see her own recipe here), as does Larousse.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

I Heart Walthamstow

A bit off course, this one, but all for a good cause in my local neighbourhood.

I HEART Walthamstow Oyster Card holders are now available. Find them at Beyca Retro Furniture Emporium, 83 Grove Road, E17.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Opera Tavern

Salt Yard and Dehesa are two London Spanish-Italian tapas joints I often recommend to food lovers visiting London, especially if they happen to be on a date. The atmosphere is buzzy yet cosy, and the food never fails to please (and you can book, so no queues). High hopes for Opera Tavern then, run by the same husband-and-wife team behind Salt Yard and Dehesa, and just unveiled in the heart of Covent Garden, in a handsome two-storey building opposite The Theatre Royal.

Seated upstairs, in a quiet, smart dining room, we perused the menu. Up front is a list of tempting Spanish and Italian bar snacks, all hovering around £4. Then it gets fancier: expensive charcuterie and cheeses, and a selection of equally pricey small-plate fish, meat and vegetable dishes. Our lovely waitress suggested three dishes each would sate our appetites. I agree with Dos Hermanos about eating tapas in a smart restaurant setting - it doesn't feel right. Tapas is traditionally served at the bar, to accompany drinks, often in rowdy surroundings. Sitting at a dining table with starched napkin on lap to graze off starter-sized offerings takes a bit of getting used to. But it's all the rage right now (Polpo, Polpetto, Bocca di Lupo, Terroirs, Morito do it, and do it well).

Crispy Iberico Pigs Ears £3. Delightfully chewy and salty. Pork scratchings with bite.

Patata Fritas with Alioli and Bravas sauce £3.75. Bland, perhaps, but they were polished off quickly. They might be more pleasing if they were cut thicker and had more substance.

Grilled scallop with butternut squash puree, shallot and truffle dressing, and migas £4.25. Refined, and exceptional. The sweet soft scallop melted in the mouth as the salty crunch of crumbly migas added bite, and the fresh dressing gently amplified the scallop. A memorable mouthful, and worth every penny.

Moorish marinated Iberico pork £2.95. One of a selection of skewers available from the charcoal grill. A little disappointing, as the meat was raw in the middle. Bites of London review had the same experience, so it seems I wasn't just unlucky. Fine if you're munching through a stick of beef, but not pork.

Courgette flowers stuffed with goats' cheese and drizzled with honey £7.55. A popular dish at Opera Tavern's two sister restaurants. This was bang on: oozing, salty cheese and sweet sticky honey bringing the humble courgette to life.

Salt marsh lamb leg with pumpkin gnocchi, salted anchovies, brown butter, and mint £6.50. Another hit. Perfectly cooked lamb, and light-as-a-feather gnocchi, with enough butter to leave an indelible impression on my arteries.

Braised short rib of beef with polenta, cavolo nero and sage £7.25. This reminded me of Jun Tanaka's great braised featherblade of beef at the London Restaurant Festival in Spitalfields last year. Soft, rich, and intensely beefy (for want of a better adjective).

And to finish, a tart of chestnuts and something else. I don't remember. It was perfectly decent, but not memorable. Keep your budget for the savoury big hitters.

Our lunch bill, with 4 glasses of Prosecco, came to £80. Too pricey, by far. A fellow food blogger, Lizzie aka Hollow Legs, was at the soft launch, and warned me beforehand on Twitter of the exorbitant prices (click here to see her review), which will put me off returning for now, regardless of the largely impressive meal.

Opera Tavern on Urbanspoon