Sunday, 7 June 2015

Eat father eat.

When I was growing up we didn't eat out all that much, well, not unless we were on holiday, but that's a different topic all together. There were a few places that we'd get take aways from, fish and chips after swimming or trampolining of an evening and very occasionally a Chinese from the Golden Coin. However the restaurant that figures strongest in my childhood eating memories is Ye Bambam Ye at Cemetery Junction (nothing at all like the execrable film presents it to be). This was a Turkish place, split between a take away on one side and a smallish traditionally decorated restaurant on the other. Dark carpets, shishas and tapestries were the order of the day as far as decoration was concerned and for us Edwards children it was the nec plus ultra of dining sophistication. It's funny thinking back to the sorts of dishes I remember, platters of rice, grilled meats and vegetables, chilli and garlic dips, flat bread, actually all the things that I love to find in restaurants now.

The restaurant was to the left, what is now sadly the Up The Junction bar

Moving swiftly through the wilderness years of living in Glasgow where despite BBQ Kings' best efforts, their chicken shish was really only a sideline to their bread winners of large doners and chips'n'cheese (both yellow and orange cheese if memory serves), I found myself travelling to Turkey with my sister to visit various Anatolian Greek sites as part of her degree. This naturally meant we would spend several days in Istanbul, where from a hotel in the Beyoglu we did all of the touristy things and ate quite a few kebabs. Sadly, beyond a couple of slightly disappointing fish dishes I don't have any great recollections of the food, slightly odd given that even at that time I was beginning to pay undue attention to whatever it was I shovelled into my mouth.

25th birthday dinner somewhere in Istanbul

Several years later I was in Izmir for a wine conference, the European wine bloggers conference to be precise, hold oddly in the Asian side of Turkey, but I'll drop my geographic pedantry and get back to the food, which with one exception was pretty awful. Large banqueting style dinners are never the way to get under the skin of a countries eating culture. Thankfully my desire to avoid paying extortionate hotel fees had seen me book a place in the centre of the town some twenty minutes walk from the conference site, a walk that took me down the back lanes of Izmir and right past the lines of outdoor kebab stalls, intoxicating would be one way of describing the smell. Rickety white plastic tables and chairs, seemingly snaffled from a children's party (the only way I could explain their diminutive size) would be swiftly wiped down while I drank sweet black tea. For the record I favour half a sugar cube per glass, yes I concede that over the course of a day one edges into diabetes threatening levels of sugar consumption, but it is only on holiday that this happens. Then the unshaven chap in the filthy white apron would bring me my wrap. The small round flat bread wrapped ice cream cone like round freshly sliced beef (I know it was beef because when I queried what it was he put his hands to the side of his head like horns and proceeded to moo, who needs to speak the language) that had been grilled on a horizontal spit in front of wooden embers. A small amount of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and yoghurt completed the snack. I returned every day of my stay. I was hands down the best food I'd ever eaten in Turkey, smokey, succulent, tantalisingly fatty and just the right size to allow me to eat a modicum of whatever rubbish was going to be put in front of me later in the day.

How it's done properly

I now live in South London, disgustingly close to the palace of joy that is FM Mangal and as such have lamb shish and adana wraps mere moments from my door, it's no surprise that they now know me by name.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Ragu and authenticity

I think about authenticity quite a lot. It tends to haunt me when I'm thinking about wine lists, I want the wines I list to speak of the places from which they come. I want to show grapes that belong, made by people that understand them. I feel similarly about cooking, I've been to so many wonderful places and eaten food made by people who've lived there for generations cooking the things that they grew up with. It's while eating food like this that one tastes the authenticity that comes from the marriage of product and place, season and style, and yes I'll accept that much of this may well be entirely of my own imagining it's still very satisfying.

This tends to cause me concern when cooking at home. How ever can one hope to emulate this on a daily basis? Instead, I fall back on the kinds of dishes I like. No I don't live in the Eastern Med, however I'm quite happy to get very liberal with my sumac application. Nope I'm not in Dhaka (never been, sadly) but that's not going to stop me playing with panch phoron when I'm grilling a chicken, however that lack of authenticity does still linger in the back of my mind.

Anyway, Sam, one of my old friends from Pony Club (yes I did write that, and yes you can fuck right off if you have an issue with it) posted to facebook that they were slaughtering some of their one year old sheep. I was actually slightly slow off the mark as my sister had already bagsied one, needless to say several weeks later we were in possession of about half a hogget and a bag of offal bits because 'I figured you'd find something to do with them'. Nothing quite like a fun challenge based around somewhat unidentifiable frozen bits of sheep in plastic bags.

Now I'm quite an adventurous cook, though this does come with a degree of worry. I guess I'm consciously torn between my principles and what I've actually had experience cooking with. Suffice to say I didn't really know what I was going to do with several lamb hearts. I've cooked with ox heart before, but I didn't really know to what extent lamb's heart was going to be a) tough, b) gamey, c) tasty. So I went for the easy option and decided (courtesy of a suggestion by @siepert) to make a ragu with it.

It was here that I hit against the issue of authenticity, ragu is essentially an Italian peasants dish, I'm guessing made from whatever was around with the glut of ripe tomatoes that arrived in the summer. I'm neither Italian, nor is it the height of summer in my groaning kitchen garden (I don't have one) so this left me with several options. I could find the best ragu recipe I knew of and follow it word for word (with obvious offaly substitutions) or I could wing it. Naturally I started with the best intentions, did all sorts of research, then drank half a bottle of cheap white wine, went shopping, forgot to pick up various things and ended up winging it.

A ragu starts with a good soffritto, that is finely diced onion, carrot and celery, two parts of the first, to one part each of the second and third. I forgot to buy celery so my aromatic base was left to resemble a castrated Toulouse Lautrec. Still, I added a shit load of garlic instead, after all I like garlic and for various reasons there's a sack of it in my hall way. This was left to sweat and turn all tanned and golden while I fortified myself with the remaining half bottle of cheap white and turned my attentions to the lamb offal.

What I had thought was going to be two lamb hearts turned out to be one lamb heart and a lamb's liver, no harm no foul I figured, liver's got great flavour and will be equally delicious if somewhat more frustrating to dice finely and neatly. The heart was actually quite beautiful, much more human in scale than that of an ox and oddly reminded me of something one might see in a piece of devotional stained glass, the fat around the top appearing almost like mother of pearl or loosely applied cake icing. On slicing it in half I was stuck by the mechanical functionality of it, something you don't really see when cutting more prosaic pieces of meat. Ventricles and atria, muscles stretched at angles ready to pump. I was genuinely quite taken aback by it's elegance. Still it was nothing that a couple of minutes with a sharp blade couldn't reduce to neatish chunks.

Offal sorted, and by this time my veg base approaching readiness, it was browned off in a hot pan, added to the soffritto, swiftly followed by similarly browned beef and pork mince and five cans of plum tomatoes (aisle three of Morisson's being Camberwell's equivalent of a bounteous tomato crop),  several bay leaves, two smallish sprigs of rosemary, some water, some soy sauce and fish sauce for authenticity (to any raised eye brows I counter you with several texts pertaining to garum and its ubiquity in Roman cuisine) and a healthy slug of wine.

This was then left for a period of time, roughly equivalent to the time it took me to get on a bus to Euston, meet several friends from Manchester to catch up over a few pints before catching a somewhat delayed bus back home.

Duly fortified with both grape and grain I arrived back at my house to be welcomed by the scent of long slow cooking, whatever it was I'd made had worked to some degree, indeed on tasting it'd acquired the umami richness of long cooked tomatoes and meat and I'd go so far as to say it was delicious. Also, possibly as a result of my hearty fortification I felt able to pronounce on its authenticity. I'd made a version of a classic dish, without any particular adhesion to instruction in a way that I felt at least matched the spirit of someone needing to feed a family whilst faced with a set of basic ingredients and a source of heat. In which I found at least a temporary respite from nagging doubts as to my worthiness to cook/play with other cultures heritages.

Indeed I'm happy to say that it was magnificent with linguine and a gremolata (@foodstories suggestion, and one that really completed the dish by adding the requisite freshness and top notes that its bass heavy meatiness required). Also, the four tubs that I froze sated my latent desire to attempt some sort of frugality with regards to my food expenditure.
An all round success.
Quite possibly the lamb whose heart and liver I cooked, if not then one of its kin.