Think of the smell of cheap rubber. The kind of smell you might encounter at the shoe section of your local department store. Now think about that same smell, only burnt — as if a fire had just torn through the department store and you were standing in the burnt remains of the shoe section. Got it? Well that is the best way I can describe the smell of Reblochon cheese — the main ingredient of Tartiflette. You may be thinking that I’m doing a bad job of selling this recipe, but bear with me.
As I’ve come to understand, in the cheese world, smell doesn’t equal taste. Take Époisses for example, which according to the New York Times, is “arguably the most deliciously pungent, the most highly regarded and — fairly or unfairly — most infamous raw-milk cheese in France, if not in the whole world”. It smells horrid. It’s been banned from public transport in France and I’ve been banned from leaving it in the fridge at home. But put it in your mouth and the experience changes completely. The smell disappears and you are left with a wonderfully creamy texture with subtle hints of earth and nuts. Reblochon is similar and the change is profound when it’s cooked. You get this uniquely complex flavour and the more familiar it becomes, the more you enjoy it. Continue reading
Since the day I named them Roast and Paella, I have been committed to eating my chickens. For Roast, I’ve decided that the best way for her to transition from plucked to plated is via the oven. But while I wait for her to grow, I need to find a recipe that shows her the respect she deserves. Continue reading
As a foodie and a fan of the Tim Ferriss Show, I was very excited when he interviewed accomplished chef Andrew Zimmern. I listened to this podcast in the car and when I got home I went to the show notes to follow up on a few things. I found the show notes to be more like an advertisement for the podcast episode and I had to re-listen to find out who makes that famous roast chicken that they talked about. There were so many gems in this podcast that I decided to take notes for a couple of reasons. Firstly, without reviewing something you tend to forget it pretty quickly, and secondly, I’m hoping to set the standard for future show notes on the Tim Ferriss Show. If you agree that this is how they should be, then send Ferriss a quick tweet. Continue reading
I first encountered pistou in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol 2.
Pistou, a Provençal purée of fresh garlic and basil, is stirred into sautéed aubergines that have simmered with tomatoes, peppers, and onions, making a dish reminiscent of that famous Mediterranean medley, ratatouille, but much easier to produce.
It’s only easier to produce because Child’s recipe for ratatouille is so unnecessarily complicated and involved. Pistouille, for decent ordinary people, is simply ratatouille served with pistou sauce. Traditionally, pistou is made with olive oil and that recipe can be found with a simple Google search. This variation was taught to me by a Niçoise man by the name of JR who I met while traveling.
For a year over 2011 and 2012 Mark Zuckerberg only ate meat from animals that he had personally killed in an attempt to remind himself what it means to eat meat. In the modern western world most people are completely disconnected from the food they eat. It’s so easy to get food that is ready made, or vegetables that have been picked, washed, peeled, chopped, and wrapped in plastic. If you’re a city dweller without connections, it’s very difficult to get your meat the old fashioned way. Meat bought from the supermarket or butcher is ready to go straight into the pan. If it wasn’t for the label, most people wouldn’t even know what they were eating. Actually, even with the label most people have no idea.
La matanza del cerdo – the killing of the pig – is an old tradition in Spain. But unfortunately, it’s not as common as it once was. In days gone by, it was common for small villages to get together once a year, kill a few pigs, and divide up the meat between the villagers. For one of my friends, this is still a family tradition in the mountainous country of northern Catalonia where her family lives. Earlier this year, Rob and I were lucky enough to be invited.
To impress your guests when hosting a dinner party, you need to either cook a familiar dish that is better than any they’ve tried, or cook something they’ve never had. The latter is much easier. Making your own haggis is something that almost no one does anymore, even in Scotland. But, provided you can get the ingredients, it’s easy.
Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a sausage casing rather than an actual stomach. As the 2001 English edition of the Larousse Gastronomique puts it, “Although its description is not immediately appealing, haggis has an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour”. Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish, considered the national dish of Scotland as a result of Robert Burns’ poem Address to a Haggis of 1787. Haggis is traditionally served with “neeps and tatties” (Scots for turnip and potato), boiled and mashed separately and a dram (a glass of Scotch whisky), especially as the main course of a Burns supper.
Most people enjoy even low quality haggis once they get over their mental hurdles.
This all started when I was standing on a street in Tollcross, soaking up a few golden sunrays. I was looking across at my favourite butcher, wondering if it was possible to make my own haggis if I could get the ingredients. I walked over with the intention of having a chat. I ended up leaving with 1 sheep’s pluck (heart and lungs attached to what appeared to be a central wind pipe), 1 sheep’s liver, several chunks of beef suet (the hard fat from around the heart or kidney), and a large natural ox bung casing. Suet has a higher melting point than other fats. It is used to add flavour and to help bind the haggis.
The butcher told me that I had everything in the right proportions. All I needed to add was onion, oatmeal, and spices. His instructions included giving the casing a good wash as it was covered in salt, and something about boiling the offal. In my excitement I wasn’t really listening. By the time I got home his vague method was even more hazy so I did some research. First thing I realised was that there was no consistency in directions. Cooking times between recipes varied by 500%. Some recipes talked about removing the windpipe, others talked about hanging it over the side to let the impurities fall out. Some recipes even used different combinations of offal. I can sum up my findings as follows:
Boil the offal until cooked through.
Cool the offal and mince it.
Combine the minced offal, minced suet, finely chopped onions, pinhead oatmeal, spices, and some stock (or the water you boiled the offal in).
Stuff into casing.
Cook casing until hot throughout.
I followed the above “recipe” guided the by phrase “If in doubt, leave it out”. I ended up with 2 large balls of haggis, one smaller ball, and a repetitive strain injury from untold minutes of chopping boiled offal. I put the large balls in the freezer and started to cook the smaller one for that night’s dinner.
There are a number of ways of cooking haggis, my prefered method up until this point being boiling. Within 5 minutes of submerging the haggis, it had split open and the stuffing had dispersed into the water. I strained the mixture, and tasted the boiled stuffing. All the flavour has escaped into the water and it tasted like what it was; insipid boiled meat. Horrible.
I’ve since discovered that pricking the haggis with a pin lets the air escape and reduces the risk of it splitting. I also believe that I used too many oats, which caused the haggis to expand excessively and split open.
Somewhat disheartened but still hopeful, I took one of the large ball of haggis and steamed it while preparing some vegetables. It steamed for around 90 minutes; long enough to become hot all the way through.
This time it was absolutely delicious. Easily the best haggis I’ve had, which isn’t saying too much as I’ve only ever tasted haggis from the supermarket and local pubs. This haggis had a different texture that I’d never experience before, probably due to the ingredients being chopped by hand. It was course and every now and then you would get a little piece of lung tubing or a chunk of suet that made for an interesting and enjoyable experience. The flavour was as it should be – strongly meaty with pepper and hints of other spices. I served it with some roasted vegetables and sauerkraut. Traditionally haggis is served with mashed turnips and mashed potatoes which, although delicious, is done ad nauseam in Scotland.
1 sheep’s pluck sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs
250g beef suet finely diced
1 ox bung thoroughly rinsed in several changes of water
2 large brown onions finely diced
3/4 cup steel cut oats also known as pinhead or Scottish oats (optionally toasted)
Various dried herbs and spices eg, paprika, cayenne pepper, oregano, thyme, etc
1-2 tablespoons of salt
1-2 tablespoons of pepper
Knife & chopping board
Large mixing bowl
Remove the heart, lungs, and liver from the windpipe and other miscellaneous tissue. Cut into large chunks.
Boil the chunks of heart, lung and liver for approximately 1 hour, or until cooked throughout. Remove from the water and leave until cool enough to handle. Reserve a cup of the cooking liquid.
Finely dice the onions and mix with the finely diced beef suet.
Finely chop the boiled offal (or use a mincer if you have one) and mix with the onions and suet.
Mix in the salt, pepper, and dried herbs and spices of your desire, for example, a tablespoon of mixed or provence herbs, a tablespoon of paprika, a teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
Stuff the mixture into the washed ox bung and tie off each ball to roughly the volume of an american football.
At this point each ball can be either cooked immediately, or refrigerated / frozen for further use. You may want to reserve some of the haggis stuffing for another delicious recipe – Balmoral chicken (sometimes called Highland chicken).
To cook the haggis, steam it until it’s hot all the way through. Timing depends on the size. Allow 1 hour for a small haggis.
Serve as you would any other meat – with a side of vegetables.
Alternatively, don your kilt, place the plattered haggis on the table with sides of mashed turnip and potato, address the haggis, then slice it open with a broadsword.
Suggested beverage accompaniment: Lagavulin 16 single malt scotch whisky.
Note: Unfortunately for Americans, lungs aren’t legally available. Apparently, tongue and kidneys are a decent substitute.
steaming the haggis
Haggis ready to cook
Cleaning the casing
Boiling the lungs
Top left: suet; bottom left: liver; right: sheeps pluck held by the heart
Leftover herbs. It’s hard to know what to do with them and I hate to see them go to waste. Parsley butter is a great way to use them and it gives an elegant twist to many simple dishes which can be served on the side, or as separate courses. For example:
Over lowish heat: sauté mushrooms in parsley butter until juices have been released and evaporated. Adjust seasoning and acidity (lemon, S&P). Serve.
An alternative to the above is to cook the mushrooms in extra virgin olive oil first and then add some parsley butter within the last couple of minutes of cooking. The flavour is quite different. The following can also be fried in parsley butter with good results: diced carrots (low heat for 30 or 40 minutes), potatoes (chopped to 1cm cubes, though in this case I would suggest cooking them in oil first), whole asparagus tips, or whole green beans.
Fideos a la cazuela con costilla de cerdo y salchichas
Since I’ve been so enthusigasmic about my new cazuela de barro, I’ve been on the lookout for new recipes to try. When I was in San Sebastián I bought myself Las Mejores Recetas De Mi Madre by Joan Roca. Or, The Best Recipes Of My Mother as the English title would be if there was one. Joan Roca is the head chef at the three Michelin star restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Catalonia. He is quite famous in Spain and has a new book out called Cocina con Joan Roca.
The title of the recipe loosely translates to Casserole style spaghetti noodles with pork ribs and mini pork sausages. In Spain it’s quite common to cook with individual ribs chopped into 1-2″ chunks. The butcher prepares them this way when you buy them. If I wasn’t able to get ribs prepared like this, I probably would’ve substituted pork belly. Salchichas are small sausages about the size of a large man’s finger. You can substitute any good quality pork sausage, but if you buy large sausages, chop them into chunks and adjust cooking times accordingly. Fideos are basically 1″ segments of spaghetti. Substitute any small form of pasta if you can’t find them. This recipe also calls for vino rancio which I’ve referred to as “old wine”. It is a special type of wine from Catalonia which has been left out to age in the sun. I have no idea what it tastes like but I’m guessing it’s acidic so I substituted the juice of half a lemon. Don’t forget, when cooking from a cazuela, always bring it up to temperature slowly. The recipe says to keep simmering for about 10 minutes once the ribs have been reintroduced to soften them. I did this, but they were still quite tough. Next time I cook this, I will extend this cooking time to try and soften the meat more.
Here’s the recipe to serve 1 person:
In a cazuela de barro with extra virgin olive oil: brown 1 pork rib cut into 1-2″ chunks, remove. Brown 3 small sausages, remove. Add more olive oil if necessary, fry 1 diced onion ~ soft & golden, add one grated tomato (halve the tomato, grate the flesh and seeds, discard the skin), and cook over low heat ≈ 5-10mins. Add a dash of old wine, continue cooking until it has reduced to the consistency of jam. Return the ribs to the cazuela, add ≈ 1/2 a cup of stock, continue cooking ≈ 10mins to soften the rib meat. Return the sausages, add pasta to fill in the gaps between the chunks of meat. Cook ~ pasta is almost done (you may need to add more stock if it’s looking dry). Off heat, stir through 1 small clove of garlic and 2 or 3 sprigs of parsley (both finely chopped), then leave to rest a few minutes. Serve in the cazuela, along with a nice salad.
Glossary of Symbols
I’ve recently been introduced to a fantastic little piece of equipment that no one but the Spanish seem to know about. This is probably common all over the world for all I know, but I’d never seen it until a few months ago when I walked into my favorite mexitesence in Edinburgh.
A cazuela de barro is an earthenware pot that is glazed on the inside. I’m not sure where it originally came from, could’ve been France, but the Spanish seem to have taken full advantage of its beauty. The best thing about the cazuela de barro is that you can do anything to it. It can go on gas or electric stove tops, in the microwave or convection oven, dishwasher, fridge, and freezer. The only requirement is that it doesn’t change temperature too quickly – always start on a low heat and allow it to cool before fridge/freezing.
They come in all sizes too. Large ones can be used like a casserole dish to serve the whole family. Then there’s the normal size which will hold a main meal for one person, and then the smaller Cazuelita de Barro that’s perfect for serving tapas.
Although it’s amazing to cook and serve a family meal in a cazuela, it is most valuable for a single person or couple as it minimises washing up. You can literally serve a perfectly good meal and have nothing left to wash except the Cazuela de Barro and a fork. Naturally I bought myself one of these the first day I settled into my new flat in Spain.
Since this is my new favorite thing in the world, I’ll be cooking out of it constantly for at least the next couple of days until I get distracted by something else. So keep a look out for recipes to come. If you don’t have a cazuela de barro but still want to follow the recipes, just use a frying pan and transfer to a casserole dish if it needs to go into the oven. Click on Cazuela de Barro under the Food menu at the top of the page to see related blog posts.
Rob has been keeping an account of our trips through GARMIN connect which goes with his GPS. Unfortunately the GPS tends not to direct us along bike paths so we usually just use it to record our trip data.
Day 1 – Edinburgh to Dunbar
Left Edinburgh at 3:30 PM, slightly later than our anticipated 11:00 AM departure. Weather was pretty shit but not too much wind. Fog set in later in the day and there was a mist that made everything pretty moist. Stayed with a bloke named Mark James who is a warmshowers.org member. We camped in his backyard and he gave us heaps of cycling tips and advice as well as lots of good organic food and showed us around Dunbar. We went to the local community garden which is at the hospital and planted a few Hazel trees. We cooked a meal on our little burner – macaroni and tuna stir through with a wild lettuce that Mark gave us. Cold night in the tent as both tent and sleeping bags are meant for… well… not Scotland in April. But that’s okay, we are still alive.
Part of our lateness was due to my phone deciding to break on the morning of our departure. To fix it I had to wipe it and reinstall everything. This was taking way too long so I had to just stop it half way through, then put my computer in my bag and send it to Spain. Now I’m riding with only about a third of my music collection and half an audio book. I guess I’m going to be listening to a lot of podcasts…
Here is the recipe for the one pot meal we cooked. It’s easy, delicious and there’s minimal washing up. The only hard part is knowing how much water to add so that you end up with the right consistency when the pasta is al dente. I suggest keeping a close eye on it and adding water little by little as required.
Fry onion, carrot in tin tuna oil ~ soft. + pimenton, thyme, bay leaf ~ 2-3mins. + tuna~2mins. +tin tomatoes, stock cube, and enough water so it’s a bit watery. Simmer covered for as long as you can/want. Add pasta, boil ~ pasta is cooked. Adjust seasoning (including acidity with lemon or lime). Serve over lettuce leaves (spinach is preferable) with lots of cheese on top.