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Pork brain nuggets in panko breadcrumbs

Zombie Nuggets: or Brainsss!!

Pork brain nuggets in panko breadcrumbs

 

As you probably know from reading the blog, we seem to have unofficially become offal crazy. For me it’s partly because I’m on a tight budget and offal is cheap and partly because there’s an excellent stall at Brixton Farmers’ Market that sells all kinds of bits of wild boar and pork and I can play offal roulette while picking up some sausages or a roast. In fact, this is where I buy nearly all my meat these days and the woman who runs the stall often encourages me to try weird and wonderful bits (possibly to liven up her Sunday mornings). At my last visit, she slipped a package out from under the trestle and whispered brains in my direction. Or the most challenging thing I’ve ever been offered to eat.

She’d got them for me specially and I didn’t have the heart to refuse the little pink filled pouch. I asked what on earth one does with a bag of brains (if you don’t have a dog) and she told me that her Irish granny breaded and fried them and told them they were chicken nuggets. Wondering why I’m probably less scared of eating mechanically recovered meat than certain parts of fresh offal, I took them home to nugget up.

I don’t eat much in the way of nuggets or goujons or other crumbed things, but on a recent trip to Hawksmoor, I had some of their shortrib nuggets and was blown away by the melting interior and crispy crumby exterior all bound together with a tangy garlicky spicy kimchi dip on the side. I decided to steal the dip idea for my homemade nuggets, blending up some shopbought kimchi with a splash of vinegar and some ketchup til I got the right dippy texture.

Then I tackled the brains, cutting out some weird bits that didn’t look very edible, chopping them into fairly bite sized pieces, but not too small so they would burn on the outside before the middles were cooked. They were floured, egged and breadcrumbed in panko and fried til golden in hot oil. They looked lovely. All glisteningly crispy and very appetising indeed.

Turns out that fried breadcrumbs can make anything alluring and brain nuggets are as nice as you expected them to be…chewy, bouncy and very very offally in taste and texture, these were a bar too far even for me. I managed one, well dipped in kimchi ketchup and got no further. Pleased that I’d challenged myself this far, I regretfully threw the rest away feeling bad about wasting food and had a sandwich instead. My lesson is learned. If food makes you feel scared of it, you don’t have to eat it. Even if it makes a good blog post…

Pickles and Pizza

I like a bit of fine dining as much as anyone, but sometimes one’s tastes run a bit more on the casual side of things. I don’t mean I ever want to eat a Prawn Ring or kebab meat again and I believe ready meals to be a waste of calories. But I do have a soft spot for the kind of comfort food that borders on junk, especially that brand of Americana popularised by Nigella recently.

So when Mister North was down recently, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to indulge some homemade delights that would make a dietician weep. I’d been lusting after deep fried pickles ever since a Southern friend told me about them a few years back. Seeing Homesick Texan and Food Stories‘ recipes for them put them at the top of my to try list.

I dialled down the trashy vibe and put myself in the running for a pretentiousness award by growing my own gherkins and pickling them myself specially. (If this makes you eye roll at the sheer foodiness of it all, be comforted by the fact they didn’t taste that different to a Mrs Elswood.) Horticulturally experiments aside, these babies are super simple. I got cultured buttermilk in Sainsbury’s, but you could use yoghurt watered down instead. Do not feel tempted to substitute cream crackers for saltines. You’ll end up crying into your hot oil as all the moisture in your mouth evaporates. I used coarse cornmeal instead.

Heat your oil while you do the flour, egg, dip thing with the pickles. Fry for about a minute each side and then serve piping hot on the side of something delicious. In our case it was some leftover rollmops, a zingy homemade ranch style dressing with buttermilk, tarragon and garlic and a beer on the side. It was a heavenly plate of tanginess, crunch and sheer gluttony. I want to eat all gherkins in a crunchy coating now.

You’d think that plateful would have quelled our cravings for pig-out style food for the day, but you’d be wrong. About an hour later, we started getting ready to make a serious pizza for dinner. We used Marcella Hazan’s pizza dough recipe, leaving it to prove for several hours and turned our attention to the mozzarella. And I don’t just mean jiggling it about the bag in a slightly smutty fashion, I mean making it from scratch

Using some non-homogenised cow’s milk from Alham Wood Farms at Brixton Farmers’ Market, my fledgling cheese making skills, some citric acid that we explored all of Brixton for* and my trusty bottle of rennet, we created mozzarella magic. Surprisingly easy, especially if you have asbestos hands like Mister North for dipping the curds into the hot whey, we ended up with two beautiful bouncing balls of mozzarella in no time at all.

Buoyed by this, we turned to the pizza bases, lovingly dressing them with homemade sauce courtesy of Mister North and a glut of Blackpool tomatoes and an umami hit of anchovies, green olives, some of my home grown plum tomatoes and a finishing sprinkle of ham salt from Comfort and Spice. Unfortunately made giddy by the cheese achievement, we forgot to dust the worksurfaces with semolina as instructed and the bases stuck somewhat, leading to some creativity with a fishslice and a slightly concertina style pizza.

The pizza might have lacked finesse, but it was loaded with flavour. The tomatoes tasted of summer and the mozzarella was so soft and fresh I could have eaten the whole ball like an apple to fully enjoy the texture. It needed a touch more salt and I think it would have been even better with buffalo milk, but for a first go, it was pretty amazing.

We devoured the pizzas like kids at a sleepover, both wishing we’d had more of the mozzarella to do a tomato salad with or go retro and deep fry in a crispy coating like the gherkins. Instead we rounded off a day of gluttony with a cheeky bowl of Veda bread ice cream and a glass of wine or two, proving that sometimes the taste of home is all you need. Your own kitchen provides the greatest comfort.

*Try the Nour Cash and Carry if you need it Monday to Saturday and the Low Price Food & Wine on the corner of Brixton Road and Loughborough Road on a Sunday. We did the walking round so you don’t have to.

Buffalo Soldier

My regular Sunday morning trip to Brixton Farmers’ Market always involves fresh soft pretzels from Luca’s Bakery, but I managed to branch out from just baked goods this week and I couldn’t resist picking up a few seasonal goodies in the shape of some British asparagus, fresh garlic and buffalo steak for the rest of the week.

The buffalo steaks came from the amazing Alham Wood Cheeses stall which is so low key in the market I’m not sure it even has a sign. Only my finely honed mozzarella radar meant I noticed it…but it has some superb well matured cheeses as well as a small selection of buffalo meat each week. This stall is not to be missed if you are a serious cheese lover. They supply the succulent mozzarella for the top class pizzas at Brixton institution Franco Manca and it is a treat to be able to add this exceptional product to dishes at home.

My eye was drawn to the juicy looking organic buffalo frying steak. Two well sized thin cut steaks weighing in around 180g cost an incredibly reasonable £2.34, reminding me that it is possible to eat ethically raised higher welfare meat even on my limited budget. The fact that buffalo meat is also very low in fat and cholesterol was simply a bonus. I was definitely looking forward to trying buffalo meat for the first time! Read more

Dan Dan Noodles

Sunday morning saw me up and alert early for once and off to Brixton’s Farmers’ Market. I was hoping to pick up some rhubarb, but it might be a little early in the season for it here in London. I did however pick up some venison mince in all its rich ruby red glory. The low fat content and good quality appealed to me, but I had no firm plans on what to do with it.

I meandered home and sat down with a coffee and a fresh pretzel from the market to read the Observer Food Monthly, chuckling to myself at their amazement that people, especially chefs, ever eat alone when I espied a recipe for Dan-Dan noodles that looked like it would work perfectly with my venison mince. These could be described as the Chinese equivalent of spaghetti bolognese, since they combine noodles and meat, but with a delicious warming chili kick. I first had them at the fabulous Baozi Inn in Chinatown, but despite loving them, I had never thought to make them myself. I have no idea if this Jamie Oliver recipe is authentic or not but it gave me something to work with…

1 beef or chicken stock cube

500g minced beef

2 tbs runny honey

300g wheat noodles

4 handfuls of mixed green veg(Chinese cabbage, sprouting broccoli, bok choi, spinach)

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and very finely chopped

3 tbs dark soy sauce

2 tsp freshly ground Szechuan pepper

5 tbs good-quality chilli oil (see below)

2 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced

1 lime, quartered, to serve

Crumble your stock cube into a large pan of water and get it on the heat. Add the beef to a dry pan and, on a medium to high heat, keep moving it around until it’s golden and crunchy, which will take about 10 to 15 minutes. Pour away any excess fat, then add the honey and toss until all the mince is nicely coated. Cook for about 30 seconds, then take the pan off the heat.

Stir your noodles into the boiling stock and move them about a bit so they don’t stick together. Cook according to the packet instructions. Shred your cabbage into 1cm strips, quarter your bok choi and snap up the broccoli spears. When the noodles have 1 minute to go, throw in the prepared greens to blanch them. Drain the whole lot in a colander, reserving a mugful of the cooking water. Tip your noodles, veg and the water back into the hot pan.

Add your garlic, soy sauce, Szechuan pepper and chilli oil. Give it all a good mix with tongs and divide among 4 bowls. Sprinkle over the crunchy beef , finish with a scattering of spring onions and serve each dish with a lime quarter to squeeze over.

Once I got over the irony of the recipe being for 4 people in an article about eating alone, I used Marigold Bouillon powder to make the stock as it is easier to measure for one person than a stockcube. I left the honey out because frankly sweetened savoury dishes give me the heebie-jeebies and I didn’t have any bok choi, so I substituted some curly kale instead. Apart from the fact I also reduced the amount of chili oil hugely, the rest of the recipe was pretty similar.

The venison mince dry fried beautifully, becoming deliciously crumbly in the pan on a high heat, due to the lack of the usual watery fat you get in regular beef mince. Beef or pork mince would have needed draining and more cooking to achieve the right texture to go with the noodles. I misread the recipe slightly and stupidly only reserved a cupful (or 120ml) of the cooking liquid rather than the mugful suggested, meaning my finished dish had very little liquid, but this didn’t spoil it in anyway. It was still a delicious combination of soft slurpy noodles with crumbly nuggets of full flavoured meat, crunchy leaf vegetables and the refreshing chili kick you would expect from Szechuan food.

On top of that, it created very little washing up and is a marvellously quick recipe for using up the last little bits of cabbage or broccoli lurking in the back of your fridge. All in all, a perfect one person meal, especially as you can customise the chili to your own level each time, which is just the ticket on a cold winter day!