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West African Inspired Mussels and Chips…

 

West African inspired mussels and chips

Much and all as I love summer, the months without an ‘R’ in curb my ability to eat shellfish as much as I’d like. So thank goodness for the humble mussel which can be eaten all year round. I love them in the summer as a light simple supper that doesn’t need much standing over a hot stove (normally because of the high temperature outside, but this year so it doesn’t cut into my watching TV under a blanket time…)

The French style is most common with mussels and although I love it, I wanted something a bit fresher and punchier.  Some fat scarlet tomatoes from O Talho caught my eye on the way back from Dagon’s and I’d just picked up some picture perfect red chillis from the Wing Tai Asian Supermarket. But as well as the warmth from the capsicums, I wanted some tingle and my mind went to the pod of alligator pepper a friend had gifted me after we shopped in the Village one Saturday.

Alligator pepper pod

Highly prized in West Africa, especially Nigeria where the Yoruba incorporate it into naming ceremonies for babies, this pepper comes in a dry pod that looks like an alligator’s back and has a warm bite of pepper mixed with a slight hint of cardamom. I’ve mainly seen recipes for it involving fish and tomatoes so I knew it was likely to work with my mussels. I have no idea how authentic this might be though…

West African Inspired Mussels and Chips: serves 2 comfortably

  • 1kg bag mussels
  • 1/2 pod alligator pepper
  • 2 banana shallots or small onion
  • two handfuls of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 red chilli or 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 150ml water
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 4 sweet potatoes

First clean your mussels well. Pull the beards from them and discard any that are already open and that don’t close when tapped or that are broken. Leave them to soak in cold water to clean out any grit while you turn your attention elsewhere.

Heat the oven to 200℃ and then peel your sweet potatoes. I used orange fleshed ones from the supermarket. Cut them into chips, making sure that they are all roughly the same size and thickness so they cook evenly. Toss in a light coating of oil and then cook. I used a mesh tray like this which cuts the cooking time and washing up, but you are using an oven tray, they’ll take about 25 minutes.

About ten minutes before the chips are ready, finely dice your shallot and cook in a small amount of oil on a moderate heat until softened but not coloured. If using the chilli, cut finely and add to the shallot. Keep the seeds in if you want more heat. Then take the alligator pepper pod and scoop the seeds out and grind them in a pestle and mortar before adding to the shallot and chilli to cook out slightly. Cut your tomatoes in half and add to the pan. You don’t need any extra seasoning.

When the tomatoes start to collapse slightly round the edges, add in the cleaned wet mussels to the pan. Pour the water on top and put the lid on and cook for about 3-4 minutes or until the mussels have opened and the tomatoes are thickening the juices. Take off the heat and leave the lid on while you dish up the sweet potato fries on a separate plate. Then serve the steaming hot mussels in bowls with a good amount of the tomato rich liquor and then dig in.

The best way to eat mussels is to use the empty shell to pick the meat out of the next. Discard any mussels that haven’t opened and enjoy each flavoursome mouthful as the warmth of the chilli and alligator pepper builds a tingle on your lips and the pile of shells grows. Best eaten with a ice cold beer, a roll of kitchen paper and some non judgemental friends to hand!

 

This post first appeared over at Brixton Blog celebrating all our lovely local shops.

 

Wise yer bap… put pasties on them!

Growing up reciting the Lord’s Prayer everyday at school, it made perfect sense that we asked to be given our daily bread. Belfast is a city of bakeries and practically every meal, including our famous Ulster Fry, combines bread in some shape or form. In fact, the city even gives its name to the world famous crusty Belfast Bap.

Perfect filled with anything, mainly fried goods, this humble bread roll has an illustrious past. Invented by master baker, cross community pioneer and philanthropist Barney Hughes in the 1840s, it is credited with feeding the city during the Famine and ensuring it wasn’t as badly affected as many other parts of Ireland, paving the way for it to become one of the great industrial centres of the Empire, famed especially for shipbuilding, including the Titanic.

The Belfast bap is still baked daily back in Northern Ireland, forming the basis of many a meal. There’s few things that don’t taste better stuffed into a buttery Belfast bap. In fact, a crisp sandwich isn’t a crisp sandwich unless it’s Tayto Cheese & Onion on a proper burnt brown topped bap. But the ultimate Belfast meal is that stalwart of every chippie, the Pastie Bap.

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Poutine

Sometimes only chips will do. And after a Friday night that saw tvdinners and I literally drink Seven at Brixton dry of basil and ginger mojitos before giving Kaff Bar’s excellent £3 version a go, I not only needed chips. I needed turbo charged chips. It seemed like the moment my entire life had been wating for to try poutine

For those of who wondering what kind of shenanigans that is, let me elaborate. Poutine is the unofficial dish of Canada, a religion in Québec, especially Montréal and known elsewhere as chips covered with gravy and cheese curds. It’s not pretty dish, but it’s a glorious mix of carbs, grease and fat best served piping hot and after alcohol has been consumed. A grown up gravy chip.

I’ve never seen it served here and it might seem like a right faff to go to, but luck and a certain amount of planning made it fairly straightfoward. The seemingly tricky bit is the cheese curds. I already had the rennet from previous cheesemaking exploits and have discovered that even the little Sainsburys in Brixton sells unhomogenised Jersey milk. So fresh they squeak cheese curds were only a few minutes away.

While the spuds for my chips parboiled, I scalded the milk, added the rennet and let the curds and whey develop. Dry the curds off in a cheesecloth or muslin and turn your attention to the chips. Having drained the chips, I couldn’t be bothered with all the stages Felicity Cloake suggests here and fried them for five minutes at lowish temperature, before draining on kitchen paper and allowing the oil to get really going.

I’d roasted a chicken earlier in the week and by some feat of willpower had the juices left to make gravy with. I thickened it up with cornflour and heated it up. I broke the curds up a bit more with a fork and let drain well before batch frying the chips til very golden. I personally loathe an anaemic chip so relished the opportunity to get these good and Ronseal brown in the hot fat.

At this point I cannot claim how authentic my poutine was. I dusted the chips with salt and pepper, poured the gravy over and then added the curds. I should have done the curds first and then the gravy to make sure the cheese melted more, but I was too hungry to be too bothered. I got stuck in.

And zut alors, I can see why the Quebecois love this dish so much. It’s simple, it’s tasty, it’s filling. It’s soft and crunchy at the same time and cries out to be eaten quickly and while piping hot. The cheese curds melt more like mozzarella than cottage cheese and add a creaminess. The squeak is a little bit like halloumi and the whole thing works like a charm. I loved it.

I’m entering poutine in the Hall of Fame of chip dishes immediately. You might be able to fiddle with it to make it veggie, but my advice is keep it simple and make a date with the dish as soon as you can. The Canadian embassy should start a poutine joint for post pub Saturday nights in the West End. It’d attract more people to visit Canada than all the maple leaves in the world…

The Three Fishes, Mitton

Last week was Mister North’s birthday and an excellent excuse for both of us to eat and drink in style all weekend. After an excellent, but late Saturday night out enjoying Korean food at Baekdu and sampling just a few of the excellent beers on offer at Port Street Beer House in Manchester, we were just ready for a good pub lunch preferably in a location gorgeous enough to do this fabulous weather justice. We didn’t take long to decide on The Three Fishes.

Tucked away in Mitton the Ribble Valley not far from Clitheroe and Whalley, this pub prides itself on serving good Lancashire food and drink in a beautiful location and sounded just right for an afternoon out. We decided to err on the side of caution and book a table even though it was a Monday lunchtime and were glad we had when we got stuck behind every driver in the valley out going at 30 miles a hour to drink in the sunny scenery. It also made for the most genuine welcome when we arrived at the pub 10 minutes than planned. Our waitress greeted us like service had been waiting for us and showed us to our table with enthusiasm. Combined with the pint of local Thwaites Wainwright we chose, it was a good start.

The menu is extensive and tempting and we both struggled to narrow our choices down, staring at other tables to see what they were ordering. The platters looked sensational and Mister North was very tempted by the seafood platter until we discovered they were out of the oh-so alluring sounding treacle cured salmon. This almost pleased me as it removed my dilemma and allowed me to go for the Morecambe Bay shrimp as a starter without too much dithering. The fact Mister North chose my other temptation with the baked whitebait, smoked pig’s jowl and a soft hen’s egg was fortituous too.

We didn’t have to wait long before our cheery waitress arrived with the starters, but they were good enough that I’d have waited a while for them. I was served what felt like a pint of shrimp, all glossy and glorious after being kissed by a wave of mace scented butter in their dish. I loved that the waitress brought me a spoon so even after devouring the English muffin, I wouldn’t miss a drop of that beautiful shrimpy butter. I barely noticed Mister North’s reactions as I supped my shrimp, but the morsel I sampled made me briefly envious. Soft sparkling fresh whitebait, unencumbered by batter, married beautifully with the smoky salty chewy pig’s jowl and reminded me again that pork and seafood together can barely be bettered and this was a particularly good example of it.

Excited for the mains after the great starters, I was glad there was a little bit of a pause while I recovered from my buttering up, but I was still thrilled to see my Pie Top with caramelised onions, braised ox cheek and kidneys arrive, especially when I realised it was accompanied by the same dripping cooked chips that made Mister North’s fancy scampi and squid in a basket sound so alluring, preventing us from reverting to childhood squabbling in public…

In fact there was silence at the table as we got stuck in. My ox cheek was properly unctuous, melting in the mouth after the merest prod of the fork. The disc of gleaming puff pastry soaked up some serious good gravy and the onions really added a sweet base note that made the dish. The kidneys though, weren’t as good as the ones I cooked recently, and were a tad powdery for my still offal sensitive tendencies. I’m not sure if it was the texture of the kidneys lingering, but I also found the chips a little bit claggy as if the dripping hadn’t quite been hot enough, but considering how light and lovely the batter on Mister North’s squid and scampi was, I think the issue might have been with me.

He dispatched his fritto misto and chips in record time, commenting several times on how fresh the seafood was and how light it seemed considering that it was all deep fried. I found my dish much heavier and struggled to finish the chips, but refused to waste even a drop of that gravy! We both wanted to sample the famed length of Lancashire Cheese, but were simply too full to even remotely do it justice. I’d have been tempted to go for a long walk so I could come back for it afterwards, but instead we decided to finish up rather than linger and be tempted to drink more at lunchtime. If we’d had more time, I’d have enjoyed sampling the rather good gin list, including the Chase Gin I’m keen to try, especially since it was sunny enough to sit out with a G&T.

We settled the bill and despite the fact Mister North was paying for his own birthday treat, he seemed to find it reasonable at under £50 for the two of us with a drink. Service was genuinely friendly and very easy. We neither felt rushed for coming almost as lunch ended or forced to sit on waiting around for things because they were clearing up. The whole dining room was pleasantly busy with a few other birthday lunches, kids and people enjoying themselves over a drink and I liked the atmosphere immensely. In a valley crammed with pubs and places to eat, there’s a reason that the Three Fishes is so popular. They’ve cracked gastropub food while keeping the pub vibe and welcoming everyone. It’s a local gem. I only wish it were more local to me…

Sour Faced

There is an alarming trend creeping across the land that chills me to the core; it is becoming impossible to get vinegar to go with your chips when eating out…

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