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Cooked tongue and cheek pudding

Tongue ‘n’ cheek: a hot, steamy, sticky pudding

Tongue and cheek steamed pudding

Regular readers have no doubt picked up on our growing love affair with offal. Over the last three years we’ve embraced cooking and eating the more esoteric, wobbly and less-eaten parts of various animals… mostly successfully. In part this has been driven by our curiosity; in part interest in rediscovering traditional dishes (thanks to championing chefs like Fergus Henderson and Robert Owen Brown), and in part because it’s a cheap and healthy foodstuff. Oh, and we’ve laid a few demons to rest in the process too…

When we were young, our mum used to serve us tongue sandwiches, and I loved them. Despite being a reasonably smart kid, I never made the connection between the name ‘tongue’ and the actual muscle inside an animal’s head; I just assumed it was another odd quirk of the English language. My illusions were shattered when I walked into the kitchen one day to find mum making pressed tongue: setting a boiled ox tongue in jelly, then pressing a plate down with an old-fashioned iron. Suddenly I put two and two together and realised why the slices were round, and curled. Although I was fascinated by the size, texture and feel of the ox tongue, I was also pretty creeped out. Both familiar and alien, one glimpse of the tongue was enough to change my attitude to it as a foodstuff. No longer was it a welcome morsel to find in my packed lunch, now it was a giant freaky cow tongue. I didn’t eat tongue again for over twenty years.

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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…

Negril, Brixton Hill

Despite a legendary Caribbean heritage, I don’t find Brixton the best place to eat Caribbean food, especially in the evenings when the vans in Brixton Station Road are closed. Bamboula isn’t bad, but it doesn’t make me excited about jerk like the good stuff should. The only place that does that for dinner is Negril.

Well worth a walk up the Hill, you must remember to book as this unassuming spot gets packed out in the evenings. In summer this is partly because they have a lovely patio out front to while away a sunny evening, but mainly because Negril is simply great.

From the friendly welcoming reception when I phoned to book for a Friday night to the very end of the meal, I couldn’t fault anything about Negril. And by the look of it, the packed out patio, full restaurant and queue at the door all agreed with me. An unusual place in that it is equally good for non meat eaters and carnivores alike, Negril specialises in ital food and jerk chicken, along with many other Jamaican favourites served in healthy portions with a home made feel while feeling like a bit of a night out. It’s BYO, but also does a great selection of soft drinks and juices and doesn’t baulk at all when you ask for tap water, bringing us a jug of the stuff when we each asked for a glass. This thoughtfulness and willing got the meal off to a great start!

After checking we knew our way round the menu, our friendly and helpful waiter took our order for a half jerked chicken each with festival and coleslaw for me and plantain and rice and peas for my mum and provided glasses for our wine as the place filled up steadily and we got to listen to the world’s most irritating woman at the table next to us ponder why her date hadn’t called her again.

Before we both lost patience with her and told her the answer to her query, the food arrived and distracted us. A mound of crisp skinned flavoursome free range chicken appeared. On my plate there were two enormous pieces of festival, a dish of the best home-made coleslaw around and some rich glossy chicken gravy while my mum had heaps of fried plantain and rice and peas along with some fiery scotch bonnet sauce and barbeque sauce to accompany it.

The food was fantastic. You can really taste the difference that being free range makes to the chicken. Dark, flavoursome meat is complimented by a fantastic jerk rub filled with thyme, allspice and scotch bonnet that tingles nicely on the lips without making the eyes water. The rice and peas were subtly coconut infused and well spiced. The coleslaw is worth the trip alone and the festival made me very happy with its vanilla fragrance and crispy outer and was the perfect way to soak up the delicious gravy. The sauces tasted home-made and added a good kick if you like your chicken on the lively side.

Portions are generous, but that didn’t stop me clearing every scrap off my mine in record time because it was all just so good. My mum struggled more due to the more carb intense nature of her sides, leaving some of the plantain. Our waiter automatically offered her a doggy bag and despite every table now being full, appeared back straightaway with a cardboard carton of leftovers bagged up and ready to go. We couldn’t even think about the selection of desserts that included rum and raisin bread and butter pudding and tropical fruit salad, but lingered to finish our wine before settling the very reasonable bill.

A half chicken with two sides comes to £12.95 each which to me is great value and more worthwhile than the £22.95 sharing platter that comes with a 1/4 chicken each and a smaller, but wider variety of sides. But skip the chips and salad it offers and get stuck into the proper Jamaican offerings like the rice and peas, hardo bread or roti instead as they do them so well. They also do great sounding breakfasts at the weekend such as coconut French toast and Eggs Callaloo that I can’t wait to try.

If Negril was closer to my house, I’d be in there every week. Well cooked, good quality food delivered with friendly efficient service that manages to be helpful without being pushy and a great atmosphere, it ticks all the boxes a good neighbourhood restaurant should. Do yourself a favour and book a table immediately!

Negril
132 Brixton Hill, SW2 1RS
020 8674 8798

Steak and Kidney Pudding

I love suet. I know it’s as unfashionable as lard these days, but I love the stuff. A fluffy suet dumpling on top of a rich stew is such a winter treat that I will bear a lot of cold grey days just to have the excuse to embrace this most British of dishes. I also love the rich stickiness of Christmas dishes filled with fruit and suet and welcome sweet suet dishes that are a stunning vehicle for custard. But despite this love, I have never made a proper steamed suet pudding before. The sticky soft texture that is so dinky as dumplings, scares me in larger quantities. I have visions of sheer stodge, something you could kill someone with if handled incorrectly. Add in the traditional filling of kidneys and I feel a moment of blind panic. So it makes perfect sense that I offered to cook one for several friends on Friday night… Read more