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Roll up for rollmops!

You can tell I’m half Scottish. I love oats, raspberries are my favourite fruit and I never say no to haggis. But the real clincher is how much I heart herring. I adore rolled them in the aforementioned oats and fried or grilled with anchovy and herb butter, but nothing tops the rollmop. Shiny silver herring soused with onion, spices and cucumber in a handy pot? To me it’s a treat of such delight, I’d be more likely to pick up some pickled fish than chocolate if I wanted to cheer myself up…

So when I found myself with a spare kilner jar recently and espied some beautiful herring on the counter at Dagon’s in Brixton Village (just by Honest Burgers for those wondering) I knew the time had come to take the obsession up a notch and make my own rollmops. I got the fishmongers to fillet the fish and practically skipped home to get a-pickling.

I used this Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall recipe as a guide. I soaked the herring in brine for a few hours, which plumps them up beautifully but does produce a fairly unpleasant odour. So open a window if you can. I then sterilised a clean kilner jar in the oven, while I heated vinegar, allspice, peppercorns, finely sliced onion and dill in a pan. The truly revolting smell of warm vinegar will get rid of any fishiness in the house and made me wonder if I shouldn’t just go back to plastic tubs of soused herring in future…

But the satisfaction of rolling the fillets up, filling the jar with vinegar and herbs and spices and sealing it firmly with a snap won out and by the time the fish went into the fridge, I wasn’t sure if I can manage to wait three days for them to be ready. In the end, I got sidetracked by life and didn’t get to them for a week and they were very much worth the extra wait.

Plump as anything, soft as butter and well flavoured, I cut them with the side of the fork, watching them flake apart perfectly and served them on some lightly buttered sourdough from Wild Caper. They were one of those simple lunches that is in actually fact so good you can hardly believe how lucky you are to be eating it at home. Delicately spiced and super flavoursome, there was no contest between these and the usual shop bought.

I’d definitely use the splash of cider in with the vinegar next time as there was just a bit too much rawness to the vinegar for my liking and it clashed slightly with the soft sweet fish. (Do not go all health conscious and skip the sugar in the recipe. You’ll blow your head off otherwise.) Some cucumber would knock this out of the the park mixed in with the onion and I’ll use some homegrown tarragon instead of the dill, because I intend keeping a jar of these beauties in the fridge all the time now. A few minutes effort makes this a simple treat I can’t get enough of, especially served with some potato salad for an ultimate Northern European feast!

Woodcocks provide pleasure for two?

Woodcock: so small, but so tasty…

Back in the gamebird season Miss South visited the depths of the snow-covered Pennines to see in the New Year: in respite from the cold we took solace in cooking homely hotpots and sitting in front of the fire, reading cookbooks. One of these was the massive River Cottage Meat compendium by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, in which he raves about the joys of snipe and woodcock. As luck would have it, next time we visited my favourite butcher he had both birds freshly delivered by his game man, and I could pick up a brace of prepared fowl that coming weekend after they’d been hung and dressed. Miss South had unfortunately gone back to London by this stage, so after I picked up the plucked woodcocks they went straight into the freezer, awaiting her next trip north.

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Oxtail stew

Spring is thinking about gracing us with her presence, but in the meantime I’m still craving good hearty food on these shortening nights and a rich meaty oxtail stew is just the ticket.

I had picked up some oxtail at the market a few weeks ago and stashed it in the freezer until needed. I’d offered to cook dinner for a friend last Sunday and as I had plans during the day as well, I thought a simple stew would be a good idea. I lifted the oxtail out to defrost on the Saturday and while deciding what to do with it, I stumbled across Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s recipe for oxtail with star anise in that day’s Guardian. My mind was instantly made up for me!

I have previously only cooked oxtail using Nigella’s recipe for Oxtail with Mackeson and Majoram (page 104-5 How To Eat) and it was fabulous. Therefore I decided to substitute the red wine in Hugh’s recipe for a bottle of Meantime London Stout. Not only do I like the taste, but the cheapest bottle of red wine in my local shop is just over £4 and a bottle of stout is £1.80. Much more budget friendly! I also omitted the orange zest in the recipe because I don’t like the taste of oranges. Everything else was the same.

This was a doddle to make. The oxtail was ready portioned and after dusting it in seasoned flour, it only took a minute or two to brown it off in batches. I then softened two red onions and some whole cloves of garlic in the remaining oil, before adding the meat back in and covering liberally with the stout and some stock (which I made with an Oxo cube. I’m not ashamed you know) and adding in the fabulous aromatics in the form of a handful of whole star anise, a pinch of mace, a cinnamon stick and a serious grinding of black pepper.

Stout n'stock...

I left the meat to simmer away for about 3 and a half hours. I didn’t add any more liquid, preferring to let it reduce and thicken to a rich slightly jellied finish. I did skim as much fat off the surface as I could while the rice to accompany this was cooking. I served this spooned generous over plain boiled rice and it was sensational. Rich, meaty and unctuous, it felt like sheer luxury in a dish. The meat peeled away from the bone with a spoon and just melted in the mouth. I forgot to add the chocolate and I’m glad I did as I think it would have been too rich with it. This was perfect as it was!

Meat heaven...

In fact this was so good, I forgot to photograph it before eating it for dinner. The amazing aroma meant I couldn’t contain myself. This picture is the next day’s leftovers in all their glossy gorgeousness!

Hare today, gone tomorrow…

Plated and sated: slow-cooked haunch of hare

It’s game season. Living in the countryside is giving me access to loads of rather exotic or decadent-sounding fowl and beasts at reasonable prices, and whereas I’d have once thought this was the preserve of the landed gentry and those with a penchant for head-to-toe tweed, I’m becoming a convert to wild, natural meats. It’s often surprisingly good value, very seasonal, normally local, and a lot of it’s new to me.

So when I was in the market doing my weekly shop I espied hare on the butcher’s blackboard I decided I needed to take home a new furry friend for the pot. My interest had been piqued by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s weighty ‘River Cottage Meat book‘ which I got for Christmas, so I’d been reading about hare and it was fresh in my mind. This was a big beast… 8 quid for a 5lb (2kg) animal and I got the butcher to take off the legs and cut the saddle into four roughly equal pieces.

I don’t think I’ve ever had hare before (possibly in a pie, but don’t quote me on that). However I’ve cooked rabbit enough to have some kind of reference, and have found that as it’s so lean it needs to be cooked with respect and lots of moisture. My oven’s been playing up for a while, so I elected to use the slow cooker to make a slow, unctuous game-y casserole.

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