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Sticky, spicy ribs for a brilliant Bánh mì sandwich

Banh mi ribs 13

There’s been a bag of Porcus pork ribs in my freezer for the last couple of months, hiding under a furze of frost, waiting for the right recipe. Last weekend they received their calling when, leafing through the ‘Ginger Pig Meat Book‘ which I got for Christmas, out leapt an intriguingly simple recipe for spare ribs. Sounded perfect for bits of a ginger pig.

Over the years I’ve had a few goes at making slow-cooked, succulent sticky ribs – the last time was in the autumn, when I cooked them under foil at gas mark 1 overnight, before uncovering and getting a quick blast under the grill. They were good, but not gooey and crisp like proper BBQ ribs should be. Not enough time marinading beforehand, letting the flavours permeate every sinew of the meat. Miss South and I went to Bodeans in Clapham a couple of years ago, and enjoyed massive mounds of BBQ meat, and I’ve had good ribs in the States, but was never able to replicate that kind of taste at home. Until now.

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Irish Spiced Beef brings Christmas comfort…

Spiced beef 11

Having read Miss South’s glowing write-up before my latest visit to her, I was keen to read through Niamh Shields‘ “Comfort & Spice” cookbook. I sped read as much as possible in a short time, and one of the (many) wonderful recipes which caught my eye was Spiced Beef: an Irish dish which is traditionally served cold over the Christmas period. We’d normally have a decent-sized cold cut in the house over the holiday period, often the Coca Cola Ham which we wrote about last year.

However I can only remember having spiced beef once, when our mum brought back joint from the butcher. She’d fondly mentioned it from her childhood, but this shop-bought version was memorably unmemorable. So I’ve always wanted to make proper spiced beef from scratch, and Niamh’s recipe provided the perfect excuse to give it a go this year. I alternate between spending Christmas in the north of England, and returning to Belfast, and this year I was in Manchester with my girlfriend and her family. Having something which brought a taste of Ireland to the table was important to me… and having a cold joint to be able to pick and nibble at is always a bonus.

Spiced beef isn’t a complicated dish, but it does require some patience, preparation… and an ingredient which wasn’t available to the general public in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, which curtailed its consumption when we were growing up. Saltpetre aka potassium nitrate was a controlled substance, as it’s a key constituent of black powder (gunpowder). I’m not sure if it’s still verboten: I was lucky enough to be given some for this recipe by a friend. Saltpetre’s one of those relatively unknown but essential compounds on which the modern world has been built; used for fertiliser, food preservation, an oxiding agent for gunpowder and fireworks amongst other uses.*

I ordered the Christmas meat in advance from Stansfield’s in Todmorden Market –  the centrepiece of our Christmas meal was leg of venison – but Paul always has good beef and I picked up a weighty brisket form him last weekend.

Irish Spiced Beef (from Comfort & Spice)

  • 2kg beef brisket off the bone

The curing mix:

  • 1tsp allspice
  • 1tsp cloves
  • 1tsp fresh nutmeg
  • 1tsp mace
  • 75g soft brown sugar
  • 10g saltpetre
  • 100g sea salt

Combine all the ingredients for the curing mix and rub all over the brisket. Sterilise with boiling water a non metallic pot or plastic container into which the beef will fit snugly. Add the beef, cover and store in the fridge for eight days, turning daily and basting with any juices.

Wipe off the excess marinade and cover the beef with water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for two hours. Allow to cool and serve over the festive period as you would a ham.

First step: make the curing mix. I closely followed Niamh’s ingredients, with a couple of minor tweaks. I used Muscovado sugar, as I love its rich, sticky, almost smoky rawness. I also raided my extensive selection of salts to create a posh mix which would hopefully play up the strengths of the beef and spices, using Maldon Smoked Sea Salt, Guerande Grey Sea Salt, and Carmargue Fleur de Sel. Every recipe I’ve seen for dry-curing meat stresses that the quality of the salt is imperative, and they looked beautiful ranged on the plate too.

Spiced beef 1

I ground the whole allspice, nutmegs and cloves together, together with a cheeky tablespoon of mixed peppercorns to add a little bit more warmth to the mix. Then I combined the salt, sugar and saltpetre in a bowl, make a good stiff mix. The aroma was stunning: if you’re ever looking for a sure-fire way to enfuse your home with the sweet, aromatic and suggestive hints of winter, this really is it. It’s even better with a cockle-warming glass of hot port to aid the cook’s concentration!

Spiced beef 4

I sterilised a tupperware container, and placed the cured meat in it, sealing it tightly and placing it in the fridge. With six days between the initial preparation and Christmas Eve, the only requirements were to gently spoon and baste the spiced liquids over the joint daily. You’ll find a fair amount of juice will be drawn out of the meat by the cure. I tried my best to disturb as little of the spiced coating as possible, wanting to let the power of the spices permeate properly through the meat.

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On Christmas Eve we simmered the beef for a couple of hours, before letting it cool (patience is a virtue) and cautiously cutting a few slices off for a Christmas Eve nibble. As you can see, the beef had held its vivid rose hue thanks to the saltpetre, and the flavour was quite wonderful: warming, comforting and so tender. Paired with wholegrain mustard mixed into some mayo, and ranged with gherkins, this was a perfect sandwich: almost the Irish equivalent of New York pastrami. We didn’t leave any out for Father Christmas though, as it proved way too popular with everyone who tasted it.

Spiced beef 8

I’d also decided to have the Irish-themed starter on Christmas Day revolve around the spiced beef: after a night in the fridge the meat was even easier to thinly slice, and I plated it up with a small toasted piece of soda bread, a dab of redcurrant jelly, some cubes of Cashel Blue cheese, and a lightly dressed selection of watercress, rocket and baby spinach leaves. Everything worked well together: the sweetness of the jelly complementing the sharpness and warmth of the mustard vinaigrette, pepperiness of the rocket, the crisp of the bread… and of course that succulent, aromatic and oh-so tender beef. Needless to say, we’ve been cutting cheeky slices off the joint ever since, as it’s perfect for snacking and sating our cravings for seasonal cold meats.

Spiced beef 14

Thanks to Niamh aka @Eatlikeagirl for allowing us to reproduce the above: it’s a brilliant encapsulation of a traditional Irish recipe, and doesn’t suggest any of the adulterations which crop up in many US-oriented traditional ‘Oirish’ recipes. We’ve recommended it before and we’ll do it again… buy Comfort & Spice and make your kitchen a happier, better place!

*Update. This still remains a firm festive favourite dish in our family. The last couple of years I’ve not used saltpetre as part of the cure, as there’s increasing awareness of the potential health risks associated with nitrites used in processed or preserved meats. Without the saltpetre acting as a colour fixative the spiced beef isn’t as rosy, but tastes just as good… and even a large 1.5kg joint rarely lasts more than a few days, so as long as you follow standard good practise for food hygiene, there’s no need for the preservative qualities of saltpetre. You may or may not chose to exclude saltpetre from the recipe when you make this dish.

Rosemary and anchovy flatbread

Going flat-out for flatbread …

Rosemary and anchovy flatbread

We’re both fans of fast, healthy and delicious Mediterranean-influenced food here at North/South Food. Miss South is definitely more confident and experienced when it comes to baking than I am, but a recent recipe I came across persuaded me to pander to my basest kneads and enjoy my daily bread.

I’m currently designing a cookbook for the wonderful Parlour Café on West Port in Dundee, run by Gillian Veal. Over the last few years her delicious and unfussy cooking styles have added some sunshine to the local food scene, and her recipes have become firm favourites with many Dundonians. So it’s perhaps only natural that Gillian’s sharing some of her favourites recipes with the wider world.*

One of the pleasures (or should that be perils) of receiving the manuscript for a cookbook is trying to resist the urge to try out all the recipes: in this case as soon as I saw the recipe for rosemary and anchovy flatbread I was powerless to resist the temptation to snip sprigs of rosemary and crack open a tin of anchovies. Rosemary oil and salty fish on warm bread? Instant win!

Having made these a couple of times now I’m a major fan. Incidentally they’re so moreable I challenge you to make them last more than one sitting. Perfect with some home-made smoky hummus or an edamame bean dip.

So without further ado let me share this recipe, in Gillian’s own words, alongside my photos. Enjoy!

Gillian’s Rosemary and Anchovy Flat-Bread
Makes 8 – 10 flat-breads

● 250 grams wholemeal flour
● 250 grams of plain white flour
● 250 ml warm water
● 1⁄2 a teaspoon of dried yeast
● 80mls olive oil
● 12 anchovy fillets
● 1 sprig of rosemary ● sea salt and pepper to season

“Mix both flours in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and gradually pour into the flour while mixing with the other hand. Pour in 60ml of the olive oil as well, and keep mixing until the ball of dough comes together. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it becomes smooth and elastic – you will feel the dough changing and it will bounce back when you stick a finger into it (5 minutes should do it). Cover the bowl with cling-film and set aside somewhere warm for about one and a half hours.

Meanwhile prepare the topping. Tear the leaves off the sprig of rosemary, chop them roughly and bash them up in a mortar and pestle with the anchovies and a glug or two of olive oil until you have a rough paste.

When the dough has about doubled in size, punch it down, gather into a ball and divide into 8 – 10 pieces depending on how many people you’re feeding and how big you want your breads to be. Heat up the oven to 220C, and put in two lightly floured baking trays. Roll the dough pieces out into rough circles, about half a centimetre thick, and evenly spread with the anchovy and rosemary paste. Push it into the dough with your fingers and make sure they’re well covered.

Get the hot baking trays out of the oven, and place the waiting flat breads on them. Sprinkle with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and put back in the oven for around 6 minutes until they are golden and starting to puff up”

 

*If, as I suspect, this recipe whets your appetite then I urge you to buy the book when it’s published later this autumn by Kitchen Press. Wonderful recipes and delightful illustrations make this a perfect kitchen companion. We’ll have full details on here closer to the time…

Marmalade Ice Cream

One of the best things about having an ice cream maker is that you can indulge in your own choice of flavours and make ice cream a more grown up treat than the usual selection of tubs in the supermarket offer you. Having enjoyed the salted caramel butter creation of the week before, I was keen to try something else, but not too sweet and a bit different, so when I espied the half finished jar of marmalade in the fridge, I knew exactly what to do with it…

I’m actually not a huge fan of marmalade (or jam) but I’ve never met an ice cream I didn’t like, so I thought this would be the perfect way to convert myself to this most traditional of preserves. And if I still couldn’t summon my inner Paddington, I’d simply feed it to friends and make myself very popular.

I adapted the basic recipe that pretty much every ice cream recipe uses, heating a carton of double cream and the same amount of milk in a pan with the zest of an orange until about to bubble while whisking 5 egg yolks with about a quarter of a cup of sugar until they were light and fluffy. I then used the same quarter cup to pour some of the heated milk into the egg mixture to combine it, warm it up and prevent it scrambling when added to the rest of the milk as you make the custard. I then heated the whole thing a bit more, until the custard thickened slightly (don’t expect it to go the consistency of Bird’s) before taking it off the heat sharpish. Don’t linger or you’ll have an unholy mess on your hands.

Pour the custard mix into a metal bowl you have already placed inside a larger bowl full of iced water and chill the whole thing in the fridge for a few hours or overnight if you have time. Then pour into your ice cream maker and churn to make a super easy ice cream with a minimum of fuss. Or do what I did and have a moment of sheer lunacy and forget to put the arm into the machine, leaving the frozen bowl to spin as aimlessly as a 1970s drummer at his kit awaiting his solo, and creating a bizarre semi frozen mess that clings to the edges of the bowl without resembling actual ice cream. You can then defrost the entire thing in a bowl of hot water and have to rechill it all overnight before trying again.

Next morning, I gave everything another 25 minutes churn with all parts of the machine in place and was rewarded with a creamy masterpiece. I then gently heated the roughly half jar of marmalade til it went all sticky and jammy and soft, added a tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice and poured it all into the ice cream, whipping for another five or so minutes until well combined. You could also do this as a marmalade ripple if you preferred and I think I’d add a splash of rum if I was doing this. Pop the whole thing in the freezer for a couple of hours or until needed. Then prepare to taste the best ice cream in the world…

Rich and creamy beyond belief, it is spiked with tiny chewy shreds of peel just bursting with refreshingly tangy bitter citrus gorgeousness and the sunshine sweetness of fresh orange. Stunning on its own or with some dark chocolate ( I used Maya Gold in the pic), it is a very grown up and utterly sensational ice cream that has converted me so wholeheartedly to marmalade that I’m booking a ticket to Darkest Peru tomorrow…