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Sprats, spuds and Swedish sauciness

Miss South and I have a long-running appreciation of the herring family: from whitebait, the essential anchovy (in all its multifarious forms) through to sprats, pilchards, sardines and herrings; little silvery fish get a full-on thumbs up.

Curiously I’d come late to the pleasures of sprats… but once I discovered how cheap (and I mean cheap) a handful of good fresh sprats could be, I was a convert. Normally I’d have them very simply; tossed in a dusting of flour and smoked paprika, grilled whole and finished with a little freshly-squeezed lemon juice, then eaten with some fresh crusty bread. The fact these small fish also answered to the delightfully silly scientific name of Sprattus Sprattus only enhanced their place high up the canon of favourite, fast, fishy fixes. But I alliterate too much…

So I was delighted when Miss South gifted me a tin of Swedish sprats as a Christmas stocking filler, which she’d picked up on her previously documented mission to the wonderful Scandanavian KitchenRead more

fore rib of beef

Forearmed and fore-ribbed: Christmas beef

 

fore rib of beefAt the end of the festive season, on the twelth day of Christmas, it’s as good time as any to write up our Yuletide dinner… our first since starting the blog in early 2010.

With both of us back at the family home this year there’d been some debate about what the main dish should be. As a family we’re not traditionalists, and rather enjoy Christmas dinner being an excuse to indulge in a quality meal, regardless of convention. Last time it was a fantastic shoulder of lamb, and this we we plumped for forerib of beef, ordered a month in advance from McKee’s farm shop in the Craigantlet Hills above Belfast. This is beef from their own farm, and they’re proud of the provenence and hanging of their meat. Rightly so. Might you, we had a bit of concern that Northern Ireland’s coldest winter for decades could wreck havoc with the mission to pick up the joint, but it’ll take more than that to stop our family from a prime bit of beef. And this was one serious a cut of meat, clocking at a shade under 6kg. That’s a 50p piece next it in this photo.

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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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The Ultimate Roast Potato?

I am almost comically stereotypically Irish in my love of potatoes. I always keep a bag of spuds in the house and few things tickle me more than having a new potato recipe to try. Unsurprisingly one of my favourite cook books is The Humble Spud and I intend to eat my way through every recipe possible in it.

While thinking about the Christmas dinner, my eye was drawn to the page with Roast Potatoes with Sesame Seeds, more commonly known to particularly to Americans as Hasselback Potatoes. These are basically a potato prepared for roasting as normal, but cut 3/4 of the way through with a knife to resemble a tuberous stegosaurus before being roasted in the oven as normal.

These ornate little spuds require no par-boiling or even peeling, shaking, coating with flour or semolina or any other trick of the trade to crisp them right up. They fan out gently in the high heat of an oven to create a gorgeously golden, extra crispy roastie thanks to the increased surface area due to the extra splits in the spud. They take no longer to prepare than the average potato for roasting, and if you place your potato in a spoon to cut it, you will stop yourself slicing right through it.

I have prepared these twice in advance of the Christmas dinner. First time round I placed them in a plastic bag and shaken in oil and seasoning, then placed in a roasting tray of hot oil and cooked for about 40 minutes in a 220 C oven, they crisp up  beautifully even without tthe magic addition of goose fat. Second time, I just wanted to double check they hadn’t been a crispy figment of my imagination… and I was not disappointed in any way!

I made these a focal point of the Christmas meal, using my mum’s plentiful stash of goose fat to make these even crispier and melt in the mouth. I didn’t add the sesame seeds suggested in the recipe to add some extra crunch as I forgot on the day. I certainly be experimenting with topping these with parmesan or garlic or chili throughout the year. Any other suggestions would be gratefully received!

Spot the spud just by the gravy...