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Consider saffron [Article]

Saffron stigmas. Photo: The Greasy Spoon

This week I've considered saffron for the Guardian. A truly amazing spice. Click here to read.


Boiled leg of lamb with caper sauce [Recipe]

A largely forgotten English classic, ripe for revival. I've timed this post to run alongside a piece I wrote for the Guardian today on boiled meats.

If you've never cooked meat this way then I strongly recommend it: the lamb emerges perfectly tender. The sauce is essential: it piques the meat and brings the dish zip and oomph. I served it with baked potatoes but perhaps Jersey news would have been better at this time of year. I also had un-English broccoli because I found a head lying the fridge, but any green veg would have done. Mutton is more traditional, of course, but lamb works just as well. A big glass of red is mandatory with this one.

Boiled leg of lamb (or mutton) with caper sauce

Serves 6-8

2.5kg leg of lamb or mutton
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 3s
2 onions, halved and peeled
4 sticks celery, cut into inch-long sticks
2 bay leaves
Few sprigs of thyme
Few sprigs of rosemary
1 swede, peeled and roughly diced (optional)
2 parsnips, peeled and quartered (optional)
10 black peppercorns, whole
1 tsp salt

For the caper sauce

2 tbsps butter
2 tbsps flour
6 tbsps salted capers, rinsed
Good handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Put the lamb in a big pot and add the vegetables, herbs, salt and peppercorns. Pour over enough water to come 3/4 of the way up the lamb. Slowly bring to the boil, removing any scum. Put the lid on and simmer extremely gently for 1 hr 45 mins to 2.5 hours, turning a couple of times. The lamb is ready when a skewer slides in without much resistance. When the lamb is done, drain and reserve 750ml of the lamb liquor and let the lamb rest in the remaining stock.

For the caper sauce, make a roux by heating the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat and adding the flour. Cook for a minute or so then gradually whisk in the reserved lamb stock. Simmer for 20 minutes until the sauce has reduced a little and deepened in flavour, then stir in the capers and parsley. Check seasoning (you shouldn't need much salt) and serve with the carved lamb, some spuds and green veg.


Restaurant critic round-up, 21/06

Tom Aikens.

Click here to see my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.com


Consider custard [Article]

This week I've considered custard for the Guardian. Click here to read.

A summer way with spaghetti and meatballs [Recipe]

A tarted-up midsummer version of what mamma proverbially makes. I used fancy dried egg fettuccine here: at this time of year I think lighter pastas work better than the wheaty carb-loads of January. Dried egg pastas, incidentally, are nothing like the 'fresh' ones you get from supermarket chillers, which always taste slimy and which never have enough bite. I could have made my own, of course, but it wasn't that kind of evening.

Fettuccine with roast tomatoes and meatballs

Serves 4


1kg of fresh tomatoes, the best you can find
250g beef or veal mince
600g good-quality dried egg pasta
The leaves from a few strands of fresh thyme
2 cloves garlic, grated with a Microplane
1 tsp dried marjoram
A little plain flour to coat the meatballs
Perhaps 2-3 tbsps double cream to loosen the sauce
Big handful fresh basil leaves
Pecorino, to serve

Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Slice the tomatoes in half and put them with the garlic and thyme on a baking tray. Season and cover with olive oil. You don't want to leave any dry bits – best to coat them by hand. Roast for 30 minutes and set aside.

While the tomatoes are cooking, put the mince into a large bowl. Season well, add the marjoram and shape into balls. Coat lightly in flour then fry in olive oil until they've take on a good colour and are still slightly pink inside. Remove from the heat and place on kitchen paper.

Put the cooked tomatoes in a medium saucepan over a low heat. Throw in the meatballs and add enough cream to loosen the sauce. Cook the pasta in well-salted water until al dente (a matter of three or four minutes) and toss it through the sauce with the basil. Serve at once with a few grinds of pepper and plenty of parmesan or pecorino.


Taste of London 2010

Taste of London was a cracking day last year, so I was delighted to attend a couple of sample tastings in the run-up to the 2010 festival.

You might know the deal at Taste already. A hefty contingent of the capital's best restaurants set up tents in Regent's Park to cook some of their trademark dishes for (hopefully) sun-drenched food-lovers. It's a great idea and, if you choose carefully, you experience some of the best eating in the city for a lot less moolah than you would if you visited the restaurants themselves.

Restaurant critic round-up, 15/06

Gauthier Soho. Great food, shame about the atmosphere.

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.


Slow-roast Chinese duck [Recipe]

A lovely way to roast a duck. The bird marinates in some classic Cantonese flavours then cooks very slowly, with the occasional baste, until its skin is auburn and glistening and its flesh is tender. Perfect, as here, for a latish Sunday lunch for two.

Slow-roast Chinese duck

Serves 2-4

1 free range duck
Piece of ginger a bit bigger than your thumb, peeled and finely chopped
2-4 red chillies, finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
3 tbsps oyster sauce
3 tbsps honey
2 tbsps rice wine
2 tbsps dark soy sauce
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns, crushed
2 star anise
2 tsps five-spice powder
2 tbsps sesame oil
1 tbsp sunflower or groundnut oil

Score the duck in a criss-cross pattern across both breasts. Mix together all the marinade ingredients, slather over the duck and place in a snug roasting tin, breast-side down. Leave to marinate for as long as you can, ideally overnight.

Preheat the oven to 160ºC. Turn the duck breast-side up, sprinkle generously with sea salt and place in the oven. Roast for an hour, basting half-way through, then drain off as much fat as possible from the roasting tin and baste again before returning to the oven. Cook for a further 90 minutes, basting as often as you can be bothered – at least every 30 minutes. When the time's up, leave the duck to rest for 20 minutes, loosely covered in foil.

If you like, concentrate the 'sauce' by boiling the tin over the hob while the duck is resting. Pour this over the carved, sliced duck and serve with rice, fresh coriander and pak choi steamed with oyster and soy sauces and a few drops of sesame oil.


Consider mustard

A hot dog with mustard.

This week I've considered mustard for the Guardian. I love the stuff. Click here to read.


Restaurant critic round-up, 07/06

The splendid dining room of The Milroy at Les Ambassadeurs.

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.


A summer supper [Recipe]

I don't blog midweek cooking anywhere near as much as I'd like. Often that's down to practicalities – I'm typically hungry when it's time to sit down, and hardly feel like pulling out the camera and snapping a congealing bowl of noodles. But this was supper last night and it wasn't untypical, so I thought I'd share it. It really was good – and all the better for having been made with stuff I found lying around the kitchen. Proof, if we needed it, that to eat well in summer you hardly need to cook at all.

I boned a couple of chicken legs, seasoned them and let them sit for a couple of hours in olive oil, lemon juice, lots of fresh oregano and sliced spring onions. I griddled them for a few minutes on either side until they were branded and scarred. I let them rest while I sliced some ripe tomatoes and scattered them with more spring onions and oregano, then sploshed the lot in extra virgin, a few shakes of red wine vinegar, sea salt and pepper. I also knocked up a raita of sorts by stirring peeled, seeded, finely diced cucumber and a load of mint into full-fat yoghurt, and quickly made some couscous with fresh parsley, lemon juice and a seeded, finely sliced chilli that was looking a bit miserable in the fridge. A bottle of very chilled rosé made this a lovely, harmonious supper.


Consider marmalade [Article]

Paddington Bear enjoys some marmalade.

This week at The Guardian I've considered marmalade. Apparently, many of its fans are deserting it – not me. Click here to read.

Restaurant critic round-up, 01/06

Roux Parliament Square. Mixed reviews.

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.