Eating out | The Pig and Butcher

8 October 2019

Six years later and the Pig and Butcher is still a reflex when my main criteria is to enjoy the company. We used to come here more often at the beginning, when we first moved to London. Then we migrated a tad farther north, other restaurants started popping up all around, and we had even (!) more (!) children — (just one more). It remains the place to meet favourite friends. To find refuge on the weekend, outnumbered by too many kids as is our lot, and nonetheless enjoy a meal. Here the food, the light, the service all conspire to make one feel very much at home.

It is true that, occasionally, a starter has disappointed, but the dense, housemade sourdough with beef drippings never will. And mains are, invariably, excellent. Choose simpler options to start such as rillettes and save your appetite for steak or fish — which, notwithstanding the pub’s name, is always perfectly cooked.

The place heaves for Sunday lunch, and it’s worth attempting. It’s boisterous and happy and always delicious.

Endnote
For a post-exhibition family Sunday lunch (remember to call ahead), a local evening with friends (or just a friend), for a beer at the bar, for simply dessert when dinner nearby offered not a trace of a sticky-date-pudding to sound off the birthday celebration. It is a restaurant to feel entirely comfortable, to fuel conversation — lively or intimate — for friends to catch up.

The Pig and Butcher
80 Liverpool Rd, Islington, London N1 0QD

Tel: 020 7226 8304
thepigandbutcher.co.uk

Seasonal | What to do with all the plums

3 October 2019

 

Like me, you may have an impulsive and mildly excessive reaction to every new fruit season. Come September, I start buying plums compulsively, often with no clear plan in mind — too many to eat straight out of the bowl, even for a family of six. Toward to end of the season, the urge accelerates, a few more pounds, before it’s too late!

Here are some ideas to make the most of these last days of plums.

Cakes

Preserves

Greengage plum jam with lemon and bay leaf

24 September 2019

Another September, another plum jam. As predictably as a pavlovian reflex, I make plum jam in the autumn. Jam sometimes alarms as quite an undertaking, but with just the right amount of nonchalance, it happens with barely an effort. The worst bit here is pitting the plums.

I much prefer fresh bay leaves to dried ones and have grown bay for as long as I can remember, whether on windowsills, balconies, or now in our small garden. It’s very easy to grow, and it is imperative to know your bay leaves when cooking with them, as some can be extraordinarily potent. Leaves from my sister’s tree in Brittany have such an intense flavour that a single leaf nearly overpowered a ratatouille for ten. My potted plant is much tamer and I used three small leaves in this jam.

Greengage plum jam with lemon and bay leaf

1.1 kg greengages (to yield 1 kg once pitted)
800 kg sugar
1/2 a lemon cut lengthwise
One fresh bay leaf (depending on the potency of the tree)

Wash and pit the plums. Keep 6 to 8 pits to cook with the jam (remember the number in order to know how many to remove once the jam is cooked). Cut each plum into quarters, and each quarter in half crosswise. Place the plums in a heavy bottom saucepan. Add the sugar and stir to coat the plums.

Cut the half lemon into thirds lengthwise, very thinly slice two thirds into delicate wedges, and juice the last third into the plums. Add the lemon slices and bay leaf to the plums.

This preparation can sit for a few hours or overnight, or be cooked immediately.

Bring the plums to a lively boil and cook for about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture sputters lanquidly.

Meanwhile sterilize a few jars (about 5 medium-sized jars for this quantity) in boiling water for 5 minutes.

Once the jam has thickened (place a spoonful in the refrigerator to check whether it has set), remove the pits, immediately ladle into jars, and close tightly.

Related posts:

Damson and Victoria plum jam with lemon and ginger
Plum jam with candied ginger

 

Lamb with hummus, salad, and tahini

18 September 2019

For the last days of summer, a few more weeks of tomatoes and, with luck, another dinner or two outside.

I am incapable of meal planning; rather the opposite. I rarely know in the morning what we will have for dinner tonight, and who can possibly know on a Sunday what they will want to eat on Wednesday? I realize it makes much organizational sense, but food here is not so much a practical matter as an impulse and a craving, even within the confines and limits of the daily humdrum of cooking for six.

And so the necessity for fast food. One could of course have made the hummus and the flatbreads oneself, but that hasn’t so far fitted into the picture of having dinner ready in twenty minutes.

It’s a family favourite, through the ages. We make it often, while tomatoes last.

Lamb with hummus, salad, and tahini
I’ve not made hummus in a long time, though I’ve had a fantastic recipe for years, which I must eventually share

Tomatoes, cucumbers, and flat leaf parsley
Red onion (optional)
*
Light tahini (sesame paste)
Fresh lemon juice
Water
*
Onions (about half an onion per person)
Garlic (one small clove per person)
Olive oil
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
Minced lamb (about 100g per person)
Cumin and fennel seeds, ground in a mortar
*
Hummus (home made or good store bought)
*
Warm flatbread or other good bread to serve

For the tahini sauce: Put a few tablespoonfuls of tahini paste into a bowl, pour a little lemon juice, and stir. Incrementally add lemon juice and a little water, until the tahini has achieved a desired, runny consistency and just the right amount of acidity. **The tahini will initially thicken before it becomes runny with added liquid.**

For the salad: Wash and chop the tomatoes, cucumbers, and parsley into a salad. Very thinly slice the red onion, if using. Lightly season with olive oil and lemon juice.

For the lamb:
Peel and chop the onions. Smash, peel, and roughly chop the garlic.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy frying pan. Brown the onions over medium heat until just beyond deep golden, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and fry for a minute or two until translucent. Add salt and pepper. Remove the onions and garlic from the pan and set aside.

Turn up the heat to high and brown the meat, in batches if necessary. **The meat will release some liquid and start to stew rather than brown if the pan is too crowded.**drizzle

Mix the onions and garlic into the meat and season with cumin, fennel seeds, salt, and pepper.

To serve:

Slather the plate with one or two tablespoons of hummus. Place the spiced lamb over the hummus, then the salad, and, finally, drizzle some tahini. Serve with warm pita or toasted bread.

 

 

Cooking from cookbooks | Anja Dunk’s Bay and lemon baked cod

13 June 2019

There is a deep-rootedness in Anja Dunk’s book Strudel, Noodles, and Dumplings: The New Taste of German Cooking, which comes through in this recipe — it is deceptively simple and very good. It is basic — and I mean this as the utmost compliment — and German (also high praise!). Unlike the French afterthought of a single bay leaf tucked within a bouquet garni to flavour a dish, this recipe uses bay as a prime ingredient. It also makes good use of butter, which resonates through a recent comment in which Anja described her German grandmother and great-grandmother’s influence like this: ‘they’re still the greatest force in our kitchen, cooking beside me, nudging my arm to the butter dish, always.’

There was something revelatory about the use of butter here, and I was the first to be surprised, since I don’t usually shy away from butter. But for some reason I’ve always cooked fish with olive oil, cream, or even toasted sesame oil — not butter. Sometimes the most obvious things need to be spelled out, and the German in me coaxed forth.

Which brings me to my recent decision, triggered by a happenstance conversation with a friend, to cook at least one dish every week faithfully from a recipe. Somewhere along the way I’ve stopped following recipes, but I’ve have grown weary of minute tweaks to well worn meals, devised, usually with the season at hand and the food on the shelves, as time-efficient ways to feed the family. It lacks excitement. Therefore this resolution, which has faltered a bit due to unexpected family-related trips abroad, but has just as quickly reaped good results.

This stripped down recipe, lithely anchored in the roots of a nation’s food culture, has already triggered a mini revolution in my kitchen: using bay leaf as a main flavour rather than a supporting cast member, and fish with butter. Of course!

Anja Dunk’s Bay and Lemon Baked Cod from Strudel, Noodles, and Dumplings: The New Taste of German Cooking
This is possibly the least likely recipe to be singled out from the book. In fact, it is just half the dish (!) as the full recipe pairs the fish with addictive-sounding paprika potatoes. But the story here is about this ‘half’ recipe. Imagine what the rest of the book can do!

Olive oil
8 bay leaves
4 x 200g cod or haddock fillets
1 Tbsp butter (I may have used a little more…)
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 unwaxed thinly sliced lemon

Preheat the oven to 175°C.

Sprinkle a little olive oil in an ovenproof dish large enough to fit the fish comfortably. Place the bay leaves in the dish and lay the fish, skin side down, over the bay. Drizzle the fish with a little more olive oil and dots of butter. Season with salt and pepper and place the lemon slices on top.

Bake the fish in the oven for about 15 minutes, until it is just cooked through.

The full recipe in the book pairs this fish with paprika potatoes, for which I didn’t have the time when I made it, unfortunately.


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