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Spicy lamb and quince stew

31 October 2019

What do you do with all the quince? A friend with a quince tree pleaded for a recipe that isn’t membrillo. I agree. Though I don’t have a tree myself, I’ve often been in the (happy) predicament of too many quinces, either because I buy kilos and kilos compulsively as soon as the season hits, or because I’ve received bags from friends’ prolific gardens.

I started playing with a savory lamb and quince tagine-style dish nearly ten years ago when I began writing down recipes on these pages, but was stalled in my attempt by Thomas — ever the culprit — who complained about the various attempts and the repetition, in minute variation, of a dish which he purported not to like. It has taken me all this time to take up where I had left off, and I’m afraid to say the result has met with similar disapproval in the family, this time with children reinforcement. It appears my nearest and dearest do not like the combination of fruit and meat. And it’s not just the quince, I’ve encountered the same resistance with figs or prunes. But I beg to differ. I love the dance of sweet and savoury.

Lamb stews with quince are common in Persian and Moroccan cuisine, which is where I’ve taken inspiration, loosely, for this recipe. Having looked at and tried a number of versions, including the delicately flavoured Iranian stew Khoresht-e Beh with just saffron and turmeric, my preference today is for a dish with more assertive spices. On the question of the quince, however, I am undecided: Some recipes add the raw quince to the stew directly, others suggest to first brown the wedges in butter. I don’t have a stark preference, so I propose both, depending on the cook’s whim, time, and inspiration.

Spicy lamb and quince stew
Serves 6
This stew can be made the same day or one or two days in advance

1 kg (2 lbs) de-boned lamb shoulder, cut into approximately 8 cm (3″) pieces
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
3 medium onions
2-3 garlic cloves
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, ground
1 tsp turmeric
Generous pinch saffron threads
Generous pinch Cayenne pepper (to taste)
1/2 cinnamon stick
A thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
Rind from 1/2 untreated lemon, peeled into a ribbon
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp mild runny honey
3 medium quinces
Butter if using to fry the pieces of quince


Preheat the oven to 125°C (250°F).

Season the pieces of meat with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet over high heat, brown the meat in olive oil in batches, a few pieces at a time, for about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. **It’s important not to crowd the pan or the meat will stew rather than brown.**

Peel and slice the onions and garlic.

In a heavy, cast-iron dish with a tight fitting lid big enough to hold the stew, add a little olive oil and brown the onions. Season with a good pinch of salt. Once the onions are nicely browned, add the garlic, stir for about a minute, and turn off the heat.

Place the browned lamb onto the onions and garlic, ideally in a single layer, fitting snugly in the pan. Sprinkle the ground cumin, turmeric, saffron, and cayenne over the meat. Add the cinnamon, ginger, lemon rind, and bay leaf to the dish, and the honey in a thin drizzle. Season with salt and pepper. Pour enough water to barely cover the meat, cover with a tight fitting lid (or seal with aluminum foil) and place in the oven.

Cook in the oven at a low simmer for about 1 1/2 hour —>

If the stew is for the same day —> peel and core the quinces and cut them into quarters, add them to the stew (after the 1 1/2 hours), and continue cooking for a further 45 minutes or so until the fruit is tender. Remove from the oven and let settle and cool down for about 15 minutes before serving.

If the stew has been planned a day or two ahead —> remove from the oven, let the meat cool down, and place it in the refrigerator overnight. About 2 hours before the meal, remove the stew from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Peel and core the quinces and cut them into quarters. Add them to the stew. Return the stew to the oven for about 45 minutes until the fruit is tender. Remove from the oven and let settle and cool down for about 15 minutes before serving.

I like to serve this with rice.



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.

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

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.



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


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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