30 May 2009

Tagliatelle Con Ragu Alla Bolognese

I'll start with my customary shot of the chef I'm gonna impersonate, which today is Mario Batali (here showing off his worrying love of pork):

I saw this video of him making Ragu Bolognese on youtube:

and I've been hassling my butcher for veal mince ever since. The don't sell veal mince front of shop but I had been told by the boss that whilst supplying veal to restaurants around Manchester they sometimes made mince from the trimmings around the weekend. However since then it's been one no after another. But going in the other day for a few sausages, there it was out front. All I needed was 3/4 pound but I dived in and got a kilo, most of which is still sitting in the freezer. So I set upon it, first sweating mirepoix in olive oil and butter:

Next came pork mince, beef mince, and, of course, veal mince:

This was the key moment. On the video Mario says to keep cooking this on a low heat till all the fat is rendered and the meat is browning in a crackling pan. I did render all the fat on the meat but it wasn't browning and crackling quite like the video. I'm pretty sure the mince I had was just too lean. Some of the mirepoix were trying to stick to the bottom and burn so I cut a loose end on it to prevent ruining the ragu and put in the tomato paste:

This was slowly simmered for another 40 minutes of so till there was one big gooey tomato and meat mess. Then I threw in a cup of milk to deglaze the bits off the bottom of the casserole and start to form a kind of sauce:

This was reduced down to nothing, then deglazed again with a cup of white wine, and reduced down again. Lid on, I left it on a really low heat for 1 hour, arriving at the final ragu:

To finish I put together some homemade spinach tagliatelle:

Boiled the pasta, and sauteed it with some ragu:

And served with a touch of parmesan:

Final shot is a little weak I'm afraid, again my stomach was ruling my head, but to be honest it isn't much of a looker of a dish anyway. The ragu was really nice, loads of depth. I especially like the creaminess the milk gives it. It probably would've been better if I could've achieved the scorched mince effect Mario did, next time I'll make sure to get fattier meat. Nevertheless, the real star was the pasta. It's the first time I've made spinach pasta, and it gave the dish a real feel of lightness to counteract the heavy sauce. In fact, I wish I hadn't combined it with so much ragu - it really was nice pasta. Even better, it only took around 50 minutes to make (factoring in 30 minutes resting time for the dough). I'll definitely do it again, especially seeing as it only took 2 eggs, compared to richer pastas I've made in the past using anywhere up to 7 (6 yolks and a whole egg). The recipe is in Leith's Cookery Bible if anyone is interested. 

The fallout from the dish was that I have been lamenting since that there are so few places that serve really good fresh pasta. Don't get me wrong, I love good dried pasta too, but on a special occasion the fresh stuff really makes an impact. I suppose I should get some perspective, there are certainly bigger absences in the UK restaurant scene than quality pasta, but that's for another day...

Shrimp (Langoustines) in Brik Dough with Basil Pesto

Here's another little bit of fun we had recently. It's a Joel Robuchon recipe (from L'Atelier de Robuchon I think - though we found the recipe in the New York Times). The recipe calls for jumbo shrimp, but the sight of amazing Scottish Langoustines in our fishmonger said otherwise. Also we had no luck with brik dough so replaced it with spring roll pastry. And here's the man himself looking ridiculously French:

It began with making a simple pesto: pureed basil, garlic and olive oil with a little fleur de sel and a touch of paprika:

Next we de-shelled the (incredible) langoustines:

Removing the stems from basil leaves to make a heart shape, we placed one leaf on each tail, then put each one face down on a triangular shaped piece of spring roll paper:

Now they just need rolling up from bottom to top nice and tight, and a cocktail stick put through them. We threw them in a deep-fryer for 30 seconds, dressed the plate with pesto and the deep fried rolls and thats it!

This really wasn't too taxing (except to bank balances), but man it really was great. I thought the pesto might be too strong for the delicate sweet taste of the langoustine, but I was plain wrong, it worked so well. The crispy texture of the pastry, the fresh taste of just-cooked langoustine, and a sprightly pesto sauce - amazing. I mean I've eaten plenty more complex and extravagant things in my time, but as far as I'm concerned this is just about as good as it gets. I'd love to do it again, but you hardly ever see fresh langoustines (unless you live on the coasts of Scotland or have the money to shop in Fortnum and Mason), so it was a real treat. I'm gonna repeat it with prawns, as the recipe suggests, and I know it'll still be great, but nothing beats fresh langoustine.

12 May 2009

Pig's Trotters Pierre Koffmann

I like to cook, often to the extent whole weekends disappear into a haze of both madness and delight in equal measure. So it seems apt to start this blog here: Pig’s Trotters Pierre Koffmann – braised trotters stuffed with sweetbreads, morels and chicken mousse, my sole purpose for damn near 3 days.


Marco Pierre White invented/borrowed/adapted this dish and brought it to the masses, becoming one of his signatures at Harvey’s in the 80’s. By all accounts it was first made by Pierre Koffmann, then re-produced by Marco, hence the name “Pig’s Trotters Pierre Koffmann”. Here he is making cleaver-wielding look strangely erotic:

The central obstacle to this dish, more even than the technical near impossibility of aspects of it, are the actual ingredients, including:


- Veal stock

- Copious amounts of morel mushrooms

- Veal sweetbreads


Fortunately I have spent the last year living with a similarly socially deprived cooking nut, and months back we made 2 litres of veal stock straight out of the French Laundry Cookbook. It’s probably best those 72 hours of skimming insanity and Chinese water torture drip-by-drip sieveing through muslin are best left undescribed. Although I’m sure if you are a chef or an unhinged amateur (like me) and have been through this, you’ll know why top restaurants employ dozens of skivvies to do the dirty work. As regards to the morels, well thankfully my housemate recently came back from a trip to Canada with a bag stuffed full of them. He had been planning this dish for 2-3 years, I was getting itchy feet, but the final obstacle awaited…sweetbreads.


It turned out veal sweetbreads were damn near unattainable, or at least at any vaguely reasonable price, even from my fantastic butchers (W.H Frost in Chorlton, Manchester). We decided new season lamb sweetbreads would be a more than satisfactory substitute, and ordered some in. After some delays, last week they final hit us. Zero hour was upon us, a whole year’s worth of preparation had arrived.


Day One:


To say this was a 3 day extravaganza does stretch the truth to an extent.  On the first day, the main work was buying the following:

We put the sweetbreads and trotters to soak for 24 hours and set upon a nice easy start, the chicken mousse.  There is little value in going into this in detail, it’s Marco’s recipe using chicken breast, mace, tarragon, egg, double cream and plenty of salt, nothing more.

I will say though, we dropped a few spoonfuls into water to poach and the texture was unreal - soft and airy.


Day Two:


Awaking with a hangover, the need to get up and singe hair off trotters wasn’t the start of choice, but there was no option. Being men, and base ones at that, wielding flaming cans about did offer some attraction. However I’ll tell you for free, the smell of burning pig hair isn’t great.

Next up, one of the most difficult things I’ve done in a kitchen. De-boning trotters. Separating the skin from the bone at the hock end of the trotter wasn’t much cop, I’d say straightforward even. But breaking the bone at the knuckles to leave a flap of skin attached to toes never went as well as it did here:




I was average at best at this stage, my housemate fared a lot better. The fear of punching holes in the skin (potentially disastrous after stuffing) didn’t help much either. We got there, although with a few minor blemishes from our negligence as well as some trotters having tears in the skin when purchased. 

Now it was finally time to get serious. We fried some mirepoix, then added the trotter skins with white wine, reduced by half. Then came the thyme, bay leaf and veal stock. This is he one point where I felt the recipe let us down, or at least something went awry. The trotter were simply not covered enough the braise them. We had exactly the right quantities. Not wanting to unleash any more of the holy mana that was our veal stock reserves, we opted to top things up with good quality homemade chicken stock. Even so the trotters weren’t as covered as I would’ve liked. We soldiered on, putting them in the oven, tightly covered, for 3 hours. 

NB. This photo is taken pre-the adding of any stock.


This still wasn’t a time to sit back though. Next was the lowest ebb of the whole weekend, trimming sweetbreads. We poached them for a few minutes in boiling water then set upon removing the membranes. No fun at all. The more you played with them the more they started to turn into a useless mush, the less, the more you feared you’d missed some hard-to-detect membrane. We did our best. however in a video I’ll put later down you can see Marco talking about how he does it without poaching them. I can’t even comprehend the concept of that.

And here’s a little shot of the trotters after 1 hour of braising:

Then we fried off the sweetbreads in a seriously hot skillet. Apparently this should be done till they are crunchy, and again this wasn’t a reality for us. For later batches we doused them in flour, which seemed to help a bit.

A quick check of the trotters after 2 hours:

We quickly fried off some onion and morels and combined them with the sweetbreads and the chicken mousse (remember that?).

Then out came the trotters. I wouldn’t say they were perfect, not quite as dark or as floppy and unctuous as Marco’s, but they were pretty damn good and certainly better than I had expected given the problems with braising liquids. In fact this photo doesn’t do them justice, they were darker than they appear here. I have an average camera and I’m not much cop at photography anyway so I'm sorry for the quality (that extends to all the photos here).

Next we stuffed them with the sweetbread, morel and chicken mousse mixture on a buttered piece of foil.

Then rolled them into sealed sausage shaped rolls to put in the fridge. 

After around 10 straight hours of cooking, including making moules mariniere, I passed out watching Match of the Day soon after this shot.



Day 3


This wasn’t too bad a day, although I’ve omitted the making of pomme puree. That will magically appear at the end as if from nowhere. Actually it’s no walk in the park.


However the main aim of the day was the sauce. First we browned off 2 chicken legs with the sweetbread trimmings.

Next came mushrooms, shallots, garlic, thyme, bay leaf. The pan was deglazed with sherry vinegar, then again with cognac. Then came heaps of Madeira wine until the sauce looked caramelized.

Next up chicken stock, water and more of my liquid baby, veal stock. Simmering down for 20 minutes.

Then twice though muslin…

Now we were ready to go, the trotter sausage rolls were poached for 12 minutes.

The sauce reduced and a little cream, lemon juice, butter and pepper added. And (drumroll)….voila…

I apologise for the lackluster sideways photo. Every other photo is behaving as normal except the one money shot! I simply cannot work out what to do about it. No matter what I try, it’s intent on being sideways! Madness. Also, sorry for the general quality of the shot. I had already taken it upon myself to dig into the pomme puree and spill the sauce in the top right. I had actually forgotten to take a photo at first, as I had in the last few steps of plating up and saucing, and was in a rush to eat and be sociable rather than dance around my plate with a flash for 10 minutes. Never mind. I still think it turned out a hell of a lot better than I expected. It really isn’t miles off the dish Marco produced, which I don’t think is too bad a feat for a pair of amateurs.


The dish is very very 80’s. Bold, outlandish and not overflowing with subtlety. The presentation really is a little short of what you’d expect in 2 star Michelin restaurants of today. But hell, it tasted pretty damn good. The filling was something special, as was the sauce. My fears over the braising liquids were partly founded. The top of the trotter, which was fully submerged, was perfect, but the wing flaps weren’t as soft a gelatinous texture as I would really like (although that's not to say they weren't soft). Let’s not beat around the bush, I was pretty pleased with recreating a very technical dish to probably 80-90% of the standard of the real deal at my first attempt. Most of all, I had a weekend to really remember. I’ve been cooking a lot of crazy stuff, especially over the past year, and whilst I’ve played around with the idea of a blog I’ve never taken the jump. Maybe this will be my one and only post, but at least this marathon made me do it just this once.



Oh and here’s Marco doing it properly in the 80’s for Raymond Blanc in the second half of the first video and the first half of the second:

(note: a sheepish wet blanket Gordan Ramsey floating about; Marco waltzing through pig’s trotter de-boning like he was opening a tin; and his general enigmatic madness)