Cooking with a fishbox from Coast and Glen

A while ago Tim Hayward (food writer and owner of Fitzbillies in Cambridge) tweeted about the fishbox from Coast and Glen. I had a look at the website and decided I would try it at some point as with exception of the van on Chesterton Road on Wednesday mornings, there is no decent fishmonger in Cambridge (I found the quality of the market stall to be variable). Last Friday that time had come. I had ordered the smallest box and had previously given my preferences on the website (you can exclude things altogether and prioritise others). The styrofoam box contained four fresh whole langoustines, four shelled scallops, and a filleted portion each of megrim, salmon, blue ling and tusk. The salmon and tusk went straight into the freezer, the langoustines I cooked according to the included instructions and took out the tail meat. I fried the scallops in a mix of rapeseed oil and butter until crispy, took them off the heat and added the lango tails to warm through. Simply served on dressed leaves, this was my starter. The quality of the seafood was superb, both the scallops and langos really sweet and flavourful. They hardly needed seasoning.

Fresh langoustines, ready to be cooked
Fresh langoustines, ready to be cooked
Pan fried scallops and lango tails, dressed leaves
Scallops and langoustine tails on dressed leaves

As main, i gently fried the megrim in the same pan, served lightly seasoned with more dressed leaves and a hunk of fresh sourdough bread. it was just as delightful as the langoustines and scallops and could hardly have been fresher.

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[Cooking] Confit salmon, crispy skin

The fish van had some really good and fresh looking salmon so I picked up a fillet with the aim to confit it.
I mixed salt, freshly ground pepper, thyme and maple syrup into a paste, generously rubbed the skinned fillet with it, wrapped it in cling film, let it sit for an hour and then washed off the cure.
I then filled a saucepan about halfway up with olive oil and heated it to 50 degrees and switched the heat off. I cut the dried salmon into three pieces so I had one thick piece of even thickness and two thinner ones to allow for even cooking. The thinner pieces needed about 30 minutes, the thicker one 45 for an internal temperature of 45 degrees.
The skin obviously didn’t go to waste. I scraped it clean and fried it between two sheets of baking parchment with a saucepan as weight on top (to make sure it stays flat) on medium heat until crispy. You don’t need to add any oil as the skin is fatty enough and the baking parchment ensures it won’t stick.

Confit salmon, crispy skin

The only tricky bit is keeping an eye on the temperature so it doesn’t get too high. If the salmon turns pink and/or starts leaking protein, it’s too hot. You really need a probe thermometer for this, unless you have a sous vide setup. How long it takes will depend on the thickness of the fish.

[New openings] SmokeWorks, Free School Lane

SmokeWorks is a new venture by Cambscuisine (who run the two Chop Houses in Cambridge, among others). This new restaurant took over the premises occupied by Eraina in Free School Lane, on the corner with Bene’t Street and will open on Tuesday evening this week (the counter on the website is off). The menu will mainly consist of US style BBQ items (chicken, ribs of various flavours, pulled meat buns etc.). Heading up the kitchen is Vladimir Hromek who was previously head chef at the University Centre brasserie.
Modelled on similar trendy joints, there will be a no booking policy and the kitchen will be open all day from 11:30 to 22:30 (23:00 at weekends) with takeaway available. Drinks come in the shape of bottled beers, wine, (hard) milk shakes, bourbons and ryes as well as soft drinks. The decor is equally on trend with exposed brick, tables and benches with supports made from steel piping, filament bulbs and so forth. You call service by using a emergency off switch next to your table. This box also holds cutlery and the sauces which are made to Chef Vladimir’s recipes.
I was commissioned to take photos during a trial run on Friday evening and here are some of the results:

I had the opportunity to taste the chicken pieces, pork scrumpets, lamb ribs and pulled pork and it was all very good, the meat moist and with good flavour. The beef dripping mash was amazing.
One thing you’ll be hard pressed to find is a healthy or vegetarian option, it’s all rather rich. There are no salads or green vegetables as sides but the red coleslaw was fresh and crunchy.

Cooking: Home-made pork scratchings

I have had this sort of scratching at restaurants and always wondered how they get them so light and crispy, so unlike the hard, chunky ones you get in little bags at the pub. I read up on it and saw someone on Food Network make it and found it’s really easy, there is just quite a bit of waiting involved.

I bought some belly pork from my butcher, took off the skin and boiled it for an hour or so. After it had cooled down a bit, I scraped off any remaining fat/meat (you can season and eat it) and dehydrated it on a rack on the lowest setting in the oven. This took about a day but I don’t have a dehydrator which would work quicker.

Then I cut the skin into pieces and deep fried them in oil at 180°. They puff up and curl. The result is a really crispy and light scratching as there is hardly any fat left. I just seasoned mine with a little salt but you can try other flavour combinations, I guess.

Home made pork scratchings

Here’s one of them in action:

Wartime memory

I posted this to facebook (and excerpts to twitter) but I wanted to put it somewhere a little more permanent and easier to find again.

Watching Great British Menu this year always reminds me of my maternal granddad’s favourite story:
He was on the Western front and sometime after D-Day (I can’t remember the date), having been wounded by a grenade in another skirmish earlier, he was captured by US troops. The POWs were shipped to the US and as they stood lined up on the boat, they were asked who could cook. My granddad, having been a master butcher and pub cook before he had to fight in a war he really didn’t want to fight in, stepped forward. He was accepted and cooked the prisoners’ meals.
One night after service, he sat down to his own meal, a plate of Tellersülze (sort of like brawn but with more gelatine) he’d made from what would have ended up in the bin, one of the US senior staff came in, pointed at his plate and demanded to know what it was. A bit frightened, my granddad apologised and explained he’d used basically the rubbish. The officer insisted on trying it and liked it so much that my granddad had to cook it for the senior staff’s lunch the next day.
We still don’t know how but when he was released he managed to nick a set of US Army cutlery which is still in my family’s possession (I think the teaspoon went missing at some point).
He also carried the splinters from that grenade in his hip until he died in 1985.
And yes, that’s who I have my cooking genes from. 🙂

Dinner at Cotto, East Road

Cotto has been in Cambridge for a long time and for some reason or other I never made it until last week.
The rather unglamorous location of East Road (on the corner of the little alley leading to the Tram Depot) is quickly forgotten in the cosy atmosphere of the upstairs dining room which is long and narrow and has space for, at a guess, about 30 covers. The polished wooden tables are set without tablecloths and the lighting is quite low.
The only dining option is the á la carte menu with six options each for starter and main, one of which a vegetarian option. Everything sounded very good indeed, from glazed belly pork via beef and venison to fish and seafood and the decision was quite hard.

Amuse bouche
The amuse were little pastry shells filled with a spiced hummus and chicken liver parfait, nice little packets of flavour.

Crab, crayfish
I wanted something light to start so went with the crab and crayfish dish. Very fresh and lightly dressed crab, well cooked crayfish tails, some veg and salad and dots of nicely sharp aioli and beetroot puree. A good start indeed. My companion was also very happy with her glazed pork belly with “exotic slaw”.

Venison Wellington
The season for venison is almost at an end so I chose the “Wellington” and was very happy to have done so. The meat was cooked on the spot and had excellent flavour, the pastry was crisp and stayed so for quite a while and the well reduced sauce with wild mushrooms brought everything together and sent me straight to the forest. There was also a token parcel of vegetables on the side. This was easily one of the best venision dishes I’ve had anywhere.

Chocolate piano
With head chef Hans Schweitzer’s history and reputation as a master chocolatier, we had to have the piano for dessert. The body of the piano is made from two types of ganache, then covered in dark chocolate, with a white chocolate keyboard and dark chocolate lid. On the side was a chocolate fondant and chocolate ice cream/parfaits. This was not only art on the plate but also delicious and left a huge smile on my face.

We finished our meal with hot chocolate and mint tea. The petit fours served with those were Vanillekipferl, minty truffles and chocolate shavings.

The three-course menu is priced at £50 (55 on Saturdays) and with a glass of wine with the main, a small glass of dessert wine each and the tea/chocolate the bill came to £163 for two before service, so definitely on the higher end of the scale in Cambridge. Refreshingly, there is no automatic service charge so you can decide for yourself. Service was efficient and friendly.
The food is of excellent quality with strong flavours, the style is more classic rustic than modern refined.

The restaurant is closing for an extended Easter break in April and will reopen in May. Flavour 105 reported on their last programme that the restaurant is for sale as the owner/head chef is planning to retire but no details have been released yet. I will still be planning a return visit reasonably soon.

Dinner at the Box Tree, Ilkley

I’ve been wanting to visit the Box Tree in Ilkley ever since Lawrence Yates, who used to be sous chef at Alimentum, took over as head chef there last year, especially as he managed to pick up a Michelin star within the first half year. I finally took the opportunity a few weeks ago when I visited my friend Jennie in Brighouse which isn’t too far away.
The restaurant is set in a cosy, lovingly restored old building with exposed beams and open fireplaces and quite subdued lighting. It felt quite formal with the well spaced tables and starched tablecloths but atmosphere and service were relaxed and we felt very welcome and comfortable.
After a drink in the bar we were shown to our table and shortly after the bread arrived with butter in the shape of a rose. I’ve read the restaurant manager himself makes dozens of these each day!
We had opted for the tasting menu and the dishes arrived in a well paced order, the flavours building up nicely through each course. Everything was very well cooked indeed, with perfect seasoning and excellent balance of flavours and textures as well as being beautifully presented, perfectly justifying the Michelin star. Service was also top notch, efficient while being inobtrusive, with the French sommelier providing excellent wine matches to supplement the menu.
The following photos should give you a rough idea of the food. The colours are somewhat off as the light sources were mixed.

Butter rose

Quai's egg, mushroom
Quail’s eggs, mushroom, onion

Chicken, foie gras
Chicken and foie gras ballotine

Sea Bass, Jerusalem Artichoke, Leek
Sea Bass, jerusalem artichoke, leek

Fillet of Beef
Fillet of beef, mushroom, buttery mash

Champagne and Blood Orange
Palate cleanser: champagne and blood orange

Cherry Souffle
Cherry Soufflé

Rhubarb Millefeuille
Rhubarb millefeuille with basil jelly

There were some lovely chocolate petit fours as well but by that time I think I’ve had a little too much wine and the photo was out of focus…