First impressions of Butch Annie’s, 14/02/2015

Like many new discoveries, I came across this new burger place in the centre of Cambridge (Market St, where Carrington used to be) on twitter.

Entrance

The room has been updated a bit (the graffiti on the walls will probably divide opinion) but it should work well for a long and relatively narrow room.

Beers Booths One side of the bar

They offered a free burger to the first 250 people through the door who had retweeted their info so of course I couldn’t resist. I arrived at noon but had to wait about 10 minutes until they had sorted out some issues. The menu has five beef burgers and two with iberico pork (all the topping combinations are also available with a veggie patty); sides are skin-on chips with various seasonings, “onion popcorn” (onions cooked in a chickpea and beer batter) and coleslaw plus additional dips and sauces. The drinks menu has bottled craft lager and ales (Freedom, Chapel Down, Fourpure, Rosita, Harviestoun), two ciders, four wines and five bourbons. Soft drinks are Cokes and Sprite, juices, Fentiman’s drinks and mineral water. Prices for burgers range between 6.90 and 8.90, the average of a craft beer is around 4.60, soft drinks are more harshly priced at 2.50 for a tiny orange juice, and 3.30 for a Fentiman’s. Now for the burger. I’d had breakfast not long before so only ordered a burger without any sides. I chose one of the iberico pork ones, just to see how they would treat such a superb and delicate meat.

"Topsy Turvy" iberico pork burger Cooked medium, as it's supposed to be

The burger was a decent size, the toppings were well balanced so you could still taste the meat and the brioche bun was crispy and not really sweet as some brioche can be. As you can see in the second photo, the meat was cooked pink, as it should be with iberico pork. It was delicious and I will happily pay the £8.90 they are charging for it next time, although I want to try some of the beef options, too, maybe even investigate the “secret” vegetarian patty. It’s served simply wrapped in greaseproof paper on a metal tray.

There were a few kinks in the service but in the first hour of opening that’s to be expected and I’m sure they will be smoothed out soon.
I had a brief chat with Tim, one of the owners and they sound like they both know what they’re doing and have a good philosophy generally, and more importantly, in the sourcing of their ingredients. Their beef comes from a small, well-managed herd in Herefordshire, for example.

They’ll be open from 12pm (11am on weekends) to 11pm all day so should provide a good source for a quick meal in town later in the evening.

The website is still quite bare but will hopefully have more info soon.

[Cooking] Beef short ribs braised in porter

Having had short ribs in various shapes and cooking methods at restaurants and from street food vans, it was time to try my hand at cooking them myself when I spotted a nice rack at my local butcher’s, the Art of Meat. I decided to braise them so cooked some roughly chopped celery, leeks and garlic in rapeseed oil until softened a bit, seasoned with pepper, bittersweet and hot pimenton, thyme and rosemary, filled up the pan with a bottle of porter (Wychwood Brewery’s Black Wych), brought it to the boil and added the seared rack of ribs. The covered pan went into a 180 degree oven for half an hour after which I turned the heat down to 120 and left it alone for about three hours. Prodding the meat, I decided it could do with a little more time and put it back for another 45 minutes which turned out to be plenty as I had difficulty getting it out of the pan in one piece. I had to push it back together for the photo.

Beef short ribs braised in porter

Having strained the liquid, I reduced it by about half until it had a good sauce consistency (by how much you need to reduce it will depend on how much liquid evaporated during the cooking process) and then added a good pinch of salt. I then shredded the rib meat, removing bits of fat, gristle and connective tissue that hadn’t broken down and mixed it with the sauce. A potato mash (maybe with added celeriac or parsnip) would go well with this but I just had fresh bread and a large bowl of dressed leaves with it.
The texture of the moist meat was pretty much perfect, the flavour very savoury with a distinct bitter note from the porter. I think next time I’m going to add some warm spices (cinnamon, cloves).

[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.

[Cooking] My version of Daniel Doherty’s Hangover Hash

I’ve been laid low with a nasty cold the last couple of days, my coughs almost registering on the Richter scale in North Cambridge today so I needed something hearty to pick me up. Only yesterday Daniel Doherty’s book, Duck & Waffle, arrived, named after the 24-hour-restaurant up on the Heron Tower in London where Daniel is executive chef. Flipping through it, I came to a recipe titled “Hangover Hash”. Now, what works for hangovers also works for colds, as you suffer a variety of similar symptoms so reading through it I realised not only was it just my thing, I also had all the important ingredients at home as the last thing I wanted to do was leave the house.
I made a few modifications in that I added garlic and ginger to the onion jam and didn’t bother making a peperonata but added fresh peppers instead and I substituted the Gruyere cheese with Cheddar and Gran Padano, as that’s what I had. Tasting it, I thought the chorizo I had used (the spicy variety from Renilla) added enough heat to the dish without the need of extra hot sauce. The sausage had rendered beautifully, infusing the other ingredients with its spicy oils. I was really happy with the textures and flavours, perfect in my state. I didn’t even need a lie-down afterwards. It came out looking like this, almost like in the book:

Dan Doherty's "Hangover Hash"

In the book photo, the dish has no cheese on it and the yolk is a beautiful orange, not with a thin film of egg white over it but that’s the difference between a professionally cooked and shot dish and one of mine.
Note for the future: I’m going to add the peppers at the same time as the eggs so they cook even less for more crunch.

The recipe was simple, just took a while, at least when you make the onion jam from scratch. I’m looking forward to trying more recipes from this fantastic looking book. If you have a tablet or similar device, the kindle version is quite cheap at the moment. This is my favourite format for cookbooks as I have no space for books in my tiny kitchen.

Lunch at The Sportsman, Seasalter

I’ve been lax in posting to this blog for various personal reasons and hope to take it up again soon.
One recent restaurant visit I can’t possibly miss to put on the blog was The Sportsman near Seasalter/Whitstable right on the Kent coast. I’d had too many both raving reviews and personal accounts from friends and acquaintances with similar tastes in food that I couldn’t push a visit off any longer so I took a day off in late September and braved a morning train to London. I managed to get a seat on the London train so the start was less painful than it could have been. The train from London Victoria is quite pleasant as it trundles through the Kent countryside, especially as it turned to be a fine day indeed. Whitstable station was quite deserted so I had to call for a taxi which arrived about 10 minutes later. The ride on the coast road was also quite pleasant, lasted about 15 minutes and cost 8.30 (!, cheaper than a taxi from Cambridge station to my house). I got to the Sportsman a bit early so had a drink in the conservatory.

Table Table

After I had taken my seat in the light and airy room, I ordered the tasting menu and a glass of Picpoul and relaxed. The first nibbles soon arrived and gave an indication of what was to come in terms of both freshness of ingredients and flavour.

Nibbles
Nibbles

Egg
Poached egg, smoked eel, parsley sauce

Oysters
Poached rock oyster on the left, raw native oyster with chorizo on the right. The native one won for me but both were excellent.

Bread and butter
Foccaccia, soda bread, sourdough, butter, all made in house. These were replenished throughout the meal as most dishes didn’t have a carb accompaniment.

Crab, carrot, Hollandaise
Crab, carrot, Hollandaise. The Hollandaise was very light and there was just enough to bring everything together. The crab naturally was as fresh as could be and an utter joy.

Baked celeriac, apple, fresh cheese
Salt baked celeriac, stewed apple, mustard, fresh cheese. I’m not a huge fan of celeriac but both the slow baking and the combination with the tart apple took away that particular flavour and made it a lovely dish.

Slip sole in seaweed butter
Slip sole in seaweed butter. This simple dish was my favourite. Letting the ingredient speak for itself, the fish was cooked on the spot and that’s all you needed, except a little bread to soak up the juices.

Braised brill, smoked pork belly
Brill braised in oxidised meursault with smoked pork belly. This was another highlight, the dense fish and the pork harmonised beautifully and the best beurre blanc I’ve ever had brought everything together.

Lamb croquette
Roast lamb
After all this glorious seafood, the lamb main was almost a letdown but only almost as the flavours were great, the meat cooked nicely and it was sourced from the farm across the road, so probably even closer than most of the seafood. The little extra course of the braised lamb croquette with mint sauce was a nice touch.

Then the puddings, oh the puddings:

Apple and blackberry ice lolly
The pre-dessert was an apple and blackberry ice lolly with crumble. Fresh and tart, this was the perfect palate cleanser after the rich lamb.

Plum souffle and kernel ice cream
Plum soufflé and kernel ice cream. A beautifully cooked, fluffy souffle with excellent plum flavour, complemented by the ice cream made with plum kernels, a flavour similar to almond.

Coffee and tartlets
And finally, an espresso with little tartlets: custard/raspberry and chocolate/salted caramel.

Service was friendly and efficient throughout the just over three hours I spent there and made the stay pleasant indeed.

A note to those who like myself rely on public transport: There are two local taxi firms but they don’t have many cars so booking in advance is highly encouraged, although a breakdown like in my case propbably won’t help there, either.

[Film review] Chef

In a change from your usual programming I want to post a short review of a film, albeit still food related. Ask any chef or serious foodie what their favourite food related film is and they will most likely tell you it’s Ratatouille. That film now has a serious contender in the shape of Chef by and with Jon Favreau, well known for directing the first two Iron Man films (Downey Jr. has a quite hilarious small role as his ex-wife’s ex-husband in this, too).
Carl Casper loses his job as head chef in an established but tired fine dining restaurant after a disastrous review by a famous critic and then a public confrontation with said critic. Distraught at first he accepts the offer of restoring an old food truck and takes it, his son (who lives with his ex wife and with whom he has a difficult relationship) and a friend (saying who would be a slight spoiler). Inspired by a meal in Miami, they concentrate on Cuban food, tweaking the menu as they stop over in New Orleans and Austin on their way back to California, mending the relationship with his son along the way.
It’s a feelgood film and it makes you salivate so don’t watch it before dinner. There are two cooking sequences which are basically torture when you sit in the cinema with nothing to eat. This Buzzfeed article has descriptions and photos of the dishes. That pork belly looked ridiculously good on the big screen.
What I love about it is that they get the details right. Jon Favreau and his production team clearly did their research, the food is real, the scenes in the restaurant kitchen feel realistic, reminiscent of the restaurant scenes in the HBO series Treme which were written by Anthony Bourdain.
The other aspect of the film that was very well done was the use of social media and how it can be both be a blessing and a curse, it even describes how to use twitter properly.
If you’re a chef or a foodie you will love this film and even if you’re not interested in food at all, it’s still a nice portrait of a man who rediscoves his passion and brings his family back together.

[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.

Making bacon

I’ve always been fascinated by the subject and read in various places that it was actually really easy to do at home. Reading Tim Hayward’s book Food DIY was the last kick up the backside I needed to try it myself.
Remember the crackling I made from pork belly skin last week? Part of the belly meat I cooked on the day and the other half I turned into bacon using the “easy dry cure” from the book which involves packing the meat in three parts sugar and five parts salt (plus any extra flavouring, I used smoked paprika and thyme), tightly sealed in two freezer bags and left in the fridge for a week, flipping it over once a day.
Today it was time to see if it had worked. I opened the bag and it smelled good so hadn’t gone off. That was the first hurdle taken. After rinsing off all the cure and padding it dry, it looked like this.

Home cured streaky bacon

It had lost about a third of its volume and was nice and firm. It smelled really good, too. As a test, I took off two slices, chopped them into lardons and fried them in a dry pan over medium heat. They turned really crispy and the fat had rendered beautifully in which I fried an egg. Look at those crispy little bits!

Fried lardons of the home cured bacon

This experiment gave me confidence to try some more home curing. I think I’m going to try some gravadlax and duck ham next.

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: