Mostly Concerning Food
We kept October meat free but got very tempted by some Cumbrian air dried ham on a visit to the farm shop at Chatsworth. November has been an occasional meat month. It has been a brilliant month for smoked fish. We tried at least three sorts of salmon patés (two with smoked salmon and one with poached salmon) and then started doing a little bit of cooking ourselves. An Arbroath smokie became a highly flavoured risotto before an equally delicious Cullen Skink. The highlight came with a pair of kippers that I reckon may be as good as those you get from Fortunes of Whitby. These were smoked in Argyll by the Inverawe company. They simply smelt and tasted as though they had just come out of the smoke house. The meat fell off the bones and Stewart (the cat), who is a laid back sort of fellow most of the time, became more animated than I can ever remember seeing him. I wouldn’t say for certain that they are better than Fortunes but they are certainly up there; certainly a kipper worthy of the table for high-tea as well as breakfast.
My favourite meal; some decent bread and cheese, paté and fresh tomatoes all washed down with a clean cup of tea.
I can’t remember the name of the cheese or the paté. Both were bought at Waitrose and both went down very nicely. I wan’t intending doing a food blog so I didn’t keep notes. The tea is Betty’s Blue tea. It compliments this sort of a meal.
If I see the cheese again I will buy it. Cheese is one of our greatest achievements as a species. To be able to get so many different tastes and flavours and aromas into one foodstuff is something to be celebrated. Of course the human species has also, in Dairylea, been able to create a cheese that is almost free of flavour. It’s a decent starting point but a pity if it is also a finishing post.
I did actually make a jack’o’lantern out of this (grown by Steven) but not until I’d made a gently spiced soup and a sweet pie to celebrate Halloween. The spice mix for the soup was cumin, coriander and fenugreek. It was wonderfully warming after spending the morning putting up a fence.
The star here is hidden under a layer of melted butter. Again I cannot remember the name of the firm who made this salmon paté but it was exceptional. It was bought in Waitrose and I will be looking out for it in future. The best of all the ready made fish products we’ve had this year.
One of the best ways of looking forward to Christmas is to spend a month or two enjoying the pleasures of simple, one food, meals. If you have a daughter whose chickens can provide you with eggs as good as these then you have no reason to be unhappy….we are extremely happy.
The Chatsworth Farm Shop attracts a lot of Vyella shirts, brown brogues and a fair smattering of older men in wine coloured trousers. The clientele are certainly well-heeled. On the whole the stuff on sale is good though one wonders at some of the decisions. We enjoyed a burger in the restaurant. A good burger is a real treat and this was a good burger; first quality meat and perfectly cooked to give those browning reaction aromas on the outside while remaining juicy and delicious inside. The bread was good and a generous green salad was helped with a tangy dressing. Why then add a dollop of floury, over-mayonaised potato salad and a pile of tasteless crisps? Not a criticism. More a suggestion. (Hello Mr Chatsworth kitchen manager, people aren’t coming to your shop to buy crisps.)
The Yorkshire curd tart (Not one for Dr. Spooner) was a little dry but this was taken care of by having it with a generous bunch of grapes.
These sausages came from Hambridge of Matlock. We cooked a pan full, sliced a decent loaf and tried them out with a range of pickles. The winning relish being a chutney recipe sent by a Mr Bruce Goodman of North Island New Zealand. It may seem a little greedy to have a whole pan of sausages between two of us and it was! (Though a well-loved border collie collected more than a morsel or two.)
According to local legend (and Wikipedia) Arbroath smokies were created when a fire in a salting shed over heated a number of barrels of haddock that were being cured. It burnt down the building but left a culinary gem behind. I love Arbroath Smokies. They are young haddock that are first cured in salt, then air dried before being hot smoked in barrel-like-smokers. This is a big flavoured fish. The haddock isn’t without flavour in itself but all three of the processes add flavour and aromas that make these rather special.
This is Cullen Skink. It’s a wonderful soup made from onion, potato, smoked haddock, milk, cream, parsley and seasoning. Scotland has got a very well deserved reputation for poor diet. If you really wanted to eat badly then Scotland will provide you with plenty of opportunities. It has also given us some of the finest of foods. Cullen Skink is a tremendous soup and all the better for being made with a genuine Arbroath Smokie.
This simple risotto is also made from an Arbroath Smokie. The salt house fire is a myth. The people of the East Coast of Britain learned about preserving fish from Denmark and Norway. We owe a great deal of our culture to those who came from elsewhere to make Britain their home (long may this continue). Salt fish, dried fish and particularly smoked fish are a legacy from the vikings. Even accounting for all the middle class people who have started their own smokeries, the vast majority of fish smoking is still done in areas that were once ruled by Danes and Norwegians. The original “red herrings” came from Yarmouth. These were left un-gutted, saturated with salt and then smoked for several weeks. Apparantly they tasted wonderful and lasted for well over a year. The down side was an odour that has left them as a by-word for covering over a scent trail. Smoking began as a means of preserving fish but soon became a way of imparting a range of complex flavours (I’m largely paraphrasing sections of Harold McGee’s Food and Cooking here).
Flavours used to be much stronger because fish had to be able to last longer. The link between food and industry is not always smiled upon but it was one of the main inventions of the industrial revolution that transformed smoking and curing. The steam engine led to railways which in turn allowed food to reach the plate days quicker and both salt and smoke cures became much milder.
Arbroath Smokies are first salted which not only adds a little salt (a flavour enhancer) to the meat but also draws some proteins to the surface. When this is dried it forms a sticky layer that gives the fish an attractive gleam once it has been smoked. I was first attracted to smoked fish by the way they looked. There is an awful lot of pleasure to be had from food of this quality and good food feeds all five senses.
Fish are either hot smoked or cold smoked. Smokies get the first treatment, kippers get the second. The other difference is that one is a haddock and the kipper is a herring. For centuries the herring has been a great food of the poor all around the coast of Britain. I like herrings in all sorts of ways but this is my favourite.
At one time the kipper (like the sausage) was becoming a factory produced apology of its former self. Large food companies turned out pre-packed kippers by the score. Happily a few of the traditional smokers kept going and enough people insisted on the real thing. Now it isn’t difficult to get first class kippers in different parts of the country. If I was presented with a kipper that looked (and tasted) like the one above in an hotel I would go back again and again. If I got presented with a pre-packed, de-boned imitation I would be looking to check out as soon as possible.