8 December 2016

Pickled herrings

Herrings are a hugely populous fish, and are often landed at Channel fishing ports in winter. They usually swim in large shoals, so when caught are often caught in large numbers. They also deteriorate quickly. As a result, herrings are often preserved. Smoking - either as kippers or less commonly bloaters, salting or pickling are the common methods in the UK. Fermentation is also popular in Scandinavian countries. I love a good pickled herring, but I find the shop-bought ones a bit too sweet and vinegary. Better to do it yourself. If a good catch of herrings has come in at the fishmongers, I often pickle a whole batch of them. They keep well in the fridge, and make an excellent lunch or starter.

Pickled herrings

23 November 2016

Garden foraging - a guide to edible weeds

Foraging used to be the preserve of dedicated enthusiasts and hippies seeking an alternative lifestyle. These days it is very much in vogue. Sunday paper supplements feature articles on wild ingredients. Any restaurant worth its salt will have at least a few foraged ingredients on its menu. So much so that professional foragers, usually wild-eyed men in disturbingly dirty boots, can be found lurking in restaurant kitchens as often as the more traditional meat, veg and other delivery guys. Foraged ingredients seem exotic and unusual, and it is easy to think that any foraging trip requires an expedition to the local woods or seashore. However, much like charity, foraging can begin at home. Or to be more accurate in the garden. There are many common weeds that are in fact edible. Weeding isn't my favourite job, but the prospect of free ingredients does make it more enjoyable a task. What follows are all edible weeds that I find growing in my modest urban garden.

4 November 2016

Which tomatoes should I grow?

One of my favourite vegetables to grow is the tomato. I love the smell of the plants, the excitement as the first tomatoes start to ripen in high summer, and most of all the great taste - so much better than supermarket tomatoes. Each year I grow a number of varieties. I like to have a good range of colour and sizes, particularly for salads. I also like to grow some tomatoes that are particularly good for cooking. I thought I'd share my views on the varieties I have grown over the last couple of years. I'm always interested to hear from people what varieties they have had success with, so feel free to add your comments.

tomato harvest

30 October 2016

Culinary adventures with hops

Last year I planted a hop plant in the garden. Hops used to be a common crop in Kent and East Sussex for centuries until the late 1970s, when big brewing companies started using imported pelletised hops. I liked the idea of growing something that was such a part of the agricultural heritage of my part of the world. Hops are mainly known as an ingredient in beer. I wanted to see if they had other culinary uses. When I was a student I had a summer job working on a farm where they grew a few hops, and I had done a bit of hop picking. I remembered the amazing smell that hops had - a bit like an IPA beer, but much fresher - and wondered if I could capture that flavour in food.


21 August 2016

Growing agretto and a recipe for agretto with cockles and lemon beurre blanc

Agretto, also known as barba di frate, monk's beard, or by its latin name salsola soda, has become increasingly popular on restaurant menus in the last couple of years. It is native to the Mediterranean and has been eaten in Italy for many years. Texturally it is quite like marsh samphire. It has a fresh grassy flavour, with just a hint of iron-tinged bitterness which belies the fact that, despite appearances, it is related to chard and spinach. Although found on restaurant menus, it can be hard to come by in the UK, where I've never seen it for sale in any retail greengrocers. Last year I thought I'd have a go at growing some. I can't have been the only one, as the handful of seed merchants I found who sell the seeds had all run out. This year I made sure that I got my seed order in early. My experiment was successful and I found it grew very well.

Cockles, agretto, lemon beurre blanc

25 July 2016

Lamb Breast, braised artichokes and broad beans, and caper and anchovy mayo

Lamb is a pretty expensive meat these days. With the modern interest in slow cooking, once cheaper cuts like shoulder and shank command a similar premium to the classic roasting joints like leg and best end. The only really cheap cut of lamb is the breast, which is a thin strip of meat, about 2 feet long that is taken off the ribs and belly of the animal. Like pork belly, it contains layers of meat and fat, and if cooked properly can be delicious. I took the inspiration for this method of cooking lamb breast from Elizabeth David's recipe for lamb breast Ste Menehould in her classic book, French Provincial Cooking, paired it with some seasonal veg from the garden and gave it a modern twist.

11 July 2016

Cooking squash tendrils

This year I am growing a couple of varieties of winter squash - potimarron and crown prince. Both have a trailing habit, and can cover a vast amount of ground. I recently came back from a week's holiday to find the squashes stretching out across my cauliflowers, onto the lawn and up an apple tree. Some intervention was obviously required. I cut back the squashes' growing tips in an attempt to dissuade them from growing further. This also has the beneficial effect of encouraging the plants to put more energy into developing its fruit. But what to do with the cuttings? Are squash tendrils edible?

Winter squashes gone crazy

11 May 2016

Hop shoots

Wild hop plants can often be found growing in the hedgerows and field margins of Kent and Sussex. These plants are a legacy from the time when hops were a common crop in South East England. Sadly most hops used in the UK beer industry these days are imported, often from as far afield as China, though the craft beer movement is spawning a renewed interest in English hops.

Hop shoots

25 January 2016

Are chard roots edible? (and are they worth eating?)

At the weekend, I was clearing some old chard plants from a bed, and was surprised by quite how large their roots were. Some of them were the size of a large carrot. It got me wondering, are they edible? And if so, are they worth eating? The edibility question is easily answered. Chard is a close relative of the beetroot, and they share a common ancestor. From this common ancestor, our forefathers developed two strains, beetroot primarily for its sweet roots, and chard for its tasty leaves. Chard has a biennial life cycle, and in its first year mainly puts on green growth. When it overwinters, some of its leaves die back, and the plant develops a large root in which it stores energy, from which to put forth a flower stalk the following spring. Chard's closeness to beetroot means that this root clearly can be eaten, which leaves the second question, is it worth it?

Chard roots

4 January 2016

Braised duck with peas

Braised duck with peas is something of a French classic, and is what we enjoyed for Christmas dinner chez Room for a Radish. Although fresh peas are in season in summer, the dish works equally well with frozen peas, and in many ways seems more suited to cold winter evenings than the summer. I take the legs off the duck and confit them - partly because I find the legs a bit dull braised, but mostly because I love confit duck. If you are in a hurry you can miss out the confiting. Depending on how many people you are feeding, you can either eat the confit legs with the rest of the duck, or save them for another day. The recipe uses a fairly large duck, and should feed four or five people, but if you have fewer diners simply purchase a smaller duck. The recipe also works nicely with mallard.

Braised duck with peas