Sunday, 2 December 2012

Chicken Liver Pate: Better Late Than Never

After a long break (I’m SO busy at the moment dahlings, you have NO idea), I’ve finally found the time to grace your screens with another foodie ramble, this time to do with chicken liver paté. Hope you all enjoy it, and don’t eat it all at once.

Without a doubt, chicken liver paté is one of my absolute favourite things. It’s my go-to starter on a disappointing restaurant menu – in fact, I have to get pretty strict with myself sometimes about giving the other dishes a shot. Making a really smooth chicken liver paté is a bit of a fine art to be honest, but if you’re just looking for something really, really tasty, look no further than the recipe below.

In terms of my usual pre-recipe burble, there are just a couple of things to say really. The difference between a paté and a parfait (since I’m sure you were wondering) is that for a paté you cook the chicken livers in butter first, then purée them, whereas for a parfait you pureé the livers first to make a sort of raw liver mush (mmmm, delicious), then pass it through a sieve before cooking it in a bain marie until it sets. This allows you to get a smoother texture because the sieve takes out any impurities. On the other hand, sautéing the livers in butter first gives a richer flavour, like when you seal beef for a stew. You can put paté through a sieve once it’s cooked and puréed and it does give a smoother texture, but when I’m just making it at home I’m afraid I see it as a bit too much of an effort.

The recipe below is based on one which my mum uses, ergo it’s tried and tested to the max. The jelly on top, though, is all mine, and I’m quite proud of it to be honest. It’s a flavoursome alternative to covering the paté with a layer of melted butter: it’s important to cover it with something, because the liver mixture will oxidise when exposed to the air. I so often hate those jellies they put on supermarket patés that I thought it was about time I worked out one I actually like. I have to say, though, that I’m not sure how much of the liking is due to the fact that it’s made of about 90% port...

Anyway, as a recipe for paté this is about as simple as it gets (don’t be fooled by the length of my method – as usual, I was a tiny bit carried away by letting you know exactly how I like to do it!). If you want to change it up a bit, you can try altering the herbs you use or leaving out the garlic. A great option is to vary the alcohol you put in the paté – Madeira is lovely with chicken liver, or you could use cognac or port.

In retrospect, there were more than a couple of things to say in the pre-recipe burble. Apologies. On with the recipe without further ado.


500g chicken livers
25g butter
1 onion, or two large shallots, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Chopped thyme, parsley and chives – about 2 tbsp in total
100ml brandy

200ml port
1 heaped tbsp redcurrant jelly
2 leaves gelatine
Some cold water


Trim any excess fat or sinew from the chicken livers. Sauté them in a little hot oil until the outsides are browned and caramelised and they’re still a bit pink inside. Season lightly and remove from the pan.

Add the butter to the same pan and when it’s foaming sweat the onions and garlic over a low heat until the onions are soft and translucent. Turn up the heat and deglaze the pan with the brandy, then reduce until almost all the brandy is gone. Return the livers briefly to the pan and leave to cool for a few moments.

In a food processor or blender, blitz the liver mixture until it’s as smooth as possible. Season to taste and transfer to the dish of your choice (NB: you can put it through a sieve at this stage if you like – it’s a bit of extra effort, but it is worth it if you don’t like it too coarse) Smooth it down with a spoon, making sure there are no air bubbles and the surface is very even. Pop it in the fridge while you make the jelly.

Put the port in a small pan and bring to a boil. Simmer until it is reduced by half – you should only have 100ml left! Put the gelatine in some cold water and let it soak for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, whisk some redcurrant jelly into the hot port. It should all dissolve. When the couple minutes are up, squeeze the excess water out of the gelatine (it should have softened up a lot) and whisk it into the port mixture. Do not return to the heat.

Leave the port mix to cool – it shouldn’t feel at all warm to the touch. You can speed this up by putting it in the fridge, but keep a close eye on it because the jelly might start to set. If this does happen you can re-melt it with no ill effects, but don’t let it boil or you will ruin the set from the gelatine.

The mixture will thicken a bit and you may need to stir it occasionally. When it’s cooled, pour it over the paté, making sure you get a good layer over all of it. You may not need all the jelly mixture – it depends on the size of your paté dish.

Top the lot with a couple of sprigs of thyme or a bay leaf, and put it in the fridge to cool for a few hours or until the jelly has set. Use within a few days and keep it in the fridge. It’s extra great with brioche and some decent butter, or really thin (dare we say melba?) toast. 

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Pear sorbet, and other frozen delights

You might remember a post I wrote quite a few months ago, on mulled wine granita. Well, this week I’ve revisited the wonderful world of frozen desserts: I had to poach some pears the other day (for more on that, you’ll have to see November’s issue of The Field) and ended up with rather a lot of leftover pear-flavoured syrup. Pear sorbet was pretty much the first thing that sprang to mind. You don’t have to use pear syrup for the recipe below, but if you’ve poached a few pears (as we all do once in a while...) and happen to have some hanging around, sorbet is a great way to use it up.

Some history and definition

Supposedly invented by the Romans (there’s a lovely story about the Emperor Nero having buckets of ice passed by hand along the Appian Way to his banqueting tables, where it was mixed with honey and wine), sorbet came to Britain via Italy and France in the late 17th century. It’s made from sugar syrup, fruit puree and often contains alcohol as well (woop woop). It’s distinct from ice cream because it contains no dairy products, and from granita because of its smaller ice crystals, which give it a smoother texture.

The science bit

When water freezes, it forms one solid mass of ice crystals – like an ice cube, for example. Sorbet and ice cream are both water-based (which is why they freeze) but in order for them to freeze into a lovely scoop-able softness, you need to add other ingredients to the water. This reduces the freezing point of the mixture so it doesn’t set as hard, and it then needs to be churned as it freezes to break up the ice crystals, which gives a smoother texture and again stops it from freezing solid. In the case of ice cream the addition is a diary-based product like cream or custard, but with sorbet fruit purée and sugar syrup are used. Alcohol also helps to lower the freezing point.

Unlike ice cream, sorbet doesn’t need to be constantly churned as it freezes (although you can make it in your ice cream maker if you have one) – you just have to give it a good stir with a fork every half an hour. This makes it an easy option for those of us who are still waiting for that state-of-the-art ice cream machine to appear in our Christmas stocking - all you need is a pan, a sieve and a Tupperware (much cheaper...)


Since it’s based on fruit purée and sugar syrup, sorbet is open to a whole variety of variations. You can vary the purée itself or mix two or three different types of fruit, not to mention the variety of alcohols and flavoured syrups at your disposal. I talked a bit about flavoured syrups in my blog on lemonade, and the ones you use for sorbets are no different.

You can infuse a huge variety of flavours into a syrup just by adding a herb or spice and heating it through: so, for example, to make rosemary syrup you mix add equal quantities by volume of sugar and water, throw in a couple of sprigs of rosemary, then bring it briefly to a boil, cool, and strain. Rosemary syrup goes well with pear purée in a sorbet.

You could also try strawberry sorbet with basil syrup or black pepper syrup, or raspberry sorbet made with cassis or with mint syrup. Apple and mint sorbet is pretty refreshing, and if you use rum as the alcohol element you’ve pretty much got apple mojito sorbet. In fact, a lot of cocktail flavour combinations work well as sorbets, so you can pretty much pick your favourite cocktail and adapt it to make a sorbet recipe. As usual, get creative!

One last note
Just out of pure interest, there’s an awesome machine called a pacojet which you can read about here (no, they are not paying me...but they probably should be). You can literally put whole pieces of fruit and sugar syrup in, freeze them, and it micropurées them to make a perfect, fresh sorbet without even needing to cook the fruit. And you can do it with meat to make perfectly smooth patés and make sauces without ever needing to defrost the ingredients. How cool is that? If I had £5,000, I’d be sorely tempted.

And without further expensive distraction, on to a recipe: simple pear sorbet with vodka (or calvados). Enjoy!

Pear Sorbet with Vodka or Calvados


1kg pears, as ripe as you can get
200g sugar
200ml water
65ml vodka or calvados (apple brandy)


Peel and quarter the pears (you don’t need to worry about coring them though). Put the sugar and water in a large pan and stir over a fairly gentle heat until all the sugar has dissolved. Add the pears and bring to a boil. Simmer until the pears are so soft they’re falling apart. If they don’t fall apart by themselves after half an hour or so, you can give them a hand with a liquidiser!

Push the pear mush through a fine sieve to remove any pieces of core or pips. You’ll probably have to push it through with a spoon and it might take a little while, but I prefer doing this to having to core the pears beforehand – you’ll have to sieve it either way, so why make extra work for yourself?

Once it’s all been through the sieve, you just need to mix in the vodka or calvados, then pop it in a freezer-proof container, cover it (clingfilm is fine) then put it in the freezer and give it a good mix with a fork every half an hour.

It might seem like nothing’s happening for the first hour or so, but eventually it’ll start to freeze around the edges. Just keep mixing every half an hour to break up the ice crystals, and eventually it will be frozen all the way through. It’s best served within a couple of days of making it, otherwise the crystals start to get big again. It’ll keep for a week or so in the freezer.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Nostalgic Banoffee Pie

Well hello all! It’s been quite a gap since I last posted, for which many apologies: I’ve been sorting things out around my column and my ever-increasing array of part-time jobs!

One of the only things I’ve managed to cook outside my column and catering jobs in the last couple of months has been banoffee pie, that delicious (and rather addictive) blend of toffee, banana and whipped cream. There’s not a huge amount to say about it: banoffee is a compound word reflecting the dessert’s two main ingredients, and it’s supposed to have been invented at The Hungry Monk restaurant in the 1970s. Since then, though, it’s become a British classic, beloved of Mums everywhere for its easy method and popularity with the younger generation.

My banoffee pie uses a crushed biscuit base – for which I apologise to the original creators, who were apparently pastry purists. You can use either, but I prefer the biscuit base because it’s easier to make and I like the flavour combination with the banana and toffee. If you do want to use pastry, just blind-bake a sweet pastry base (you can easily find a recipe on the internet) then build the rest of the pie as described below.

I made my pie for one of my housemates – it’s her favourite dessert, and I have to say it’s probably one of mine as well. It’s unbelievably easy to make, and for me is always rather nostalgic too – the pudding of childhood parties or special occasions.

It also has more recent, painful associations, from when a friend and I were on a catering job a few years back and sharing the workload. One day it worked out that I did the starter and the main course and he did the pudding – and they’d asked for banoffee pie. He knocked one out pretty quickly while I worked away on the soufflés and full roast for the rest of the meal (uneven workloads? Maybe...) When the meal was over the client popped their head around the kitchen door to say that that was the best banoffee pie they’d ever had, ‘you should package and sell that stuff’. Did they mention my starter or main course? They did not.

Despite that crushing blow, I did steel myself to make another one, for my housemates’ sake. And here’s the recipe:


250g plain digestive biscuits
100g butter
2 small tins condensed milk
4 big bananas
A bit of lemon juice
1 pint double cream
1 tsp sugar
Small block of dark or milk chocolate for grating


First of all, punch a hole in the top of each tin of condensed milk with a skewer. Put them into a saucepan of water so it nearly but not quite covers them. Simmer very gently for 2 ½ hours. When you open the tins the condensed milk should have turned to a dark golden-brown caramel. Alternatively, you can buy tins of ready-simmered condensed milk in the supermarket – it’s labelled ‘dulche de leche’, which is just another name for caramel made from condensed milk.

Melt the butter over a gentle heat and crush the digestive biscuits up really small (the best way is to seal them up in a large freezer bag and give them a good bash with a rolling pin). Mix the butter and crushed biscuits thoroughly and press the mixture into a large tartlet tin. Put it into the fridge – it will solidify as it cools.

Once the dulche de leche is ready and the base has cooled, slice the bananas to around 1cm thick and toss the slices in a little lemon juice to stop them browning. Pour the dulche de leche into a bowl and beat it until it’s smooth and even, then spread it evenly over the base. Cover this with a layer of sliced banana (place the slices on rather than pouring them over, so they form an even layer).

Finally, whip the double cream and spread it over the bananas, then grate over some chocolate to finish. Try not to eat it all at once!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Glazed Barbequed Leg of Lamb: the Death of the Sausage

It’s that time of year again, and from what I hear we might finally be getting the weather for it. Oil down the grill and stock up on the charcoal: it’s barbeque season, baby!

Now I’ll be the first to stick up my hand and say that I’m not a barbeque expert. But the basic rules as I understand them are:

1. Judicious use of firelighters good; dousing the lot in petrol bad.
2. Wait for the flames to die down before you try cooking (to avoid that well-loved classic, the raw sausage with extraneous burned bits).
3. When the charcoal’s white, it’s ready to cook. If it’s not, don’t try.
4. Men who claim they know how a barbeque works may not always be telling the truth. Ditto women who claim they don’t.
5. Keep a bucket of water near the fire and children, pets and your fingers away from it.

Finally, and most importantly: there are a million and one things to barbeque that have nothing to do with burgers or sausages. The options for kebabs and skewers alone are endless. As usual, experiment!

Awesome things to barbeque

Whole fish and steak do well here, since they cook quite quickly from raw, and the essential idea with any barbeque is always to have the inside cooked before the outside burns. Make your own garlic butter for the steak by mixing butter, crushed garlic, finely chopped parsley, salt and pepper until they’re evenly combined. For whole fish, stuff the belly with lemon, butter and aromatic herbs and make sure you oil and season the skin. For fish fillets, marinade in something citrus- and oil-based for five or ten minutes before cooking.

With things like chicken, ribs, or larger cuts of meat, you might want to consider braising/poaching them or starting them off in the oven before finishing on the barbeque for flavour. This way you’re more likely to get perfectly cooked meat and that smoky barbeque goodness, rather than having to choose between the two. As we've now comprehensively and sarcastically discussed, with a normal charcoal barbeque it is pretty hard to control the temperature well enough to guarantee a perfect cooking point.

Why banish chicken?

Just make sure it's cooked before you eat it, that's all.

Try poaching whole chicken breasts in seasoned water that’s just below a simmer. When they’re just off fully cooked, remove them and cut into chunks. Whizz up some chillies, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, lime zest and juice, nam pla (Thai fish sauce) and a little soy sauce in the blender to make a paste. Coat the pieces of chicken in it and skewer them along with the veggies of your choice (par-cooked as well if necessary – depends on the size of the chunks). Whack ‘em on the grill to finish and serve with some pak choi (incidentally, blanched and halved these grill very nicely too) and jasmine rice.

It starts and ends in the kitchen

The point is, for a really impressive barbeque you have to think of the actual grilling part as a bit of a show. It’s a social hub, it looks good, and it brings a great flavour to your food, but a lot of kitchen work needs to go in too. Think marinades and glazes (more on how to make both below); starting things in the oven; and some awe-inspiring salads. Break out the roasted courgette and cherry tomatoes, halloumi, mozzarella, avocado, pine nuts, and toasted breadcrumbs (although maybe not all at once...) and don’t forget your signature dressing.

Don’t overlook the humble potato salad, by the way. For a brilliant one, use waxy baby new potatoes and boil them until just done. Halve or quarter them and mix with just enough mayonnaise to coat, but not so much that they’re swimming in it. Stir in a few cloves of crushed garlic, a tiny squeeze of lemon, a big handful of finely chopped chives, and a bunch of chopped spring onions. Season very generously – plenty of pepper especially.

So there you have it. All you really need to do for the perfect barbeque is pick your favourite meat, fish and veg; look up some top marinades online; start stuff in the kitchen where necessary; remember not to cook before the flames go away; give some love to the salads...and try to keep the beers cold. Simples.

Here’s one to get you started.

Barbequed leg of lamb with a honey and soy sauce glaze


1 leg of lamb, boned out – and preferably butterflied – by your butcher (or you, if you’re feeling flashy)

For the marinade/glaze:
5 tsp soy sauce
5 tsp honey
3 tsp Demerara sugar
250ml sunflower oil (add a bit of sesame too, if you feel so inclined)
5-7 garlic cloves, well crushed with a little salt
Juice of one lime

To cook (when starting in the oven):
1 whole lime, quartered
1 whole head of garlic, cut in half horizontally

For a side dish:
Half an aubergine per person


Mix together the marinade ingredients as thoroughly as you can (they won’t want to stay combined; don’t worry). Pour the marinade over the lamb, making sure it gets into all the crevices inside and out. The oil level should pretty much cover the meat: if not, add another tablespoon of honey and soy sauce and another two of oil until it does.

Cover and refrigerate, and allow to marinade for a few hours minimum – overnight is ideal. Turn the lamb over halfway through your marinade time. The point is to tenderise the meat (the acid in the lime and salt in the soy sauce does this) without letting it oxidise (hence the oil to keep it sealed), whilst also imparting plenty of flavour. To make the glaze for the lamb, later on you’ll reduce some of the marinade down until the honey and sugar become gooey and use this to coat the meat, giving it a sticky, sweet and salty crust.

When you’re ready to cook the lamb: get your barbeque going around half an hour before you start the lamb, if it’s one of those that needs ages to heat up. Pre-heat your oven to around 180°C.

Prepare a roasting tin by making a little platform out of the lime quarters and halved garlic head. Take the lamb out of the marinade and rest it, skin up, on this platform. This will help the heat circulate around the meat. The joint should be flattened out, not rolled – it’ll cook quicker that way. It’ll also cook less evenly, but in my experience there’s always one person who likes their meat more well done than everyone else anyway.

Allow the marinade to settle a bit, then pour and/or skim as much of the oil as you can off the top. Reserve both the oil and the soy-sauce honey mix. Set aside half of the latter for later, and pour half over the lamb before you put it in the oven.

Cooking time for the lamb will be around half an hour, or until it’s a little less done than you usually like it. You’ll need to baste it regularly by pouring over spoonfuls of the sticky soy sauce mixture, which will run off less and less easily as it cooks. You can check how fast it’s cooking when you baste it, and adjust your roasting time accordingly.

While the lamb cooks, oil the bars of your barbeque grill with some of the oil left over from the marinade. Slice the aubergine into slices around 0.5cm thick, brush it with some more of the oil, season, and grill it over the barbeque until cooked, brushing with more oil as necessary. Keep it warm.

Just before the lamb finishes in the oven, put the reserved half of the soy sauce mixture into a small pan and reduce it by about half. It should become sticky and syrupy. This is your glaze.

Once the lamb’s done, finish cooking it on the barbeque. Start it skin side down, so you can pick off any lime or garlic from the baking tray that might have stuck to the bottom half. Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins and the flesh out of the lime pieces. Mush them all together and toss the aubergine pieces gently in the resulting paste. Season as required.

If you like, you can add a little water to the leftover glaze in the pan until it’s a sauce-like texture, sieve it, and serve it with the lamb. It can be a little salty because of all the soy sauce, but personally I like it!

Brush or spoon plenty of glaze onto the non-skin side of the lamb while it cooks, as it won’t have collected any during its time in the oven. Cook the lamb for about five minutes on each side, or until it’s reached your preferred cooking degree and/or is attractively charred...

Serve the lamb with the aubergine pieces and your favourite green and potato salads.