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Sometimes, good food comes from the Ready, Steady, Cook approach. I’ve been enmired in one of my busiest work weeks of the year, and came out alive at the other end to discover that Mr Lemur had bought some more-or-less random ingredients for me to cook at the Lovely Local Butcher and the Overpriced Local Greengrocer. Of course, the ingredients weren’t quite random. Faced with a panoply of organic and sustainable meaty wonders in the butcher’s shop, it’s better than even money that he’ll come out with pork belly. And, to be fair, these were some healthy slices of pig. Read the rest of this entry »

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This weekend featured both a bank holiday and lovely warm weather, with the result that apparently every single person in Brighton had a barbeque. Since we’d opened the doors to the garden, our house smelled of grilling meat for three days straight. I’m not an outdoor grilling kind of gal, and I don’t even like burgers especially, but since I had the lovely and vegetarian Thrifty Gal to stay, I wasn’t eating any meat at all and by Monday I was starting to crave flesh. Regular readers will know that I am far from a traditional carnivore – or rather, I have a relationship to meat that is actually very traditional for many cultures. I eat non-meat meals as often as I eat meat ones, and when I do cook with meat it is usually one ingredient among many rather than a giant hunk of animal flesh. But I do really appreciate the meat I eat and after a weekend smelling the stuff, I was ready for some omnivorous cooking closer to my heart than clumps of ground beef on bread.

I knew I wanted a spicy salad featuring beef – something like a Thai Yue Num Tok – but I also couldn’t resist buying some more local asparagus. I considered for a moment switching to a stir fry dish of beef and asparagus when it hit me that the answer was to keep my salad plan and use the asparagus raw. There’s been a bit of a trend for thinly sliced raw asparagus in the last couple of years, from Jonathan Waxman’s use of it in Barbuto to blog posts like this asparagus and manchego recipe at Yum Sugar. Asparagus isn’t a traditional ingredient in Southeast Asia but I’ve heard it has become popular there, and it makes perfect sense as an addition to the type of Vietnamese salads that combine cooked meat with crunchy raw vegetables. Despite the reservations of Mr Lemur, who quite likes his asparagus cooked thanksverymuch, I couldn’t resist the combination of a new technique with the reliable pleasures of hot meat and plenty of chilies.

Vietnamese beef and asparagus salad

  • 1 steak, not an expensive cut
  • 2 Spanish red peppers
  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 4 shallots
  • 7 small red chilies (prik kee noo) or to taste
  • 1 little gem lettuce
  • handful of cilantro
  • handful of mint
  • 4 tbsps lime juice
  • 4 tbsps fine sugar
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 lemon

First slice your asparagus in a mandoline or with a potato peeler. (Honestly, I’m not sure I’d want to do it without the mandoline as it’s fiddly enough with it.) Do this part vewwwy carefully! Really, I’ve heard stories that would make your hair curl about mandoline accidents. I generally advocate buying and using a substantial hand guard but the asparagus require such careful guidance that you have to dispense with the protector and just be super careful. I’ve seen pictures of spears immaculately sliced with the tips still on them, but mine started to crumble immediately, so I chopped the tips off and cooked them separately. While you’re working, place the sliced spears in a bowl of water with the lemon squeezed in to keep them green. Once sliced, replace the lemon water with 2 tbsp of the sugar and the vinegar, plus a little water. You want the minimum water needed to cover them.

Next, slice thinly all but one of the chilies, the red peppers, shallots and lettuce. Pick leaves off herbs. Put them in a bowl.

Now it’s time for the steak. I don’t post a lot of raw meat pics but this one seemed rather deserving.

Fry the steak in a little oil, along with two of the garlic cloves, chopped, and the asparagus tips. Cook till you like it but this recipe should err on the rare side. Let rest and then slice very thinly. Meanwhile, make the dressing: mix the lime juice, 2 tbsp of sugar, fish sauce and one garlic clove and one chili, crushed and pounded. Discard the vinegar mix, wash the asparagus, and add to the mixing bowl, along with the sliced meat. Pour over the dressing, toss well and serve over jasmine or sticky rice.

Serves 3-ish

Yesterday’s dinner was a locavore’s  delight. Now that spring is in full flight, it feels not just possible but pleasurable to cook from the local produce that’s turning up in the shops. I started off in our local butcher, which is the kind of fantastic place that not only stocks locally sourced, organic meat, but where the butchers will happily go and cut you just what you need, and offer advice on how to cook what you’ve bought. I was drawn to the lamb, which all comes from small producers in the South Downs. It’s toward the end of the Spring lamb season so the meat has now been hung for longer and has a really sweet meaty flavour. I like it that way, as it lends itself to long slow cooking, so I bought a half a shoulder. The butcher suggested roasting it for four hours over potatoes and herbs…so this recipe is really his.

With meat and recipe suggestion in hand, I crossed over to the greengrocer where they had lovely new Jersey Royal potatoes and Sussex asparagus. I can’t resist asparagus in season, and besides, there are only a couple of weeks of overlap between the South Downs lamb and asparagus seasons, so it only makes sense to enjoy them together while you can. Sadly, I can’t bring myself to love the greengrocer as much as the butcher. While the butcher gives good value and often throws in a bit extra, the greengrocer charges exorbitant prices for ordinary produce and the staff are sullen. Oh well, I suppose I’m lucky to have them locally even if they’re not very nice.

As regular readers will have gathered, I’m not really a meat and potatoes kind of cook, but I make the occasional exception for fantastic local meat that you can pop in the oven and ignore. My butcher’s recipe reminded me of the  recipe for Roman Spring lamb in the Silver Spoon cookbook, so I’ve kind of Italian-ised it. I can’t be expected to roast meat without large amounts of garlic after all…

Roast Spring lamb with rosemary and potatoes

  • half a shoulder of lamb
  • a head of new season garlic
  • several branches of rosemary
  • 1/2 kilo of new potatoes
  • a glass of white wine
  • olive oil

Slice the potatoes thickly lengthwise and layer on the bottom of a lasagna pan. Scatter garlic cloves and rosemary stalks on top and add the wine and a cup or so of water. Rub olive oil over the lamb, sprinkle generously with sea salt and place on top of the potatoes. Cook at a low heat (gas mark 3, or 160 C) for 3 and 1/2 to 4 hours, adding more water if necessary.

While the lamb rests, prepare vegetables: I just grilled the asparagus with more sea salt.

Serves 4.

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