Tag Archives: Xmas


A few quick notes on gravadlax.

  • 1kg fish will yield 650g finished product as moisture is sucked out by the cure
  • 1kg fish will need 200g cure: 100g salt plus 100g sugar – I used sea salt and caster sugar – Him What Knows uses a spot of muscovado
  • on one occasion, the shelf in the fridge where I placed it was too cold and the necessary reactions did not occur – use a fridge thermometer to ensure it’s around 5°C
  • I chop the dill very finely and layer it on the fish first, so it sticks
  • I put about a quarter of the cure on the outside of the fish, and the rest between
  • on the morning of serving, I give the fish a very light rinse, to remove any solid salt crystals, slice it, and place in a fresh dish, with about a third of the liquid, which is drained before serving
  • I don’t think it needs to be served with anything other than some interesting bread, black pepper and lemon wedges



Happy Sprouts


My childhood memories of sprouts are not happy ones. My family’s traditional approach meant Christmas sprouts went on the boil in late November, and were little flaccid bags of sour farty nastiness. They have since been rescued from my hate list by pancetta, which improves just about everything, except perhaps ice cream.

This is based on something that Him What Knows dishes up on a regular basis, although I confess I don’t have the original recipe. Even devout sprout haters like me will be happy after a few mouthfuls of this.

Start by getting a large frying pan going at a low heat, and gently frying 75g of pancetta, stirring occasionally. Nowt of that foreign muck? Just some sweet cured belly bacon will do.

Wash 600g of Brussels Sprouts and slice off the stalks and any icky bits. If you slice off too much stalk, the sprout will come to pieces.

By now the pancetta should be well on its way to being golden, crispy and oozing out most of its fat, so boil the sprouts in a small saucepan of water until you can pierce one with a skewer. Expect a reasonable amount of resistance: they’ll keep cooking in their own heat and they’re due for more in the frying pan.

Drain them and add to the frying pan, along with 200g cooked chestnuts (you can purchase these in handy vacuum sealed bags), 25g butter, a generous grind of pepper and a pinch of salt. Raise the heat slightly, and fry for five minutes, stirring from time to time. Quite a lot of gunk will build up on the bottom of the pan, so deglaze with around 30mL of Vermouth, which will be absorbed quite rapidly, before transferring to a warmed dish to serve.

Root Veg

Here’s what goes with the slow roast lamb shoulder. In terms of timing, it’s quite forgiving.

  • 600g parnsnips
  • 600g carrots
  • salt, pepper
  • 2tbsp honey

Wash and scrub the veg thoroughly, but I wouldn’t bother peeling them. Quarter them lengthways: you want pieces of roughly equal thickness, so slimmer roots can just be halved or trisected if your knife skillz are up to it. Some parsnips have very thin spindly ends, which will burn, so chop them off.

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, and add the carrots. After five minutes add the parsnips. After another five minutes try piercing a piece of carrot with a metal skewer. If you can, albeit with a little resistance, then they’re done.

Drain the veg and then tip them into small baking dish (one or two layers) and add 25g fat: duck fat or butter is preferable; lard or vegetable oil in an emergency. Toss them around with a spoon to get them coated, and season lightly. You can now set aside, at room temperature, for as long as you need.

If, like me, you’re doing lamb at Gas 2, then pop them in an hour before the lamb is done. When I remove the lamb, I then crank the oven up to max, and also remove this dish, so I can pour over the honey, toss again to coat, and then return to the oven for another fifteen minutes. That way they’re done at the same time the lamb has finished resting. Do keep an eye on them, as the honey glaze can burn quite rapidly.

Otherwise about half an hour on Gas 5 (190°C, less in a fan oven) basting with the honey after fifteen minutes.

Slow Lamb III


There are variants of this published elsewhere, but with timings, temperatures and instructions that simply don’t work for me. I blame publishers’ timetables and the lack of decent testing and copy editing, rather than the authors.

Anyway, this is a handy dish as you get the meat and spuds out of the way up front, giving you a chance to get on with everything else. The layer of skin, fat and connective tissue on top, combined with the steam from the stock below, will keep the meat moist for the long cooking period.

To feed six you will need:

  • a whole shoulder of lamb, bone in: this will be around two kilos
  • a kilo of potatoes: the floury sort, e.g. King Edward, work the best
  • one large or two medium brown onions
  • a whole head of garlic (or more if you want)
  • a fistful of herbs (fresh thyme is best, however, if you use rosemary, then just half a dozen stalks, as it’s a bit of a bully)
  • around 800mL stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • salt, pepper, bay leaves

Start with the spuds. You’ll need to peel them and slice them to around an eighth of an inch in thickness. I use a mandoline for this. Ditto the onion. Put a layer of potatoes at the bottom of a large roasting tin, then the onion in a single layer, a couple of bay leaves, and a grind of pepper, and just a touch of salt. Continue to layer the potatoes on top: it needs to be even but not pretty. The combined potato and onion layer should be around an inch deep in total. Pour over the stock, it should almost, but not quite, cover the potato. (Just top up with water if you don’t have enough stock.) Spread the herbs in a layer on top of the potato.

Pre heat the oven as high as it will go.

Use a sharp knife to score the very outside of the joint in five or six long cuts, about two inches apart. (That’s the convex side, with membrane or possibly skin depending on how real your butcher keeps it.) Rub some salt into the cuts. Dismember and peel the garlic, and using a sharp knife, make holes in the underside (that’s the concave side) of the joint, and insert the garlic cloves. Or, if you’re feeling lazy, just spread the cloves on top of the herbs.


Put the whole lot in the oven, leaving it at maximum for five minutes before reducing to gas mark 2, which is around 150°C in my oven. Fan ovens probably need to be around 135°C.

It will need five hours. Check every hour or so, and don’t be afraid to top up the liquid if it seems to be drying out. It is almost impossible to overcook this, the risk is undercooking. After about two hours the stock should be glooping gently, and the joint softly hissing at the fat runs out from under the skin and gently bastes the meat. At the end of the fourth hour, slide a skewer into the thickest part of the joint. If you’re met with a lot of resistance, you may need to turn the oven up a notch.

(If you just happen to have about a kilo of parboiled carrots and parsnips tossed in a couple of tablespoons of duck fat or butter, and lightly seasoned, slide them into the oven on the shelf beneath the meat at this point.)

By the end of hour five, a skewer inserted into the thickest part of the joint should meet with no resistance at all, and the job is done. Remove the tray from the oven, cover with foil, and leave to rest for twenty minutes.

(The theoretical carrots and parsnips should be removed, doused with two tablespoons of honey, tossed, and returned to the oven, set again to maximum, whilst the meat rests. Sprouts with pancetta and chestnuts would complete the picture.)

Dish up. You should be able to carve the lamb with a spoon. Try not to fight over the potatoes.

Mince Pies

No major secrets to making mince pies, but you will need to do some calculating and engineering to get the pastry circles the right size. I use muffin tins (in which I’ve made all sorts of things, but never muffins) and aim for a pie about a half an inch deep.

This will use up about half of the mincemeat in the previous recipe, and produce 24 small pies. (I don’t hold with huge deep pies, as they will go soggy.)

My parents used to get very worked up about making pastry from scratch. I don’t think there’s any major secret, other than not letting the fat melt. It helps if you’re the sort of person about whose cold hands people complain.

  • 350g plain flour (you could substitute 25g of ground almonds for 25g of the flour if you fancied)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 75g butter
  • 75g lard (you could use all butter but the pastry would not be as crisp nor as light)
  • 25g caster sugar (about 2 tablespoons)
  • mincemeat (around 500g)

Start by filling a small bowl or large teacup with cold water and putting it in the freezer.

Roughly chop up the fat, and then pop all the ingredients into a large bowl and rub the flour into the fat with the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes. Some recipes tell you to do this stage in the blender, which I reckon just creates unnecessary washing up. (If it’s a hot day, or the room in which you’re working has a blazing oven or fire, then there is a slight risk the mix may go slimy, that is, the fat will start to melt. If this happens, wrap in cling film, and pop it into the fridge for ten minutes to recover.)

Retrieve the now icy water from the freezer, and mix it in with your hands, one tablespoon at a time, until the pastry comes together in a ball. There’s enough fat for it not to stick to the bowl. You’ll probably need 5 – 6 tablespoons, i.e. 75 – 90mL, maybe one or two more. Tightly cover the ball in cling wrap, and put it into the fridge for at least 30 minutes to rest. (This is vital, otherwise it will not behave. At all.)

Once the pastry has rested, flour a work surface, and divide the ball into four roughly equal pieces. A single heroic sheet will be too much trouble to roll. Roll the pastry as thin as it will go, without tearing: probably 2-3 millimetres thick.

Now, you’ll need to cut the pastry into large and small circles, for the bases and lids, respectively. You could use a pastry cutter, I tend to use a large tumbler and a small tumbler. Press bases and lids in alternation, so you don’t run out of pastry and find you don’t have enough lids. Using the quantities above, I got enough pastry for about 16 pies on the first attempt. Squish all the off-cuts of pastry into a ball and roll out again to do the rest. I needed to re-roll a second time for the final four.

Get the oven going. I crank my fan-forced up to 200ºC.

Put the large discs into the muffin moulds. Doesn’t matter too much if there are wrinkles etc as these will smooth out during baking. Put about a tablespoon of mincemeat in each pie. Try not to overstuff. Less is more. Pop the lids on. If you moisten the edges, the lids stand a chance of sticking to the bases. (In the photo above you can see that the lids look like they’re about to escape, but are in fact firmly glued in place by the mincemeat: I should have made both bases and lids a whisker larger.)

Twenty minutes in the oven should do the trick. Whip the pies out of the moulds and onto a cooling rack, and dust with icing sugar. (This is purely for visual effect.)


I my old age I have become reconciled to Christmas and am partial to pudding and mince pies, at least of the homemade variety. This particular concoction is of the right consistency to either fill mince pies or form the basis of a pudding. I initially used Microsoft Excel to do a side-by-side comparison of St Delia, Blessed Eliza, and the hysterical Empire Pudding, converting everything to metric and the same quantities to try and identify the quintessential components and ratios. In the end, old fashioned trial and error worked better.

You’ll need:

  • 500g in total of sultanas, raisins, currants, peel (nothing wrong with buying a pre-mixed bag)
  • 300g of apples (that’s probably three small or two large ones, aiming to end up with 200g grated apple)
  • 100g suet
  • two lemons: zest and juice
  • 125g muscovado sugar
  • 125mL booze (dark spiced rum, e.g. Sailor Jerry)
  • 25g almonds (flaked and bashed)
  • a solitary clove, 1tsp cinnamon, 1tsp nutmeg
  • 1tsp ground ginger

Day One. Mix the dried fruit, peel and nuts with the booze, cover with cling wrap and leave over night. I think you should use dark spiced rum for this, although some people say brandy, and some whiskey. Also, pour yourself a very small glass of rum, and when nobody is looking, down it and go, “Arrrr!!!” to commune with your Inner Pirate. If you’re feeling fancy, slip half a vanilla pod under the rum.

Day Two. Zest the lemons, and put the zest, juice, sugar and suet in a saucepan on a low heat, until the suet melts and you get a sloshy goop. Do not try and boil, melt or caramelise: fat, water and sugar on a high temperature is lethal. Add the spices. Don’t bother peeling the apples, just wash, grate coarsely and add. Now all you need do is stir this into the rest, and combine well. If you’re going to store and “mature” it then you’ll need sterilised jars etc. – I’ve only ever “matured” it for about four weeks. Otherwise, if you’re going to use it immediately, cover at let it at least sit overnight.

Day Three. Ready for action. Mince pie recipe in the following post. To transform into pudding, add one egg, 25g SR flour, and 25g breadcrumbs per 225g of finished mincemeat. The mix needs to be sloppy, so you may need to loosen it up with a splash of Guinness. (Same procedure works on the author.)

About the suet. I’ve only ever used Atora dried suet. If you can get the Real Thing from your butcher, then good luck. Melting the suet and then mixing it in means everything gets a light coating, which helps preserve things.

Duck Liver Pate

Just when I think all the washing up is done, and the kitchen’s looking clean, I get the urge to do this. Oh, well.

This is fairly close to the procedure described in Appetite, plus some notes of my own. I used…

  • 400g duck livers (there were no chicken livers today due to a “supplier problem”, but then, then they had duck livers, and I couldn’t resist)
  • 120g butter (40g for frying, the rest chopped into slices)
  • 100mL single cream
  • salt, pepper, Armagnac

The livers need to be soaked in enough milk to cover them for about half an hour. They will be fried after this, so it’s worth draining them quite thoroughly. I have been warned to cut out any green bits and dark spots, but never noticed any.

Getting ready

The livers get fried in 40g of the butter, as hot as it will go without turning the butter brown.


The livers, plus cream and the rest of the butter get hurled into the blender, with salt and pepper and zapped into mush. Slater mentions getting the butter soft first, I just slice it up, and figure that nestling against hot livers for a few seconds will do any softening required.

When deglazing the pan I slipped with the Armagnac. Then I slipped again; just to make sure. No point in flambé – just whack in the blender and zap again. This way, we hope some alcohol makes it into the pâté.


The next phase is vital: push the mixture through a sieve. It only needs to be a coarse sieve, so will only take about a minute or two of pushing it through with the same rubber spatula with which you emptied the blender. Several lifetimes can go by if you use a fine sieve, and I’m not sure I notice the benefit. What you will notice after is lots of fibrous chewy stuff trapped in the sieve, as opposed to being in the pâté.

Once you get to this stage, you could whack the whole lot into a terrine, let it cool, and seal with some melted butter about half an hour later. This looks very pretty. My more prosaic approach is to line a tupper with cling film, pour the mix into that, fold the edges over, and put the lid on. This way the whole lot comes out in one easy block.


Either way, the results should go in the fridge for a few hours to set.

(Note from 2013: not sure there’s enough information here to cook this: so pick up a copy of Appetite.)