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“It’s terrible, there’s blood eeeeverrrrywhere…”

A year or so back, in a US TV report of a pitched battle between rival Hells Angels gangs, held in some nameless, mid-Western, flea-bitten, side of the highway, pit-stop, the police office attending used these memorable words to describe the scene of carnage that unfolded in front of him, when he first arrived. We now use them here for everything.

And the arrival today of this paperback delight, recommended on Twitter by Thom Eagle (op.cit. around here quite often), all the way from the land of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, great, great food, maple syrup and the Trudeau dynasty, reminded me of this policeman’s words again.

"Blood" by Jennifer McLagann

The author, Australian born Jennifer McLagan, whose site is well worth a visit, has been described as

“perhaps the most idiosyncratic and underrated cookbook author of our time.”

and has written some fantastic books inc. “Fat“, “Bitter“, “Bones” and “Odd Bits“, so you know, straight off, exactly where her head is at. I first came across her writing in the book “Offal: Rejected and Reclaimed Food 2016: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food” where she’d contributed a chapter titled “Blood, Not So Simple“, the title, I imagine, an homage to the blood in the first Coen Brothers’ film.

This mini book — there’s only around 30 pages — nevertheless manages to cover a wide range of uses for blood, especially by not just sticking with the more obvious use in savoury dishes but — in an attempt to woo those of a more squeamish disposition esp. those white, Westerners to whom blood is still something that’s supposed to stay hidden inside things rather than as something that can and should be ingested and eaten — also using it in breads, sweets and even cocktails.

Some blood recipes

And thanks to her, I was reminded — having read this 40+ years ago, you’ll forgive me, I hope, that I’d long forgotten this detail — of an early description of the joys of blood pudding that came via Homer’s The Odyssey:

“Listen to me,” said Antinous, “there are some goats’ paunches down at the fire, which we have filled with blood and fat, and set aside for supper; he who is victorious and proves himself to be the better man shall have his pick of the lot; he shall be free of our table and we will not allow any other beggar about the house at all.”

And one last thing? Apparently Buddhist monks use their own blood to write (as Nepalese women, their own, plucked, hair to weave) to demonstrate their piety. There’s a long scholarly piece here, from last year, via Nature magazine.

The thanks for giving me that detail, go to Val but she’s not responsible for the subsequent ear-worm of

“If I could stick a knife in my heart
Suicide right on stage
Would it be enough for your teenage lust
Would it help to ease the pain?
Ease your brain?”

As a callow youth of just 17, I well remember the accompanying, laughably camp, “sailor suits in bubble bath” video…

Offal calls to offal

As Thom Eagle pointed out in his piece from the Oxford Symposium in 2016…

Calf offal

…(his talk on vegetable offal or using off-cuts starts at around 51:00 minutes in but the other two speakers are also worth listening to), a reminder that the expensive aroma that truffles exude, is very similar to that of the hormones emanating from pigs testicles, in an inspired evolutionary move to get their spores dug up and moved around the countryside. Offal really does call to offal…

 

Kimchi in the kitchen

This post started out as just a simple, quick recipe for kimchi, as I felt the blog was missing one. And then of course, it mutated…

Long, long, long ago we ate at Dalston’s Little Dick, The Picklery; it is still one of the best meals we’ve both ever eaten. Every small dish, new, exciting, fresh, tinglingly different. Angels danced on our tongues. One of those nights that I hope we’ll all be able to recapture at some point.

This was back when the very excellent Thom Eagle was still cooking there. He’s now concentrating on his writing and you should definitely keep an eye on this (& support him) via his Patreon and grab both his books: they’re not your usual, conveyer-belt produced, frankly boring, collection of ‘cooking by rote’ recipes. Both are very much about Thom’s philosophy, about thinking about the preparing of your food, about life in general. Maybe even of mindfulness if that concept’s not been too corrupted by the influencers (a plague on all their houses, verily unto the 10th generation). Highly recommended. There are some recipes of course, but both books repay re-reading, like a novel rather than a manual.

Thom Eagle's books

They sit within easy reach on one of the shelves next to where I’m typing this quick piece now:

The bookshelf

Little Dick are closed now of course, because of the ‘Rona, but the team there still offer some great pickled & fermented options, inc. their daikon or hispi kimchis.

Little Duck's Hispi Kimchi

If you can’t find them there, both FarmDrop and Natoora seem to still have stock and allow you to buy from them online. Both great suppliers, so if you haven’t signed up with them already, you know what to do…

OK, and what about a recipe? I don’t have the one they use at Little Duck; but then kimchi is open to some experimentation anyway. And, if you ignore Tom’s counsel, where he “cautions against the desire to try & make everything yourself whilst acknowledging how seductive the lure to do so is” and instead go ahead and decide to make it yourself, then this one I use isn’t too shabby.

Ingredients:

1 medium sized Chinese leaf cabbage (or use similar quantities of hispi or daikon root)
10g Maldon sea salt
75g caster sugar
10 garlic cloves; chop finely
50g peeled ginger; sliced & finely chopped
50g Korean chilli powder
50g tinned anchovies, drained and chopped
50ml light soy sauce
50g jarred salted shrimps (called Saeu-jeot 동백하 새우젓 when you’re shopping)
100g spring onions, cut into 2cm batons
100g carrots, cut into thin, short strips

Process:

1 If you want, discard any egregiously wilted or damaged leaves (for compost). Cut the cabbage in half lengthwise and then cut these halves across into pieces roughly 2cm in size.
2 Squish the cabbage in a bowl along with the salt and 15g of sugar making sure you coat everything. Cover; leave overnight in your fridge or anywhere cold.
3 Throw the garlic, ginger, chilli powder, anchovies, soy sauce, salted shrimps & remaining sugar into a blender, along with 50ml of water. Mash it all into a smooth paste and transfer to a bowl, stirring in the spring onions and carrots.
4 Locate your cabbage. Take the paste mixture and — using your hands — add generously to each layer of cabbage, making sure every piece gets some love & it’s all melded together.
5 Pack the result into a plastic lidded container or, if you want to store for longer (which you should!) squish it down into Kilner jars instead.

Leave the kimchi to ferment at room temperature. Although it’ll be edible after just 24 hours, it’ll be pretty underwhelming, so be patient, leave it, wait and it will only continue to improve as the weeks go by. Use your own taste buds to tell you when it’s at the optimum, for you. Kimchi will pretty much last for ever, changing in both texture and flavour as it ages. Some of you out there will prefer a young kimchi, crunchy, bright. Others of you will have the patience to wait for theirs to magically alchemise into a delight that is deeply aged, soft, funky, writhing with lactobacillus & fizzing gently. Go on, try it. Tell me when your optimum kimchi age is.

This is mine…

Homemade kimchi in 2 Kilner jars

Scrabbling for the scrapple

Scrapple, liver pudding, livermush and goetta are all regional names for variations on some form of offal-grain combination. All a little bit different, but with a couple of umbrella ingredient to bind them all under one broad-church roof.

Scrapple is the American word for a dish made of offal (in this case, a pig, using the head, heart, liver, and any other trimmings available), which are then boiled — leaving any bones attached — to make a broth.

Once cooked, the bones and fat are discarded, the meat is reserved, and dry cornmeal is boiled into the broth to make a “mush”. The finely minced meat is then returned to the cooking pot along with any seasonings, often sage, thyme, savory & black pepper — although proportions and seasoning are as always, very much a matter of the regional and the cook’s taste.

The mush is formed into loaves and allowed to cool thoroughly until set and then typically pan-fried to eat.

A plate of scrapple

Does this description remind anyone of a dish féted in Scotland? The inestimable haggis? It should of course. I’ve talked elsewhere about how offal is important and how using it, rather than simple throwing it away and wasting it, is equally important for a grown-up food system.

I’ve taken list of some similar others from the Wiki page on scrapple, so you can see how this type of offal usage is common across the entire planet.

Foods

  • Balkenbrij, a traditional Dutch food that shares some of the characteristics of scrapple
  • Faggot, an English dish made of meat off-cuts and offal, especially pork
  • Goetta, a meat-and-grain sausage or mush of German inspiration, popular near Cincinnati
  • Groaty pudding, in England, made from soaked groats, beef, leeks, onion and beef stock which is then baked
  • Haggis, a traditional Scottish savory pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver, and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock
  • Haslet, in England, a pork meatloaf with herbs
  • Livermush, in the United States, a dish of pig liver, head parts, and cornmeal
  • Lorne sausage, a traditional Scottish food usually made from minced meat, rusk and spices
  • Meatloaf, a dish of ground meat mixed with other ingredients and formed into a loaf shape, then baked or smoked
  • Pork roll, pork-based processed meat available in parts of the northeastern United States
  • Slatur, an Icelandic food made from the innards of sheep
  • Weckewerk, in Germany, a sausage made from cooked brawn and minced meat, veal or sausage, and broth of pork, sometimes from cooked meat, blood and offal

And the luxury of offal?

The reason that offal formed (still forms) such a large part of so-called “peasant cuisines” the world over is not because it was cheap, but because it was prized. I hadn’t realised this was the case, until I read the excellent “First, catch” by Thom Eagle, where he mentioned this.

As it’s rather hard to make a good fist of curing these parts of the animal, it was the only fresh meat that most (read: “anyone except the landed gentry and nobility”) people ever ate. Everything else was saved for later consumption, whether by salting or smoking or by drying or hanging. Fresh meat was really fresh, often taken immediately from the field or paddock, to the kitchens and then to the table, to be eaten straight away. No hanging beef for 30+ days in those days.

So, killed to order. Not a luxury available to the man-in-the-hut, whereas offal often was. And valued accordingly. And “humble”? No, not so much. Came originally from the word umble, a word for minced offal, in turn derived from the French nomble, for deer offal.

Quite frankly, it’s all delicious, so if offered anything looking remotely like this in any destinations, far and wide, accept it and eat it, straight away. You’ll be glad you did.