I’m a butt-shucker. There, I said it.

Fish For Thought supplied a dozen of their very finest Cornish (Pacific) oysters, which I fought my way into this weekend*. From the rear end. No sniggering at the back please!

© Yvette Cardozo – Getty Images

Which makes me a “butt shucker” rather than a “bill shucker” which is much the better (read “professional”) method as I’m pleased to see is confirmed by none other than Ted Stearns, winner of the shucking competition at the 2015 Bearfoot Bistro World Oyster Invitational & Bloody Caesar Battle in Whistler, British Columbia. Go me eh?

© Fish For Thought 2016

* [and yes, they were truly delicious. I ate them all. Rapidly. Greedily even]

This is a Basque pig; an old one I grant you…

More on this delight (and many others) in a much longer post later this week. And that isn’t me in the background. Just in case you were wondering…

 

 

Spam, spam, spam, spam.. (ad infinitum)

Since 1937 when the Hormel Corporation first introduced their new “spiced ham” or — as no one is actually quite sure what it stands for — it may actually have been named as the more honest “spare meat” (albeit one that’s redolent of the current “mechanically separated recovered meat”), Spam has grown to become ubiquitous across most of the world. Cheap & able to be safely stored for a long time, its use in WWII both in the US (as part of the troop rations) and the UK (here as cheap, reliable protein source for a blockaded nation) meant that its success was pretty much assured.

© Eater 2014

It’s even become a ‘delicacy’ in some areas of the Pacific and the Far East. In Okinawa, Japan, the product is added, alongside eggs, to onigiri as an ingredient in their traditional chanpurū dish. From Korea, chef David Chang has mixed memories….

It’s not seen as anywhere nearly so desirable over here in Merrie Olde England. Since the 1950s, it’s been portrayed as food fit only for “poor” people and, looking at the ingredients inc. high levels of fat, sodium, and preservatives, I can understand why Thatcher* (who, like most Tories had a visceral hatred of poor people) referred to it as a “delicacy”…

* [Yes, that same evil witch who earlier in her career was happy to steal milk from the very mouths of school kids].

All that said, I liked the bloody stuff. I have hugely fond memories of eating golden, fatty, yet at the same time, crispy, spam fritters as a kid, cooked either by my Mum or eaten as a school dinner. They along with their close cousins, corned beef fritters, were absolutely gorgeous. At least so my memory assures me, from this far away distance in time. I actually can’t recall the last time I ate them though since early childhood. So, prompted by curiosity to see whether they were as good as I recall, I spent an hour or so YouTubing (is that a verb now by the way?) around to see what recipes I could find — we’ve all been lost down that ‘research’ rabbit hole, for hours & hours haven’t we?

And lo, Heston Blumenthal hove into view, with his take on “posh spam fritters”. The guy is certifiably insane but it’s the insanity of genius. The recipe below is a little light on detail; I’m going to experiment first before diving in with the Pata Negra ham as an ingredient but he served this to a group of people many as old (or older) than I, all of whom got what he was attempting, straight away — the tastes and smells and memories of a school dinner, filtered and altered through the prism of his madness, his attempt to surprise jaded 21st century palates by re(de-)constructing a sort of Back-To-The-Future meal summoning up forgotten flavours, textures and taste sensations.

This is the (rough) transcript of what ingredients are needed and the process of b̶u̶i̶l̶d̶i̶n̶g̶ cooking them. I’ll amend it as I find things that go wrong until I’ve given you as close as possible a copy of this meal that I can put together.

Make a chilled and seasoned mixture of diced Pata Negra ham & pork shoulder.

Add some black truffle juice.

Grind again, using a fine (4.5mm) grade plate.

Add to this in a bowl, a mix of white port, red port, Madeira & brandy that’s been reduced down to just a tablespoon of thick “syrup”

Mix it all together.

Take it out of the bowl, and then flatten the mixture between greaseproof paper with a rolling pin.

Square it off (it needs to be about 1cm thick) and from the mixture, you need to make two rectangles, saving some of the mixture to then…

Build a wall around the first rectangle about 1.5cm deep, which space is then filled with a pea & cabbage puree mixed with diced duck liver & black truffle.

Once that’s built, put the other “lid” on top.

Dust this fritter in some seasoned flour then dip it into a batter made of flour, carbonated water & baking powder. Use Japanese panko breadcrumbs, light & crunchy to give a different texture.

Fry, until golden brown.

In the meantime, make the mashed potato, which, creamed & riced contains a braised cabbage mixture bound in a thin strip of cured pork fat. “Organic Smash!” as one of the lucky eaters called it.

Bring the mash together in a flattened ball using some cling film keeping the cabbage mixture bound inside.

The final touch is the “lumpy” school gravy made of a reduced beef stock with pieces of bone marrow served in a school milk bottle.

Plate. Eat. Marvel. Enjoy.

Pollan on food?

No, not the faddie “must have” addition seen on some chef’s dishes (yeah, you know who you are *…) whilst, at the same time, being touted by moronic, money grabbing, scientifically illiterate, “celebrities” (is there a Venn diagram intersection here?) as the latest new ‘superfood‘. With bee populations crashing dangerously right across the entire globe, stealing their pollen is a hugely, hugely dumb thing to do. It’s hardly ‘sustainable’ and runs the very real risk that it’ll cause even more damage to the bees’ vital work in pollinating fully one third of this…

…the very foods we eat. * So fucking stop it. Stop it right now you fucking pretentious wankers.

OK, that said, this piece is based around work undertaken by THE Michael Pollan. As in the author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Search for a Perfect Meal in a Fast-Food World” which, along with Dan Barber’s “The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food”, is pretty much the sine qua non, the first and last word on food sustainability and a place where superb ideas on good farming and good food intersect. Pollan wrote:

“a working definition of industrial food: Any food whose provenance is so complex or obscure that it requires expert help to ascertain.”

This is graphically highlighted in this image showing that whilst 70% of the world’s food is produced by small holders, fully 80% of the natural resources used are consumed by the industrial food producers. Even more horrifying, is the realisation that the stuff produced by the industrial, agro-chemical combines is actually crap in terms of “shareholder return” or “value chain enhancement” or whatever other bollocks they spout; the factories expend 1 calorie for every 1.5 calories produced. The small holders are TEN TIMES more efficient.

© Groundswell International https://www.groundswellinternational.org

And you know what? The vast bulk of the processed crap that these factory farms produce for sale through the giant supermarkets centres around corn. Corn! Here’s Pollan again:

Corn is what feeds the steer that becomes your steak.
Corn feeds the chicken and the pig.
Corn feeds the catfish raised in a fish farm.
Corn-fed chickens laid the eggs.
Corn feeds the dairy cows that produce the milk, cheese, and ice cream.

That we’re force-feeding our animals stuff that isn’t part of their (tens of thousands of years in the making) natural diet is just insane. It’s not better for them and it sure as shit ain’t better for us! “We are what we eat”. And on that basis, we’re all starting to turn yellow and sway in the wind. We are quite literally becoming creatures of the corn.

How many ingredients do you recognise (without resort to Google!) off that long list of additions you find on the back of processed food packets? Maltodextrin? Monosodium glutamate? Ascorbic acid? And what are they from? What about lecithin and mono-, di-, and tri-glycerides? All made from corn. That golden food colouring? Corn. Even the citric acid that keeps these Frankenstein foods “fresh” is made from corn.

This isn’t a healthy way to run our food production. Monocultures are never good. Sooner or later they all go to shit and disaster strikes. When did we get so dependent on this one crop? OK. It’s easy enough — albeit it’s totally justified — to criticise and rail against this state of affairs. The important question is “how do we fix things”?

That children, I’m afraid, is going to have to be the subject of another post. But you want to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem, don’t you? Yes. Of course you do. So, watch this space.

And finally for today? Finally, how about a recipe for creamed corn, courtesy Sean Brock?  What? Corn? After all I’ve said above? Yeah, I know. But this is Good Stuff™.

Ingredients:

8 ears fresh husked corn
1 & 1⁄2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small shallot, sliced finely
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 cups heavy cream
3 thyme sprigs, tied together with kitchen string
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

Preparation

Cut the kernels from the corn; set aside. Using a box grater, scrape the “milk” from the cobs into a wide bowl; set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add half of the corn kernels, the shallots, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots and garlic have softened considerably, about 7 minutes. Add the cream, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Working in batches if necessary, transfer the corn mixture to a blender and blend on high until completely smooth, about 5 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve into a saucepan.

Add the remaining corn kernels, the reserved “milk” from the cobs, the thyme, and butter to the pan, bring to a simmer over medium heat, and simmer until the creamed corn has thickened and the whole kernels are soft, about 10 minutes. Remove the thyme, season with salt and white pepper, and serve.

Finest kind!

 

 

Eat well, save money, save the planet…

…is a helluva on point mission statement from @TooGoodToGo_UK . One I’m 100% behind.

Started in Denmark and since expanded to parts of England — pleased to see that they’re already close to us in Cambridge & Peterborough — they now have similar foundations in six different countries and in not much more than six months — through this food re-distribution scheme — they’ve helped prevent over 200 tonnes of carbon dioxide going up as greenhouse gas emissions as well as providing over 14 thousand meals, that would have otherwise been discarded, to those most in need.

Via their Too Good To Go app, you can order food that would otherwise be thrown out by local restaurants, bakeries and cafes, collect it up to an hour before closing time — from as little as £2 — to eat ‘on-the-go’, all neatly packaged up in an environmentally-friendly TGTG sugarcane box.

It’s another small part of the ongoing global set of efforts to find sustainable solutions to making the very most of what we’ve got, in order to prevent further damage to the only planet we have. In their case, the primary goal is obviously to raise awareness of & reduce food wastage, but also, in a similar manner to The Real Junk Food project I talked about in an earlier piece – to prove that much of what is binned is still completely safe to eat and that it’ll actually taste even better when it’s part of your own efforts to help protect the planet.

Dan Barber would be proud of ’em.

Some of the frankly horrendous statistics are shown above: currently, we waste almost 40% of all the food we produce worldwide. Some 28% of our planet’s agricultural land is used to produce food that doesn’t even make it as far as a plate; and even worse, when this rots  away in landfill it then releases damaging pollutants that can be up to 100 times more potent than CO2. Research indicates that 20% of the UK’s greenhouse gases are associated with food production, distribution and storage. Were we to eat all the edible food currently thrown away, we’d save CO2 emissions equivalent to taking one in four cars off the road, whilst it is estimated that wasted food from the USA, Europe and Asia could feed the world three times over.

So, what are you waiting for? Off you go and support this group as well!

And finally, whilst we’re at it, let’s not forget our very own home-grown Olio who I’ve written about before and who’ve been doing a similar thing with household spare food for close to two years now. Do you think the message is getting through to people now? I sure hope so…