Search Results for: ark of taste

Yakking about grilling; or maybe nattering about natto.

So, less talking about things, more doing, eh? A good plan, says Val.

Chef Tim Anderson, mentioned here on previous occasions, has a new book coming out in October, called “Your Home Izakaya“.

Your Home Izakaya: Fun and Simple Recipes Inspired by the Drinking-and-Dining Dens of Japan by Tim Anderson

It looks another definite buy, covering, as the title goes on to indicate, “Fun and Simple Recipes Inspired by the Drinking-and-Dining Dens of Japan” and will be added to the book-shelf of already purchased items authored by him:

Nanban: Japanese Soul Food (2015)
Japaneasy: Classic and Modern Japanese Recipes to Cook at Home (2017)
Tokyo Stories: A Japanese Cookbook (2019)
Vegan Japaneasy: Classic and Modern Vegan Japanese Recipes to Cook at Home (2020)

In advance of that, I booked an online class with him via the very fine folk at The Wasabi Company, in an attempt to sharpen up my chicken butchery break-down skills. Mind you, when he says “simple”, you kind of expect the butchery to be equally easy. Not true. And I’m still at the Carl Clarke (he of Chick ‘n’ Sours and Future Noodles fame) end of things when it comes to sectioning a chicken carcass. In his recent book, “The Whole Chicken“…

Front of The Whole Chicken by Carl Clarke

…Carl aims to get it divided into 10 pieces. No slouch he, as a cook (ex-Fat Duck and DJ as well), this is nonetheless totally fine, if you’re only aiming for the larger chunks needed for fried chicken or grilled wings but….

The Whole Chicken by Carl Clarke

…once you start looking at the yakitori experts, just getting 10 out onto the cutting board is really rather pathetic.

Yakitori chicken recipe books

Take Matt Abergel of Yardbird in Hong Kong

Yardbird, Hong Kong

…whose menu I crave everyday…

Yakitori Yardbird, HK, menu

…who manages 39 pieces from one bird and that’s not including cartilage or any unfertilised eggs you might find.

Matt Abergel & his 39 pieces of chicken

Then there’s Toshi Sakamaki of LA’s Yakitoriya, who even seems to find sections within these sections.

Toshi Sakamaki, chef and owner of Yakitoriya, prepares yakitori outdoors for customers

© Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times

So, some way to go for me, I think you’ll agree? But, determined to make a good fist of this, I’d got all my mise in place by the hob & the binchōtan charcoal hot in the grill, in plenty of time, ready for the off. And I’d had a couple of drinks to start the evening off. Which may, on reflection, have had a little to do with how quickly I fell behind Tim. How the rest of the class did, I have no fucking clue. It went to Zoom full-screen Tim shortly after the start. And that’s how it remained for the next 2+ hours. And me, so deep in the weeds, that they were blocking out the light, decided to just kick back, cut what I could, cook what bits I fancied on the grill and have a few more drinks and watch as Tim proved that making things look easy is what experts do.

Luckily, they recorded the whole thing (recorded Tim I mean, not me, thank fuck) & there’s a video available here which I am slowly freeze-framing my way through, determined to eventually recognise and isolate the parts he so easily removed.

Mind you, the tare I put together — the recipe I used via Yardbird below, a little involved, but really worth the effort — was banging. And that, brushed over my skewers of various ‘cuts’ (some, unkindly, might call them ‘hacks’. They can do one), meant I recovered a little from the battering I’d inflicted on my bruised ego.

Tare recipe via Yardbird HK

I’ve another book I bought some time back, Andrea Fazzari’s “Tokyo New Wave“; it’s more than a little high-end, the stuff I’ve less and less time for now, highlighting the very cream of the Tokyo cooking scene — no simple izakayas here — but some of the yakitori photos just had to be clipped into this piece, these via Yoshiteru Ikegawa…

Yoshiteru Ikegawa yakitori

whose 1-star Torishiki restaurant in Meguro uses chickens resembling a cross between the French Bresse but a domestic Japanese breed (called Nagoya Cochin名古屋コーチン), from a farm near Iwate Prefecture, in the heart of the mountains, where they roam the open grassy spaces; the water is pure and the insects plentiful and the chicken houses are layered in sawdust made from domestic cedar and mulberry trees.

Nagoya Cochin名古屋コーチン

There’s a very simply shot one that I particularly love.

yakitori filled skewers & tools

Working from left to right, there’s some lovely skewered cuts, ready to go onto the grill inc. tamahimo たまひも — also called kinkan キンカン or chochin, lantern 提灯 — eggs. These are unfertilised eggs, harvested from the hen when she’s slaughtered & can be found at various stages of development. Older ones come with egg white and an almost fully formed shell, whilst the more immature eggs are basically just yolks with a firm layer enclosing them which allows them to be handled and pressed without bursting. I’m told they taste like a concentrated duck egg yolk, with a much brighter orange colour and a richer and sweeter mouth feel when compared to standard egg yolks.

They are usually supplied by the butcher with the Fallopian tube intact and these too are skewered on a bamboo stick along with other cuts of chicken meat and/or the liver. The eggs are only lightly grilled and then placed off to the side — to prevent it from overcooking — whilst the tougher Fallopian tubes have earlier been pre-cooked in a soy, sake and mirin sauce, before they’re added to the skewer for their final charcoaling.

Next comes a well used shark-skin wasabi grater. Following that is a knife, a honesuki, a boning knife, specifically designed for de-boning and breaking down poultry, but also very capable of filleting fish and red meat (although it’s recommended you don’t try to split poultry or cut through thicker bones) or the larger garasuki which shares the same overall blade profile as the honesuki, but thicker and heavier, making it a better choice when tackling the larger sized poultry and other carcasses. With both, the reverse tanto tip design increases the tip strength, whilst still allowing it to easily pierce skin or make precise cuts in tight spaces such as when wiggling into complex joints to ‘pop’ them apart. It is also narrow enough to be able to turn quickly when cutting around or along the bone and is great for trimming connective tissue (‘silverskin’) and fat.

Lastly comes the Saibashi (long cooking chopsticks), traditional in Japanese kitchens, these ones more designed for industrial use, metal and topped with wooden handles.

None of these utensils are cheap. A large grater can come in at close to £150, the honesuki upwards of £120 whilst the saibashi is a more modest £75.

My recent purchases have been (comparatively) cheaper. A small but beautifully formed wasabi grater from Osaka for less than £20 inc. postage

Wasabi shark-skin grater unboxed Wasabi shark-skin grater boxed

…and some stunning stainless steel BBQ spikes and skewers and two ‘black’ stainless steel butter knives via blacksmith Alex Pole. ‘Black’ stainless is created when the steel is heated to over 850° forming a dark oxide on the surface, which is then lightly polished and oiled but not completely removed. He’s got some fascinating YouTube videos on the various processes he uses for these items, which are well worth your time.

One last thing: I think the right-wing fever swamp obsession with ‘diet as masculinity’ is pretty fucking hilarious. Like, the diet of the samurai was primarily vegetarian and heavy with soy. I mean, if you wanna go back in time and call Oda Nobunaga a “soy boy” to his face, you’re more than welcome. Knock yourself out. Because, sure as shit, he’d have so, so easily taken you down. Go find out. And for fucks’ sake, stop pretending that eating meat somehow makes you a real man…

And finally, finally?

Finally, the daily piece by Tatsuya Tanaka entitled “Steakphone” that came out on my birthday yesterday. Sheer delight.

Steakphone by Tatsuya Tanaka

5 weeks prep, 5 minutes to devour

I’ve talked about the delights of lardo in various pieces on this site before.

This recipe below (which needs approx. 5 weeks to prepare) comes via Ollie Dabbous. I’ve absolutely no desire whatsoever to eat as his place, Hide

Hide restaurant

@Evening Standard

…which is an obscenely over the top temple to, frankly, bile inducing pretentious, haute cuisine allied to an uncanny ability to extract obscene amounts of cash from gullible punters’ pockets.

It’s why the interiors of all the rich mansions you see are stuffed with the most hideous fucking tat. “More gold”, “more marble”, “more dark wood” seems to be the callout to their designer. And the designer just adds a few more zeros to the bill. As do the chefs of the Dabbous & Keller school of cuisine.

Remember, Belcampo’s meat isn’t organic or local, The Willows uses Costco chicken, Thomas Keller uses Hormel ham, BUT people will still continue patronising their businesses because it’s all about perception. These businesses sell superiority. They are adept at making the consumer feel superior to working class, BIPOC people. And that quite frankly sucks.

All that said, this recipe tickled my taste buds. I aim to try this when I can find a reliable (read: local and known) source for the pork fat.


Burnt bits, scrambled eggs & an apology

Another long post, inspired by a quick Tweet from food writer & NHS doctor, Aaron Vallance, who, back in November, posted a shot of his evening banana custard…

…a shot that prompted an immediate flashback to the very same item that my Mum used to prepare for pudding, for all us kids,  Pudding, mark you, not dessert. (And the midday meal was dinner. Not lunch.)

Banana custard was simple, cheap, easy, tasty. With 5 kids as well as herself and my Dad, these are important benefits. My Mum wasn’t a great, cutting edge, innovative cook in the way that I see some others rhapsodising about, yet, everything (apart from the powdered mash debacle which you can read more about here) was cooked well, used all the bits to best effect and managed to keep us all growing up healthy and fit.

I don’t know whether she and Dad ever missed a meal or had much less to eat than us, although I strongly suspect now they sometimes did, but I don’t ever recall going hungry. (I do however remember vividly, us all hiding under the bed, being told to “stay quiet” when the milkman came knocking at the front-door, to get his bill paid one day…). And we were eligible for school meals, so had those little dinner tickets, pink ones in Kent, rather than green (and I’m pretty sure they came from the same supplier who produced the cinema tickets of that time)…

School dinner ticket

…that you had to pass to the, often intimidating, dinner lady. I remember, it was kind of embarrassing at first. But after a while, just a background bit of the days’ landscape, you thought no more of it. I’m told now, schools are usually more discreet about how & where they’re handed over. But then, there are a lot more kids eligible for FSM now, so it’s harder and thankfully less acceptable now to stigmatise a whole class for the crime of “being poor”; the relentless, pitiless, cruelty (by design and philosophy) of the savage Tory cuts with now, of course, the additional carnage that both Brexit & the ‘Rona has wrought, has seen to that.

Banana custard

© Dr Aaron Vallance 2020

I’m also sure I’m not alone in recalling the pleasure of being that kid allowed to scrape the burnt bits from the sides and bottom of an oven dish that had been used to cook maybe a cheese & potato or fish pie or a corned beef hash. I still do so love those glued-on bits as, later on, we were to discover this same taste delight in the blackened rice left at the bottom of paellas & tahdig and Chinese guoba. Did you know that there’s a whole Wiki page dedicated to “scorched rice?”

The sight of Aaron’ banana custard reminded me both of our school meals, where that was one of the pudding items (with a thick skin on the top, impenetrable, skin that resisted attack by spoons) they doled out — and of course, there’s a whole book to be written about that subject but this isn’t it, at least for now — and my two favourite plates of food as a kid: sausage, chips & beans or the Sunday roast.

The former remains a firm hit. It’s one of those very English ones that has everything just right: textures, tastes, smells, all gelling. I’m not sure what I’d ask for on my last night on death row, but that’s close to the top.

And whilst the latter meal has waxed & waned in regularity terms, I’ve cooked them innumerable times, I’ve eaten them at other peoples’ houses, girlfriend’s Mums have tried to ‘feed me up’ with them; some were good, some great, some quite atrocious, I’ve had interesting variants when eating them abroad, have splurged on those ones in wallet-gouging London restaurants and equally, enjoyed the inexpensive ones we’d eat with Val’s Dad, at the pub just down the road that he was accustomed to eating at. Where everyone knew him. And for him, as he got older, became less sure of himself, as his hearing got worse, this meal was safe, reassuring, unchallenging but comforting. Hugely comforting. And that’s important. Food is many things but often mainly comfort.

Years later, both my two kids remember being looked after by my parents but most especially they remember Bar, my Mum, cooking these same foods for them. Again, it’s the comfort of the food. The simple “spag bol” with bread-crumbs used in the sauce to help bulk it up. The scrambled eggs on toast, the exact consistency & texture of which I consistently fail to replicate to their satisfaction. Every. Single. Time. As they would always tell me. And, of course, the dish of banana custard. No hard skin on that one from Bar. And all of them, multi-generational markers, all of them talismans, promising that — whatever the day had done to you, whatever you’d had to endure, whatever disappointments you’d suffered — here, here at the table, with these foods in front of you, here you were safe, here you were nourished, here you were loved.

I had another vivid memory last night of my grand-parents, who we nick-named Pop & Dot. I’d taken some French grey poupon mustard from the ‘fridge, plonked it into the sauce and then licked the spoon, biting down on the little grains left behind. And was instantly transported back to eating Dot’s cooking aged, I don’t know, maybe 6 or 7, and, wishing to be seen to be grown-up, spooning that same type of mustard onto my plate and remembering then how different and exciting and exotic, sharp, vinegary it seemed in comparison with the yellow Coleman’s that was all that was on offer at home (I remember my Dad telling me that Mr Coleman made his fortune from the mustard that we left on the side of the plate…). I can’t in all honesty claim this mustard moment turned me into a gourmand from that date on, but it’s a strong Madeleine moment.

Pop & car

By the time I was old enough to really remember them, Pop had retired as a director of the old Morris Motors. They’d moved to a (to us) huge, new, ‘executive’-style house in Beaconsfield, with large, mainly manicured to within an inch of their lives gardens, except at the far end — before it came to the boundary fenced meadows — where there was a real fruit orchard, all of their own. Fruit pies, fruit preserves, jams, fruit & cream. All from that space, one that seems to stretch for hundreds of yards in my memory, but probably wasn’t.

Dot was to carry on working as head of catering at Earl’s Court (as part of the old Gardner Merchant team, long before they they were gobbled by the horrendous Sodexho behemoth who later went on to screw over free school meals kids) for another decade or so.

I didn’t realise then what a big deal it was, having her, a woman, in that position, at that time. For me, it just meant I got to eat at the Earl’s Court senior managers table and, later on, getting free back-stage passes for gigs by David Bowie & The Stones & Floyd.)

Dot & me


Dot was a really good cook; regular car trips across Europe with next-door friends (one Austrian by birth) meant that they’d seen and eaten and enjoyed & brought back in the boot, large quantities of “foreign food” (and wine) long before that really came to be an aspirational thing for the rest of suburban England. I can recall seeing a bottle of olive oil being used regularly in their kitchen, no longer just something you’d store in the medicine cabinet for glue-ear. And her cooking, esp. of Austrian and German breads and dishes was fun to explore. Again, I don’t think I realised how lucky I/we were. It was just a thrill to visit them, to sleep there and, on occasion, to be taken into town by Pop, to buy me some new school clothes from the men’s tailor in the High Street and then, always, walk next door to a tie & tailed, silver service waiters’ restaurant (both long gone now I guess), to have “the full mixed grill – as usual – please”.

Without their help and money, I’m not sure if Mum & Dad would have been able to cope as well as they did. Regular ‘loans’ — never to be repaid of course — kept the Bulow ship afloat, deck just above water, even if it always remained slightly holed below the water line. Five kids, remember and a farm worker’s wages.

And one final personal memory from those days: the delight of a tin of Carnation condensed milk, simple one-handed can-opener pierced twice, slowly poured over a plate of (tinned) fruit salad.

“Carnation Milk is the best in the land / Here I sit with a can in my hand / No tits to pull, no hay to pitch / You just punch a hole in the son of a bitch.”

And the apology? To Pop & Dot. To Bar & Bern. That I didn’t tell them how much I loved them. Or how grateful I was for everything that they’d done. For their selflessness versus my selfishness. For taking them so very much for granted. It’s an apology that is years too late but no less heartfelt and true for that. And the main regret is not being interested in them, not asking to hear about their lives, their hopes and fears and experiences and losses. I miss that knowledge, that link. My loss but I hope it didn’t hurt them too much. They’d never have said of course but I think sometimes that I feel that disappointment…

I’ll end with some words that hit home, from Louise Benson, a writer and editor who you can find on Twitter and Instagram.

“I wish I could ask her more about the snacks that we used to buy. I wish I could ask her more about her childhood. There are many questions that she will never answer. Maybe that’s what grief feels like: it seems to be a lot like walking repeatedly down a one-way street.”

And that’s all the maudlin shit done with now, honest. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

Eat, drink and be merry; for tomorrow the world dies…

Some several months back, you know, in that time BC (Before COVID), I’d started writing a separate series of posts on how to live a Zero Waste Life. If you pop over there, you’ll see that this initiative didn’t survive much past first contact with the ‘Rona so, although there’s a couple of vaguely interesting posts, it’ll probably stay withering on the vine. It’s a fellow orphan to Salute The Fish and Salute The Grains — both of which however I do intend resurrecting at some point — especially the latter, as I’m supposed to be collaborating with the very wonderful Val Littlewood on a joint effort, one similar to our Salute The Pig book.

But probably not today…

This coming month, I’m taking another short-story writing course at City-Lit, so as well as limbering up the unused & foggy brain muscle and putting down ideas for that, I knew I also wanted to keep on writing here. Both long-form articles and more “flash-fiction” type quick pieces. This one has to be one of the former as Val just asked if it was going to be “meaty”, as in deep, rich & full of flavour. I promised it would be and then immediately flashed on the old Who compilation album, “Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy

The Who: Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy

I always thought The Who were the guvner band. The Stones were great, of course, but The Who were somehow more real, more mine, tougher yes — real hard Shepherd’s Bush boys — but also curiously vulnerable. And this compilation in 1971 made it easy for an impecunious 14-year old such as I, to round up all the singles and B-sides in one easy gulp. And, believe it or not, it was only today that I found out that the title was named after the four of them — in order Daltrey, Moon, Entwistle and Townsend. Who knew, eh?

Then straight after that I heard Tracey Chapman singing “Fast Car” on the radio & immediately felt tears prickling. I hadn’t heard her voice for ages. My lovely younger sister Liz — who died of breast cancer many years back, Feb 2005 — loved her.

Here she is in Paris with Mum.

Liz & Mum in Paris

Which of course, led me to the old blog here and I spent a few minutes catching up on what we were doing in the early 2000s when we’d moved to Spain.

Anyway, enough of the nostalgia; instead moving onwards and upwards in as optimistic a manner as possible. I don’t have the bandwidth to handle more than one writing site at the moment, so STP is going to be the focus until such time as the COVID brain fog dissipates. I apologise for banging on about this but I saw this new definition today, useful for when some well-meaning person asks how you’re doing:

P𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐦𝐢𝐜 𝐟𝐢𝐧𝐞 — 𝑛𝑜𝑢𝑛 — “a state of being, in which you are employed and healthy during a pandemic but you’re also tired and depressed and feel like shit all the time.”

And so to work.

1. The 1-percent tax.

Came across this recent interview with Anthony Myint of Mission Street Food restaurant fame. His book is a fun delight & well worth sniffing out.

Mission Street Food, Anthony Myint book

The interview is available here where he’s talking about what we all — but most especially the food professionals — can do to help avert climate change.

One of his main suggestions via his Zero Footprint non-profit initiative, is simply to levy a 1% fee on all food transactions. As he says:

“If we take a real honest look in the mirror, if you’re paying $100 for a Michelin-starred meal and it’s [raised to] $101, it doesn’t matter. If you’re paying $10 for a sandwich and it’s $10.10, it doesn’t matter,” he says. “No one can tell me with a straight face that’s impossible.”

I think it’s great. I think we could get it to work quite easily. Then take that 1% and feed it back up the supply chain, to the small producers & farmers to help them de-carbonise their processes. And it’s a much easier & more do-able ask than demanding that people only buy local or have to give up meat or that they must take the revolution to the streets to demand that The Man gets rid of the big supermarkets and other polluting agri-businesses. I mean some of us are a lot older now — the street fighting man/woman of our youth is a little less limber nowadays…

2. The sea, the sea.

How about harvesting ‘rice’ from the sea?

Chef Ángel León holding seagrass at his Michelin three-star seafood restaurant, Aponiente, in El Puerto de Santa María, Spain

© Paolo Verzone—VU for TIME

This idea comes from the deeply, deeply weird but fertile brain of the Spanish chef Ángel León of Aponiente, in El Puerto de Santa María. He’s mentioned briefly on Salute The Fish & his credo here could be read as “pretentious, moi?” bollocks.

The Aponiente credo

Except. Except, that it’s a fish restaurant, one unlike pretty much any other, one that’s aiming to totally eliminate fish from their menu within a few years. Instead, acknowledging as they do that less than 20% of the available marine flora & fauna is harvested; that most popular fish stocks are dangerously overfished and that global warming has set the marine ecosystems & its biodiversity into what may well turn out to be a death spiral, they instead utilise edible plankton & edible crustacean shells, use marine sugars, seaweeds and sea vegetables, whilst they make their ‘cheeses’ & ‘charcuterie’ from what traditionally are fish discards.

His latest menu was, before the country went into lockdown again (how many more times will we have to hear those words…) and I quote:

“an edible interpretation of the tidal marshes. There would be emerald puddles of plankton butter and marine bone marrow and burrata forged from sea snails. For León, the star of the season was the gusana del mar, a species of sea worm.”

They’re obviously doing something right (if you consider that the award of 3 Michelin stars is the benchmark. I mean I honestly don’t, I think the Michelin system is deeply flawed, deeply divisive and pretty much non-inclusive of anyone other than a very few favoured stars, so I wouldn’t depend on that as a marker, but then this is probably a discussion for another post).

Anyway, I’m still a lot, lot slimmer than the European tyre guy, and I totally think that León is doing the right thing. He’s said:

“Respect and recycling form a mentality and a way of life”

and that’s 100% fine by me. If your Spanish is less rusty than mine, I reckon his 2018 manifesto — written along with 67 other top chefs — is to be recommended. And, in passing, I totally want this detail on MY wall. If only I knew an artist or designer…


Angel Leon of Aponiente

This ‘rice’ or actually the grains from the sea eel-grass is his passion now and, in conjunction with the University of Cadíz, he’s been experimenting on them for the past 3 years or so.

Sea grass being harvested

And this laser-sharp focus seems to be paying off.

“The first thing you notice is the texture: taut-skinned and compact, each grain pops on your tongue like an orb of caviar. It tasted like the love child of rice and quinoa with a gentle saline undertow.”

He’s hoping that the team can encourage governments to assist its growth along coastlines everywhere it’ll grow — obviously in Asia and the Americas but, above all else as it’s so close to home, on the African Mediterranean coast — hoping to get them behind a plan to turn millions of hectares into a source of sustainable, local and nutrient rich food, a source that also acts as protection against coastal erosion and a potent weapon in the fight to reduce climate change.

This long piece here by Matt Goulding is fascinating. I’ve re-read it 3 times now. I’d suggest you do the same. And remember, not all Michelin recognised chefs are sexual predators and/or sociopaths. Some are very much on the side of the angels…

3. Gold from the West Country.

A pig-breeder friend of mine, Martha Roberts, breeds Old Spots in Wales and she mentioned, in passing in a Tweet, the now extinct Dorset Gold Tip, a ‘breed’ that apparently originated in the 19th century from a Tamworth crossed with a Berkshire (and possibly with some additional Gloucester Old Spot ancestry, of course). A (relatively rare) breed, it had slightly lopped ears, with (like the Tamworth) a reddish base to its coat, black spots whilst the hairs had gold tips, giving the breed its name.

This is claimed to be a picture of one of them although as I’ve moaned before, some of these ‘breeds’ are little more than a few herds ginned up in a 19th C. marketing attempt to differentiate your truly excellent stock from that of your neighbours, horribly scraggy, mongrel types, ones bred only a few hundred yards away but still, just across the border in another county; Wiseman in his “A History Of The British Pig” (op. cit.) is rightly excoriating about the problems with using this type of precise geographical nomenclature with any breed.

Dorset Gold Tip pig

Bred for quick growth, early maturation, a lot of fat — from those more halcyon times when proper fatty bacon was more desirable for most people — and extreme size (some specimens were so large they were allegedly unable to even raise themselves to stagger out of their pens). By 1955, only one boar was officially still registered (although the Dorset Gold Tip Pig Society managed to limp on until 1961) and the breed will have become extinct by the 1970s.

They’re really just an historical curiosity, a brief road-stop, so I’ve not bothered adding this to the main category of rare breeds.

4. Finally? Finally, feastings.

Tonight, we’re having pie, mash & peas, with some liquor if I can dig out sufficient parsley. The Tourtière (spiced meat) pie comes from the Canadian team at Manchester based Blue Caribou (they also do a banging poutine)

with mushed blue peas from the amazing lot at Hodmedods

Hodmedods blue peas

and mashed red Duke Of York 1942 spuds…

…which you can source via Carroll’s, the Northumberland based dedicated heritage potato growers. I’ll add a dash of Chinese black vinegar to the peas to cut their sweetness, whilst the mash will contain a metric fuck-ton (that IS an official term of weight by the way) of the fermented cultured butter…

Ampersand fermented butter

…from Grant Harrington’s team at Ampersand Dairies. He learnt his craft in some top-end kitchens latterly whilst working with Magnus Nilsson at the (now shuttered) Faviken and his own book on “Bread & Butter” is well worth your pennies and time.

Grant Harrington’s "Bread & Butter" book

See you later…

Little donkey, little donkey

The author, activist Michael Pollan (who I’ve flagged herein more than once, as I consider him a really hugely important writer about food and the politics of food) has said:

“Cheap food is always popular among political leaders because expensive food leads to revolution … keeping food cheap is appealing to powerful interests in society. This will not change until the true costs of that cheap food are accounted for, like healthcare, diet-related diseases & environmental costs. The falling price of food is the reason Americans have tolerated falling wages since the 1970s”

He flagged The Little Donkey Farm outside Beijing to my attention when talking in Fool Magazine #2 about the way food production in China is changing, as it competes hard with the West and as its rising middle-class tastes aspire to eating and living the same way.

Shanghai market pigs

China continues to grapple with a daunting problem: how can they feed nearly one-fifth of the world’s population with less than one-tenth of its farmland, all the while encompassing these changing tastes. Thirty years ago, only around ¼ of the population were urbananites; now over 60 percent of the population live in the cities, in a China that is wealthier and more technologically advanced, with a diet that increasingly resembles that of the West. Where they now eat nearly three times as much meat as in 1990. Consumption of milk and dairy quadrupled from 1995 to 2010 among urban residents and nearly sextupled among rural ones. And China now buys far more processed foods, increasing by about two-thirds in less than a decade, from 2008 to 2016.

China does now have some of the largest, most automated and industrialised farms in the world, dwarfing those seen (& rightly vilified for their terrible treatment of the animals) in places like the US and yet they have a major problem with the way that their farms are setup. They’ve a farming tradition stretching over the 334 million acres of arable land, one that’s existed for four millennia. They have over 1.4 billion people to feed, but these giant farms that fuel Western diets are far harder to replicate here. Partly, because much of the terrain is desert or mountains but also, importantly, because the farmland is split amongst around 200 million farmers. China’s agricultural landscape looks less like a monoculture blanket of green than a patchwork quilt. One that they’re finding hard to unravel…

And this leads us directly to this farm. It’s one of many efforts being tried in attempt to square this apparently insoluble triangle.  It’s the first Chinese Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm where four hundred families pay an annual membership fee and get — in exchange — a weekly share of the fresh harvest. Another 260-odd families also rent small plots of land, for their own garden.

This PDF has more background and is worth your while taking a few minutes to read it.


They have pigs there. Not in a huge indoor factory, but outside — under cover, in pens — wallowing and digging around in very deep bedding made of rice bran & straw which is, crucially, inoculated with various fermented liquid bacteria. This means that their waste is broken down incredibly quickly — which means no smells — and with no need to turn it as the pigs do that themselves. Every couple of years the bedding is swapped out and used as fertiliser on the fields.

Rice bran is a whole fascinating new subject which I’m reading avidly about; more words on that here soon. Starting with nukazuke or fermented vegetables. Chef Tom Hunt has an explainer piece here.

Tom Hunt's nukazuke bran-fermented egetables

© Tom Hunt/Guardian 2021

And the piece title? A donkey called “Professor” became their mascot; they’d intended using it to help cultivate the land — rather than using tractors — but, at least at the beginning, realised they had no one with any experience of harnessing a donkey to a plough, so it spent most of its time grazing. And fertilising.