Sunday, 23 October 2011

Homemade Steak and Ale Pie with Chips and Brussels Sprouts

Steak and ale pie makes for a delicious, warming meal on a cold winter's night but can equally be enjoyed at any time of year. The variety of different ales which most people will have access to means that the recipe can be varied considerably in taste, simply by switching ales until you find the one that you most prefer. Do, however, make the effort to use a quality, real ale, as run of the mill, supermarket beers are not going to give this dish the intensity of flavour it deserves. Check what supermarkets in your area offer in this respect but also take a look at any micro-breweries which may exist in your geographical area. The real ale used in this particular pie was Tibbie Shiels Ale, made by Broughton Ales, a small brewery in the Scottish Borders. A pie of this size will serve anything from two to four people, depending largely upon the appetite of the diners.


1 lb stewing beef steak
1/2 lb puff pastry
1 large white onion
1 large carrot
1 pint of real ale
2 pints of fresh beef stock
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Beaten egg for glazing

1 large baking potato per person
Brussels sprouts (quantity as desired)
Pinch of dried nutmeg


Put the olive oil in to a large pot and on to a gentle heat. Add the beef and stir for two to three minutes until browned and sealed. Peel and finely slice the onion and add it to the beef. Season with salt, black pepper, the dried thyme and cook the onion for a few minutes until it glistens and begins to turn transluscent. Add the stock, followed by the beer and turn the heat up until the liquid begins to simmer. Note that it may well seem like you have an excessive amount of liquid at this stage but that will reduce considerably. Reduce the heat again and simmer very gently for two hours.

While the beef is simmering, you can use some of the time to start preparing your chips. Peel the potatoes and slice and chop in to chips shapes. Add to a pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer for five minutes, drain and submerge in cold water for five more minutes. Drain again and lay them in a large plastic dish with a lid. Refrigerate for at least half an hour.

Pat the chips dry in a clean tea towel and deep fry at 300F/150C for five minutes. Transfer to a plate laid with kitchen paper, cover and allow to cool. Return them to the dried plastic dish and the refrigerator for a further half hour minimum.

When the beef and stock has simmered for a couple of hours, you will see the liquid has been significantly reduced. Top, tail and scrape the carrot and slice it in to quarter inch discs. Add it to the pot and simmer for a further twenty minutes before turning off the heat, covering the pot and leaving the mix to cool. This is very important, as if you try to put pastry on top of hot meat and gravy, the steam will spoil the pastry before it has a chance to cook, causing it to collapse and be soggy.

When the meat is cool (after about an hour), put your oven on to preheat to 400F/200C. Spoon the meat and carrot in to a 10" by 7" pie dish with a slotted spoon. Pour in enough gravy to almost cover the meat.

Roll out the pastry on a clean, lightly floured surface, large enough that it covers the pie dish with a slight overhang all around. Carefully lay it on top and fold and crimp it in place around the edges and under the rim of the dish.

It is not essential but you may wish to sit your pie on a roasting tray, to catch any inadvertent drips. Glaze it with the beaten egg and make a cross or couple of slits in the centre to serve as a steam vent. Put the pie in to the oven for thirty-five to forty minutes, until the pastry is beautifully risen and golden.

It is a good idea to let the steak and ale pie rest for a few minutes when you take it out of the oven, prior to service. This time can be used to prepare the Brussels sprouts and complete the preparation of the chips. Remove any loose or damaged leaves from the sprouts and place them in simmering, salted water for ten minutes. Drain and return to the empty pot with a little butter and nutmeg. Gently swirl them around to evenly coat.

When the sprouts are in the water, the chips can be fried for the second time at 350F/170C, for six or seven minutes. Drain again on kitchen paper and begin plating your meals.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Spanish Style Omelette with Bacon and Potato: A Leftovers Special

Spanish omelettes are very different from their French counterparts. While not quite constituting the robust dish that is a Tortilla Espanol (especially given the absence of onion), this recipe does follow the principles of cooking the sundry ingredients of the omelette in the pan before adding the eggs to bind them all together. This is a perfect dish to have for dinner when perhaps you have had a hard day and can't be bothered visiting the supermarket, allowing you to use up those leftover odds and ends in your refrigerator at the same time. In this instance, I had half a red bell pepper, four rashers of bacon and a couple of tomatoes, all of which were still in perfectly good eating condition but were in danger of declining if they weren't used soon. (Important: The tomatoes were of course not in the refrigerator!) Waste not, want not, is the principle perhaps adhered to here - but the tasty dinner which can be prepared at the same time makes this idea a winner in all respects.

Ingredients (Serves One)

3 large eggs
4 rashers of bacon
1 medium floury/starchy potato
1/2 red bell pepper
2 small to medium tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
5 or 6 pitted black olives
2oz cheddar or other hard cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 or 3 fresh basil leaves to garnish

An Important Word About Bacon

Firstly, the bacon used in this recipe is British bacon. It is taken from the back or loin of the pig rather than the belly and that means there is more meat and less fat. American bacon will work just as well but you may have to pour off a little of the fat after the potatoes are cooked and prior to adding the pepper and garlic if you don't want your finished dish to be too greasy.

Perhaps more importantly, after you have fried off the bacon in the method about to be described, you may find that you have some unappetising looking white, "Globules," in the bottom of your pan. This simply means that your bacon has been injected with a saline solution as part of the curing process, mostly to artificially increase the weight and the profit for the source supplier. It is a procedure carried out by a great many bacon producers in the UK. All you have to do is scoop out these white bits and add a little bit of butter and olive oil to the pan to compensate for the lack of fat.


Firstly, roughly chop your bacon but do not discard any of the fat. Put it in to a dry, non-stick frying pan and on to a low heat. As the fat in the bacon begins to melt, gradually increase the heat, stirring the bacon around frequently with a wooden spoon until it is cooked. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cooked bacon to a plate and see the note in the orange panel above re the fat left in your pan.

Peel and moderately finely dice the potato. Add it to the hot fat in the pan and season with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Go easy on the salt as the bacon will have imparted a lot of saltiness to the fat but potatoes are of course notoriously bland and a little salt is still likely to be necessary. Fry the potatoes on a moderate heat, stirring frequently, until softened and lightly browned.

Roughly chop the half bell pepper and the peeled garlic clove. Add them to the potatoes and fry for a further couple of minutes, before re-adding the bacon simply to heat through.

While the bacon is reheating, break the eggs in to a bowl and lightly beat them with a fork or small hand-held whisk.

Ensure that your potato, pepper and bacon mix is spread evenly over the base of your pan and carefully pour in the egg mixture. Heat at a medium setting (you don't want the underside of the omelette burned before the top is cooked) until you can see it is almost but not quite set right to the top.

Put your overhead grill on to preheat to maximum. Slice your tomatoes and cut your black olives in half lengthways. Arrange them evenly over the top of the almost cooked omelette. Place your pan under the overhead grill to finish setting the omelette and essentially heat the olives and tomatoes. This should take only about a minute, so keep an eye on it and don't let it burn.

Grate your cheese while the omelette is finishing setting under the grill. Remove the pan from under the grill and scatter the cheese over the top. A little extra freshly ground black pepper is a good idea at this stage but not essential. Put the pan back under the grill until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

The omelette should now be served immediately by simply using a spatula or fish slice to loosen it around the edges before sliding it on to a plate. Roughly tear or scatter the basil leaves over the top as an attractive but entirely optional garnish.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Turkey, Sage and Onion Burger with Chip Shop Style Fritters

Sage and onion is a classic stuffing type, frequently prepared and served with roast turkey at Thanksgiving or Christmas. In the approach to the year end holiday period 2011, I was working a few days ago on coming up with Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes for One, specifically for those people forced through circumstances to spend Thanksgiving alone and for whom a whole turkey would clearly be impractical. The turkey, sage and onion burger is one idea I came up with and I prepared it for that project simply with homemade fries. As I was eating it, I started wondering what else could be served with it to provide something a little bit different from fries.

I began thinking along the lines of potato based fast foods which can easily be made at home but provide an alternative to chips or French fries. I quickly came up with the idea of British chip shop style potato fritters. If you have never tried these simple creations, I would urge you to give them a go. They normally consist of thick slices of potato, dipped in a flour, water and salt batter and deep fried in hot oil. In this instance, however, I have firstly parboiled the potato slices, to make for softer, fluffier centres for the fritters.

Ingredients per Serving

1/2lb minced/ground turkey
1/4 small white onion, finely diced
1 soft bread roll
1/2 tsp dried sage
1oz pizza mozzarella cheese (optional)
1 large floury/starchy potato (any type normally used for baking)
3 tbsp plain/all purpose flour
Cold water
Salt and pepper
1 tsp freshly chopped parsley for garnish


Peel the potato and slice it lengthwise to a thickness of just under half an inch or around 1cm. If you have a clean wire basket, usually used for deep frying, it is an excellent idea to place it in to your pot before adding cold water and the potato slices. This makes it much easier to drain the potatoes without the risk of them breaking up in a colander. Put the pot on a high heat until the water boils, then reduce the heat to simmer for ten minutes.

Take the pot to the sink and simply lift the basket clear before pouring out the water. Rinse the pot with cold water to cool it, half fill it with cold water and place the basket back inside, ensuring all the potato slices are covered. Leave like this to cool for five minutes. Drain again and lay the potato slices in a plastic dish with a lid. Refrigerate while you go on to prepare firstly your batter and then your burger.

Spoon the flour in to a small plastic dish, large enough only to accommodate each potato slice one at a time. Season with half a teaspoon of salt and mix. Add some cold water to a jug and very slowly add the water to the flour in stages, mixing between each pour, until you have a batter the consistency of thick cream. If you accidentally add too much water, simply add a little more flour. Ensure the batter is smooth, place the lid on the dish and add this dish also to the refrigerator.

The turkey, onion and sage should all be added to a stone or glass mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly by hand before rolling in to a ball and flattening between the palms of your hand to a burger patty around three-quarters of an inch to an inch thick. Bring some vegetable oil up to a medium heat in a non-stick frying pan and add the burger to fry for about twelve minutes each side on a gentle heat, turning only once. This may sound a long time but keep the heat low and ensure the burger is cooked through completely before serving. Do not press down on the burger as it cooks - this forces the juices out in to the pan and makes the cooked burger dry and unpalatable. Check it is cooked by piercing the centre with a skewer and pressing on the hole to ensure the juices run clear - or use a meat thermometer, following the manufacturer's instructions.

When the turkey burger is cooked, turn off the heat and push the pan to a cooler part of your stove top. Leave the burger alone to rest. Bring your deep fryer to a high heat and fetch the potato slices and batter from the refrigerator.

This bit requires great care as it is necessary to lower the fritters in to the oil by hand, one at a time. Dip each potato slice in the batter to coat and hold it up for a couple of seconds to allow the excess to drip back in to the dish. Very gently, lower the fritter in to the oil, keeping your fingers well clear. Continue until all the slices have been actioned in this way. Do not overload your fryer. After around three minutes, turn the fritters using a metal slotted spoon or spatula with a plastic handle, carefully separating any which have stuck together. When the batter is beautifully golden, transfer the fritters to a plate covered with kitchen paper to drain.

The bread roll should be opened up and lightly toasted. If you wish to omit the cheese, simply lay the burger on the bottom half of the roll and serve the fritters alongside. If you wish to include the cheese, lay the burger on the bottom half of the roll and three slices of pizza mozzarella (or perhaps cheddar?) on top and melt under an overhead grill. Garnish with the roughly chopped parsley.

Note that salt and malt vinegar are the traditional and popular condiments for these type of fritters.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Red Gurnard Fish Pie with Broccoli

What are gurnards? I am aware that a great many people will be wondering precisely this when they see the title of today's recipe post. Even those people who are familiar with them may not know how to cook gurnards, or in fact that they are even edible. Gurnards are certainly not the most attractive of fish and it is for perhaps this reason above all that they were never truly considered a good eating fish until fairly recently, in light of the publicity surrounding fish sustainability.

I have long since intended featuring gurnard on this blog, in the name of eating sustainable fish, if nothing else. The principal reason why I have never done so is simply that I could never quite describe them as one of my favourite eating fish. It always surprises me when food writers describe gurnard as having little or no real taste. I think it has a moderately powerful flavour and one which is fairly unique. It may well be one of those things which you either love or hate.

The reason why I have finally made the effort to provide a gurnard recipe suggestion comes in the wake of a fishing trip made by a friend to Loch Etive, in the West of Scotland. I was not on that particular trip and learned only a few days later that he had caught several decent sized red gurnard. I enquired whether he had kept one for the pot and he informed me that he hadn't, simply because he would have had no idea how to clean or cook it. I had a think and decided how I would recommend anyone who had never tasted gurnard before prepare and eat it for the first time. I was pretty certain right from the start that I would recommend they make a gurnard fish pie.

Ingredients for a Gurnard Pie for Two People

3/4lb prepared gurnards
12 fl oz milk
1/2 small red onion
1 bay leaf
1 small carrot
1 tbsp frozen peas
2oz butter
2oz plain (all purpose) flour
1 tbsp freshly chopped flat leafed parsley (plus extra for garnish)
2 large baking potatoes
Salt and white pepper

1 head of broccoli as an accompaniment


Gurnards are usually fairly small so you are likely to need anything from two to four which have been prepared in this way to make the three-quarter pound. I got these gurnards from my local Morrisons in Wishaw, a supermarket which I always find has an excellent and extensive range of fresh fish in comparison to its major competitors. They had been headed, tailed, gutted and scaled.

Place the gurnards in a pot large enough that they all fit comfortably on the bottom in a single layer. Slice the red onion and separate it in to strands. Add it to the pot with the bay leaf. Pour in enough cold milk to comfortably cover the gurnards - approximately 12 fluid ounces. Put the pot on a high heat until the milk only just begins to simmer. Reduce the heat right down at this stage or you risk a boil over. Simmer gently for six to seven minutes.

Use a large slotted spoon to remove the gurnards to a flat bottomed bowl. Cover and allow to cool enough that they can be comfortably handled. Strain the milk in to a bowl through a fine sieve to remove the onion and bay leaf, as well as any fin or bone which may have broken off the gurnards. The milk will soon be used (still warm) in the preparation of the basic bechamel sauce for ths fish pie.

Add the butter to a saucepan and gently melt. Tip in the flour and stir with a wooden spoon to form a roux. Cook gently for a few minutes, stirring all the time, before you start to add the milk in three or four stages, combining each addition before adding more to the pan. You may need all the milk and you may not. Essentially, you want the sauce to have the consistency of thick cream. Add the parsley, stir it through and remove the pot from the heat.

The flesh will now have to be picked from the bones of the gurnards and there is only one way to do that: by hand. Begin by removing any remaining fin or bone from the back of each gurnard. Peel off the skin. Gently open each one up and carefully pull out the spine. Flake the flesh as large as possible, feeling for any bones as you do so. Scatter the flesh over the bottom of a casserole dish, about 9" in diameter and 3" deep. It is really important to have a proper casserole dish for making a fish pie. If you don't have one, or are in need of a replacement for your old one which is past its best, see the end of this post for some hand-picked bargains which you may wish to consider.

Peel and finely dice the carrot and scatter it over the top of the gurnard flesh, along with the frozen peas. Resist the temptation to simply slice the carrot in to discs. It will not cook properly in the pie and come out hard and unpalatable. Carefully pour the sauce over the fish and smooth with a palette knife. The sauce should come up to within approximately 1" of the rim of the casserole dish.

Put the lid on the casserole dish and leave to cool completely. You may wish to prepare to this stage the night before you intend serving the pie and refrigerate overnight. That's entirely optional.

Peel the potatoes, chop them and add them to a pot of cold, slightly salted water. Put on a high heat to bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for twenty-five minutes. Drain the potatoes through a colander, return to the pot and mash with butter and white pepper. Cover and allow to cool.

When you come to spread the mash on the fish and sauce, do not simply tip it all in to the centre and attempt to spread it out. That is a recipe only for disaster, as you will push the potato in to the sauce and the results will simply not be what they should. Instead, use a teaspoon to lay the potato over the top of the sauce in small lumps. Afterwards, dip a pallette knife (or even a wide bladed ordinary knife) in boiling water and smoothe the potato. This will give you a much better final result.

Sit the dish on a baking tray and place the pie in to an oven preheated to 375F/190C/Gas Mark 5 for forty to forty-five minutes. The baking tray is not essential and you can instead place the dish straight on to the oven shelf. The reason I always use a tray is that should any sauce overflow from the dish, you will only have a baking tray to wash and not your entire oven. Minimising washing up is, after all, a huge part of learning to cook, is it not...??

When your pie is removed from the oven, place the tray under a very hot, overhead grill to brown and crisp the potato. This is not absolutely necessary but definitely improves presentation. When your pie is under the grill, break the head of broccoli in to florets and add to slightly salted, boiling water for eight minutes.

Remove the pie from under the grill when it is nicely browned. Allow to rest for a few minutes and give the sauce time to stop boiling while the broccoli finishes cooking. Drain the broccoli through a colander and you are ready to plate up for service.

Casserole Dishes

As mentioned in the post above, below you will find a few ideas currently available on and for casserole dishes perfectly suited to making a fish pie. Click on any image for further details, or to browse Amazon's casserole dish options in full.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

A Sustainable Scottish Fish Supper

If you are not Scottish - or at least intimately familiar with the food culture of Scotland - your perception of what constitutes a Scottish fish supper is likely to be incorrect. This is wholly forgivable, as the name of course suggests that a Scottish fish supper is any type of fish dish served for supper in Scotland. In fact, it is a lot more specific than that. A fish supper in Scotland is something usually sold from dedicated fish and chip shops and consists of a fillet of white fish, deep fried in batter and served with chips. This is of course the most popular fast food throughout the United Kingdom but in the rest of the country, outwith Scotland, it is likely simply to be referred to as fish and chips.

There is, however, a problem surrounding Scottish fish suppers in modern times - a big problem! A fish supper is normally made from haddock, or perhaps cod, two of the most endangered species of fish - if not the most endangered - in British coastal waters and fishing grounds. This means that alternative fish species must be used in fish suppers if this incredibly tasty, traditional meal is to be available to future generations. Coley, pollack or pouting are all excellent choices in this respect but the option chosen in this instance is surely the tastiest of all the sustainable fish species in British waters, whiting.

Ingredients per Person

1 large baking potato
1 skinless fillet of whiting
2 tbsp plain (all purpose) flour
1/2 tsp salt
Cold water


It is not essential to use this chip preparation method but it does make for extra special chips. Begin by peeling the potato, slicing and chopping it in to chip shapes. Put them in to a pot of cold water and put the pot on a high heat until the water begins to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes. Drain the chips through a colander and submerge them in a bowl of cold water for a further five minutes to cool them quickly. Drain again and place them in a plastic dish and in to the fridge for at least half an hour.

Remove the chips and lay them as shown on one half of a clean tea towel. Fold the other half of the towel over the top and carefully and gently pat them dry. Fry in hot oil at 300F/150C for five minutes. Remove from the deep frier to some kitchen paper on a plate, cover and allow to cool. They should then be returned to the (dried) plastic dish and the fridge for a further half hour.

When your chips are returned to the fridge, it is a good idea to prepare the batter for the fish and allow it some fridge resting time. Add the flour and salt to a plastic dish large enough to contain the whiting fillet further down the line. Slowly add cold water, stirring continuously, until you have a batter the consistency of paint or thick cream. If you do happen to add too much water, simply add a little more flour. Put the lid on the dish and pop it in the fridge.

The chips should be fried for the second time at a slightly higher temperature, around 350F/170C, for five to seven minutes, dependant simply upon how crisp and golden you like them to be. Drain again on kitchen paper and cover to keep them warm while you fry the fish. Alternatively, where you have a twin basket deep fat fryer (see the end of this post,) the chips can be given their second fry at the same time the fish is being cooked. This makes the whole procedure a lot quicker and easier.

Remove the lid from the dish containing the batter and dip the whiting fillet in to ensure it is completely coated. Hold it up over the dish for a few seconds to let the excess batter drip off before popping it in to the hot fryer. It will take four or five minutes to cook, by which time the batter should be crisp and golden.

Drain the fish on some fresh kitchen paper and plate along with your chips. A Scottish fish supper is likely to be seasoned with salt and malt vinegar, salt and sauce, or perhaps all three and eaten without any further accompaniments. If you do want to boost the presentation and flavour a little, however, try serving it with a wedge of lemon, a sprig or two of fresh dill and a dollop of tartare sauce on the side, as shown in the top photograph above.

Twin Basket Deep Fat Fryers

Deep frying food is not something which we should be doing every day. Even where oil is used instead of saturated animal fats, we should keep this cooking method to once or maybe twice a week. When we are deep fat frying, however, we want to be sure that we do so to best effect. As mentioned in today's post, a twin basket deep fat fryer is an excellent tool to have when making British fish and chips, or any dish where two separate foodstuffs require frying. Below are a couple of ideas from both and which you may wish to consider for making your fish and chips - or even as a Christmas gift for the deep fat fryer in your family or circle of friends!