Saturday, 18 January 2014

Drunken Butcher: goes posh with Sous Vide

Duck breast, confit duck leg, mash and cavolo nero
Whilst Iain Devine, aka Drunken Butcher, is well-known for his mammoth supper club feasts, encouraging a family style sharing of dinner, he's perhaps less known for 'poncy food'. Just because he doesn't often showcase it though, doesn't mean he isn't a dab hand at it.

Iain joined forces with Sous Vide tools to put on a night demonstrating the versatility of two of their key products: the Sous Vide water bath and the Polyscience smoking gun. Whilst this was obviously a sophisticated ploy to get us all thinking about purchasing the equipment, it didn't really work on Jamie and I: they were preaching to the converted. We already own and use both of these items; useful if you're cooking in large numbers or - let's be frank here - just really love making your own smokey old fashioneds!

To begin, the dainty canapes of mackerel and apple were delicate and pretty, already alerting us to the fact that this wouldn't be a typical Drunken Butcher supper club!

Next up was a smoked salmon dish served in a kilner jar (to retain the smoke), followed by a take on bouillabaisse. Whilst these dishes were lovely, there's no denying the star of the night was the duck breast main. The confit duck leg was artery-destroying delicious, with a rich and perfectly balanced jus (see main photo). If you've been to one of Iain's supper clubs, you'll know that he is the bloody king of sauces (no pun intended!). Iain being who he is, couldn't resist the opportunity to feed and also brought out steak and triple cooked chips. The latter being one of my favourite items of food, I did well to keep the bowl near my side and managed to sneak the crunchy bits out at the end.

A pear cooked in red wine with ice cream came next, followed by another winner of the night: smoked cream cheese with shredded carrot. SMOKED CREAM CHEESE?! Who knew? Imagine, quite simply, eating smoked salmon and cream cheese together and that's what's happening in your mouth. If you're feeling like a pauper just before payday or are without our fishy friend (but handily have a smoking gun), it's a seriously tasty alternative.

As ever, all of the dishes were cooked beautifully, and Iain even managed to prove to us all that he can do poncey! Whilst sous vide machines are exceptionally handy if cooking in large numbers, they don't come cheap, so think carefully before investing. We probably wouldn't have bought ours if we didn't hold supper clubs - and find them much more useful for meat than fish: fish cooks quickly but cools down even quicker. Smoking guns are a good fun tool, and, priced considerably lower, would ultimately be a rather good present for any serious foodies! Our advice? Do your research, shop around, and if you buy one: use it!

Iain invited us over to showcase these products in partnership with Whilst we didn't 'pay' for our seats in the same way we would at a regular supper club, we were asked to make a contribution towards Iain's time. 

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Seasons Eatings Supperclub, Trove

Venison, oyster, beetroot, gin

Oh, supper clubs; how I love thee. You feed me well for little money and introduce me to food I'd never normally eat and places I never normally visit. Sure, sometimes you may leave me in the middle of nowhere with no public transport home, having stayed for a few too many whiskeys after, or with a rip-roaring hangover after dancing in kitchens in West Didsbury with marrows 'til 3am, but you're always such fun. You're such fun that you made us start our own! And yes, ours have been fun, and we've even tried to get a bit fancy making our own croissants or canapes that take 3 hours from start to finish... 

...but then you go to one that casts a shadow so large over every other supper club, you wonder whether you (meaning us!) can really charge people for what you're dishing up when there's ones like this out there. You know: like the ones you've read about, like the ones they have in - *whispers* - that London, ones that would definitely be called 'pop-up restaurants' if they were south of Droitwich. 

If you haven't already guessed, I'm talking about Seasons Eating, brainchild of two fabulous female chefs, Suzy and Isobel, who have taken residency once a month in our new favourite place, Trove, a bakery housed on the A6 in Levenshulme. The dedicated duo, both chefs by professional, create restaurant-standard menus for very reasonable prices.

November's saw us chow down on course after beautiful course - every dish plated up with precision, with flavours to back up the presentation. The evening begun with a warming spiced apple soup with bay leaf foam and thyme jelly - evidence already that this was no ordinary supper club. The next dish, a sous vide poached egg, with black pudding 'crumb', pickled enoki mushrooms and shallots, finished off with watercress. Almost a take on a full English, though I'm not sure that was their intention - the dish was light and tart enough to awaken the palate for the next course.

The menu stated that there would be venison, oyster, beetroot and gin; in reality there was tempura oyster sitting atop perfectly pink venison, beetroot pearl barley, slices of beetroot, deep fried onion and gin jelly. I wasn't a huge fan of the gin jelly to begin with, but by the time it melted it slipped into the background and didn't overwhelm the other flavours. A teensy bit more salt on the meat would have been lovely (though anyone who has read this blog before will know we are salt FIENDS) but when eaten with the juicy, sea-borne oyster and the deep fried chopped onion, it was perfectly balanced. A dish worthy of any fine dining establishment.

Finally, the dish we were admittedly apprehensive about: szechuan, mandarin, brown butter. To be honest, the unusual pairing of ingredients was one of the main reasons we'd booked on to this supper club: I couldn't wait to see what they were going to do. Chefs always seem to say that desserts should be playful and leave diners with a smile on their face - well this certainly did. Szechuan pepper infused curd filled light, mini doughnuts with segments of mandarin as well as a gel, all finished off with the most delicious ice cream I have ever tasted. It was so good, I'd happily buy tubs of this ice cream every weekend if it were on sale. 

Look: if you like food, and you like championing the 'little guys', book yourselves on to their next supper club before they bag themselves a restaurant and a star to boot. They're hosting one at Fig and Sparrow in Manchester city centre on the 14th December - £30 for four courses and a cocktail - its up there with the best food Manchester has to offer at the moment. Follow them on Twitter to find out more. I should point out that we paid for our tickets - this write-up sounds so positive that I'm worried someone will think we've been paid in gold to say what we have, but it's all blummin' true!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Brunch Club Recipe no. 1 - Earl-Grey Smoked Salmon

Smoking - best done outside

Whenever I read a piece about smoking foods, someone's always quick to evoke the addictive nature of this 'foodie' pursuit. They'll say things like: "you'll want to smoke everything, even the dog food"; "I can't leave for work without my smoking gun"; "Tarquin's only three but smoked hummus is already his favourite food". So is it all it's cracked up to be? 


Joking aside, it's a good idea to speculate whether it's worth making certain foodstuffs at home, and this applies equally to home-smoked goods. Several items at our Brunch Club have reached such pricey highs in the supermarket that we rarely buy them, preferring to make our own. Take granola for instance: oats, dried fruits, nuts and seeds, mixed together and toasted for more than a Bhutanese family spends on a weekly shop. The cons of making things yourself are usually time- and equipment-related; the pros are you have a better understanding of what's gone into your food and can produce a product that suits you. With our earl grey smoked salmon you get the added benefit of saving a shed-load of money.

Let's take a similar product as a comparison: Heston from Waitrose Lapsang Souchong Tea Smoked Salmon which sells for £4.99 per 100g. I went to Out of The Blue (preferred fishmonger alert!), purchased a side of salmon at roughly £9, cured it and smoked it, ending up with enough salmon to feed 8 people and plenty leftover to fit snugly into several cream-cheese filled bagels. (This said with the caveat that I purchased a smoking gun to facilitate the whole process; but if you can see yourself eating a lot of smoked food, then it's a worthwhile investment and a very fun toy.) Regarding the smoking, I found several recipes which state simply "light the tea leaves" or recommend heating in a wok until smoking. From experience, the former is actually rather tricky to do and produces very little smoke, as anyone who's ever tried to light a cigarette without drawing on it will testify; the latter is prone to filling your house with smoke, never mind the sucking power (ooh,er) of your extractor fan. And burning earl grey is particularly acrid, believe me.

So some sort of dedicated smoking device (a tin or a gun are the cheapest options) will stop your house stinking like Waynetta Slob's ashtray. (The aforementioned problems might be to do with tea so if anyone's got a reliable tea-smoking method do let us know). I don't want to get into the logistics of smoking here as I'm going to assume if you've got a tin or smoking gun then you've read the instructions. If not I'd recommend a blowtorch to get those pesky tea leaves to burst into flames. What I will say is that there are a lot of variations when it comes to curing and smoking times; and my advice is not to obsess about it. The longer the salmon is in contact with the curing mix the drier it will become; with the smoke, the smokier it becomes. Simple. Curing with a 2:1 salt to sugar ratio for 16 hours and smoking for three half-hour periods with fresh smoke gave us a very palatable product. Tea smoke is more subtle than the traditional oak so the salmon can probably take a little more.

Earl Grey Smoked Salmon

1 Side of salmon (approx. 900g)

250g salt
125g granulated sugar
A few sprigs of dill, roughly chopped
Leaves from 1 earl grey teabag

For smoking:
Leaves from 2 earl grey teabags

1. Mix salt, sugar and dill together; and moisten the tea leaves with a little water.
2. Cut salmon in two if too large to fit in any container you own.
3. Spread a thin layer of curing mix on the bottom of a container.
4. Place the salmon skin-side down and cover with the moistened tea leaves then the remaining cure (spread less cure on the thinner tail-end areas to prevent over-salting).
5. Cover and place in fridge for 16 hours.
6. Rinse off cure and leave salmon uncovered in the fridge to dry for a couple of hours.
7. To smoke, place salmon on a cooling rack above a bowl of ice inside a large seal-able container (see picture).
8. Use your preferred method to light the tea leaves. Get a decent amount of smoke in the container then seal. Do this outside if possible!
9. Let smoke for half an hour then repeat.
10. Store covered in fridge and slice when ready to eat.

- If you're going to the effort of smoking your own salmon then you might as well buy a side as it's more time efficient and the salmon will keep well
- If you do, however, buy a smaller piece just mix up less cure

The finished product

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Brunch Club, Sunday 2 June

Pecan and salted-caramel rolls, croissants, and chorizo and courgette gruyere muffins

Sunday mornings should be about relaxing and eating. Well, we think so anyway... which is why we're giving up ours on June 2nd to make sure you can kick back and stuff yourself silly on a (posh!) buffet style spread of all the best breakfast items.

Near enough everything will be homemade, from the flaky, buttery croissants, to the Sourdough bread and the butter to go on top! There'll be sweet and savoury alike with chorizo and courgette muffins, and salted caramel pecan rolls. Not to mention our very own home-smoked salmon with the most decadent scrambled eggs.

For the full menu and to book your place go to Eventbrite.

Friday, 22 March 2013

The Drunken Butcher

Drunken Butcher. It Sounds like it could be the title to a comedy horror film: think Hostel and The Hangover meet Masterchef.

Thankfully, in fact, it's the nickname of Ian, our supper club host for a night of porcine pleasure: The Joy of Pork. The first image to spring to mind was of a sauced butcher clumsily wielding a cleaver before accidentally chopping his own fingers off. I'm glad to say there were was no trip to A&E! 

After two bus trips and a short walk, we find ourselves in Sale much too early and, like icy vultures circling a dead hog, we walk around the block until it seems reasonable to approach. Ian's home is mercifully warm and there's a wonderful smell emanating from the kitchen. 

Tania from DineInOut greets us with a whisky prosecco and cherry cocktail and as other guests arrive we are treated to the lightest, most delicate pork scratchings (or chicharrones) and some insanely good soy pig cheeks - meltingly soft, rich and salty. The joy of pork indeed. 

We take our seats and, faced with the menu, can see Ian's commitment to using as much of the pig as possible: if you're going to eat meat then this is the sort of reverential treatment you should give the animal. Head, cheeks, skin and so on. If it's edible, use it.

Torchon of pig's head
The starter of torchon of pig's head is a great example of this philosophy. It's a unctuous combination of slow-cooked meat and fat (from the head) coated in breadcrumbs and fried. The accompanying cherry sauce and mustard helped cut through the richness with their sweet,tart and bitter notes. 

T-Bone, tenderloin and crackling
Ian is most certainly a perfectionist. His devotion to cooking is evident in the sheer volume of cookbooks on his dining room shelves. And, of course, in the food. The main of T-bone and tenderloin of pork was wonderfully cooked with the best crackling I've had in recent memory and a cauliflower gratin that was a (rather delicious!) meal in itself. It all met with unanimous praise.

Home-made Oreos
By this time we're all one or two sheets to the wind (Ian is rather generous with his between-courses shots!) and very full indeed, after second and third helpings of mains. The Scandinavian-stye pudding of plum and raisin soup with cinnamon icecream is a welcome refreshment - light and cooling and reminiscent of mulled wine. 

It just about gave us the much-needed boost to finish with the home-made Oreos and a bourbon milkshake. Ian made an impressive stab at recreating the popular American cookie; the milkshake was for me a creamy step too far after so much food though I would happily drink it again if I hadn't already eaten 3 courses!

But it's nothing a few untouched shots of bourbon wouldn't remedy. Somewhow Anna and I managed to be the last to leave (and miss our last bus in the process, doh!) - a testament to our host's welcoming nature and a very enjoyable evening. Ian even gave me a parting gift of some super fiery home-made hot sauce!

The Drunken Butcher will be running many more supper clubs in 2013 and you can find more events at DineInOut's EventBrite page.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Modern Comforts by Manchester Foodies

Catering for fifteen
We've been talking about starting a supper club since we decided that Come Dine With Me was far too embarrassing an option for showcasing our er, culinary talent. Last October we moved into - basically - our dream home, complete with dining room and kitchen perfect for entertaining. After months of deliberation, being wimps, and trying to get a Friday (or Saturday) off work, we've finally set a date for our first ever supper club.

Take a look at our menu, see what you think, book a place if it's up your street, or pass it on to a friend if you think it might be theirs. We're starting off small, with 8 seats, so bring a friend or come alone, and hopefully you will enjoy what's dished up!

Eventbrite - Modern Comforts with Manchester Foodies

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Fire & Salt BBQ, North Carolina Supper Club

Mal: a man passionate about everything barbecue
Despite having talked incessantly about supper clubs, and enviously looked on at the multitude of their occurrences in - to quote Stephen Lee - that there London, it was only on the 8th February that Jamie and I eventually got round to dining in a stranger's home for the first time. I say stranger, but I had already heard and knew lots about Mal and his obsession for barbecue, after chowing down on his amazing riblets at IMBC last autumn. Listening to Mal's passionate history lesson on this age-old cooking technique almost left me digging up my own back garden to build a pit. Alas, I'm not yet on the property ladder and didn't fancy being sued by my kind landlords.

The evening began somewhat nervously, as Jamie and I sat down at a table occupied by two others, and several empty seats. I initially worried we'd actually been booked in for some sort of double dating reality T.V. programme (think Wife Swap meets Come Dine With Me). Fortunately, several minutes later a group of five showed up and the quiet calm of the dining room soon turned into a clattering hubub of introductions. We were generously welcomed with a shot of bourbon, infused with cocoa nibs and vanilla, finished with a spring of mint, a delicious chocolate Sazerac-like aperitif, wonderfully created by Mal's girlfriend, Laura**.

The mini jam jar bourbon shot
First up came the opportunity to try a variety of the barbecued pork: naked; with a vinegar style sauce; and with a more BBQ-esque version - with or without tomatoes (apparently barbecue chefs have nearly killed each other over the tomato debate*). Without wanting to reveal too much about my personality, naked turned out to be my preference. The flavours in the meat were pretty incredible, though I did my best to resist eating too much as I already feared the amount of food on offer might have been too much for my newly 5:2 shaped stomach.

To start, came the Brunswick stew, and I'm not sure I can sum it up much better than their very own description - 'this stew is what happens when small mammals carrying ears of corn fall into BBQ pits'. I have to say, that didn't sound particularly appetising but this was a little bowl of comfort. Next time I'm ill, Mal, if you could drop me some of this round, that would be great! I can't remember what exactly was in it, but I'm sure one of the aforementioned small mammals was a rabbit...

Brunswick stew
Up came mains, with the pulled pork taking centre stage, and the sides staggered to ensure our plates kept filling. Barbecue joint black-eyed beans were my favourite of the lot, as apparently there wasn't enough protein in the several million kilos of piggy on my plate, but deep-fried okra came a close second. Okra, that vegetable so feared by small children due to its pseudonym, was beautifully textured with its cornmeal crust. The hush puppies weren't for me, I'm afraid, though not suggesting that's anything to do with Mal's cooking as I've never had them before so I can't possibly compare!

With an event such as this, I fully expected the real showstopper to be the barbecued meat. In no way do I mean this as any discredit to that slow-cooked little piggy, but the winner of the night - and possibly the food that has most made me question my existence (pure sugar delirium, it was) - was the Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding. That's right, goddamn American donuts cooked with eggs and sugar and butter and all things evil. There's a lie on the Fire & Salt BBQ website though: it says it was served with ice cream. It wasn't - this buttery heart attack inducing dessert was served with MORE BUTTER. Bourbon butter to be exact. Nobody on the table could be tempted with 'ice cream'. Why, came the cries, would I want anything less than a fully saturated fat on my dessert which probably already contains my daily allowance of calories?! Oh Mal, you predicted us all so well.

The artery-busting Krispy Kreme pudding
The night was a success, the food left us full, the bourbon cabinet envious, and the concept filled with glee at the prospect of things to come. I couldn't help but think: perhaps if James Hitchen (Southern 11) had an ounce of the passion that Mal has, his one million pound restaurant might be nearly as good as the food served up by this fella, out of his terraced house in Chorlton.

*This might be a slight exaggeration, but I hear it's pretty fierce.
**Special mention also goes to Laura for managing to successfully co-host the supper club, despite requiring a nurse to pop round and bandage up her finger mid-proceedings.