Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Food Tour of the (Cold and Soggy) Islands

Riding the exposure of English chefs/TV personalities Gordon Ramsey (badass), Jamie Oliver (not so badass) and Rick Stein among others, the UK is making their cooking philosophy known and making a serious dent in the global culinary landscape. However, debunking the stereotype that the best England has to offer can be found in your local, yet "Authentic" Harry McDrinklots Pub is a tall order. Enter Grant. His menu was packed with UK classics with a few twists and turns. Here's what was on tap:

Amuse Bouche - Home-Made Guinness Bread Pinchos with Corned Beef and Mustard Glazed Cabbage (IRELAND)
Appetiser - (Beef & Lamb) Haggis, (Pureed) Neeps & (Duchess) Tatties (SCOTLAND)
Soup - Cawl (Leek) Shot with Welsh Rarebit on Home-Made Chili Bread (WALES)
Main - Cod, "Balti" Chips, Minty Mushy Peas & Tartare Sauce (ENGLAND)
Dessert - Apple & Blackberry Crumble Trifle (ENGLAND)

You can barely tell from the picture, but there's bread under the heaping mound of moist corned beef and sweet-tangy cabbage. The beef cooked slow and low for hours and hardly needed the knife treatment it received to shred it. Fingers would more than do the essential sign for a quality slow cooked meat.
The quintessential Irish dish, minus the need of silverware, and Guinness-based bread to get all the topping in our mouths......that, my friends is a good introduction to UK cooking.

Appetites intact and geared up for the next course, we dove into the haggis. I was well versed on haggis, what it is made of, the cooking process, etc. but never had the dish before tonight. Ground lung, tounge, heart, brisket meat, oats and spices were cooked in the oven instead of boiled in a sheep's stomach (a tough item to find in the city).

The obligitory dram of Scotch was replaced by half a bottle of white wine applied in the 'bottle to lips' technique. It did wonders for keeping the haggis moist. For people who lack the adventurous spirit to try haggis, but want to know what it's like.......I instantly likened it to a corned beef hash minus the potatoes.

Grant complied with the age old law that neeps and tatties are the only allowable accompaniments to haggis. Any deviation from this rules is punishable by a night in the box and 2 weeks on kilt scubbing detail *shudder*. The creamy pureed turnips and soft mashed spuds with a crisped, broiled top worked great with the richness of the various animal parts. Clearly, there's a reason for their eternity of partnership. Excellent dish.

The smell of yet another type of homemade bread wafted out of the kitchen, but this one was drowned in a creamy cheese sauce. Those little toasts acted like sponges and slurped up all the cheese they could handle.....don't worry, additional cheese was spooned on top to make sure no morsel was left behind. The rarebit and cawl combination was comfort food at it's finest. Halfway in between a stew and soup, the cawl was packed with intense flavors of leek, stewed shredded meat, and was really filling.

Based on my last showing at Grant's place, I was going to have to play my cards right if I wasn't going to end up on the floor.....again.

Some beautiful pieces of cod were portioned out, battered and ready to hit the fryer. The batter was thick enough to stand up to a scorching pot of oil, but thin enough keep the fish the star of the dish. Served Jenga Master style, the twice-fried chips stayed crisp and had true potatoes taste.....imagine that, right? A subtle touch of curry flavoring was a nice addition and brought in another common English flavor to the dish. Mushy peas not only added a bright green to the plate, but had a great clean and fresh flavor to balance the fried items. Malt vinegar was dribbled across everything and if the prior courses didn't pack every inch of my stomach would have been a treat to mop up with some more homemade bread.

Obviously, the night would not be complete without a traditional fruit crumble. This version was layered loaded with clotted cream so every bite had a touch of sweet and tart fruit, crunchy sugar mixture and thick creamy......uh, cream. With all the previous dishes being very savory, the sweet finale was hit the spot.

With a good number of our group hailing from England, it was good to see Grant keep it real with some solid English/UK grub. None of the meat was boiled until hitting Sketcher-type consistency, all of the vegetables still had taste and were recognizable, and I'm certain anyone who previously doubted the cuisine from the cold, damp islands across the pond would be pleasantly surprised with the results....and would owe a heavy drinking, violence prone nation an apology.

Great meal, awesome time......Slainte.

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