Sunday, 23 October 2011

A Great British Burger

Saturday night this week found me trying to find the perfect topping to a burger. It's a search that I am more than happy to undertake, you should understand, as I love burgers. Not crap, fast-food burgers, although there is occasionally time made for a Whopper. But McDonald's taste far too sweet these days. They may not advertise to kids as much any more, but they certainly cater solely to their tastes.

So my perfect burger is not a mass-produced one. It's made at home from minced beef. Good mince is the key, and it's not always possible to get ahold of. The stuff I used this weekend wasn't that great, but this was really just a battle of the toppings.

On, or rather in, one hand was a burger topped with grilled portabello mushroom, Swiss cheese, ketchup (such a satisfying word) and American mustard. In the other hand, and straight out of left field, was a burger topped with horseradish and sliced beetroot.

The thinking behind the mushroom and cheese burger was memories of the Mushroom Double Swiss which Burger King used to offer. And it really wasn't bad. But the title of best burger topping belonged to beetroot and horseradish.

Beef and horseradish work great as a Sunday roast, and I thought they would pair really well in a burger. But I wanted another dimension, and thought that the sweetish earthiness of beetroot would work well. And it did. The overall taste was a meaty, sweet and sour taste. But with really pronounced tastes.

The taste of all the ingredients seemed to turn up the taste of the others. Beef and horseradish brought out the sweetness of the beetroot. That in turn contrasted nicely with the savoury beef and the heat of the horseradish. Great British ingredients teaming up to make a great British burger.

I never imagined my perfect burger would be one without cheese or relish. I have always thought a bit of lettuce and onion or tomato was vital. Which just isn't the case. At least for me it isn't. But I will keep checking on that.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Use a sprat - and leave it at that

It's sprat season. Not that it receives much attention. These little oily fish can't really compete with the glamour of the game season. But what they lack in glamour they make up for in taste, and versatility.

It was the missus who spotted them for sale in Asda, at 45p a pack. There was about 20 of them in the 225g pack, which is a reasonable portion when split between two.

Traditional recipes keep things simple and don't involve much more than frying them and serving them with brown bread and butter - wedge of lemon optional. But we fancied something with a bit more kick, specifically a kick of chilli.

We could have gone Indian, oily fish seems to work really well with curry flavours. Or Moroccan, with a rub of ras el-hanout. But we went instead for Chinese.

The chilli kick was delivered by the best chilli sauce I have ever tasted, made by the missus with bird's eye chillies, rice wine vinegar, sugar, lime juice and dried chillies. Shop bought stuff pales in comparison. It was sharper than it was sweet, and perfectly hot.

This worked really well with the little sprats, which were simply dusted in flour and fried.

We had some noodles hanging around at the back of the cupboard so just chopped up some onion, garlic, ginger and peppers and put that together with a bit of soy and some more lime.

I honestly don't think we could have had a better meal for about 40p a portion. It was such a good way of getting some oily fish into our diet, which we're not very good at, and one that didn't break the bank. It was also a very satisfying dish for the determined carnivore, as sprats must be the biggest fish you can eat whole. Like whitebait for grown-ups. Don't waste them on catching a mackerel.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Maxi's Rotisserie

I passed through Leeds today on the way to a kind of job interview in Tadcaster. I was cutting it fine but left myself just enough time to visit Maxi's Rotisserie, famed for its cheap eastern eats. And rightly so. You get loads!

If the hallmark of a good Asian restaurant is the presence of 'locals' (Chinese people) then Maxi's is good. I was the only white face in there, in the middle of Leeds. For a fiver I got more food than I could eat, which happens very, very rarely. In fact, I can't remember it happening. I reckon I got a whole pork loin's worth of char sui, nice char sui, on a substantial bed of rice with a little garnish of steamed cabbage. I also went for a bit of the chilli sauce which was...intimidating.

The 'locals' were scoffing down the three meat special, which may have been a better bet cos that amount of char sui almost became monotonous. Almost. And I like char sui a lot.

It's not something you'd take a picture of, but I'd choose Maxi's over any chain fast food every time. A meal deal in Burger King/McDonalds/KFC/Subway is getting on for £5 these days, if not more. Why have that when you can have your choice of chicken, duck, roast belly pork or char sui or a combination thereof? It's a no-brainer.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Risotto with crab and roast butternut squash

Last week the missus made a cracking soup of roast butternut squash. It was simple to make, just roast a squash, some shallots, garlic and chilli then blend it all together. I haven't tasted many better soups to be honest. So it was a surprise that we had some left over. But we did, and I had my mind set on using it in a risotto with some crab.

Risotto is a favourite dish of mine, and there's already recipes on this blog for others - risotto with braised celery and prawn and broad bean risotto.

The basics are nearly always the same. Soften some finely chopped onion or shallot in some butter or oil, butter gives a creamier taste to the final dish. Then add your risotto rice and stir it around to get it coated in the melted butter. Stir until you see the edges of the rice turn slightly see-through.

At this point you can add a glass of dry white wine or vermouth, but if you don't have any just start with adding the stock. Ideally use a stock which matches the main flavour of what your cooking - fish, meat or veg.

Stir the risotto a lot when you add the first few ladles of stock, as this will make sure the starch releases which makes the risotto creamy.

Towards the end of cooking this particular risotto I added the leftover butternut squash soup, adding a little at a time so that the risotto didn't cool down too much. That done, I then added the back end of a block of grana padano, some creme fraiche and two small tins of dressed crab. I used the dressed crab as it's made with the tastier brown crab meat. I find white crab meat can be a bit 'fine' for a dish like this and the taste just gets lost.

Using the dressed crab is this instance meant that the crab taste was prominent in the final risotto. And it worked really well with the squash. Definitely one of the tastiest combinations for risotto in my opinion.