Thursday, 19 April 2012

Producer recommendation & recipes: Womersley Vinegar

Womersley Foods make a range of fruit and/or spice infused vinegars and jellies. My local branch Booths stocks a couple of the jellies and a couple of the vinegars: the one I have tried and now use a great deal is a vinegar infused with lemon, basil, bay and juniper.
Womersley Vinegar Recipes

Lemon, Basil, Bay, Juniper Vinegar

The sweetness of this vinegar, and the lemon and juniper in it, make it an ideal companion to gin, whether as a dash in a simple gin and tonic or in a cocktail.

Womersley Gin & Tonic

Fill a tall thin glass with ice cubes, add gin and tonic of your preferred brands (but Millers gin and Fevertree Tonic cannot be bettered) and in your preferred ratio, then add a few shakes of Womersley Lemon, Basil, Bay, Juniper Vinegar and stir well. (You need to stir well, as otherwise the vinegar just sinks to the bottom.)

Aperol Martini

Aperol is an Italian aperitif, lower in alcohol than most vermouths or its stable mate Campari. It is bitter-sweet and like Campari has a slightly alarming fluorescent colour, though Aperol is orange, while Campari is red. The flavour is pretty unique, so I can't recommend an alternative.

To make an Aperol Martini:
1 part Aperol
3 parts gin
½ part Pommeau de Normande (a blend of Calvados and apple juice)
½ part Womersley Lemon, Basil, Bay, Juniper vinegar
Squeeze of lemon juice to taste

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Do not under any circumstances stint on the ice: it’s there to chill the other ingredients, not dilute it.
Add the other ingredients and shake vigorously.
Serve in a Martini glass.

As with drinks, so in cooking, bear in mind the lemon element of this Womersley vinegar first and foremost, and consider using it where you might use lemon juice, though bear in mind that it’s sweeter than lemon juice. Like lemon juice, the flavour dissipates with cooking, so it is usually used best as more of a seasoning. Here is one dish that was particularly successful for me:

Tagliatelle with potted shrimps, wild garlic, bonito flakes, capers and Womersley Lemon, Basil, Bay, Juniper Vinegar

Potted shrimps are produced mainly in the north west of England, in the great bays and estuaries. Each bay/estuary has a slightly different breed of shrimp, so Southport shrimps are different to Morecambe Bay shrimps, which are ever so slightly different to Solway shrimps. Potting the shrimps is historically a method of preserving them, by mixing them with a spiced butter, typically involving mace and white pepper. The great John Tovey, former chef and owner of Miller Howe in Windermere always used to put a generous slug of gin into his homemade potted shrimps, which neatly links this recipe to those preceding!
To my mind, the best potted shrimps are available from Ray Edmondson of Yorkshire Street in Morecambe (32a Yorkshire Street, Morecambe, LA3 1QE, tel. 01524 412828), though others will work well for this recipe. I believe Ray Edmondson will supply by post, though Baxter's (the royal warrant holders for potted shrimps) are nearly as good, and easier to source.
Bonito flakes are a Japanese product, available in many oriental supermarkets: they are shavings of dried bonito, a sort of tuna fish. They look like wood shavings, smell a bit fishy, and have an interesting savoury, gently fishy flavour. I use them in this recipe to enhance the taste of sea.

Ingredients for one (generous) main course or two starter portions:
½ small onion, finely chopped
1 pot of potted shrimps
A handful of wild garlic leaves
2 dessert spoons bonito flakes
A generous tablespoon of capers
100g butter
Blade mace
Two tablespoons of Womersley Lemon, Basil, Bay, Juniper vinegar
Tagliatelle (the first time I made this, I used some fabulous wild garlic pasta from The Parkers Arms, Newton-in-Bowland, but the commercial pasta I used for this photograph worked very well too)

Put some salted water on to boil in a large pot.

In a medium-sized saucepan, gently melt the butter with the mace in it, to infuse the flavour and add the chopped onion to soften.
Wash the wild garlic; reserve a couple of neat leaves for decoration. Roll the rest of the wild garlic leaves up like a cigar and slice them finely across, so you end up with shredded leaves (a chiffonade in culinary terms).

When the water is boiling, add the tagliatelle and cook it according to the directions on the packet.

Two minutes before the pasta is ready, remove the mace (this is not entirely necessary, but the first time I made this, I didn’t, and the blade mace felt a bit like prawn shells in the mouth!) and add the capers, half of the bonito flakes and the potted shrimps. You are not actually cooking anything now, as everything is already cooked, just warming them through. When the pasta is cooked, add it to the saucepan with the butter, add a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water and mix thoroughly. Just before serving, stir in the second half of the bonito flakes and the lemon, basil, bay, juniper vinegar.
If you really want to, you can grate some Parmesan over, but most Italians would deprecate the use of cheese with fish, and I think the bonito flakes add the umami hit that Parmesan provides.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Parkers Arms Good Friday Fish Festival

Good Friday means fish-heavy menus for restaurants in the Ribble Valley, the heart of the Lancashire Catholic recusancy way back when. I'd usually avoid eating out on bank holidays, especially at Easter, a time when not only is everywhere (one hopes) very busy, but a lot of the customers are the type who only eat out on special occasions like Easter Sunday and Mother's Day, meaning that restaurants have to pitch down to such customers.

But a post on twitter from Stosie Madi, the chef at the Parkers Arms at Newton in Bowland, advertising their Good Friday Fish Fest menu, called out like the siren call of Lorelei enticing gastronauts (well, this one) onto the rocks of Newton. £23.50 for the 3-3-3 menu was also very attractive. The only problem with the menu was that it was well nigh impossible to choose. This was, however, solved by the whispered suggestion that they could put it all together as a tasting menu, if we had the time. On the one hand, this solved the problem; on the other there was a certain trepidation at the amount of food we were likely to be facing, even if some of the dishes were going to be reduced in size.

The starting pistol for this marathon was one of my favourites: Muncaster crab parfait with crispbreads.
Muncaster crab parfait
Muncaster crab parfait, Parkers crisp breads
I have had this a few times before at the Parkers Arms. The presentation this time (in the little pot, as you can see) is new, and unfortunately this wasn't the best, as they'd sold out a lunchtime and quickly knocked up a new batch, and mine hadn't quite had long enough to set, and was a little too liquid. But the creamy richness and intense crab flavours were there in force, and it's much better to be a bit runny than overset. One thing that always impresses me at the Parkers Arms is that even a small garnish of watercress, such as came with the crab parfait, is nicely dressed. So many restaurants still omit to dress salad leaves.

Next was a dish which had attracted me when I first saw the menu: herby crispy squid with sweet chilli sauce.
Herbed crispy squid, Parkers sweet chilli sauce
Little baby squid, in a light, remarkably herby crisp crumb. The squid was very tender, and the crumb at once light and crispy. The accompanying sweet chilli sauce was homemade and nicely balanced some fiery chillis with sweetness.  But I wondered if it was really necessary, and whether some herb mayonnaise, or an aioli, might have matched the herby squid better.

The next dish (the last of the starters) was Smoked Dunsop trout risotto and Slaidburn “Scotch egg” wild garlic mayonnaise. I was expecting some trout risotto, topped with a trout Scotch egg for textural contrast and dressed with the wild garlic mayonnaise. So it was a surprise to find that the first two elements were combined into what were effectively trout risotto arancini, with an egg in the middle.
Q: When is a scotch egg not a scotch egg? A: When it's a trout risotto arancino with an egg in the middle.

I'd hope that if I'd ordered this as a starter, that I would have been told it wasnt actually a risotto, as I could see that some might be a little disappointed if they were expecting a risotto. But I liked the re-working and the surprise, though I'm sure the surprise works better in a tasting menu format.  But who could not be won over by that perfectly cooked egg? Just enough trout in the risotto to taste it and all accurately seasoned. The wild garlic mayonnaise would fly off the shelves if it were available to take away.

Our next dish was another play on the words of the menu description: "smoked haddock and Southport shrimp chowder and new season asparagus tart, tossed salad," said the menu.  Would it be a bowl of chowder with a little asparagus tart on the side? Nope.
Smoked haddock and Southport shrimp chowder and new season asparagus tart, tossed salad
This was where culinary madness meets inspired genius. A beautiful 'chowder' topped with some asparagus, and cooked in a tart case with the sort of thin, crackly pastry you would usually only ever find in those lovely little Portuguese custard tarts, pasteis de nata. This was a triumph.  The pastry was utterly delectable, and the filling was just gorgeous: very lightly set, with a baveuse centre, and no one element dominating the others.  In London, this would have bloggers and the twittersphere going mad and long queues round the block.
Here's the money shot of the tart:
Next came something that was a little more straightforward, but no less accomplished in conception or execution.  Some gently, perfectly cooked salmon was the centrepiece, but curiously could easily have been left off without making it any less of a dish.
Confit Loch Duart salmon, Isle of Man queen scallops and broth, braised fennel, wild garlic pappardelle

Alongside the salmon (which looks a little over-cooked in the picture for some reason: it wasn't), some excellent, neatly caramelised queenies, almost unctuous braised fennel and a truly delicious, delicate light cream were, for me, the supporting cast for the real star, some home-made wild garlic pappardelle that was as thin as gossamer silk, yet still had a subtle taste of ramsons.
Gossamer thin wild garlic pappardelle

If this is beginning to sound like it was a set of discrete yet delicious ingredients that just happened to be on a plate together, that wasn't the case: it all worked really well together.

The final main course was a simple classic: lemon sole with beurre noisette.

A really simple preparation and presentation, with nowhere to hide. It was a small sole, yet remarkably plump.  You couldn't criticise either the neatness of the preparation or the spot-on cooking of the fish. The beurre noisette was bang on too. Served with some simple new potatoes, spinach (fully shelled) broad beans and peas. Faultless.  Better than the 3* baby sole starter that I had in the final days of Chez Nico on Park Lane: better fish to start with, and better cooked.

The first dessert to arrive was a very grown-up, adults-only chocolate and espresso trifle.
Dark Chocolate espresso and Kahlua trifle
It sounds heavy, and looks a bit heavy too, but surprised me by being much lighter than I'd expected, helped by really not being very sweet at all.  It made me think of an inverted tiramisu, with the coffee and chocolate to the fore, and a little quenelle of chantilly cream, rather than the mascarpone mix that makes up the main element of tiramisu.

At this point, we waved the white flag, passing on the lemon posset with damson jelly and the cheese.  Well, that was the intention.  The cheese still came, and the posset was packaged up to take away!

The cheese was in good nick, served with some iced grapes and homemade water-biscuits. Who makes their own water biscuits, you might well ask. They're quite different to any you might buy, and much tastier.

All in all a really good lunch which turned into dinner.

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