Cold gravy and McBubble


Cold turkey, bubble and squeak and cold gravy

It’s brown, it’s cold, it’s slithery and at one time my family used to threaten to leave the room if I ate it. You can’t beat a good solid dollop of cold turkey gravy with your leftover roast in the days after Christmas.

For me it’s the leftovers which make Christmas. The dripping, eaten on hot toast for breakfast, has been particularly good. There was plenty of rich jelly essence although the fat was a bit soft. I basted the bird in duck fat and must have poured a little too much of the juices which leached onto the carving tray into the dripping bowl.

My comments on the delight of toast and dripping, or bread and scrape, appeared in an earlier post here

Everybody makes bubble and squeak. It’s the English version of Irish colcannon or Scottish rumbledethumps (swedes with potato). The core ingredients are potatoes, onion and greens. I suspect it’s bubble and squeak everywhere in Britain on Boxing Day because all the leftover vegetables go into it. I had potatoes, onions, carrots and parsnips, all roasted, in mine and because we had people round to tea boiled up more potatoes, parsnips, sprouts and added celery with some swede, a sort of nod to the Scots, so it was McBubble for us.

I fry it up in a big pan until crusted underneath, stir that in and repeat. The more crozzly bits the better. And season it strongly, not forgetting the garlic. You can make it into little patties but that’s a bit twee for Boxing Day. Incidentally, I’ve fried it with shredded leftover lettuce and it works.

I thought the name bubble and squeak came from the noise made by the greens when frying but I read the term originally applied to beef with cabbage being fried up together (at least from 1785). It’s not the only case of the same name being given to different dishes.

I have found no one who shares my love of cold gravy. Like the dripping it has to be full of meat juices and set gently, not stiff. And, of course, you can always re-heat it if you need to. But there’s something about the texture, particularly when mingled with vinegar from the pickles which is simply irresistible.

This is my 100th post since I started at the beginning of the year. The blog has had well over 13,000 hits. The reviews have got the most response. It’s when things get geeky, such as the origins and continued manufacture of polony in South Yorkshire, that interest tails off! But there is so much to write about food (and drink) that I feel I’ve only scratched the surface.

And if you really are interested in the story of Harry Potter and the Last Polony it’s here


Wobbly cold jellied gravy

All that Blisters . . .

Sweet glazed ham, studded with cloves

They can’t touch you for it but around this time of year I tremble my ham. It can take most of the day, a gentle experience. But the following morning things hot up: the ham gets blistered but in a good way.

You can get a joint of boiled ham from the supermarket but a home-cooked one is more fun. It’s tastier (although I am biased) and cheaper. And you’ll have so much ham it’ll be coming out of your ears.

This all started 12 years ago when I took down a paperback of Nicola Cox’s Country Cooking (Gollancz, 1990) from my bookshelves. I must have had it as a review copy. Mrs Cox, a former Sunday Times Cook of Britain, revisits a number of English (and French) dishes and introduces the recipes with often tempting preambles.

Her recipe for sweet glazed ham comes garnished with stories of country hams cooked and eaten in France and I’m a sucker for a culinary back-story. I was looking for a Christmassy second joint to the turkey and this was it. So here is my Nether Edge ham, purchased from Kempka’s on Abbeydale Road, cooked to Mrs Cox’s recipe.

Incidentally, the 1984 hardback version was reviewed by the late Rabbi Lionel Blue who praised the ‘luscious recipes.’ There are 160, one eighth of them involving bacon, pork or ham, so he might have flicked through these rather fast. Or perhaps not. There was a time when Roney’s on the corner of Sharrowvale and Hickmott Roads was the only Jewish-owned and run pork butchers in Sheffield, probably the universe.

In the book’s pages I have recorded the weights and cooking times of every ham since 2003. They have ranged between just over four pounds to around ten. You need a large pot (I have both a stock pot and a big preserving pan), a trivet, the ham and some water.

Basically what you do is cook the ham in gently boiling water for the allotted time, let it cool, strip off the skin, score the fat, apply the glaze and bake in a very hot oven until golden brown.

First weigh your ham. For joints up to 10lbs allow 20 minutes boiling for each pound, plus 20 minutes. For hams of between 10 and 15lbs it’s 15 minutes per pound plus 15. You might need to soak it for an hour or two to remove excess salt but a lot is going to come out in the boil.

The ham mustn’t touch the bottom of the pan so improvise a trivet with a small saucer (which may drive you mad with its repeated clacking during the boil!). Just cover the ham with the water. You don’t want a fast boil. Mrs Cox recommends you take an hour or two to come to boiling point. I admit I do tend to speed things up. Start timing when the water starts to tremble, with bubbles gently rising. If you’re going to glaze the ham, take it out 15 minutes before the end of cooking time.

Now this is where I part company with the recipe in the book. It advises taking the joint out of the water while still hot, slicing off the skin, scoring the fat and applying the glaze before putting it in a hot oven (200C) for 20-30 minutes until brown. Phew! Now I did this faithfully some years, risking burnt fingers in the process. The ham was rather firm, even a little hard (looking back, I’m not surprised) but mine.

Then a chance reference in other book about leaving the ham to cool in its cooking liquor to allow the meat to relax changed everything. I glaze it the following day. The ham is no longer tense.

Technically, baking off the ham used to be known as blistering because it was done in front of an open fire. In her book Food in England Dorothy Hartley, the first of the British food writers, illustrates complicated antique devices reflecting the heat onto the meat. These days we have ovens.

The glaze is up to you. I melt honey, home made marmalade and mustard in a pan and baste the ham several times. Sometimes I also stud the fat with cloves. You can devise your own glaze. Here’s a tip, line the roasting tin with foil as the glaze drips off and sticks like toffee to the metal.

I also like to use the ham stock. It will be rather salty so if there is room put a peeled potato or two in the pan while trembling, which will remove some of the salt. And you can always enjoy the cooked potato, best fried up.

Anamul magic at Zara’s


Chef Anamul Hoque, me and boss Shahbaz Choudry at Zara’s

Despite the evidence of the rather grainy photograph above this blog is not turning into another Winner’s Dinners. The late Michael Winner, the Sunday Times restaurant reviewer, invariably used a picture of himself gurning with head chefs and Maitre Ds, regardless as to whether he was going to give them a roasting in print if they had failed to fawn enough.

This picture of me with Shahbaz Choudry and his head chef, the wonderfully named Anamul Hoque, was taken at their request at the end of my meal at Shahbaz’s Zara’s Indian restaurant in Crookes.

Winner’s pictures were snapped by the long-suffering Geraldine. This was taken by my dinner companion Colin Drury, who followed me onto the Diary page at The Star, Sheffield, and reported so entertainingly from the food front for the paper’s Saturday review spot. Like the Diary (and Michael Winner) it, too, has passed away.

Although we have never worked together (save for a trip to the trenches of World War One) we meet up every now and again for a curry and a chinwag. That’s nice but I suspect the real reason is for Colin to have an excuse to sample once again the sag aloo (spinach and potato curry) to which I first introduced him at Zara’s. He’s just back from reporting in The Gulf.

Our latest meeting coincides, quite by chance, with the restaurant winning The Star’s Indian restaurant of year award, for the second time. Announced the previous day, the story remarked that I had given Zara’s five stars on my last visit.

I won’t pretend we weren’t noticed almost from the start for as soon as I rejected the offer of an island table we got allocated a wall-side one then, before bottoms had touched seats, instantly promoted to a plumply upholstered booth.

You can’t beat the food here, nor the service, pitched just right. I have been addressed with a “here you are love” previously with the arrival of the pickle tray and they smile as if you have just returned from popping out to the corner shop for a paper. In fact, they are so chummy they introduce themselves on the website so you know the waiters are Milad, Yasser and Salim.


Vegetable thali. The pumpkin and lentil dal is in front

Of course, it might be the Winner-effect but it was good of them to let me have a glass of salt lassi (normally only available by the jug). And when Colin found sag aloo wasn’t on the menu (it had dropped off unnoticed after a recent revamp) disaster was averted by promising the kitchen would include it in the vegetable thali (we also had a meat one). Phew! He’d have come all that way from Dubai for nothing.

Outside, Zara’s looks ordinary. Inside it is as seductive as a begum’s boudoir, dimly, deeply, spicily and exotically red, seating 64.

First comes the Mahatma Gandhi of all pickle trays, featuring eight different items, the largest selection in Sheffield: sultry tamarind, grainy coconut, apricot and mango and a fresh-tasting apple with coriander, as well as the usual quartet, partnered with the driest, crispest poppadoms you’ll ever eat.

This should give you a clue that the kitchen has an enchanting way with flavours. I had the Kakra Chop, crabmeat with mashed potato, thinking it would be rather like a potato chop. Instead, it was a soft, aromatic swirl inside a puri, a sphere of crisp, deep-fried dough. I scribbled the word ‘sophisticated’ in my notebook and that about sums it up. Colin had a gutsy, fenugreek and cumin-flavoured Sheek Kebab (both £3.50).

Ever said “Surprise me” when someone offers you a chocolate? That’s what they promise to do here when you order the meat thali (£13.90). You’ll get whatever the chef has handy although you can specify lamb or chicken. When it arrived there was a lamb balti, lamb sag and what sounded like (and I asked them three times) chicken Duncan.

Now I’m not going to take you through every mouthful and every dish but the spicing was glorious, dancing and resonating around the mouth. And that was just the meat. Colin, who had spent the last year dreaming of English country lanes and sag aloo, was quietly content with the latter. There was a dish of steamed vegetables and a sensational pumpkin and lentil dish, Khodu Dal, with wicked chill heat. Both thalis come with rice and nan.

I liked it that both thalis came in metal dishes on metal trays, just as it is in India and Pakistan. I’m a stickler for doing things properly.

If I was writing for The Star today I would again give Zara’s five stars. Mr Hoque is still working his Anamul Magic with a palette of spices.

Zara’s is at 216a Crookes, Sheffield S10 1TH. Tel: 0114 266 0097. Web:


The pickle tray features eight items

A bun in the oven


The Showroom’s venison burger . . . and bun

I once reviewed a restaurant where I took a dislike to the house merlot, with good reason. It was a vile, rotgut brew, fit only to scour the family porcelain. I advised readers to avoid it at all costs.

Some months later I revisited the place off duty, for I liked the food, forgot what I had written and absent-mindedly ordered the merlot again. Ugh! It was just as bad.

In a similar spirit I recommend you dodge the carrignan-merlot at Sheffield’s Showroom cinema restaurant, a wine so sour your stomach will feel like the aftermath of a rough night in Barnsley. A duff bottle? Perhaps. I only bought a small glass and, you know how it goes, sipped too much making sure of my judgement to take it back to complain.

The food is better. It’s been some time since I visited the Showroom, abandoning it for the newer, sleeker, posher Curzon but the Curzon doesn’t have a restaurant. The Showroom does and there’s a novelty here. Jon Tite is the first vegetarian head chef I’ve come across in an omnivore restaurant, in charge since Simon Ayres beetled off to the Cross Scythes at Totley.

So I’m not sure how big a part Jon played in my venison burger (£10). It was a fattie of a pattie, juicy not dry, with just that hint of gaminess you want. Trimmings were good, too: a flat cap mushroom, a little rectangle of rarebit spiked with Henderson’s Relish and chunky skin-on chips.

A burger has to go some to impress me but I certainly was. And it was the bun wot did it. “Freshly baked bun” said the menu and I was prepared to accept this as more an aspiration than a promise. But no, where other buns are tasteless impersonations of cotton wool, this was a warmish, firm, doughy and slightly yeasty specimen which quite complemented the meat.

I see from the website they run bread making courses. You could do worse than sign up to learn how to get this bun in your oven.

My wife had a variant of the fish finger sandwich (5), here crispy goujons of hake, moistened (but not enough because we had to ask for more) with a caper mayonnaise. Full marks for the hake, a fish which delivers taste.

The Showroom is currently running a fundraising drive to give the place a much needed revamp. Let’s hope they spend a few quid on the wine list.