Definitely not the same old poutine

P1060238 JOhn arsons' poutine 23-06-2017 15-12-18

John Parsons’ poutine at the Beer Engine

POUTINE sounds like a female follower of Russia’s President Putin but actually it’s a foodie fad which in my sheltered life I’d never come across until a year or two ago. It’s the Canadian version of cheesy chips, that student stand-by, although as I grew up in the Fifties and Sixties the most exciting thing to eat was a late night Wimpy. We never went exotic and put cheese on chips.

Back in 2015 I saw it on the blackboard at Jonty Cork’s eponymous little café on Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield, and asked what it was. He’d been taught it by a Canadian houseguest who was on a cheesemaking course at Welbeck School of Artisan Food.

The idea was to cook some chips, add cheese curds and bathe the lot with gravy. It is, apparently, a fast food dish which started life in Quebec, the mostly French speaking province of Canada. As I recall Jonty had a bit of a problem getting the right curds – apparently they have to be the same size as the chips – until he settled on a squidgy German mozzarella.

Well it was breakfast so I didn’t get to taste Jonty’s poutine although I saw it on other menus and, once, chalked on a wall. As I’m a bit of a food snob there never seemed to be a cheesy chips moment and then it seemed to fade from fashion.

But I’ve been going to the Beer Engine at the bottom of Cemetery Road quite a bit lately and noticed it on chef John Parsons’ menu. Still, I shunned it in favour of dishes like pig cheek ragu, dipped ox cheek sarni and crab and prawn rice rolls. Then, lunching with fellow foodie blogger and Masterchef contestant Craig Harris, we reckoned that if ever there was a cheesy chips moment it was then.

John makes no claims to it being authentic but says it is his Sheffield version. He didn’t use the word but I will, superior. It is listed as Sheffield Poutine: cheesy chips and ox liquor gravy with cinema cheese sauce. I had to ask what this last was and was told it squirts out of a bottle. See what I mean about a sheltered life? The chips were big and fat. The cheese sauce (curds are not the way with this dish) was a béchamel with cheese (I forget which), spiked with paprika, and the gravy the left-over liquor from the ox cheek. It was lovely with a glass of Neepsend Blonde.

“It’s been on the menu since I started. It’s a case of using up whatever is in the kitchen,” said John. It costs £4 and fills you up splendidly. There’s a veggie version but you’d miss the best element, the ox cheek liquor. So is it poutine a Quebecker would recognise? Probably not but I’d take this any day.

We had only one complaint: you needed a hunk of bread or a spoon, which we got. John was taking no criticism. “You do this” – and he mimed picking up the dish and drinking the gravy down – “particularly after a few pints!”

Check out the Beer Engine at and Craig’s excellent blog at

STOP PRESS: John Parsons has now left the Beer Engine (as from August) and is mulling over new plans. It is certainly still worth a visit, particularly for the Korean chicken wings.


I’m a fool for gooseberries

P1060219 gooseberry fool, deluxe version 2017 16-06-2017 20-12-04

Cheap as chips and good enough to eat!

AS a kid, whenever I asked the question how I’d been born my mother would brush me off by saying I had been found under a gooseberry bush. This time of year I spend plenty of time hanging around them, collecting box in hand.

 They are cheap enough in the shops but free gooseberries taste even sweeter, albeit with the addition of a few tablespoons of sugar. I have my own special hunting ground in one of the local parks where I also pick blackcurrants, cherries, apples, damsons and plums in season. I’m not telling you where!

 I am usually surprised no one else bothers but this year I thought someone had beaten me to it at the bigger of two bushes. There were only gooseberries at the highest levels but once I’d got my eye in I found more. The smaller, more accessible bush, had hardly been touched. I quicky collected a shade short of two pounds.

 Some of them were going to make a gooseberry fool, the most spectacular and cheapest of desserts and, more to the point, the only way I can get my wife to eat them. This is a deluxe version of the recipe I gave last year here and this time with measurements.

 To fill two large wine glasses you need 300g of gooseberries but taste one first to judge how much sugar you’ll need. I used two tablespoons and then a bit. Last year I used elderflower gin but it has gone off so I added a capful of my favourite gin, a tablespoon of water then nipped down the bottom of the garden and nicked four of my neighbour’s heads of elderflowers. As they were next door that counted as foraging. On the way back I took some fragrant (unidentified) blossoms from my hedge. That wasn’t. You will also need thick yoghurt and, if you’re being really snazzy, some crème fraiche and ice cream.

 First top and tail and wash your gooseberries. That removed a caterpillar. Put them in a heavy bottomed ban with the sugar, liquids and very well shaken blossoms. Using a simmer plate and the lowest heat, watching like a hawk, I cooked the berries until soft, about 20 minutes.

 I strained the gooseberries and reserved the best ten for garnish. I measured the liquid and used only half of it, putting it in the blender with the cooked berries and pressing the button. This is a very good suggestion from Nigella Lawson, on whose recipe mine is loosely based. This is to stop the puree being too runny. I put the remaining liquid in a shallow box to freeze to make water ice.

 Now mix half the resultant puree with a few tablespoons of yoghurt and leave in the fridge to cool. Check the water ice after a couple of hours and mush up with a fork.

 This is a last minute assembly job. In two large wine glasses I put some ice cream in the bottom followed by layers of yoghurt-puree mix, the remainder of the gooseberry puree, some crème fraiche, splinters of water ice and finally the reserved gooseberries, garnished with a spring of garden mint.

 It tasted as good as it looked. You could simplify this, as Nigella does, and just have yoghurt and puree but don’t forget the water ice, something for nothing. As were the gooseberries. We reflected that in a restaurant this dessert would easily have cost £6.50. Not bad for an hour’s foraging.





The Joy of Chickens


ONE of the continental book fairs, I can’t be sure whether it was Frankfurt or Hamburg, used to run a competition for the silliest book title. My favourite was Know Your Pony but another year The Joy of Chickens came top of the list.

I’ve never forgotten it and it makes the title of this post. If you’re a foodie who cooks and wastes nothing you will already know that a chicken just keeps on giving and the initial cost, whether cheap or expensive, is spread over meal after meal.

The other day we bought a medium chicken from Kempka’s on Abbeydale Road (you have to order in advance these days and collect on Saturdays), see and I cut it up into portions because I was going to marinate it in lemon, olive oil, garlic and herbs before grilling for Sunday lunch.. As there was just the two of us, my wife settled for a breast and I had a leg. We didn’t want the skin so while I was busy in the kitchen I snipped it into bite-sized bits and gently fried them as a snack, see here.

It was amazing how much meat was left, if you really looked for it. I got enough for a curry and a stir fry, which I froze, with some left over for a pie. The carcass made a stock for a soup, although I grilled the wings for part of my Monday lunch. I had bought some leeks so the greens went in the stock while the whites made it a chicken and leek pie. So one chicken gave ten main courses (the soup was substantial) and a couple of snacks.

You really can’t do this with any other meat: leftover beef or lamb with give you a cottage or shepherds pie, duck just runs to fat. For me it really is the joy of chickens.