There’s no blood in a white pudding

IT IS years since I had a white pudding. It is a very regional dish: think black pudding without the blood and you have more or less got it.

The Irish have a fancy for it, very often alongside black pudding which makes their breakfasts the Very Full Irish. In fact the best breakfast I have ever had was on the train heading south from Dublin with puddings of both colours and the tastiest sausages I have encountered.

When I worked on a Sunday paper in Devon white pudding, or hogs pudding, was always in the shops but I lost sight of it coming north. Now I’ve found it, or at least the Irish version (made in Lancashire), on sale at Dearne Farm Foods’ stall on the Moor Market.

As I understand it white pudding may or may not contain meat alongside the fat , oatmeal and spices. This pudding was made with quite a bit of pork as well as finely chopped bacon but seemed low on oats. It did have a rainbow of herbs and spices: white pepper, pimento, ginger and cinnamon along with rosemary, sage and thyme.

When I cooked it in the pan, simply by slicing and frying, I found it meatier than I expected and less oaty than I would have liked. But it was enjoyable . Think polony (which the stall also sells) but with a firmer texture.

Unlike most black puddings, there weren’t any little nuggests of chopped back fat but this would certainly go well in a ‘poor man’s fry up’ as the only porky contribution.

The stall has been selling it in 200g ‘stubs,’ as the plastic-wrapped sausages are called, for the last four years. “The Irish buy a lot of it,” the butcher told me.

The Scots have their own version, mainly oats, suet and beef, which sounds closer to the Devon hogs pudding I recall, although that didn’t have beef in it. There are even versions of white pudding which contain dried fruit, a recipe which goes back to medieval times.

This white pudding is made by the Real Lancashire Black Pudding Company and he also sells their award-winning black pudding. I bought some of that as well. Also on sale are stubs of polony, once a famous Sheffield delicacy but now fallen from grace, from Potters of Barnsley. Polony is still favoured in South Yorkshire funeral teas for the elderly and by anglers as bait.

I intend to have both black and white pudding, along with bacon and eggs, on Sunday mornings – a Very Full British Breakfast!

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Why I’m in hock to the pig

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Pork hock rillettes

SOME THINGS are such a bargain it should be a criminal offence not to buy them. So it is with me and pork hocks. They are the cheap-as-chips joint that just keeps on giving. And when I saw them for sale at Roney’s the butchers on Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield, at £2.99 for one, a fiver for two, I knew just what I was going to do with them. I ought to say you can get them even cheaper on the market.

  • After boiling for three hours or more, the best of the meat would give me pork rillettes, a sort of halfway house to a full-on terrine (I would have needed two hocks for that).
  • The broth the cooking water had become would give me the base for soups.
  • The skin, gently cooked in a frying pan on the lowest of lights for two or so hours would give me crisp, tasty pork scratchings (and the resultant fat saved for frying or roasting).
  • Meat not soft or good enough for rillettes would be sliced fine for a Chinese stir-fry.
  • And the bone, stripped of any surplus fat but not the gristle, would add flavour to a pot of soaked, dried beans I was cooking up for the freezer and future chillies.

This goes up to eleven on the Frugality Scale of one to ten and ticks every box you can think of: economy, taste, versatility and that one about paying your respects to the animal by not wasting a single gobbet of goodness.

Here’s what I did. I put the hock in a pot with onions, carrots, celery, bay and herbs (no salt), bringing to the boil then simmering for three hours, or until it is beginning to fall off the bone. As it’s a salty joint you might want to bring to the boil, drain then start again with fresh water. I didn’t.

I took the hock out and allowed to cool overnight, also straining the cooking liquid and leaving it in the fridge. You can proceed while the meat is still warm but it takes a couple of hours before it stops burning your fingers.

The next day I cut off and reserved the skin. You will soon discover which is the best quality meat. You will have to scrape off the fat and cut away tendons. Now, using two forks, break up the meat into soft strips. (You can do a bit of fine knifework if this gets too tedious).

Put the meat into a bowl. Season. Add two tablespoons of good cider or white wine vinegar, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, herbs of your choice, finely chopped gherkin/olives/caper berries and anything else that takes your fancy. Now get out the cooking liquid which will have jellied and scrape off some of the fat which has settled on top. Mix it in with the meat. It’s optional but a little bit of fat adds to the texture and ‘mouthfeel.’

Pack tightly into ramekin. One hock filled two ramekins. Now take a ladleful of that jellied stock, gently reheat it and pour it over the meat in the ramekins until it reaches the surface. Allow to cool when it will jelly back up again.

This is almost a terrine but isn’t and tastes great on toast or with a salad and freezes well.

Meanwhile cut up the skin, fat and all, into one or two inch squares, heat a heavy frying pan on a low light and leave until you have beautiful scratchings. Drain off the fat for later use.

The stock can also be frozen. You will probably want to dilute it 50-50. I used some of the leftover meat, finely diced, to make a meat and veg soup. The rest went in the freezer. The fat went on to baste a stuffed pork fillet for Sunday lunch.

The rest of the meat added to a stir-fry and the bones went in my beans.

I could, of course, have roasted the joint. It would have been a rather rugged meal but would still have been a tasty treat.

Breast is best with lamb

WHEN I was younger I was skint but had a girlfriend whose stepfather was a butcher. So I got a tip or two about meat.

The one I remember best was to buy a breast of lamb and roast it. It might be fatty and a little greasy but you got a mouthful of crispy skin and sweet meat for just pennies. (Another was to buy bacon bits and misshapes ‘for a quiche’ which always got diverted to Sunday breakfast.)

Years flew by and I was better off and forgot about breast of lamb. As it fell out of fashion it also fell out of the shops, as did another inexpensive morsel, sweetbreads. I seldom saw it on menus except once some years ago at the Wig & Pen in Campo Lane.

I had to ring to make sure it was on that night. As I recall it cost a fortune for something so cheap. Fellow blogger Craig Harris tells me it used to appear on dishes such as ‘lamb three ways’ although that must have passed me by.

I was at Thicketts the butchers on Sharrowvale Road recently and for some reason asked if they sold it. They did but I would have to order it. “Only pensioners ask for it these days and people buy it for their dogs. Younger people don’t know what to do with it,” I was told.

Now that’s a shame because this is the equivalent of pork belly and we all know the good things you can do with that.

The lamb breast, just £3, was ready the following Saturday and I had it neatly boned. I kept them. They went in the freezer along with others for a stock.

I had forgotten how I cooked it so l looked for recipes. There are lots of fancy ways. Ramsay braises his then cuts the meat into noisettes and crisps them off.

I didn’t want things to get too complicated so, after halving it and putting the remainder in the freezer, simply seasoned, made a stuffing of garlic, rosemary and anchovy fillets (I wouldn’t have done that back then), tied it in a piece, browned it off and roasted it at 150C under aluminium foil for two hours till tende. Then I  whacked up the heat to 200C to crisp.

It cut into three roundels and tasted fine. It wasn’t that greasy as the fat had poured off- and the skin was crispy-sweet. The anchovy added a little piquancy. I served it with pommes dauphinoise and purple sprouting broccoli.

My wife didn’t like the sound of it so had a lamb steak.

I might try a classic French recipe with the other half when I am using the oven for another dish. The breast is roasted flat, again slow and low, or braised,  for 2-3 hours until tender, drained, cooled overnight in the fridge, then cut into strips, floured, egged and breadcrumbed, then fried. Sort of lamb, not fish, fingers.

Why I bake my own bread

Baking bread is not that difficult

Home baking, 75pc strong white, 25 pc wholemeal

I LIVE exactly halfway between not one, nor two but three good local, independent artisan bakeries so why do I shuffle downstairs at 7am most Mondays to bake my own? Because despite the wide range of loaves they can’t give me what I want. And because of my teeth.

Sorry but I am not too enamoured with sourdough. That may come but not yet. Nor do I want Fancy Dan varieties with offbeat flavours. I’d like a nice tin loaf, please, for sandwiches or a good old British bloomer. And do you have any rolls? I don’t mean breadcakes.

And then there’s the crust. Do you have any soft loaves? You see, this all started before all I got for Christmas were two expensive front teeth implants and the ones I had got were dangerously loose. I wasn’t going to risk them on a hard crust. I asked for a sandwich loaf in one place, got a funny look and was offered a ciabatta. I didn’t want slices with holes in.

I got seriously cheesed off with one bakery which at first didn’t open until lunchtime on Saturdays “because we like a lie in, too.” Seriously, I thought they were in the wrong job. And they only baked rolls at weekends. Things are better now but for me the damage was done.

Now I could have gone to a supermarket or a chain bakery but we all know that most of what they sell is pap. The only alternative was to bake my own. If I produced pap, it would be my own pap.

I had form. I had tried baking before, mostly self-taught from books although I did go on a short half day course in return for a write-up in a magazine. I wasn’t great. My wife was supportive but I knew deep down I didn’t cut the mustard in the bread department. I also tried a breadmaker but this is the Chorleywood of home baking. So I gave up.

Then when my front teeth started rattling in my mouth – the worst moment was when one flew out across the room while running a seminar for journalism students – I went back to baking. Somehow, this time it all started to come together.

It wasn’t just white loaves. I experimented with Portuguese-type bread, mixing white and cornmeal. Then I discovered the joys of malted flour. There was white seeded bread and currently it is wholemeal, half and half with strong white, to up my fibre intake. I want to live a long and active baking life.

I tried fresh yeasts and dried yeasts until an artisan baker told me he couldn’t honestly tell the difference so now stick to dried.

Seduced by the lines and whorls of artisan loaves I bought my own Banneton baskets until I realised that slices from the middle of big, round kilogram loaves didn’t go in the toaster (the long ones do). So it’s back to tins: vintage, high-sided two and one pound tins, Hovis tins and non-stick kilo tins with their sleeker, lower lines. The baskets are for high days and holidays.

I have still a lot to learn and a lot to bake. Fougasse will be next. I use olive oil and sometimes lard, ignore the instructions to add sugar on the flour packet recipes, use milk or whey instead of just water, add beer. From a few basic ingredients I can spin a baker’s dozen of loaves and more.

I now have two, sturdy front teeth and no longer go in peril of a crusty loaf. But it’s too late, I am smitten by dough. And I’ve discovered there are others like me.

It’s not that I have completely shunned local bakeries. My two loaves a week (one goes in the freezer) are supplemented by a local bakery’s seeded cornbread which we hanker for. Although I am going to try and copy that.

But my old dodgy teeth and artisanal snootiness over split tins and bloomers have opened up a wonderful new world.

New Omega gets an alpha-plus

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Jamie (left) and Steve – old faces in a new setting

IT’S STILL the same. The table holds a two tone loaf, half white, half brown, on a board with a bread knife to cut it yourself, dish of butter, bottle of tap and crudities of red onion and tomato with Melba toast, just like before. The dining room is smaller but the view from the picture windows is better: a rugby pitch instead of a car park, grass not concrete.

We have made it at last to the Omega at Abbeydale, the true heir and offspring of the fabled, legendary and sorely missed Baldwin’s Omega banqueting suite on Brincliffe Hill, Sheffield, which closed after 37 years last summer.

Its champagne and strawberry bashes, Caribbean evenings and Eighties disco nights, the works and office knees-ups and the cracking lunches staged by David Baldwin (Mr B or The Big ‘Un, depending on who was talking) and his wife Pauline deserved to live on and they have.

The surroundings may have changed and the name slightly altered – this is now The Omega at Abbeydale Sports Club – but the ethos is the same: great food, much better than you’d expect for the price, Value For Money written in big, shiny letters of Sheffield Steel.

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View from our table

That has been transported across the city by two men: head chef Steve Roebuck and former Operations Manager, sommelier and front–of-house man Jamie Christian. Their belief that the city still values the Baldwin’s concept has been backed up by the diners: we couldn’t get in before Christmas and the dining room is full this Friday.

The menu is still the same, a three course TDH for £16 or a pricier carte, and there’s still roast beef carved at the table, calves liver and that Sheffield speciality starter, Yorkshire pud and gravy.

All it wants is Mr B, I say to my wife, and suddenly there he is in the corner, having driven up on his invalid buggy from his home in Dore. Where once he would have toured the tables with a joke and a casually dropped expletive, now they come to him. I notice that nearly all the tables, most of them former customers, drop by to pay their respects.

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Sea bass with tiger prawns

Jamie and Steve have had a nightmare opening the place. A school bus crashed into the building, not once but twice, asbestos was discovered and windows did not fit. But that is all in the past.

Jamie gives us a tour of the place: the bar which looks directly onto the pitch, a terrace which will be lovely in summer, a private dining room, function room upstairs with stage and the restaurant itself , 50 covers instead of the old Rib Room’s 80. “We’re getting a lot of old faces and new ones from the sports club,” he says.

In the restaurant, still run by Angela Jackson, the food hits the spot time after time. I have a satisfying cod and parsley fishcake surmounted by two fat chips in a pea puree and loin of pork stuffed with large pieces of mushroom, segmented, with creamed and crispy leeks and a rich, rewarding Calvados-spiked sauce. Dessert, an extra fiver from the carte menu, is apple strudel. Most kitchens would have delivered a flibbety-jibbet filo pastry affair but this was proper crisp pastry, firm apple and, if a custard can be stunning, this was: a splendour in vanilla.

Stuffed pork fillet

Pork fillet, Calvados gravy

My wife proves to be high maintenance: a starter of sweet scallops, fried hazelnuts and crispy Serrano ham with a celeriac puree (£10) followed by a fishy special of pan-fried sea bass, the skin properly crispy, with excellent tiger prawns and wispy asparagus on a lustrous red pepper sauce (£16). They do know their sauces here. She ends with an Omega favourite, cranachan, whisky, cream, raspberries and oatmeal. The food rates alpha-plus.

I take a peek in the kitchen, much smaller “but not as far to walk,” says Steve. He’s keeping to the same menu, I observe. “People won’t let us change but we are branching out here and there.”

The operation also has to work as the feeding station for the different sporting groups which use the club. There have been innovations. Those expecting match day chip butties have been met by tagines and cous cous. The jury is still out on that as far as the ladies’ hockey team is concerned.

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The table is set

Old hands will recognise the old lectern at the entrance to the restaurant and Jamie is still considering whether to use the ‘flaming torches’ from the old Omega foyer. The bar, also with great views onto the pitch, has four screens tuned to Sky Sports but the sound is turned off and muzak on. And, just as at Brincliffe Hill, there is plenty of parking.

For the new Omega there is plenty of potential for a brave, new era. The atmosphere may be a little different but there is still the same bright, accurate and reassuring cooking. The ‘Baldwin’s’ may have been dropped from the name but every time Mr B drops in at his corner table will be a reminder of the glory days.

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The Omega at Abbeydale is on Abbeydale Road South, Sheffield S17 3LJ. Tel: 0114 236 7011. Web: http://www.omegaatabbeydale.co.uk

Egg mayonnaise? It’s what he would have eaten

funeral tea

 

I’VE BEEN to two cremations inside the first eight days of the new year and each had a funeral tea. And it’s got me thinking.

A British funeral tea usually has pork pies, sausage rolls and Scotch eggs, at least around these parts. Then there are sandwiches, all food you can eat standing up or sitting down with a glass of something in your hand.

Now most people will probably nibble away without thinking but I have always appreciated that food is more than just the ingredients on a plate. It comes with tradition, ritual, memories and a good deal else.

Even so, I was quite taken aback – and charmed – by the offering at the first, of a 93-year-old woman, who had once been my mother-in-law.

There was bread and dripping (on breadcakes), properly seasoned, and slices of ‘raw’ black pudding as well as the pork pies and sausage rolls. Humble though these foods were, they each represented aspects of her life.

The bread and dripping – bread and scrape we used to call it when I was young – remembered her childhood in a terraced house in backstreets Leicester. She would sit on the steps eating a crust, her reward for helping to clean the house – and the steps.

As a young woman in the West Riding of post war Britain meat was still on the ration but a friend made her own black pudding: blood, fat and oats boiled up in muslin.

When times got better she enjoyed a salmon sandwich, and there were these laid on as well, although the salmon she enjoyed came in a tin while her great grandchildren today snaffle smoked salmon.

The tea – a lunch really – was held at the old people’s home in which she died and the residents were invited. They would have remembered the dripping and black pudding and, perhaps, the fish or meat paste sandwiches once part of a Northern working class funeral tea. Old folk in Barnsley, I am told, still favour sandwiches of polony sausage, which spreads like paste.

I enjoyed what I ate and would have done so even more if I had known why I was eating it at the time. Just as a photograph, a tune or a smell can bring back memories, so can the taste of food.

The second funeral tea was more middle class with spring rolls, mini toad in the hole and, very Sheffield, bowls of chips.

It got me thinking what I would have at my funeral tea: confit of duck, anchovies, olives? But I also love an egg mayonnaise sarnie. Sadly, that will be one meal I won’t be there to eat.

It’s a stock picture above which represents neither tea. After all, you don’t take your camera to a funeral, do you?

Monica makes it so bella!

Monica in the kitchen at Bella Donna

I’VE held back from reviewing Bella Donna, that sparky little Italian restaurant on Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield, even though I enjoyed it from the first mouthful. I didn’t think I got the best out of it first time round.

It was my fault, not that of the owners, Monica Caravello and Caterina Hammond. I had researched the dishes – and there were many things on this Sicilian menu I was dying to try – and then I didn’t have them.

“Look, there’s fritti misti, you like that” said my wife, and my mind went back to the dish I had at the celebrated Gatto Nero on the shady side of the canal on the Venetian island of Burano . So I had it, nice but Sharrow Vale was never going to win, was it?

So I returned with the same friends and this time had exactly what I wanted to eat. Like the starter melanzane ammuttanate (£5.90), a souped-up Sicilian version of the classic melanzane parmigiano. Baby aubergines come stuffed with mint, pinenuts and anchovies in a sauce of tomatoes and mozzarella and the parmigiano is replaced with pecorino. It was gutsy. It was a belter. It was the sort of dish a member of the Cosa Nostra might order before he went on the night’s business.

Then I had the ravioli (£11.50) which was what I should also have had first time round: stuffed with broad beans and ricotta in a mushroom, pesto and walnut sauce. Presentation can be a bit hasty – this came buried under a mound of rocket – but this was another dish going nearly over the top for flavour. It tasted like it wanted to be eaten with gusto. So it was.

The aubergine starter

The premises used to house a very standard sort of Italian restaurant and I was slow to notice the place had changed until I stopped one day to look at the menu. Many of the dishes were out of the ordinary. Heavens, they did chick pea fritters and other Italian street food.

I realised I’d first met the owners when they took over the restaurant at Michael Menzel’s eponymous wine bar on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, in the early 2000s. Monica had come to Sheffield from Sicily by way of Barnsley. Since then they have had a succession of places in the area.

The room is long and thin with a semi open kitchen at the far end and a bar by the door. It fairly buzzes with atmosphere and if you half-close your eyes you could imagine you had discovered some little out of the way gem in Italy itself. It helps when there are Italians also eating there!

On our first visit Caterina was front of house and Monica was cooking and you could tell that here food was taken seriously. She invited me to taste what was cooking in her big pots . On the second visit Monica had left the kitchen to work the floor while Katerina had the night off.

Under all that greenery are ravioi!

I ate with fellow blogger and Italophile Craig Harris, who has written so vividly here https://craigscrockpot.wordpress.com/2018/10/14/review-bella-donna-sharrowvale-or-is-it-palermo/ about his first visit.  He was with his wife Marie.

This is one of those restaurants where you fancy almost everything off the menu and then you’ve got the blackboard specials to contend with. As the pair have got more confident about their customer base the menu has gradually got more Sicilian and a good thing, too. Even more than France, Italy is a country full of regional cuisines.

So doubtless I shall be going back, if only to try a whole plate of Sicilian street food,  mussels with chickpeas or one of those rich stews the kitchen cooks up.

Bella Donna is at 352 Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield S11 8Z. Tel: 0114 268 5150

The restaurant