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.

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

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

Is it worth meddling with a medlar?

What do they look like to you?

I’M STILL not sure whether it was worth it. I’ve gone halfway across Sheffield to pick medlars – hard little brown fruit no one seems to have heard of – from trees and taken them home to rot in my cellar.

 Then I’ve boiled them up, strained the juices, added sugar and all I’ve got to show for it is two small measly jars. As for the taste, well, it’s fugitive. Perhaps I should have taken the hint for the common name for medlar is dog’s arse, as the French say, cul de chien.

You can’t eat a medlar until it rots, or blets, when it turns sweet. In ancient times, before oranges and grapefruit and fruit like that was available to the common man they were supposedly highly prized for their sugar hit in winter.

To eat them, peel back the outer casing, suck everything in then discreetly spit. For inside is a little ball of sweetish flesh encasing  large seeds you wouldn’t want to swallow. The taste and texture is midway between a fig and date. I picked some last year but lost interest after the first few moutfuls and they bletted to kingdom come.

The ones on the left have bletted

So this year I was going to make a jelly. My recipe, from Marguerite Patten’s ‘James, Preserves and Chutneys,’ said two pounds of medlars to a pint of water and I had just over that weight. I cut them up small and boiled them up. I was unsure if they would contain enough pectin and dislike adding the commercial variety so also chopped up a couple of Bramley apples.

They mushed up pretty quickly so they soon went into the straining bag for the afternoon. The liquid was dirty brown, like tea. Perhaps if I had left it overnight I might have got more juice – just a pint – which tasted pretty insipid.  I boiled it down a bit further to increase the flavour and added the juice of half a lemon – more to perk it up than for pectin.

Medlars with apples in the pan

It set on the second test but there wasn’t a lot of it, just enough for those two small jars. That brown brew cleared to a lovely whisky-type hue but medlar jelly doesn’t taste anything like eating one raw. The date-cum-fig effect has gone; instead it’s more like honey. I have just had some on a slice of bread and butter to confirm my impression.

It’s not been a complete waste of time but if I do it again next year I will need to pick many more pounds to make it worth the effort. Or I might combine it with other fruit. Dates or figs!

Medlar jelly – lovely colour and tastes like honey

Konrad’s last day

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Konrad Kempka and his bacon slicer

IT’S Konrad Kempka’s last day in his Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, butchers shop, and he might be forgiven for looking a little bit sad. But he isn’t.

There has been a steady stream of customers all morning collecting their orders, already bagged up, which have been phoned and texted in that week.

Less than two years ago this blog and local media were celebrating the shop’s 60th anniversary, a business founded by his Polish father Frank who fled the Nazis in World War Two and found sausages and love in Sheffield.

Earlier this year Konrad and his wife Pat reckoned they’d had enough of spending their days in a cold shop and planned semi-retirement. Konrad put himself out to hire as relief butcher and the shop was opened up on Saturday mornings only to regulars and anyone else who walked by and fancied the best bacon you’ll get in Sheffield, sausages, a few chops or a pound of mince.

Now Konrad has an operation looming on his shoulder. “Surgeons also get it,” he says cheerfully, putting it down to all those years swinging his cleaver and sawing through bones.

So I, like lots of other customers, are stocking up. I’m buying several pounds of rind-on bacon, smoked and unsmoked, for the freezer before the shop closes for the last time.

It will be sad not seeing those home smoked hams hanging in the window at Christmas or the dark red kabanos sausages on the counter.

But Konrad is not quite leaving the world of pork loins and tomato sausages, a Sheffield speciality. After the op he will be working for the butchery at Whirlow Hall Farm, there for a couple of days a week, and is thinking of taking the antique bacon slicer with him. After all, it’s older than he is and older than the shop. It couldn’t be scrapped. It’s a museum piece.

Things are a bit hazy at the moment but hopefully he will still be curing his bacon at Whirlow. And making those celebrated pork pies.

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Christmas hams in the window at Kempka’s