Greasing up for the sunflower shortage

THERE is alarm in the nation’s kitchens and supermarket aisles over the impending shortage and rise in the price of sunflower oil. It is already being  rationed to two bottles per customer.

It’s yet another oil shortage.

I shall not be worried. While sunflower is a component of very many foods there are other oils to cook with, vegetable (mostly soy), rapeseed and good old olive oil – although undoubtedly there will be knock-on increase in price due to demand.

It’s been triggered by the disgusting Russian invasion of the Ukraine, which produces much of the world’s sunflower oil, and is likely to last several years.

There are alternatives.

For a start we can all eke out our supplies by following the Chinese practice of saving leftover oil from frying and filtering it back into a separate bottle. Waste not, want not.

If you are frying bacon cut off the rinds, or the fat at the edge of your rashers, and put them in a warm pan to render enough grease in which to fry.

Then there is lard. It’s cheap and acts exactly the same as oil for most purposes when heated. Or duck fat. I keep mine in a jar in the fridge. It’s amazing how much you get from a duck.

I also save any fats obtained from cooking processes – bacon, dripping from roasts, renderings from duck or chicken skin, grease from chops etc – in a pot. After all  it’s what our great geandmothers did in the last war. There is a war on now you know.

If you make your own stocks – and everyone should – you’ll get more than enough fat solidifying on top to use.

It will need to be clarified to rid it of impurities but that’s done easily enough. There are plenty of videos on YouTube like this one:

This fat, which will turn snowy white on solidifying, can be used exactly the same as cooking oils. Well almost, sunflower’s smoke point of 450F is twice that of lard. But enough for us.

It may take a little time and effort but it’s one in the eye for Putin.


I’m always up for a duck!

WHENEVER I buy a whole duck I know what I’m having for lunch pretty soon: duck livers on toast. Beats chicken livers any day.

While you rarely find a butchers or supermarket chicken with its giblets (“removed for your convenience,” inconvenience more like) with ducks you do.

So after some basic butchery – the breasts to be pan-fried, the legs to make ragu, the carcase, neck and wings for stock, leftover meat scraps for a small pie, the skin for fat and crispy scratchings – I’m left with the liver.

I fried off some onion, bacon lardons and mushroom in duck fat with garlic and sage, added the chopped liver, then a shake of balsamic, a spoonful of duck stock and a little creme freche.

A few grapes ( so I can call this Veronique), a sprinkle of chives and voila! it’s piled on toast. A bit naughty but I fried that in duck fat, too.

So quick, so simple, a bistro lunch in minutes.

North Town is right up my street

YOU have to duck under a washing line of pink cycling vests to enter a small back room. One wall is plastered with pages from Italian sporting papers, the ceiling looks as if it is going to fall down any minute and old coffee sacks are curtains at the window.

There are three long benches, seating six at a friendly pinch, and some high stools. On the back wall, on the way to the toilet, is a cartoon of a cardinal wth a speech bubble saying “Holy cannoli,” a slogan copied on waiting staff shirts. This place looks like fun.

Food arrives on white tin camping plates with blue rims placed on brown paper serving mats, bread is deliivered in brown paper bags and hot coffee in glasses without a handle.

There’s music playing, happy chatter and a waiter in a flat cap is bringing round a tray of cakes to tempt you with that coffee. One thing North Town has got in bucketfuls is atmosphere.

We’ve all heard or dreamed about such places, maybe even been to one, tucked away down some unassuming back street in a hot Italian town or city, and come back with travellers tales of great nights out.

But you don’t have to go as far as Naples or Milan. There’s one on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield.

The oddly named North Town (don’t ask, it’s a long story, about taking over a previous business, even odder because the last thing it sounds is Italian and it’s on the south side of town), opened up pre-pandemic but I’ve only just got round to visiting. Silly me.

It’s the concept of Gian Bohan, one half of the gastro duo with Maurizio Mori who brought us Nonna’s on Ecclesall Road, who wanted to recreate that experience. “You can find them down little out of the way streets,” he says.

This time his partner is Pasquale Pollio,the chap in the hat, and we meet him twice, once at lunchtime and then again when we return for a more substantial tea.

The decor looks spot on – minimum money spent for the maximum effect, including the ceiling. “that’s how we found it when redecorating. This is used to be a guitar shop,” adds Gian.

The heart of North Town is its bakery, which powers much of the menu. mainly ciabattas for a range of sandwiches, to eat in or take away, as well as a Puglian rosemary and rock salt bread. “We bake three, sometimes four times a day,” says Pasquale.

There are pizzas, of course, but the ovens are so busy baking the breads they are available only at certain times.

At lunch we have a meatball panino (£7.50) and a classico – prosciutto, tomato and mozzarella (£6), both excellent, generous and tasty. The meat is lamb with preserved lemon, mint, chilli and ground almond for extra flavour, and it comes with melted taleggio.

We come back on St Patrick’s Day, wondering whether Gian will be sporting a shamrock (he is half-Irish, once running an Irish cafe further up the road nearer town) but he’s away in New York.

This time we’re here for the pasta: a gutsy lasagne (£9.50) with a ragu of pork, beef and sausage, and paccheri scoglio (£12), pasta with seafood, the mere mention of which makes our waitress screw up her face with delight. I expect she does this with all the dishes but she’s right.

The pasta, thick, slightly rubbery rings, are partnered with mussels and clams and finished with pangrattato, basically fried herby garlic breadcrumbs as an Italian ‘poverty kitchen’ subsitute for pesto because the parmesan was too expensive. It’s so convincing I have to tell myself it’s not the real thing.

It’s this and the broth, which I soaked up with a saved slice of bread (although they provide a spoon) which helps makes this dish for while the clams are good the mussels are nothing to write home about.

The cannoli certainly are. Even if you didn’t know you could tell they weren’t made in a factory: crisper, irregular and generously filled. Coupled with a glass of hot coffee you can’t go wrong. This place is right up my street.

North Town re-opens on Wednesday after a short holiday. Normal opening, Wed-Sun.

North Town is at 699 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield S7. Tel: 0114 255 1242. web

Chinese Fadeaways

THERE were tears, there were hugs and there were last orders of king prawns and fried rice – then a much loved Chinese takeaway was calling it a day.

The New Hing Lung on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, was full of customers and Thank You cards last Sunday (February 27) as the family, headed by matriarch Xue, decided to finish for good on her retirement, aged 66. It’s been sold on.

Customer Howard Greaves, who with his wife Elsa has been a customer for over 20 years, was one of those saying goodbye. “The standard has always been very high and the prices incredible low,” he enthused.

Although he recommended it to friends they shuddered because the appearance outside belied the food inside.

The humble little takeaway is the latest in a line of well-known Chinese eateries to disappear recently. So has the red fronted Dim Sum on London Road, run by brother and sister Sang and Tina Wan. This was a place noted for its dim sum dishes as well as a conventional menu.

They opened the place, previously Mr Yun’s tiny sandwich shop, in 2003 and later expanded into neighbouring premises.

Sang arrived from Hong Kong aged 14 and was sent to High Storrs School, where, he says, the teachers simply ignored him. He left a year later and gained his education in a leading Manchester Chinese restaurant.

I was sorry to have missed a last meal there although knew the Wans were looking for a buyer. Sang, seeing the rise of New Era Square, had long predicted the demise of Chinese restaurants on the London Road axis.

Also gone, and I can’t tell you when, is the famous Zing Vaa restaurant on The Moor. The tiny entrance, now boarded up, led down some stairs to a large basement restaurant. We went a couple of years ago but the cavernous restaurant was cold, bare and empty so we left before ordering.

It was quite the place in its heyday. Founded by Sheffield-born Harry Yun in 1958, whose family ran the Yun Bun Laundry in Heeley, the restaurant had a long-standing rivalry with the Golden Dragon (now the Wong Ting) round the corner in Matilda Street.

Harry, who had a pronounced Sheffield accent, liked to stand at the foot of the stairs and surprise guests by saying, seemingly incongruously, “Oreyt owd lad?”

Times change. People move on. But all three of these premises were held in affection by local people. Most of the time they just disappear from local history without a fanfare. So this, in its way, is a last goodbye.

Would you have the neck to cook this?

Neck on the block

YEAH I know, it’s not a looker. But would you eat this turkey neck? I did.

You’ll find one in your Christmas turkey, that is if you buy a bird with giblets. We had beef not turkey last year but we knew someone who did.

Someone who shuddered with disgust at the plastic wrapped innards and was not going to make giblet gravy so I volunteered to take them. I am all in favour of ‘nose to tail’ eating and that must include the neck.

I bunged them in the freezer for a few weeks before getting round to cooking them.

I only had vague ideas, possibly a soup, but when I opened the two bags what a lot I got. One contained the neck, the other two hearts and two glossy, juicy livers but no gizzard.

Now turkey liver is much too good to throw away on soup and had been well cleaned so just needed slicing, frying off with onions, thyme and garlic, and finishing with sherry, mustard, creme fraiche and the odd grape – liver Veronique. Served on toast.

And very good it was too. The flavour is much more pronounced than chicken livers.

I wasn’t so sure about the neck. Googling recipes came up with a Jamaican mock ‘oxtail stew’ from which I took a cue, if not the spicing. It might have been better if I had.

Oxtail requires long, slow cooking so after whacking the neck into segments I did the same thing. After searing the meat I added onion, celery, carrots, bay and thyme. Then as an afterthought I threw in a few no-soak pinto beans. The cooking liquor was a chicken stock cube. I included the sliced hearts for good measure.

Three or four hours later it was ready, the meat falling off the bones. But this was no rich, thick, vibrant dish, more a muddy, earthy tasting gloop. I don’t think the beans helped here.

I tried to improve things slightly with soy sauce and my home made elderberry Pontack Sauce) but . . .

It wasn’t unpalatable but not, I think a wiñner. I ate slightly more than half of it, telling myself it was what the Italians call cusina poverta, poverty cooking. But you wouldn’t get an Italian eating this!

In future, I’ll leave turkey necks for giblet gravy but the livers are an extra special treat.

A pint of prawns, a bowl of soup

Prawn bits and crab ready for the pot

ONE of the perks of being a journalist, at least when I did it for a living, was going on a a holiday, hopefully overseas, disguised as a working trip. We called them ‘freebies,’

If you were lucky you took your spouse or partner. Sometimes you went with a group of random journos. Either way you had a good time,

Back in the Nineties I managed to wangle the same trip for at least four years to Calais, organised by the port’s local chamber of commerce.

The idea was to write a story convincing at least some of the holidaymakers who passed through on their way to their various destinations to tarry awhile, perhaps at local attractions, wineshops or restaurants and spend some money.

I don’t know whether it worked but every year I came back with a brightly coloured ‘Via Calais’ tea tray and memories of a meal at the Hotel Atlantic.

It was always the same: heaps of pink, glistening shell-on prawns, crisp baguettes, garlic butter and glasses of crisp white wine. I am a sucker for shelling a pint of prawns, slowly, leisurely, for a hour or so. I can do it in my sleep: twist off the head, pull the tail and shuck off the legs with a thumb.

I like to have it at home, too, perhaps a couple of times a year. Buying the prawns is no problem, finding a decent baguette is impossible.

On the boil

Not only is it an enjoyable tea but I can look forwards to a fish soup. For the prawn carcases make an ideal stock. Just cover them with water, bring to boil, swim off the scum, add a few vegetables and, voila, the basis for a soup in 30 minutes. These days I usually add the shell of a crab.

Strained, it goes in the freezer to join various bits of fish, usually offcuts from portions I have bought earlier. When I have enough I make fish soup.

There isn’t really a recipe. The ingredients are whatever you have, onions, carrots, celery and potatoes, some garlic, loads of herbs, a grated tomato or two, bay leaf, tomato puree, Thai fish sauce and a spoonful of paprika, seasoning and a squeeze of lemon.When all is cooked add your fish.

It’s the ultimate in waste not- want not cooking, using up scraps to make something delicious. I’ve just had some. It was lovely. Now I am already planning the next prawn tea.

The finished soup

Popping up in Totley

YOU CAN tell a great deal from reading a menu but not everything. For a start it helps to know who the chef is.

But let’s keep you guessing for a moment.

We’ve shelled out £50 a head for a pop up night at the bijoux Rendezvous cafe, all bricks and blackboards, on Baslow Road, Sheffield, and are busy reading the no-choice menu.

We open with garlic mushrooms on toast, very bistro, very Seventies, although it would not have been sourdough back then.

Then on to gin-cured salmon (it’s Loxley), a dish which everyone – even me – is doing although I doubt many end up like tonight’s offering, half-cousin to a plate of sushi, the flesh like jelly in texture with the tang of juniper.

Then rump of lamb with, a nice touch, gnocchi and creamed leeks, the meat lifted by a whiff of intriguing smokiness. Smoke powder? Nah.

Only later do we learn the chef had seared the joint on the barbecue in his back garden, before finishing it off in the oven of the Rendezvous’ cramped kitchen.

You’ll gather we like our meal so time for the Parade du Chef!

It is Jamie Bosworth, who first set Rafters on the road to glory ( with his late brother Wayne) and who has long been lost to the city’s restaurant scene for the family-friendly world of development kitchens.

But not entirely. His monthly pop-up supper club “helps to keep my hand in,” he says, doing a tour of the tables afterwards.

Missing restaurant life Jamie? “When I drive by Rafters I think it would be good to have another restaurant but at the end of service here I’ve changed my mind,” he grins.

It’s good stuff

After an amuse bouche which is a sort of mac n cheese arancini served with a sweetish black garlic sauce, now beloved by regulars, we’re on to the garlic mushrooms.

These, too, have a cheesy ring to them and come with a smooth home made Henderson’s Relish-type chutney, made by blitzing the sauce ingredients.

But it’s the salmon that’s a knock-out. It fairly quivers, being only very biefly cured (under an hour, I think), then poached in water at 60 degrees to finish up trembling to the touch like a maiden’s bosom. It’s set off by a gribiche (hard boiled egg and mustard) mayonnaise.

While the dish is as salmony as you could want, it’s the texture which scores most, soft and slithery on the tongue.

From the subtle to the punchy. Barbecuing in Jamie’s back yard saved time in the kitchen, where wife Jayne stands at the oven and just has enough space to put things in and take out.

We end with caramelised pear served with a pink peppercorn shortbread.

Pop-ups are fun. It means things are more relaxed in the kitchen while out front diners are only to be happy to enjoy what’s on offer.

As it’s BYO with no corkage and coffee and sparkling water is thrown in for free, it’s a win, win, win situation all round: for the Rendezvous, Jamie and the guests.

Check out his Facebook page or the Rendezvous for the next event.

PS: The poor pictures are mine, the rest I nicked from Jamie.

Beans Meanz Boston

WHEN a neighbour came on our street WhatsApp group offering jars of dried haricot beans for free I was after them like a shot.

There’s nothing I like better than food for free and I love beans. Dried beans. Cans of already cooked beans don’t quite have the same mealy-cum-meaty texture.

Besides, there was a lovely little story attached to these beans. My neighbour’s parents live in Belgium and grew the beans themselves, dried and packed them and then brought them over to Britain on a pre-Christmas visit.

But beans need forward planning. You have to soak them 24 hours in advance. And with toddler Henry to look after Tilde and Rich have 57 varieties of things on their mind. It was too much of a faff. But not for me.

So what was I going to do with them?

We already had cooked dried beans in the freezer awaiting the next mixed bean chilli ( those packets of 12 varieties from Waitrose are a bargain), let alone more dried beans in a jar on the cupboard shelves.

Boston baked beans, that’s what.

Beans are soaked overnight.

If you have tomatoey baked beans for breakfast, that old British cupboard standby, they are a dim and distant descendant of this frontier dish. So I was going to make them, or an approximation at least.

I checked a number of sources for recipes. It depends how far back you want to go and how authentic they need to be. For instance, tomatoes are a comparatively recent addition. They didn’t have too many tins of tomatoes in the Wild West.

And while I enjoy YouTube channels such as Townsends, which recreates American frontier life, I wasn’t going to dig a hole in the back lawn for a firepit and bury a pot of beans in overnight.

As a foodie friend remarked, it’s really a cassoulet.

People have cooked dried beans the world over but Boston’s contribution was to sweeten them with molasses, originally produced from sugarcane used to distill rum. Today, American baked beans are sweeter than the British version.

Almost ready!

The basic recipe is to soak then fast boil the beans to destroy any toxins, simmer in a casserole with a chunk of salt pork or smoked bacon for flavour, some molasses (or treacle) for sweetness, with garlic, herbs and spices – and a tin of tomatoes. In a low oven, around 150C, it takes something like three hours but check things don’t get too dry.

I enjoyed the texture of the beans and traces of pork, a big improvement on those tins of beans with sausages!

I used a Hairy Bikers* recipe as my template and added flavourings to hand.

And just as tins of baked beans are a store cupboard staple, so are pots of Boston baked beans in the freezer a great stand-by.

*Here’s the recipe:

500g soaked haricot beans

Piece of pork belly, cut into chunks

100g smoked bacon

100mls red wine

Large onion, chopped

4 cloves, tsp ground mace, bay leaf, thyme

400g tin chopped tomatoes

3 tbsp black treacle or molasses

1 tbsp English or Dijon mustard

Shake of Hendersons

In a casserole, cover beans with cold water, bring to boil for 20 mins, skimming off foam. Them simmer for 40 minutes. Meanwhile fry meat in a pan until browned and add to beans. Similarly fry onion and add to beans. Declare pan with wine.

Add the rest of ingredients, stir and cook in over at 150C for up to three hours. The beans improve with reheating.


Think big, think Barnsley chop

Desperate Dan would have liked it

THERE is more than one way of cooking the famous Barnsley Chop, that almost joint-sized Siamese Twin of a chop cut across the saddle, but the best way is how they used to do it at the equally famous but now long gone Brooklands Hotel.

It was basically a casserole, cooked slow and low for a couple of hours in what was essentially a Cumberland Sauce- enriched gravy until the fat dissolves into an unctuous broth, the meat so tender you could slice it with a butter knife.

In its heyday, and I’m thinking of the Eighties, it was owned and run by an eccentric character called James Grattan, who used to patrol the car park sizing up the wealth of his clients.

They could spend a bob ot two. It was the haunt of newspaper editors from nationals and regionalsacross the North who would explore the more expensive reaches of the restaurant’s impressive wine list.

I visited only once for a review- naturally I had the Barnsley Chop – like the editors on expenses. My wine choice was more modest.

I recall ( and I don’t think I dreamt this ) an intimidating sign in the bar saying restaurant reviewers were unwelcome here. And failing to equate the conspicuous consumption with the tins of peaches on the desserts trolley, more a sideboard.

From time to time I like to recreate this Desperate Dan of a dish at home and I’ll tell you how. I am not saying it is completely authentic but the spirit is there. And I have added a few embellishments.

I made it the other day after seeing some chops at Roneys on Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield, not quite as gargantuan as those at Brooklands but meaty and big enough.

I heated a tablespoon or two of oil in a casserole on the hob and set the oven to 150C. I briskly browned the chops on both sides, including the fat on the edge, then removed them, lowered the heat and fried a chopped onion and couple of cloves of garlic.

As the onion cooked I added more aromatics: a thickly chopped carrot, chopped stalk of celery, some bay leaves, sprig of rosemary and a teaspoon or two of dried mint.

After some five minutes I added 300mls each of red wine and chicken stock, a dessertspoon of redcurrant jelly ( the principal component of Cumberland Sauce, I didn’t bother with the orange), replaced the chops on the vegetables, put on the lid and put it in the oven.

This takes about two hours but check after 90 minutes that the gravy hasn’t reduced too much, particularly if the lid is not a tight fit.

Some writers suggest thickening with cornflower towards the end but I let it reduce naturally. I added some peas and cherry tomatoes towards the end for colour.

I forget how it was served at Brooklands, provably with mash to soak up the truly excellent minty gravy.

This dish was even reviewed in the New York Times which quoted Grattan as saying they liked things big in Barnsley or, as he put it, ” some mass on the plate. “

Peas and tomato added colour

Looks like the boat’s come in

WELL THAT certainly beats a bag of winkles, Mr Brown!

We’re off for afternoon tea but not as you know it. No dainty cucumber sandwiches, sausage rolls and French fancies for us but cod in batter, some juicy mussels, scallops atop pork belly, prawns, halibut and salmon, and the very tip of a lobster’s tail.

And if that sounds fishy it is because we are in Cary Brown and Gracie Anderson’s new restaurant Neon Fish on Archer Road, Sheffield (Marco@Milano as was) to sample what is billed as ‘Afternoon  Tea from the Sea.’

It’s a clever idea. For most of us ordering a fruit de mer is pushing the boat out and it costs a whacking £95 for two here.

An afternoon fish tea is in shallower waters, a scaled-down version (at £40), light on lobster, apart from that tip, minus oysters but with bits borrowed from all over the menu plus a few extra tasty morsels.

If you don’t  count fish and chips the nearest I’ve come to this is a plate of whelks or take-home bag of winkles (pin not included).

It might be cut-price but they do it in style: It is served on tiered plates with Carr’s Sheffield-made silver fish cutlery. How’s that for swank?

It looked lovely and it was. This may well become the Saturday afternoon rival to Cary’s legendary Sunday lunchtime roast meat platter.

Let’s start from the top because we did, with some generous pieces of cod in wispy batter on the uppermost tier.

They shared the plate with sweet, briefly cooked scallops on warm, pressed slow-roasted pork belly, surf and turf heaven in miniature. This is something you savour slowly, relishing the contrast in textures.

We saved a smoky mackerel pate in a jar until later. We wanted the white anchovies with chilli jam, a riff on the chef’s much-copied monkfish dish. It works just as well.

Moving down, the next tier held whorls of smoked salmon and halibut, the latter softer in texture with plenty of smokiness, and those lobster tips, the only items which didn’t live up to their promise.

The lowest tier had two very tasty king prawns, a pot of Atlantic prawns, crab meat in mayonnaise with julienne of apple and a tiny pot of pickled mussels.

The flesh was tender not firm, as well it might be since they had been steamed not 30 minutes before, cooled and briefly pickled in a liquor so good that afterwards, checking no one was looking, I swigged it down.

I didn’t need to. There wasn’t anyone else apart from my wife until a man wearing a pink top hat with a ticket in the brim walked in at five o’clock.

No, I haven’t smoked something and fallen down a rabbit hole: it happened (sometimes it is better not to ask) but there was certainly something Alice in Wonderland about our booking.

We’d tried the weekend before, only to be told the website was wrong so booked the following Saturday for 3pm. A last minute check online told us Neon Fish didn’t open until 5pm (website wobbles again) so that explains why we had the place to ourselves.

We were,  in fact, the first to order the afternoon tea and it won’t officially be available until October 16. Don’t go thinking we got a freebie as guineapigs because we paid full whack. Top picks: the mussels, anchovies and scallops.

Gracie, who you may remember from the Tickled Trout, Barlow, leads delightful front of house service and Cary still cooks like a dream. You might have to twist his arm to get the fish tea sooner, though.