Pimp my Sheffield fishcake

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The Stag’s poshed up version of the city’s famous dish

IT’S a bit like seeing your favourite auntie all dressed up for the kill. Normally she’s in her scruffs down at the chippie with perhaps a bag of chips and a tub of mushy peas for company.

And that’s what I’m thinking about the Sheffield fishcake in front of me which has certainly acquired some airs and graces. It’s topped with a tangle of peppery watercress and a softly poached egg and sits, not in a polystyrene tray but in a dish atop of some sweet, crushed, minted garden peas.

The humble Sheffield fishcake has gone up in the world.

The dish, a starter, was devised for the new summer menu at the Stags Head on Psalter Lane, Sheffield, by manager Kurt Woods and the enigmatically named Chef Mike. “Chef Mike is an Oxford lad who found his way to sunnier climates in the Steel City. Unfortunately he is a little shy and would like to keep his identity under wraps,” says Kurt.

Despite being poshed up, it still retains its basic identity of ‘batter, tatter , fish, tatter batter,’ or a slice of haddock sandwiched between two layers of parboiled potato, so soft you could be confused at thinking it is mash. The lot is enclosed in an excellent crisp, dry beer batter and because this is a Thornbridge Brewery house the beer is Thornbridge’s Brother Rabbit Golden Ale.

Now haddock and egg are not strange bedfellows. Think omelette Arnold Bennett or smoked haddock with a poached egg on top. Here the whole thing works wonderfully well and while a fishcake at the chippie (if they do it) will be no more than a couple of quid here it is £6. You can read all about the original version here.

Nor is it the first time the fishcake has gone posh. You can get mini versions as canapes from time to time at the George in Hathersage.

I am not sure if the Sheffield delicacy was new to Chef Mike but it certainly isn’t to Kurt. “I am a Sheffield lad and love nothing more than a good fishcake. My local fish bar is the famous Tony’s at Mosborough so we hold the fishcake in high esteem,” he says.

“Last menu we had a smoked salmon fishcake with buttered spinach and soft poached egg but for this menu we wanted something a little more Northern.”

It may be pimped up but it’s still true to its humble roots. Egg, haddock (not cod because the former is stronger tasting) and potato is one of those foodie marriages made in heaven. They could even eat this in Dore and Totley and not feel a scruff.

*The Stag’s Head is on Psalter Lane, Sheffield S11 8YN. Tel: 0114 255 0584. Web: http://www.mystagshead.co.uk

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In a jam? Put gin in it

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Elderflower cordial, elderflower and gin granita and gooseberry, elderflower and gin jam

THE fact that gooseberries and elderflowers ripen and blossom at the same time is God’s way of giving us a nudge to use them together: think jams, think granita, think cordials.

But, sticking to the religious theme, there’s another ingredient in your cocktail cabinet which can make this a sort of holy trinity. Gin.

This last couple of days I have been using all three to great effect, taste and, equally to the point, for little expense (I’m assuming you already have the gin).

Gooseberries are a much underrated fruit. They are at their best in a gooseberry fool, which you can read how to make here. I picked a couple of pounds of berries from the bushes on Sheffield’s Ponderosa Park inside half an hour on a lovely sunny day and on my way back to the car stopped at an elderflower bush and snapped off a dozen creamy flower heads the size of saucers.

First I made the cordial. Recipes advise you to pick on a dry day and use within a couple of hours before the perfume fades. But give the blossom a good sniff first as some varieties can smell of cat pee. The best have a vanilla – cream soda aroma.

Recipes also advise you to give the flower heads a good shaking to remove any insects. Now this blog gives it to you straight: you will never get rid of them all. I shook the flowers onto a sheet of white paper and was amazed to see lots of tiny specks. I did it again. More specks. And some of them were moving. Ah well, I could always strain them out.

I boiled up a litre of water, poured it into a pot and stirred in 750g of sugar to dissolve, then dunked in the elderflowers. You also need the juice and pith of three large lemons. If you’re lazy, simply slice them. Stir, cover with a tea towel and leave for 24 hours. Strain well (I did mine through a sieve lined with two layers of muslin). There were a few specks in the cloth but none in the cordial.

Bottle and keep in the fridge. I had some left over so mixed it with a slug of gin (Gordon’s will do), put it in a shallow plastic box to a depth of no more than an inch and freeze. Take it out after about four hours and stir. The alcohol stops it freezing too hard. It makes a lovely snowy white water ice and smells floral.

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Close up on the granita

Finally I made the jam. I had previously washed and topped and tailed the berries. It’s a mind numbing but pleasant occupation so put your brain into neutral. My Marguerite Patten recipe stipulates one pound of berries to one pound of sugar and between three tablespoons to half a pint of water, depending how hard they are. These were hard. As I intended on making gooseberry and elderflower jam I used the elderflower cordial, which is why I made that first. Otherwise throw in a few flower heads (but remember those specks!). There’s enough natural pectin but a squeeze of lemon does not go amiss.

I simmered the berries until soft and only then put in the sugar (otherwise the fruit will not soften). I but kept back two ounces of sugar as there was plenty in the cordial.

Then I gave it a hard boil and five minutes later it had gently set. It made enough for three jars totalling about one and a half pounds.

So there you have it: jam, granita and cordial for half an hour’s picking, a bag of sugar and a couple of lemons. Time now, I think, for a glass of that cordial with some ice . . . and a slug of gin. Breakfast will be toast and jam. Gooseberry, naturally.

Murray turns up the heat!

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Lee (left) drains his veg while Clare plates up. Murray’s on the mike

TO be honest there wasn’t that much cheffy action for the audience. On the left was chef Lee Stocks standing there most of the time with a finger pressing down a fillet of salmon in a pan and doing little else. On the right colleague Clare Hutchinson was gently frying off a couple of lamb cutlets.

So perhaps that was why compere Murray Chapman decided to try and raise the temperature of the proceedings.

“I’m worried about the lack of heat from your pan,” he told Lee. Lee looked unperturbed. He didn’t want the flesh cooked before the skin, he said afterwards.

“Will the skin be crispy?” Murray looked doubtful. Lee looked confident. And then, later: “So this is poached salmon?” asked Murray. “No, lightly fried,” countered Lee.

And I thought I was judging the first of the friendly cook-offs at this year’s Sheffield Food Festival! Murray had one more go as Lee finished off the vegetable accompaniment in a separate pan. He turned up the heat with some wicked banter. “Now if that was me I would have cooked it off in the salmon pan, to be honest.” Lee kept his temperature down as low as that in his pan.

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Lee’s salmon

So was the salmon skin crispy? It was. There’s nowt worse than flabby fish skin. And how was the fish? Murray likes his salmon translucent in the middle and he couldn’t see translucent. Nor could I but I can like mine just past that stage. It was on the cusp but very tasty.

So why did I give the honours to Clare and her cutlets? Well, for a start I prefer lamb to salmon, even if it was from Loch Duart, and the latter did all that was asked. It was accompanied by good saute potatoes and some sprightly beetroot slices.

Clare had bravely stepped in at the last minute when the original contestant dropped out. It was nerve-wracking since Clare, head chef at True North’s Crown and Anchor at Barugh, Barnsley, was up against her boss. Lee, is regional head chef for True North’s ten pubs.

Since the food festival persists in giving chefs different ingredients to cook with there’s not really a level playing field so I was treating it as a little bit of fun. Both dishes were of equal merit.

And Clare was cooking against her gaffer while Lee was cooking against Murray!

*The chefs also had some fresh ingredients picked that morning from allotments run by SAGE Green Fingers based in Burngreave. SAGE stands for Support Arts Gardening Education, which runs therapeutic activities for vulnerable people. Lee used some of the herbs for a salsa verde with the salmon.

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Clare’s cutlets

A very Sheffield take on doing lunch

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I wrote this piece for the Sheffield Food Festival magazine. The event runs from 26-28 May, 2018

IF you don’t mind eating your fish lunch a few feet from a reproachful looking turbot or expired monkfish on a pile of crushed ice then come with me to Hunters Bar. While Leeds may have its famous Chef Behind the Curtain restaurant our city can boast The Chef Behind the Counter wet fish shop and café.

At Mann’s fishmongers’ on Sharrowvale Road you can walk in, choose a likely looking fish on the counter and ask chef turned fishmonger Christian Szurko to scale, fillet and cook it for you.

Prop yourself on a bar stool while you wait and Christian will cook it to order for just the price of the fish plus £2 ‘cookage fee.’ He’s a dab hand at fish: besides previously running his own restaurants he did a spell in the kitchens at London’s celebrated J Sheekey fish eaterie.

You can have your fish fried or poached and Christian usually has two or three sauces ready. You’re welcome to ask for your own recipe “but people are usually happy to leave it to me,” he says. “I can do 20 or so lunches on a Saturday but we’re open for lunch all week.”

If you fancy a glass of Chablis then Mann’s has its own in-house wine bar. On Saturday’s Jane Cummings of Olive & Vine wine merchants will sell you a glass. In the week pop into the Starmore & Boss wine shop a few doors along for a bottle.

If a fish lunch is too much on the day then Mann’s is also an impromptu oyster bar. It’s a shuck ‘em while you wait operation at just £1 a shellfish with shallot vinegar or Tabasco thrown in for free.

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Christian beheads the hake

Staying with fish, you might like to help save Sheffield’s very own fishcake recipe from dying out. It’s a piece of fish sandwiched by two slices of potato then covered in batter and fried. Or as Sheffield folk describe it: “Batter, tatter, fish, tatter, batter.” It is unique to the city.

Bruce Payne of the Market Chippy in the Moor Market does a lovely little version for just £1.45 but thinks its popularity is waning. “My record when I had a stall in the old Castle Market was 224 on a Friday lunchtime. Now perhaps it’s only 50. Why? Perhaps people don’t know about it or think the mini cod and chips is a better deal.”

Oddly, while he probably sells more than anyone else Bruce, originally from Leicester, had never heard of it until he came here, married into the Pearce family chippy dynasty, and had to be taught it. Some city fish and chip shops also sell it but this version of the fishcake is almost unheard of elsewhere.

You can eat your Sheffield fishcake at one of the tables in the market hall.

Want something even cheaper and ethnically Sheffield? Then try the Tom Dip. Most places which sell it don’t even bother to put it on the menu but it’s there if you ask. It’s a tomato dip and when ordering a bacon sandwich customers ask for it to be dipped in a home made tomato sauce, nothing fancy, just a saucepan bubbling with the contents of a tin or two of tomatoes.

I got mine at Sarni’s all-day breakfast bar in Aldine Court, off the High Street, where it costs 20p for a tom dip. You don’t have to have a bacon sandwich. “If people are dieting they just have it with toast,” says the lady on the hotplate on the day I called.

Now if you fancied something a little more exotic you can choose between a Chinese-style Portuguese egg tart, or a jang bing, a Chinese crepe.

Boss Chris Wong founded his business with a stall on the Moor Market selling cakes and egg tarts to the many Chinese students in the city. Portuguese egg tarts, the complete reverse of an English egg custard, are a big favourite in Hong Kong, Macau and the Chinese mainland. They are made with a flaky, not shortcrust, pastry and the custard is thicker, more like a curd tart, than the wobbly English version.

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Chris Wong serves up a jian bing

“My wife is a baker and she’s the boss. It took us three weeks to come up with the recipe. The one we sell is less sweet with a flakier pastry than the Portuguese version. Chinese people don’t like things too sweet,” said Chris.

The bakery business and eggtarts did so well that Chris has closed his stall, there from Day One of the market, and transferred to a café called DaShu just around the corner on Furnival Gate. The name means ‘uncle,’ the nickname Chinese students gave him and, with a bakery in the basement, it sells egg tarts and another Chinese specialty he introduced when on the market – the jian bing, or big pancake.

These Chinese crepes (£3.50) are made with mung bean flour and an egg is then broken and spread over it to form an omelette. The crepe is then flipped over to give a lacy eggy exterior then traditionally filled with lettuce, coriander, crispy wan ton, a split hot dog and smothered in Chris’s own secret-recipe sauce. It’s as much about the contrast in textures as taste.

“English people prefer chicken so I now make the jian bing UK which includes it,” said Chris. Back in China it’s eaten for breakfast and shops always have queues outside them. Here Chris opens at 11am so students eat them for lunch and tea.

Finally, we go back to the Moor Market but stay very much in Asia to sample a Nepalese curry at Dev Gurrung’s Hungry Buddha stall. It sells thalis, special metal dishes with a choice of two or three curries each day, perhaps chicken, goat or vegetable, with rice, daal and achar (pickles). Prices are no more than a fiver.

Dev had been a trek leader in Nepal when he met South Yorkshire-born Jan. She was one of his group and he helped to nurse her when she fell ill. They fell in love, married and decided to set up home here.

You can’t miss the stall decorated with prayer flags but don’t think you’ll be getting just another curry. Nepalese are milder, for a start. “People may think we are similar to Indian food but our aim is to bring that authenticity which makes it special,” said Dev.

So there you have it: choose between lunch in a fishmongers’, a brace of oysters, a Sheffield fish cake, a bacon sandwich soaked in tomato, Portuguese egg tart, Chinese pancake or Nepalese curry. Why don’t you go on your own food quest to sample them all?

Martin Dawes writes the Another Helping food blog at www.dawesindoors.wordpress.com

*J H Mann, 261 Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield S118ZE. Tel 0114 268 225

*Market Chippy, The Moor Market : Tel 07514 426 434

*Sarni’s, 25 Aldine Court, off High Street S1 2EQ. Tel 0114 270 1750

*DaShu, 30 Furnival Gate, Sheffield S1 4QP. Tel 07919 340 341

*Hungry Buddha, The Moor Market. Tel 07809 476 090

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Take cover – it’s a panzarotti!

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Lorraine and Saverio at Urban-Ita

MY wife takes a knife to cut the panzarotti – a sort of deep-fried Italian calzoni which looks like a pregnant Cornish pasty – on our sharing plate at the new Italian Urban-Ita cafe on Sheffield’s Abbeydale Road. She’s aiming to cut it precisely in two.

Unbeknown to her the little blighter, its insides bubbling hot with tomato and cheese, is also taking aim in a desperate rearguard action.

As she cuts a jet of sauce shoots out towards her from one end. Luckily it misses. Well, mostly.

This is cucina with attitude and what’s more it tastes good as well. You feel that if you could swap the view of Abbeydale Road for owner Saverio’s native Sorrento the food would be the same.

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The panzarotti is at the front

“We get a lot of Italians here,” says his missus Lorraine Dixon, bringing us cups of excellent crema-topped coffee after our meal. In that case it has to be good.

I’ve met them both before. The first occasion was reporting on a Slimming World Italian evening for the Sheffield Star at their old restaurant Dino on London Road some years since.

The second time was a couple of years ago when daughter Kym opened the Italian takeaway Italia Uno on Ecclesall Road. I recall being tickled pink hearing she turned vegan after wearing bearskins and butchering a deer for the Channel 5 series 10,000BC.

Urban-Ita makes a thing about offering veggie, vegan and gluten-free dishes (it’s not hard to be a Italian veggie if you don’t dodge dairy) but meat eaters needn’t feel excluded. There’s plenty for them. As it was, most our lunch turned out to be veggie or vegan but that was more by accident than design.

The premises used to be Bardwell’s, an electrical shop for half a century, but you wouldn’t know it. Saverio, who also runs a small building company when he’s not cooking or designing menus for other restaurants, converted it himself. I’m impressed.

The wooden floor has been cleaned up, walls stripped back to reveal wood cladding, an alcove constructed, a bar designed, kitchen and toilet installed and decking built for tables outside. It looks like it’s been that way for years instead of three months.

There’s also a tiny deli section and a mini library of cookery and travel books.

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Melanzani Parmigiano

We shared a plate of nibbles (buono misto, £10.50) across the menu for starters, the highlights being that panzarotti and a spinach and chickpea polpette, full of flavour. The focaccia (and flatbreads) is homemade here. I was a little surprised it came toasted with chilli jam but we soon got oil to dip it in.

My last meal on earth would probably include melanzane parmigiana ( £5.95) and if I had it here I wouldn’t feel cheated. It looked a little rustic but the aubergine was silkily good, bathed in rich tomato and mozzarella. My wife’s calamari special (£5.50) was light and crispy.

We ended with cake and coffee and one of Saverio’s homemade cakes, a moist Victoria sponge.

When they sold Dino Lorraine said no more restaurants but here they are again. It’s really more of a cafe, opening for breakfasts and lunch and now running through until 9.30pm with a trattoria-style slate of pizza, pasta, chicken and salmon. It’s not licensed but if you feel you need a drink with your pasta then BYO is £2.

I recommend the panzarotti but stand well back!

288 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield S7 1FL. Tel: 07305 181 890. Web: www.urban-ita.co.uk

*This blog settled the bill in full.

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The café on Abbeydale Road

Jamon, ham on! I’m pigging out

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Omar Allibhoy looks good in a hat

 

I WALK into Tapas Revolution at Meadowhall and someone gives me a Spanish straw hat to wear. I hesitate. In these Politically Correct days I might be accused of cultural appropriation or some such codswallop. Besides, such hats tend to make me look like Pedro the donkey troubler. I try it on. It does.

One man the hat suits right down to the ground is Omar Allibhoy, chef-patron and originator of this small but simply scrumptious chain of tapas bars. He’s the right nationality and he’s got the looks – a touch of a young, bearded Paul McCartney.

We are here to celebrate his Tapas Revolution’s (shouldn’t that be Revolución?) second anniversary at Meadowhall, the launch of a new menu and, in the words of a Press release, “a beautiful, al-fresco style terrace usually found in Las Ramblas in Barcelona . . . bringing an authentic feel of Spain to the heart of Sheffield.”

Well shake my maracas. To me it looks like a bit of wooden trellis with some plastic hanging plants. “Rustic timber,” says the hyperbolic Press release. To Omar it is the answer to a senor’s prayers. It seems people have mistaken the bar for the public seating, wandered straight through the restaurant and, worse, gone out the other end.

Now I could no more walk through here without wanting to eat the entire menu than turn down a free holiday in Madrid. For this place serves the tastiest food in Meadowhall.

I know you’ll be thinking here’s a blogger with a free meal inside him but just listen to Omar explain how he puts the juiciness into his range of sangrias. As his barmen can’t reach out and pluck an orange from a tree every time they make a jug of Spain’s national drink ”the fruit is cooked and matured for two weeks to extract all the essence.”

I try a carafe of tradicional (£16 for 75cl) made with red wine, pineapple, orange, strawberry and Heaven knows what else) and you feel you are drinking sunshine or, at least, the essence of Spain.

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Crispy calamari

The tapas start coming and with the Jamon Iberico de belota Montenevado, dry aged for at least two years from acorn-fed pigs I feel I am eating essence of pig. So thinly carved you can almost see through it, it is salty, tangy and exquisitely porky. It is ham to die for, or at least the pigs did.

Omar passes by and I enthuse about his ham. His eyes light up as he tells me to look out for something even better. “We have found ham from North East Spain where the free range pigs are fed on chestnuts. They can’t call it organic because, being free range, they don’t know what else the pigs eat.”

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The Spanish version of cheese on toast

Almost all the tapas are first class but I‘ll mention just a couple in detail. If you thought cheese on toast was just cheese on toast then you’ve never had Pan Mallorquin. This is grilled bread spread with fiery chorizo paste topped with melted, gutsy Manchego cheese dribbled with honey. It makes the prospect of Welsh rarebit as enticing as a wet Sunday in Pontypridd.

The croquetas, deep-fried balls of chorizo and Bechamel, oozed flavour while I loved the lemony, honeyed chicken wings (Alitas de pollo a la miel y limón) and, a star turn, Chorizo a la sidra (spiced Asturian sausage roasted in cider).

Omar keeps a close eye on Meadowhall, as he does all his seven restaurants, visiting them regularly. He is still passionate and enthusiastic about his food, insisting on the best ingredients and it shows on every plate.

I plan to be back but they won’t make me wear that hat.

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The décor at Tapas Revolution

Pepe the Human Meatball

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Pepe, left, and Pam when they sold to Vito

Another in an occasional series on famous local restaurants and restaurateurs.

HE called himself the Talking Menu, I called him the Human Meatball. Pepe Scime’s reaction was to scratch his armpits in his native Sicilian gesture of disgust. But he forgave me.

With some restaurants the personality of the chef or owner is as important as the food and so it was with Pepe’s of South Road, Walkley, Sheffield, during the Eighties and early Nineties.

There was no menu, just a blackboard, and the diminutive Pepe would talk his customers through the classics, regional specialities and, sometimes, his own inventions, usually with a gag. The meatballs, he’d say, came from Liptons or, when that name faded from the High Street, from Netto. And he’d scratch an armpit.

Then he’d disappear downstairs to the kitchen leaving the dining room in the charge of his wife Pam. The kitchen was a fascinating place. Here Pepe made his own Italian sausages or air-dried his hams in the misty Walkley air long before it became fashionable.

Everybody knew Pepe. Actors appearing at the Crucible were sent there: Alan Rickman, Pam Ferris (Ma Larkin) and comedienne Ruby Wax. According to Pepe, who was rather proud of the compliment, she told him: “You are more disgusting than me!”

Pepe Scime was a character. For a year or two he sponsored the mammoth Manor Operatic Christmas panto at the City Hall, with giveaways for the children in Netto carrier bags.

I met Pepe at the high point of his career. He’d begun at a pizza parlour in the town centre (now Mama’s & Leonies) where he had met Pam. “She had the chef’s special,” he’d joke. “And look what I finished up with,” she shot back. They took over what had been Roy’s Bistro, another famous institution, in 1983.

He gave me a ring early on in my reviewing career, correctly guessing there might be a few things I needed to know about Italian cooking. Did I know, he said, that some places passed off expensive calves liver by marinating lambs’ in milk?

I joined him for the day, which began with an early morning sambucca before a visit to the wholesale market, prepping in the afternoon, watching the cooking in the evening and drunkenly trying to make gnocchi, ending 18 hours later. As I was leaning more crazily than the tower of Pisa my wife was called to take me home.

Pepe and Pam sold up in 1993 to Vito Ciarialo, his chef and latterly partner for the previous 18 months. Vito renamed the place after himself, made it his own and is still there 25 years on this year.

The couple went to Tickhill to run the I Paparazzi bar in the Red Lion but after a while returned to the city to take over Mamma Mia Pepe on Langsett Road. They were there for nine years.

He was then 60 and feeing the long years on his feet in the kitchen. He had taken his brother’s advice, an old Sicilian proverb: “Don’t squeeze the lemon twice.” At his retirement party my wife gave him a tin of meatballs.

The couple retired to Spain and we lost touch but Pepe and Pam wrote their own chapter in Sheffield’s culinary history.

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