Good Cod! Bruce worries Brexit will hit the price of fish and chips

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Bruce Payne – free fish taste test

ACE chippie Bruce Payne will be offering customers on Sheffield’s Moor Market free fish if they agree to take part in a blind taste test of mystery fish.

He’s worried the price of the city’s favourite fish, cod, will hit the deep fat fryers after Brexit.

“I need a back-up plan if the price soars. It’s got to be white, it’s got to be flakey and it’s got to be bland,” he says.

Bruce, who runs the Market Chippy, doesn’t know what fish he will be using until the day before the taste test, from 10am on Saturday, October 26. It will depend on what is available – and sustainable.

While the price of haddock has more or less remained stable  that of cod has steadily risen. Normally it  drops after Christmas but this year they didn’t.

“Sixty pounds of frozen-at-sea Icelandic cod cost me £210 currently. At the moment it’s caught by the Spanish. It has been Russian or Chinese. As we don’t have much of a fishing industry left we will be buying another country’s fish and if they land here there will be a tariff,” he adds.

There is already to be a seasonal 20p price rise on his regular prices (fish and chips is currently £4.60) and Bruce needs a Plan B if prices hit the psychological £5 mark.

“I don’t want to be caught flat footed. Suppliers can be ruthless. They will use Brexit as an excuse anyway,” he adds.

Bruce will not stop selling cod (or haddock and plaice) but among cod substitutes are coley, hake, catfish, gurnard, pollock, New Zealand hoki and tilapia (which some chippies are rumoured to be already using). However not all fit his criteria.

When he ran a stall on Sheffield’s old Castle Market he tried using Scarborough woof (also known as catfish or wolf fish) which has a white firm flesh but customers rejected it. Traditional as always, they wanted cod. Perhaps it is time for Bruce to give woof another go.

The taste test is free. All people have to do is rate what they eat. “Even if it costs me £50 in fish I am going to have a better idea than if just cooking a couple of pieces. I have three fryers so it can b e A, B and C. It’s like fishing, the wider you cast your net, the better the result!”

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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!

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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Why they all like ‘Uncle’ Chris

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Chris Wong serves up a jian bing

THE Chinese students called him uncle, Da Shu, when they queued up for their egg tarts and jian bing – traditional Chinese filled pancakes – so Chris Wong reckoned that was a good enough name for his new café and bakery on Furnival Gate, Sheffield.

If you’ve missed your fix of pastéis de nata, those Portuguese egg tarts so loved by the Chinese on your visits to The Moor Market, you can find them at the new place. Chris closed his market stall a month ago to concentrate on the business.

DaShu has a bright, airy shop, 30-seater café upstairs and a bakery in the basement, making those those tarts and other pastries. “Not bad for a business which started out selling street food,” says Chris happily as he serves.

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Portuguese egg tart and coffee

 

His trade so far is mostly from Chinese students. He points out how near he is to blocks of student flats and Sheffield Hallam University. They’re the ones who love the jian bing, Chinese for fried pancake, a traditional breakfast back home. Here Chris doesn’t open until 11am so they eat it for lunch and tea.

It’s a large crepe made with mung bean flour. “Chinese people recognise the smell,” he says as he breaks and spreads an egg over it. Then he flips the crepe to form a lacy omelette exterior. Traditionally the crepe is filled with a hot dog, crispy wanton, onion, herbs and lettuce. Chris liberally squirts his special sweet chiili sauce over then folds and wraps the crepe. The interest is as much between the contrasts in textures as the taste. A traditional crepe costs £3.50.

“English people like it with chicken so I do a jiang bing UK (£4.50) for them,” says Chris. There is a wide variety of other crepes on offer.

He’s an engineer by training but credits the inspiration to his wife, a baker, whom he won’t name because he says she is a very private person. It was she who suggested he make the Portuguese egg tart. Chinese people first came across it in the former colony of Macau, from where it spread to Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.

It is the reverse of an English egg custard. The pastry is flaky rather than short crust. Where an English custard is wobbly, rather like a crème caramel, the Portuguese version is stiffer, somewhat similar to a curd tart, flecked with characteristic caramelisation marks.

It’s his own special recipe which he and his wife spent three weeks getting right. Don’t expect it to be a dead ringer of the version eaten in Lisbon. “Chinese people don’t like things too sweet so there’s less sugar and the pastry is flakier,” he explains.

Chris is using the shop to sell other lines new to Sheffield but not to the students, such as Korean grilled noodles. I haven’t tried that yet – I was too full of egg tart and jian bing!

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

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Could Bing be the next Big Thing?

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‘Uncle’ Chris makes my jian bing

Since this piece was written Zhange Ge (Angie) has closed her Chinese pancake stall but there is still chance to buy them from the CakeLicious Chinese pastries kiosk just around the corner in the market. But read this first then you’ll know all about this delicious snack.

Despite being right in the middle of Sheffield’s Moor Market trader Zhange Ge – but we can call her Angie – gets few English customers at her Big Bing Chinese crepe stall. They look, fascinated by the food theatre performed on the hotplate before them, then walk off without buying.

It’s their loss. With some 6,000 Chinese students in the city there’s plenty of business for Angie who sells what is China’s most popular street food but which has yet to make itself as well known as prawn crackers or chow mein. And for just £2.80 the standard version of what the Chinese call jian bing will fill you up for lunch.

Even though, as Angie says, it’s more of a breakfast back home in China.

Jian bing means fried pancake. It’s basically an omelette wrapped around a pancake and filled with crispy lettuce, crispy wanton and a hot dog, flavoured with hoisin sauce, chilli, spring onions, sesame and a few other ingredients. And although these are everyday items the result is more than the sum of its parts. You’ve got two soft layers in the pancake and omelette, two different kinds of crunch from the won ton and lettuce, bursts of flavour from the spring onions and spices, all bound together by the hoisin, bringing back memories of the crisp duck course in Chinese restaurants.

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Big Bing before it closed on the Moor Market

Angie, who is 26 and comes from Qingdao in Shandong Province, where jian bing was traditionally invented almost 2,000 years ago, took just a couple of minutes to make mine.

First she spread a thin layer of batter on the circular hotplate then, as it was beginning to set, broke an egg over it and spread that, too. After scattering on what looked like seasoning she flipped the circle (so the omelette was now on the outside) and spread a layer of hoisin sauce, the stuff you get with crispy duck, over the surface. Then came a hot dog, or, rather, half of one sliced down the middle.

“Do you want chilli?” she asked. There was something else which I didn’t catch but said yes to both. She sprinkled on chilli flakes, chopped spring onion and sesame seeds and added won tons and lettuce before rolling it all up into quite a hefty package, wrapped in paper with smiley faces and presented in a brown paper bag.

I found a seat and tackled it gingerly, worried that bits might fall out. They didn’t. At a nearby table a couple of pretty Chinese students were eating their jian bings much more expertly.

Angie has been on the market for about six months. Chinese students have plenty of places to choose from: there are a couple more oriental food stalls as well as the Portuguese custard tarts which the Chinese love at the Chinese-run CakeLicious stall.

Jian bing has been around for rather longer. According to legend the dish was dreamed up by General Zhuge Liang around 250AD who told his soldiers to cook batter on their metal shields held over a fire when, for some reason, they hadn’t got their woks.

Bing could well be the next Big Thing in  street food to take off although it is fiddly to make and needs some little skill. If you don’t like the version on offer you can have one ‘custom built’ from extra ingredients listed. To see how Angie does it check out the video at https://www.facebook.com/MoorMarket/videos/1015037741950964/?video_source=pages_finch_thumbnail_video

CHRIS Wong who makes the Chinese pastries and delicious Portuguese egg tarts at CakeLicious is now selling jian bing at  his kiosk. There are two hotplates. He reckons it takes three minutes to make a pancake. What’s more, his batter is made the traditional way with green bean (mung) flour. His is the only place outside London to do so he claims. “Chinese people can smell the distinctive aroma,” he says. This part of the business is called Da Su Jian Bing. Da Su means ‘uncle,’ as he’s so much older than his student customers!

If you’re brave, ask him for a cup of black soya bean drink which takes him two hours to prepare each morning. Apparently Chinese students drink it all the time. To me it tasted like cocoa!

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Unwrapped and ready to eat

Hungry? The Buddha will see you right

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The Hungry Buddha’s chicken curry thali

At the risk of sounding like a page straight out of Mills & Boon it must have been fate when Jan from Rotherham, a young backpacker on a round-the-world trip, fell sick while trekking through the remote Himalayan country of Nepal.

But handsome trek leader Dev Gurung took special care of her and helped nurse her back to health. We can all guess what happened next. Cue hearts and flowers: reader, she married him.

Which is a slightly involved why of explaining how the Hungry Buddha, the city’s very first Nepalese café and takeaway, opened a couple of months ago in Sheffield’s Moor Market.

“We tried living together in Nepal but it’s a hard lifestyle. So I came over here,” says Dev, who after eight years leading treks set about retraining as a chef at Rotherham College as chef. Some people might say living in Rotherham is a hard lifestyle! Actually his first job was at a local call centre but his accent – Dev’s English is excellent ­– made people think he was talking to them from India. His catering skills have taken him from PJ Taste in Sheffield to the Bombay Bicycle Club in London.

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Prayer flags bring colour to the Hungry Buddha’s stall

The Hungry Buddha sells simple thalis – tin trays with compartments for meat or vegetable curry, rice, dal, pickles or chutneys – for between £4 and £4.50. It’s one of 11 food outlets in a row, next to Sallie’s tea and roast pork sarnie stall. Sallie’s boss Andrew Stein wickedly introduces me to Dev as a public health inspector. The poor chap doesn’t flinch before Andrew puts him right. As a self-appointed taste inspector I can attest the food is good.

Prayer flags bring a blaze of colour to the stall where curries change daily. Dev comes in early to prep and cook before nipping off to his other job with a marketing company, leaving the stall, on the day we visited, in the hands of a charming Nepalese girl, Abha, studying at Sheffield Hallam University.

My wife and I have chicken and potato and cauliflower curries. The chicken is mildly spiced in a tasty sauce with a lemony kick. Surprisingly, the vegetable curry is spicier. The rice is a generous portion, eaten with a pleasantly soupy dal. There’s a mixed vegetable pickle, flavoured with lemon and sesame, a fiery mango pickle and Abha lets me try some carrot pickle which the Hungry Buddha sells in jars.

Dev quickly learned he had to adapt to British tastes and is keen to get feedback on the degree and range of spiciness people want. Fenugreek seeds, when fried, give a nutty crunchiness which brings different reactions.

“Nepal is a poor country and the spices produced are limited. What is grown is used or preserved. Nepalese food is influenced by Tibet in the north and India in the south. It’s based on what we call dal-bhat, lentils and rice, to which is added curry, mainly vegetable but from time to time meat, chicken or buffalo . . . The spices are ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander and chilli and food is cooked in mustard oil which gives food a different taste to that cooked in vegetable oil,” he explains.

A distinctive flavour comes from tempering, frying whole spices in oil and incorporating it into the dish before serving, in much the same way as the Indian tarka dal is treated.

Hungry Buddha is still in the foothills of catering. Momos, steamed stuffed dumplings, have been offered experimentally. Other dishes will be tried. Dev hopes to expand into offering tiffin deliveries (lunchtime dishes) to local offices and outside catering.

“People may think we are similar to Indian food but our aim is to bring that authenticity which makes it special,” says Dev. He’s made a good start.

#Hungry Buddha is in the Moor Market. Twitter: @Hungrybuddha1. Facebook: Hungry BuddhaDev Gurung and Abha Dev Gurung and Abhi

Not quite a capon, old cock!

 

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Once doctored the cockerel becomes a capon and has no comb

It caught my eye on the end of Smith & Tissington’s chicken and fish stall on Sheffield’s Moor Market, a big, busty Barbara Windsor of a bird clearly marked ‘Capon.’ I hadn’t seen one in years.

“So what is a capon?” asked my wife. “It’s a chicken but a he not a she; a cockerel with its nadgers cut off,” I said and she shuddered. “I thought they were illegal,” I added.

When I was younger my family once had capons for Christmas when we couldn’t afford  a turkey. A capon was valued for its moist, tasty flesh, a bit like chicken used to be compared with your average fowl now.

We were planning the capon for May Bank Holiday dinner with the family and the bird weighed in at 2.7 kilos for a very reasonable £6.50.”Just don’t tell them what it is when they eat it,” said my wife so of course I did. And it didn’t stop anyone eating it or remarking that this was the moistest, juiciest, tastiest bird we had had for a long time.

But I was still puzzled. Looking online, I read that capons were still illegal. In fact, they have been for almost 40 years. So how come they were on the market? I didn’t have time to quiz boss Paul Tissington when I bought it but he’d told me “Come back and let me know how you found it.” So I did. And I asked him. Paul came clean about the capon, something he’s happy to explain.

It wasn’t a capon. Not in the technical sense.

That’s as in not a bona fide capon but a big bird he calls a capon to attract those people – “you’ll forgive me, of a certain age” – who know what a capon is. Or was.

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This capon weighed in at just under three kilos

A capon was a transgendered fowl long before it became fashionable in humans. With its bits cut off it didn’t grow a comb, grew fat – as it wasn’t strutting around the farmyard defending its harem – and nurtured its feminine side by going broody.

It has long been popular. Shakespeare mentions it five times. Jacques, in As You Like It, refers to it in his Seven Ages of Man speech:

“And then the Justice
In fair round belly with good capon lined”

Turning a cock into a capon involves cutting open the bird without anaesthetic and was eventually outlawed, at least in the EU. Chemical castration is possible but it involves pumping them full of oestrogen. They are still available elsewhere in the world, if you can find them.

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Our capon from Smith & Tissington on Sheffield’s Moor Market

The ban left poultry breeders trying to fill the gap and they produced a slower growing, bigger hen, which are what Paul and his wife Debra sell. It’s their decision to call it a capon. Around Christmas it becomes a roaster. They sell perhaps a dozen a week, more at Easter, Bank Holidays and, of course, Christmas.

So were we kidding ourselves, thinking it was something else? After 40 years I cannot remember the specifics of a taste but this was the best chicken we’ve had for ages. And certainly better than a turkey.

Paul, whose father Roy co-founded the business on the old Castle Market in 1960 and would have sold capons then, is unrepentant at so labelling the birds. “It got you interested. Anywhere else it would have cost you £8 or £9. That to me is what market shopping is all about.”

Incidentally, the bird provided four roast dinners, two more with bubble and squeak, several rounds of sandwiches, dripping for my toast for at least three breakfasts while the rest was added to an excellent stock made from the carcass. The fat skimmed off the top of the stock fried the bubble. The stock made two bowls of chicken and mushroom soup and two plates of risotto, a total of ten main meals. Not bad for £6.50.

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Paul and Debra Tissington with son Mathew

Spuds-You-Like

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Jersey Royals on sale at the Moor Market

I once went to Jersey on a Press trip in the early spring and as I left they gave me a present: a small box of Jersey Royals early potatoes. That’s how much spuds mean to the island, which exports up to 40,000 tonnes a year to the UK.

In this country we have lost the thrill of seasonality. When you can buy asparagus all year round getting the first home-grown from Lincolnshire or Norfolk loses a little of its sparkle. It still tastes far better than the stalks which travel thousands of miles from Peru. And it’s the same with strawberries.

But so far no one has managed to equal the early crop Jersey new potatoes. Majorcan or Cornish run them close but there’s something about a Jersey that sets it apart. So much so that I’m prepared to pay sometimes ridiculous prices for the first of the first. It’s a treat. And then you see the prices tumble in succeeding weeks!

They are special because of the soil, enriched by fertiliser from the seaweed on the island’s beaches. I reckons I can taste the faint briny tang. And because some of the 7,300 acres of potato fields are on steep slopes, many are picked by hand.

They were £2.50 a pound on the only stall selling them in Sheffield’s Moor Market so I bought a pound, and ten minutes later was miffed to find them on sale at Sharp’s around the corner  at £1.99. The more expensive spuds were OK, the Sharp’s, which I bought a couple of days later, were  better.

Never scrape a Jersey. They just need a wash. And don’t worry about cooking too many, they make excellent potato salad or sauté potatoes.

It’s this same desire for seasonality which sends me out to the woods at this time of year to collect wild garlic. The taste from this year’s pesto (made with cashew nuts not pine nuts) was terrific. And I have also cooked the leaves like spinach with butter and salt but do take the stalks off first.

The chippy comes home

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Bruce Payne busy at the Market Chippy

“Haddock!” bellows an assistant at the counter of the Market Chippy in Sheffield’s Moor Market. “Haddock!” she calls again across the sea of tables outside the row of takeaways which run in a right angle from the Sania Grill Bar to Sallie’s. An arm goes up, waves and she takes a tray across.

I’m on a piscatorial pilgrimage. My family have long been fans of Seafayre, the restaurant cum takeaway in Charles Street, Sheffield, and mourned when it closed just before last Christmas. But boss Bruce Payne and his wife Helen promised they would be frying again in the market from February. And so they have.

“For us it’s a bit like coming home,” says Bruce, reminding me that he started out as a market trader, running the Castle Chippy at the now demolished Castle Market and only opened Seafayre because he objected to the rents in the new market. Something must have changed.

“There’s a lot less stress and we’ve simplified the menu. I take my hat off to people who run restaurants,” beams Bruce, tipping another bucket of chips into the range. Some of his old customers from Charles Street, like the lady in red patiently waiting for her order with me at the counter, have followed him across, as well as others from Castle Chippy days.

Obviously it’s a lot cheaper: cod is £2.80 and there’s haddock and plaice to order, chips are £1.20 and mushy peas 70p, and there are fishcakes, rissoles, roe and sausage.

But instead of the relative luxury of the restaurant with its friendly waitresses who brought dishes of ketchup, mayonnaise and tartare sauce and gave the kids a sweetie when you paid the bill, you have to find a table if you don’t plan to walk out with your dinner in a Styrofoam box. There are plates, paper, although the cutlery is real, not plastic.

No matter, it is just as good as I remember. The cod is generous and the batter is superb:  crispy with a touch of salt on the tongue, crunchy and rippling like waves over the fish. It’s an old family recipe – Bruce married into the Pearces, who have chippies across Sheffield – but is hardly a secret, just flour, water and salt. No beer, no carbonated fizz or baking soda. And no proprietory mix! Bruce looks hurt at the implication. The chips are firmish, just going on soft in that chip shop way. I eat it all down to the last mushy pea.

I present my compliments to Bruce. It’s been a lovely lunch. “We’re keeping it simple. It is what it is – a chippy in the market,” he says.
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Smitten by a Lisbon tart

Pastel de Nata in Lisbon pasteleria

Pastel de Nata in Lisbon pasteleria

The first time I knowingly ate a Portuguese egg tart, or pastel de nata, was in the Dim Sum Chinese restaurant on Sheffield’s London Road. As a life-long lover of the noble English custard tart I was intrigued. It was good but different.

The Chinese link is not an attempt to be jokey. The Portuguese, who are good at baking, took their tarts to Macau, an enclave on the coast of China which they once ruled. The Chinese, who had little tradition of baking , rather liked them. Macau is not far from Hong Kong and the tarts soon appeared there. It’s not the only thing the Portuguese gave to Asia, bequeathing tempura batter to the Japanese.

Portuguese tarts are relatively new here but I’m told you can find half a dozen stalls selling them on London’s Borough Market, where food trends start. You can even get them in Sheffield.

A Portuguese egg tart is not much of a looker. It’s a dumpy little thing with black blotches on the top but don’t be deceived. As with women, it’s a case of once bitten, forever smitten. They were created by Portuguese monks who used egg whites for starching clothes and turned the unwanted yolks into tarts.

Roses the Bakers have been selling them, alongside traditional custard tarts, for about a year. An assistant told me they were very popular, at just 80p each. They are a hefty £1.20 at Forge Bakehouse on Abbeydale Road and there’s a Chinese bloke called Chris Wong baking them every day on the Moor Market for 98p each. Cake-R-Us on London Road sells them for £1.

This blog spares no expense so first I went to Portugal to see what they should be like before I tested the home grown variety. All right, I was going to Lisbon anyway.

You can’t walk more than 50 yards without finding a café or pasteleria selling them. I must have had a dozen, not counting one I mistakenly ordered from a late night kiosk, after a bottle of vinho verde, which turned out to be a mini cheese and ham quiche.

A pastel de nata is everything an English custard is not. For a start there’s the pastry, slightly damp shortcrust for the Anglo tart, crisp and flaky for the Portuguese. Then there’s the filling. The custard tart is light and wobbly, getting on for a creme brule, the Portuguese filling is creamy with the consistency of lemon curd.

The English tart has a dusting of nutmeg on top. There is no nutmeg but often cinnamon and lemon in the pastel de nata although to be honest I failed to detect any cinnamon in those I ate in Lisbon but I did vanilla. The pastel de nata is everywhere. It’s not the only Portuguese pastry but as I was on an egg tart quest it was about the only one I tried. Not that I wasn’t tempted.

It’s caramelisation of the filling surface which causes the blotches and a tricky thing to get right. The Portuguese say if it ain’t got blotches it ain’t a proper one. Mind you, things can be taken too far. One I bought from a stall in the Mercado da Ribeira food hall was brown all the way down and unexciting.

The best I had was in the Café Suica in the Baixa, a wonderful little gem of a tart, light and creamy filling contrasting with crisp, flaky pastry. And they weren’t bad at the Hotel Britania either.

I put on a couple of pounds but I reckon I am now a good judge. So what to make of them back home? The Roses version was a brave try. The pastry was thicker and stodgier than in Lisbon and the filling not as deep. And it was sadly blotch-free. There wasn’t much of the filling but it was closest to the Portuguese. The tart at Cake-R-Us was unexciting.

The Forge’s tart has a fine pastry and plenty of spots but the filling, which is made with milk rather than cream, is wobbly, far closer to an English custard tart. Again, I found the cinnamon used in this recipe hard to detect. Lemon zest is also used. My verdict: jolly decent but a little pricy (they cost a euro in Lisbon).

On the Moor Market Chris Wong of CakeLicious bakes 120 tarts a day on his stall. “This could be the best Portuguese custard tart you have ever tasted” says the publicity and customers, English and Chinese, were queuing up to agree with him. “They’re lovely,” said a woman buying two, like me.

Chris, who has been in the market since it opened and exhibited his tarts at last year’s Sheffield Food Festival, said they were best straight out of the oven and allowed to cool for 10 minutes but eaten warm and invited me to wait. He wasn’t giving away any recipe secrets but reckoned if the tops had a shine (like his) it was a good sign.

When cool his tarts had great crisp pastry and an excellent blotchy filling, although again it was closer to the English rather than Portuguese. I couldn’t taste any cinnamon again. “That’s because I didn’t put any in. My customers don’t like it,” he said. There is, though, some vanilla.

Chris refuses to taste rival tarts because “I don’t want to be influenced.” Despite what he said, I enjoyed it even more when cold. It was certainly the best of the English bunch. Now form an orderly queue . . .

SheffieldCakeLicious on Facebook or tel: 07919 340 341.
Forge Bakehouse, 232 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, S7 1FL. Tel 0114 258 8987. Web: http://www.forgebakehouse.co.uk

UPDATE: Since this article was written I have tried the pastel de nata from Cossack Cuisine, which had a stall at Nether Edge Farmers’ Market. They cost £1.40 but are the nearest in taste and texture to those in Lisbon. Web: http://www.cossackcuisine.com

Chris Wong with his tarts at Moor Market

Chris Wong with his tarts at Moor Market

Tarts from Forge

Tarts from Forge

Dawes nibbles a tart in Lisbon

Man eats tart