I don’t usually base a whole supper club menu on a recipe book however this dinner was an exception. Back in May I wrote a recipe review for the Food Travel Website. It came from The Ethicurean Cookbook but as it was a blind tasting I didn’t know that when I cooked it. I wasn’t that impressed with my particular recipe, although in its defense I struggled to find some of the listed ingredients and components of the dish were in different sections of the book (bits I didn’t have). After the reviews were published a copy of the book came winging its way over to me.
Now that I have had time to read through the book and get a feel for it I understand better the ethos, ingredients and techniques used by the team at The Epicurean. I like their approach and their commitment to traditional British production methods, artisan ingredients and seasonal produce. As a book for an experimental, confident cook or chef its great but it’s not for the faint hearted. There are some things I don’t like about the book (which I will return to later) but I really wanted to try out a few of the other recipes and wanted to know what other people thought of them.
I chose dishes that really caught my eye. Negroni cocktails made with gin, vermouth (my vermouth is not yet ready, but I’m going to give it a go soon. The process is a complicated one and takes time) and Campari bitters nearly blew my head off
Next came a choice of salad…either fresh crab, new potato and paprika mayonnaise salad, or for those not eating seafood, chargrilled little gem lettuce, blue cheese, roasted peppers and edible flowers. I’d already made the latter for a previous dinner so knew it worked well. Both tasted delicious. Added edible herb flowers were visually very attractive and eye-catching, and except for a little more cider vinegar in the home-made smoked paprika mayonnaise and the use of Perl Las instead of Blue Vinney in the salad we stuck faithfully to the recipe and the flavours were spot on. Our favourite bits were the pickled carrots (in the crab salad) and the Perl Las dressing.
Edible flowers and bronze fennel from the garden
Perl Las and flame roasted peppers with charred little gem (page 178)
Crab salad with New Potatoes, pickled carrots and smoked paprika mayonnaise (p.96)
…our least favourite bits were picking over the crabs which is laborious job and a painful one, it left my hands covered in tiny little nicks and scratches (and I didn’t even do most of the work; Mark my new assistant chef did it!).
removing crab meat from the shells…a slow, laborious process
For the main course I chose a slow cooked spring lamb. The recipe in the book called for ‘salt-marsh lamb’ which was hard to find here in Wales (there are salt marshes where sheep graze so that is something I can look in to later) so I settled on shoulders of spring Welsh lamb served with simple sides of buttery new potatoes, new season carrots, foraged marsh samphire, new season broad beans and wilted chard and kale. The skin of the lamb was pierced with a sharp knife and anchovies inserted into the slits producing a salty (but not at all fishy) flavour. The book told me that it would give the lamb an ‘umami’ flavour and it wasn’t wrong! The lamb was then browned in a pan, placed on a bed of vegetables and laced with plenty of Vermouth before being slow roasted in the oven for five hours.
Early morning, low tide, off for a spot of foraging
Tiny fronds of marsh samphire
Tender, buttery soft shoulder of Welsh lamb with wilted chard and kale, marsh samphire and baby broad beans
family served main course
The samphire, lightly pan-fried with baby broad beans, was our highlight…along with the lamb that simply fell apart and melted in the mouth. We hardly changed the recipe; just opting for kale and chard rather than the ‘Tidal Greens’ mentioned in the recipe and it all worked so well together.
A friend offered me a glut of rhubarb earlier this week. Never one to turn down free produce I rushed over to collect, visit, drink tea, play with her new baby and then head off with a boot full of swag. This collection helped with my decision-making on what to make for dessert. The book offers an ‘alternative’ version of rhubarb and custard; a cross between a jelly and a terrine and the most time-consuming of all the dishes on the menu. It involved steaming rhubarb for an hour, straining juice, making custard, adding lots of gelatine, layering and refrigerating for hours in between layers. The recipe irritated both Mark and I with over complex directions but in the end we were very pleased with the results (as were our supper club guests). The only thing we tinkered with was the compote; it was very tart so we added a little more sugar, but not too much as the terrine was very sweet and the sharpness counteracted this beautifully.
rhubarb and custard (p. 124) a pleasingly striking result
served with a sharp and tangy rhubarb compote.
As a final treat I made the chocolate and salt caramel brownie recipe again, this time cut into bite size pieces to go with tea and coffee at the end of the meal. I didn’t follow their method in the book as I have my own tried and tested way of making brownies, but the recipe was the same. I actually find these get better the day after making them (and for the next two or three subsequent days after) becoming denser and squidgier as they are left.
Chocolate and salt caramel brownies (p. 127)
As a parting shot these were a winner.
So, back to the book. All the recipes were well received by our table full of supper club guests, but we did need to tinker with a couple until they tasted as we wanted. The success of the dinner has geared me up to try more from the book as initially I was rather put off by the sometimes overcomplicated instructions.
Let me leave you with a few thoughts (positive and negative) of my own…
- I like the Ethicurean ethos; they clearly care a great deal about what they are doing but at times it verges on pretentious. I like an understated, down to earth approach and unfortunately they do at times come across as posh, well-healed, over zealous, well-meaning hippies.
- The book is not for the novice cook, or someone looking for a quick recipe. The unnecessarily complex instructions do at times make things seem much harder to do than they actually are! Both Mark and I who are chefs struggled to make head or tail of some of their instructions, often simplifying things between us.
- Having said this I also love the way they explain and use old, underused techniques (like clamping) and discuss traditions (wassailing) and the histories of some of the produce they use (look out for little snippets at the bottom of the page).
- Although I whole-heartedly support and love their focus on seasonal, local produce (I’m well-known for banging on endlessly about Welsh produce), the recipes are very county-specific…i.e. based around the Bristol area and they don’t always offer advice on what the best alternative ingredients are should their suggestions not be available.
- I see the book as more of a show case for the restaurant, and while there is nothing wrong with that (I’d really like to visit) it may mean the book sadly has a somewhat limited audience.