Foraging on my doorstep 3: Dulse and beer bread – with my salt beef

It’s been a while since I posted a recipe that included the most obvious bounty on my doorstep – seaweed, in this case, dulse. I have coupled this with my first attempt at preparing salt beef, using a fine quality brisket of Aberdeen Angus. This unique combination produced a sandwich of some distinction, well worth the effort to collect the dulse and time to brine the beef.

In the process

As mentioned before, I am not a hardcore forager because in some respects, I don’t believe in tokenistic use of foraged ingredients. Seaweeds, if not appropriately processed, carefully considered and balanced to be an integral part of a dish can fall into this category. Dulse, however, I have discovered, does have significant merit as a distinctive ingredient that brings novel and intriguing flavour dimensions to a dish.

I am slightly limited in my experimental explorations with seaweeds as I currently don’t have a dehydrator, a tool that would give me more flexibility in using seaweed as an ingredient. Given that we are on the cusp of renovating the house and in the process of packing stuff away to facilitate the incredible mess that will ensue, buying more kitchen gadgets, normally something I would be looking for an excuse to do, is not on the cards.

Help with kelp

Dulse harvest

Dulse harvest 2

It is not the best time of year to be collecting dulse – end of summer / early autumn is optimal, but where there is kelp, it can usually be found at anytime of the year. I began thinking about recipe ideas, as possible contributions to Fiona Bird’s next book – based around culinary explorations with seaweed. The least I could do was come up with some ideas for Fi, Champion of Hebridean seaweed. See also my review of Fiona’s fabulous last book ‘The Forager’s Kitchen‘.

On a sunny but very windy day, we combed our local beach for living kelp that had been cast ashore (as opposed to the masses of dead plants, detached and usually devoid of dulse).  The holdfasts (‘root’) of living kelp plants still grip hard to the boulder substrate on which they are growing and are often thrown high up this beach during storms, well above the kelp zone, therefore making them easy to find.

So why, you may ask am I looking for kelp but intend to forage for dulse?  Dulse (Palmaria palmata) is a red seaweed that is epiphytic on several species of seaweed, notably the most abundant kelp found along the west coast of the Uists, Laminaria hyperborea. The stipes (‘stems’) of this important algae are often festooned with dulse, which has a ribbon-like appearance at this time of year, having been ripped and shredded by the force of stormy seas. These kelp plants live for up to 15 years and dulse tends to found associated with older specimens. Dulse also grows on rocks and mussels in the intertidal zone.

The kelp Laminaria hyperborea, tangle, to give it one of its common names,  is an incredibility important species, notably for these islands. The most apparent benefit of beach cast tangle (as well a few other seaweed species) is that it is traditionally collected from beaches after winter storms and utilised by crofters as a natural fertiliser for crops.

However, it is the unseen benefits provided by these kelp forests that extensively fringe the west coast here that make them so important.  Kelp (actually an umbrella name for a number of ‘forest-forming’ macroalgae) has been described as an ‘ecosystem engineer’, a wonderful term that perhaps, rather simplistically, may be described as any organism  that creates or significantly modifies habitats.  North American beavers and termites are often cited as the more obvious examples.

Kelp forests are extremely dynamic and productive with high biodiversity, acting as a habitat and refuge for many organisms and are important for nutrient cycling and energy capture.  Of key importance to this low-lying island chain may be the capacity of kelp forests to offer a degree of protection to coastal zones from flooding and erosion by acting as a buffer, reducing the velocity of approaching waves during storms.  A recent paper that gives an excellent synthesis of the functions of kelp can be found here. 

My life is currently awash with kelp – not just in my spare time used foraging for dulse,  at work I am currently managing a research project focusing on kelp.  A world of weed indeed!

As you can see, the dogs thought harvesting dulse this was a great game and quickly cottoned on to what we were trying to do.  They excitedly began seeking out kelp stipes. Unfortunately, when found they then proceeded to chew off and eat the dulse, or run around with the entire stipes hanging out of their mouths, nonchalantly chewing them while running amok.

Dulse and beer bread

I was aware that the flavour of dulse is complemented by ale and, in wishing to continue pushing the envelope with my recent bread making exploits (more on these another time), decided to pair the two flavours in a loaf.  I have been making a lot of ale rolls recently and was intrigued to experience how the dulse may alter the flavour and texture of my basic ale roll recipe.

The flavour was malty, full and distinctive. The dulse gave a new dimension and depth of flavour, soft texture, even bake and a pleasant smell that was incomparable with any loaf I have made before.  The colour was interesting, slightly tinged with yellow and the keeping qualities of the loaf appeared to be very good, although I admit, it didn’t perhaps last long enough to really test that out…

As mentioned, there are benefits to drying the dulse before use but without a dehydrator, I decided to try using it fresh. After checking the dulse for inhabiting species and removing them, I rinsed it thoroughly under the cold tap for a few minutes.  I then placed it in a bowl of warm water for half an hour, before drying it with a kitchen towel and then blitzing it quite coarsely in a food processor. I have no idea what the standard practice for fresh dulse is, but presumed this would remove creatures, salt and soften it a bit. It seemed to work.

Dulse

The recipe provides 2 large loaves and economically uses 1 500 ml bottle of ale. Alternatively, make 1/2 the volume and drink the spare 200ml of ale! Modify according to your preferred method of bread prep. and room temperature.

Ingredients

600g strong white bread flour

200g strong wholemeal bread flour

200g strong malted bread flour

40g fresh dulse, finely chopped

500 ml ale

100 ml water (approx.)

20g instant yeast

20g salt

60g butter

a little olive oil

some semolina for dusting

Oven: 205 C (fan)

Dulse bread

Method

  • Put everything in a bowl and mix until it comes together and tip onto the surface.  Be careful not to add all the water at once in case the dough is too sticky – especially due to the added moisture in the dulse.  Adjust water amount accordingly.
  • Put a little olive oil on the surface and tip out the dough.  Knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is no longer sticky but becomes soft and elastic.
  • Put in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and allow to rise until doubled in size.  This may take up to several hours for a big batch like this, depending on room temperature.
  • Tip dough out and fold inwards to knock the air out and cut in 2 before shaping your loaves into your preferred shapes.
  • Place each on a baking tray dusted with a mixture of semolina and flour.
  • Cover with a plastic bag and leave to prove for at least an hour, or until the loaves have again doubled in size.
  • Dust the loaves with a mixture of semolina and flour and slash, if desired, before placing on the oven for 30 minutes.

Dulde bread 3

dulse bread 2

Salt beef: another briny recipe

Although I have always been aware of the existence of salt beef and its origination in Ashkenazi cuisine,  I must admit, I don’t recollect eating it, most probably because it is generally hard to acquire in Scotland and secondly, I have not thought to specifically seek it out. I had a good quality marbled piece of Aberdeen Angus beef and was contemplating what to do with it that would make it special when I came across a number of salt beef recipes online.

Salt beef, it transpires, is remarkably simple to make, so difficult acquisition is irrelevant if you are prepared to make it.  Admittedly, it does require considerable patience during brining.  At this stage, I found myself opening the fridge and staring longingly at the briny brisket, counting the days when it would be ready to cook and consume.

Traditionally, saltpetre would have been added.  This does give the beef its characteristic pink tinge. Although we do have some (for something to do with violin making, not cooking!), I prefer to keep the product more natural, so have omitted it.

Since the beef will languish in the brine for an entire week, it is perhaps not wise to try to undertake this without the benefit of a large fridge. Fortunately, I have one.

This recipe is an amalgamation of several I found online.  I modified the contents of the brine and subsequent cooking ingredients to my own tastes.

Salt beef brine recipe


275g soft light brown sugar

350g coarse sea salt

2 tsp black peppercorns

1 tsp juniper berries

3 cloves

3 bay leaves

a few sprigs of thyme

a sprig of rosemary

salt beef 1

Method

  • Put all the ingredients for the brine into a large saucepan with  2.5 litres of water, bring to the boil, stirring to help the sugar and salt dissolve.
  • Once it comes to the boil,  simmer for two minutes. Take off the heat and leave to cool completely.
  • Pierce the brisket all over with a skewer and place in a large sterilised, non reactive container (plastic is best) that will hopefully fit in your fridge.
  • Pour over the brine to immerse the beef, weight it down if you can, or turn in the brine regularly.
  • Leave to brine for 1 week.

For the beef 

2 kg (minimum) beef brisket

1 large carrot, roughly chopped

1 onion, roughly chopped

1 celery stick, roughly chopped

1 leek, roughly chopped

1 bouquet garni of seasonal herbs

1 head of garlic, halved

Method

  • Take the beef out of the brine and rinse it.
  •  Place a pan with the vegetables, bouquet garni and garlic, adding enough cold water to cover.
  • Bring the water to simmering point, then leave to poach very gently for about 3 hours, or until the meat is completely tender.

salt beef 2

Serve hot or cold.  We preferred it cold, as luxurious lunchtime sandwiches with the dulse and beer bread, some wholegrain mustard and accompanied by small onions I grew last summer, preserved in a sweet and gentle pickle.  There is no doubt about what I will be making with the next brisket I acquire – an outstanding way to celebrate one of the best cheap beef cuts, making it feel very extravagant.

salt beef sandwich

The vile weather continues here, so time for a break. London calling.  Here’s hoping when I return spring will be vaguely apparent (though I did hear an optimistic skylark singing this morning in the short sunshine interlude between the continual low pressure weather systems).

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An alternative meat and two veg

For those readers fond of the double entendre, I should first say that by this I am referring to the meaning pertaining to food, i.e. the British stereotypical standard, run-of-the-mill, unremarkable dinner, with a meat and two kinds of vegetable.  It is still a bland dinnertime trap that it is easy to fall into in the UK, especially at home, but also when eating out.

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day and unusually, I was visiting my parents that weekend.  I don’t often see my mum on the day, as we live so far away, so I thought as a gift I would prepare dinner.  Considering all the stupendous meals my mum has cooked for family and friends over the years it’s the least I could do.

The problem with eating out on Mother’s Day, much like Valentine’s Day or Christmas is that it is not always advisable to visit any but the finest restaurants in my experience. Somewhat understandably, menus are more designed for mass catering on such days, restaurants are invariably busy and noisy and staff overstretched. Often generic  ‘Mother’s Day set menus’ are on offer that are not necessarily representative of what an establishment usually serves.

My alternative meat and two veg was delivered for main course consisting of sirloin steak, beetroot and sweet potatoes.  In a final attempt to purge Ottolenghi recipes from my brain (actually this is a lie, I will not be able to resist, but temporarily, at least), I chose to adapt  these from his column in The Guardian as I considered these to be as far from the bland meat and two veg image as a dinner could achieve – without actually removing the components that exemplify the concept.

Harissa marinated beef sirloin with preserved lemon sauce

I found this complement of ingredients irresistibly attractive. I bought local Aberdeen Angus sirloin steaks from a very good local butchers.The slices of steak were not too thick and were given no more than a flash fry and rested.  The flavour of this quality beef was exceptional. Although the sauce was described as preserved lemon, and this was the hook that drew me towards it, in actual fact, it predominated of tomatoes a bit too much for my palate.  That said, the addition of sweet roasted yellow peppers and some Hungarian sweet paprika as well as chilli flakes enhanced the depth of flavour and the preserved lemon gave a distinctive tang which accompanied the marinated steak well without overwhelming its flavour.

Ingredients

1½ tbsp harissa
4 beef sirloin steaks, trimmed (about 750g total)
Salt and black pepper
2 large yellow peppers
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
400g tin chopped Italian tomatoes
½ tsp flaked chilli
¼ tsp Hungarian sweet paprika
1 tbsp preserved lemon skin, thinly sliced
2 tbsp chopped parsley

Method

For the sauce:

  • Rub the harissa into the sirloin steaks, season with a quarter teaspoon of salt and some black pepper, and leave to marinade for at least an hour (or in the fridge overnight).
  • To make the sauce, roast the peppers in the oven for at 200C for 45 minutes until charred all over. Place in a bowl, cover with clingfilm until cool, then peel them and cut into long, thin strips. Discard the skin and seeds (my mum kindly did this bit while we were walking the dogs).
  • Heat the oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Fry the garlic for 30 seconds on medium heat, add the tomatoes, chilli, paprika, a quarter teaspoon of salt and some black pepper, bring to a simmer and cook for seven minutes.
  • Add the pepper strips, preserved lemon skin and parsley, and cook for seven minutes, until the sauce thickens but is still easy to pour. Set aside and allow to come to room temperature.

For the steak:

  • Preheat the oven to 100C. Place a ridged griddle pan on a high heat and, when smoking hot, add the steaks and cook for a minute a side.
  • Transfer to a baking tray and rest for 4 minutes, for rare, 6 if you prefer medium. Serve with the sauce.

harissa steak

Roast beetroot salad with yoghurt and preserved lemon

I have always enjoyed the pairing of beetroot with roasted cumin and the extra dimensions of the fresh dill and chicory delight and amuse the palate with contrasting and complementary  layers of flavour.

Ingredients

600g beetroot
2 tbsp olive oil
1½ tsp cumin seeds
1 small red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
20g preserved lemon skin, roughly chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
30g dill, roughly shredded
Salt and black pepper
3 tsp tahini paste
200g Greek yoghurt
1 chicory, cut widthways into 0.5cm slices

Method

  • Heat the oven to 220C. Wrap the beetroots individually in tin foil, place on a baking tray and roast for 30-60 minutes, depending on size and quality – check that they’re done by inserting a knife: it should go in smoothly. When cool enough to handle, peel, cut into 0.5cm-thick slices and transfer to a mixing bowl to cool down.
  • Heat the oil in a small frying pan and add the cumin seeds. Cook for a few minutes, until they start to pop, then pour the seeds and oil over the beetroot. Add the onion, preserved lemon, lemon juice, half the dill, a teaspoon of salt and a grind of black pepper. Mix well.
  • Transfer to a serving bowl. Stir the tahini into the yoghurt and add to the salad, along with the chicory. Give it a minimal stir, so the yoghurt and chicory mix in only slightly and there is still some clear distinction between the red and the white, with some pink ripple. Sprinkle over the remaining dill and serve.

beetroot salad

Roast sweet potato with red onion, tahini and za’atar

I have saved the best ’till last. I have made this roast sweet potato dish before and it is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the best vegetable side dishes I have ever eaten.  The colours of the dish are intense and appealing but as much as it looks delectable, the flavours combined are truly mind-blowing.  The first time I made this I served it with chicken, hazelnuts and rosewater. The fact that most of this side dish was demolished before we got round to eating the chicken is testament to its deliciousness .  It served yet again to remind me that vegetarian food can be more delicious than so many meat-based dishes.

Although the recipe can be found in ‘Jerusalem’ using butternut squash, I prefer sweet potato so substituted accordingly.

Preheat oven to 200C

Ingredients

700g of sweet potatoes, cut into large chunks
1 large red onion, cut into wide slices
3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/4 tsp Maldon salt
a few twists of black pepper
3 tbsp tahini paste
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, pounded into a paste
3 tbsp pine nuts
1 tbsp za’atar
handful coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Flaky sea salt

Method

  • In a bowl mix the sweet potatoes and onion with the olive oil, a teaspoon of Maldon salt and a few twists of black pepper.
  • Spread the vegetables on a baking sheet and roast in the oven 30 minutes, or until the vegetables have taken on some color and are cooked through and charred a little. You may need to pick out the onion earlier, lest it burn. 
  • While the vegetables are roasting, make the sauce. Place the tahini in a small bowl along with 2 tablespoons of water, lemon juice, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt. Whisk until the sauce is the consistency of honey. You might need to add more water or tahini, depending on consistency.
  • Toast the pine nuts in  a frying pan until golden brown. Remove from the heat and transfer the nuts to a small bowl.
  • Spread the vegetables out on a large plate or a serving platter and drizzle over the tahini. Sprinkle the pine nuts, followed by za’atar and the parsley. Add a few flakes of the Maldon salt and serve.

sweet potato

Beef cheeks: An aromatic casserole of great comfort

Ah yes, the vogue for cheap cuts of meat is still current, with many top and ‘celebrity’ chefs featuring cheaper cuts and offal in dishes. Somewhat ironically, this has increased demand for cheap cuts like ox/beef cheeks and hence prices of such cuts have risen.  In fact, most of the big four supermarkets now regularly stock beef cheeks at the butchery counter.

This is indicative of the power of the media-savvy chefs (of which there are many) to highlight cuts of meat that have been forgotten and largely consigned to history. Some of these chefs may have lost their integrity along the way (mentioning no names, well, OK, maybe one – Marco Pierre White flogging Knorr ‘stock’. Shameful), but if promotion by influential chefs results in exposing a few more diners and cooks to these ingredients and encourages use of cheaper or more unusual cuts, that’s no bad thing. Diversification of diet is good.

I don’t recall eating beef cheeks before the current vogue but I have now eaten them three times this year.  The first time was at La Garrigue’s Edinburgh New Town restaurant.  I have eaten in La Garrigue a few times (mainly at their original Jeffrey Street place) and I love the rustic Languedoc food they serve. It is hearty and honest. I also return because of the consistent good service.  Beef cheeks were one course served during a ‘Taste of Languedoc’ evening, slow cooked in a Provençal sauce of red wine, tomatoes and olives. Tender and delicious.

The very next night, we visited The Man Named Sous’s sister and by some bizarre coincidence, beefs cheeks were the main course! Spot the foodie. So, I go from never having knowingly eaten beef cheeks to consuming same two days in a row.  I caveat this with ‘never knowingly’ because I have eaten some pretty unidentifiable meat-based meals abroad, the contents of which were lost in translation (although I vividly remember our French-Portuguese neighbour serving up ‘colhões’ – her description, not mine…).

Beef cheeks second time around were however, quite a different flavour experience from the first. The recipe in question was from Richard Cornish and Frank Camorra ‘s Movida Rustica cookbook.  This called for the best part of a bottle of Pedro Ximenez sherry and an equal quantity of red wine – and half a day in an Aga. I must admit, I was impressed with la Garrigue’s take on cheeks, but the second experience was superior (and I don’t think it was anything to do with the quantities of wine consumed in conjunction!).

Of course, obtaining beef cheeks on North Uist is almost impossible. There is no butcher on North Uist or Benbecula and to seek out these cuts would likely involve considerable enquiry and strategic planning akin to The Battle of Britain.  Although it pains me, I admit to taking the easier option and acquired the cheeks from a quality butcher while on a trip to the mainland.

Beef cheeks: two prepared and ready for marinating

Last weekend, the weather was pretty minging and any work outdoors was written off.  What better excuse to spend the day indulging in slow-cooking the beef cheeks? The dish is all about comfort.  I served the beef cheeks with celeriac puree, pastis-braised fennel, carrots with cumin and orange and baby baked potatoes.  I haven’t included the carrot recipe below but it simply oven-roasted carrot slices with a coating of rapeseed oil, a splash of orange juice and a big pinch of roasted cumin seeds, cooked for 25 minutes at 180oC. Potatoes were the wonderful Red King Edward, superb as mini-bakers.

The presentation of this dish is perhaps a bit uncouth, but flavours hit the spot. So, here is my take on beef cheeks et al.

Aromatic beef cheeks with celeriac puree, braised fennel with pastis and seasonal vegetables 

The beef cheeks were cut in half and marinated overnight.  The casserole recipe couldn’t be simpler and requires very little attention during cooking. The beef is so tender after 4 hours that it is hard to lift out of the pot without it falling apart.

Ingredients

Marinade for beef cheeks:

Beef cheeks, about 750 g = 2, feeds 4 people

200 ml red wine

2 tblsp olive oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

1 onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, sliced

1 carrot, sliced

1 spring of thyme

2 bay leaves

1 star anise

zest and juice of an orange

a few grinds of pepper

For the beef cheek casserole:

2 tblsp olive oil

500 ml red wine

1 tblsp tomato puree

750 ml beef stock

salt and pepper

Method – Aromatic beef cheek casserole

Set oven to 170oC

Beef cheeks should be ready for cooking after being marinated overnight. Put the olive oil in an overproof heavy-based casserole dish (Le Creuset are ideal).  Remove the beef cheeks from the marinade, brushing off any veg and pat dry with kitchen towel. On a medium to high heat, sear the cheeks on all sides in the oil until browned.  Remove with a slotted spoon, turn heat to medium.

Strain the veg, herbs and spices from the marinade, reserving the liquid and place marinated veg into the pan, cook until soft but not browned.  Place the beef cheeks back in the pot, add the reserved marinade liquid, the beef stock (I used game stock as I had no beef stock), 500 ml of red wine, tomato puree, salt and pepper.

Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid, stick in the oven and leave for about 4 hours until the beef is almost falling apart.

Do check after about 2 hours to make sure that there is enough liquid in the casserole and add a bit of water if it is drying out.  The beef cheeks should remain immersed throughout cooking. They will happily sit on a low heat in the oven while you prepare the rest of the side dishes.

Celeriac puree

Unfortunately, I haven’t successfully grown this faux root so far.  It needs a long time in the ground and I need more growing space first in order to let it luxuriate in the soil long enough to get bigger than the size of a golf ball. The root description is really a misnomer because it is a bulbous hypocotyl, the area of a plant between its stem and roots. The true roots of celeriac are the surface ‘hairs’ that give it a distinctively untidy appearance. Don’t be put of by its looks, it is one of our most delightful root veg.

Ingredients

1 celeriac’root’

500ml chicken stock

100 ml double cream

salt and pepper

Method

Remove the outer surface of the celeriac and cut remainder into cubes about 1cm. Place in a pan with the stock and simmer until tender (about 20-30 minutes).  The stock will reduce down significantly. Add the double cream and simmer for a further 5 minutes.  If it is very liquidy, strain off the excess.  Whizz with a hand blender or in a liquidiser until very smooth and pass through a sieve to get the puree extra smooth.  Check and adjust seasoning, keep warm.

Braised fennel with pastis

The mild aniseed flavour of the fennel is boosted with a splash of pastis and  complements the subtle background flavour of star anise in the casserole.

Ingredients

1-2 fennel bulbs, sliced

30g butter

200 ml chicken stock

1 tsp sugar

1 tblsp pastis (e.g. Pernod, Ricard)

Zest of half an orange

salt and pepper

Method

Slice the bulbs, ensuring you do so along the root (usually the longer axis) so that the slices hold together.  Slices should be about 5mm thick.

Melt the butter in a frying pan on a medium heat and place the slices in as the butter, sprinkle over the sugar to assist in caramelising the slices.

Cook for a few minutes each side until coloured.  Don’t overcrowd the pan, do this stage in batches if need be. They will need to be in a single layer to colour.

Once all slices are coloured, return all to the pan and add the pastis and orange zest.  Let the alcohol cook off for a minute or two then add the stock and season.

Simmer gently for about 10 minutes until tender and serve.

Plating up

I served each half beef cheek on the celeriac puree with lots of casserole gravy and the veg.  I didn’t bother to strain the gravy before serving as it is after all a rustic casserole.  The gravy was thick, rich and intense thanks to protracted slow cooking and should not require reduction or thickening agents.

Aromatic beef cheek casserole with celeriac puree, braised fennel with pastis and seasonal vegetables. Comfort food for a wintery Sunday.