Matt's Food Blog

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Spit Roast Lamb!

I’ve added a page to the site which describes how we designed and built a spit for roasting lamb – using old bicycle and a washing machine motor. We then carted the whole thing to an Island on Fermanagh – here’s the tale.

Posted January 5th, 2013.

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Sous Vide Beef Wellington

I love beef wellington! I only really buy fillet when making wellington or tartare as I like the increased deliciousness you get from sirloin or ribeye for steaks etc. However, there are few more glorious sights than a beautiful piece of aged fillet ready for being exposed to the wellington treatment. This one came from a butcher’s in Bessbrook, County Down which my friend Philip has been raving about.

We were staying at Philip’s place at the foot of the beautiful Mourne Mountains. I was cooking, the local pub summonsed the rest of our party to a Guinness drinking, rugby watching fest. My fine host Philip hanged fire for a while for us to catch up while drinking wine and prepping dinner – perfect.

The plan was for Beef Wellington served with potato gratin dauphinoise, turnip (which is what people here call swedes for some anomalous reason lost to history), deep fried brussels sprouts and a bordelaise sauce.

At this point I had intended to wax lyrical for a short while about the venerable history of that most British (English?) of dishes – the Beef Wellington. However, my precious go-to tomes on such matters (Larousse, Davidson etc) were not forthcoming (doesn’t even get mentioned specifically in Larousse – just the distinctly Gallic ‘fillet of beef en brioche’) – and so I’d have simply been regurgitating stuff pilfered from elsewhere on the web. Therefore – onto the cooking:

I’ve made this dish many different ways over the years – and it seems it’s one of those dishes which illustrate the elegance and utility of the sous vide/water bath technique. Here’s a pic of my water bath setup, on holiday as it was in South Down:

Some people recommend against the use of a hot plate with the PID controller this way – though I’ve been able to maintain temperatures accurately to about +/- 0.5°C – which ain’t too bad. I use an aquarium pump to circulate the water which really improved the uniformity of temperature in the bath (large pan). The controller is the Sous Vide Magic device from Fresh Meal Solutions – and it’s been performing great for around 4 years now.

So here’s how to do it:

Ingredients – serves 6 hungry fellows

One piece of beef fillet, trimmed of sinew/connective tissue etc – about 1.2Kg
Approx 100g butter
10 slices Parma Ham
500g chestnut mushrooms
Approx 500g puff pastry
Eggs for egg wash


1) Salt the fillet and vacuum pack with some butter (this melts in the bath and improves heat transfer when using non-chamber vacuum machines like I do).
2) For medium rare (safest bet I find cooking for a bunch of people) cook in a bath at 55°C – around 4-4.5 hours is required to ensure the beef reaches the required temperature all the way through.
3) When done – remove from the bath and plunge in a bowl of iced water. The fillet could now be frozen or kept in the fridge for later use.

4) When ready to use – remove the fillet from the bag – pat dry – and brown all over on a sooper-dooper hot pan, season with black pepper – then set aside. Preheat the oven to 220-240°C.

5) I like Wellingtons nice and simple, so prepare a very basic duxelles by finely chopping/pulsing in a food processor some chestnut mushrooms (about 500g for a 1.2Kg fillet), then fry without oil in a non-stick pan and salt to taste (you’ll see the moisture evaporate off, which is what you want – keep going until the mixture is dry).

6) Place a double layer of plastic wrap on a work surface, around 60cm by 45cm.
7) Place overlapping slices of parma ham on the plastic wrap as shown.

8) Spread the ham with the duxelles.

9) Place the fillet in the centre of the duxelles, then, using the wrap to lift the ham/mushroom coating, encase the fillet in the wrapping one side at a time. Fold the ham in at the ends. Twist the plastic wrap at the two ends to make a nice neat sausage shape.

10) Now a crucial detail: because we’ve already cooked the fillet perfectly in the bath, we don’t want to undo our good work whilst the pastry is being cooked. I’ve found that puff pastry can be a somewhat capricious fellow in terms of how long it takes to crust up, which means that there is the potential (if it takes longer than expected) that the fillet could be cooked further (i.e.: above 55°C), whereas all we want is it to be warm enough to feel good in the mouth.

So, to avoid overcooking the fillet I now place the fillet/mushroom/ham/plastic wrap parcel in the freezer for 30 minutes before wrapping in pastry. This additional step really helps add reliability. When in the oven to bake the pastry – the slightly cool fillet is brought up to a good eating temperature – with no risk of overcooking – unless you nuke the pastry…

11) Once the parcel’s been in the freezer for 30 mins, take it out and remove the plastic wrap – unless you’re low density polyethylene deficient and fancy a dietary boost. Lightly dust a work surface with floor, and roll out your pastry in a rectangle to around 3-4mm thickness, the rectangle should be sufficiently large to encase the fillet.
12) Wrap the fillet in the pastry, using an egg wash as glue and the tines of a fork to strengthen the seals; done well you can fold the pastry under at the ends and manage to get the top of the wellington seal free.

13) At this stage you can score the pastry with the back of a knife along its length – though I prefer to try to do something a bit prettier at this stage. Then brush the whole fella with egg wash.
14) Pop in the preheated oven until the pastry is golden brown – and you’re done! No need to rest the meat as you didn’t actually roast it.
15) Enjoy with delicious wine.

After a number of hours enjoying a selection of reds, it wasn’t the prettiest plate I’ve ever presented – but it was delicious:


Posted March 24th, 2012.


Menu for Saturday

Day off today to get some prep done for our dinner party on Saturday. It’s my friend Tom’s birthday so we’re heading up to his place and Tom and I will cook some food for a bunch of people, here’s what’s on the menu:

Smoked Eel Parfait, Rhubarb, Kombu Crisps

Miso Soup, Mackerel, Negi

Sumac Chicken ∗ Deep Fried Egg Yolk ∗ Cod Crostini

Roast Butternut Squash Risotto, Queen Scallops, Sage, Pancetta, Cauliflower Foam

Venison Tartare, Honey Wasabi Pearls

Confit Duck Leg, Pommes Sarladaise, Madeira Sauce

Tarte au Citron

Lots of Stuff from Brent Savage’s Bentley book. All the duck’s been done last week using the sous vide method from Modernist Cuisine, they were cooked for 8 hours at 82°C. Lots to do – we’ll take some pics as long as our sobriety remains somewhat intact…

Posted February 16th, 2012.

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Smoked Eel Parfait

After all my gelatin mysteries were solved I managed to give the smoked eel parfait a go. Tasted great and it turned out the technique suggested in the Bentley book worked a treat.

PVC plumbing pipes are used as molds like so (see pics below): cut your PVC pipe to the required length (for this I used 22mm pipe and cut it to 7cm lengths), then cut out a rectangle of acetate sheet large enough to be rolled into a tube that will fit inside the pipe and protrude a couple of centimetres (in my case these were 9cm by 7cm) – once the acetate is inside the PVC pipe cover the flush end with cling film and tape secure. The pipe thingies can now be used as molds: fill just up to the end of the pipe – when your filling is set just pull out the acetate and it will unfold from your perfect little cylinder of loveliness.

For this dish the eel was then wrapped in celery jelly which had its green colour boosted by spinach – I served it with a rhubarb coulis. The eel parfait was set with gelatin and kappa carrageenan, it tasted beautifully but subtly of the smoked eel – I didn’t get too much of the celery but it certainly looked great.

Posted February 6th, 2012.

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Gelatin Conversion Confusion

My friend Tom’s birthday looms, and to celebrate he’s organising a soirée. We’ll be cooking for about 12, more of that anon. One of the dishes I’m keen to try is from Brent Savage’s Bentley book. I’ve had it for a while and despite lots of great sounding stuff contained therein, I haven’t actually tried any of the recipes. I’ve long been tempted by the exquisite sounding ‘Smoked Eel Parfait with White Soy Dressing and Seaweed'; not only because of how I imagine it tastes: also on account of how cool the dish looks. The eel parfait is set in a cylinder shape, then wrapped in a thin film of celery jelly – looks like a liquorice allsort.

So I have my smoked eel – courtesy of Sawyers in Belfast (Lough Neagh smoked eel is a big deal it turns out – though most of it is exported – see here and here for interesting articles). I’ve also ordered some new carrageenans from Cream Supplies – who do a range of modernist ingredients. So really all to do was to get going with practicing the recipe – that’s where I hit the snag.

The book calls for two sheets of titanium strength gelatin. Well – I only have platinum strength, and it turns out that finding out how to convert leaf gelatin amounts according to class is more tricky to work out than I would have thought.

Gelatin strength is measured by bloom – the higher the bloom value the greater the gelling strength (or the less gelatin required to set the same amount of liquid). Gelatin leaves (or sheets) are sold classed as titanium, bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Additionally different leaves have different weights, and different manufacturers use slightly different bloom strengths. So to convert a recipe that calls for a certain number of sheets of gelatin of a certain type for use with another type of gelatin you need to know: 1) the weight per leaf of each type of gelatin, 2) the bloom strength of each type and lastly, a conversion formula. You will by now appreciate that this takes a little effort to work out.

Cue the fabulous Texture – A Hydrocolloid Recipe Collection which is put together by Martin Lersch at his Kymos blog, which has amongst it’s extremely informative pages a chart of gelatin leaves, the range of their bloom strengths, and a conversion formula. Unfortunately titanium strength gelatin is not included, though most sources that I can find suggest it’s around 100 bloom.

Here’s the formula suggested in Texture: $Mass B = \ Mass A (\frac{Bloom Strength A}{Bloom Strength B})$, where Mass B refers to the mass of the leaves you have, Mass A to that of the leaves in the recipe, and similarly Bloom Strength B refers to the bloom strength of the leaves you’re using etc.

Some sites suggest applying a square root to the fraction: $Mass B = \ Mass A \sqrt(\frac{Bloom Strength A}{Bloom Strength B})$ however Martin Lersch suggests the former works better for the bloom strengths he supplies. So putting it together is a bit of a hotchpotch, I’ll go with his initially as he’s clearly a legend given how comprehensive Texture is (see below for a table of info re different bloom strengths etc).

The smoked eel parfait recipe calls for two sheets of titanium strength gelatin, which earlier in the book he explains weigh 5 grams each. So putting all that together using our formula and the table below suggests the weight of platinum gelatin we need is $\ 10(\frac{100}{240})$ which is 4.2, and as the platinumn sheets weigh 1.7 grams that means we need 2.5 sheets: easy!

Leaf TypeBloom StrengthGrams/leaf

Posted February 1st, 2012.

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Piggy Wiggy Woo

So today was day one of the first Scrumulous attempt to dry cure a ham. The idea is to have some cured meats ready for June, the shortest time that one can successfully complete the process is 4-5 months so we’re cutting it a bit fine. Having scoured the web and the various books I have which give recipes for parma type ham I settled on the really quite simple recipe from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s now classic book Charcuterie, with some adaptions.

Their recipe uses solely cooking salt to cure the meat – I added some nitrite/nitrate curing salt and some phosphates. The curing salts preserve colour and flavour and helps combat the likelihood of baddies making their home in the meat. The phosphates promote the activity of the salt and encourage the development of the cured texture. I used the suggested scaling from Modernist Cuisine to guide the amount of phosphate (0.2% of the weight of the meat). For the amount of Cure number 2 (the nitrite salt I used) I use the scaling from the Ruhlman recipe for Blackstrap Molasses Country Ham. So that meant I rubbed the (boned out) leg with a mature containing: 1.6 Kg salt, 350g Cure 2 and 17 grams of the polyphosphate mixture I have.

pig leg unadorned

All very exciting, the process of rubbing the leg with the mixture being oddly pleasurable. I’ve popped it in a plastic container and placed some weights atop. Over the next 16 days (one day for each 500g of piggy leg) it will live in the fridge and I’ll be regularly draining it of all the liquid that gathers and keeping an eye to ensure all of the meat remains covered with a layer of salt. I’ll probably replace the cure mix once half way through too.

pig leg in his box

People take years to perfect this kind of process so, being uncharted territory as it is, we can but wait and see how it all goes…

Curing salts can be ordered from DesignaSausage and (who also supply the phosphates)

Posted January 22nd, 2012.


Butternut Squash Soup

I’ve always been somewhat unimpressed by butternut squash. But I’ve had my squash-ism challenged a couple of times recently.

Several weeks ago I attempted a recipe from the Alinea book, the mighty, beautiful, intimidating and accomplished tome from Grant Achatz, of Alinea in Chicago. The dish: ‘KUROGE WAGYU’ (not wagyu in my case!) had as one of its (only 10) components slices of squash (I used butternut instead of the recipes acorn variety). The squash was sous vide-ed in rendered beef fat, and then spread with a smoked paprika yoghurt glaze, and grilled. I just loved this, and have since served a variation as an amuse bouche (without the glaze and some dehydrated red pepper and garlic crisp – also from the Alinea recipe). I also used butter instead of the beef fat for that one. The controlled poach of the sous vide allows the texture of the squash to be perfectly balanced throughout – not at all mushy but succumbs immediately to the first bite. And the buttery sweet taste worked beautifully with both the paprika and then later with the pepper and garlic.

Notes: 5

My second butternut squash renaissance moment occurred last week when I eventually got ’round to making Heston Blumenthal’s recipe for soup of said gourd. It’s from his first book: Family Food, which is a great book aimed at inspiring families to get involved in the kitchen together and to let kids begin to enjoy making and thinking about food. The soup’s described in glowing terms in the book, and the recipe can be found here (saving me the job of typing it in – hoora!).

The soup was easy to make and tasted great, I had some lardons in the fridge and so grilled them, made some croûtons and roasted some cubes of squash as well – and added some shaved parmesan as suggested, which meant for a really rich and luxurious soup – scrumulous.



Posted April 10th, 2010.

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