….tales of taste and food wisdom, for modern times

Food Heros: More on Fish Sauce! November 23, 2011

Filed under: My Food Heros — Isabel @ 11:49 pm
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In Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines, fish sauce is an ingredient which always close to a cook’s hand.   We may know it as nam pla or nuoc mam. 

But fish sauce has a long pedigree in western cuisine – the Romans were particularly fond of a fermented fish sauce derived from anchovies and it represented an important trade product.

If you are struggling to get something to taste ” just right” – soups, sauces, casseroles, stews, dressings, marinades – then fish sauce will often be the ingredient you need.  It’s like a liquid anchovy – a deeply pungent and salty reddish-brown liquid which adds a savoury depth of flavour and magically brings a dish together like nothing else (honestly…. I’ve done blind taste tests with cynical and deeply suspicious family members).

On the tongue, as it were, fish sauce is not pleasant and almost unbearably salty so never use it “straight”. It needs tempering with water or other liquids, lime juice, sugar so use it as you might an intelligent seasoning and go easy on additional salt.

Remember, though, that there are fish sauces and fish sauces.  The little bottles that appear on supermarket shelves tend to be a bit wishy-washy and expensive. Source yours from an Asian grocery store and you’ll gain flavour and save money.

Didier Corlou, the French chef at the Sofitel Metropole hotel in Hanoi and author of a charming booklet about nuoc mam, writes that for him it is almost a drug, a seductive seasoning that he relies on every day. (Janet Fletcher, Chronicle Staff Writer 2005).  Well….I haven’t (yet) started hiding bottles of around the house, but I do worry when I’m down to that last inch!

Say what you will, but I say this:Reach for your reach for your fish sauce boys!”


Food Hero: Fish Sauce!

Filed under: My Food Heros — Isabel @ 5:18 pm



Food Hero: Clonakilty Black Pudding November 4, 2011

Clonakilty Blackpudding

Clonakilty Blackpudding.  Please, try this seriously good stuff because once you’ve tasted it you’ll be hooked.  Even if you think, know, you don’t like black pudding, I promise you will like this.

Rich, savoury, spicy, it’s utterly, utterly delicious. A thing of beauty.

Clonakilty Blackpudding takes its name from a town in West Cork, Ireland, home of this delicacy, where it’s been made since the 18oo’s.

Here’s a delightful little bit of  the black pudding’s history taken from the website.


“Ireland is extremeHistory Picturely rich in its traditions and one of the finest is Clonakilty Black Pudding.  In the small farmhouses of rural Ireland the modest income of the household was subsidised by the making of blackpudding.  It was sold to the butchers of the nearby market towns along with eggs, butter and other farm produce.

One such farmhouse was that of Johanna O’Brien at Sam’s Cross near Clonakilty. Her blackpudding was sold to Philip Harrington, whose butcher’s shop was at 16, Sovereign Street (now Pearse Street) in Clonakilty. When Johanna eventually retired from the onerous task of making the very popular blackpudding, she passed her precious recipe onto Mr. Harrington. On the occasion of that momentous event,  Johanna had her photograph taken while holding the recipe in her hand. In the late 1880’s Philip Harrington began the production of the blackpudding to satisfy the great demand.  The blackpudding was also send overseas to emigrants who longed for the taste of home.  The precious recipe was faithfully handed down to Philip’s family and their valued employees.   

The 1960’s saw the transfer of the business and staff to Patrick McSweeny, who in 1976 sold the shop and unknown asset of the secret recipe to his nephew Edward Twomey.”  

Sadly for the UK, Clonakilty Blackpudding’s not yet widely available here, but there are about 40 independent stockists scattered around the country, many of which have online ordering (try:www.youririshshop.com ) and it’s also recently been launched in Budgens’ stores.  The nearest to me is Aubery Allen Butcher, 108 Warwick Street, Leamington Spa, who are “Food Heros” in their own right! (more of which, later).

Meanwhile, we must celebrate this deliciousness.  I feel a recipe coming on…..watch this space!

Clonakilty Blackpudding and Smoked Bacon Tart

Food Hero: Charlecote Plants and Flowers

Charlecote Plants and Flowers (www.charlecoteplants.co.uk)

A charmingly rustic semi-open barn,  next to the National Trust car park for Charlecote Park near Warwick (CV35 9EU, J15 M40)

A family business, they grow and sell many of their own cottage garden plants and herbs, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and fresh and dried flowers, and what they don’t grow on site is sourced from growers in neighbouring villages.

The staff are lovely: chatty, knowledgeable and interested. Shopping here makes you want to eat  fruit and veg – lots and lots of it.

This is a proper world away from the sterile, uninspiring and expensive supermarket environment we’ve all got trapped into.


Break out! Do like the man says and Eat More Veg! November 3, 2011

Filed under: My Food Heros — Isabel @ 11:23 pm
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Well, I’m with Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall on this one.  As much as I enjoy eating any and all meat and fish, Hugh’s new book “River Cottage Veg Every Day” and series on Sunday evenings is a breath of fresh veg.

Too right Hugh – let’s free ourselves from the tyranny of meat every day and EAT MORE VEG every day!

And…I know a very special place which will delight and inspire anyone to do just that – Charlecote Plants and Flowers.  A veritable Aladdin’s Cave overflowing with every kind of seasonal home and local produce, but what to choose from this feast for the senses?  A huge basket of local fresh free range eggs;  trays overflowing with fragrant quinces; with traditional varieties of plums, pears and apples;

with little crimson orbs of earthy beetroot, magenta globes of red cabbage and knobbly celeriac  (how can something so unpretty taste so good?).  Romanesco cauliflowers, with their little green Christmas-tree clusters beckon me, as do little tubs of glistening ruby and gold tomatoes nestling amongst juicy Heritage beef tomatoes. Sturdy bags of  stoneground

organic flour (milled just up the road) stand to attention behind gleaming jars of honey from a local apiary.

It’s relentless.  Outside, trestle tables struggle under the weight of every shape and colour and size of squash and pumpkin known to mankind.  I spot a wheelbarrow and fight to maintain self-control and dignity.

I need to buy everything – my imagination creating sweet and savoury culinary possibilities at every turn:

Breakfast: wobbly poached eggs, sitting like little sun-topped icebergs on crunchy sourdough toast.

Lunch:  local Fowler’s cheddar with crisp pears, plum chutney and crumbly home made oatcakes.

Supper: Braised pork chops with Romanesco gratin and apple and celeriac salad…. followed by a little coconut rice pudding served alongside anise-roasted quince (1), or, what about a tender, melting Normandy Apple Tart (2)?

Later:  Mmm…a sneaky TV treat?  I feel a  sugar cone topped with a ruby scoop of beetroot and chocolate ice cream coming on (3).

O.M.G: I could go on. And on….are you hungry yet?

I love going to Charlecote Plants and Flowers.  A charmingly rustic semi-open barn, it sits prettily next to the National Trust car park for Charlecote Park. They grow and sell many of their own cottage garden plants and herbs, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and fresh and dried flowers, and what they don’t grow on site is sourced from growers in neighbouring villages.  The staff are lovely: chatty, knowledgeable and interested. Shopping here makes you want to eat  fruit and veg – lots and lots of it.  This is a proper world away from the sterile, uninspiring and expensive supermarket environment we’ve all got trapped into.

Good guys like Nigel Slater and Hugh FW urge  us to get creative with fruit and veg and to put it centre stage.  Lucky chaps, they have the enviable opportunity, space and nouse to grow their own amazing produce.  But thankfully we still have places like Charlecote Plants and Flowers to inspire us!

(1) Nigel Slater: Tender Volume II

(2) Once Upon a Cook: Recipe Page (er….that’s me)

(3) Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall: River Cottage Veg Every Day