Archive for June, 2009

The Perfect Steak

Beef Rib-Eye

I’ve eaten beef all over the world and nothing comes close to good Irish beef; it’s the best. I recall tucking into a chateaubriand in Spain a couple of years ago and I couldn’t get over the fact that despite the fancy cut and that I had perfectly seasoned and cooked it table-side on a hot stone, the flavour wasn’t a patch on anything I could get at home.

I’m sure everyone has their own way to cook what they think is the perfect steak. Here’s my 8-point, foolproof guide to steak heaven.

  1. Buy good meat. A little obvious this, but try to ensure your meat is from a good source. Buy from a reputable butcher and ensure the beef has been hung for at least 21 days. My favourite cuts are fillet and rib-eye. I like the decadence of fillet, the fact that you can buy it really thick. I like it about 2-3 inches, cooked rare. Sometimes I prefer rib-eye, vastly superior to fillet in terms of flavour, but not as lean or as tender. If you’ve never tried rib-eye before, do give it a try.
  2. Use a cast-iron grill pan. This is one of my favourite pieces of kitchen kit. Those ridges on the grill pan are not there for show. They give the steak an appetising ridged look, but they caramelise the sugars on the outside of the meat giving a deep flavour. Make sure your grill pan is absolutely smoking hot before adding any food.
  3. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Opinions are divided on whether to salt your steak before or after grilling. Some people say that salting before cooking draws out the juices. I’m not sure I subscribe to this. Provided you’re not cooking your steak to “well-done”, salting before grilling helps to give you that crusty, savoury outside and a juicy centre.
  4. Oil the steak, not the pan. When grilling anything, it’s important to oil the food, not the pan itself. This helps to give you the all-important charred effect.
  5. Turn only once. Grill on one side, then turn and grill on the other. You should try to move the meat only once during cooking. If you’re constantly moving or turning the meat you risk losing precious juices.
  6. Don’t overcook. My own personal preference is for medium-rare, as I like a warm centre. If you’re a member of the “well-done” brigade, you can get your coat and leave. 😉
  7. Rest the meat. This step is often overlooked, but it’s very important. Resting allows the juices to be distributed back into the centre of your steak. It also allows the meat to relax, making it a lot more tender.
  8. Serve with some simple accompaniments which allow the flavour of the meat to shine. I like some silky, buttery mash and some steamed greens – broccoli, asparagus and green beans are all good. Some good bread would not go astray.  I like to accompany this with a robust red wine such as a Barolo or Bordeaux.

Red Onion Marmalade

Steak Sandwich with Red Onion Marmalade

Heat a large knob of butter in a saucepan, add a little oil to prevent it burning. Finely slice 2 red onions and fry hard for a couple of minutes. Add 1 tbsp of dark muscovado sugar along with 1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar. Stir to coat the onions and reduce the heat as low as you can. Put the lid on the pot and cook very gently for 30 minutes. The onions should be dark, sticky and melting. Season with a little salt and some freshly ground black pepper.

Serve on a good steak sandwich, along with some rocket leaves and a blob of mayo. Great for the summer.

Serves 2.

Aloo Tikki Chaat

Aloo Tikki Chaat

Sounds exotic, doesn’t it? Commonly found in the “Starters” section on Indian restaurant menus, Aloo Tikki Chaat is a fried potato cake, flavoured with spices and fresh herbs. I like to add some toasted nuts (similar to a “batata vada”) to give a more interesting texture. The spicing here is simply a guide, adjust according to your own taste.

I like to serve these with some poppadoms, spicy mango chutney and some lime pickle. Oh, and a large frosty Cobra beer. 😉


  • 800g potatoes (approx 4 large potatoes)
  • 1 green chilli, finely chopped
  • handful of cashew nuts (or skinned peanuts), toasted in a dry pan and roughly chopped
  • butter & oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp black onion (nigella) seeds
  • fresh coriander


  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into quarters. Boil in salted water until tender, then mash. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. That’s your base done.
  2. Heat a large knob of butter (add a little oil to stop it burning) in a small pan and add your spices. Mix the garlic and spices into the butter and cook until the mustard seeds start popping. Remove from the heat.
  3. Add the spicy butter to the mashed potato along with the nuts, green chilli and a handful of finely chopped fresh coriander. Mix well.
  4. Flour your hands and shape the potato into cakes, dusting both sides with flour as you go. You should get about 8 decent sized cakes out of this mixture. (I use a scone cutter to get a nice uniform shape to the cakes.)
  5. To cook, heat some oil in a pan and get it quite hot. Place the cakes in the pan and reduce the heat. Fry on both sides until golden brown.

Makes 8 cakes approx.

Taking Photographs in Restaurants

Maze Restaurant - Irish ox 'tongue 'n' cheek', caper raisin and ginger carrots, horseradish pomme purée

I stumbled across a good article this morning on Chow about taking photographs in restaurants. I thought it was worth posting a link here. Since I started blogging my restaurant visits I wouldn’t contemplate going to a restaurant without being armed with my trusty Canon. Sad, I know. I’m mindful that it might irritate other diners, snapping every dish that comes my way, but I have set myself some ground rules to avoid causing discomfort to my fellow diners.

  • Most importantly, turn the flash off. This can cause problems in a dimly-lit restaurant, which is why it makes more sense for bloggers and amateur food photographers to visit restaurants for lunch rather than dinner.
  • Know your camera. Know how to get that perfect macro shot, first time around. Always use your camera’s macro setting if it has one.
  • Limit yourself to one or two shots per dish.
  • Do it discreetly. I use a small camera which doesn’t look out of place sitting on the table.
  • Don’t be concerned with disapproving stares from other diners. I’m sure they’re too busy concentrating on their own meals. Restaurant staff will not mind either; any good restaurant will not deny you a photo of the meal you’ve just paid for. If anything, it’s a compliment to the chef and the restaurant.

Happy snapping!

Baked Nectarines

Baked Nectarine with Mascarpone

There’s something frugal and maybe a little dull about a dessert called “Baked Fruit”, but it’s a real cracker. I was intrigued to try it because there must be a recipe for the dish in almost every trendy cookbook available these days. I know Jamie and Nigella certainly have them.

I had some nectarines to hand but you can experiment with whatever fruit you like (I believe rhubarb and figs work very well).

Halve and stone one large nectarine per person. Arrange (cut side up) in a baking dish. Dust each piece fruit of with a little caster sugar (I used vanilla sugar) and add a few drops of brandy over the fruit. Bake in the oven at 240°C for about 12 minutes. It’s excellent served with rich mascarpone, sweetened with some vanilla sugar.

Strawberries in Balsamic Vinegar

Strawberries in Balsamic Vinegar with Mascarpone

Strawberries and vinegar might not sound like a likely combination, but this makes a fantastic and easy dessert. Take a large punnet of strawberries, enough for two people. Wash, hull and slice the berries into a bowl. Mix a teaspoon of caster sugar with a teaspoon of good balsamic vinegar and add to the sliced strawberries. Mix gently then cover with cling film and allow the berries to macerate for an hour or so.

Serve with a blob of mascarpone, sweetened with a little vanilla sugar.

Serves 2.

Garlic Butter for Steak

Garlic Butter for Steak

Grind a garlic clove with a big pinch of rock salt, then add it to about 100g of softened butter. Add a grind of black pepper and some finely chopped parsley. Now, here’s a tip I picked up from one of Rick Stein’s programmes: add a little splash of brandy to the garlic butter. Mix well. Goes particularly well with a charred and bloody steak.

A nice variation would be to use a little chopped tarragon instead of the parsley.

How to Season a Cast-Iron Pan

I’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite item from my ever-growing collection of kitchen gadgetry. But, my cast-iron grill pan is absolutely indispensable. A steak isn’t the same unless it’s cooked on a proper grill pan.  My beloved pan has recently been growing a healthy layer of rust while I wasn’t looking. I bought some delicious looking rib-eye steaks today which I plan on cooking tomorrow, so it’s time for action.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of information on the web concerning pan seasoning; a lot of it conflicting, a lot of it surplus to requirements.  Here then, is my simple guide to seasoning your cast-iron pan. You’ll need some vegetable oil and plenty of kitchen paper. I’d also recommend using some disposable gloves for this, it’s a messy job.

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 140°C/280°F.
  2. Remove any rust or encrusted food particles by scrubbing well with a “Brillo” pad or some steel wool and detergent.
  3. Coat the pan liberally with oil using a cloth or some kitchen roll. You need to be generous with the oil and rub it in with your kitchen roll. When the pan is fully coated, use some more kitchen roll to remove an excess oil.
  4. Leave the pan in the oven for 1 hour. The idea here is to bake the oil into the pores of the cast-iron, thereby preventing corrosion.
  5. Let the pan cool fully and remove any excess oil with some kitchen roll.

How do I prevent my pan from rusting again?

Unless you’re extremely careful, every cast-iron pan will need to be re-seasoned occasionally.

To maintain the pan, never ever use washing-up liquid to clean it. In future, when you’ve finished cooking and the pan is still hot, add some water and allow it to sizzle. Use a spatula to loosen any bits of food clinging to the pan. Transfer the pan to the sink and clean lightly with hot water. Just never use detergent as it removes the film of oil, which allows it to rust.

Fish Cakes

Fish Cakes

I’ve taken the best elements from several recipes and combined them to make these super fish cakes. I won’t deny this recipe is a little labour intensive, but it’s worth it. Just rope someone in to do the washing up, as I did…

Perfect for summer; serve with some salad leaves, a big blob of home-made tartare sauce and a nice glass of white.


  • 600g fish fillets (I used a mixture of smoked haddock, Icelandic cod and salmon)
  • 2 bay leaves (optional)
  • a few peppercorns (optional)
  • 600g potatoes
  • 1 free-range egg
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp chopped dill
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • flour, for dusting

Fish Cakes


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C, for poaching the fish.
  2. Peel and cook the potatoes until tender, then mash with butter and plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Make sure you check the seasoning.
  3. Place the fish fillets in a deep baking tray (add some peppercorns and a couple of bay leaves, if you like). Fill the tray with water until the fish is just covered and poach in the oven for 12 minutes.
  4. Drain the fish and use a fork to flake the fillets.
  5. Add the egg, herbs and lemon zest to the potato and mix well. Add the flaked fish and mix gently.
  6. With oiled hands, shape the fish cakes and dust lightly with flour; you should get 8 patties out of this mixture.
  7. Cool and chill for an hour before frying. The fish cakes also freeze very well.
  8. To cook, heat oil and butter and fry gently until golden and hot in the middle. Try to turn the fish cakes as little as possible to avoid them breaking up.

Serves 4.

Fish Cakes

Fish Cakes

Easy Tartare Sauce

Tartare Sauce

The classic accompaniment to fish. My cheaty version involves using a good bought mayonnaise and adding fresh ingredients. Don’t get hung up on measurements with this one. Adjust the ingredients to your own taste. Mix all of the ingredients together and check for seasoning; you may not need salt but a grind of black pepper would not go amiss.


  • 50g good-quality bought mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp dry English mustard
  • 1 tsp capers, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp gherkins/cornichons, finely chopped
  • fresh dill & parsley, finely chopped
  • a squeeze of lemon juice