Friday, 28 February 2014

Wet Nelly Goes South

I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that today is Global Scouse Day. In celebration, here's an alternative dish from Liverpool - sort of. A while ago I read this post about the Wet Nelly of Liverpool on the very fine blog Lola and Finn’s Mum. Shamefully, despite a shedload of visits to Liverpool, I'd never heard of Wet Nelly. While I was back there last year and cruising along Speke Boulevard at the regulation 40 mph with the wind from Widnes blowing through what remains of my hair, I suddenly remembered Wet Nelly and thought I must have a go at making one.

It turns out that Wet Nelly is essentially bread pudding from Liverpool. It might have pastry on the top and bottom and, then again, it might not. I don’t think that there’s any doubt that it’s one of those puddings designed to use up whatever you have left in the cupboard when there’s not much money to go around. I can remember eating bread puddings made from various leftovers as a kid (in London not Liverpool) but I have to admit that they were moderately terrible. So I was keen to see what would happen if I made one now.

I'm a fully qualified southern softie and I just don’t have the same sort of leftovers these days that we had when I was young. Looking round the kitchen, I had leftover brioche, some speculoos biscuits (or Biscoff, as they seem to be called in the UK these days) and butter rather than suet. (When did I become so ridiculously middle class? I think I'm becoming unduly influenced by Damien Trench.) Anyway, this is my attempt at a Southern Wet Nelly or slightly eccentric (and probably woollyback) bread pudding. As it turns out, there’s nothing at all wrong with that idea and the result is so much better than anything I ate as a kid. In fact, it’s decidedly moreish.

One more thing, in Liverpool I was told that Wet Nelly should always be cut into squares before serving. No other shape would be right. I advise against asking why that should be, you might well get the answer, ‘Act soft and I’ll buy you a coalyard’.

Southern Wet Nelly
You don’t have to use rum to soak the sultanas - orange juice, black tea or even water will do. On the other hand, if this dish is a tribute to Nelson as historians suggest, then I'm sure that he would have chosen rum and so would I. If you use stale bread to make this dish, it will probably need some additional soaking time. Brioche is normally softer and needs only 10 minutes or so.

300 g brioche, torn into chunks (it can be less than perfectly fresh)
200 ml milk
150 g sultanas
3 tbsp dark rum
4 speculoos (biscoff) biscuits (or whatever spicy or gingery biscuits you have)
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
50 g butter, softened plus a bit extra for the tin
70 g light brown soft sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp marmalade
2 tsp demerara sugar, to sprinkle on top

Put the brioche chunks into a large bowl and pour over the milk. Squidge the brioche and milk together a little and set aside. Place the sultanas in a bowl and pour over the rum. Set aside while you get the rest of the ingredients together.

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Butter an oven tray or cake tin – I used an 18 cm square tray with a depth of 5 cm. Break the speculoos (or other biscuits) into random chunks. (I put mine into a plastic bag and bashed them on the worktop a few times.) Add the sultanas and any residual rum to the soggy brioche, then add all the other ingredients, except the demerara sugar. Stir the whole lot together thoroughly. Pour into the prepared tin and sprinkle over the demerara sugar.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 – 45 minutes until the top is browned but not burnt and the pudding feels springy but reasonably firm. You can either cut the pudding into squares and serve immediately with some custard or allow it to cool and reheat later (a microwave will do the job fine, although Mr Trench might disagree). Or, if you're like me, just eat it cold whenever the urge takes you.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Three-Day Oxtail with Gin and Beer

This dish really doesn't need a lot of work, but it does need a fair bit of time. If you can’t wait, you can shorten the process, but I think this dish is at it’s very best when made over a three-day period. On the first day you prepare the marinade and leave it overnight to do its stuff. On the second day you cook the dish in a relaxed manner and then chill it overnight. On the third day you reheat and enjoy it.

This is an Anglicised version of a ch’ti recipe from just across the channel. The original recipe would have used genièvre and a local beer (a bière ambrée) but gin and a pale ale will do nicely instead, if they’re easier to lay your hands on. You can use other beers, but avoid any that are very bitter.

This dish would normally be served simply with a little pasta or boiled potatoes, I think, but mashed potatoes, roasted celeriac or rice would be just fine too. This is a very warming and comforting dish for a winter’s day. Eat this and imagine yourself in a little estaminet somewhere near the coast of the Pas-de-Calais with good company and steamed-up windows. Hopefully, I'll be the badly dressed bloke in the corner studying a ‘Learn To Speak Ch’ti Without Tears’ book.

This will serve 2 but it will feed one or two more if accompanied by enough pasta, rice or veg. À chés fêtes !
Oxtail with Gin and Beer
600 g – 750 g oxtail, in thick slices

For the marinade:
     2 carrots, chopped into small chunks
     1 onion, chopped
     3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
     8 juniper berries
     2 sprigs rosemary
     1½ tbsp balsamic vinegar (not authentic, but it works)
     2 tbsp tomato purée
     100 ml gin (or genièvre, if you happen to have some)
     150 ml beer
     A little salt and a generous sprinkle of pepper

80 g smoked lardons
140 g mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp dark brown sugar
200 ml beef stock
A little lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped chervil or parsley

Day one: Simply mix all the marinade ingredients together in a non-reactive bowl and add the oxtail. Cover and place in the fridge overnight.

Day two: Preheat the oven to 150 °C, remove the oxtail from the marinade and pat it dry. Add the lardons to a large, dry frying pan and fry them over a medium heat until the fat begins to run. Add the oxtail to the pan and brown it lightly on all sides. Strain the marinade to separate the vegetables from the liquid (but keep both). Discard the rosemary. Add the strained vegetables to the pan together with the mushrooms. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes more. Sprinkle the sugar over the pan and pour in the reserved marinade liquid. Bring the liquid to simmering point and add the beef stock. Bring back to a simmer. Transfer the dish to a ovenproof casserole dish and place in the oven for 2 – 3 hours until the meat is very tender.

Allow the casserole to cool, at least until you can handle it. Remove the meat from the bones and break up into fairly small pieces. Discard the bones and any remaining chunks of fat. Return the meat to the casserole and put it in the fridge.

Day three: Skim off most of the fat and reheat the casserole in a low oven. When it’s nice and hot adjust the seasoning and add a squeeze or two of lemon. Sprinkle with a little chopped chervil or parsley if you fancy and serve with your chosen accompaniment.