Saturday, 10 November 2012

Spicy Barbecued Lamb Breast with Garlic and Mint Yoghurt Sauce and Rice

Me old mum, Mrs Ribeye Sr, loves to tell me about the good old days when she was young and had no money. For some reason, she gets all nostalgic about being poor and hungry. Fairly weird.

One of her stories is how she used to make a dinner of lamb breast for her and me old dad that cost 'one-and-six' (whatever that means), and that she used to roll it with sage and onion stuffing for dinner before listening to Perry Como on the wireless and watching Hughie Green on the light box receiver. She then allowed herself a ha'p'orth of cough candy before sleeping in the family's Anderson shelter (probably).

Anyway, the reason for this trip down 'Inaccurate Memory Lane' is that I have suddenly found a penchant for lamb breast. It's still cheap - not one-and-six, but £5 per kilo - and absolutely delicious. In all honesty, it is a gristly and fatty old bit of meat, but as any foodie will know, this means MASSIVE flavour. I love the scrag ends of things. If there is a bit of connective tissue going, I'm your man. No fancy fillets for me - I'd rather eat the skin of any animal than the prime cuts.

My wife, Mrs Ribeye, is not quite as enthusiastic as me for the less fancy cuts of flesh. She thinks they're pretty offal (I thaaank you). When I presented her with this dish, she asked me why she couldn't actually have a lamb chop, rather than shank or breast, for once. Pish! I said. Chops are for wimps and rich people who know no better. Now cut up your gristle a bit smaller.

I am joking, of course. If you treat the lamb breast correctly, it will repay you in kind. The key is to marinate it well, cook it long and hard and then allow it to relax for a significant time. Result: The best lamb in the world. You can stick your prime rack up your rump end as far as I'm concerned.

The first thing you must do when buying your lamb breast, is to unroll it and discard the disgusting elastic net that it comes tightly shrouded in. If you don't, then the inner coils of the meat will not get any direct heat, and you'll end up with flaccid fatty nonsense, instead of crispy schwarma-like (schwarma. Mmmmmm) shards of deliciousness. Try it - you'll never go back to the rack.

Because this cut of meat is so cheap to buy, this whole dish comes in at a fantastic £2.50 per serving. A third of the cost of a dish made with the dearer stuff, and a sixth of the cost of a decent Middle Eastern takeaway.

Serves 2


750g lamb breast
1 tablespoon of dried mint, dried oregano, ground cumin, ground coriander, dried chilli flakes
Salt and pepper
1 onion, minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 tablespoons of olive oil

Unroll the lamb breast. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and then rub it well into the lamb. Leave in the fridge for minimum 2 hours, preferably overnight. Preheat oven or barbecue to 250c. Roast the lamb breast for an hour, turning once, until it is crispy and slightly charred. Then remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes.


Garlic and Mint Yoghurt Sauce


300ml natural unsweetened Greek yoghurt
1 teaspoon of dried mint
1 clove of garlic, minced
Pinches of salt and pepper

Mix ingredients together and refrigerate until needed.


To Serve


Mixed salad vegetables, chopped into 2cm dice
Salt and pepper
200g cooked rice (I use basmati)
2 tablespoons of olive oil

Place a mound of salad vegetables onto a plate and season to taste. Stir the olive oil into the rice and place onto the plate next to the salad. Cut the lamb breast into 2cm dice and place in a pile over the rice. Top the lamb with the yoghurt sauce. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Mother-in-Law's Spice-Rubbed Roasted Mackerel with Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables

Having a Russian mother-in-law is fun. She smiles whenever I talk to her. She doesn't understand my sarcastic jibes. She (not so) secretly thinks I beat her daughter. She cooks interesting food. What's not to love?

Last summer, Mrs Syktyvkar Sr gave me a small paper cornet of Ukranian dry spice rub, bought on a trip she and Mr Syktyvkar Sr took to Kiev, and (via Mrs Ribeye's translation) explained to me that it should be sprinkled on anything to 'make it taste better'. With a barely concealed sceptical look in my eye, I graciously accepted the package and placed it into my spice rack (actually more of a shelf) in my kitchen when I got home and then totally forgot about it. It's not that I don't believe my mother-in-law, it's just that the Russians are not particularly known for their spicy cuisine.

Last year, on a trip to Mrs Ribeye's homeland, Mrs Syktyvkar Sr fed us about eight times a day. So for the week we were there, Mrs Ribeye and I ate 56 meals and not one of them contained a single spice. Yes, there were fresh herbs - chopped dill (or 'oo-crop', as it is known) seems to find its way into every dish - but spices? No. I tried to buy some dried spices to add to some food that I was cooking for the family, but couldn't find anything beyond black pepper in any supermarket. As Mrs Ribeye says, 'we like to let the flavour of the ingredients speak for themselves.'

Oh, come on! What about a delicious cuzza once in a while?  Or a chilli con carne? Or anything Spanish or, Chinese? I like basic flavours as much as the next guy, but until I went to Russia, I had taken for granted how many tons of dry spices I get through every year. It's not to say my mother-in-law's cooking isn't fab (in fact, we're going back there in a few weeks and I can't wait), but how often can you eat meat, fish and veg flavoured with garlic and dill? A week is fine, but a lifetime?

Anyway, the fact that Mrs Syktyvkar Sr brought me a paper cornet of dry spices touched my heart. Is it maybe a tiny fractional shift towards my Russian family acquiring a taste for spicy food after having come over here and eating some of my more 'exotic' creations? I can only hope and pray.

The rub I was given contains a mysterious blend which might be ground coriander, cumin, fennel, celery seeds and a host of other delights. Make your own, by combining earthy dark spices and roasting them in a dry pan before grinding them up. Any combination will do - experiment.

I used the rub on a mackerel fillet that was left over from my New York Sushi night, and it was a REVELATION. I am not making mackerel again without liberally coating the flesh side with dry spices and then roasting it for a couple of minutes in a searingly hot oven. The oiliness of the fish works brilliantly with the warm muskiness of the spices. Oh, and it's cheap too. I served it with some roasted Mediterranean vegetables, and the whole dish came to a bargain £2.50 per serving.

Serves 2


1 large mackerel, filleted but with the skin left on.
1 tablespoon of dry spice rub - any will do.
Salt and black pepper
500g mixed Mediterranean vegetables - I used courgette, onion, peppers, aubergine and garlic
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of dried basil

Preheat oven to a very hot 250c. Rub the flesh side of the two mackerel fillets with the spice rub and some seasoning and place skin side up on a baking tray, and then set aside. In a roasting tin, toss the vegetables and garlic in the olive oil and dried basil and seasoning. Roast in the hot oven for 45 minutes, or until slightly charred on the edges. About 4-5 minutes before the vegetables are completely cooked, place the mackerel on the top shelf in the oven and cook until the skin is crispy. Do not turn the fish over - the flesh will dry out. remove from the oven and serve with the roasted vegetables.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

New York-Style XL Sushi Nigiri

Having eaten sushi a number of times at Sushi-Waka in Camden Town - assured by the owner as 'pure Japanese sushi' - and in New York at various sushi bars - I can tell you that the Big-Appley (even their fruit is big) ones like to do it bigger. Not necessarily better, but definitely bigger. Well actually, maybe better.

While my nigiri and maki purveyors in Camden prefer the more no-frills austerity 'minimalist' style of presenting the subtle delights of the raw fish, the guys over in Giant Granny Smith feel that unless they present you with a monster selection straight off the pallets at Fulton Fish Market, and then doll it up with numerous multi-coloured garnishes and accoutrements, that they are somehow short-changing you. 

I cannot say objectively whether authentic Japanese or Massive Cox's Orange Pippin-style sushi is better. The most I can say, is that if I'm in the mood for purist traditional food sold in draughty London premises by the stern looking wife of the jovial chef, I'll take a bus to Camden, and when I'm in the mood for over-the-top metropolitan pescatarian ostentatiousness served by Abercrombie & Fitch models, I'll catch a plane over the Atlantic to the Large Orchard Fruit of the Deciduous Tree. It's nice to have options.

My good friend Ophelia came over for dinner this week, and so I decided to offer her some sushi; as (a) I don't eat meat on a school night; (b) I like sushi; and (c) I like pretty food - and sushi is the veritable supermodel of the culinary universe. But which style should I go for? Proper Japanese sushi (small portions/beautifully presented), or Gargantuan Pink Lady style (enormous slabs of fish/tiny rice/presented like a fishy Carman Miranda's hat)? Well, no contest really. I went BIG.

As for the types of fish I chose. I went to Waitrose on the Edgware Road and interrogated the fish counter guy as to when his fish were caught. Not placed on ice on his counter, but actually caught. He assured me that his stock arrives daily from a boat arriving from the fishing grounds in the middle of the night. Good enough for me. I chose a plump sea bass, a shiny mackerel and a glistening salmon fillet and asked him to make sure they were entirly bone-free (I can be very assertive at times). Great fish choices, and a nice set of contrasting textures, colours and flavours.

I have advocated buying fresh fish for sushi before, but all I can say is: If you're queasy about eating raw supermarket fish, then don't. But then don't eat your tuna rare, or go to one of those sushi conveyor belt restaurants either - the right supermarket (ie a good quality one) trumps a dodgy faux-Japanese disco blaring High Street fish cafe any time. As they say; you pays your price, you takes your risk.

The nice thing about this dish, is you don't need to be an artist to make dinner look amazing. Just cut the fillets up into large chunks and place over torpedoes of rice. Then garnish the plate like its New Year's Eve. Easy. As you can see from the picture, this dish looks a bit of a crazy mess- which is the WHOLE POINT.

Cost-wise, the fish came to £4.50 for three fillets, with the rice and garnishes bringing the whole dish to £3 per serving. Really good value, and a true mid-week treat. As they used to say in New York (I'm out of Big Apple gags): Have a nice day.

Serves 2


150g sushi or risotto rice
50ml rice vinegar
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 fresh salmon fillet, skinned and pin-boned
1 mackerel fillet, pin-boned, but with the skin left on
1 sea bass fillet, pin-boned, but with the skin left on
Large handful of salad leaves
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into fine strips with a potato peeler
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
25g sesame seeds
25g nigella (black onion) seeds
1 teaspoon of prepared wasabi paste, to serve
75ml dark soy sauce, to serve
Pickled ginger, to serve

To make the sushi rice: Add the rice to a pan with twice the volume of water. Cook the rice on a moderate heat until the water has fully absorbed (15 minutes approx). While the rice is still warm, add the vinegar, salt and sugar and fold in gently to ensure you don't break up the rice grains. Set aside until needed. In the meantime. slice all fish fillets across the grain, until you have 3-4cm strips of 1cm thickness. Form the cooled rice into 3cm torpedoes with your hands, and place attractively around a large serving platter with a fish fillet on each. Dress the salad leaves and carrot strips with the oil and vinegar and place in the centre of the dish with a ramekin filled with soy sauce and wasabi nestled in the middle. Sprinkle sesame seeds on the salmon and nigella seeds on the mackerel. Serve the sushi immediately with pickled ginger on the side.