AWFUL OFFAL RIDES AGAIN (vegetarians & vegans keep clear)

For a very brief period in the early 70’s, I worked at Lacy’s – a very fashionable restaurant in London. Owned by highly regarded Chef Bill Lacy and his wife Margaret Costa, the Sunday Times Food & Wine Editor, it  championed offal. And, in her wonderful “Four Seasons Cookery Book”, Margaret christened the offal chapter ‘Awful Offal’, lamenting the fact that all these delicious bits and pieces, so full of nutritional value, ended up with such an awful nano – even refusing to quote the Oxford Dictionary (parts fallen or cut off”), as it may “put you off these good and nourishing foods forever”.

These days, Fergus Henderson of St John’s Restaurant in London fame is regarded as the champion of ‘awful offal’, but isn’t it time that us Aussies in, a day and age when we continually talk of no waste, jumped on the bandwagon of offal to a greater extent? In fact, how dare we even consider slaughtering a beast, any beast, and not using up every skerrick of same. Instead, we need to follow the lead of our parents and grandparents and embrace delicacies such as kidneys, liver, tongue, brains, sweetbreads and the like. Although, I must admit, my mother and grandmother almost put me off tripe for life when they smothered it in the world’s worst white sauce (cornflour thickened milk with tonnes of parsley). It was only when I discovered the joys of the French version (Tripes a la Mode de Caen), where the Bechamel was not only made correctly, but it was heavily flavoured with the world’s best apple brandy – Calvados. But, I do remember my father happily eating my mother’s version. Then again, he also loved haggis (he was a Scot). I do wonder whether it was the generous tot of single malt alongside that swayed him. Me? Haggis didn’t ever do it for me and I am, to this day, reminded of Greenkeeper Willie from The Simpsons, who described it as “the awful bits and pieces from the animal stuffed into a wee lamb’s stomach” or words to that effect.

Anyway, I digress, my Salade Nouvelle of pan seared duck livers with baby spinach, bacon, lardons and a tangy mustard dressing was always popular on my restaurant menus. As was Twice-Cooked Ox Tongue with beetroot relish and/or celeriac remoulade and a Chicken, Brain & Spinach Pate en Croute was an absolute hit.

Also, as a kid, I was pretty keen on Crumbed Brains & Bacon and Devilled Kidneys, and Lamb’s Fry went down a treat as part of our breakfast feasts, particularly if there was fried bread alongside. I will always remember Ann Taylor’s stunning Calf’s Liver with onions from her Sydney restaurant, the highly moreish salad at Leon de Lyon in (where else) Lyon, which was packed with goodies – many of which I was loath to enquire as to their origins (it was so tasty, I ordered seconds!), and then there was Jimmy Shu’s bloody wonderful crispy tripe, which I hope still features on at least one of his many Northern Territory establishments.

And, I mustn’t forget the Sweetbreads Grenoblaise from Melbourne’s Fanny’s – one of my favourite restaurants of all time, which were drenched in a foaming mix of brown butter, capers and tiny wedges of lemon – delish!

All in all, enough to encourage each and every one of you to immediately rush to the butcher’s shop and grab some offal, any offal. But do keep in mind that this is not supermarket fodder and you may have to visit a ‘real’ butcher and maybe even pre-order some of these delicious goodies.

 

PS.

For all you tripe haters, here is a recipe that will appeal. Keeping in mind how much Aussies love anything crumbed, just parmesan crumb fine slices of par-cooked tripe, deep fry and serve with a Sauce Bearnaise laden with lots of fresh tarragon.

A friend of mine served such a dish to his kids without appraising them of the fact that it wasn’t chicken or fish. It’s alright, I’m not advocating such behaviour, but they scoffed the lot.

 

PPS.

Another of my father’s favourites – the unfortunately named faggot. Originally a Cockney working class creation, the faggot is a simple sausage of ground bits and pieces wrapped in caul fat (lining of a pig’s stomach) and baked until golden brown. Absolutely delicious, it’s other claim to fame is that a tray in a faggot shop in London’s Pudding Lane, which caught fire in 1666, started the Great Fire of London. The moral of the story – don’t flame the blessed things.

 

And, there’s more … for plenty of new recipes, log onto my YouTube channel – Huey’s Fabulous Fast Food For One (or Two) – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmvDLNrITNG0Gyhpz6350FA

Move over Gordon f…ing Ramsay and Jamie Boy, a true English super chef arrives in Oz (and I bet you he doesn’t have any problems keeping his doors open!)

I’m enjoying the new Fairfax Good Food sections and, in particular, was very interested in an interview with English chef, Alastair Little, which revealed that he is to take over the late Jeremy Strode’s CBD Restaurant in Sydney. Excited because, to my mind, Little was the star of those heady days in London (the eighties) when ‘young Turks’ such as him, Simon Hopkinson, Rowley Leith and Marco-Pierre White showed the world that English boys could actually cook. Although, the early days from this self-taught cook were not all beer and skittles.

“My cooking career was launched at the Old Compton Wine Bar. ‘Launched’ is perhaps the wrong word – kick-started is more like it, in that the Chef left and I volunteered to have a go. The very next day I was cooking 80 lunches armed with a copy of Elizabeth David’s ‘Provincial Cooking’ and a self-confidence that can only be viewed as foolhardy. My first ever review followed soon after. The Times Diary made several pleasant comments about the wines, the quality of the breads and cheese, but observed that ‘the only cooking he noticed was by a young man who was preparing lamb chops by the simple expedient of setting fire to them on the grill.”

Fortunately, by the time I came across Chef Little, he had honed his skills a little and was heading the kitchens at L’Escargot in Soho, which was owned at the time by wine guru Jancis Robinson and her husband, Nic Lander. Interestingly, also ensconced in the kitchen was one of our most talented produce-driven chefs, George Biron of Sunnybrae at Birregurra fame (now Brae). The food was marvellous – simple and fresh, yet highly skilled cooking.

After a stint at the highly rated and influential 192 Kensington Park Road, Little returned to Soho and opened his own eponymous restaurant in Firth Street.

I ate there a number of times (my brother Don owned wine bars nearby) and it was actually those visits that encouraged me to return to Melbourne and open a 40-seater – Fleurie – following the Little (and, dare I say it, Biron) principle of ‘keeping it simple’. In fact, I think it was a wonderful Tortino of crisp potato topped with the most perfectly cooked, spotlessly fresh anchovies and a scattering of what the Italians would most probably call ‘poor man’s Parmesan’ that tipped me over the edge. Sadly, I could never find, at that time, anchovies of the quality that would make such a recipe proud, so my dream dish never made it onto the Fleurie Carte. But, hopefully, Mr Little has more luck and the dish will feature in Sydney – I will certainly be keeping my fingers crossed. But, no matter what, I will be looking forward to more inspired cooking from the master.

PS.
Alastair Little and I, seemingly, have another thing in common – we both taught ourselves to cook (or at least to appreciate great produce) with the help of Elizabeth David and, in particular, her book “French Provincial Cooking”, pub. 1960. I will always remember, at a time when commercial tomatoes were pale and insipid, her tale of the joys of eating just-picked tomatoes with good bread and the best butter from Normandie. Little was obviously also impressed, because he talks of presenting an entree of a great tomato with mozzarella and the best olive oil, and gobsmacking the locals who had been brought up on Italian restaurant fodder of salads dressed with the oil from the chip fryer.

PPS.
I also noticed that his new restaurant will feature freshly shucked oysters with tiny spicy sausages. A wonderful flavour combination – the salty brine of the oysters and the hot spicy sausage. This recipe also featured on Jeremy’s menu, as it did on a number of my restaurant menus.  Although, I must admit, I didn’t pinch the idea from Little, but instead first encountered the dish in Bordeaux (circa 1970), where it was always washed down with a glass of crisp, flinty Muscadet – yummy!

And, there’s more … for plenty of new recipes, log onto my YouTube channel – Huey’s Fabulous Fast Food For One (or Two) – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmvDLNrITNG0Gyhpz6350FA