3 Jan 2016, 6:14pm
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  • You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.
    C.G. Jung

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  • Smoked Salmon: How to make your own

    I’ve been fascinated by smoking food for years. Until its closure a couple of years ago, Richardson’s Smokehouse in Orford was a favourite haunt, and the nearby, and, importantly, still-open Pinneys sells very good smoked food too (they do excellent oysters too).

    But smoked salmon is always something I want to eat in a large quantity, and the nice stuff is far too dear for that. Tim Hayward’s book:

    alerted me to something new: there are now reasonable priced cold smokers on the market, and it is quite possible to use them to make good smoked salmon. Hooray! Its a fun book, by the way. Tim H’s enthusiasm for having a go at making things from scratch is infectious.

    I am more willing to spend money on capital equipment than I am on ingredients, so I recently invested in the ProQ home cold smoking setup:

    I recommend it. I’ll need to build a new box when the old cardboard one finally turns to mush.  At some point the improvised tent in the garden will fail in the face of a storm and the inevitable will happen, but it has got me started. The cold smoke generator will still be there, and is really very neat and effective. One day we will smoke our home produced meat for sale at my little farm, but first we’ll need a farm building, and that is a very long story….

    The wood dust for smoking can be dear. Shop around. I am a chainsaw user (to cut up our firewood) but I won’t use the sawdust generated, even if I could grind it to dust, as I doubt the chain oil would really enhance the flavour!

    Bear with me dear reader. The aim of all this is the smoked salmon that Mr Ermine and I enjoyed, in generous quantities, recently:

    salmon

    Mr Ermine declared it, “Good, but heady in parts”. I have a little more to learn, it seems, but we both wolfed it down and enjoyed it. I think that batch was a little over smoked. The next batch I shall do for a shorted period.

    First catch your salmon. OK I cop out here, and do an online search for the cheapest supermarket salmon for sale. When I last looked, Asda came up trumps with a 1kg side of Norwegian “Responsibly Farmed” Salmon for £10.

    5054070468982_280_IDShot_3

    I bought three. Well it is around Christmas-time, and it is a waste of smoking wood to leave a shelf empty in my smoker…

    Essentially cold smoking consists of five stages:

    • Curing.
    • Drying for a short while.
    • Smoking.
    • Drying for a longer while.
    • Eating.

    Notice this doesn’t include cooking at any point. For your cold smoked food to be safe to eat uncooked it appears that meat should loose 25% of its weight from start to finish, and fish 20%. But to be honest, I wouldn’t count on this for pork (I don’t, I cook it even after curing and cold smoking) and it seems to be very hard to achieve this for salmon. Read about it for yourself, and figure out what you consider to be safe.

    I cut the tail ends off each side down to fit the smoking trays, then cure everything, including the ends. This is simply a matter of mixing up a decent amount of sugar and decent salt as a 50:50 mix, rubbing it into every surface, laying the pieces one on top of the other in a non corrosive dish, with layer sugar/salt beneath and above each layer. You can add herbs and spices, but I don’t bother. Cover with clingfilm, & put in the fridge. I’ve tried doing this for an hour (too short) and over night (too long) so the next batch I shall cure for four hours.

    Use kitchen paper to get as much of the curing mix off as possible, then set each bit of fish on a rack in the fridge to dry it out overnight or so. The surface will become tacky, which will help the smoke to stick.

    Then smoke your fish. Read the instructions, eh?

    Following the “a bit heady” remark from Mr Ermine, the next batch of smoked salmon will be smoked for about two rounds of the ProQ smoker, which is about 15 hours, very roughly. I shall fish the smaller ends out before then: I’ll cook them as “lightly smoked salmon” portions.

    Then put the salmon somewhere fridge temperature and safe from flies to dry out. On a cold windy day you could put it outside some improvised container covered in thin fabric, or some such. Or just put it in the fridge uncovered. It seems to take up to a week to lose a significant amount of water, but it smells great while you’re waiting.

    Cutting your smoked salmon isn’t easy, but when you do get a decent sized slice it is very satisfying! Use a the best sharp knife you have. If the surface is too smoky trim it off first.

    slicing salmon

    Home smoked salmon most certainly falls into the “lots of work, but saves a lot of money” camp. Having said that, you’re unlikely to every buy 2.4 kg of salmon (the weight my three sides should generate) but if you did, it would cost you a great deal more than £30! But that much smoked salmon certainly strikes me as a good way of living well for not too much money.

     

     

     

     

     

    27 Dec 2015, 6:38pm
    Main dish Recipe Smoking Techniques:
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    Comments Off on How to make ravioli

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    C.G. Jung

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  • How to make ravioli

    I have always liked ravioli. As a kid I loved the tinned stuff, topped with grilled cheese, and this love continued into adulthood until I took a moment to reflect on the sort of meat that must go into a tin of ravioli costing around 50p, or rather the life of the poor unfortunate animal the lost its life to create such a product. So I gave it up. I notice that Sainsburys (and no doubt other major supermarkets too) do a tinned vegetarian ravioli for 55p which I may give a whirl one of these days if I am feeling extravagant.

    sainsburys-vegetable-ravioli

    However posh bought ravioli seems expensive to me. It is, after all, just a small amount of nice tasting filling inside a casing made of cheap ingredients. But even on an industrial scale, I am guessing there must be a fair amount of work involved? Which makes it a prime candidate for the “Simple Eating” treatment: with a bit of work I can make something very tasty and costing next to nothing.

    Recently, Mr Ermine and I enjoyed a Romantic Dinner In while feeling impecunious, and my home made ravioli featured on the menu. Truly, making ravioli by hand is a labour of love as it takes ages. It is something to do when I have some free time, while catching up on podcasts (I am a fan of The Archers, as well as This American Life and Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase).

    Finished Ravioli

    It was, according to Mr Ermine, “Mighty fine” which is probably the highest accolade that he ever gives to my cooking. The filling was smoked ham and mushroom with a little home grown thyme and soured cream. I’ll give instructions on how to make the home smoked ham in a future post (would you like a post on how to rear the pig too?)

    You’ll need a ravioli cutter like this one:

    I tried one of those trays of moulds for ravioli, and didn’t get on with it. A round cutter makes it easier to cut out the ravioli shape (I assume, I have never actually tried a square one!)

    Mrs Ermine’s Home Smoked Ham and Mushroom Ravioli: Ingredients

    • Freshly made wholewheat pasta.
    • A modest quantity of home smoked ham chopped into tiny bits
    • Fresh thyme (dried will do)
    • Soured cream
    • A few mushrooms chopped up fine
    • Olive oil
    • Fresh ground black pepper
    • A little cheese grate on top

    Mrs Ermine’s Home Smoked Ham and Mushroom Ravioli: Instructions

    1. Fry up the chopped ham and mushrooms slowly in olive oil for a good twenty minutes to half an hour.
    2. Leave the mix to cool for a moment, then put in a food processor, add soured cream, thyme and pepper (but not salt if your ham is as salty at mine is!) and blend until reasonably smooth. Try not to eat too much of the mix 😉
    3. Put small piles of the mix onto a sheet of pasta, spacing the piles so that the cutter can make as many ravioli as possible.
    4. Lay a similar sized pasta sheet over the top.
    5. Press the top sheet of pasta onto the bottom sheet around each pile of filling, to join the sheets together while excluding as much air as possible (within reason!)
    6. Press the cutter down hard around each pile and use a small sharp knife to cut away any pasta that doesn’t easily liberate the ravioli parcel.
    7. Put the ravioli parcel onto a clean surface, dusted with flour.
    8. Keep going, enjoy that radio programme and slowly watch your ravioli multiply!
    9. Leave it to dry for an hour or so as it is then more likely to stay in one piece when you cook it.
    10. Boil a big saucepan of water and add a little olive oil (to stop the parcels from sticking) and salt. Now I know people always say use lots of water to boil pasta and I usually pay no attention as generally I have veg steaming on top of the saucepan, but this time you really do want to follow the advice otherwise the ravioli parcels stick to each other, which is very annoying after all that work.
    11. Add the ravioli to the rapidly boiling water and then put on as high a heat as you can until they are boiling away enthusiastically.
    12. You really need to check to see when they are done, but it was be about ten minutes for mine.
    13. Drain thoroughly, mix carefully in olive oil, put in nice bowls and grate a little cheese on top.
    20 Dec 2015, 6:11pm
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    Comments Off on Home made pasta is easy, if time consuming

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    C.G. Jung

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  • Home made pasta is easy, if time consuming

    Some time in the 1980s, (or was it the 90s?) I recall “fresh pasta” becoming fashionable, and then ubiquitous on supermarket shelves. I once worked with an Italian woman who couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Evidently she had been brought up on the dried stuff.

    Look at a packet of shop basic bought dried pasta:

    Pasta packet

    The ingredients that go to make this stuff are very, very cheap: wheat.

    Mr and Mrs Ermine are selectively health conscious, coffee and red wine being considered legal drugs essential to making life worth living and not really food stuffs. But otherwise we try to eat wholewheat bread, pasta etc. Which makes everything far more expensive. Which begs the question, why? Is it that people are simply prepared to stump up more to have essential nutrients left in their food? Or is the wheat germ/bran etc left after refining white flour sold off for expensive animals feed? I have never known…

    Anyway, back to making pasta. Bought dried wholewheat pasta, if you shop around, isn’t that much dearer per unit weight than bought wholewheat flour, which is what is used to make it. If you chose to grind your own wheat then you will save money, and I used to, but it took an awful lot of time and I decided it wasn’t worth it.

    But home made fresh pasta does taste nicer, not least because it is egg pasta, unlike the basic stuff that you can buy dried. I now only make it if I plan to make home made ravioli, as the bought stuff usually contains meat of dubious origin, and is very expensive.

    If you want to make your own pasta in any quantity or with any regularity, then I strongly recommend buying a pasta maker. Yes, they cost quite a bit, but mine has been going for decades, only once undergoing a repair when Mr Ermine couldn’t bear the screeching noise it was making that penetrated two walls an a floor to reach his pit. Mine is something like this one.

     

    To make pasta you need strong wholewheat bread flour: 100g of flour to each medium sized egg. For both of us, for a decent sized dinner, I use 200g flour, two eggs and a good grinding of proper salt.

    Mix it all together, then knead it, to create a very stiff and dry dough. If it doesn’t all stick to together add a very little water.

    pasta dough

    Using the rollers of your machine on their widest setting, pass a smallish ball of dough through, then fold it over into a rough square, turn it through 90 degrees and repeat about ten times. This is the equivalent of kneading the dough. Do this with all the dough.

    Then tighten the rollers by one setting, pass each sheet of dough through once, tighten the rollers by one setting again, and repeat until your sheet is as thin as you wish. You many need to cut the sheets to make them manageable as they grow in size.

    pasta sheets

    Hey presto – you have pasta! Let it dry for a bit, you can use the cutting rollers to make tagliatelle or finer noodles, or you can make ravioli, cannelloni etc.

     

    12 Dec 2015, 4:21pm
    Smoking Special occasions:
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    Comments Off on Preparations for a special dinner in (that costs very little)

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  • Preparations for a special dinner in (that costs very little)

    Mr Ermine and I are overdue a romantic dinner. Not that there isn’t romance and laughter here at Ermine Towers – I am glad to say that there are both aplenty. Rather, this has been a busy year where neither of us has felt particularly flush with cash.

    Mr Ermine has been wrestling with some obscure, though hopefully short term, hitch in his early retirement financial plans, and  I have simply been thankful to save my business, and as a result, my sole means of earning a living, and have become more cautious with money as a result. So we certainly haven’t felt much like splashing out either on eating out, or even on eating in.

    Which calls for a bit of creativity in the matter of The Romantic Dinner for Mr and Mrs Ermine. Now, I’m not so skint that I couldn’t afford to go buy a couple of decent steaks, but I know that with a bit of effort, I can create a really nice meal that costs very little. And my limited “fun spending money” would be conserved to spend elsewhere.

    So, on the menu tonight at Ermine Towers:

    – Home Oak Smoked Salmon, accompanied by Prosecco (given to us by a kind friend from the farm) – cost approx £5

    slicing salmon

    – Hand made mushroom and Smoked Ham Ravioli – cost approx £1, accompanied by House Red (cost just over a fiver per bottle)

    ravioli

    We decided that, in order to retain our sleek mustelid figure shapes, we need no dessert…. no doubt there will be plenty of decadence in the weeks to come!

    Even with our basic, decent red wine, it is worth letting it breath and warm up a bit (Ermine Towers is not overheated, but does enjoy a nice fire in the evenings). It really does taste nicer for it.

    breathing wine

    I shall publish the recipes for both the above, and also for the ingredients that went into them (home made pasta, home smoked and cured ham…) in the next few weeks, but first: here is an old tip for those of you, like us, without a dishwasher, who want nice sparkling glasses for a celebratory dinner.

    How to make glasses sparkle without a dishwasher

    Polished glasses and Ravioli.

    Polished glasses and Ravioli drying ready for cooking.

     

    1) Wash the glasses in warm water with plenty of washing up liquid.

    2) Rinse each glass first in hot water (I do this under a running tap) and then cold water.

    3) Allow to drain and air dry.

    4) Polish with a very clean cloth, or kitchen roll.

    We serve sparkling wine in some glasses I was chuffed to find in a charity shop for next to nothing. These are the traditional Champagne glasses, reputedly used by Josephine Boneparte (who made Champagne fashionable). Legend has it they are in the the shape of her breasts.

     

     

     

     

    23 Jul 2015, 6:00pm
    breadcrumbs Homegrown Ingredients Main dish Techniques:
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    Comments Off on Escalopes make pork chops nice

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    C.G. Jung

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  • Escalopes make pork chops nice

    Truth be told, I’m not that keen on pork chops. Which is a great shame, as, every few months, as part of my wages from The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm, I receive half a pig, much of it in chop form.

    I don’t earn much (at the moment, to assist the Save the Oak Tree Campaign, I’m on less than half the UK minimum wage) so half a pig from time to time is an extremely helpful way to make my money go further, and needless to say, nothing of any animal killed for meat can be wasted.

    Enter: The Escalope. Which I do actually really quite like!

    Escalopes (along with a fried stuffing side).

    Escalopes (along with a fried stuffing side).

    Ingredients

    Method

    1. Take each pork chop, cut off any bone & excess fat (and given my taste for animal fat, that really means leave all but the fat right next to the skin). The bone and skin goes in the freezer to be used to make bone stock at some future date.
    2. Put the trimmed chop on a wooden chopping board and beat the crap out of it with one of these pointy surfaced tenderising mallet things:
      It can be a messy business, so get anything that doesn’t want to be covered with little bits of flying pork chop well out of the way.
    3. Here is Mrs E in action this evening:
      mallet1 mallet2mallet3
    4. Dip the tenderised chop into beaten egg with a little salt added. Cover it really well!
    5. Lay the eggy, soggy chop in breadcrumbs, and get it to soak up as much as possible on both sides (obviously).

      Woohoo - breadcrumbs!

      Woohoo – breadcrumbs!

    6. Fry in moderately hot lard, turning from time to time, then turn the heat down. Pork should always be well cooked through.
    7. Scrub the chopping board and mallet really, really well after use.
    8. You’ll probably have some bread crumbs and egg left over. You’re not going to chuck those out, are you? Mix in a little chopped thyme, a bit more salt, and some lemon juice, flatten into a thin burger thickness and fry alongside the escalopes.

     

    19 Jul 2015, 6:47am
    Philosophy Sugar:
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    C.G. Jung

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  • Sugar. Just stop eating it.

    Mrs Ermine has her vices. Namely red wine and coffee. I’m not claiming to be super clean living. But there is one substance that I really try to avoid: refined sugar (and while we are about it, refined carbohydrates in general).

    redone

    I used to smoke. I only gave up when my first husband lost a third close family member due to a smoking related illness. I still craved cigarettes, but I just stopped because it just wasn’t worth the risk. Actually I smoked about three cigarettes on my 40th birthday, and I shall smoke a few more on my 50th, 60th etc. They were great. But that is it. It is hard to give up a vice, but it is possible. I have decided that red wine and coffee do me more good than harm (coffee for what you can control, red wine for what you cannot…) all things considered, though I do achieve some level of moderation in both.

    Mrs Ermine in her early 20s at an IT employer's party. Yes, that is a cigarette.

    Mrs Ermine in her early 20s at an IT employer’s party. Yes, that is a cigarette.

    But sugar (like smoking, and indeed sugar is now being referred to as “the new tobacco”) just isn’t worth it. Yes, sugary shit is delicious. If I have a jar of chutney from The Oak Tree Farm’s preserving group in the house, I will happily eat it in one go – that is the siren song of the sugar in it. So the answer is: don’t have any sugary food in the house. That way, if I want chocolate, ice cream, etc I need to walk to the local coop and pay for it. I’m sufficiently impecunious and lazy not to do this more than about once a month.

    So I was surprised (or did I really just feel resigned?) to read in this article in the Guardian that food manufacturers are just trying to swap sugar out for artificial sweeteners etc in processed food and struggling. Because of course there is no way in which people could change what they eat voluntarily.

    Protest against sugar subsidies April 2015 Bury St Edmunds.

    Protest against sugar subsidies April 2015 Bury St Edmunds.

    Naturally our government has abandoned all ideas of a sugar tax, hell – it might upset their (big business) establishment pals. Indeed when I organised a protest outside the Bury St Edmunds Sugar Factory earlier this year about the fact that sugar is heavily subsidied in the UK, they saw fit to organise an enormous (though apparently friendly) police presence, and no doubt I am now on some kind of “internal terrorist” database, or something equally depressing.

    Yes, why don’t we tax the hell out of sugar, just like we do tobacco (and alcohol)? Or at least stop subsidising growing sugar beet. And then maybe we could use some of that money to be more supportive to little ecological farms like mine. Because the horrible truth is that our little farm that is good both for the enviroment and people may have to close due to lack of funds due to unlevel playing field of current food/farming policy. #SavetheOakTree.

     

    14 Jul 2015, 6:55pm
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    C.G. Jung

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  • Breadcrumbs. The clue is in the name FFS.

    I’ve missed posting here on my trusty old blog. It has been a busy few months, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up regular postings, so I didn’t try as I can’t bear erratic blog posting. But every so often I would think “I’d like to write on Simple Eating in Suffolk on this”. And then life would get busy. I was feeling relatively comfortable earning the minimum wage, and I wouldn’t get round to it.

    All that has changed because we are desperately trying to #SavetheOakTree and I am back on (self employed) wages of under half the UK minimum wage. It is a PITA, but it does, once again, inspire that necessary creativity, asking “how do I live well on less?” So, I shall share my continuing adventures with you, Dear Readers of Simple Eating in Suffolk, because it feels less lonely that way, and, of course, I am hoping you will spread the word about the plight of my little ecological not-for-profit farm.

    I’ve already explained that I am not on the poverty line. But I don’t have much money.

    Breadcrumbs. I was in Sainsburys, buying my small range of groceries from said establishment, my “big shop shopping list” hasn’t changed much since February last year (I haven’t got that decadent!) except I now won’t touch Kerrygold butter as I am pretty sure is isn’t pasture fed. There I was, minding my own business when I heard a conversation kick off behind me about breadcrumbs.

    Now breadcrumbs is one of those multitudes of “products” that my mind automatically filters out when scouring the shelves for useful stuff, so it had never even crossed my consciousness that anyone would dream of paying for breadcrumbs.

    Breadcrumbs at Ermine Towers come from, well, bread. Waste bread. The bread you don’t get round to eating because it is getting a bit stale, or you don’t fancy the crusts, that sort of thing. But I wouldn’t dream of throwing it out!

    So here is Mrs Ermine’s recipe for breadcrumbs.

    1) Take old crusts etc of bread that have gone a bit stale but not mouldy.

    Raw ingredients for breadcrumbs: Bread

    2) Break up into smaller bits if they are thicker than a slice of bread (eg an unwanted roll/end of a loaf).

    3) Put in an open, overproof, dish on top of the grill (we have an old fashioned gas grill which is perfect) or other warm location (remember: fridges emit heat :))

    4) Once it is all dry, break it up by hand a bit more, put it in a food processor & chop up small.

    5) Dry for another couple of days.

    6) Store resulting breadcrumbs in an airtight jar.

    7) Add proper salt, pepper & proper herbs to taste.

    Breadcrumbs: They are just dried, ground up bread. That’s it.

     

    But back to Sainsburys. I turned to watch these individuals, who seemed to be debating whether or not to buy premium “Taste the Difference” breadcrumbs which cost (brace yourself) £1.85 for 135g, or the bog standard product. I couldn’t believe it, there is truly such a product as “premium” breadcrumbs. These people didn’t seem especially stupid, except for the breadcrumb issue, obviously.

    Amusingly the single review for this product says “smells like newly opened cleaning liquid”! I thought I’d go and weight the breadcrumbs I have accumulated over the past couple of weeks from waste bread. 380g. Wow, that’s £5.20’s worth! I’m richer than I thought. But, I hear you say – perhaps mine are not premium breadcrumbs…? Ok, let’s consider the competition:

    That’s more like it! Natural breadcrumbs. 80p for 230g. Still, my waste bread amounts to £1.32, which in my current impecunious state is not to be sniffed at.

    Breadcrumbs are indeed very useful things, but please, please don’t be fool enough to pay for them!

     

     

     

    14 Jul 2015, 6:01pm
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    Comments Off on I’m short of cash again, so I’m back.

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  • I’m short of cash again, so I’m back.

    Dear Readers of Simple Eating in Suffolk. It has been a long time, but I am back. Before you have visions of me gorging myself on all sorts of fancy food and hang the cost, I haven’t been, but it is true that I have been less skint than usual thanks to earning the UK minimum wage for a few months … until recently. It is a long story, utterly intertwined with the fated of my beloved farm. #SavetheOakTree.

    But, in short, I need to save money on food (and everything else) again in a big way so I may as well share my adventures with you lovely people… so watch this space!

    19 May 2014, 5:58pm
    New York Wild food:
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  • A new food adventure… far from Suffolk

    We’re going to have to stretch the definition of “Suffolk” a bit this week as Mrs Ermine is visiting an old school friend from Suffolk who now lives in New York. Ermines are reasonably adventurous creatures, but for some reason this one had never got around to crossing the Atlantic due to a mix of lack of funds (at times), a bad reaction to friends’ descriptions of cities where no-one walks (which sounds to me like something akin to hell) and more recently, simply due to being tied to The Oak Tree Farm.

    But the glamorous Natalie, invited me to visit enough times that I assumed she wasn’t just being polite, and made the place sound like a fantastic adventure that would make a much needed change to horizons limited to the hedgerows of my 12 acres.

    And here is fried duck’s liver and ramsoms (known here as “ramps”) from the local farmers’ market with leftover takeaway rice and endless supply of earl grey tea from the supplies that I stuffed into my luggage to keep my expat friend in supplies.

    Duck liver and ramsoms

    Fried duck liver and ramsoms with leftover rice. Very nice indeed, and both were a first for me!

    It is a big improvement on my first culinary adventure yesterday. Which was a trip to MacDonalds. Not a good experience, frankly.

    27 Apr 2014, 4:25pm
    Aldeburgh Ingredients Orford Recipe Suffolk Coast Uncategorized:
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  • Oysters for the faint-hearted

    The busy season at The Oak Tree Farm is well under way. While I love my work (most of the time!) it is good to get away from it all from time to time, and think about something totally different. Fortunately Mr Ermine and I live close to the particularly lovely Suffolk coastline, and we are also the proud owners of a baby camper van, which means we can enjoy fine local food without paying restaurant prices.

    First stop: Aldeburgh for Fish and Chips. Of course.

    Aldeburgh Fish and Chips

    Then on to Minsmere, the RSPB Nature Reserve, where I was delighted to watch an Oyster-catcher fussing over its nest in just the same way as a chicken (you can take a girl out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl…). I was then really quite shocked to watch the boy bird (I’m guessing which was which here) take over sitting on the eggs!

    Mr Ermine explained that some bird species do this, which astonished me. You’d never catch a self respecting cockerel or domestic gander sitting on a nest of eggs. They are far too busy showing off. Delighted by this display of equality between the sexes, I announced a craving for seafood, so (Mr Ermine being an obliging chap) we continued to Orford. This is not an original thing for the Ermine household to do on a sunny day, if I am honest, but I did have an original idea. Well, fairly original.

    I like oysters. Mr Ermine does not. At least we assume he doesn’t. Or can’t.

    You see, Mr Ermine is allergic to mussels. He first found this out in Brussels. He ate a large pile of mussels and then imbibed a large quantity of strong beer, as is traditional in the city. And was then violently sick afterwards. There was always the suspicion that it was the beer you see, but, as a measure of precaution, he avoided mussels and other bivalves for many years after that.

    He bravely tried one or two of my mussels on a romantic weekend away a couple of decades later: no problem, hooray! So, he tried a whole bowlful of his own for lunch the very next day. All went well until mid-afternoon when he started to feel a bit queasy. Then a lot queasy. Then he was hanging over the comfortable pub bedroom’s toilet bowl sounding anything but romantic, to be honest, poor chap. Unsurprisingly he announced he didn’t need any dinner that evening. Which was terribly unfortunate as we had booked a fancy Valentine’s dinner complete with pink fizz and oysters to begin with. Frankly my company wasn’t much fun for him, and vice versa, so I pottered down to eat my dinner alone. It is testament to my love of good food that the lure of it was greater than the embarrassment at eating a Valentine’s dinner alone.

    Curiously, I have eaten an oyster-related dinner alone in a restaurant on Valentine’s day once before. I used to work as a traveling company rep in France (a very long story…) so I would routinely eat out in basic French restaurants. I was incredibly fortunate to be doing this in France, not Britain, as basic restaurant food in France is frankly, much the same standard, if not better, than “posh” food in Britain, only served in more generous quantities. I was halfway through the meal before I realised why there were so many dewy-eyed couples dining that evening. I had been too busy enjoying my cooked oysters.

    Now, I do enjoy raw oysters, and in France they are considered to be a very nice, but almost routine, food. Available in supermarkets for a very reasonable price and particularly plentiful and popular at Christmas. Oyster knives are a regular kitchen implement that cost anything from a couple of euros, not ten quid minimum like here.

    So when I saw cooked oysters on the menu I jumped at the chance to try them. And very good they were too, cooked with white wine and cheese, as I recall. Bigger and tastier than mussels, and less of a challenge than raw oysters.  So I thought I would try cooking them myself. I bought half a dozen oysters from Pinney’s  in Orford for £3.20, which isn’t bad for a change from everyday food.

    As soon as we got home (the campervan grill isn’t hot enough for this) I grated some cheese and mixed it with homemade bread crumbs.

    Fine grated cheese and breadcrumbs

    After opening each oyster I drained off the excess water , then sprinkled a generous layer of the mixture over, and put them all under a really hot grill for five minutes or so until the topping started to brown.

     

    They were really very good indeed! Recommended.