Head above the trenches: Are false militant attitudes ruining food for me?

Head above the trenches: Are false militant attitudes ruining food for me?

Before I even begin and before someone clips something from the text below and takes it out of context I want to go on record as saying vegetarianism and veganism are wholesome, respectable practices and I fully support anybody’s decision to partake. I have myself tried vegetarianism to decipher if it was something that would work for me, instead deciding to take a more holistic approach to the meat I eat. I am as responsible as I can be knowing where my food has come from, use supermarkets and wholesale food as little as I can afford and eat game and free range meat provided locally via my own personal network. Veganism at it’s base is done for the right reasons and I am in no way shape or form attacking the practice or the fundamental principals on which it is built.

I am sad that I even have to go to such lengths to protect myself before writing something about food, however this is representative of the times we live in. Where opinion no longer applies to the laws of free speech and every opinion on the wrong side of the mob mentality is tossed aside as hate speech or seen as a by-product of far right sensibilities. The fact is that I believe that culturally we are in a very strange place that requires dialogue and debate, when in actual fact all we are doing is either trashing each other from either side of a twitter branded fence or like myself, sitting on top of it and trying to dodge projectiles from either side. In terms of what we consume per year in the UK the numbers are obviously quite large based on the population, below are the numbers from the September report from the ‘Department of Environmental and Rural Affairs’.

  • Cattle: Beef and veal production was 74,000 tonnes
  • Sheep: Mutton and lamb production was 25,000 tonnes
  • Pigs: Pigmeat production was 73,000 tonnes.

 

This is representative of just one month and for normal people who buy meat from a supermarket these numbers will be one of two things, staggering or unsurprising. The people who are taken back by this likely exist not considering the fact that what they eat used to be an animal and have fallen into a category of people who are very comfortable in their warm and cosy existence where everything just kind of appears before them with little to no struggle. The other camp are the realists who understand what meat is and where it comes from. I myself believe in being as much a part of the process as possible and source my own meat as much as I can relative to the current season as myself and my fiancé have a friend who is a game keeper, which is pretty handy.

At one point in my life those numbers would have shocked me and driven me to do my research sooner than I eventually did, which in turn would have driven me to read more about process and how these things work. As a meat eater I pride myself on NOT supporting factory farming as much as I possibly can given budget and availability of game or local meat as it is a practice I don’t see as sustainable or frankly have much time for. However, instead of seeing these figures and jumping straight onto Facebook or Instagram and giving someone problems for posting a picture of a steak they cooked, it made me look further into how I can minimise my reliance on this without depriving myself of something I enjoy and also increase the quality of meat that I eat. For instance the deep almost wine red colour of wild venison compared to the colour of most of the beef we have come to accept in a commercial environment is genuinely jaw dropping. I also compare this to the experience of eating pheasant for the first time having lived on roast chicken most of my life – an animal that is not a million miles away from each other in terms of species can provide a completely different experience given it’s quality of life, varied diet and existence outside of the sterilised world of factory farming.

So why is it with this in mind that when someone posts a picture of a shoot or a hunt, all they receive is a mass wave of bile and hatred as if they killed their own mother when 50% the people posting the comments have ”steak night with bae’ featured on their profile? Why is it that in 2018 a man can consume a whole chicken in one sitting in a restaurant but when they hunt their own deer they are branded a murderer? It fucking baffles me a lot of the time. I mean in one respect I feel in the UK we are a product of our environment and hunting, fishing and bush craft is essentially not a mainstream part of our culture (which in itself grieves me) seemingly exclusively reserved for the upper echelon of society while the working man eats only the cuts they can afford in their local supermarket or served when they go out to the pub. Whereas in the US, even though society seems to be turning on the hunters somewhat it is at least initially seen as the wholesome working persons way of providing for their family. I think these contrasting views are also accentuated by the history of fox hunting in Great Britain – a brutal and unacceptable practice that involves chasing down a fox with a pack of dogs and results in the fox being torn apart by them. Rather than killed ethically and quickly for food, this is all sport and was subsequently banned as recently as 2005 in England, 2003 in Scotland while still remaining a legal practice in Northern Ireland.

The lack of public land in the UK also means that hunting becomes more difficult as it is something you have to now do on someone else’s land. There is still a healthy amount of places in the UK where you can go on organised shoots or stalks but these again aren’t a mainstream option for most people who love here. Scotland being one of the few truly wild areas of our little island does attract people from abroad to experience a hunt in the highlands, a beautiful setting if nothing else to experience the raw emotion and struggle of harvesting your own food. This became stunningly apparent to most of the people in the Twittersphere this summer when Larysa Switlyk put pictures on her page of her hunting trip to the aisle of Islay with her partner. Oh my… did the people of the internet give her ‘what for’. I did what no person should ever do and clicked on as many profiles as I could to see the kind of person it takes to be so aggressive and vile to another person over something they knew little about and the answer wasn’t at all surprising.

If you are reading this with an agenda then you fully expect me to say vegans here don’t you? I thought so…but nope. It was a diverse and varied group of people of different views and lifestyles with one unified attribute. Complete ignorance.

To kill an animal in the UK or US you have to have permission to do so, either by the land owner, government or relative authority. The animals will also be consumed not just tossed off the side of a cliff or left where they dropped but were any of these questions asked? Of course not. Instead all that was thrown onto the pictures were quotes of disgust and how she should be ashamed of herself. My biggest gripe with this is the lack of questions and umping straight onto the band wagon of ‘fuck you and everything you stand for’. Why aren’t these people calling ASDA, Sainsbury’s or Wallmart murderers? Picketing the chicken aisle or tweeting how Danish bacon is an abomination? Why aren’t they committed to stopping the use of palm oil that is a leading cause of deforestation? (while still consuming peanut butter that is pumped full of it). Culturally would you have ever given a shit about it if it wasn’t on Twitter? Probably not to be fair. I believe if someone said to you in conversation ‘did you hear about that woman that hunted feral goats and stag in Scotland?’ most people would have approached it in a ‘so where is the story here?’ kind of way. The outrage only hits it’s peak when the jury on social media comes together to find their next victim to destroy. Often resulting in social execution without much in the way of a trial.

The point is there are very few issue sin this world let alone this country that as so black and white you can say ‘I AM THIS’ or ‘I AM THAT’ which seems to be a fundamental problem with todays society. Are you red or blue? are you Pro or anti Brexit? My answer, somewhat pedantically has always been ‘I’m Phil’. The only time I ever pick sides is in sport, otherwise I simply want to hear both sides and pull my own takeaways from it based on my views and opinions, not just adhere to what one team or the other is saying I should think. The problem is that for some reason this now bleeds into what we eat. Because I eat a responsibly harvested wild pheasant I am potentially classed as ‘murdering scum’ whereas the VW Golf that smashed 3 of them on the way to get their cornflakes is guilt free. Fundamentally should VW or another car manufacturer be attacked for not having Pheasant or badger safety in mind when designing the latest family saloon? Probably not lets be fair.

The problem is not their point of view necessarily but their approach to an apposing one, just as you would try to sell something to a customer a point of view can be taken or left where it stands. If I was to force someone to purchase something it would be seen as the wrong approach and an unethical way of doing business and yet when it comes having an opinion or belief, we seem to be stuck within a social juxtaposition where people seem to think telling someone to ‘fuck off and die’ will have a better result than ‘but why do you think that?’ I’m not a hundred percent sure calling someone a murderer has ever stopped anyone eating meat and I’m sure from a contrasting point of view throwing the word ‘snowflake’ at anyone ever stopped them in their beliefs either. Both sides are culpable and as guilty as each other. What creates change is open and honest dialogue about the issues that matter to you. Militant attitudes only serve to create militant groups and while the title of this article specifically referenced the left in it’s first draft (as I have certainly been attacked more regularly by people who firmly put themselves into this camp) it is worth showing my distain for people who do it the other way too. It solves nothing. It goes even further to solving absolutely nothing when either side are doing it just to resist the other rather than actually having any real belief in what they are saying.

I absolutely adore food. That’s why I have this blog, it’s why I choose to use my spare time writing about it and why I spend the rest of my free time thinking about it or cooking it. This joy that I find in consuming the fuel I need to be alive is a basic and wholesome practice, that has existed since the birth of fire gave us the ability to change the form of raw ingredients to create new and exciting oral experiences. If you are to try and dampen that with aggression or hatred rather than a long form conversation then I have little to no interest in speaking to you. You personally are not the problem. Your approach is and if you fix it you may make more progress in convincing people to change something. Whether you are a hunter speaking to a vegetarian (who often share similar reasons for doing what they do!!!) or a pescetarian telling your chicken farmer associate the benefits of a fish heavy diet there are always certain sensibilities you will share because of something that gets lost in translation… we are all people. Personalities with billions of differences and similarities alike. How do we even scratch the surface if we are telling each other to get fucked all the time because of what we eat for dinner?

Take religion as a very broad example. Does picking a faith and shouting things at the others ever achieve anything apart from causing pain to both sides? no not really. Check the daily news for details… and how many people are newly recruited to a religion by someone knocking on a door during dinner after a hard days work? I would hazard a guess at not many. But how many change religions and beliefs based on sensible, appropriate conversations or simply having access to the information available to that person when they need it? I would put my mortgage on that being a much higher number. A perfect example of this was during one of Steve Rinella’s book readings around 6 years ago (one of my absolute heroes) where there was a comment thrown at him by a vegan gentleman and Steve had what I class as one of the more beautiful conversations on YouTube. Both showed compassion to each other and they bother agreed to meet in the middle and hear each other out. Isn’t that the way we should always do it? Check it out below.

 

So in summary, yes, I think modern food related culture and my own enjoyment is somewhat ruined by all the in fighting. I like to enjoy the process of finding, planning, preparing and cooking my food but often find myself being told I am in the wrong in one way or the other by either ‘side’. I would like to make a plea to my Vegan, Vegetarian, Meat eating, fish catching friends and readers alike – I implore you to think about the ways we approach communication. There are so many important issues we could discuss if we actually spoke openly rather than shutting ourselves in boxes just to achieve more likes and retweets than the last guy because you ‘shut that guy down’. We all need to be better at it and for all the points you feel your scoring nobody wins at the end. After all is said and done this is simply my thought process put into writing which some of you may disagree with… and that’s fine. It’s just how we deal with the next part that matters.

 

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Burger science – What makes the perfect burger?

Burger science – What makes the perfect burger?

I have been meaning to write this for some time however work has been somewhat hectic in light of a recent role change, luckily I am staying away tonight and there are limited distractions now I have finished my daily follow ups. So for the first time in what seems like forever I am able to pontificate about one of the biggest problems in our society. An issue so controversial it divides people daily, creates arguments among friends, family and even work colleagues. When looking at this conundrum objectively even Brexit seems easier to solve… at least that has a rough timeline. This particular argument is timeless and could go on forever – but for today I am wading in with a keenly placed size 8.5 to cut through the confusion and give clarity to anyone reading this post…

What makes the perfect burger?

I know. Heavy right?…

Is it multiple patties? exotic additional toppings? certain types of bread or 4 different types of cheese? Well I have a theory about this but I am going to tackle it by looking at the common problems that I feel ruin a burger and then tie it up with a solution. There are a few things that royally ruin any marriage of bread and meat and to me it feels so simple! So the most common ways to ruin your burger are…

  • Shit bread

There is nothing worse than ordering a burger and receiving it in the wrong vessel. It can define the experience just as much as the meat or cheese, while also being able to cancel out any positives those two essential pillars might bring to the meal. The most common bread faux pas is a style that is too tough or structurally solid, meaning when you bite it, all of the contents just fly out onto the plate or into the paper if your a hipster king at a food truck. You cannot reinvent the wheel with shit bread so just accept that brioche buns were made for a reason. There are exceptions to the rule, as with the right meat and cheese combo a fresh pretzel roll or toasted wholemeal roll can be a beast of a beef holder but generally the brioche reigns supreme. Oh and if it’s in a wrap it’s not a burger. Not having it.

Solution: Stop trying to be niche and use French bread etc. It doesn’t work. Softer breads create better burgers.   

 

 

  • More than 2 type of cheese

I will accept 2 applications of the same cheese but if you are served or are considering putting multiple type of cheese on one burger your making a mistake. Especially if they just don’t go together in texture or in taste such as brie and cheddar. Not only will you ruin the stability of the upper part of your burger but you will also be setting yourself up for an overly messy catastrophe that doesn’t really know what it’s going for. Now I like a messy burger like anyone does as when its good. It’s good. BUT if it’s sliding all over the place and becoming a case of annoying rather than enjoying, you have a problem. The taste of confusion is not pleasurable. Oh and stop using raw cheddar. I asked for a burger not a cheese sandwich with a hot beef add on. MELT IT AT THE VERY LEAST. Match your cheese to the meat and topping combo.

Solution: 1 type of cheese based on the other contents. Fast melting creamy cheese such as American, Monterey Jack, blue or Brie for your average burger, spiced cheese for a beef/ pork spiced patty, rarely use cheddar unless it’s melted to the top bun but just make a decision and stick to it. Commit to your cheese choice.

  • Open burgers

….

Solution: Stop.

  • Overcomplicating your patty

I learned this pretty early on while I was competing in Battle of the burgers way back in 2013. Over seasoning or over spicing can be a weight that your burger simply can’t break free from and it’s strongest properties will simply not be able to come to the surface. My personal mistake was over spicing a lamb burger which I still believe to this day is the only reason I didn’t hit first place and it bugs me to this day. If your patty is made from lamb, beef, pork or a mixture of meat you need to be able to taste that within it, not just a handful of paprika you threw into the mix last minute or a double shot of harissa you tried to get clever with. If I am using 500g of meat I will only add a tablespoon of additional flavourings maximum, not including salt and pepper. I also have a secret binding agent to guarantee a great, juicy burger even after freezing and defrosting in sausage meat. However you obviously wouldn’t want to be cooking them medium rare!

Solution: Keep your seasoning simple. Don’t get excited and pour in your spice cabinet. A dash will do and a hint won’t hinder… but a shit load will ruin your burger.

  • Overloading toppings

Very similar to the multiple cheese issue is banging everything you have left in the pantry on top of the burger and sending it out looking like someone has already started chewing it or just spooned out the U-bend of a sink. There is a limit to a topping line up in my opinion and it’s 2. One additional meat and a none meat option. For example: Bacon and pickles to add contrast, balsamic onions and slices of cooked chorizo, freshly sliced chilies and pulled pork, a runny egg and crispy onions… you get the idea.

Solution: Slow down a bit and just give it some thought. Which additions work well and pull it all together ?

 

The simple way of summarising it is the best way to make your burger to best it can be is to keep it simple. The science is simple and it gives us an easy to understand formula to follow which is:

 

Soft but well structured bread

PLUS

Well balanced and seasoned patty

PLUS

One type of cheese

PLUS

A maximum of 2 topping. One meat and one none meat

OPTIONAL

1 sauce

=

A perfect burger

 

 

So just keep it simple and you can’t go wrong! It isn’t a complicated problem to solve just don’t get too clever or ambitious as the star of the burger is the burger in it’s entirety. Keep this in mind and you can create true harmony between bread, calm between cob and won’t fall into a trap in a bap.

Wing King – Chicken Alchemy

Wing King – Chicken Alchemy

At the time of writing it is 5/7/18 and we are on the cusp of UK BBQ week 2018, arguably the most wonderful time of the year, regardless of what the friends of buddy Christ will tell you.

buddy christ wings

A time where the UK BBQ community is encouraged to come together and cook a daily theme to show the diversity and adaptability of cooking over coal and wood, showcasing the true art of what we do and why we love it. In the spirit of this jovial holiday of wood fired unity I wanted to share my method of smoking a tray of perfect chicken wings. This sounds easy, but if you really want something done… one must do it right.

I am incredibly proud of my wings to the point where it’s currently my go to cook on my newest barrel smoker. I like the fact you can get a really powerful smoke without having to go overnight or light the pit at 5am, while being able to serve something that can make people leave your house in firm belief that you know your shit. So below I have broken down the steps to creating the perfect wing tray. You can do these in the oven if you don’t own a smoker but for best results cook low and slow over wood.

What you need

  • 12 Whole chicken wings
  • Hot paprika
  • Smoked black pepper
  • Brown sugar
  • Thyme (can sub for mixed herbs)
  • Oregano (Can sub for mixed herbs)
  • Cayenne
  • Nutmeg
  • Cinnamon
  • Salt
  • Your favourite BBQ sauce

Prep

Go to your local butcher and ask for the volume of wings you need by all means and upscale the recipe as required but this will be to make 1 tray (12 whole, 22 when jointed/ split). Cut the tips from the wings if bought whole as they add literally nothing, then take your knife and find the joint on the inner bend of the wing. Cut through it to get an even split of drumstick and dual bone wings. repeat and place them in a bowl that will go into your fridge.

Smokers – Start you pit and get it up to 225 C. I use either cherry or apple wood for this cook.

Rub

I already have this premixed usually but for one single batch take 2 tbsp. paprika, 2 tbsp. smoked black pepper and 1 of brown sugar, 1 tbsp. thyme and oregano (or mixed herbs), 1 tspn cayenne, large pinch of nutmeg, cinnamon and sea salt to taste. Rub the wings through the spice mix until evenly covered and fridge them for a minimum of 2 hours.

The cook

Place on a tray that enables fat to escape and smoke to get in from below and cook for around 1.5 hours or until they read 160 on a probe thermometer (don’t touch the bone when taking a reading as it can screw the reading up). Remove from the smoker and DIP the wings in your chosen BBQ sauce, this will give you a much more glazed feel than brushing and enables a good even spread across the wings. Then put them back in the smoker or oven for another 20 minutes so the heat can help the sauce bond to the wings and render down the glaze a little.

Remove and serve outside with a beer.

 

Generally it’s an easy cook when you look at it like that but it’s the finer details that matter just like any cook you do with indirect heat. Enjoy with your family or just smash a plate on your own an save that shit for the gram. Either way people will want to get involved.

 

 

2013 recap: The burgathon recipe sheets

2013 has been a crazy year and the blog has gone from strength to strength over the months, I can only thank everybody who reads the blog for helping it get up an running. Its been a fun start to a life of online food writing.

The highlight of the year for me food wise was battle of the burgers in London, which triggered the Burgathon series. A trio of recipes aimed at getting people to make their own, homemade burgers to enjoy rather than buying shop bought ones, while satisfying my perverse adoration for burgery goodness. So below find all of the Burgathon recipes together in one place! Thanks again for reading. 2014 is going to be huge!

The Mardi Gras burger

Ingredients:

The Mardi Gras burger sauce

  • 1 White onion, Diced.
  • 2 Tbspn Olive oil.
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced.
  • 125ml Southern comfort/ Spirit of Louisiana liquor.
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes.
  • 2 tbspn brown sugar.
  • 3 Tbspn Worcester sauce.
  • 1 heaped tbspn good tomato ketchup.
  • Large pinch of sea salt.
  • 1 Tspn white pepper.

The burger

  • 600g lean steak mince.
  • 1 1/2 tbspn Cayenne pepper.
  • 1 tbspn Smoked paprika.
  • Large pinch sea salt.
  • Large pinch black pepper.
  • 2 Tbspn olive oil.
  • 4 slices of smoked cheddar.
  • 4 Good quality seeded buns.
  • Handful of mixed salad leaves.

Method:

Firstly you will want to get cracking with the sauce.

  1. Put the oil into a large frying pan and bring to a medium heat and spread the oil out evenly.
  2. Add the onions and garlic and cook until the garlic starts to soften and becomes fragrant.
  3. Add the Southern comfort and simmer for 5 minutes until it reduces to half its volume, cooking out the majority of the alcohol.
  4. Add the tomatoes, sugar, Worcester sauce, ketchup, salt and pepper. Cook on the medium heat for an additional 10 minutes, stirring regularly until the sauce thickens and the tomato juices reduce and begin to emulsify.
  5. Take off the heat and leave to cool, then drop the contents of the pan into a food processor and pulse a few times. This will give it a thicker consistency and thicken it up a little.
  6. Empty into a small container and put to one side to await its meaty vehicle.
Before and after... Father and son.

Before and after… Father and son.

For the burger…

  1. Combine the meat, cayenne, paprika, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix well with clean hands.
  2. Split and roll into 4 evenly sized balls.
  3. Pat the balls down into approximately 2 cm thickness and lay on a plate, cover the plate with cling film.
  4. Refrigerate patties for 20 minutes.
  5. Preheat a griddle pan on a medium heat. Pre-heat your grill too.
  6. add a dash of oil to both sides of each burger and gently rub it in.
  7. Place 2 patties at a time on the griddle and cook for around 6-7 minutes on each side.
  8. At the end of the second sides cooking period, add the cheese to the top of the burger and leave to melt for a further 2 minutes.
  9. Take the Burgers off the heat and leave to rest in a warm place for 3 minutes.
  10. Cut the buns in half and grill each side until slightly browned.
  11. Add the mixed leaves to the bottom part of the bun, followed by the burger, top it with the sauce and cap it off with the top half of the bun.
This sucker got soul!

This sucker got soul!

——

the big pig burger

  • 500g of pork mince
  • 5-6 well sized fresh sage leaves, finely sliced
  • 2 tspn minced fresh garlic
  • large pinch fine sea salt
  • 2-3 grinds of black pepper
  • 2 Portobello mushrooms
  • Handful of baby leaf spinach
  • 2 thick slices of Claxton mild blue cheese
  • 2 burger buns of your choice, halved
  • Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp Olive oil

method:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the pork mince, sage, garlic, salt and pepper and mix with clean hands until you can make one large ball with the mixture.
  2. Split the mixture into 2 evenly shaped balls and pat down into large discs.
  3. Cover with cling film and pop in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  4. Place a griddle pan on a medium heat, and apply a little oil to each side of each burger. Preheat your grill on medium/high.
  5. Place the burger on the griddle and cook for 6-7 minutes on each side. then remove from the heat to rest in a warm place, check the middle of the burger by pressing it with your thumb, it should be as firm as the outside if it is cooked all the way through.
  6. Place the mushrooms under the grill and cook for a few minutes on each side until it starts to flatten. remove from grill.
  7. place your bread rolls under the grill until browned, repeat for both sides.
  8. place a teaspoon of Dijon on the bottom of the bun, followed by some spinach, rest the burger on the spinach and place a slice of the blue cheese over the burger, followed by a mushroom and cap it with the remaining side of the toasted bun.

image

——

The maple bagel burger

For the burger

600g lean steak mince
3 tablespoons maple syrup
large pinch cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon mild chili flakes
pinch fine sea salt
4 fresh white bagels
8 slices pastrami
8 slices good Swiss cheese
chopped salad leaves of your choice, sliced tomato and a splash of olive oil.

For the dressing

1 tablespoon sour cream
1 tablespoon good quality mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Worcester sauce
1 teaspoon English mustard
pinch white pepper.

Method:

  1. Combine the mince, chili flakes, maple syrup, salt and pepper in a bowl. With clean hands mix well until all seasoning and the maple syrup is evenly distributed.
  2. split into 4 evenly sized balls and pat down into discs around an inch thick.
  3. Cover and leave in the fridge for 10-20 minutes to firm up.
  4. preheat a griddle pan on a medium heat and add a little oil to each side of the burgers.
  5. Add the burgers to the griddle 2 at a time and cook for 7 minutes on each side. Preheat your grill on high.
  6. Grill the bagels on both sides until they start to brown.
  7. cut up 2 pieces of pastrami per burger, top with a few pieces of cheese and slide under the grill for a few minutes. then remove and rest for a few moments.
  8. Mix all of the dressing ingredients together and add it right the way around the base of the bagels, followed by the salad, the burger with the pastrami and now soft Swiss cheese, capped off with the top half of the bagel and press down a little to push it all together.
  9. Then enjoy it! it really is a show stopper!
image

Maple steak burger

So that’s it, 2013 is over and 2014 has begun, I wish you all the very best and hope it is a truly great year for all of you.

Phil