Small, but perfectly farmed: Mark Hix's five favourite sustainable heroes
Saturday 13 November 2010
The Bath Pig chorizo
Bath Pig was created from two friends' obsession with chorizo – Tim French and Matthew 'Mash' Chiles were so keen on producing their own, they converted a cupboard in French's kitchen into a curing room. After a fair amount of trial and error, spending a year experimenting with spices and curing salts, they launched their own range of British chorizo.
French and Chiles took their cues from traditional Spanish techniques and recipes, visiting an Andalucian Iberico pig farm near Seville for inspiration. But their ingredients and branding speak of a very British product. They use only free-range, home-grown British pork, with high welfare standards guaranteed, in contrast to imported European brands.
"I discovered The Bath Pig at a West Country food festival," says Hix. "Food fests are a great place for small producers to showcase their creations, but they still don't get the coverage they deserve.
"The Bath Pig produce really the only authentic cooking chorizo that I've found in this country to date. Their chorizo has the perfect flavours and spice for cooking and I love using it with shellfish – rather like using bacon but with a bit of a kick."
This spring, the folks at Bath Pig also hit on a clever way to make choosing your chorizo a bit easier. A new curing method has resulted in a chorizo that is moist enough to cook with, but dry enough to survive out of the fridge without the bacteria getting to it. Thanks to their careful curing process, the chorizo cooks up a treat, adding a flavour hit to your recipes, but is also safe to eat straight from the packet – although it's recommended that you open it and leave it to dry out in the fridge for a couple of days for a perfect antipasti addition.
The Bath Pig chorizo is available in most farm shops across the south of England, as well as selected delicatessens and Budgens stores across the UK. You can also order direct from their website, thebathpig.com
Scallops with chorizo and hedgerow garlic
1tbsp olive oil
120-150g cooking chorizo
12 scallops, cleaned, attached to the cupped half shell
A handful of hedgerow garlic, chopped (or you can use garlic chives)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Remove the skin from the chorizo and chop finely. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and cook the chorizo on a low heat for 4-5 minutes, breaking it up as it's cooking so it has the texture of coarse mince. Heat some of the butter in a frying pan, season the scallops and cook them scallop-side down in the shells for about a minute. Arrange the scallops on warmed serving plates. Meanwhile, add the hedgerow garlic to the chorizo and heat for 30 seconds, then spoon on to the scallops and serve.
BroadOak Slow chicken
The quality of the chicken that we eat in the UK is a particularly relevant topic at the moment – earlier this month the RSPCA warned that consumers who care about the provenance of their chickens would be better off buying their birds from thousands of miles away in Thailand or Brazil. In the UK, we cram about 20 chickens per square metre, whereas in Thailand, the figure is more akin to 14 chickens per square metre.
Mark Hix believes that it's worth paying the extra for a good-quality bird, even if that means that chicken is on your dinner table slightly less often as a result. "If you're making a roast chicken, say, the difference in taste between an intensively farmed bird and one that has been reared slowly and naturally is enormous. The meat will have a hearty, old-fashioned quality to it, in comparison to the farmed bird, which will taste watery and bland."
Enter BroadOak Slow – the company which aims to banish the spectre of chickens as fast food forever. BroadOak Slow is a specialised, old-fashioned heritage breed of chicken, which grows as nature intended: in other words, really rather slowly. Bred at Broad Oak farm in Dorset, from approved Label Rouge breeding stock, these chickens have a distinctive featherless neck – and a delicious flavour.
"I love finding new chicken farmers because until a few years ago the best chickens always came from France. Now we have a handful of great producers in the UK," says Hix. "Provenance is important on menus for both the chefs and waiters, and more importantly, the customers."
Unlike intensively-farmed chickens, BroadOak Slows are free to roam and scratch about with other farm animals in a spacious, stress-free environment. Plus they're fed on a pure diet of Dorset grain – without any artificial additives or growth stimulants. Welfare is important, making their chicken an ethical choice for any consumers concerned about the treatment of intensively-reared animals. The breast meat from these healthy, happy chickens is naturally slightly darker than usual. It also has a lower fat content than a conventional breed.
BroadOak chickens are available at farmers' markets throughout the south-west; for more stockists call 01202 238226 or visit broadoakslow.co.uk
Grilled chicken with rosemary and baked garlic
1 or 2 chickens, depending on their size
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4-5tbsp olive oil
A few sprigs of rosemary
2 heads of jumbo garlic, halved
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Wrap each half of garlic in tin foil and place it on a tray in the oven for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking for another 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the chickens in half and flatten them a little with your hand or a meat bat. Preheat a barbecue or ribbed griddle pan, season the meat well and brush with some olive oil.
Grill the chickens for about 6-8 minutes on each side, transfer to a tray and then finish in the oven for another 10 minutes or so.
To serve, heat the rest of the olive oil in a pan, strip the leaves from the rosemary and heat in the oil for 30 seconds or so – but don't let it brown too much.
Serve on plates or a sharing dish with the baked garlic and the rosemary spooned over the chicken.
Trealy Farm charcuterie
This artisan charcuterie company was born out of foodie origins: two of the founders, James Swift and Graham Waddington, met at the Abergavenny Food Festival back in 2004. With partner John Standerwick, the Trealy team built up a well-respected range of charcuterie from their farm-based business in Monmouthshire in Wales. The company is now run by Swift.
Mark Hix also discovered them at a food festival, before awarding them a top prize at the BBC Food Awards in 2009. "For me, they're the best cured meats in the country – on a par with any other European cured meats," he explains. "They use good, local, free-range pork, and they've done their homework on the curing and drying process. My best taste test was when I gave a Trealy board to Jose from the Spanish ham specialist Joselito, and he couldn't believe that we produce such great cured meats here."
Offering cured beef, chorizos, pork neck, bath chaps, pancetta and salamis, the team have travelled to Germany, Spain, France, Sardinia and Italy to work with expert charcutiers to hone their craft, combining traditional methods with innovative techniques for curing, air-drying and smoking meats. But while they have a European style, their products are still very much home-grown: Trealy Farm only use locally-reared, free-range animals from traditional breeds – mostly Gloucester Old Spot, Welsh and Saddleback pigs. Not only does this commitment help promote those breeds, but it means the business also ensures good prices for their neighbouring farmers. It's also good news for your table – having hands-on quality control means you're assured of flavoursome, perfectly textured, marbled meat, which is the first step for fine charcuterie.
Hix says, "Trealy's cooked products are also very good, like their black pudding. They are still a small and a niche business, but they are sure to be expanding soon."
Trealy Farm now supply to restaurants, farmers markets and delicatessens across Monmouthshire and the UK. Swift's mantelpiece must be pretty crowded, too – Trealy have won stacks of True Taste and Great Taste awards, as well as being BBC Food Producer of the Year, a Waitrose Made in Britain Award winner and Local Food Hero for Wales in 2009.
Hix says: "In the recipe below I've combined pork neck with Alexanders, abundant roadside plants that are prolific in Kent, but I have also found them in other parts of the country. Both the stalks and the leaves are edible and have a slightly perfumed flavour".
You can buy Trealy Farm charcuterie at River Cottage stores; Usk, Monmouth, Cardiff Riverside, Cheltenham, Bristol and Stroud farmer's markets; trealy.co.uk
Cured pork neck with pickled Alexanders
120 or so slices of cured pork neck
For the Alexanders
250-300g Alexanders (or you can use celery instead)
3 medium shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
3tbsp white wine vinegar
2tsp English mustard
1tbsp tomato ketchup
4tbsp extra-virgin rapeseed oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For this dish you will need Alexanders with a fair bit of stalk. Cut the stems of the Alexanders into 3-4cm lengths. Either quarter them lengthways if they are thick, or leave the thinner ones whole, or just halved lengthways. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the Alexanders for 3-5 minutes or until tender, then drain. Meanwhile, simmer the shallots in the vinegar and 3 tablespoons of water until the liquid has reduced by half. Remove from the heat and whisk in the mustard, ketchup and rapeseed oil, then season to taste and add more mustard, ketchup or vinegar to taste if required. Mix the warm Alexanders with the dressing and leave to sit for about an hour. Arrange the pork neck on serving plates with the Alexanders scattered over.
This pioneering company have made sure that you can enjoy one of the ultimate gastronomic luxuries without feeling guilty. Normally, black caviar-producing wild sturgeon would have to be killed for you to get a taste of the delicacy, but Mottra use a special "milking" technique to massage their caviar out of farmed fish, making it a truly sustainable choice.
Forget overbearing fishy or algae whiffs – there's no compromise on taste either. Mottra caviar has a delicate and subtle flavour. There are no preservatives or piles of salt added either, resulting in a just-right texture that is neither sticky nor damp.
Hix says: "What I love about Mottra is that you can enjoy it on hot buttered toast as it is, without piling on all those usual accompaniments like shallots or sour cream to eradicate the saltiness. Most caviar just tastes of salt, which masks the delicate flavour of the fish eggs".
Mottra's farming techniques allow the sturgeon to fully mature before the eggs are harvested, meaning the caviar has a fully developed outer layer. This gives the authentic caviar taste and texture, as it was in the days before sturgeon became overfished from rivers, leading to the rise of young sturgeon being intensively fished from the Caspian Sea to provide immature – and vastly inferior – caviar.
Mottra farm has two different species of sturgeon: osietra, a much-loved gourmet caviar, and sterlet, which they claim is an unfairly forgotten caviar that was once ranked alongside beluga.
Sterlet is a small species of sturgeon, and has become increasingly rare, disappearing from the market for nearly half a century. This is partly because the fish can be difficult to farm, but Mottra's careful attention to conditions as well as their new technology makes it possible to provide this very special breed of caviar for your dining delight.
Mottra Caviar is available at Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. You can also order direct from mottra-caviar.co.uk
Oysters in Champagne jelly with cucumber and caviar
12 small rock oysters, shucked and juices reserved
About 200ml Champagne
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
3cm cucumber, halved, seeded and cut into a very fine ¼cm dice with the skin on
1 leaf of gelatine (3g)
1-2tbsp sour cream or crème fraîche
1 or 2 jars of 30g caviar
Remove the oysters from the shells and place in a saucepan with any juices from the shells and a tablespoon of the Champagne. Season, cover with a lid, and cook on a low heat for a minute.
Remove from the heat, remove the oysters from the liquid with a slotted spoon, and place on a plate and leave to cool. Meanwhile, soak the gelatine in cold water for a couple of minutes until soft, then squeeze out the water.
Reheat the oyster cooking liquid and stir in the gelatine until dissolved, then add the rest of the Champagne.
Prepare a tray, large enough to fit all of the oyster shells, with some scrunched-up tin foil so that the oyster shells stay level while the jelly is setting.
Ensure the oyster shells are dry and clean. Place the shells level on your tray, then put the oysters back in the shell and divide the cucumber between them.
Pour in the Champagne jelly as far to the top of the shell as you can. Leave to set in the fridge for a couple of hours or so.
To serve, spoon the tip of a teaspoonful of crème fraîche or sour cream on the jelly and spoon the caviar on top.
Blue Monday cheese
A collaboration between Blur bassist-turned-farmer Alex James, cheese expert Juliet Harbutt of The Evenlode Partnership, and Ruaraidh Stone of the top artisan producer Highland Fine Cheeses, Blue Monday is the world's first square-shaped blue cheese.
The idea for Blue Monday came after James gave another of Stone's creations, Strathdon Blue, a gold medal at the 2007 British Cheese Awards. The next year, James commissioned the Scottish company to produce the cheese, naming it after his favourite New Order song.
Blue Monday is a gooey, mild cheese which makes a handsome addition to any cheeseboard. Hix says: "Blue Monday has the qualities of a great gorgonzola".
Blue Monday is available at selected UK delicatessens. See evenlodepartnership.co.uk
Creamed onion soup with cider and Blue Monday
5 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1tsp chopped thyme leaves
1tbsp vegetable oil
A couple of good knobs of butter
100ml dry cider
1 ltr vegetable stock or a good stock cube
2tbsp double cream
80g Blue Monday cheese
In a thick-bottomed pan, gently cook the onions and the thyme in the vegetable oil until they are soft, making sure that they don't colour, with the lid on for about 10 minutes, and stirring them every so often.
Add the butter and flour and stir on a low heat for a minute or so.
Slowly add the cider, stirring constantly, then gradually add the vegetable stock and season with salt and pepper.
Bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour.
To serve, break the Blue Monday into small pieces, add the cream to the soup and bring back to the boil, then scatter the Blue Monday on top.
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