Thursday, 18 December 2014

Masses of meat and brilliant buns - our first foray into catering




This is how it all started. This is the bun that I requested, that Richard baked, that Natalie and Danny and many, many others ate. This is one of the hundred buns that Etien stuffed with slow roast pork belly, beef brisket, roast veg, onion fondue and 'kimchee-slaw'.

This was the first time I've tried catering off site - for fifty people. Danny and Natalie are good friends of the restaurant so when they asked me if I fancied doing their office Christmas party... I said the second thing that occurred to me: Yes.

In truth, I don't like catering. No. In truth, I HATE catering. I like control in the kitchen. I want everything where I want it, when I want it, how I want it. Catering introduces many unknowns; catastrophes sit lurking, waiting, smirking at my culinary hauteur. 

And these catastrophes were all lurking on the third floor, up narrow and uneven stairs, in a stairwell that some fiend had equipped with a timer that took you only to the second floor before insisting the rest of your ascent was pitched in darkness. Laughed? No, I didn't much. 

And this was us arriving later than I'd wanted because of standstill traffic in the city (calm down Dad)... and rain... and a truculent, cigar sucking, Rangerover driver who insisted on taking the only TWO unloading bays outside the offices of Huddle Creative - ads, apps, webs and all other things BrickLanery. They said it was the 3rd floor. But at the top, my legs were insisting it was the 33rd floor. It's a good thing I'm so young and lithe with really low blood pressure and a mild, easy-going temperament. (Stop laughing children.)

Huddle weren't quite as ready as I'd hoped. Natalie was also just arriving with the booze after having met the same drivers as me. The creative team had obviously prioritised their award winning work before the festive stuff. Fairy nuff. It's the job that pays for the party after all. I thought I'd allowed for most eventualities but I confess I didn't expect to first, have to build my tables. Actually, Etien and team Huddle assembled the furniture while I parked the car. Have you ever tried parking a car in Brick Lane on a Friday evening, just before Christmas? It's a good thing I wasn't stressed, or in a rush.

Twenty long minutes later...

No. Actually, let's backup a few days. I'm in Holtwhites bakery, talking buns to the estimable Mr Richard 'master baker' Copsey. 

I'd agreed with Danny and Nat that instead of eeny-weeny canapés that take days of prep only to be consumed in an uncaring, microsecond mouthful, I would supply hearty 'sliders': buns filled with slow-roast meats and veg in a semi-buffet style. Mix and match pork, beef and sides. The meat and veg I would make happily but I wasn't keen on baking 150 buns. It probably wasn't even possible in the time with a domestic oven. The solution was obvious: Holtwhites Bakery.

It's a delight to chat with Richard, a man who clearly loves his craft. I suspect we could fill a four-pint evening with talk of lactic acid and grades of low-gluten flour (I will if you will Rich!). He recommended a 70g semi-improved, glazed white bun. Semi-improved means butter,  egg and milk are added to the dough but not in sufficient quantity that it would be brioche like.


Structure and flavour

The bun performed well, maintaining form and substance when assaulted by sauce and chunks of warm meat. You know the way a MacNasty bap will squidge and flop after a few minutes? Yeah, these boys didn't.

I want to take a moment to praise Richard and Kate. I have fairly exacting standards and a tendency to only comment on that which needs improvement. This means I can appear to be, very infrequently, on occasion... let's call it dour. So when I pour praise on people, you can be damn sure I mean it. Holtwhites are brilliant. Their Enfield bakery is as it should be. Sourdough loaves that are chewy but light with a developed crust and deep flavour. Their baguettes are unequalled in the UK and the almond croissants are sublime. Their ambition and quality has been recognised by many. If you live in or near Enfield, please make the trip. Try the bread.


Holtwhites baguette, sourdough loaf and almond croissant.
And look, this isn't some staged shot. This was what I bought on my way home.
So the rolls were sorted. Now what to put in them? I wanted to stick to the ethos of the restaurant: slow cooked meats and everyday ingredients done differently. We arrived at the pork belly, one of the most popular roasts I do and a new Brisket dish I'd been developing. A 'lo & slo' as the Americans call it; pastrami style. cooked for TWELVE hours at 140°C. Brisket can be tricky. The lack of fat can result in a very dry meat. Help matters by asking your butcher for the 'point' end of the cut; the fattier part.

I'd also do a roast, glazed veg. Sides would be the new wonder kid of our kitchen: onion fondue, a sort of umami cream. Also a kimchee style coleslaw; Chinese leaf with Korean flavours. We've not served this in the restaurant but it's a family favourite. Etien makes it from a Jamie recipe. How delicious is it? What other dish can you imagine that makes a 14 year old boy sit and eat a whole bowlful of raw cabbage and onion? I've included the recipe below.


Pork
I wish I had some photos but the day was intense and I forgot to take my camera to town. Danny took some so I'll hassle him and post them up.


Beef
Etien making kimchee-slaw
Etien was in charge of the kimchee cabbage. He is the master slaw-maker in our house and you don't mess with success. He was great all day: mature, responsible, uncomplaining, indispensable, indefatigable - even as the evening lengthened. I was (am) a very proud father. He's pointed out that I hardly ever post photos of him in the blog so I'm correcting that here. 

The sliders were very successful. I don't think Etien or I have been hugged so often by hungry men (Darren especially). Etien had agreed to help out filling the buns but in the end he did it all himself while I ran around chasing ice men and filling drinks. Yes, ice men. On this occasion he didn't bloody cometh. We'd ordered bags off Eskimo Ice who turned up three hours late, without explanation or apology and after increasingly irate calls from me. This absence necessitated a quick Tesco trip for ice. Nothing says PARTY! like warm lager and empty champagne buckets does it? I won't be using Eskimo again.
Tah dah!
But I don't want to end on a negative. The evening certainly didn't. The party people were fulsome with their praise (they may have been drunk also). The hitherto unkown kimchee-slaw had been a hit but it was the pig that had won the prize. People do love soft belly and glassy crackling don't they? I have this image of Huddle creatives (Mike and Nadine) picking over the bones and sticky bits at the bottom of the belly pan in the small hours. Nothing was wasted.

As ever with a New River Restaurant dining experience, there was dancing; which I may have had something to do with.


Porky wonderment


People wondering which exquisite song Darren would dictate next.

Nadine's either dancing or paying homage. You decide.

Then there was just the reloading of the car at 1am - often with helpful commentary from the passing pissed. And of course those stairs! (Even worse on the descent. It's four days later and I still can't feel my legs.) And the unloading at home, in the rain, halfway down the street because some lovely person had parked outside our house. And washing up all the sticky at home. But Etien helped there too. Like I don't say often enough: thanks son.





Spiced brisket slow roast

Preheat the oven to 150°C. There are two parts to the prep: a dry rub which is applied before the meat is browned and a wet daub painted on before the joint is foil wrapped and roast. This serves at least eight people as a main course. Wrapped and refrigerated it will keep for a week. Expect it won't. It will strangely disappear.

Take one 2-3kg joint of 'point end' brisket. Dry it then rub it all over lightly with vegetable oil.

Prepare the dry rub. Mix 4 tablespoons of coriander seeds, crushed in a mortar or under a pan with 2 tablespoons of sea salt, 2 tablespoons of freshly ground black pepper, a tablespoon of smoked paprika, half a tablespoon of cayenne pepper.

Yes, that does sound like a lot of spice. It's very likely you won't see that much ground black pepper ever again.


This stuff
Heat a little oil in a pan. Apply the rub. Get into every nook and cranny. Sear the meat well on all sides. You want brown and crusty. The spice smoke will get into all of your nooks and crannies to. It's a less than delightful experience. But we must make these sacrifices. Allow the meat to cool.

Mix 12 tablespoons of brown sugar with tablespoons yellow US mustard. If you don't have the authentic stuff use a mix of French and English. Cover the meat in the wet mix; a good thick layer.

Arrange a layer of overlapping foil, enough to completely encase the meat. That turkey foil comes in handy here. Wrap the meat tightly and then repeat twice more. You want no gaps that can allow moisture to escape.

Place the brisket on a roasting rack set in a roasting pan and cook for 5 (ish) hours. A knife should pierce the meat with ease. For larger joints I find it easier to leave it cook overnight. Once rewrapped in foil, the meat will stay warm for hours.


Chinese leaf/cabbage

Kimchee slaw

Nothing like creamy European coleslaw, this is sharp, fresh and spicy.

Take a one fresh green chilli, one red chilli, half a Chinese cabbage/leaf (or failing that, a white cabbage), one peeled red onion and a 'small bunch of radishes'. In effect this means one bag of radishes from the supermarket, unless you're lucky enough to grow your own.

Shred all the veg, either with a food processor or with commanding knife skills. Finely grate a thumb size piece of ginger. Add a generous pinch of salt, the juice of two limes and a splash of sesame oil to taste - start with about a teaspoon and add more; it's potent stuff.

Really scrunch or massage ingredients together with your hands to mix well and release juices. Add a handful of chopped coriander. Don't skimp with this.

Such a simple dish delivers masses of complex flavours. The sesame oil is key, adding a smokey note that works so well.

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