What is up Doctor?

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I met a doctor. His name is unimportant, good bloke though he was, so for the sake of cinematic license, Hunter S Thompson theft and novelistic characterization I’ll name him The Good Doctor.

I spent a week stood next to The Good Doctor chopping up animals with knives.

Any Morrissey fans in the room, leave now. I have no idea how you ended up here.

Perhaps your rickety bones chipped off into the desiccated and fibrous muscles barely stringing you together and spun your sunken chested vitamin-starved frame off in this direction? Through your poorly, filmy eyeballs maybe this place looked like a nut-roast or some Quorn* so you shuffled and asthma wheezed yourself over here in a desperate bid for nutrition?

*Quorn is to food what Japanese-porn is to porn; weird, the best bits blocked out, really grim and miserable.

Going off at vegetarians is silly dated. Vegetarians are a bootcut jeans target, a ‘wassup!’ from the Bud advert aim, an Alex Garland book, Franz Ferdinand, Duffer Of St George, balsamic vinegar, Napster and pesto. Mean and nasty abuse of Morrissey however, never tires. Except today. I’m knackered and the pantomime twat is too easy a target now too. So just briefly; he wants vegetarian venues in which to perform his luddite grinding schtick. He wants duck-hunters kicked off talk shows or he will refuse to sweatily flounce about to his Cro-Magnon Britpop desperation songs. He (probably) wants pavements disinfected, a gas mask, hazmat suit, an island patrolled by a highly-trained Linda McCartney militia keeping him safe from our savage filthy mouths. A vegan idyll where he can cuddle up with a cow, read some Oscar Wilde, make some tedious, dated ‘controversial’ comments and compose more Ocean Colour Scene B-sides, in an ill fitting shiny shirt he borrowed of Dale Winton circa 1997.

The Good Doctor did not roll with no Morrissey neither. We stood over a rabbit each. Both with our hands under the pelt and over the spine. Tugging the fur away from the muscles. Both trying to do it in one piece. You only need to loosen a couple of bits with a knife, the rest is caveman brutality. Bare hands and the gamy smell of dead pest. I’m not squeamish, The Good Doctor obviously isn’t. When I picked up the rabbit out of the box though. It was a bit gross. The weight of it, the fur, the little pink tongue lolling out through pinny teeth. The super rich woman on the station across from us got bitten. She had turned up late because the fog had delayed her helicopter. Chopper delay tardy and then bitten by a dead rabbit, a bad day. She was game though. She seemed more confused than angry. She’d turned the skull round trying to pull the leg fur off and the jaw had opened a bit and then she’d impaled herself on the fangs. It was a self-stabbing incident, the rabbit wasn’t a zombie.

The Good Doctor started telling me about ‘blunt-dissection’. Most chest cavity work on humans is done using blunt-dissection, gently teasing apart muscles and fibres by hand. Movie and TV surgeons cutting and slicing with scalpels and saws is a nonsense.

By now, Doc and I had our bunnies nude in Uggs. You pull the fur up to the neck and off the legs, leaving little fur booties. He starts talking about cadavers while we wait at the front bench for a go on the massive cleaver. In front of us is this girl who has hardly said a word all week. She’s the friend of this large lady who has a big face like Miss Piggy. I’m not saying that as an insult. If you look at Miss Piggy’s face it’s not gross. It’s not my thing, pigs, pig-faces but Miss Piggy is ‘pretty’. Not even pretty just for a pig, she’s sort of standardized ‘pretty’ so I’m not insulting this large lady, honestly I’m not. Jesus! I look like Harry Potter, in the first Harry Potter flick. I’m a nine year old wizard, with a red face. Happy now?

Anyway, Miss Piggy’s friend in front of us. She only talks to her. She always looks cheerful, she smiles, she just doesn’t speak to anyone else. The Good Doctor says: “She is SO vanilla”. I don’t quite get it but then I think it’s something to do with porn. I don’t know anything about porn. I’m trying to work out how vanilla fits into porn, a topic I know nothing about, while the queue for the cleaver shrinks ahead. There are rabbit heads and furry feet piling up on the bench. The blade keeps coming down and I’m thinking about nude ladies and ice cream. I know that’s not what The Good Doctor meant but I just don’t know enough about porn to be sure. That bloody thwack of ineptly handled cleaver against wooden butcher block and now it’s all peroxide and implants and rabbit blood! This is not right. Dial it down Potter, THINK! “She is SO vanilla”, what does he mean? I wish I knew more about porn, but I don’t know anything about porn. I guess he means she’s boring, like vanilla ice cream is boring. It’s no Tutti-Frutti is it? No Ben And Jerry’s. This is grim. I’m stood here waiting to behead my rabbit corpse and my mind is wheeling through images like a sicko in a ‘Saw’ movie set in a Haagen-Dazs shop. The vanilla girl does her rabbit and walks away. She doesn’t say anything. Miss Piggy left the room after nearly fainting earlier when we boned pigeons. Oi! Boned them out you puerile sickos! Boned THEM OUT, not boned them.

So The Good Doctor is talking about how most medical schools can’t afford to teach med students on real dead bodies. The next generation of surgeons hacking us all up will have watched videos and a tutor cutting up a body but never made a cut themselves. Think about that next time you reckon you need open-heart surgery or a penis-extension. These Doogie Howsers are going to be practicing on you. I’m looking around the room at the botched and mangled rabbits now we’ve started butchering them and all I can think about is delaying my boob job, living with a burst appendix and wheeling myself around on a skateboard Begging-Vietnam-vet-on-a-New York-Subway-Train-Style when my hip bones turn to dust.

Doc had two years of real cadaver work though. He tells me about how once the body is preserved they work on the same one for two years. They called their cadaver* Frank.

*Cadaver is an awesome word. It sounds like the sound a body would make if thrown down a flight of stairs: Cadaver, cadaver, CADAVER!

It goes green. The blood solidifies. After a while he says, they may as well be cutting a dummy such is it’s distance from a real human body. He says that he told his Grandfather not to donate his corpse to medical science. He says that respect for the dead, for the body, is always at the forefront of the process. Nearly always. A female student after a big night out faints hungover, face down, onto the ninety year old penis in front of her. The clay-like heart is removed successfully and celebrated by being mock drop kicked across the room. Also, The Good Doctor tells his Grandfather, you’ve only got one leg, you don’t want to confuse dumb med students by throwing them a one-legged curveball. Remember, don’t get sick. These infant Dr Quinn Medicine Wo(men) are up next, and we are all screwed.

We eat too much meat. I eat loads. I’m super greedy. I’m cutting down though because I like parakeets, poison darts, Indiana Jones, loin cloths, face paint, gorillas. Basically; I’m into jungles. Not to go to them, I hate spiders more than I hate The Smiths. But I don’t want them all getting hacked down so fat cows can graze and awesome tribes people to have to wear hoodies and watch their kids get into Nike and guns and McDonalds like Native Americans did*.

*I am aware that the plight of displaced jungle tribes is very different, with very different causes, than that of Native Americans. I do know that Sir Francis Drake and Napoleon didn’t turn up in Boston and start torching an imaginary rainforest back in the day, sending Native Americans running to build casinos and meth labs. I’m not that dumb.

I’m from Chichester. I’m super privileged, I know no pain, struggle or want even galactically close to what Native Americans have gone through but for some reason every time I see anything about them, I get all weepy donuts about it. It’s something about the elders wearing terrible stonewash jeans and super tightly laced cheap trainers and watching trash blow into their rabbit fences and their kids disdain for the past and the inevitable waste of divorce and booze and jail that’s coming next. I know not a thing about it but it’s still fucking sad. I remember a food programme where an old Indian (feathers not dots- Reverse ‘Good Will Hunting’ quote) woman was chopping up a rabbit for a stew. I see suffering and theft through some awful middle-class prism of food pwohgwams, and it’s so fwasinating isn’t it? and I feel guilty and terrible but also furious with Morrissey. Because what shitty world is it when he can spout and grimace about sausages and burgers but never does he say a word about anything else? It’s just a rabbit, that woman on the TV is just cooking a rabbit, and Morrissey would loathe her for it, wouldn’t he? He’d stand there, on a desolate, God-forsaken dump of a reservation, surrounded by dust and junk and meth-lab waste, and preen his grey quiff while lecturing an aging woman about her food choices. He would definitely do that.

Jungles don’t get hacked down for rabbits to graze there. Rabbits are usually as abundant as dumb-asses at a Morrissey concert. Also they are cheap, local, healthy and taste okay. I’m not a huge bunny flavour cheerleader but they take on other flavours nearly as well as Morrissey takes on the persona of a bitter pantomime dame with a terrible Cast/Northern Uproar singles collection addiction.

WASCALLY WABBIT WECIPE:

All rabbits are rascals*. The butcher told me today that the local farmers are super happy because there are hardly any around this year. Usually they are munching through crops like Miss Piggy goes at a buffet. This year though the weather was so wet that the babies drowned in their burrows. Then it dried out so they all started banging again but then the wet weather came back and the second batch, like ‘Gremlins 2’, drowned too. To be honest, this was a super bleak, rural ‘Das Boot’ chat that I wasn’t expecting first thing this morning. I’ll happily eat some bunny and I understand that they are a pest, but drowned babies is all a bit death-metal for me.

Anyway, if you do find a rabbit and you want to eat it, this is pretty nice. Or just do it with chicken. Or Quorn.

*Except for Peter Rabbit who rocks a sweet pullover and is a born playa. Bugs is a bit mouthy. I don’t think we’d get on if we met. He’s a bit up himself.

Confit Rabbit:

Wun Wabbit- Jointed, fore legs, back legs, saddle fillets removed.

Chwicken or pwork fwat- Enough to cover your bunny

Confit the bunny. Melt the fat in a heavy saucepan, the smallest that will fit all yr bunny bits in so you don’t need as much fat. Add the legs and cook gently in a 180 oven for probably about forty minutes. Add the saddle fillets and cook em for another ten minutes. Remove the bits from the fat. Keep the fat for other things like throwing at Morrissey or hair removal in place of wax.

Brown the bunny legs on a schmoking hot gwiddle pan. Give the fillets a quick brown too but don’t over cook or you’ll be eating dwhy wabbit.

Meanwhile, (I love me a ‘meanwhile’, it’s silly comic book.) make lush spicy sauce and some mayu and cook some rice. I even mess up rice cooked in a rice cooker, so you will find no rice cooking advice here. However you get to cooked rice, get there. But know this, Uncle Ben is not your friend. He is probably a turncoat character from ‘Django Unchained’ and he reminds me of that proper bastard at the end of ‘Requiem For Dream’. The dude with the ‘party’….gross.

Wakame and Burnt Chilli Sauce:

Wakame dried seaweed- 2T

Szechuan peppercorns- 1t

Red chillies- 2

Spring onions- 2

Sugar- 1/4 cup

Light soy sauce- 1/4 cup

Black vinegar- 1T

Black pepper

Soak the wakame in a half cup of hot water. Toast peppercorns in a dry heavy frying pan until they smell like Szechuan peppercorns. Your kitchen should smell like someone is about to get done at Mahjong. Remove and crush. Burn the chillies and spring onions in the dry heavy frying pan. You want a proper burn on them. The chillies need to get more black than they are red. The spring onions can keep a bit more green but don’t mess about. Hot pan. Super hot pan.

Chop the burnt stuff finely.

Remove the wakame from water. Reserve half the soaking liquid.

Combine everything and add a little black pepper.

Mayu:

Mayu is black garlic oil. It is basically burnt garlic in sesame oil. It usually goes in tonktotsu ramen to add a burnt and bitter note. It is delicious on everything. It is mayu and it is no joke.

Sesame oil- 1/4 cup

Crushed garlic- A paste made from four or five cloves

Put on a medium/low heat and keep stirring. The garlic will go brown, and then get progressively darker. It will be like watching a VH1 documentary on Michael Jackson in reverse. Let it get really dark brown then turn the heat to low. Keep stirring and let it go black. Be brave people. You want jet black garlic. If it’s still brown, you’ve bottled it, keep going. Black as the night. Crow black. Black Heart Procession.

Remove from the heat and let cool. Add a few teaspoons over rice, vegetables, your children, pets. Or if you really want to go there, take Mayu to a wedding and throw in lieu of confetti. The bride will stink but she’ll taste lovely.

Swerve up this Wascally Wabbit with the Wakame sauce for the Wabbit and the Mayu for the Wice. Maybe make a salad or some stir fried vegetables? I have no idea. I cannot fix the world here, just dinner, a bit of dinner at least. I would just steam something, broccoli or bok choy and put Mayu on that green joker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cold War

Do you want to come for dinner? Dinner. Not the Blumenthal place which was nice but a bit dull and looks like a Barclays bank branch from 1991 with jelly molds on the walls. Dinner at mine tonight. Dinner for two. Me, the fat bastard and my slender pretty wife. I will eat approximately thrice what she will. Firstly because I’m greedy and secondly because she won’t like it as much as arrogant “Love me! Love me!” moi will pretend I do just so I don’t feel so ashamed.

This is a grim and dumb insight into the dulled edge, rusted cog, workings of my culinary mind. This is how dinner is decided.

Know this; I loathe edits. I like unadulterated splurges. Not everything needs to be drum tight and polished. Grit and what Tom Waits calls: ”The hair in the gate”, is all I’ve ever cared about. I’m not saying I plan on moulting into dinner or seasoning with flint and sand. Words and sentences only work for me when they read ragged and sweetly vomitus.

You there, at the back, waving your lit class smuggery and your “Behind every great writer, is a great editor” badge. I hear you sir, I do madam. I understand it but I don’t have to like it all the time.

Oh, and I’m super lazy.

I defrosted those merguez that I thought the butcher was giving me for free. I paid him for them and the pig lesson and the pork neck bones. He let me off fifty pence. I thought that was a bit tight but then again I had somehow ignored the fact that he DID actually offer me them for free but I, like some gurning Hugh Grant blob of English manners, insisted I pay for them. I was then confronted with the pathetic couple of coins in my pocket so he then had to let me off fifty pee which I felt guilty about whilst simultaneously being annoyed with him. I walked out with the sausages, the neck bones, cold feet from standing in the freezing cutting room, and red cheeks from the whole payment kerfuffle. I also regretted not asking him for some pig tails. I wanted some but had felt embarrassed to ask for some. It felt a bit gross and pervy for some reason. Much like I imagine eating them would taste like. I drove home in the sleet feeling all kinds of Hugh Grant but minus the hooker penchant, or the floppy fringe.

Anyway, there was no room in the freezer so I defrosted the merguez. They will have to be dinner tonight.

I bought extra red onions this week. I did these dry roasted onions with capers, brown butter and anchovy the other day. They were lush so I’ll do them again tonight. This time I ‘ll trim the tops better so they don’t burn so much. A bit of burn is okay but it was a bit much and a little too bitter last time. Also that night, when I went to brush my teeth before bed, I noticed a big fleck of carbonized onion on my front tooth that my wife had blatantly seen, but neglected to tell me about. Either that, or she just never looks at me. I often look like a tipsy, sweaty, leering David Baddiel so that’s perhaps more likely.

My issue now is with green stuff. I used the bok choy last night in that awful health-shop ramen I made. The broth, with the neck bones, was awesome. I destroyed it by putting my home made rye ramen noodles in it. The rye flour had frozen and then during cooking, torn the noodles into inch long worms. The taste was wood and wicker and it somehow leeched all the flavour from the broth. The pork belly and the bok choy in the soup was good but I sat alone at the kitchen table furious at the stupid fucking brown noodles. Since I used the bok choy there’s only green salady stuff left and I want to make dinner bleak and Nordic. There’s no place for lettuce or rocket at Odin’s (Casual Nordic Stereotyping Go-To Mythic Figure’s) table.  Merguez is already in play, messing with my theme, throwing salad at things is going to wipe the bleak away in a zesty second.

This is a clear example of how stupid I am. I should really be planning a dinner around the merguez. Anyone else would be thinking North Africa, Morocco.. Camels, souks, harrissa, cumin, that sweet bit in ‘Bourne‘ where Damon jumps through that window off a roof. Not me. I am ignoring the spicy sausage and entirely basing dinner around some burnt onions.

Now I’ve remembered the red cabbage I bought. No greenery, I’ll go red instead. I want to try and do this red cabbage thing I had at Manfred’s in Copenhagen where the cook just burned the hell out of a wedge of red cabbage and served it with some sort of bleak Nordic yoghurty sauce and a handful of roasted buckwheat. I’ll do that, the yoghurt will go with the merguez and end up as some stupid Nordic/Marrakech fest. Whatever, it’ll probably be good.

Ah twatface! I forgot I bought chicken livers. I have been meaning to buy some for ages, and this week I did. Now I’ve forgotten about them for a couple of days they’ve probably gone green and rancid. Now, if they’re okay I’ll have to ram them into dinner somewhere. I doubt my wife wants to eat them, she scowled when she saw them in the fridge. She’s probably praying I have forgotten about them so she can throw them out. In fact, maybe that’s why there was stuff placed in front of them in the fridge? Sabotage! Right, if that’s the game we’re playing then I am definitely cooking them tonight.

I actually view the fridge as a chessboard at which my wife is Deep Blue, the super hardcore chess computer and I am Bobby Fischer, chess loony, driven insane by the game. I am not a racist anti-semite though. This game of cunning and guile is played out with ingredients she doesn’t want to eat, and leftovers. She hides buys she doesn’t want to eat behind the kid’s yoghurts until I forget about them and they become biohazards. I want to keep leftovers, either to give my mum who loves leftovers more than she loves her grandchildren or to freeze. My wife dislikes dinner enough the first time, the idea of round two with it is far too awful a prospect to contemplate. I attempt to hide bowls of old broths, sauces, dressings, leftover meat around the fridge. She tries to throw them out. It’s a cat and mouse game in which she is a super intelligent cat and I am an idiot.

These livers have seemingly begun a Cold War. Screw Perestroika! I am Krushchev! She is one of the Kennedys, but a cat too and my wife all at the same time. I married a feline JFK. That is unimportant now. The livers are in play! I’ll do something with buttermilk and panko breadcrumbs if there’s any I can nick from my mum who loves breading stuff in panko more than she loves her own children. I read a recipe a while ago by the dudes who run Animal resturant in Los Angeles. That sounded nice.

Okay, I am navigating Scandinavia, North Africa, Russia (In my mind) and now California. I live near Chichester for fuck’s sake.

What the hell is this dinner turning into?

Merguez

Dry roasted red onions with brown butter, capers and anchovy

Burnt red cabbage with bleak Nordic yoghurt sauce and roasted buckwheat

Buttermilk fried chicken livers

Christ this is ludicrous. It’s just a Friday night near Chichester, for two people, at home! I’m only cooking the livers because I don’t want to waste them. The merguez because I defrosted them. Everything else because I told myself I would. Maybe I shouldn’t think about this stuff so much. I need another job. Maybe I should just buy a jar of Ragu and cook the shit out of some pasta. God, this is such a First World problem. I should be ashamed of myself.

I will post up the entire menu recipes after I’ve messed them all up tonight. You too can waste your evening in the kitchen cooking a dinner entirely composed of guilt and idiocy! I await a ‘Cook-along With Gordon‘ style show on Channel 4, where I weep and drink and burn stuff while my family moves out, secretly. Gordon’s kitchen is full of D-listers and low ranking Olympic medal winners mooching around making paella and bread pudding. Mine has me, the minnow fish we bought my daughter that refuses to die even though I don’t think the fishbowl has an air supply anymore and I haven’t fed it (Fish loving types; this is artistic license/not true/honestly, when my wife and I are not FridgeFighting we are warring over the fish which I am trying to kill and she is sneakily feeding) in months and NO ONE ELSE because they have all left me to waste my life pondering buckwheat, poultry organs, Boris Spatsky the chess Grandmaster and how much I do actually look like David Baddiel.

Dinner will be served sometime between half seven and two AM. All welcome. If you can’t make it, don’t worry, there will be leftovers. I can guarantee that much.

‘The Egyptians!’ and self-loathing

 

I was a chubby kid. I wasn’t fat, I was bubble-written. I was curvy like a ‘real’ model. My mum dressed me in a pair of flesh coloured shorts between the ages of three and twelve. I looked like a raw sausage.

My parents moved house a few years ago. We had to clear the loft. The loft at my childhood home was the same as every other loft in England. Packed to the spiderwebbed rafters with suitcases, old vinyl records, dead relatives crockery, dried baby clothes, forgotten school projects: “Oilrigs!-How They Work” or “The Egyptians!”. The exclamations of schoolkids. The pretend-excitement of learning something. Bad colouring in with felt-tip pens. Decorative borders and long dried glue smears.

While we carted boxes of ancient cassette tapes; Hall and Oates, Prefab Sprout, Deacon Blue, ‘Nebraska’, out to a van headed for the tip, I sat on the front step and read through my first restaurant ‘review’. Shame became me.

A box of oranging photos spilled across the driveway from the maw of the van. There’s me; peach shorts, big thighs. A perfectly spherical face. There’s my brother, looking miserable, long fringe drooping over one eye. Ma, Princess Diana with a perm. Dad with hair. My younger brother a day after he nearly drowned twice in the space of twenty-four hours. Once in a algae choked pond, once in the pool. Idiot.

These photos of holidays in France in the mid 1980s, I was a rotund little PacMan gobbling escargots, crabs, moules, grenouilles. Multiple wet things? I’d eat ‘em. When it came to eating out, I was the Little Fatty Who Could. I look over at the spilled snapshots across the tarmac, the maroon curls of negatives, the envelopes from photo printing places long gone under, bust and bankrupt. One of me grinning with crab flesh all over my chin. A napkin jammed in the collar of my polo shirt, sweet floral design across the shoulders. A strong look in combination with some baggy chinos and ‘wet-look’ gelled hair. I see one from the Manoir D’Something I can’t remember. This was the place. This was where the young chub understood the wonder and glory of good food. The ‘review’ I’m reading is of this place. There I am. Another napkin wedged in another neck of a another polo shirt, lemon yellow this time. Still the hair, spiky and reminiscent of porcupine twills and ugly kid’s TV presenters. In front of my red and perfectly spherical face, that fucking chicken. That unbelievable chicken with that super-rich cream sauce. That goddamn chicken that made me write this awful embarrassing, precocious ‘review’ in felt-tip pen with a terrible inept felt-tip pen drawing of the place. It looks like the White House as rendered by a fingerless blind person. What is that? A tree? No, it’s a spear of asparagus. That same asparagus you pretended to like to impress your parents. You thought it tasted gross but you had to be the little eater of note. Baby Foodbag. Piggy.

There’s that chicken. Photographic evidence here. Proof of how much a single plate of nouvelle-cuisine poulet avec something sauce could move an irritating little lunchbox like me. God it’s shameful this little ‘food diary’. It causes involuntarily cringes which wrack, they actually wrack, my entire body. I’ve underlined the word ‘delicus’ (SIC, SICK SICK SICK!) in three different colours! Guess which colours? Yes that’s right appalled onlooker, IN THE COLOURS OF LE TRICOLORE! I didn’t have a white pen so I left a gap instead! Urgh, there is another terrible drawing of the dessert. Is it a pile of dead bees? No, it’s a fucking madeline with I don’t know, rum soaked bits or chocolate or Hell’s own beetle army hordes crawling all over it. I can’t tell, it’s such a bad etching.

It’s no wonder my brother and I rucked. He’s there pushing a pomme around and looking annoyed and me, Little Lord TuckShop, is grinning like a smug sauce splattered wanker. He’s Judd Nelson in ‘The Breakfast Club’ and I am Bernard Matthews.

Bernard, me

Bernard, me

Bender, my brother

Bender, my brother

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Dad catches sight of what I’m reading before I can hide it. He takes a look at clear evidence of what a disappointment his son was at such an early age. He says:

“Ah. I remember this”

His face says:

“I cannot believe I am responsible for this. Being reminded of your awful greedy precocity is shaking my soul to its very marrow! God my son was a loser. Oh Jesus Christ! What is that?!? You even gave the place marks out of ten for ‘Waiter’, ‘Food’, ‘Room’ and ‘Atmospere’ (SIC? Even SICKER because instead of a numerical rating for ‘Atmospere’ I put a Tricolore coloured question mark! I was so busy stuffing my face with creamy fowl I didn’t trust myself to give a considered, informed ‘atmospere’ rating) I am unsure if you are genetically connected to me in any way whatsoever”

As I watch my Dad’s disappointed eyes scanning the dreadful pamphlet of hate my face burns as red as it is in the photo. I gather a handful of the images from the driveway and throw them into the van along with the ‘review’.

My Dad is so affected by what a loser his son was, he accidentally throws my Mum’s wedding dress out.

As I swing the van doors closed I see a balled tee shirt, size large, in a curly font it says: “I finished the clam chowder mega-bowl! Clam Champ!”. That was me, aged nine, Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco. As the van pulls away I hear a thud as a gold plastic trophy falls against the wall of the van. I know what it says across the base: “Sir Burger: This brave knight beat the Burger Tower!”. Me, Orlando 1988. I know that as Dad began emptying the van at the tip he would try and avert his eyes from the poster of his second-born son smiling out from behind a pile of gnawed rib bones at Cowboy Ranch, Welwyn Garden City, 1989. Above me in a rickety ‘barnyard’ style font it reads: “Welcome to the Big Rib Round-Up!”. Why am I giving a thumbs up?!? Why is my tongue out of my mouth a bit? I’ve got sauce on my face. I’m probably planning my “review”. My parents should have left me there.

Comeback Joe

THE PLAN: 

Sensible. Intelligent discourse. No more messing around and talking all funny-book and angry. No insults. No snide remarks and cleverclever digs. This one is wise. It’s going to be heritage and wisdom. I shall deliver information in a gentle and restrained manner. I am a sensible conduit for culinary knowledge. I am not a wisecracking sarcastic buffoon. I am zen. I am Japanese sand garden. I am calm passage of time and learning.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED WHEN I STARTED WRITING THIS:

I want to be Joe Montana. When I was a kid my brother and I had a phase of half-liking American Football. We shared this book about the NFL and we played a weird Anglicized version of what we thought the rules were. This consisted of running full-pelt towards one another, crashing, falling over and either crying or getting furious. At this point we would wrestle on the sofa, (brown with a creepy undergrowth vine/bramble design. Awesome interior design choice by my Ma in the mid 1980s. It went perfectly with the maroon carpet and the ceramic lady head on the windowsill) until my brother nearly choked me or I bit him and he gave me a dead arm.

Whenever we played this dumb sport, I played as Joe Montana, hero quarterback for my team San Francisco 49ers.*

montana_feature1

Me.

*‘Researching’ this post I just saw that the mascot for the 49ers is named Sourdough Sam.

sourdough--nfl_large_580_1000

Me in my baking outfit.

(Have you already forgotten the previous blog posts?! You know, the bread ones? All that hilarity about Chernobyl and all that? Did you even read them? Is anyone? Mum?!) Coincidence or something more sinister? I would call in Mulder but he’s too busy being sex-addicted and awesome.

My brother played as Jim McMahon, looney tunes quarterback for his team, the Chicago Bears. McMahon was a loose cannon, a misfit, a bad egg! A clear distinction between the pair of us can be drawn by our respective  player choices. Joe Montana’s nicknames included: Joe Cool or The Golden Great. Jim McMahon’s included: Darth Vader and Black Sunshine.

 

super-mcmahon

My brother

 

One of Joe Montana’s most popular nicknames was Comeback Joe. During his career Montana helped his teams to 31 victories when they had been losing entering the final quarter of a game. One of the most memorable was in the first Superbowl I ever remember watching, Superbowl XIII*.

*More ‘research’ coincidences. Superbowl XIII took place on January 22 1989. My firstborn daughter’s birthday? January 22! Seriously, Mulder is going to have to unhitch from whichever broad he is mumbling handsomely to and get in a nondescript sedan car in Vancouver and get here. I smell cigarettes! I smell conspiracy!

Comeback Joe threw a pass for a touchdown that won the game with 39 seconds to go.

I am not and will not ever be Joe Montana. My nicknames include: Lightning Sloth, David Baddiel and Miserable Old (Fat) Loser. I do however have a condiment, a sauce, a miracle addition, that can bring a little Comeback Joe to food: Taré.

Taré can rescue what appears lost. Are you losing a Superbowl? Throw some in the opposition’s eyes! Is your dinner super dull and boring? Call for Taré! Do you have no idea what to eat for dinner tonight? Eat Taré! Oh God! Granny has turned up unexpectedly and I have no idea what I’m going to feed the terrible toothless, gummy old crone! It has gots to be Taré! Has Lorenzo’s dad just dropped the only remaining vial of Lorenzo’s Oil in the film ‘Lorenzo’s Oil” and now it looks like it’s curtains for Lorenzo? You know what to do Nick Nolte; Send for more Taré.

I may be drowning the lily with buckets of molten gold and spraying diamond dust over the lily until it chokes and performing a seven part symphony to the wonders of the lily…but Taré is that good. Fuck the lily! Make some Taré and dip the stupid lily in it!

Taré is a general term for Japanese dipping sauces used in grilling. Chicken yakitori is all about the Taré.*

*HOW THE CHICKEN CAME TO JAPAN: For chicken yakitori you need a chicken. The first chicken in Japan appeared in the 8th century. In a couple of ancient chronicles Kojiki and Nihonshoki (Ancient chronicles, not a Japanese standup duo) the first chicken appeared at a party outside a cave. The chicken was called Tokoyonaga-Nakidori and the cave was called Ama-no-Iwato; ‘The Cave of the Sun God’. The chronicles say that Susanoo, the Japanese Sea God banished Amaterasu the Japanese Sun Goddess into the cave.

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Weirdo dressed up as Susanoo (loves chicken in a big way). Dude needs to grow up.

To get her to come out and light up the world again they threw an awesome party outside the cave where probably George Harrison played one of those late-era Beatles tunes about the sun, and the chicken was there to seduce Susanoo away from the cave entrance he was guarding. That was one good looking fowl because the Sea God backed off and the sun came back out. Sweet deal. Then a few thousand years later dudes started skewering poultry on sticks and flavouring it with awesome Taré.

It’s basically a seasoned soy sauce that any chef has their own version of. In proper old-school yakitori places the sauce is never finished. Whatever remains at the end of service is retained and refreshed with new soy, sake, mirin and whatever else the cook uses in his. I never make enough to keep a batch going that long. Mainly because I can’t afford that much mirin and sake every week but also because I’m greedy and I eat the stuff direct from the fridge off my fingers or rub it into my aching joints or cuddle up nightly next to a bowl of it…

I use a slightly butchered version from the ‘Momofuku’ cookbook. It’s their method with some minor additions.

Taré:

2 or 3 chicken backs or the bones/skin of one butchered chicken (Not a cheapo battery-ass one. If you eat them, you are a scumbag.)

1 cup sake

1/2 cup mirin

1 cup light soy sauce

1/4 cup sugar

half cup of 1cm diced smoked bacon

1/2 bunch of spring onions

black pepper

Put the chicken bits in an oven safe frying pan. Not a wimpy non-stick pancake number. A solid skull breaking sort.

Roast all hell out of them in a hot oven (180c odd). You need to turn the bones often to ensure they brown deeply but don’t burn. If they burn and catch too much your Taré is going to taste like the crumb tray from your toaster after you tried to toast a chicken carcass.

After a while, an hour maybe, your chicken bones are going to look and smell awesome. Take them out and put the pan on a low heat.

Throw in a splash of the sake without ignoring the alcohol content as I did last time and singed my face off in the resultant booze fireball. Deglaze with the sake scraping up all the fond (the stuck/browned/lush bits on the pan).

When the fond is up and off, add everything else and simmer super slowly for an hour. The simmer should be minimal. As if miniature crocodiles are surfacing every few seconds, the odd bubble here and there. Languid like you think the Florida Everglades are like under the mangroves…you know what I mean, fat lazy bubbles not a Sodastream or a fishtank bubbler.

Strain out the bones, bacon and spring onions. Add a few twists of black pepper.

You probably have a small bowl’s worth that should taste sweet, smoky and just hands-down grand. Put it in ramen stock, on noodles, glaze chickens with it (dead ones), it’s good on rice, it’s good on a lot. Keep it in the fridge and the gelatin from the chicken bones will set it up a little. If you can keep it going just add what remains to your next batch after the sake deglazing stage.

Honestly make a batch of this. It’s simple as, makes your house smell nice and tastes awesome. Also I made a stock with the bones after straining them out of the finished Taré. The stock was awesome too so a quid spent on bones gets you a bowl of Joe Montana Juice and a pan full of stock for noodle soups or something. Thrift, American Football, Bones. I am a master of something.

NOTE:

I’ll try harder to be calm, measured and Japanese sand garden next time. Also Taré gets a capital letter every time because it’s important and deserves respect. I would have called it King Taré but that may have been excessive or CoatMeInYourselfSweetTaré but that would have been weird.

Pain 2: Farewell To Pripyat

So after weeks of feeding the Jabba AKA starter, I’m ready to bake. Pro bakers use specced up steam ovens to bake their bread. The steam forms the crust so you don’t end up with sort of balled sock bread. My dreamy baking sensei Chad Robertson, has come up with a method where the dough goes in a superheated casserole dish, with the lid on. The dough steams in the sealed dish, a crust forms, then you whip off the lid and brown all hell out of the loaf.

I’m reading these instructions while my kitchen fills with a heady aroma. Not that of baked goods. Not the milky tang of fermenting dough. Not even the cheap deodorant and old wine sweat smell of myself in any environment over ten degrees centigrade. It smells like the inside of a badly built cadium smelter. I have had to turn the oven up on full. This is Saturday morning so all three of these kids are sat around the kitchen table having breakfast. What smelt before of toast and apple juice has gone. Now it smells of melting rubber and a bonfire of Chinese takeaway containers. My wife is looking at the carbon monoxide alarm and fully expecting it to start sounding the klaxon. Now she’s looking at me and she looks furious. My baby son’s eyes are watering. I love my family. I really do but I have been ‘working’ on this bread for weeks. It will be worth it in the end. If we survive. The only words ringing in my head are: Bhopal, Union Carbide, Pripyat!

I am disorganized. Where others make lists or plans, I make mess and mistakes. The pictures in the Tartine Bread book show baking as a mellow, lightly flour dusted zen series of gentle movements on wood surfaces. It’s shown as a reflective, meditative craft. Not in my fucking kitchen it wasn’t.

My family flee my baking mania. As my wife reverses the car away, my eye is drawn to the exhaust fumes….PRIPYAT!

Peering into the grimy oven door, I can see nothing. It’s black. I can see my face, and I look ill. It’s taken too much time now. I must complete the task. I am scowling through the gas clouds at the Tartine Bread book now. Damn Chad. Damn him and his buff arms and his mellow ways! THIS is bread! Carnage, heat and fumes. I pull the now almost molten casserole dish from the oven. It’s been in there for twenty minutes too long now. I grab my first bowl of dough (the recipe makes two loaves so this whole awful process has to be repeated). The dough has risen perfectly. My ‘working’ of the dough the night previous has given me a dough that looks like Chad’s. I may not look like Chad, but this dough does. I try and tip the dough into the fiery dish. I see visions of arm skin peeling off in crispy strips like a Papua New Guinea KFC dish. The dough is in. The lid is on. I’m sure some of the handle has melted and is stuck to the oven-glove. No time now, my knees are on fire! Back into the maw of Satan with you burning dish bread vessel!

Then I watch the timer on my phone count down. That sweet ‘Marimba’ tone trills out and I’m back into the furnace pulling the lid off. The hair on my arms has been singed pubic but the smell is different. Yes there’s burnt hair and toxic ICI emissions but now there is a new note, bread! Now my kitchen smells like the only remaining bakery in downtown Baku, Azerbaijan.

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Baku, my bakery is the nice white building on the right.

Then I watch the time on my phone count down again. That sweet ‘Marimba’ tone trills out and I’m back in the furnace pulling the bread out. The hair on my arms has vanished. My arms look like my six month old son’s arms. But in my hands, oven-gloved, there is a loaf of bread. It’s a proper looking, OG, sourdough-ass, artisanal pimped-out loaf of country bread, that I made and baked properly. Immediately I envision a life as a chill, buff, master-baker. This may be Chichester but it feels like Napa or Marin or Santa Cruz. Basically I’m a tan Californian and yeah I juice and surf and hike, I’m known to hit a kayak or two and catch trout with string and do tantra in a teepee under starlight in a forest. I am human kale, people. I am Big Sur. I know how the Earth talks y’all. It’s all good. Organic, artisanal, Farmer’s Market, gluten, carb-loading, wicker, hemp, hessian sacks, Google on a mellow global village tip. Tomatoes that actually taste of tomato. Kids with weird names, Toto, Aliceband, Wickett. Green tea, hand made, natural fibres, weather……

All this purity, all this vibe, man. From bread.

Then the smoke alarm went off and I remembered I had to bake the other fucking loaf.

Pain

No one breaks bread any more. Back in the day, when Jesus and the dinosaurs were rolling around arguing over magic tricks and biting the heads off Roman soldiers, bread was the thing. It was all bread. Pharaohs got buried with their Hovis and their jewels. Caesar threw bread parties where little birds flavoured with gross spices like cinnamon and cloves and endurance sex sessions, were served up alongside baked wheat goods. Fossils hidden by God somewhere south of Bethlehem show perfectly preserved loaves of Aramaic Mighty White in the fossilized belly of the Dinosaur King who trampled around the holy land looking for Spielberg, Goldblum and Laura ‘Tan Shorts’ Dern.

Baking is it. Last year it was just cooking. Last year was Masterchef. This year (By this year I mean last year. 2013 is an uninteresting void. January is absence, a nothing, a blank page never to be written upon. It sort of doesn’t exist until June) is that baking comp in a tent with an old lady and ‘grey-bear club owner from 1979’ judging and Giles Coren presenting. People make cakes and cry and get icing in the hair and cry and beat one another’s skulls in with marble rolling pins. They force their rival’s fingers into the spinning blades of a food processor and the Granny-Judge samples slices of grim eggy Bakewell Tart whilst arterial blood spurts across her wrinkly brow from a contestant who got too close to another competitor’s palette knife.

My Nan made better cakes than anyone so now she’s not here, I don’t see the point of eating anyone else’s. I’m not interested in ’em. Take yr tarts and flans and fling them at the mirror whilst hating yourself.

The only cakes I’m secretly making are the Momofuku Milkbar ones. Christina Tosi, Queen Milkbar and author of said book, is the closest thing to a Nan I have left. You should buy the book, it’s sweet but if you don’t, just know that you should put buttermilk in yr sponge cakes. It makes them taste of America, Connecticut and Nancy Reagan.

So with cakes off limits; I’m making bread. Bread will usurp cake. ‘The Tartine Bread’ book is by Chad Robertson. The dude is dreamy. Check this buff flour lord out!

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Look at the ‘burns/pec combo on him! As a baking bloke who do you want to look like? Dave Hovis?

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Pete Kingsmill?

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No, you want to look like Commander Flour, Chad Robertson. His recipe for a basic country loaf is time, money and gas consuming. But it does make this:

Bread

It was genuinely one of the nicest breads I’ve ever eaten. It was what miserable old gits think bread used to taste like, entirely forgetting the fact that it was their generation who went gaga for cheap mass produced everything after the war. Sliced bread was their IPhone. I think Hovis and their ‘fwom up Norrfffff’ schtick began in an old armaments factory. Once there was no need to make hand grenades and Spitfire bullets, Dave Hovis switched the production line to make crappy bread that tasted of brown and Hull. This was lapped up by the returning heroes of WW2 and Anna Friel and her Landgirl gal-pals. Remember that next time Granddad is whining again. It’s all his fault. Those kids mining for Xbox wires with their bare hands? That’s on him.

This is the foul concoction that will make bread that tastes this good. The starter.

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The simple mix of flour, water and airborne yeasts that will, if treated better than those weird dudes treat those weird life sized dolls that they are honestly not humping nightly, make unbelievable bread. Every day for nearly two weeks I was throwing eighty percent of the sour smelling muck away and feeding the gross remainder fresh water and flour. It was like waiting hand and foot on a miniature Jabba The Hutt, in a jar. Feeding it and feeding it like a skit on the first Wu Tang album. Every morning the same smell, the same struggle to minimize the mess, flour and gobs of starter stuck everywhere. Asking my wife, every day, for the same maths:

“What’s twenty percent of three four eight grams?” Says Sam wrestling with a mass of fermenting, stinking dough.

“What’s that stench? Is that you?” Says Sam’s wife, hating him.

God damn it was boring. But eventually worthwhile. Look at that bread. It looks pro and it tasted better. I’ll continue next time and yap on about the actual baking in another exciting installment of “Bread: But not that shit television series“.

Rod Stewart Mayo

I liked the Small Faces. ‘Ogden’s Nut’ was pretty good for a while during ‘The heady Britpop Summer Of ’95’
I did not like The Faces. They sucked.
Rod Stewart solo is even worse. I am aware that my throwing a few insults at Rod Stewart is like dynamite fishing in a bucket stuffed with salmon, dead salmon, but I needed a brief segue/intro/babble.

The Maggi sauce, pictured below, is a seasoning sauce a bit soy-ish with a bit of Marmite snuff to it. In many parts of South East Asia, it’s in most of what yr eating, so I hear….it makes this mayo taste like crisps and its name gives me the Maggi(e) to my Ma(e)yo. I’m all about tacky sauces and terrible punning names.

Know this, ye need some Rod Stewart Mayo in your life, on your chips, burgers, face, wherever, it works and does good things. It’s the only good thing with his name on it.

Rod Stewart Mayo:

Mayo 1/2 cup. Hellmann’s or Kewpie or one of those show-offy farming sorts if that’s yr way, weirdo.

Maggi Seasoning Sauce 1T

Siracha Chilli Sauce 1t Or some other chilli sauce.

Mix ’em up and recognize!
I’m off to Copenhagen.

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