With Gothenburg’s drawn-out winter coming to a welcome end and the sun melting away the iced over canals I find myself looking forward to BBQs, grilled fish and summery salads. But whilst the sun is warm when it’s out the thermometer struggles to get above zero in the shade. Such chilly evenings mean that Stewie Griffin – my slow cooker – has still got a role to play. Although I suspect this Mexican oxtail stew is probably his last outing for many months. And fittingly, he’s gone out with a bang.
Stewie has dealt with many a chilli. As I go to sleep he takes over and nurses his tough, sinewy contents into soft, savoury, spicy, unctuousness. I love waking up to the smell of slow cooked stews. There’s something very reassuring about knowing that you’ve got a delicious week ahead.
I guess you could call this chilli con carne. But I’d like to think it’s a bit more interesting and layered than that. I never use mince and normally use shin, flank, blade or brisket. But this time I managed to get my hands on some Swedish oxtail which turned out to be quite a sensation. I've no idea how authentically Mexican this is, but I do know that I like eating it.
1 whole oxtail – cut into portions by the butcher 4 onions 4 cloves of garlic 2 tins of pinto or black beans 4 cartons of chopped tomatoes 2 dessert spoons of fennel seeds 1 stick of cinnamon 4 dried Chipotle chillies 4 dried New Mexico Red chillies 300ml water 1 beef stock cube Dark chocolate 2 dessert spoons of smoked paprika 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil Pepper Salt
Avocado Smoked salt 1 Fresh red chilli Natural yoghurt or sour cream
Soften the onion in the sunflower oil. Then add the garlic. And then add the paprika. Allow to sweat and then add to the slow cooker. Add some water to the pan to get out all the lovely flavours and add it to the pot.
If you can be arsed, colour the oxtail in a frying pan having dunked the pieces in seasoned flour. If you haven’t got time, don’t worry, and add the oxtail pieces to the slow cooker. Then tip in the chopped tomatoes. Then rinse the beans and add them too. Lob in the dried chillies, fennel seeds, stock cube, water and cinnamon. Turn the slow cooker on and cook on low for 6-7 hours until the meat is soft.
Leave to cool. Then skim off the layer of fat and pick out the oxtail. Remove the meat from the bones. It’s a messy job, but essential. Boil up the bones in some water in order to extract the awesome gelatin from the bones. And then add this back to the mixture along with the meat. Give the bones to a deserving dog and take the cinnamon stick out too.
Leave to mature and then spoon some of the, now very solid, mixture into a pan and heat it up. Squirt in some tomato sauce (secret ingredient), add a square of dark chocolate, ample seasoning and add some finely chopped fresh red chilli. Heat it through and if it is a bit too liquid reduce it over a high heat stirring regularly. Serve with some brown rice, a sliced avocado and either some sour cream or some natural yoghurt. Sprinkle with smoked salt and tuck in.
It's a rich, smoky, spicy dish with layers of heat from the 3 types of chilli. The chipotles give it a smoky tang whilst the Mexico Reds add some fruitiness and the fresh chillies give it an abrupt kick. Brown rice, yoghurt and avocado make it pretty healthy.
One of the great things about making vats of delicious slow cooked food is the fun of transforming it into different meals over the days that follow. The mixture is also great in tortillas alongside avocado and sour cream, would make a sensationally rich filling for a pie, would be knockout as a filling for a Mexican sandwich called a torta and with the sun starting to emerge would make a mind blowing topping for a burger.
I was dead set on buying some artic char from the fishmonger for dinner. But when I saw that plaice (or rödspätta in Swedish) was a quarter of the price the decision to spend £2.50 rather than a tenner was an easy one to make.
So out went my idea of gorging on artic char with a horseradish crust and instead I was left with a large flatfish and a desire to do something more interesting than just smother it in butter and bake it with white wine and dill. My search for interesting Swedish plaice recipes yielded a handful of recipes couldn’t have been more dull, so I turned instead to an idea that I spotted on Jamie Oliver’s website. He suggests stuffing flat fish with prawns, parsley, lemon and onions. I didn’t fancy the recipe, but I loved the technique. So I switched things around and stuffed my plaice with a Swedish combination of smoked salmon, freshly grated horseradish and dill – all mixed together with plenty of butter, pepper and lemon zest. It’s cheap, super tasty and looks rather fancy for plain old plaice.
1 good sized plaice 100g of chopped up smoked salmon (trimmings are fine) An inch of horseradish, grated 40g butter 1 lemon 2 sprigs of dill Glass of white wine Olive oil Salt and pepper
With a very sharp knife slice the plaice along the central bone from just below the head to the tail on the upper side. Carefully slice along the bone so that the fillets flab backwards to reveal a cavity. If this seems complicated watch this.
Mix the butter, horseradish, smoked salmon, dill, pepper, salt and lemon zest. Form it into a ball and stuff it into the cavity. Lay the fish in an oiled baking dish and pour in a slug of white wine. Season with salt and pepper and scatter in a few cloves of garlic and wedges of lemon. Cook in a very hot oven for 4 minutes and then baste the fish with the juices. Cook for a further 4 minutes and then, if done, serve as it is or with some plain boiled potatoes and guzzle a nice glass of Grüner or Sauvignon Blanc.
The horseradish, smoked salmon and dill proved to be a punch stuffing which really livened the plaice up. Having tried it once, it’s a technique I’m keen to repeat with some other innovative stuffings. I imagine chipotle butter might be fun.
Good food needn’t be fancy. It doesn’t have to be expensive. And a quickie can be as satisfying as a three hour gastronomic romp. Chicken livers are one of the cheapest morsels of protein available and are every bit as tasty as the rest of the chicken so long as you’re not eating them on a daily basis. At roughly a tenth of the cost of a chicken breast they’re amazing value that I am keen to take advantage of more often.
Apart from chicken liver pate, the only other recipe that has caught my attention has been Mark Hix’s chicken livers on toast – which only just qualifies as a recipe rather than a composition. But it’s bloody tasty. Especially if you go a bit off piste add a dollop of still warm super-rapido-lingonberry-jelly.
Handful of chicken livers, cleaned and roughly chopped 50g butter 1 big shallot or half an onion 1 small clove of garlic Salt and pepper Sourdough for toasting (I used a couple of slices of a great walnut sourdough) Cress Handful of frozen or fresh lingonberries 100ml water Dollop of honey
Bring the water to the boil and add the berries. When they have simmered and softened pass them through a sieve to remove the skins and pips. Then return to the pan and reduce to a syrup and add the honey as necessary to temper the tartness. It’s best to do this stage before you start with the livers. It doesn’t take long but it gives the syrup time to cool and jelly-ify.
Fry the shallot and garlic until soft. Then season the chopped and cleaned livers with plenty of salt and pepper and then fry in the butter for around 4–5 minutes until they are still pink but cooked.
Remove from the pan and then attack with your best cook’s knife until the mixture is finely chopped. Then taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Keep the livers warm whilst you make your toast.
Butter the toast and dollop the mixture on top. Sprinkle over some cress and dress with the lingonberry syrup which will probably have turned to a runny jelly by now. Grind over some pepper and sprinkle over some smoked salt and tuck in.
This recipe came from Mark Hix’s Oyster and Chop House book, which I will be taking inspiration from for a few posts in the near future. The lovely people at Quadrille sent it to me a while ago.
I’m keen to experiment with chicken livers and move beyond smearing them on toast, so if you’ve got any great ideas which don’t involve making it into a pate please let me know! If they are Scandinavian recipes you get a special mystery prize.
Since moving to Gothenburg I’ve tried to learn about Swedish culture and language through the medium of food. It seems to be the best way to uncover the truths about what makes this country tick. The more you read and eat the more you encounter the paradoxes and culinary riddles that slice through Swedish culture. My latest lesson involves 18th century battles, a town named Bender, a king called Karl and the Swedification of the classic Turkish dish of stuffed vine leaves into cabbagey kåldolmar.
The story of kåldolmar dates back to the early 1700s and offers a glimpse of Sweden’s once mighty past and tetchy relationship with its bellicose northern European neighbours. Apparently, King Karl XII, after losing the decisive Battle of Poltava in 1709 to Russia and their Polish and Norwegian allies, went into exile in a Turkish town called Bender. Whilst he was there, living off the generosity of his Ottoman allies, he spied on their warships and returned home to Sweden several years later with blueprints for a rejuvenated navy and more importantly a taste for dolmas.
The linguists amongst you will know that “dolma” means “stuffed thing” in Turkish which highlights the versatility of this dish. You’ll find different varieties of dolma across the old Ottoman Empire with fillings ranging from ground meat, to aubergine, courgette, peppers and rice, but typically the shell is a vine leaf. It’s hard to know which particularly style of dolma was Karl’s favourite, but from my experience of Swedes I’d guess that it was at the meatier end of the spectrum.
In the chillier climes of Sweden, vine leaves were hard to come by, but Karl and his followers still hankered after the exotic taste of dolmas. So being the creative and practical nation that they are, the Swedes adapted the dish to use cabbage instead of vine leaves as a sturdy casing for the minced pork. They also switched carbs away from the rice you’ll find inside dolmas and now serve these meaty parcels with boiled potatoes, gravy and lingonberry jelly. For a decent recipe for classic Swedish Kåldolmar look no further than Annes Food.
One of my frustrations since moving across the North Sea is that the trend for smuggling enchanting tastes back from the Middle East, started by King Karl, doesn’t seem to have continued, despite the large and vibrant Middle Eastern population in Sweden. Fine, you can get donner kebab on your pizza, and plenty of curious spies in your meatballs, but so far, I haven’t found anywhere that expertly grills spiced meat over charcoals like Antepliler in Manor Park or any of the middle eastern delights you’ll find on the Edgware Road or Yottam Ottolenghi’s delis and books. Where’s the Turkish, Iranian and Iraqi version of Tayyabs in Gothenburg?
One of the most interesting recipes in the Nordic Diet cookbook sees the classic, meaty, kåldolmar given a healthy, fishy update. Trina Hahnneman kicks out the pork and replaces it with plaice, mustard, leeks and courgettes.
I gave them a twist of my own and have found the process of wrapping fish in blanched cabbage to be a very therapeutic process. The technique is pretty simple and is the basis for a wide range of healthy and delicious variations.
Smoked Mackerel Kåldolmar with Pototto (Potato Risotto)
4 cabbage leaves 4 smoked mackerel fillets Dijon mustard 400 grams of waxy potatoes – diced into 8mm cubes Vegetable stock Horseradish Dill 1 onion Olive oil Butter 2 glasses of white wine Salt and pepper
Blanch four cabbage leaves in salted water and refresh in running cold water. Allow to cool and then remove the tough stem which acts as a structural spine. This will make the leaves more foldable.
Place a mackerel fillet in the centre of each leaf and smear with a dollop of mustard and anoint with lemon zest and ground black pepper. Then wrap them up like you would with a burrito. For guidance take a look at Cheryl Marie’s blog.
Finely dice the onion and sweat in olive oil. Then add in the 8mm cubes of potato. Add a glass of white wine and then ladle in stock and stir, as you would do with a risotto. It won’t take very long to cook so keep an eye on it. Add some thyme or tarragon as you go depending on what’s to hand and what you feel like. Beat in some butter at the end and keep warm.
Place the cabbage parcels in a baking dish and pour in a glass of white wine. Cook for 10 minutes. And then serve on top of a bed of posotto with plenty of seasoning, a sprinkling of grated horseradish and a scattering of dill.
Fish parcel wrapped in cabbage from Trina Hahnneman’s Nordic Diet
4 cabbage leaves 400g of white fish fillets 1 courgette 1 leek 1 red pepper Olive oil Lemon zest Salt and pepper 1 glass of white wine
Blanch and refresh the cabbage leaves in the same manner as the first recipe. Place a 100g piece of fish in each parcel and then add a spoonful of diced courgette, red pepper and leek. Then add a dab of butter, a dusting of lemon zest and plenty of seasoning. Then wrap them up and place them in a baking dish with a glug of olive oil and a glass of white wine.
Bake for 12 minutes until the fish is just done and serve. I partnered it with fregola, roast peppers and tomatoes which gave a sweet, red counterpoint to the savoury greens.
It works just as well with minced fish and langoustine tails. When I next have a load of langoustine or crayfish, I’ll formalise it into a recipe. Roll on "Kåldolmens dag" which celebrates the Cabbage Roll on 30 November.
We still love to go on trips around the UK, staying in BnBs or camping in search of a good meal or two - hence, Around Britain with a Paunch. Quite often the trips have been prompted by Diana Henry's Gastro Pub Cookbook. Here's where we've been to: