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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Carpaccio - a great hors d'ouvre of thinly sliced raw beef.

I have always fought shy of eating Steak Tartare although I suspect it is actually rather nice. So when I arrived in Holland a few weeks ago and I was offered a chance to eat thinly sliced raw beef - Carpaccio - I got brave and gave it a go. I was not disappointed. Although it has a wet feel in the mouth it is surprisingly tasty especially with a few capers and some rocket salad leaves.

In fact Carpaccio is often served just with a few spicy wild rocket leaves, a light drizzle of top quality extra-virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Sometimes, if you are feeling wealthy you could add a few musky shavings of truffle.

I found it went well with a chilled 9% Dutch or Belgian beer. But then I would! If in Holland then the main supermarkets Albert Heijn and Hoogvliet will impress with their big selections of continental meats. I never ever thought I would say this but I was in supermarket heaven. It is very likely the Dutch butchers will provide Carpaccio too but I somehow doubt that the average British butcher will be aware of it. Hope that I am wrong.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Speck... somewhat like eating raw bacon but safer.

Years ago I visited a German penfriend in the pretty rural area around Stuttgart and one day she took me to Ulm to visit her parents. The penfriend's name was Uta and I must admit I had a bit of a crush on her at the time. This would have been in the mid 1980s and I had a stupid amount of curly hair back then plus very little confidence around similarly aged young women. Added to the pile of hormonal confusion I spoke a very limited amount of German. "Guten Tag", "Auf Wiedersehen" and "Ja Danke" to an offer of pretzels isn't really enough to get by for two weeks in Germany. Plus this woman had her own apartment!!!!! I was still living with my parents although getting to the stage where I wanted to leave home.

Uta's parents were nice friendly people who happened to own a goat. I remember this because of fond memories of the solid horns ramming me affectionately in the back of my legs when we took a trip to visit the penned up and probably very bored goat. We stayed overnight and Uta had to go away to a wedding. So, there I was, hardly speaking any German, out drinking beer in a local bar with Uta's dad. We drank a lot of beer and when we came staggering back he insisted that the best thing was to eat a lot of greasy fatty Speck and then there would be no hangover. I obliged. It was hard not to be sick as each fatty morsel slid down my throat. It came swimming to the table in a bowl of hot broth. I have never eaten it again until my recent trip to Holland.

This time it looked a lot more palatable and cut thinner and eaten on toasted bread and butter.

In fact it was so tasty I had it again with a bowl of Dutch pea soup Erwtensoep. My friend Emma told me that when the canals and lakes freeze over in the winter months lots of people go skating and little stalls appear offering the skaters a chance to warm up with a cup of Erwtensoep. There are many variations to this dish.

'Speck is an English word meaning fat or blubber attested since the early 17th Century. The word also exists in German but it normally applies to pork fat with or without some meat on it. Normal English use refers to German culinary uses particularly of the smoked or pickled pork belly. Italian Speck is a type of prosciutto or lardo. The term Speck became part of popular parlance only in the 18th Century and replaced the older term bachen from which our word bacon derives.' Edited from Wikipedia.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Smoked mackerel - a golden dish - fit for kings

Whilst on a working break in Leiden in the Netherlands I enjoyed a variety of simple foods with so little accompaniment that you had the pleasure of just concentrating on the basic textures and tastes of the item itself.

Amongst some good friends and a few gin chasers to go with the light Dutch beers I took great pleasure at being given the honour to pull apart a delicious smoked mackerel from the fish market situated on a fair proportion of the Nieuwe Rijn and the Botermarkt. The fish market has other days of existence but shows itself off to its glistening best on a busy Saturday. The market day lasts from 8am to 5pm. Even the paving slabs on which the stands are placed are fashioned so as not to retain the aroma of fish. Try telling that to the local seagulls or people enjoying a beer or other beverage in the canal side cafes.

"Is that fresh fish I can smell?"

The golden coloured smoked mackerel was purchased at this very market and cost about €4.It provided a tasty pile of smoked fish that fed three hungry men with simple bread and butter.

Mackerel's oil rich flesh lends itself to hot smoking. Generally smoked mackerel is available in Europe dyed and un-dyed and as fillets, encrusted in pepper and other toppings. Smoked mackerel woks well with a spicy relish or combined with creamed horseradish. The skin of smoked mackerel peels away very easily.

The stalls on the Nieuwe Rijn canal basin offered other smoked items such as firm and rubbery smoked eels, unctuous smoked trout, smoked oysters (good for use in beef and smoked oyster pie), smoked mussels, cold smoked kippers, halibut and  swordfish and hot smoked sprats.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Eating soused young herrings or Maatje in The Netherlands

For those that know me my absence from this blog needs no explaining. For those that don't I need to apologise for being away from my food writing since late September. I now write professionally for a variety of theatre reviewing hosts including The Big Issue and Sardines magazine for whom I also write features and interviews. Reference to or copies of this writing plus my own individual work can be found on my other blog concerning the world of theatre. This writing takes up a large proportion of my time. And I still work full time - for the moment.

Additionally I have been writing a play that I am taking to Karlsruhe in Germany in December this year. It is called Greetings From The Trenches and recently I went over to Leiden in Holland to rehearse with my fellow actor Emma Brown.

A week rehearsing in Leiden renewed my interest in markets and continental foodstuffs and ways of eating. For the first time I tried Maatje - a dish of young soused herring eaten with chopped raw white onions on plain white bread and butter. It was very enjoyable. Maatje is also Dutch for mate or buddy.

First mouthful going in.

I found a lot to be interested about in Dutch food culture and my intention is to write little and often about my experiences and new things I learn about the Dutch way of life. Daag!