Friday, 7 August 2009

A seismic shift

Something odd has happened since I moved to London. Something that perhaps I should have seen coming. I'm cooking less, and it's really alarming me. At university I probably cooked 5 nights out of 7. It was something to look forward to at the end of a long day, or something to wallow in at weekends. It hardly needed any planning. A vegetable box arrived weekly, and because I pretty much knew which nights I would be out my flatmates and I could do a weekly shop.

Not so in London, it turns out. The pace of life is completely different - and I don't even have a job yet. Last week for example. On Monday evening I went to play football in Battersea which was followed by a pint. Then another pint, and then before I knew it it was midnight and I hadn't eaten a thing. The following evening was a friend's birthday, so once again, supper was a hastily gobbled (but truly delicious) Vietnamese noodle soup on my way home. On Wednesday evening I was kindly invited to a do round the corner, where Vauxhall were promoting their cars, I guess, and free cocktails were accompanied by free hotdogs, and I returned home sated but to a depressingly unsullied kitchen. Thursday I was lucky enough to get an invite to the Rankin opening night at the Truman brewery. The swathes of photographs and gallons of mojito were sadly bereft of any kind of nibble, and sustenance wasn't found until the early hours of Friday morning, when a Brick Lane bagel was all I could unearth. I might have done much worse.

By Friday panic had set in, and I jumped on the number 48 to London Bridge with the express intention of losing myself in Borough Market. Considering it might well be the most expensive market in the universe I was pretty chuffed to pick up a spatchcock poussin for £2.50, as well as a seemingly cheap beef cheek. I say seemingly cheap, because a kilo for £9.20 was certainly a good price, but the thing was so fatty that before cooking I had to trim a considerable amount of it off. With the cheek I made a curry. It was good, without being astonishing. Once honed I shall write about it.

Until then I shall tell you about the venison loin we ate last night. I cook with venison a lot, and, as often happens with such things, had got into something of a rut (no pun intended), cooking it in a similar way every time, convincing myself that such good quality meat needed no adornment. But the time had come for a change. Ollie Thring (of the excellent Thring for your Supper blog) recommended ginger and chilli and bok choi. It sounded heavenly, and light. Here's what I did:

Marinated loin of venison with pak choi and oyster sauce

Serves 4

2 roe buck loins, each about a foot long and no thicker than your wrist
1 thumb of ginger
2 cloves of garlic
1 green chilli
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 small pak choi
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
Salt and pepper

The slight bugger about venison is that it has a thin film on it - don't mistake this for fat, 'cause it ain't. You need to take a sharp knife and remove this as you would skin a fish. You don't need to be overly fussy, but it tends to become tough and gristly, so the more you remove the better.

Right - now grated the ginger into a bowl. Peel and crush the garlic, deseed and finely chop the chilli and add with the spices to the marinade. Strip the rosemary leaves from their sprigs and finely chop. Rosemary might seem an incongruous addition, but it was truly delicious. That said, coriander would make a fine replacement, and you might try adding a little yoghurt too. (oh for a barbeque!).

Add the rosemary, soy sauce and olive oil, season with pepper and toss in the venison. Leave to marinate for as long as you can - ideally 24 hours, but at least 2.

Get a heavy-bottomed frying pan hot over a bullish flame and add the venison. Fry for 4 minutes on each side.

Meanwhile wash the pak choi and halve them. Blanch in boiling salted water and drain. Then heat a little oil in a frying pan over a moderate heat and stir fry with a pinch of salt and twist of pepper.

Remove the venison to a warm plate and rest for 5 minutes while you finish the pak choi by adding the oyster sauce and stir-frying for another few minutes until coating the greens.

Thickly slice the venison and serve with the pak choi. You could also serve this with noodles if you're feeling particularly hungry, though I'm not convinced it really needs it.

I hope this heralds the start of some sort of routine. Cooking once a week just doesn't come close to being enough.


  1. I've been known to turn down a drink with a friend, or a night out because damnit, I want to cook me a nice dinner! London is very last minute; one day you've got the week's shopping, the next you're booked up every night while the food wastes away bringing you deep guilt trips...

  2. Thanks for the shout-out, James. Glad you enjoyed it.