Cow Club debuts… with a Red Beef Curry

10 10 2011

Red Beef Curry

Last Friday, late at night, I took delivery of 5kg of prime beef from the back of a car driven by a South African. Payment by cash. I know it sounds a little suspect, but really it was all above board… This was the culmination of the very first Cow Club; a collaborative project to buy a whole 100% grass-fed Sussex bullock! It was an amazing sight: a car full of cow pulling up outside the house, and searching through the package to find out what cuts we had got was like Christmas come early! If you haven’t heard about the project, check out the Facebook page or follow on Twitter to find out when the next animal will be on its way Londonward from the countryside.

I have some grand plans for the meat… Particularly looking forward to a slow roast rib with celeriac mash later in the autumn (dinner guests are already earmarked and booked in, before you kindly offer your help in eating it!). But tonight was the first taste, and we decided to use some of the braising steak to do a Sri Lankan Red Curry.

The meat was brilliant: really flavoursome and tender, and without all that icky watery fatty nastiness that usually bubbles its way off supermarket beef. And it stood up nicely to the spiciness of the curry. Originally from Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible (which is by far the best curry book I’ve ever come across), this is a great, rich, medium-heat dish. The ingredients list may look a little daunting, but it’s worth the effort. And it you don’t have one of the more unusual ingredients, you can make do without, or substitute it… I’ve posted the original recipe below, though I made a few tweaks today, due to not having the right ingredients to hand. If you don’t have any pandanus leaf (as I didn’t today!) you can leave it out, and perhaps just up the fenugreek a little – though if you do have some, it’ll add a deep earthiness to the curry, so worth finding if at all possible. Brixton Market is my usual calling-point for all of these things… It hasn’t failed me yet! Also, I only had fenugreek leaves today, not seeds. Tasted fine…

Give it a go… and enjoy!

Red Beef Curry
Serves 4


450g braising steak, cut into 2.5cm chunks
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground fennel
1 tsp cayenne pepper (Feel free to decrease this a little if you prefer a slightly milder curry)
2 tsp bright red paprika
Ground pepper
3 tbsp corn or peanut oil
1 medium stick cinnamon
4 whole cardamom pods
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
4 tbsp finely sliced shallots
2 finely sliced garlic cloves
2 thin slices of fresh ginger
5cm piece of pandanus leaf
10-15 curry leaves (If you don’t have them, feel free to leave them out… though they are nice, and apparently they’re good for keeping your hair healthy?!?!)
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp lemon juice
175ml coconut milk, well-shaken


Red Beef Curry

Put the meat in a bowl with the coriander, sum in, fennel, cayenne pepper, paprika and lots of black pepper. Mix and leave to marinate for 20 minutes (or longer if possible).

Pour the oil in a large, non-stick lidded pan, and put it on a medium heat. When hot, add the cinnamon, cardamom, fenugreek, shallots, garlic, ginger, pandanus leaf and curry leaves. Stir for about 2 mins, until the onions are translucent. Then add the meat and cook for about 3 mins, until lightly browned.

Add the salt, 350ml of water and the lemon juice. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to very low, cover and simmer for 80 mins, stirring two or three times, and adding a little water if necessary. (Mine pretty much burnt dry today, so needed a quick rescue attempt! But the disaster was averted…)

Stir in the coconut milk and bring to a simmer… check the seasoning, and serve with plain rice!

Review: Krishna

30 08 2011

Were you to list the top spots in the UK you might go for an amazing curry, I sincerely doubt that Whitstable would be be a natural contender. But if that is the case, that simply means you haven’t yet discovered Krishna.

A small, unassuming restaurant in a layby near the train station, Krishna is not exactly the kind of place you would expect Indian fine dining. But truly, this restaurant is a gem. So last week it was great to go back there with my brother to celebrate his birthday… albeit his 24th birthday, 11 months overdue. I would happily make it a birthday tradition and return again in a month!

The chefs at Krishna take their cookery seriously, and have created a wide ranging menu of delights. I always feel a slight pang of nerves when I see a menu containing dishes into their dozens: what restaurant can honestly maintain consistent quality across all their dishes when the sheer range is so vast?! Here the feeling conjured up was not one of nervousness, but indecision. Choosing what to eat from such an intriguing menu may just be one of the toughest decisions you have to make for quite some time…

This is not your typical brit-curry menu with brown mush distinguishable only by the level of heat: non-existent to immobilising. These dishes are vibrant, fresh and colourful. You can clearly make out each element and spice, and everything is beautifully presented. The waiting staff know the menu well and are very happy to make recommendations for what dishes go well together to help you get a balanced meal.
Onion Bhajia

I’m normally one for having a single dish and just keeping it to myself. I can’t abide that horrible experience of completely unrelated sauces merging together on the plate in some indistinguishable slime; the cross-section of which ends up tasting like a spicy/sweet slop bucket! But the menu here is just so diverse, and given that I want to try everything on it, I have to just swallow my OCD and be willing to share. With a cunningly constructed basmati wall to stop the sauce bleed, all was ok – though I did cringe a little as I realised how sadly reminiscent it was of Alan Partridge’s critique of Sonya’s fried breakfast cooking skills:

Minor criticism… More distance between the eggs and the beans. I may want to mix them, but I want that to be my decision. Perhaps use the sausage as a breakwater.”

Hmm… I fear there may be a bit of the Partridge in me…

So between us we ordered a range of dishes, and every one of them was a winner. In fact, we have now been there twice and haven’t had a single disappointing dish; with the possible exception of a duck chettinad, which wasn’t at all bad, it’s just that the duck didn’t really shine.

After the amuse bouche, a complimentary shot of warm spiced soup, we started with Onion Bhajia: three beautiful orbs of fried onion with tangy tamarind and mint sauces, and Mogo Masala: soft cassava chips in a beautiful tomatoey sauce. For mains we went with a Chicken Merwad, which was cooked in an interesting combination of spinach, fenugreek, mustard and dill, it was beautiful, and such an unusual flavour, Lamb Dhansak with pumpkin, aubergine and lentils, and a Fish Tikka. We’d had the Tikka last time we visited and repeating the experience was a no-brainer! Huge chunks of perfectly cooked monkfish, delicately spiced so as not to obscure the fish taste; and being in Whitstable you just know it’s fresh and local.

Fish Tikka

Along with this we shared basmati rice and Baingan Bharta, smoked aubergine with corn, with a beautiful sweet smokey flavour. Each dish hit home on every level: flavoursome, perfectly cooked and beautifully presented – no generic-looking slop in tired old dishes.

Sharing dishes gave us more than enough food at a reasonable price. This time we went with three people and ordered the same amount we’d previously had for four; as a result it was slightly less good value – but still around the same you might pay in any old normal indian restaurant, yet infinitely more interesting.

Note, a number of reviews have said that the takeaway is, by comparison, disappointing. I haven’t had takeaway from there, so I don’t know about that, but don’t let this put you off going to the restaurant; There is nothing in the least bit disappointing about that!

Elephant Café

25 07 2011

Brixton Village has fast become one of the coolest areas to hang out in South West London. With an eclectic vibe, a plethora of interesting places to eat, and the brilliant Federation Coffee, there is always something new to do and see in this fast-evolving little arcade. Each time I visit, I come away with a mental list of new places I need to try…

Our latest experience: Pakistani street food at Elephant Café.

This tiny little restaurant is a great find. Tables spill out onto the street, and the kitchen area is so close that it’s positively exhausting watching the chef’s head bob back and forth as he turns out dishes at breakneck speed, inches from his customers. We were very grateful to get a table on Thursday night, being a group of five out for a birthday meal.

The menu is short and succinct – no messing – which meant we got to try virtually everything between us. Samosas and Pakoras were a perfect way to start. Both the lamb and vegetarian options were equally good, packing just a little spice; enough to excite the taste buds, without killing those of a faint disposition. Then the main courses: a choice between curry and thalis. Most of us went for the thalis (and the poor guy who took one for the team, deciding to dissent from the common option, looked a little sad as ours arrived!) Lovely, simple, warmly spiced lamb mince curry, served with a punchy daal, rice, raita, salad and naan. The chicken was equally good, with a little more sauce than the lamb. There was plenty of food, and none of us left hungry.

The restaurant has no license, so we took our own drinks: a couple of bottles of wine helped the food go down nicely. And as if the great food and fun environment wasn’t enough, the price was a real surprise: a meal for five, excluding drinks, came to £42. A bargain!

We ended the evening with a stroll through the village, enjoying the bands playing in various aisles, and the colourful lanterns dangling overhead. The newly opened ice cream parlour beckoned to us, but our full stomachs resisted… An excuse to return in the not too distant future.

Durban-Style Chicken

30 05 2011

Let’s face it… roast chicken is always good. But sometimes I fancy doing something a little more interesting than just shoving a lemon inside – It’s nice and simple, but it’s not very dignified for the poor bird! We had friends over yesterday, and decided to cook a chicken, and I was in the mood for something a little different…

This is my absolute favourite more ‘exotic’ recipe to elevate the humble roast chicken. It’s not too hot, but very flavoursome, and it works surprisingly well in the summer with a good salad.

It’s from Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible, (which, of the many curry cookbooks I’ve tried, is absolutely the best!), slightly tweaked. The biggest faff is skinning the chicken. I’m getting quicker at this. The first time took me the best part of 40 minutes! This time I did two chickens in 16 minutes. I’ve found it’s easiest to slice the skin at the base, peel it over the sides, and then work up the legs. Then do the same at the breasts, and work down, meeting halfway. The legs and wings are the hardest bits. I keep tugging tentatively at the skin, in fear that it’s going to ping off and slap me in the eye! I tend to just leave the wings, because, let’s face it, when it comes to serving up, I’m going to eat those before anyone else gets a look in anyway!

Here’s the recipe for one bird… we doubled it and did two on this occasion. If you do that, you’ll need to significantly increase the cooking time: we went for 90 mins covered and 20 mins uncovered.


1 chicken, approx. 1 ¾ kg, skinned.
4 tbsp. lemon juice (though this did make the paste a little sloppy. In future I think I’d consider reducing this to about 2 ½ tbsp)
5cm fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 fresh, hot, green chillies, chopped (I tend to use whatever colour chillies I have around, a mixture of red and green this time. I deseeded half of the chillies, as not all our guests would appreciate the burn!)
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. ground cumin (I always increase this, because I personally love the strong flavour of cumin. I usually go for about 1 ½ tsp.)
2 tsp. ground coriander (Likewise, if you up the cumin, increase the coriander too, to balance it out)
½ tsp. chilli powder
Ground pepper


Peel the chicken, and make two deep, diagonal slits in each breast, going right down to the bone. Make two deep slashes in the thighs and drumsticks as well. Line a roasting dish with a large sheet of foil, large enough to encase the chicken. Place the chicken (breast up) on the foil.

Combine the lemon juice, ginger, garlic, chillies, salt, olive oil, cumin and coriander , and blend until you have a paste. Rub it into the chicken, working it into the slits. Leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 200°C / Gas Mark 6.

Dust the top of the chicken with the chilli powder and black pepper. Bring up the foil over the top, crimp it together to cover the chicken in a little shiny coffin, then cook for 1 hour. After the hour, baste the chicken, and then bake it uncovered for another 15 minutes, basting it again every 5 minutes.

Serve however you want really… We went for a leafy salad with feta and pine nuts, roasted jersey royals, and roasted shallots. Heavenly!