Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Hákarl (Rotten Shark) - The Worst Thing I Have Ever Had In My Mouth


Much as I love Iceland when I visit earlier this year, it's responsible for the single most disgusting eating experience I've had in my life. And no, I'm not talking about that sheep's face.

I've heard about hákarl, or to give it its proper name, kæstur hákarl (Icelandic for "fermented shark"), as being an unmissable and unique part of Icelandic cuisine, so on my arrival in Reykjavik, I'm determined to track some down.

Like svið, hákarl is traditionally served as part of a þorramatur, the Icelandic banquet served at the midwinter festival þorrablót. Luckily for me however, it's available in Icelandic supermarkets throughout the year. In fact I find a packet of rotten shark in a freezer store (Iceland's Iceland) and nearly buy some to take back home, but then realise it might be considered a bit anti-social on the plane.

Made from a type of shark which is actually poisonous when fresh due to a high content of uric acid and trimethylamine oxide, the process for rendering the shark remotely "edible" is described eloquently in Wikipedia:

"Hákarl is traditionally prepared by gutting and beheading a Greenland or basking shark and placing it in a shallow hole dug in gravelly-sand, with the now-cleaned cavity resting on a slight hill. The shark is then covered with sand and gravel, and stones are then placed on top of the sand in order to press the shark. The fluids from the shark are in this way pressed out of the body. The shark ferments for 6–12 weeks depending on the season in this fashion.

Following this curing period, the shark is then cut into strips and hung to dry for several months. During this drying period, a brown crust will develop, which is removed prior to cutting the shark into small pieces and serving".

I expect all sorts of thoughts are rushing through your head right now, such as "Why?", "How?", "What?", and "Why?" again. As my husband says, someone must have really been determined to eat that shark.


So we bomb it down to Cafe Loki, a bright and airy cafe above Textill, a handicraft shop owned by the same people, in a quarter of Reykjavik with wonderful Asgardian names. In sight of the stunning Hallgrims Church, I order a traditional Icelandic tasting platter, and my husband wisely orders the safe option of lamb pate and soup.

More on this delicacy from Wikipedia:

"Those new to it will usually gag involuntarily on the first attempt to eat it due to the high ammonia content".

Never mind attempting to eat it, we're gagging long before, as the caustic stench of the shark assaults us before the food gets to our table.


(So moved am I by the noxious fumes - like ramming bleach right up your nostrils - I break my self-imposed holiday Twitter ban that night to tweet that it resembles "a tramp's sock soaked in urine").

The hilarious thing is how (in contrast to svið), hakarl appears to be the most innocuous thing in the world - little creamy-white cubes stuck on toothpicks - like 70s party food, if that party was held in Hell.

Traditionally it comes with a shot of the local spirit brennivín (a type of aniseedy akvavit or schnapps) which I presume is to soften the blow, although itself is not particularly pleasant and is known as svarti dauði ("black death").


Eyes watering with pain, I decide the easiest way to get rid of the unholy fug is to just eat the damned stuff. Holding my nose, I poke a cube of shark in my mouth and chew.


Hákarl is in fact a good approximation of the sound your throat makes as it contorts and constricts in a desperate attempt to regurgitate the chunks of fetid fish.

So anyway, this piece of advice, dear readers, is my Christmas present to you: please go to Iceland but do not eat the shark.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I look happy, don't I? It's all a facade.

Cafe Loki
Lokastígur 28
Opposite Hallgrímskirkja
101 Reykjavík

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Asian Spiced Pork Pie Recipe - Baking a Behemoth


This weekend I was totally going to make marshmallows using Bertie Branning, my shiny red Kitchenaid mixer, when I found out you needed a sugar thermometer.

So I thought s*d that for a game of soldiers and decided to make a mahoosive pork pie instead. Partly because it's Christmas time and nothing marks the season better for me than fat wodges of meaty pie, and partly because I was inspired by my very short stint as a pop-up pie assistant (PUPA) for the fabulous Bray's Cottage.


Not that I had all the correct equipment for making a pork pie either. Apparently you need a pie mould of some sort. All I had was a big cake tin, which is why I've ended up with a pork pie bigger than my head. But, hells, it looks good and it tastes even better.

Super traditional hot water crust pastry combined with untraditional Asian spiced filling. Fusion - I'm all over it, me.


Meemalee's Mahoosive Pork Pie

For the jellied stock
  • 4 pig's trotters
  • 4 white onions
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 4 star anise
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
For the filling
  • 1 kg fatty pork shoulder
  • 250 g streaky bacon
  • Small bunch of chives
  • 1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp ground black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp Marigold bouillon or pinch of MSG
  • 1 tsp ground mace
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 11 tsp Worcestershire sauce

For the pastry

  • 200g lard
  • 250g water
  • 600g flour
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 x 20cm cake tin with a removable base
  • 1 funnel


Make the Jellied Stock

Chuck everything in a deep saucepan, cover with water so the level is about an inch above the ingredients, and bring to a boil.

Then simmer for two hours, regularly topping up with water to avoid any accidents.

Sieve the liquid into a bowl (chuck the bits), cover with clingfilm and leave to cool. Refrigerate.


Make the Filling

Roast the Sichuan peppercorns by heating them in a medium hot frying pan or wok until they darken slightly and become fragrant.

Leave to cool and grind in a mortar or place in a sandwich bag and bash with a rolling pin

Dice the pork shoulder into little chunks. Slightly labour-intensive but worth it for interesting texture. Dice the bacon too.

Mince the chives and then mix all the filling ingredients together.


Make the Pastry

Put the oven on at 180C. Lightly grease and flour your mould or cake tin.

Sift the flour with 1 tsp of salt into a large mixing bowl. Put the lard and water into a saucepan and bring to the boil.

Pour this melted lard/water mixture into the flour and mix with a wooden spoon till you get a pastry dough.


As soon as it's cool enough to handle, take a quarter of the pastry and roll it into a circle big enough to cover the cake tin. This is your pie lid - set this aside on a floured baking tray.

Roll the rest into a circle big enough to cover the base of the tin and the walls.


Lay this piece of pastry in the bottom of the tin and then push and squidge the dough up the sides with your hands as if moulding the inside of a pot.

The idea is to get the same thickness all around without any gaps or tears.

Constructing the Pie

Fill the pastry shell with the pork mix and pat down firmly. It should almost fill the tin, leaving a small border of pastry at the top. Brush this pastry border with beaten egg. Place the pastry lid you set aside earlier on top and squidge all around the edges, making sure you seal carefully.


Poke a hole in the middle of the lid to let out steam and brush all over with beaten egg. Place the tin on top of the baking tray that the lid was on.

Bake the pie for 30 minutes at 180C, then lower the heat to 160C and bake for 90 minutes. The pie will look rocking by then - golden with caramelised bits on top.

Meanwhile reheat the jellied stock so it becomes liquid again. If it didn't set enough, boil vigorously for five minutes. If it's too hard, add a little water when heating.

When the pie's ready, stick a funnel in the hole you made in the pie lid and pour a little of the stock into this hole. Wait for the stock to be absorbed into the meat and then pour a little bit more in. Keep this process up until you (a) lose patience or (b) run out of stock.

Leave the pie to cool and then refrigerate to re-set the jelly. Slice and eat with some pickles. PICKLES!


Monday, 6 December 2010

Edd Kimber's Macaron Class - Making Macs with the Great British Bake Off Winner


I am a terrible student. Firstly, I turn up late to a macaron baking class by Edd Kimber.

Yes, that Edd Kimber, the guy who won the Great British Bake Off hosted by Mel and Sue and judged by the Silver Fox and Nicholas Parsons's sister. A macaron class held by an official baking genius.

And yet I turn up late.


Edd with two D's. Like Edd the Duck. Genuinely.


Secondly, I interrupt his demo with lots of silly questions.

Look at him humouring me.


He makes a salted caramel sauce. He makes the macaron batter.

I'm not paying attention, because I'm too busy inhaling the wonderful sugared scent.


This much did sink in - the best macaron batter must fall in languid waves.

Next, Edd pipes perfect circles of macaron batter, spaced out so they don't merge into some kind of uberon.



We all take turns to copy him, piping circle after circle.

Some more successfully than others.


2001: A Cake Odyssey


Crisp shells of delicious almond joy with perfect "feet".


And now Edd whips up the salt caramel ganache for the filling.


Yea, verily, did I stick my face in the caramelly leftovers.

Verily, did I suck the clingfilm dry.

Verily, it was that good.

Edd now pipes the filling into each of the macaron shells.


Ta-daa - macarons from heaven.

And we all get doggy bags to take away.


Obviously, I'm being flippant (you know me) - in truth, Edd Kimber's macaron class was brilliant fun and very informative.

Edd's clearly a natural teacher and, most importantly, he understands the limits of a domestic cook and a domestic kitchen.

This was just a trial class, but Edd will be commencing hands-on workshops early next year.

To register your interest, please email Edd Kimber at macarons@theboywhobakes.co.uk with the subject "Macaron Class".

Gif of me stuffing my face inelegantly courtesy of Simon Kimber

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Gylne Tider - So Many Blasts from the Past


This made my life both better and worse than before.


This made me both dislike and like Norway more than before.


Just amazing.



"Gylne Tider (Golden Times) is a Norwegian television series that currently airs on TV2. The show ran on television for three seasons, in 2002, 2004 and 2006. In the series we meet presenter Øyvind Mund, cameraman Steinar Marthinsen and sound engineer Ingar Thorsen who travel to meet their childhood heroes."


Also, Andrew McCarthy is still a god.


I still would.

Via Sarah Silverman.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Taste of Christmas 2010 Recommendations


I went to Taste of Christmas at the Excel London today. No Christmas carol this year - I'm clearly slightly less highly strung than I was.

But here's my recommendations for a wonderful day if you're visiting too.


Go to the Campo Viejo stand W50. Watch the lovely Spanish Chef Jose Pizarro whip up wonderful tapas and then feast upon them.

Try some of the wines. Heckle Mark Lloyd who's ably assisting.


Go to the Club Gascon stand. Order the Foie Gras Popcorn - as wonderful as it was last time.

Even if I still don't see the point of the baby corn.


Order their Capon Mango Pumpkin too.

Beautiful, especially the pumpkin puree.


Guess how many meringues they have in their mountain to win a copy of cookbook Cuisinier Gascon by Pascal Aussignac.


Go to the Modern Pantry Stand. Order the Organic Salmon Sashimi, Truffled Umeboshi Dressing, Yuzu Tobiko, wolf it down and lick the plate. I did. I am a tramp.


Also order their Vietnamese style Duke of Berkshire pork belly, mash, pickled bean sprouts, crispy shallots. Lush.


Time for dessert. Go to Gelato Heaven on stand 520. Order one of everything. Seriously.

This is my friend Sulina's new business and her ice cream cakes are hand-made and divine.


They've got Limoncello and Amaretto, Double Chocolate Pudding, Strawberry and White Chocolate, Black Forest Gateau, and Apple and Cinnamon.

The Limoncello cake is my favourite. She also does gelato in cones and tubs including a Christmas Pudding one. Mmmm.


Gelato Heaven also sell Fabbri Amarena Cherries, which Heston Blumenthal adores and uses in his Black Forest Gateau.

Very hard to find, so I bought a jar. Obviously.


Go to Kooky Bakes at stand P122 and buy lots of cakes to eat there AND to take home.

There's Whoopie Pies and Cupcakes and Slab Cakes, all well packaged to take away.


You MUST buy a Chocotecture which is the BEST cupcake I have had in my life EVER - dark chocolate sponge, white chocolate ganache injection, white chocolate mouse, butter cream, milk chocolate mousse butter cream, chocolate sauce, milk chocolate disc on top. I wish I had another one RIGHT now.


Go to Yum Yum Tree Fudge at stand P23 to get beautiful home-made fudge in countless flavours from my cousin Lily. Brilliant for Christmas presents.

Don't just take my word for it - Georgia Bradford who won Junior MasterChef this year loves the fudge too. Seeeeee.


Go to Cacao Sampaka stand CH14 and buy slabs of turron. It's niiiiiice.

And their other stuff is pretty good too.


End by swinging by the King's Ginger stand 220 and buy a bottle or two of this Christmassy 41% abv spirit to drink neat or with lemon bitters. And sing carols to yourself.

If you're very lucky, they might even use you to advertise next year's show. And yes, that is my blog card in Heston's hand.