The Southwold Dilemma

June 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Suffolk seaside town of Southwold where we spent our half term holiday is somewhere life moves at a gentle pace and the sun always shines. Think of it as Trumpton meets Cath Kidstonville. It’s a place where the town council has no more onerous concern than opening the annual Charter Fair on the village green;

a place where the biggest news event of the year is that local brewer and wine merchant Adnams has started distilling its own very superior gin (very delicious with Fevertree tonic water, ice and, if you want to look knowledgeable, a strip of cucumber rather than the usual lemon);

and a place where the only dilemma that need concern one is whether to eat at the town’s flagship hotel The Swan:

or its more approachable Adnams stablemate,The Crown:

With our large mixed age party we plumped for the more relaxed atmosphere of the Crown. They don’t take bookings so to secure a good table (queues form outside the door in high season) we arrived promptly at the start of evening service at 6.00. The main eating area with oak beams and cosy snugs is by the bar but we asked to be seated in the adjacent airy dining room:

It has a certain understated elegance don’t you think? Having done a little research I see that it was recently redecorated/refurbished by international designer Keith Skeel who has worked with Donna Karan and Marco Pierre White amongst others. It’s a measure of how successful he’s been that you can’t tell that an interior designer has been at work here.

Enough of the décor and back to the food. The menu changes regularly, and offers (the now ubiquitous) Modern British cooking. There’s lots of intriguing things to choose from which is always a good sign, and head chef Robert Mace is clearly up to speed with current cooking trends – local, seasonal ingredients, carefully cooked cheaper cuts served alongside the more usual restaurant staples, witty touches like tonic flavoured jelly cubes served alongside gin-cured trout.Thank goodness there are no foams in sight – this is meant to be a pub after all.

I checked the Adnams website after our meal and worryingly, top of the list of situations vacant was that of head chef for the Crown. It looks like the talented Mr Mace (known as Macey to his kitchen colleagues) is moving on which must be a blow for the Crown – definitely a name to watch on the restaurant scene.

Back to our meal. We began with the savoury snack of the moment, two dishes of popcorn, one flavoured with pesto which was OK but a tad oily. The second dish, enlivened with chilli flakes and salt was much more like it and is a simple idea I’ll be trying out back home. Watch out book and recorder group!

I couldn’t resist choosing the rainbow trout cured with the aforementioned Adnams gin and served with cubes of tonic jelly and a cucumber-heavy salad – gin and tonic on a plate if you like:

The witty idea worked on the plate but if I were to rework this dish at home I would use the gin to cure salmon gravad lax style, I would intensify the tonic flavour of the jelly cubes, I would increase the cucumber and drop the rocket in the salas and finally add a citrus note to the plate which was missing.

Before deciding on the trout, I had been tempted by the rabbit three ways too. Fortunately, being a family occasion, sharing was encouraged so I could taste everything:

My main course was Dingley Dell pork cooked two ways – a chunky piece of fillet propping up a more flavourful strip of crunchy roast belly pork. The pork was served with excellent mash, steamed spinach and a creamy leek sauce. A good dish but perhaps a little autumnal for a summer evening? And I’d have preferred more of that crunchy belly pork.

Incidentally, the slightly twee Dingley Dell name (from the fictional village in Pickwick Papers) is the name of an entirely non-fictional high-welfare pig business based in nearby Woodbridge, Suffolk.

Outdoor-reared pigs are a familiar sight (and smell!) in the Suffolk countryside – here are a few pigs I snapped on the journey from Southwold to Halesworth:

I’m not usually a pudding person usually but the highlight of my meal was the quirky sounding peanut butter sandwich, complete with toast and lashings of raspberry jam:

The peanut butter had been transfigured into a smooth parfait, and the toast was crispy melba toast, lightly caramelised. Just perfect.

The Crown is an Adnams establishment and makes good use of the expertise of the wine merchant side of the business – the wine list is interesting and varied and there’s plenty of interesting wines offered by the glass, especially dessert wine.

GoodcCoffee afterwards was served without frills and service was friendly and efficient. I just hope they have some strong applicants for that head chef vacancy.

Why don’t women drink beer?

July 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

I will certainly be drinking more beer after my recent Adnams of Southwold brewery tour. After all, what could be more refreshing than a pint of bitter on a warm summer’s evening? This particular beauty was pulled at the Red Lion on South Green in Southwold, Suffolk:

My fellow guests on the brewery tour were exclusively male and sadly mostly fitted the real ale stereotype of bellies, beards and sandals. It doesn’t need to be this way as, happily, our guide for the tour was master brewer Belinda, a no-nonsense microbiology graduate who seemed to have found her perfect niche in life. In a little over an hour, she gently demystified the brewing process throwing in a dashes of chemistry, history and folklore for good measure.

We started with the simple list of ingredients for making beer – malted barley, hops, water and yeast.

Barley first. Appropriately, the most commonly used variety is named “Tipple”. The degree to which the barley is roasted is key to the character of the finished beer – think of how different roast beans produce differently flavoured coffee. Here are some different samples of barley with different degrees of roasting:

My favourite for munching on (we were encouraged throughout to smell, taste and of course drink) was the enticingly named crystal malt (so called because the processing of the barley results in a glassy crystallised finish to the grain or endosperm as the experts call it). Crystal malt contributes biscuity, caramel flavours to the finished beer.

On to the hops. This was the part of the brewing process I particularly wanted to understand. I can’t count the times I have heard someone sniff their freshly pulled pint of beer and enthuse over its hoppy characteristics when all I could distinguish was a general beery smell. What would a hop smell like in isolation?

Belinda tipped a generous heap of dried hops onto a napkin on the table and invited us to smell them. I was first in the queue, almost sticking my nose into the heap, inhaling deeply. I smelt…absolutely nothing!

Belinda explained that the hop’s aroma is concentrated in the resin which is concentrated in the base of the dried flower in areas which have a brighter yellow colour. Rub these between your finger and thumb and the aroma is released…aah yes it worked. What I smelt was something a little floral, aromatic, even just a little acrid. A bit like the crushed leaves of pineapple mayweed or even camomile flowers. So this was the characteristic hop aroma I’d wondered about all these years.

I did some homework after the tour. Harold McGee’s amazing food science book “On Food and Cooking” (Heston Blumenthal’s bible) didn’t let me down when it came to hops. He explains that hops (Latin name Humulus lupulus) provide 2 different flavour elements in beer: bitterness from phenolic alpha acids (humulone and lupulone) in its resins and aroma from its essential oils. The aroma of ordinary hops is dominated by the terpene myrcene also found in bayleaf and verbena whereas other more exotic hop varieties are dominated by the more delicate humulene, also other terpenes such as pinene, limonene and citral which give piny and citrus aromas to the hops.

There’s a balance to be struck with hops – the bitterness only comes out after prolonged heating of the brew which of course destroys the aroma. To give the finished beer more aroma, a practice known as dry-hopping is used which means that hop pellets (they are most conveniently used in this form) are thrown into the brew after it has been boiled and they slowly infuse their flavours and aromas at a lower temperature. So beer has a lot in common with herb teas and tisanes and you can’t get much more ladylike than that!

Now for the yeast. This is perhaps the most mysterious of the ingredients. At Adnams they use their own special natural yeast strain which has been kept alive for years. It’s not the same as regular baking yeast but has in fact been used successfully for breadmaking by a Lowestoft baker in the past.

Finally the water, the simplest of the ingredients. Adnams now use the town supply carbon-filtered to remove unwanted chlorine rather than, as previously, water from their own well. Calcium chloride is added to the water to act as a catalyst for the various necessary enzyme processes.

In overview, the process for making beer is relatively straightforward: after all it used to be produced in the home as women’s work in the mediaeval period. It can be divided into 4 stages:

1. Preparing the wort. A mash is made with water and malt which is soaked for 1 and 1/2 hours then heated for 3 hours to produce a sweet coloured liquid which is drawn of ready for stage 2.

2. Boiling the wort – hops are added and the liquid is boiled both to add bitterness from the hops and to inactivate the malt enzymes and so fix the sugar and carbohydrate levels in the mix. The liquid is drawn off and sent to the fermentation tank ready for stage 3.

3. Fermentation. Yeast is added and the mixture is kept at a controlled temperature for fermentation to occur over a period of 2-10 days. During this period the yeast converts the sugar into alcohol and its byproduct carbon dioxide which gives the beer its fizz. Top fermentation is carried out at a higher temperature (up to 25 degrees C) and gives the beer a strong acidic flavour with fruity spicy notes. Fermentation at lower temperatures produces beer with a drier, crisper flavour and bready notes.

4. Clarification and conditioning
The yeast foam and from fermentation and dead yeast cells are removed by a combination of filtration and fining (adding an agent that attracts and collects the detritus in the beer making it easy to remove the whole lot in a lump. Intriguingly, isinglass, a gelatine like substance derived from fish swim bladders (originally sturgeon) is still used by Adnams as the preferred fining agent. Technically then vegetarians can’t drink beer. With a degree of pragmatism overcoming principle, it seems that the beers can still be deemed suitable for vegetarians as the fish derived content of the beer is so small.

The beer is then transferred to cask or bottle and the bottled beers are pasteurised to increase the shelf life. Secondary fermentation occurs in the cask so it is a living thing with a shelf life of just a few weeks hence the importance of a publican who knows how to keep his beer properly.

So, 4 ingredients, 4 processes – sounds simple but 8 building blocks can give you a seemingly infinite variety of outcomes. Think of music built on 8 notes of the scale or DNA built from just 4 bases…

Going back to my opening question, why don’t women drink beer, I think much of it is in the marketing. Scanning the list of names they give a distinctly masculine old fashioned wartime image (Bombardier, Spitfire, Barnstormer…) or else give an impression of a warm cloudy brew fit only for yokels (Tanglefoot, Waggle Dance, Grumpling). There are so many different beer styles out there that there must be something for everyone. If we could cut the old fart marketing and come up with something cleaner, simpler and more explanatory I think the breweries could be on to a winner in terms of opening up a whole new market beyond the CAMRA afficionados.

And yes, the tour did conclude with a comprehensive tasting of the Adnams range – drink all you like within reason!

Comforting casseroles part 2: beef

January 24, 2010 § 2 Comments

The snow has melted here in but the weather outside remains wintry in a dank Mancunian kind of way so casseroles are still the order of the day.  I started off thinking about pork earlier in the month:

I’ve now moved on to beef. I made a carbonnade last week and for the first time ever finished it off properly with toasted bread on top -it worked a treat and wasn’t fiddly at all as I had supposed it might be. The end result was I suppose a Belgian take on the familiar stew and dumplings, deeply savoury with the beer adding an extra dimension to the taste.

Here’s the finished dish:

This is what it looked like before the addition of the bread:

And here is the mise en place:

The origins of the word carbonnade are somewhat confusing. A couple of web sources I checked out suggested the word meant (i) something to do with grilling the meat or (ii) had a Spanish derivation. Neither of these seem immediately plausible to me.  Though on reflection, given that Spain controlled the Netherlands (in the wider sense encompassing modern day Belgium) for 150 years or so beginning in the mid sixteenth century, maybe there is something in the Spanish connection.  My own conjecture is that, like spaghetti carbonara being a hearty meal for Roman charcoal burners, this could possibly be a favourite dish of Belgian coal miners.

This particular version comes from Leith’s cookery bible.When I made this a couple of weeks ago there was still snow on the ground so I had to do my shopping on foot at our local Marks & Spencers. I bought a couple of pieces of topside  which worked a treat.  Topside is often sold as a roasting joint but invariably disappoints when served as roast beef. The beer was a dark ale from Adnams of Suffolk, Marks and Spencers own label but uncannily like an Adnams Broadside.

I give a second beef recipe too, a daube from Julia Child’s book.  I did think about quoting her Boeuf Bourgignon recipe instead which is really good but a little involved requiring separate sautéing of the the component parts.  Let’s face it, sometimes all we have time for is to throw a few things on the pot and leave the oven to work its magic over the next 3 hours.  If you don’t have much time for preparation then this daube recipe is for you.

Recipe for carbonnade of beef

This recipe which serves 4 comes from Leith’s cookery bible.  As ever, I can’t leave a recipe alone and so have tweaked one or two of the ingredients to suit what I tend to keep in the cupboard.  I’d recommend making a double quantity and stashing the other half (minus the French bread topping) in the freezer.


675g/1 1/2lb chuck steak (or topside which I used successfully) trimmed weight
1 tablespoon beef dripping (in fact I used some goose fat leftover from Christmas)
2-3 onions thinly sliced
1 clove garlic finely chopped
2 teaspoons muscovado sugar
2 teaspoons plain flour
435 ml/3/4 pint brown ale
145 ml/1/4 pint brown stock or vegetable stock or water
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 bay leaf
pinch chopped fresh or dried thyme
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve

8 slices French bread or  Ciabatta type loaf spread thickly with Dijon mustard

Cut the beef into small steaks, cutting across the grain of the meat. Heat half of the dripping or oil in a large frying pan and fry the steaks a few at a time until browned.  Put them into an ovenproof lidded casserole (Le Creuset type ideal) as they are done. If the bottom of the pan becomes very dark or too dry, put in a little water, deglaze and pour over the meat.  Heat up  a little more dripping or oil and continue to brown the meat.  Once the meat is done, deglaze the pan, add the remaining dripping or oil and fry the onions slowly (you may need a little extra dripping at this stage depending on how much you used to brown the meat). When the onions begin to brown, add the garlic and sugar and continue to cook for a further minute or two until nicely brown.

Stir in the flour and cook for a further minute stirring as you do so.  Remove the heat and pour in the brown ale and stock.

Return to the heat and bring slowly to the boil, then simmer for 2 minutes, stirring continuously.  Pour into the casserole and add the vinegar, bay leaf, thyme, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Cover and bring to simmering point then cook in a preheated oven (150 degrees C/300 degrees F/gas mark 2) for 1 1/2 – 2 hours or until the meat is tender.  Remove the casserole from the oven and increase the heat to 200 degrees C/400 degrees F/gas mark 6.  Place the slices of bread, mustard-side up, on tope of the stew.  They will absorb the flavoursome fat on the top.  Return the casserole, lid off, to the oven until the bread is toasted and golden-brown (5-10 minutes).

Recipe for daube de boeuf à la Provençale

From  “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.  This recipe serves 6 but I find the quantities tend to be on the generous side – this would imply 8oz meat per person whereas the carbonnade recipe above allows 6oz per person which is about right for me.  Another good recipe for doubling up and freezing.

Recommended cuts of beef for the daube are rump, chuck, thick flank, topside or silverside.


3lb lean stewing steak cut into 2 1/2 inch squares, 1 inch thick
1/2 pint red wine
1/8 pint brandy
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 crumbled bay leaf
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 lb thinly sliced onions
1/2 lb thinly sliced carrots
1/2 lb bacon lardons
6 oz sliced fresh mushrooms
1 1/2 lb ripe tomatoes peeled seeded juiced and chopped or 2 400g/14oz tins tomatoes, chopped or 1 pint passata
approximately 4oz sifted  plain flour on a plate for coating the beef
1/2 to 3/4 pint beef stock (or water or additional red wine)

For the Provençal seasoning

10 flat anchovy fillets packed in olive oil
2 tablespoons capers
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil either from the anchovy tin and/or plain
2 cloves mashed garlic
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Place the beef in a bowl and mix with the wine, brandy, olive oil, seasonings. herbs and vegetables.  Cover and marinate for at least 3 hours, stirring every so often. Remove the beef from marinade and drain through a sieve.  Reserve both the vegetables and the marinade liquid.

Line the bottom of a large ovenproof lidded casserole (again, Le Creuset type is perfect) with one third f lardons. Strew one third of the marinade vegetables and mushrooms over them then add a third of the tomatoes. Piece by piece, roll the beef in the flour and shake off the excess. Place closely together in a layer over the vegetables.  Continue with another layer of bacon and vegetables, then a second layer of beef.  Conclude with a final layer of bacon and vegetables.

Pour in the marinade liquid and enough stock (or water or wine) to almost cover the contents of the casserole.  Bring to simmering point on top of the stove, cover tightly and place in the lower part of an oven preheated to 150 degrees C/325 degrees F/gas mark 2.  Regulate the heat so that the liquid simmers slowly for 3 to 4 hours.  The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the daube is cooking, prepare the Provençal seasoning. Using a fork, mash the anchovies and capers to a paste in a bowl. Beat in the other ingredients. After the daube has cooked for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, remove it from the oven and skim off the fat.  Pour on the Provençal seasoning mixture and baste the beef with the cooking juices from the casserole. Cover and return to the oven for a final half hour of cooking.

Serve with noodles or plain boiled potatoes , a green salad or vegetable and of course a glass of your favourite wine.

Do you have a great beef casserole recipe or a fresh insight into why a carbonnade is so named?  If so, please leave a comment.

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