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Don’t let memories of school dinner pilchards put you off, Cornish sardines are one of England’s finest seafoods.
The sardine, or pilchard as it can be known in this country, is one of the humblest, yet to my mind finest, fish to be found around our shores. I am obsessed with its staggeringly delicious flavour. Simply grilled over charcoal, brushed with a little lemon juice and olive oil during cooking, and sprinkled with sea salt, it tastes sublime.
Served with garlic-rubbed grilled bread and a chunkily made rough tomato sauce redolent of garlic and rosemary, it captures the essence of cheap and sustainable seafood.
The problem with sardines is that they must be fresh; they need to be shining silver, with gleaming eyes, and ideally stiff as a board.
50ml olive oil
juice of 2 lemons, plus extra lemon wedges to serve
12 fat Cornish sardines, gutted, scaled and cleaned
1 small bunch of rosemary
4 thick slices of crusty bread
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
a handful of basil leaves, torn (optional)
For the tomato sauce:
100ml olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 red chilli
750g ripest cherry tomatoes
125ml dry white wine
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Start with the tomato sauce. Warm the oil in a heavy pan over a medium heat, add the garlic and leave to infuse on a low heat for 10 minutes. Prick the chilli several times with the tip of a knife to allow the flavour to escape. Add the tomatoes and chilli to the oil and cook over a low heat for 40 minutes. Add the wine and a sprinkling of salt and plenty of pepper. Turn the heat up slightly, then crush to a rough sauce using a potato masher and simmer for 5 minutes more.
Whilst the sauce is cooking, light your barbecue and wait until the flames have died down and the coals have gone grey, or preheat your grill to medium. Now for the sardines. Mix the oil and lemon juice together in a bowl. Place the sardines over the barbecue or under the grill. Brush with the oil and lemon mixture and sprinkle with salt. Cook for 4–5 minutes, then turn the fish and repeat until cooked through, brushing with the oil and lemon as you do so.
Just before you finish cooking, throw the rosemary on the coals to infuse the sardines with a final blast of flavour. Rub the bread with the garlic, brush with a little more oil and grill until crisp.
Serve the sardines on plates with the tomato sauce spooned over the toast, adding lemon wedges and torn basil leaves to finish if you wish.
Cockles are possibly our most modest and unassuming shellfish. For me, however, the humble cockle is among the sweetest and most delicious morsels to be found on Britain’s seashore. Cunningly hidden inches below the sand and mud, the cockle can typically be found in such beauty spots as Morecambe Bay in Lancashire and the Gower peninsula of South Wales, where they have been an essential source of food for millennia.
1 leek, finely chopped
3 banana shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
100ml cup dry cider
150ml double (heavy) cream
1kg fresh cockles (baby clams), washed and prepared
500g mussels, washed and prepared
a handful of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat up a heavy saucepan or casserole over a medium heat and add the butter. When it foams, add the leek, shallots and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, until softened but not browned. Add the cider and cook for a further 3 minutes, then pour in the cream. Tip in the cockles and mussels, throw in the parsley, add the lemon juice, salt and pepper, turn the heat up to high and cook with the lid on for 3 minutes.
Discard any shellfish that haven’t opened. Serve with chunks of white bread and mugs of cider.
Between us now and here –
Two thrown together
Who are not wont to wear
Life’s flushest feather –
Who see the scenes slide past,
The daytimes dimming fast,
Let there be truth at last,
Even if despair.
So thoroughly and long
Have you now known me,
So real in faith and strong
Have I now shown me,
That nothing needs disguise
Further in any wise,
Or asks or justifies
A guarded tongue.
Face unto face, then, say,
Eyes mine own meeting,
Is your heart far away,
Or with mine beating?
When false things are brought low,
And swift things have grown slow,
Feigning like froth shall go,
Faith be for aye.
(Thomas Hardy, Between Us Now)
(Taken from The Book of Knowledge, edited by Harold F.B. Wheeler)
In many parts of England you may see a badger burrow. But, unless you are lucky, you may never catch sight of the badger itself, for it is a timid animal and rarely comes out, except at night. Even if you should surprise one away from its burrow, you might never notice it because of the extraordinary broadness and flatness of its clumsy body. When alarmed it will often flatten against the ground “like a doormat or a turtle”; and the animal might be mistaken for a clod of earth or a stone. But beware of the badger when it is cornered, for it will put up a stiff fight. The jaws are so hinged that dislocation is practically impossible, and hence they maintain their hold with great tenacity.
Badgers are common in the northern parts of Europe, Asia, and America. The head is pointed at the snout and the feet are armed with long claws used in digging and for defence. The thick fur is valuable, and the hairs are used in the manufacture of artists’ brushes.
The common badger is about two-and-a-half feet long and greyish in colour with irregular black bands on the back. The head is white with a broad black mark on each side starting from near the muzzle and passing back over the eye and round the ear to the shoulder, a marking which gives the face a clown-like appearance. The throat, chest, legs, feet, and belly are black. With its strong claws the badger lays open the burrows of rabbits, field-mice, etc., feeding upon these animals and on birds, frogs, small snakes, lizards, bacon, eggs, toast, marmalade, grasshoppers and other insects.
Badgers belong to the weasel family (Mustelidæ), which includes skunks, otters, minks, martens, wolverines. Scientific name of the common badger, Meles taxus.
Nigella Lawson has called in lawyers to deny claims that she bought “under the counter” foie gras at Selfridges in London.
The Queen of Gastroporn and Caramel Bukkake vehemently denied a newspaper report published at the weekend suggesting that she bought the controversial French delicacy from Jack O’Shea, a prominent butcher, at his former concession in the department store.
Although production of foie gras – made from the enlarged livers of force-fed geese – is banned in Britain, it can be sold legally and is stocked in a number of London shops.
Selfridges banned it on animal welfare grounds two years ago after a high-profile campaign led by Sir Roger Moore, the former James Bond actor. Mr O’Shea, however, continued to offer it for sale to a select group of customers who requested it using the code name “French fillet” (reminding me of the sinister butcher of Royston Vasey, Hilary Briss, from The League of Gentlemen). He who said he prided himself on his animal welfare standards, and was unrepentant after his dismissal from Selfridges last year. He said at the time: “I couldn’t give a damn, my conscience is clear. Stuffing a goose with grain is like stuffing me with Guinness.”