Cooking the easy way.
|SIMON’S COOKERY COURSE
The alternative guide to cooking – survival or otherwise
|1. Astronauts & omelettes|
|2. Soufflé (yes you can!)|
|3. Game and fondue|
|4. Roasting meat (or whatever)|
|7. Ignorance & death|
|11. Health & Safety|
|13. Gravadlax & Bimbos|
© Simon Mulholland
This may be stating the obvious, but survival cooking is about survival. We are not talking the type of cooking you see in cookery books and magazines.
You can forget any fancy ideas about recipes. The word “recipe” means “take thou”, as in “take thou a dozen eggs and half a pound of flour”. If you can get to the supermarket and buy the stuff demanded by a recipe, then it’s not survival.
When you are overlooking Goose Green, surrounded by sheep and Falkland Island Flightless Steamer Ducks, you could starve to death looking at recipes instructing you to take lemon grass, raspberry leaf vinegar and organic tofu cutlets. Alternatively you can be realistic and say, “I have access to sheep and duck, which shall I eat first and how shall I cook it?”
Survival cooking is realistic cooking, and realistic cooking relies on a basic understanding of the FACTS about food and an accurate analysis of your own situation.
A really good big mushroom identification book is a great aid to survival preparation. Tear out the pages one by one, crumple them into little balls and practice lighting fires. Lighting fires is a useful skill. Identifying mushrooms isn’t.
Mushrooms are delicious but they got their name, “the food of the gods” when the Emperor Claudius died after eating poisonous mushrooms, thus becoming a god. The French, who go in for wild mushrooms in a big way, peg out with monotonous regularity.
The risk might be worth it if mushrooms had some nutritional value. They don’t. You will expend more energy carrying a pound of mushrooms 100yds than you will get from eating them. Add in the genuine risk of snuffing it, or at least being “hors de combat” for a couple of days, and eating wild mushrooms becomes the survival cook’s equivalent of shooting off your toes.
Remember, in the real world, calories are good. Only a society ludicrously preoccupied with the shape of celebrities’ bodies could come up with idiotic concepts like empty calories. A calorie is a measure of the energy available in a food. This is your personal fuel we are talking about. No calories = no energy = death.
So forget all the health crap you hear. Look at the guys doing hard physical work without the benefit of million pound salaries and personal trainers. When they want energy they get stuck into some calories.
Lesson one in survival cooking: assess the nutritional energy against the energy used in collection and preparation. To assess the energy level of an ingredient, ask yourself if a women’s magazine would recommend the product. If they would, forget it – you’ll starve.
If you are hungry in an inhabited area, the most energy efficient way to gather good is to go and raid somebody’s larder. The skill lies in taking the right things when you raid the larder. Number one priority is fat. Fat gives 9,000 calories per kilogram. That means half a kilo per day will keep a man doing heavy physical work.
Tinned tomatoes on the other hand, while an invaluable kitchen product, only produce 160 calories per kilogram. So thirty kilos a day should keep you going (and they would!).
Sugar has half the calories of fat, but is a lot more palatable and digestible than fat. However as a long term diet it can get boring.
Flour gives 3500 calories per kilo and about 10% protein. Dried beans, peas, lentils etc give about 3,000 calories and 25% protein.
But before you start worrying about protein levels, cholesterol, vitamins, free radicals and all that crap, think how long you are going to need to survive before you can get back to civilisation and a few pints. If it’s less than six months before that badly needed pint, the only relevant factor is calories.
When raiding the larder, take fat, sugar, flour, lentils and salt. Salt has no calorific value but is a useful preservative and flavour enhancer. You are also more likely to suffer from salt deficiency than from an excess.
Forget any romantic notions of setting horse hair traps for rabbits in the pale dawn and then settling down to tickle trout from the mossy banks of the stream. This makes great television but the sheep or cow in the next field will make better food for less effort.
I don’t intend to waste any time on how to catch your prey. When you get hungry enough you’ll figure out a way. If I was hungry and carrying an SA80 I would shoot it. Herding it into a corner or driving it off a cliff work equally well. Essentially what you will catch and eat depends on how hungry you are and how squeamish.
Squeamishness is a luxury you can’t afford in a survival situation. Snails, worms, insects and slugs are all good sources of precious calories.
Before you start saying “yeugh, slugs”, I strongly recommend you study the dietary habits of lobsters. Now few people would say “yeugh, lobster” – but lobsters are remarkably partial to corpses.
I am still looking for a business partner for my company combining burials at sea with a lobster fishery. I like the idea of charging 500 quid to chuck lobster bait over one side of the boat while I haul up lobster pots the other side.
While my idea may be tasteless, I assure you the lobsters would be delicious. Remember, your food’s eating habits have little or no bearing on the taste of the end product. No-one worries about throwing large quantities of dung on the fields to feed the wheat which, when turned into bread, does not taste of shit (OK, sliced white is pretty bad, but that’s another story).
Cooking is simple. God knows why so much effort is put into making it sound complicated.
Where can you learn survival cooking? In the kitchen. There’s no point trying out techniques outside until you are competent indoors. You learn to shoot a rifle on a range first. The flash stuff – running around shooting from the hip and all the other ways of missing the target – follow on from when you are competent with firing a rifle from a rest.
Just to establish my historical track record I will quote one of the great epicures whose advice has survived for 2,350 years, Archestratus of Gela in Sicily. Here he is discussing cooking amia, a type of fish:
“As for the amia, prepare it in the autumn, when the Pleiad is setting, and in any way you like. Do I need to recite it word for word? You could not possibly spoil it even if you wanted to. Still, if you insist, dear Moschus, on being instructed here is the best way to dress that fish: wrap it in fig leaves with a little marjoram. No cheese, no nonsense! Just place it gently in fig leaves and tie them up with a string, then put it under hot ashes. Be careful to judge when it is done, and don’t burn it up. Let it come from Byzantium if you want the best”.
It is a sign of progress that what Archestratus can put in one simple paragraph manages to clog the shelves of newsagents and bookshops worldwide. Archestratus was a gourmet and a cook, not a cookery writer.
Prepare it in the autumn, when the Pleiad is setting… Archestratus appreciated the importance of the season. For survival cooking, an appreciation of seasons is vital. Looking for ingredients that are out of season isn’t just expensive, it is a waste of energy – and that can be fatal.
Do I need to recite it word for word? He is aware that non cooks want details that are meaningless and unnecessary. But he goes on to give a cooking method which holds good for ever, and which a cook can adapt to whatever ingredients he has. I have eaten fish and rice cooked in green bamboo in Assam and trout cooked in wet newspaper in England. They use the same technique. Sweetcorn cooked in the husk is the same. This is one of those classic techniques which works almost whatever you use.
Be careful to judge when it is done, and don’t burn it up… Here Archestratus defines the greatest problem cooks face. He doesn’t muck around giving times. It will be another 2,250 years before kitchen clocks are even vaguely available to the average cook.
You notice he doesn’t discuss the heat of the fire or the weight of the fish. God gave you a nose and a memory. Try using them. On the whole, if it smells cooked, it is. So try it. If you are right, you have learned how to judge when it is done. Congratulations. Now you are a cook.
If it’s not ready, try again and see if you can work out how much longer it needs. The only way to judge is from experience.
No cheese, no nonsense. This is an old refrain from Archestratus. He liked to keep things simple, as in this piece on entertaining: Many are the ways and many the recipes for dressing a hare, but this is the best of all to place before a set of hungry guests. A slice of roasted meat fresh from the spit, hot, seasoned only with plain simple salt, not too much done… all other ways are quite superfluous such as when cooks pour a lot of sticky clammy sauce upon it.
I can’t argue with Archestratus on this one, and indeed anyone who has eaten genuinely roasted meat will agree with me. However you must appreciate that meat cannot, regardless of what modern cookery books say, be roasted in an oven.
My grandmother would always wind up my mother whenever she was informed that she would be eating roast chicken.
“And is it in the oven, dear?” she would ask.
“Yes,” my mother would reply.
“Then it will be baked, dear,” would be my grandmother’s reply.
She may have been a pedantic old bat, but she was right.
If you want to learn to cook, forget modern technology and learn to cook properly. The techniques of cooking work wherever you are and require only minimal equipment.
And there’s more!
If you’ve managed to read this far,
you’ve qualified for Simon’s Survival Gourmet Cookery Course
Lesson One: Astronauts and Omelettes
© Simon Mulholland
I remember watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon, and I have always wondered why he didn’t tell the truth and say; “This is one small step for washing up liquid and a giant leap back for cooks!”
We all know that the only real benefit from the Space Race was non stick pans ( since nobody but astronauts wanted a biro that would work in space), and it seems a shame that it was all a con to sell more washing up liquid. Forget all that new frontiers, new challenges etc. We are talking serious business here.
You see it is a little known fact, (little known because it is only known by cooks, and there aren’t many cooks left, only couch potato mashers and TV pundits) that non stick pans aren’t really that new. All pans are non stick as long as you don’t bloody wash them up with bloody detergent. Just don’t use any product advertised on telly when washing a pan, and use reasonable care and you will have cheap non stick pan for ever.
I now use a very beautiful, long handled, enamel pan for omelettes, pancakes, bacon, sausages, pheasant, indeed anything I am going to fry. I have had this pan for years but it always had one disadvantage. Everything stuck to the enamel like shit to a blanket. When I finally accepted that the Space Program was a sales gimmick for Fairy Liquid, I stopped washing the pan with detergent, seasoned it and have rinsed it ever since with plain hot water.
Seasoning a pan is simple. Firstly put half an inch of salt in the bottom of the pan. Heat until the salt is turning golden brown or you can’t stand the smell any more. Throw the salt away or put it on persistent weeds. Let the pan cool. Now oil the pan and heat till it smokes. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool.
Now use it as a frying pan. After use, wash it with hot water and a cloth, or just put in some water, heat over the fire and wipe out with a rag, grass, paper, just not bloody washing up liquid. If something sticks, use a stick to rub it off. Now if you have a non-stick frying pan, between 4 and 12 inches across and with sloped sides, pancakes and omelettes are on the menu.
I have only recently learned to make omelettes “properly”. That is without using a spatula or a grill and still managing to fold them in half. Actually this is the effect you always get when you start tossing pancakes, the bloody things fold in half and stick to each other, not the pan.
Omelettes and pancakes are that rare exception to my theory that all survival cooking should be practised in the kitchen first and in the field later. Eggs will stick to everything that isn’t your pre space race non stick pan and pancakes are slightly stickier. If you are going to fling this shit dramatically in the air, and survive, do it outside or cover the floor with newspaper.
Lets start with omelettes. Break an egg. Robespierre was dead right, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, however I have noticed that politicians can never improve the world without killing a fair amount of the inhabitants which is what Robespierre had just done. Why he managed to justify murder and get into all the quotation dictionaries with a comment that is obvious to any cook and irrelevant to mass murder is the sort of question that politicians don’t answer.
But back to our broken egg. If you haven’t cracked eggs before, go and get a tray of cheap eggs. A tray of 30 for about a quid is par for the course. Practice cracking them in a bowl. Cracking eggs is one of those basic skills which cooks need. There are only about twenty of these and cracking and separating eggs is one of the trickier ones. Light a barbecue, get a few trays of eggs and a few trays of beers, your non stick pan and a fine evening. Practice cracking and separating eggs, making omelettes and drinking beer.
Give the side of the egg a firm tap on the rim of a pint mug, back of a knife, false teeth or anything with a fairly sharp edge. Holding the egg upright over a bowl, use your thumbs to open the egg. In theory you now have the yolk in the bottom half of the egg shell and white dribbling in the bowl. Delicately tip the yolk into the other half of the shell letting the white escape into the bowl.
Oh my God, you’ve broken the yolk. So what. It doesn’t matter for omelettes. That’s why this is the moment to practice separating eggs when failure doesn’t matter. When you have two eggs in the bowl, assuming an 8 inch pan, stir them around with a fork or wire whisk till they are reasonably well mixed.
Now get an ounce of butter. OK 1/8th of a packet. This will be slightly too much unless you have very large eggs but the only way to find the right quantity for your eggs and your pan and your taste is to try it out.
Gently melt the butter in the pan. Now heat the butter as fast as possible till it foams. When the foam starts to subside, the butter is as hot as it will get without burning. (Yippee, you have just learned another one of those vital cooking facts and you hadn’t even noticed.)
Tip in the egg mix and keep the pan over the hottest flame. After 5 seconds shake the pan vigorously from side to side. Now do you see why we want be outdoors? Go back to cracking eggs, and this time don’t shake quite so vigorously. The omelette should slide around with uncooked egg hitting hot metal and fluffing up. When there is still a good runny puddle in the middle jerk the pan away from you and flip it up folding the omelette into a perfect semi circle.
OK go back to Robespierre and not quite so violent next time. You have now wasted 4 eggs costing 12p and two ounces of the very cheapest butter, say another 12p. This lesson has cost you 24p so far. If you can afford it… read on.
By the time you have finished the tray of eggs and the tray of beers you will have learned how to separate eggs and make an omelette, and you will have smeared the lawn with egg. The dog will be happy. You will be pissed and stuffed. What more could you want?
An omelette is mindbogglingly simple but if you add a little cheese just before folding, or some fresh herbs, you have one of the great dishes of the world. Try and find a farm that actually keeps chickens outdoors, and buy the very freshest eggs you can. Sod the price. A well made omelette with fresh eggs and fresh herbs is paradise.
You see the idiot thing is that survival cooking and gourmet cooking are the same thing. Good fresh ingredients simply cooked. You can’t beat it.
Lesson Two: Soufflés
© Simon Mulholland
Soufflés are great practice at a couple of the basic cooking techniques. They are also one of the pinnacles of culinary art. Grown women swoon when I tell them I can cook soufflés. This of course demonstrates what a pretentious load of garbage most cooking is.
What follows is a recipe for making a soufflé, which is a mixture of whisked egg white and white sauce.
Basically take 37.5 grams of butter. Bloody metrication. Try looking at a normal half pound of butter. To get one ounce you make a line half way along the pat, then half that again, then half that and surprise surprise you have one eighth of a half pound – or an ounce.
Not that it matters. It is just easier when starting to use the same quantity of the basic ingredient. By this I mean that you now add flour to the butter till you have a certain consistency and then add milk till you have another consistency. You don’t need to measure the flour or milk, just keep adding the next ingredient till it looks right.
This is the same principle as making pasta. In Pasta making the total measurement involved is counting the egg. With a white sauce, you will get to know how much white sauce you get from an ounce of butter. If you need twice as much, try using two ounces of butter.
Right, that’s got rid of all the crap about weights and measures that clogs up cookbooks, we can now get on with cooking. With a white sauce, I melt the butter gently, sieve in the flour, and for this I use plain flour. Don’t ask me why, I just always do. You could always try using strong white and see if it works. I can think of no reason why it shouldn’t.
Anyway, add the flour till you’ve got a sort of lump of buttery flour, it shouldn’t be dry and it shouldn’t flow. If it’s too dry, add butter and if it’s too wet, add flour. Once it looks about right, let it cook gently for a minute or so. Apparently this stops the sauce tasting floury, but I’ve never checked.
Now comes the tricky bit, adding the milk. My wife does this over a high heat a dribble at a time. I use a low heat and slosh it all in. I think my sauce is better than hers, but I WOULD WOULDN’T I.
“Oh my God!” I hear you cry. “What happens if I get lumps?”. Here there are two solutions depending on the position of the cooker and any spectators. If there aren’t any spectators, use a bloody sieve, everyone else does so why shouldn’t you.
If there are spectators, and you can keep your back to them, tip the sauce pan to get all the lumps down in that bottom corner and squash them with a wooden spoon. If the spectators are watching very closely, say “I’ve always loved the taste of the lumps in a white sauce, I wish everyone didn’t spend their life trying to get rid of them.”
Burnt white sauce. What to do. Start again. You have now wasted one ounce of butter, 6.2p, a good penny’s worth of flour and maybe 12 pence worth of milk. We could be talking 20p here. So what.
But back to the sauce. Put in about half a pint of milk, start stirring and keep stirring while it is on the heat. The sauce will start to thicken from the bottom, where the heat is greatest. If it suddenly goes thick all through, glug in some more milk.
Keep stirring till it is nice and thick, by which I mean, you get a nice spirograph type pattern as you stir it. The nice thing about cooking is that actually it probably doesn’t matter a stuff, but when I am making a soufflé, I like that pattern before I go on to the next stage.
Probably the easiest soufflé to start with is a cheese soufflé To do this you need a cheese sauce. To make a cheese sauce take a white sauce and guess what you put in it. Right mustard. Actually if you are using the cheap Eurotrash cheddar, ie the very mild very cheap plastic stuff, a dash of mustard, or mustard flour at the start, makes the cheese taste of cheese. By the way, that Eurotrash makes brilliant imitation mozzarella if you are making pizzas.
Anyway grate some cheese and tip it in the white sauce. Keep stirring and you’ve got cheese sauce. You can now walk away and leave the sauce, as long as it isn’t on the hotplate, while you go away and do other things. After a bit a skin forms, but if you stir vigorously it goes away again so who cares.
Now for the eggs. Take 6 potato sized eggs. I am not kidding, the Government advised us for reasons best known to themselves to eat 4 egg sized potatoes per day. They didn’t say what sized eggs, I don’t have to say what sized potatoes. Anyway crack them and separate them. You apparently mustn’t have any yolk in the white if you are going to whisk it successfully. Actually in my experience it doesn’t seem to matter but I would play safe.
If you followed the instructions in the last lesson, you are now experienced at cracking eggs. If not, spend a quid or so on a tray of pullet eggs (the little ones) and practice on those. By the time you have done 30 you won’t know why you ever thought it difficult. Spending a quid to learn a technique that you will find useful for the rest of your life is without doubt the best investment you will ever make.
Whipping the egg whites. Get a wind up whizzer if you can. They always turn up in charity shops but try and get one with metal gears. They last for ever and are brilliant for eggs and whipping cream. A balloon whisk will do the job perfectly competently, but if I am in a hurry, I do love the wind up whizzer. What does matter is the bowl, it is almost impossible to have a mixing bowl that is too big. By the way when somebody says a magimix is quicker, include the time they take to wash it up in the calculation of time.
Now whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Go on! Get whisking. When you take the whisk out and the egg white forms a stiff peak where you have removed the whisk, you have stiff peaks. If they are floppy they are not stiff. This is a rule of nature. Get back whipping.
OK now get your soufflé dish nice and warm and smeared with butter. This matters. The dish must be warm. Reheat the cheese sauce if it has got cool and give it a good stir. Get it just bubbling, then take it off the heat and stir in the egg yolks. Now stir in a bit of the egg white into the white sauce.
Now tip the white sauce into the beaten egg white and fold in carefully, either using a silver spoon or not using a silver spoon. This is vital. Lots of cookery writers have written a vast amount on exactly what sort of spoon you should use to fold the sauce into the egg whites. Unfortunately I still can’t remember the important bit, ie what sort of spoon to use so I use a plastic spatula instead. The books don’t say anything about plastic spatulas so you can get away with it.
Now tip the mix into the warm soufflé dish and stick the result in an oven at gas mark six. “What” I hear you cry “is gas mark six on an Aga?”. Well I can ask the same question on my knackered old gas cooker. I’ve never checked, the thermostat is buried in a whole load of crud that Kate is waiting for me to clean, and I am waiting for her to clean. I should think roughly the middle of the top oven unless it’s very hot when the bottom should be about right. Who cares. Try it.
Now for the tricky stage of knowing the exact moment to get it out… without looking at it. Personally I find it easier to open the door and look at it, but then I always like doing things the complicated way. Now try the famous wobble test. Wobble it. If it goes flob flob give it a bit longer, if it stands up tall firm and looking like a chefs hat, take a photograph of it and eat the photograph. It will taste about the same and you can varnish the soufflé and show it to guests for years to come. If it’s nice and wobbly it will be lovely to eat.
So there you have it. You can cook a soufflé – which should impress just about anyone – and you’ve learnt several vital cookery skills while you did it.
Lesson Three: Game
© Simon Mulholland
Survival training when televised always seems to involve skinning rabbits in the rain and looking depressed at the result. This is hardly surprising. Skinning rabbits isn’t done for fun, its done because otherwise the hairs get stuck in your teeth. If you haven’t practised separating wild food from its wrapper, why bother depressing yourself with soggy rabbits when you could be sampling the delights of eating game at a massive discount.
There are a number of bodies who devote all their energies to persuading the general public to eat game. Unfortunately their collective snouts are so buried in the trough of the various Field Sports organisations that they haven’t realised there is an easy simple solution: let the general public discover that the very best, free-range, delicious meat is available unbelievably cheaply since each bird is subsidised to the tune of £25 by some bloated plutocrat.
Shoots can’t shift their game “because nobody wants it”. I can shift all the game I can get hold of by selling from the shoot to the public at the price the shoot gets from a dealer, about a quid a brace. I have queues of people wanting to know where they can get the game. If the shooting organisations are so thick that they think not telling the public where to buy is good marketing, they deserve everything they get.
Game is the ultimate free range meat, and as an added bonus, someone else pays almost all the costs. I know there is plenty of meat labelled free range on the shelves, but if you compare it to pheasant or venison or duck that has been shot, it is in the rural equivalent of Wormwood Scrubs. Only the very lucky or the very rich can get real free range chickens today. The romantic image – of chickens scratching around the farmyard while the farmer’s wife gathers a basket of eggs -lives only in the minds of people who produce picture books of farm life for urban children.
To get game, find any friend who shoots, beats, picks up or works as a keeper. Ask if you can buy any spare birds “in the feather”. If someone tells you they will teach you how to pluck them, avoid them like the plague. Plucking is normally a prelude to the dreaded “Roast Pheasant”. I now have a rule never to eat Game in the houses of those who pay to shoot it. They all have an unbelievable desire to perpetrate “Roast Pheasant” or if they have finally realised that this is tough, dried up and generally nasty, they casserole it in the belief that putting it in water will stop the meat drying out. Wrong. Meat dries out like buggery in water.
So if you don’t pluck the pheasant, what do you do? Skin it. The first thing you will find if you are dumb enough to pluck a pheasant, rather than sitting in bars reciting pointless rhymes about the subject in a vain attempt to suggest you aren’t rat arsed, is that the skin tears very easily. Most of the effort in plucking is in a desperate attempt not to tear the skin. Sod that. Just tear it and the skin peels away and underneath you have meat which is the bit you want.
You also have the guts, the liver, lungs and heart,. The liver has the virtue that it is the only bit of any animal that you can realistically eat fresh without cooking. The effort involved in chewing and digesting fresh meat is apparently greater than the energy you gain. While this may be irrelevant when sitting down to pheasant tartare in the Officers’ Mess, it becomes of crucial importance when you are behind enemy lines and hungry in Bosnia/Iraq/Chechnya. I have heard a theory that pigeon, even when cooked, is so hard to digest, that if you feed someone a diet of pure pigeon, they will waste away. I wouldn’t rely on it as a murder method myself.
Before we can actually eat game, we have to discuss hanging. I have always enjoyed the story of the two Mormons accosting an old lady on their missionary work. She asks them whether they are the group with lots of wives and they reply “We are!” “Then you should be bloody well hung!” she says. “We are!” they reply. This macho image of eating well hung pheasant has a horrible tendency to afflict the way everyone treats game but I know a number of serious shooting types who believe hanging game is at best a waste of time and at worst an affectation.
There are a number of absurd theories on hanging game and my favourite is the suggestion that you hang game by the feet over a silver tray. When the process of hanging, or in this case rotting has gone far enough, the leg bones separate from the meat and the carcass falls on the silver tray. The noise alerts the butler who sends the under footman to pluck and draw the bird immediately as it is then perfect, though what it is perfect for is hard to say.
The sole advantage of this theory becomes obvious when you have unexpected guests and only two pheasants. Describe this principle of hanging game and you will normally create at least one new vegetarian and the obligation for the family to hold back is lifted.
But back to reality. Hanging game can’t be that important or restaurants wouldn’t be full of pretentious prats eating grouse on the 12th of August, the only day when you can guarantee the birds can’t have been hung. Hanging is a cook’s tool, nothing more. Hanging does tenderise meat and progressively improves the flavour, until that is, you reach the stage when the meat starts to deteriorate. I have eaten meat that has gone well beyond that stage, but there are only two good reasons for doing so. One is to show off, and the other is because you have nothing else to eat.
Anyone who can tell you how long to hang game, or any meat, unless you are using a butcher’s chiller, is either a liar or a prophet. To make any reasonable assessment of hanging game, four factors must be considered. Where has the bird been shot, and how badly. A heavily gut-shot pheasant, or one that has been enthusiastically retrieved, will not hang for long, even in a cold spell without becoming seriously unpleasant. Next is the temperature in which the bird will hang, then the age of the bird, and finally time. Since the length of time depends on the preceding three factors, it is ridiculous to make any hard and fast rules on hanging game.
I use to beat on a shoot where all the guns and beaters stopped for a barbecue lunch, a very civilised habit, and while waiting for the barbecue to reach a satisfactory temperature, I skinned a couple of pheasants, sliced off the breasts and legs and slung them on top of the barbecue. I didn’t marinade them, I didn’t baste them, I didn’t check the temperature of the barbecue, and I didn’t get to taste them. The other sods nicked the lot. When I used to cook Venison and Wild Boar round the County Show circuit, I was always being asked how to cook Game. “Count the legs!” I used to say. “Then think of something you can already cook with approximately the same number of legs, and do the same thing.”
Well, that’s blown another book contract: 24 words on how to cook game and I have covered the whole bloody subject. But as a little filler, I will let you into one of the best kept cooking secrets, the Fondue.
If the wages of sin are death, the wages of not living in sin are 6 toasters 5 bathtowels and a fondue set. Why Fondue sets feature so strongly in wedding lists is a mystery, and why fondue sets are banished to a broom cupboard until they next see the light of day at a car boot sale is equally puzzling. But even stranger is the fact that fondues are inextricably linked in people’s minds with skiing, a sport which produces no meat, and are not linked with shooting which quite clearly does produce meat.
Fondued pheasant overcomes all the problems of “Roast Pheasant” at a dinner party but with two provisos, either you must have been fortunate enough to receive only one toaster and 5 fondue sets, or you should restrict your guest list to couples sufficiently recently married to be able to unearth their own fondue sets and bring them along. Of course in today’s society you may know people who have married sufficiently often to bring more than one fondue set with them. Secondly, ensure you have an adequate supply of meths before dinner starts. It is too embarrassing leaving an obviously noisy happy dinner party and asking the neighbours if they happen to have any spare meths.
This is the stage at which I could write a whole chapter, giving recipes for Pheasant Fondue, Partridge Fondue, Wild Boar Fondue, Venison Fondue, Peacock Fondue and even Red Breasted Goose Fondue, all of which I have cooked and eaten with enthusiasm. Unfortunately I must admit that the difference between one recipe and the next is that you replace pheasant with whatever else is in the title with one minor variation, I don’t use breast of Venison or Wild Boar.
You will notice that the entire meal can be prepared in advance so when your guests arrive you can be there to greet them, gossip and ensure you get your fair share of the wine. All you have to do is sit down and start cooking, but then so does everyone else.
‘Method A’ Fondue is just an upmarket deep fat fryer, which runs rather inefficiently on a tiny little meths burner, but there is nothing wrong with that. There is no easier way to seal the goodness into meat than plunging it into hot fat. Any oil or fat suitable for deep frying will work although I use beef dripping for choice. Trying to estimate quantities of meat is always a nightmare so I allow a pound of meat per person, but then I like long drawn out meals and have never been ashamed of hoggish excess. You will obviously know your own and your guests’ appetites better than I do but if you are worried that you haven’t enough meat, quarter some mushrooms and have some parboiled potatoes available to cook with the meat in the fondue.
The meat should be cut up in pieces not more than 3\4 of an inch thick and if you can remove the obvious sinews from the breast do so. Don’t worry about producing nice neat cubes; you can’t. The meat can be prepared in advance but it is worth coating it in oil to stop it drying out. Marinating is not necessary, game has quite enough taste already and their is no point trying to mask it. While it is possible to feed four from one fondue pot, the burner is working like a daft thing and in an ideal world you need one pot for each couple.
Heat the oil on the stove first to near cooking temperature, place carefully on the burners, give everyone a couple of fondue forks and relax. Your guests are doing the cooking so if anything goes wrong, it’s their fault. The two great virtues of a fondue are firstly that everyone can have meat cooked to their taste. I love underdone, or ideally raw meat, but not all my friends are quite such ostentatious carnivores. With a fondue I can dip my meat in for a couple of seconds to take the chill off, while my guests reduce it to a little wizened lump of charcoal, but as long as all parties are happy, who cares.
The greatest advantage is the dips. I love watching traditional shooting folks’ faces when I suggest that Pheasant and peanut butter makes a marvellous combination, which it does, but I don’t have to risk ruining a whole meal to find out. I have certain standby dips which almost always appear and then I look down the shelves and decide that ginger, lemon juice, crude black strap molasses and mashed overripe banana would make a great dip for Wild Boar, so I make some up and it is certainly different.
I will leave making mayonnaise till the next stage, and before you start thinking that mayonnaise making is a pretty wimpish activity, remember it was actually invented by an English Admiral, stationed off Port Mahon and suffering from serious depression when faced with the standard naval diet. Since the only alternative to dried peas and salt pork was a few eggs and some oil, he instructed his French cook to come up with something different. The man was suitably terrified and his shaking hands created sauce Mahonnaise, now known as Mayo. Don’t worry, this story is at least as true as all the other crap written about cooking!
Lesson Four: Roasting meat – or anything you like
© Simon Mulholland
Preheat your oven to nice and hot, and put some cake mix in it. What is happening to the cake? Right, it’s baking. So what happens when you put meat in the oven? Right again, you’re baking it. What’s the title of this article? Roasting. OK Forget the bloody oven and go back to one of the few books I trust on cooking, the Bible.
Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire. Exodus 12 v9. This is of course the James the First translation of the Bible. The New English version probably recommends a microwave and lemon grass sauce. Roast with fire. You can’t roast with anything else. If you put meat on top of a fire, you are barbecuing, or to be more accurate, ruining it. (You can do things on top of a barbecue, it just happens that cooking meat well isn’t one of them).
Roasting is done in front of a fire. At this stage in my explanation, everyone says,”Oh, on a spit.” God alone knows why the Brits have this fetish about ramming cold steel into lumps of meat. Maybe it’s the Warmington on Sea syndrome: “They don’t like it up ’em!” I’m sure they don’t – but that’s no reason for trying to spit innocent lumps of meat.
The first thing you notice when you try to put a spit through an animal is that the little buggers are full of bones. After you have carefully boned and rolled Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, you can get a spit through them, but trying to get the thing up the axis of rotation is a right pig. If you don’t get the thing balanced the heaviest bit tends to dangle down. This is called gravity. The solution in Hollywood historical epics is to have a boy turning the spit, or as was more common in real life, a dog in harness working a gear system. This is all very complicated and requires finding either an obedient small boy or a well trained dog complete with harness.
But relax, there is an alternative, which is simple, effective, cheap, reliable and produces great meat. Obviously nobody uses it, except me that is. My credentials as a roaster of meat are good. I have roasted most things: Peacock for the Hell’s Angels, Venison at Sandringham, Skate, Pork, Beef, Chicken, Pheasant, Trout and Wild Boar almost everywhere. The most I have ever roasted at once is 57 forequarters of Venison, in January, in driving rain, outside the BBC at Shepherds Bush. I have never used a spit, instead, I use a couple of meat hooks and a fishing swivel. (114 meathooks and 57 swivels at the BBC).
Take for example a forequarter of Wild Boar which coincidentally was the first thing I ever roasted. Stick a meathook through the hock. Join the meathooks with a swivel. Have a rail projecting forwards above the fire. Hang the meathook on the rail. To increase the temperature slide towards the fire, to decrease slide away. To turn the meat, twiddle it. That’s it.
But we have ignored the most important bit: starting the meat roasting. However long and slow you want to cook the meat, you must start with a seriously hot fire. And I mean hot. You must sear the joint, especially any cut surfaces, to seal the meat and keep the juices in. You do not want gravy. If you have lots of delicious gravy, throw the meat away. What the hell do you think gives the meat its taste? I used to roast 100lbs of beef a day at the Royal Show and at the end of the day I was worried if I had quarter of a pint of juices under the 7 or 8 pounds of dripping.
Don’t forget the dripping. When you cook meat, fat drips out. Save the fat, not only is it the most effective provider of calories, it is a vital cooking ingredient and makes a number of other techniques possible. The reason barbecues bugger meat rather than cooking it, is that if you get the meat close enough to sear it, when the fat drips it flares up, everyone chokes and the meat still isn’t sealed. To seal meat, hold the meat as close to the fire as possible until the meat changes colour. Don’t worry about hooks and swivels at this stage, just get the meat as close as possible.
I like to see steam coming off the meat within five seconds, and signs of charring in 30. Just try getting that sort of temperature in an oven. As an added bonus, this sort of heat ensures that any bugs you have smeared on the meat get killed. Once the meat is sealed, keep it turning in front of the fire until it is cooked.
Here we are back at the classic cookery question. How do you know if it is cooked? Well sure as shit I can’t tell you. You haven’t told me how you like your meat. And even if you do, how do I know that we mean the same thing. I like my steak blue, or, to use a classic phrase “just knock its horns off and wipe its ass” but not many people are so ostentatiously carnivorous. There is one basic rule. Don’t stick a knife in to check the juices. You have just spent hours keeping them in, what’s the point of letting them out just before you eat it?
If you prod the meat with a blunt implement, wooden spoon, knife handle etc you will discover cooked meat has a different feel to uncooked meat. If you have forgotten what uncooked meat feels like, prod your biceps when you aren’t tensing them. That’s uncooked meat. Basically meat gets firmer as it cooks. When it’s firm enough for you, eat it. Right, you have just learned another of those really basic cook’s techniques. Painless isn’t it!
The health scare industry would have you believe that meat must be cooked right through or it will kill you. This is true if you buy prepacked supermarket meat or this cook/chill crud. It is definitely true if you stuff meat. Right, here’s another basic cooking rule: Don’t stick things up birds’ arses. It is unsanitary and unhealthy and doesn’t make the bird taste any better. Although meat doesn’t need to be cooked right through for safety, stuffing does. It is damp, warm and soaks up a mixture of blood and bugs from where the guts were ripped. In other words the perfect breeding ground for disease. To get the stuffing cooked safely, you have to ruin the bird. Why stuff them? Probably Mrs. Beeton’s idea, but what would you expect of a publisher’s wife.
The perfect chicken, which I roasted at Holkham Hall with the Earl’s brother providing unneeded advice, and badly needed booze and piri piri sauce, took 17 minutes to cook. I spitchcocked it which means I split it up the backbone, flattened it, which involves putting it on a table and hammering it with my fist till it was flat. I then tied it to a wire coat hanger and hung it in front of the fire doing most of the cooking from the bone side. It was moist, tender and delicious. I hadn’t basted it, stuffed it or bought any tinfoil, mostly because none of those things make any difference to producing moist meat. Sealing the juices in makes moist meat.
Fish roast brilliantly, and you actually can tell when a trout is done. Put a meathook through the lower jaw and hang in front of a fire, twiddling regularly with the swivel. Place a plate under the fish. When it is cooked, the trout falls off the hook onto the plate. You can cook any fish by this method, though I will agree that whitebait are fiddly.
Now you can roast meat, I suppose it is time to think about how to carve it. Cutting edge technology to follow…
was going to suggest that it would be advantageous, and in your best interests, to acquire a good knife and learn to sharpen it. Crap. You can’t cook well without a good knife. It’s bloody hard work even cooking badly without one.
You can surround yourself with gadgets, magimixes, blenders, autochoppers and so on to your heart’s content, but the end result is mediocre at best – and if you take into account the waste of time washing the bloody things up, you might as well sling the whole lot in a bin.
If you are a woman, find a man who can sharpen knives and marry him. Or learn to sharpen knives. If you are a bloke, learn to sharpen knives. God knows, it’s simple enough. Go back 100 years, before the safety razor hit the scene, and every man was expected to expose his neck to an edge he had sharpened himself.
My reflex action when sharpening a knife is to check it on the hairs on the back of my hand. This explains why the back of my left hand is clean shaven. If my knives won’t shave me, they ain’t sharp. An alternative test for the nervous is to take a delicate slice from a ripe tomato. I once had the misfortune to listen to a highly qualified cordon bleu chef telling me that sharpening knives isn’t important and that you can always use a serrated knife on tomatoes. I restrained myself from telling her exactly what I thought of her and where she could put her cordon bleu diploma and instead took 17 slices off an over ripe cherry tomato with my carving knife while distinctly drunk. I have done the same with a meat cleaver when sober.
Serrated knives are, I am sure, absolutely brilliant if you like that sort of thing and can’t sharpen knives, but you can’t cook with them. They won’t give a clean cut when you want one, they mess up your cutting board and they look ugly. If they are so bloody good, why don’t they make cut-throat razors with serrated edges? The answer is simple. Nothing will beat a really good well honed edge.
One of the great pleasures of visiting India is being shaved in the street. My favourite barber was about ninety years older than God, and with either Parkinson’s disease or a serious drink problem. Being shaved by him was the lazy man’s equivalent of bungee jumping – lying there as a cut-throat razor wobbled its way towards my jugular, wondering if this would be the day my number would come up. But the shave was the best I have ever had, beating these triple bladed, turbocharged bits of plastic which masquerade as razors, and according to the adverts, guarantee you get laid by some really classy crumpet. And they don’t shave very well either.
By the way, if you decide to buy one of those knives that never needs sharpening, write to me, enclosing a stamped addressed envelope and a blank cheque. You are a mug and if everyone else is taking you for a ride, why shouldn’t I?
Sharpening knives perfectly is an art that takes years of rigorous training, vast moral self control and a code of ethics handed down for hundreds of years by the Sabatier sect. Alternatively, you can learn to sharpen knives pretty well, so that they will shave the back of your hand, or take millimetre thin slices off a ripe tomato, in half an hour.
Sharpening with a stone
Sharpening a knife is simply the process of trying to make the edge of the blade as thin as possible. This can be done by rubbing away surplus metal with a grindstone, whetstone, oilstone, steel, ceramic rod, leather strop or the palm of your hand. Anything will, given time, impart an edge to a blade. The coarser the grinding material the quicker the process… up to a point.
A grinding wheel will put a crude edge on a knife, but a good edge requires polishing. I only use a wheel when I am reshaping a knife.
Start with the coarse side of an oilstone. And don’t ask me what oil to use. I use three in one or cooking oil when I remember and water or beer or spit when I forget. Lay the blade on the stone at an angle of about 5 degrees. Ignore all the experts, and they are legion, who will tell you to sharpen at 20 degrees. This may give a great edge to a felling axe, but it doesn’t work on knives. With a circular motion, rub the knife on the stone trying to grind the whole blade evenly. [Lock your wrist to keep the angle as constant as possible and produce a V-shaped edge. If you let your wrist flop about as you grind, you’ll end up with a blunt U-shape – Ed]
Watch where the edge goes across the stone, to see if you are grinding the edge or whether you are still removing any shoulder that might have built up. After a minute or so, turn the knife over and repeat the process on the other side. Every so often test it on your thumb. When it draws blood, it is getting sharper.
Once you have an edge, repeat the process on the fine side of the stone to smooth the surface. Don’t worry, you can’t do anything like as much damage to your knife in half an hour with a stone, as you can with one pass of a blade through those appalling ‘patent knife sharpeners’. The scream of tortured metal when they are used makes me sick.
I recommend a circular motion over the stone as this will even out any inconsistencies in the stone, which is critical when it comes to survival. If you’re not marooned on the banks of the Green river where all the really great stones come from, you may have to settle for second best. All you need is an abrasive surface, a boulder, kerb stone, door stop, brick or even clay rubbed on a tree stump. If it’s abrasive, it will sharpen knives.
Sharpening with a steel
Now you should have a sharp knife, but it’s not in the cook’s class yet. The next stage is the steel. When I am giving cookery demonstrations I carry a ‘Neville ham knife’ which my wife bought at Nurdin and Peacock. With it I demonstrate that it is impossible to cut yourself when sharpening on a steel as long as you use Neville knives. This is because after 30 or 40 demonstrations I have still failed to get an edge on the bloody thing.
Sharpening real knives requires a different technique. First, get a usable steel. 98% of all steels ever made are useless for sharpening the knives they were sold with. With a steel, length counts. If you want to know what size steel you require, go into any supermarket and ask what is the longest steel they sell. Go away and buy one at least 50% longer. The steel must be at least four inches longer than the blade to make safe, efficient sharpening possible. A 14-inch steel is a sensible length for most purposes.
If you still have a butcher in your area, get to know him (Buying meat from him is a good way to achieve this). Look at the steel he uses (and if he isn’t using a steel, he isn’t a butcher). Butchers rub up their knives in the same way snooker players chalk their cues. It is a reflex before making a cut, whether across the joint or into the side pocket.
If your butcher is friendly, he will probably be prepared to order you a steel from his supplier. If you wish to piss him off, ask him for ‘one of those sharp knives you butchers use’. This is the same as asking a sniper if you can buy one of those sniper’s rifles that never misses.
The basic principle of safe sharpening is very simple. Hold your elbows so you can get your hands within a foot of each other but no closer. Now take a nine inch knife in your right hand and try cutting your left hand without moving your elbows. Surprise, surprise – you can’t do it. That is the whole principle of safe sharpening. Learn to hold your elbows still at a distance that makes cutting the other hand impossible.
Now you can relax and concentrate on the angle of the knife to the steel, confident that fingers are not going to land on the floor. Stage two is simple. Lay the edge of the base of the blade, half an inch down from the tip of the steel aiming for the same edge angle as when you were working on the stone. Now let the blade sweep like a wiper blade down the steel.
The knife is flicking through 90 degrees. It is not moving bodily; it is pivoting from the handle. This way your hands stay safely out of reach of each other. To practice the motions, get a blunt knife, wooden spoon or whatever. Once you are confident that you will not amputate valuable bits of your anatomy, try sharpening knives.
I collect knives on a casual basis, but I use knives seriously. As I explained to a Police officer in the House Of Lords, ‘I expect my knives to reduce any pig into delicate slices of meat in a few minutes’. I am still at liberty because I managed to persuade the officer concerned that I am a professional, if highly eccentric cook and I do expect my knives to carve a couple of hundred pounds of pork in an hour or so.
But then he knew, as well as I did, that if you want a serious weapon, a knife that will carve one lump of meat will carve any lump of meat irrespective of species or whether the meat is dead. The difference is that a cook’s knife is not on the whole a good killing knife. The British Army has always, for good reasons, preferred the point in combat, but this Dad’s Army ‘They don’t like it up em’ attitude is not so relevant when discussing survival or cook’s knives. Here the edge is all important.
I make a lot of my own knives, grinding down old carbon steel table knives or salvaging cook’s knives from incompetent cooks. I prefer carbon steel to stainless because I have always believed that the steel for a blade should be chosen for its ability to take and hold an edge rather than because it is easy to clean.
Forget the point. Most cooks use the point because the edge is dull. Sharpen the bloody edge. Go for a nice belly in the blade – a nice convex curve seriously improves cutting. My latest cut-down bone handled table knives have a near quadrant at the tip and cut unbelievably. I gave one to a friend with the warning ‘this knife is really sharp’, whereupon he tested it on his finger and then dripped blood on my carpet for the rest of the evening.
Remember, a knife is there to cut. The sharper the knife the better it cuts. The only way to ensure you always have a sharp knife is to learn to sharpen them yourself. Once you have learned, you will find endless blades lying unused, just waiting to be sharpened by someone who knows what they are doing.
Lesson Six: Pasta
© Simon Mulholland
The Italians have taken enormous credit over the years for their developement of pasta, and made a hero out of Marco Polo for stealing the idea from the Chinese. So let’s follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo and learn the art of making pasta. And I am sure it is an art.
Let’s start with Neapolitan pasta, the tricky one. Take an egg, a wooden spoon and a nice big mixing bowl. Crack the egg into the bowl. Take some strong white flour and stir it into the egg a little at a time. (Strong white flour has more gluten, the sticky bit, which is a protein, than plain flour. This makes it better for bread and pasta. Durum wheat flour, which foodies and Italians swear by, is a strong white flour with a bloody great big price tag on it.)
The important bit is to do lots of stirring. As the mixture thickens you will find it becomes not only unbelievably sticky, but elastic as well, forming long strings. Keep adding flour a little at a time and stirring like a daft thing until the dough forms a ball round the spoon.
What the hell do I mean ‘forms a ball round the spoon’? If you want to find out, do it. Suddenly the dough comes away from the bowl and wraps itself round the spoon. OK this is another of those basic techniques you have to learn, and you have just learned it.
Scrape the dough off the spoon onto a smooth floured surface. Sprinkle the dough with a little extra flour and start kneading it. Most cookbooks get over this difficult stage by saying mix thoroughly and knead well. Kneading, as I explain to my five year old daughter, is the process of folding and squodging the dough. Hilary gives me a withering look. I taught her whole class this when she was four and she finds repetition boring. But for those who haven’t learned to fold and squodge as four year olds, here goes.
Take your ball of dough and flatten it a bit. Fold in half, left side over right, or vice versa. With the heel of your hand press down and away letting the dough roll under your hand. Turn it through 90 degrees, or don’t bother, fold and squodge again. As you continue you will find you have sticky bits of dough adhering to your hands. Don’t worry, it’ll wash off… Oh sorry, you’re not a bunch of four year olds – but it will still wash off.
Dust your hands and the board with flour if you find things are geting too sticky. Use as little flour as you can. Working the dough reduces the stickiness, and the dough needs to be worked. After a bit the dough gets more resilient and when poked with a finger, springs back at you. When it is firm and springy, stop and rest the dough. Dough rests very much the same way people do but without the snores. Lay it down somewhere, wrapped in plastic if you’ve got some, and leave it alone for half an hour or so.
Now roll it out with a rolling pin, empty wine bottle, GPMG barrel or whatever and cut into amusing shapes. Give them fanciful Italian names and boast how clever you are for 500 years or so.
God it’s embarrassing being a cookery writer. I’ve had to mention my five year old daughter to get to more than a page and as well as making pasta I’ve still managed to teach you the basic processes of mixing and kneading which are central to producing chappatis, bread, croissants or doughnuts.
And that’s it. Oh, any pasta that isn’t Neapolitan starts with a glug of water instead of the egg. And that really is it. It’s that simple. If you don’t believe me, try it.
Lesson Seven: Ignorance and death
© Simon Mulholland
Later in this course we’ll see how ignorance can be fatal. In this lesson, however, I want to address the death of other living things so that you can live.
Eating something tends to lead to its death. In the case of larger quadrupeds, birds, fish etc, preparing and eating the item is considerably easier when it is dead.
For those of a squeamish disposition, we might pretend that the animals concerned have been ‘put to sleep’ before we start disembowelling them. Actually if anybody tries to put me to sleep by driving a steel bolt through the front of my skull and then slitting my throat I will be more than a trifle irritated by their appallingly inaccurate use of English.
If you want to survive, it’s time to face facts. Meat comes off animals. The animals do not commit suicide, or gently slip into a deep sleep. We kill them.
If you are vegetarian, don’t worry. Plenty of animals die for you too. Vegetarians conveniently ignore the slaughter that goes on in their name, hiding behind honest carnivores to preserve their specious morality.
For the record, to get milk from a cow it must have had a calf that year. That calf might go on to produce milk itself, but unfortunately there is a 50:50 chance it is a bull (See the section on Foraging for advice on milking bulls). Even before Artificial Insemination, farmers reckoned on one bull to 50 cows, so for every hundred born, 49 males are shot for milk. Of the 50 heifers, given a 6 year herd replacement cycle, 17 will be needed. QED another 33 will be shot for milk.
So your concerned, animal-loving vegetarian is responsible for the death of 66% of all the pretty little calves. The fact that you and I eat the meat is irrelevant. 66% of the calves are killed to produce milk; we just eat the dead bodies to save waste.
I don’t bring this up just to annoy vegetarians. Some of my best friends are vegetarians. I bring this up because if you want to survive, you can’t afford illusions about food. Modern society is supposedly honest about sex, (ie. it publishes the intimate lies of irrelevant celebrities) but is unbelievably coy about food.
Religions have always gone in for ritual slaughter. The word Holocaust actually means burned whole, as in burned offering. High days and holidays put a major dent in the local animal populations. The Emperor Julian, renowned for trying to reintroduce the worship of the true Gods in the Roman Empire, is best remembered for his slaughter of the local cattle in innumerable religious services. Things don’t change much. To celebrate the birth of Christ, we slaughter turkeys on a scale Julian couldn’t have contemplated, but we won’t be remembered for this slaughter. We won’t even admit it.
I have almost given up roasting meat at public functions because of the sanctimonious crap I get. Every bloody time I cook a leg of pork I get some pathetic teenager telling me it’s cruel because I always leave the trotters on. I have asked till I’m blue in the face what’s so bloody kind about cutting pigs feet off but I never get an answer.
Of course I know the answer! With the feet on, you can see that the meat was once part of an animal. When it’s a burger or a shrink-wrapped portion, you can pretend it isn’t. Well if you want to survive, get honest. And if this country is going to survive, we cannot continue to feed our children a diet of lies about food.
One of the few pleasures of cooking meat in public is the inevitable group of teenage girls who come up to me as I cook yet another large lump of meat to say ‘We’re vegetarian!’. God knows whether their parents have attempted to teach them manners; they certainly haven’t attempted to teach them about agriculture or logic.
‘Do you eat organic vegetables?’ I ask innocently.
‘Oh yes, of course we do’ they simper.
‘Well do you think any farmer can afford to keep a cow just to crap on your lettuce?’ I ask.
They may be vegetarian, and they may be organic and they may, as they claim, care about their planet, but they can only remain ignorant and hypocritical as long as they can buy their food in Sainsbury’s. If you’re trying to survive in the back of beyond, you’re going to have to face facts – and start killing things.
Lesson Eight: Fire
© Simon Mulholland
I don’t care how some vanishing tribe in the Amazon Jungle lights fires, matches are a lot easier. Swan Vestas embedded in candlewax don’t get wet, don’t fall out of the bloody box the whole time and do light when you want them to. 100 Swan vestas is a lot of fires. In addition, unlike a lighter, you know exactly how many fire lighting ‘events’ you have left.
As always in survival, you need to forget the romantic nonsense and get real.
You are going to need dry wood once you have lit your Swan vesta/flint/boy scout, so the first step is get some dry fire starting materials.
I learned my firelighting techniques from a cowboy on the upper reaches of the Ouse. In fact I was a cowboy on the upper reaches of the Sussex Ouse, merrily rounding up grants from East Sussex District Council for their ‘slash and burn’ campaign against Dutch Elm Disease. We will ignore the many ways cowboy tree surgeons wasted the ratepayers’ money, removing dying trees from the gardens of the rich, and burning them to kill the dreaded Elm Bark Beetle and cook the occasional sausage.
Surprise surprise, it didn’t work. But I did learn to light fires. Elm, apart from being nearly unsplittable, is almost unburnable. It is seriously soggy when green and needs a gas axe to get it lit, but if you understand the basic principles of lighting a fire, you can burn it by the ton.
Rule one. Don’t build a bloody wigwam. There is nothing more conducive to a useless fire than criss-crossed bits of wood. Playing spillikins is a suitable occupation for the very young, indoors. Playing it outside in pissing rain when trying to rescue a fire from some prat who tries to build wigwams, is a serious pain in the neck.
Amendment to Rule One. Get a Native American and the requisite pinon pine logs and the wigwam theory works. Mostly because ultra dry logs, seriously impregnated with natural pitch etc, burn in almost any position, even bloody wigwams. You can do the same with firelighters. Arrange them in a wigwam and they burn.
Back to the fire. Assemble all the really flammable material you can find, and build the smallest fire you can. A foot across is too bloody big. Brambles, by the way, even green, are remarkably flammable, if a touch scratchy to deal with. Keep adding lengths of material to the fire, and keep them parallel.
At this stage you are creating the heart of a fire. Get this stage right and you can burn anything. Get it wrong and you will have to pull the whole thing apart and start again, having wasted the best and driest materials. As you can see, time spent now will be repaid handsomely later. Keep adding progressively thicker material in progressively longer lengths, up to three feet long and a couple of inches diameter. Now listen for the fire to start talking to you.
You should be getting some good snap, crackle and pop noises, not the pathetic noises over-priced breakfast cereals produce. Once the fire is talking away well, stop adding material and let it burn out through the middle. Meanwhile, get collecting all the thicker timber that is going to give you real heat.
Once the middle has burned out, you should have some hot ashes and two neat stacks of burned off ends in nice parallell rows. Level the ashes a bit and build a slightly wider fire using the ends which are nice and warm. Now add progressively bigger timber, and greener timber, but keep it bloody parallel.
You should now have a seriously hot centre, and can burn nearly anything, or cook anything. When you want to cook, let the middle burn out, remove the burned off ends and save in a dry place and start cooking.
Don’t prod the ashes. This gives a brief flare of heat, mostly wasted, and kills the fire. Cooking on an open fire relies on getting all the heat needed in the ashes before the cooking starts. The minute you have to top up the fire to finish cooking, you know the fire wasn’t big enough in the first place. It should be obvious that putting cold wood between the hot ashes and the pot does not speed cooking.
A simple fire in the open provides practice for learning the basic principles, but to get the maximum benefit from a fire, try to build in a natural fireplace. This can be against a bank, between rocks, or even in the eroded mud of the Essex coastline. Where the tide washes out narrow gullies in the mud, it provides a perfect site for a small charcoal and driftwood fire. The heat can only go up, or out the front, giving maximum effective cooking for minimum fuel. Fuel economy is the one thing cowboy tree surgeons never learn. I would happily burn ten tons of timber to cook one sausage, mainly because the council were paying me large amounts of money to burn ten tons of timber and I might as well have a sausage before I sloped off down the pub.
The scenario is slightly different when survival matters. If you are surrounded by easily available inflammable material, you don’t have to worry about fuel economy. But assuming that fuel economy is a problem, try to build an effective fireplace. The size of fireplace will be dictated by a number of factors: the number of people, the amount of fuel, the size of cooking pots and any quarry you might wish to cook. It will also depend whether you have read my article on Roasting meat. If you have, you will appreciate that the front face of a fire is the bit that can roast meat, or fish or eggs or whatever.
It is possible, when roasting, to add fuel to the fire during the cooking process. Meat roasts from the heat of the front of the fire which is only slightly reduced by the addition of fuel to the top of the fire.
Fireplace design has occupied vast amounts of skilled artisans, scientists, advertising agencies and the like. The conclusion seem to be, you need two sides and a back. A grate at the front is a plus. That’s it. The back and sides can be anything reasonably fireproof, and this includes rotten old logs. The grate needs to be metal, but you can use old chicken wire, reinforcing rods, bits of cars or supermarket trolleys. It is a remarkable fact that wherever you go in the world today, some bastard has been before and left a supermarket trolley. Luckily supermarket trolleys make superb grates and cooking grills.
Once you have lit your fire and cooked your food, the next secret is keeping the fire in, ie with enough heat to start again without using a match or your dwindling store of boy scouts. Gently cover the surface with as much green wood as possible and then some soil or turf to exclude the air all round. Given care, when you open up the fire in a few hours the green timber will now be at least dry, if not charcoal. Charcoal is the product of incomplete combustion of wood and is a seriously brilliant substance.
Charcoal fuelled the Bronze Age. In fact if we wish to be pedantic – and who doesn’t – the Bronze Age could be more accurately described as the Charcoal Age. You cannot smelt ore with wood; you can with charcoal. The same is true of the Iron Age. Iron Age settlements were around deposits of Iron Ore if forests were present. If there were no forests, the settlements were in the forest nearest the ore. The timber to produce the charcoal was of more importance than the ore.
Charcoal was also essential for the manufacture of gunpowder. Alder charcoal and the saltpetre from a Bishop’s urine were considered the best for accurate pistol work. No wonder they banned handguns. But the reason I rabbit on about charcoal is not that I expect you to smelt your own bronze or kidnap a bishop to make gunpowder. I am even ignoring charcoal’s role in the Gulf War in gas masks. It is just that, well before all these soldiers got involved in the act, cooks knew that charcoal was the best fuel going. It is light to carry, easy to light and gives out serious heat with minimal smoke.
I am not talking about the charred mangrove swamp sold for barbecues in the UK. Get hold of a local charcoal burner and pay his extortionate prices for charcoal; it is worth every penny. Any time your fire isn’t cooking, it can be smouldering away, hopefully producing charcoal. Build up a stock for the day the fire goes out, or when you want to move camp and take a fire with you. This is the best fuel you will ever get and you can make it yourself anywhere you can get timber.
Like everything else, practice at home. Throw those fithy, stinking firelighters away. Bin the gas barbecue. Don’t even talk to me about electric barbecues. They’ll be selling sodding indoor microwave barbecues next. Get out there. Get your hands dirty. Light a fire, but allow yourself one match and kindling wood. No newspaper, no lighter fuel and no bloody piezo ignition. Build a barbecue on the ground and sit on the grass; you don’t have to pose like some ageing rocker playing a synthesiser. There’s no point concentrating on the cooking, barbecues ruin almost everything except sweetcorn, asparagus and mussels.
Just as an aside, 40 gallon drums were carefully developed as the best and most sensible vessels for shipping liquids. They were not developed for making brilliant barbecues and they don’t make brilliant barbecues. They make very big, very inefficient barbecues which waste loads of charcoal. Lamb feeders are a different ballgame. Basically a six inch pipe, sawn in half with little legs and about six foot long. Take your SA80 and shoot a few holes in the bottom for fun, (sorry, ventilation) and light a couple of fires. As the fires creep sideways the hot cooking area gradually moves, but you always have hot, medium and cool areas. In other words an efficient cooker.
And that’s it. Oh, I nearly forgot Rule Two: Shoot anybody who fiddles with your fire. For some reason blokes just can’t resist poking things into other people’s fires. This is on a par with pissing in someone’s boots or shagging their girlfriend. The death penalty is too good for them.
© Simon Mulholland
When Napoleon commented ‘an army marches on its stomach’, he was notorious for not provisioning his own troops. Today’s soldier expects regular nutritious food provided on time, but he has lost the ability to forage.
This is not just lack of practice. Ignorance is the culprit. Ignorance can kill you. Even after you have read all the ‘survival guides’ and can spot a dandelion at seventy paces, you can still walk over a third of a ton of healthy nutritious food every mile of apparently barren ground, and never notice it. And all because you have read in one of the ‘survival handbooks’ that ‘one young leaf of a horseradish in a backwoods stew will be welcome flavouring’.
Stop looking in the hedgerows for bloody flavouring. Look in the fields for food. What do you think the farmers are doing? Despite all the crap you will read in the papers about the state of British Agriculture, remember one simple fact. 99% of the world’s food comes from farms. The remaining 1% comes from hunter/gatherers, of whom the commercial fishing fleets are the biggest by far.
Forget all the nonsense. If you want food, go to a farm. With the rare exception of wars fought about oil, wars are fought because one country wants part, or all of another country and the bits they want have water and produce food. The Gulf War was a freak, not just because it was about oil. Have you ever calculated how many of the national leaders who fought to overthrow Saddam Hussein, are still in power?
I mentioned one third of a ton of food per mile on apparently bare ground. How do you find it? If a farmer wants food to come out of the ground, he must put something in – not just shit, seed as well. If the farmer want lots of potatoes, he has to put some small potatoes, known as seed potatoes, in the ground.
You need to be able to look at farmland and assess what the farmer is growing, what stage it is at, and whether it is worth stealing. For this reason I am adapting various parts of my Field Guide to Fields, to military purposes. This book was originally started to stop the murderous tendencies that arise when children ask, ‘How much further have we got to go?’ when you are still in sight of your own house. I decided on a version of rural I-Spy, trying to work out what was in the fields we drive past.
Book shops are loaded with guides to birds, bees, bugs, wild flowers, fungi, rare mosses and even stones, but there is no guide to what farmers are doing in the fields. Dozens of books will help you to differentiate between the Little Grebe and the Slavonian Grebe, but nothing exists to identify whether you are looking at one of the 1.6 million acres of barley or the 1.8 million acres of wheat. In time of war you may decide that the Grebes are just slightly less important.
Effective foraging means knowing what might be around and how to find it. What is the earliest date at which it is worth investigating a field of wheat? What does an apple tree look like and when will it have apples? Am I looking at kale or sugar beet? Can I get milk from that animal over there?
It is worth doing a little research before you try to milk a bull. Equally you would be a right prat to kill an animal for meat which might be prepared to supply regular milk. [On one of those survival programmes on the telly, four squaddies on survival training caught a ferret. They could have used it to catch dozens of rabbits, and lived like kings for the rest of the week. Instead the silly bastards killed it, cooked it – and then found it tasted so vile they couldn’t eat it! – Ed]
© Simon Mulholland
Let’s forget all the woodcraft, sneaking like an Indian (sorry, Native American) through the undergrowth without leaving a mark or making a sound. It looks easy on film, but that’s because they can turn off the microphones and touch up the negatives.
Alternatively we can turn to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels for more useful advice. Granny Weatherwax, an aged witch, says: “My old Dad always used to say, a bad hunter chases, a good hunter waits.”
Watch a heron standing motionless until an eel or frog comes within range; a kingfisher waiting to drop off a twig; or a pike lurking with jaws just ready to receive any unwary morsel. The cheetah makes great television, but the leopard lazing on a branch ready to drop down on its dinner is the better hunter.
The lion is of course the perfect hunter. He sends out his numerous wives to drive game past him. And when he kills he doesn’t muck around sharing with the workers but eats his fill first. A natural officer.
I once had four miles of double bank trout fishing in Sussex, or to be more accurate I never met anyone else when I was poaching it. Over the years I had some marvellous moments teaching worms to swim. I will never forget one gorgeous afternoon, sitting on the river bank, can of beer in one hand and a fag in the other, watching a heron sharing my pool.
The river was only 10 feet across at the widest and the pool not more than 20 feet long. The fish were ignoring my Sussex fly (a worm cunningly tied to resemble a worm), but I had the pleasure of watching a true artist fish. After taking out some 20 tiddlers, the heron flapped off, only to be replaced by a kingfisher who calmly took another ten from all round my float before moving off.
I had a brief flurry of activity when the cow parsley stem I was using as a float started to jerk upstream. “I too can catch fish,” I thought, as I waited for the trout to stop mucking around and take a proper mouthful so I could strike. Unfortunately he had taken a proper mouthful and when I struck this two inch long trout came out of the water at 90 mph and smacked into the tree behind me.
Feeling a little foolish, I chucked the corpse on the path next to me, stuck on another worm and cast again. To my surprise, a mink came out of the rocks, looked round and proceeded to eat the tiddler I had just killed. After licking its paws, it ambled off. Reckoning I had had my lot with the local wildlife, I opened another can, lit a fag and settled down to some serious fishing.
Pretty soon I sat up with a jerk as something was thrashing like mad in the thorn bush above my head. A sparrowhawk was calmly finishing off a blackbird six feet from my head. To complete the afternoon, I heard a scuffling downstream followed by a squeal. I guessed a fox had got the rabbit, but couldn’t believe it when a foxcub appeared a minute later with a young rabbit in its jaws. I swear to God it had brought the thing to me to show off. After a minute or so, it turned and walked off, smug as anything.
I don’t tell this story to boast of my skills as a stalker or hide builder or to show my stoical ability to endure hours without moving in the pursuit of wildlife. I polished of a six pack and most of a packet of cigarettes while watching and shifted my bum whenever it got uncomfortable. The animals knew I wasn’t hunting them. I was just sitting there quietly, hunting something else, and no animal worries if you are hunting something else.
By the way this isn’t some extrasensory perception crap. Animals can be fooled. I have shot about 15 mink by my tried and tested method. Find where they hang around. Take a deck chair, a good book and enough booze and fags to keep you occupied. When the mink comes to investigate, blow his head off.
This matter of fooling animals about your intentions has other implications. If you want to get across a shooting estate without the gamekeeper seeing you, you can use all the fancy camouflage gear you like, ensuring that the human eye can’t pick you out at five paces. Unfortunately the magpies, jays, crows and other local wildlife aren’t so easy to fool. The keeper may not be able to see you, but he knows where you are, and that the birds and animals think you are a threat.
You have a better chance, wandering openly and concentrating your whole mind on Shakespeare’s use of puns in Measure for Measure. Animals don’t see literary prats as a threat, and ever since I got the A-level, neither do I.
There is a second skill that is needed. The ability to see. Anyone can look, and they normally frighten the quarry in the process. It is the ability to see which needs training. I used to live on a narrowboat and one day I happened to comment to a fellow boater that I loved seeing the kingfishers on the canal. “But I’ve lived on the canals for three years and never seen a kingfisher,” he said, obviously thinking I was a congenital liar.
We were just below Watford, in good kingfisher area, so I looked out of the window to see if I might be lucky. I was. Sitting on his bow was a kingfisher, using the boat as a fishing perch. Once he had seen one, he saw them all the time. It is the ability to see. You probably find when you get a new make of car, suddenly you see them everywhere. Your eye has become attuned to the shape.
The first time I ever saw Indian elephants in the wild, it took me ten minutes to identify them. They were standing about 60 yards away in the trees. Once I saw them, I could no longer understand how anyone could not see them. If you are going to be sent to an area like Africa where living off the wildlife is a realistic proposal, go to a zoo or a safari park and learn to see the animals. It just might save your life.
For the rest of the hunting skills, you can practise while waiting for a bus or even the tube. I love watching the mice scavenging round the rails, but nobody else seems to see them. Maybe I am mad, but I think it is more likely that the vast majority of the population simply can’t see.
© Simon Mulholland
Every one else is jumping on the health bandwagon, so I might as well stick my oar in. Roasting venison and wild boar round the county show circuit, I listened to enough bullshit from Environmental Health Officers to provide organic manure for most of Europe, so you might as well get the benefit of my experience.
The only legal requirement in a kitchen under environmental health regulations is a nailbrush. £2,000 fine if you haven’t got one. This legislation is heavily enforced, partly I think because it is simple enough for even an Environmental Health Officer to understand. But if you talk to your local Health Authority, they will tell you that a nailbrush in a kitchen is a serious health hazard and that they have been telling the Environmental Health Officers this for years.
I came up with the perfect solution. I have a nailbrush screwed to my portable sink unit. This means they can’t fine me two grand ‘cos I’ve got a nailbrush, and my customers are safe because I can’t use it. With this sort of legislation floating around, is it any wonder that the steady increase in the number of Environmental Health Officers matches the steady rise in food poisoning?
I must be careful what I say about the ‘Prats in Hats’ as they were fondly known on the County Show Circuit. They may be idiots, but they are vindictive idiots. The last time I was stupid enough to ask them for advice, I got a dawn raid instead. And all I asked was “Can I make fresh mayonnaise?”
Healthy cooking in the field is a lot easier than keeping Environmental Health Officers happy. For a start, you can use common sense. Firstly it is important to understand the processes involved in food poisoning. The microscopic disease organisms – bacteria, moulds and viruses – need to be present in sufficient numbers to cause problems.
If you start with a healthy source of food – a freshly caught, healthy animal, fish or bird, or a freshly picked, healthy vegetable – there will not be enough bacteria present to kill you. OK, I can think of exceptions: lobsters feeding on corpses, mussels on a sewage outfall etc. This is where common sense comes in. You have just caught it, what do you think, and equally, how hungry are you? Safety is all a matter of percentages. If you are really starving, a 10 per cent chance of food poisoning is acceptable. If you are mildly peckish after lunch, it’s stupid.
So we accept that fresh food is inherently safe. Cook it immediately and eat it immediately, and it is safer still. The heat will deal with any minor risks. Storing food is the dangerous bit. To increase (i.e. breed) to dangerous levels, the disease organisms require four factors: Food, Warmth, Moisture and Time.
Food you can’t do much about. On the whole, what you think is food, the disease organisms also think is food. There are exceptions: Sugar and fat. [ In fact, as every microbiologist knows, many bacteria and fungi love sugar. They just can’t stick being submerged in the stuff. To impress your friends, tell them it’s because of the osmotic pressure – Ed ] Sugar is the basis of most traditional fruit storage systems, commonly known as jam.
To make jam, get your fruit and don’t fill the pan more than one third full. Simmer it to get the juices to run. Boil it for a bit if it looks really sloppy. When it thickens, add about the same weight of sugar that there was fruit. Too much sugar may make the jam too sweet, but it will keep. Now boil it hard for about twenty minutes and as the jam foams over the top and all over the kitchen you say, “Now I know why he said don’t fill the pan above a third”. Let it cool and put it in jars. Now fiddle around with little circles of cellophane and rubber bands until you lose your temper. Say “Sod it,” and put some clingfilm over the top. Leave it for a week, a month or however long you like.
Ten to one you will have mould growing on the top. My aged and infirm mother (don’t worry Mum, the Environmental Health Officers aren’t quite as vicious with little old ladies so I’ll blame this one on you) always used to say, as she scraped off the mould, “It’s Penicillin dear, it’ll do you good!” I can’t say it ever did us any harm, and it was great jam.
Oh, by the way, that’s just covered jam making. If you want it to set perfectly to impress the local WI, well we’ve all got our problems. The essential fact you need to know is that excess sugar is a preservative.
Fat is an alternative storage medium. Pork pies are encased in hot water crust pastry, evil bloody stuff which for some reason I still can’t make properly. The effect is to cook the meat in fat and let it cool in the casing. Cooking kills off the bacteria, and the fat stops any new bacteria getting in.
What I find fascinating about pork pies is that they are the only true paté on sale in England today. Paté is called paté because it is made in a pastry case, paté being French for pastry. A terrine is made in an earthenware dish, terre being French for earth. This means most of the stuff being flogged as paté is technically Plastique.
Survival cooks should look seriously at pork pies, avoiding like the plague any that are sold in petrol stations or supermarkets. Well made, they are delicious, and provide a safe, effective storage medium. When I can get it right, there will be a hyperlink to Pork Pies.
With the exception of sugar and fat, all other foods are food for disease organisms, so depriving the organisms of food isn’t an option.
Lugging chillers around is not funny. I’ve done it all round the county show circuit. The bloody things weigh a ton and never work when you get them there. The only reason for carting them around is to shut up the Prats in Hats. Cooling by evaporation works. This is the damp cloth over the top principle. The trouble is that, in most places where warmth is a problem and where the relative humidity is low enough to make evaporative cooling effective, water is likely to be in short supply.
My classic experience with Environmental Health Officers, and the one that finally convinced me they should be insulted on all possible occasions, involves evaporative cooling. My wife had poured milk from a major retail chain onto the kids’ breakfast when our eldest promptly spat it out. I tried some and did the same. It tasted like battery acid. We called the Prats in Hats who took the offending sample away for testing. After a preliminary attempt to persuade me my wife had lied about where she bought the milk, the Prats in Hats finally told me the reason the milk was off was “the thundery weather”.
The old wives’ tale that thunder turns milk sour is perfectly true, but only when the old wife is covering it with a damp cloth and using evaporative cooling. Thunder tends to mean high humidity, and high humidity stops evaporative cooling from working, so the milk goes off. The Prats in Hats would apparently like me to believe that at least one major retail chain keeps its dairy cool by covering it with a damp cloth.
You can’t do much about moisture, beyond keeping what is dry, dry. Onions, which keep for ever in a coolish, dry place, go mouldy with the first raindrop. Try it. It’s amazing.
Lots of foods can be dried, and some of them are edible afterwards. Mushrooms dry well, but see my introduction. So do tomatoes. And worms. Drying food has been used as a storage medium for millennia and it is remarkably effective, even if urban foodies think it an exciting new development. Biltong, pemmican, jerky, bresaola, Parma ham and bacon are dried meats. Smoked salmon, kippers and Bombay Duck are dried fish. Hay is dried vegetable. I’m not kidding.
The nutritious value of greens, in survival terms, is sod all. Forget them. Seeds are a different matter. Wheat, rice, maize, barley, oats and rye are all sun dried grass seeds. Peas, beans, lentils and even the dreaded soya are pulses, and loaded with protein. Dhal and chapattis, the classic North Indian dish, numbers 68 and 73 to you lot, is not only delicious, it is simple to make (see Bread, and Hand Woven Lentil Sandals) and according to Major General Sir Robert McCarrison, Director of Research on Nutrition, India (1936), the Sikh diet, which relies heavily on dhal and chapattis, is the healthiest going.
This is not women’s magazines health crap, this is serious research, dated maybe, but McCarrison ran long term experiments with rat populations on various native diets and the Sikh diet won hands down. If the Sikh generals had been as good as their diet they might have done better in the various Sikh wars of the 19th century, but it was their tactics that lost, not their men.
None of the above factors matter if the food is eaten quickly. It therefore makes sense when you have any high risk food – meat, cooked grain and pulses, fish and shellfish – to eat them as soon as possible. If that means gorging yourself, so be it. Lay down fat inside yourself. It won’t do you any harm so long as you don’t read any women’s magazines. The stress of worrying about cellulite could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Seriously, inside your body is the best way to store excess food. It doesn’t go off, it’s always there when you need it, and you can’t leave it behind. It is also in the most energy efficient format, giving maximum energy for weight with no added packaging, and it helps to insulate you against cold. What more could you want?
I will be looking at all the pre cookbook methods of curing in the future, mostly because they produce some bloody superb food. Parma ham, biltong, smoked salmon, even sun dried tomato… my mouth is watering already. Every one of them is a traditional peasant food, handed down by generations of yokels before a bunch of urban foodies jacked up the price and screwed up the product.
Lesson Twelve: Raclette
© Simon Mulholland
Raclette sets come in a wide variety of styles, materials, fuels, and in a narrow range of prices, from seriously overpriced to “How Much???!!”.
Raclette, like fondue, is a Swiss device to seperate skiers from their cash and involves selling a little bit of potato with an even littler bit of melted cheese – with the absolute maximum of bullshit and equipment.
This amalgam of cookery, theatre and mugging arose from a simple discovery by some unusually stupid Swiss peasant who left a large cheese on a hot hearthstone. Surprise, surprise, it melts. Gosh who would have thought it etc. etc.
Scraping up the melted cheese, said peasant put it on some cooked potato and ate the result. The Swiss Tourist Board, desperate as usual for cash, hailed this as a revolutionary invention since at this stage the Swiss had not invented cuckoo clocks.
It would be churlish to point out that every civilisation has discovered that cheese melts and have subsequently smeared it over everything in sight. In fact the only proof that the US of A is civilised, comes from the fact that they will coat almost anything in cheese sauce.
Remember the quote from Archestratus (Survival cooking page)? Even in 350 BC, melted cheese was passé:
“…here is the best way to dress that fish: wrap it in fig leaves with a little marjoram. No cheese, no nonsense! Just place it gently in fig leaves and tie them up with a string, then put it under hot ashes…”
OK, so the Swiss were right on one thing, potato with cheese is better than potato without cheese. And in survival terms, cheese is good as it provides an effective, safe and tasty long-term storage system for milk (see Health).
The modern, turbo charged, high-tech raclette device provides a flat surface on which one can fry, and an area underneath where one can grill. A rock, heated in the fire and supported a couple of inches off the ground, does very much the same thing but wouldn’t work in Islington. But if you are bored, out in the wilds of Bosnia and you have a fire and a rock, and maybe some cheese and potato, you can pretend you are in a snug little flat in Islington pretending to be in a peasant’s chalet in Switzerland. It all seems a little pointless really.
Actually there is a point. Raclette sets are simple if overpriced table top cookers. You can play around and practice cooking, trying different combinations and techniques without screwing up a whole meal if something goes wrong. Raclettes are also safer than fondues if anything goes wrong because there isn’t a tidal wave of burning meths and boiling oil if someone gets too drunk and tips the bloody thing over.
The cheapest place I know to get Raclette sets in the UK is the Cheese Shop at Liverpool Street Station [ International Cheese Centre, 020Ê7628Ê2343 ]. Tell them you were recommended to them by Combat-Online, which should really wind the poor buggers up. If you’re expecting me to give you a load of raclette recipes, forget it. The top fries; underneath it grills. If something fries in a pan, it will on a raclette. Ditto grilling. Endex.
Lesson Thirteen: Gravadlax & Bimbos
© Simon Mulholland
“Paper thin slices of wild salmon, marinated to an ancient Viking recipe and caressed with a delicate dill dip, blah blah blah…” This is the school of menu writing so brilliantly parodied by Monty Python with their “Dew fresh Iranian frog, lightly killed”.
Gravadlax is an example of a peasant recipe – a desperate attempt to keep something edible through the winter – which foodies have appropriated and imbued with mystic properties. Like most of the garbage talked about cooking, it is total crap. Making Gravadlax could hardly be simpler.
To make Gravadlax:
Take equal volumes of sugar and salt and half that much dill. Mix it together. Get bits of salmon, coat them in this dry mix and put in a bowl. Put a plate on top of the fish, with a nice heavy weight on it to keep the fish under pressure. After a day, turn the fish over and put the weight back. The next day eat it, and, er… that’s it.
Don’t panic about the quantities too much, I always lose count anyway. As a guess you want about a mug full of the salt-sugar-dill mix to every couple of pounds of fish. And I am not going to work in bloody kilos till the French go decimal themselves. Have you ever seen them sell wine in cases of ten? When they decimalise their wine cases I will join them.
The salt and the sugar are the active ingredients in this mix, and do the preserving. Dill is just there because the Scandinavians like it. Actually, if you are mucking around at home, showing off your skills, it is worth using Maldon Sea Salt, which I consider the best salt going, and that really sticky soft brown sugar. Add fresh dill, tenderly picked etc, and you’ve got a really great dish.
I know it’s not relevant to survival, but rather than wasting a fortune dragging some girl to a flash restaurant, have you considered making a little gravadlax, knocking up a dill and mustard mayonnaise, putting a cloth on the table, lighting a candle and getting your leg over on the cheap.
Talking of which… Mayonnaise
Despite all the bullshit, mayonnaise is not very difficult to make. I saw an article in a TV cookery magazine where some bimbo was raving about what a great chef her partner was. “He even makes his own mayonnaise”. Don’t tell me he’s learned to tie his shoe laces as well.
Back to impressing bimbos. Get an egg. If it’s been in the fridge, chuck it at the person who put it there and get another one. Eggs, freshly extruded from a chicken’s arse (birds economise and use one hole for everything), are at their very best and very safest. Sticking them in a fridge is more likely to infect everything else in the fridge; after all, the crap is on the outside of the egg shell.
Crack the egg (see Astonauts and omelettes if you need help on this one), separate it, and put the yolk in a warm mixing bowl. This actually matters. Cold eggs in a cold mixing bowl are a pain in the neck. Anyway, there you have an egg yolk in a mixing bowl. I don’t know what sized egg you started with and even if I did, I wouldn’t have a clue what size yolk came out of it, so going into pretentious precise measurements would be a bit silly wouldn’t it. Not that that stops other cookery writers; I’m just naturally lazy.
Now add a slurp of tarragon-scented French white wine vinegar, or any other convenient acid. In most cases where a recipe calls for vinegar, acid is what is needed. In vinegar this is acetic acid, i.e. the acid derived from the alcohol, ethanol. The citric acid in lemons or limes works just as well, as does the acetic acid in NBC, the stuff provided in chip shops. In this case NBC does not mean ‘nuclear, biological and chemical’; it stands for Non Brewed Condiment, i.e. watered down industrial acetic acid.
Which acid you choose to use is a simple matter of taste and availability. 5% hydrochloric acid would probably work and if you call it muriatic acid, you will sound like a cookery writer and hordes will flock to their favourite supermarket to empty the shelves. Why, out of interest are they called supermarkets? The main, perhaps the only benefit of a market, is the ability to choose between different suppliers by an instant comparison of cost and quality. The one thing you can’t do in any supermarket is compare cost or quality with any of their rivals.
But back to impressing bimbos. You’ve got your egg yolk, a slosh of acid, less in volume than the egg yolk, I think. I have never yet made mayonnaise to the same recipe twice, and indeed I have never made it to the recipe of mine that Shooting Times published in a cookery article on fondues. See my fondue article and you will detect no recipes and no need for recipes, but Shooting Times won’t run a cookery page without recipes. I needed the cash so I wrote one. Don’t use it.
Get a balloon whisk, beat the egg yolk and acid, and now for the bit where cookery writers can get seriously lyrical about wasting your time and energy. “Add the oil drop by drop to the egg and acid, whisking vigorously until you have added half a pint drop by drop”. Christ, it would take forever. Alternatively put in a good glug of oil and whisk. When it all looks smoothish, add another glug and whisk. Pretty soon it starts to thicken. When it is thick enough stop adding oil and whisking.
So what happens if you haven’t got a balloon whisk in the bergen? Relax, I have just discovered that a balloon whisk is not necessary. A wooden spoon is just as quick and even easier to clean. I made a mustard mayonnaise between writing this paragraph and the last one in a couple of minutes for the wife’s birthday, only she’s getting “carne crude” rather than gravadlax. Just as good but easier to make in a hurry. “Carne crude” is very thin slices of rump steak if you have a butcher, or fillet steak if you go to an out of town retail developement. That’s it. Thin slices of raw beef, yum yum.
Lesson Fourteen: Bread
© Simon Mulholland
Bread is central to civilisation. The Lord’s Prayer asks for ‘our daily bread’ and the word ‘Lord’ originally meant ‘loaf-ward’. Even in the new-look House of Lords, they still want your bread before they let you join.
Of course, bread goes back long before civilisation. Bread making must pre-date agriculture. Who, other than a EU grain farmer, would plant wheat if nobody was baking bread? And no-one but the Scots would plant grain just to make porridge. Still, who said the Scots were civilised anyway?
So bread came before agriculture and agriculture came before culture and civilisation.
Since bread has this vast weight of history riding on it, we must make a serious study of all the complex techniques required to produce bread. So pay attention now, here comes the technical bit.
Get some strong white bread-making flour. Yes I know brown bread is more traditional, healthy, ecologically sound, trendy, etc – but white bread is easier to make and nicer to eat. Since food should be judged on whether it is pleasant to eat we can cheerfully say ‘Sod tradition, health, the environment and Islington foodies’, and actually make a loaf of bread that is a pleasure to eat.
So, get a kilo or two of good quality strong white flour, or Dove Farms Pasta and Pizza flour if you can. In a large mixing bowl put a coffee mug of water, a pinch of salt and a glug of oil. Now sieve in the flour, a spoonful at a time, stirring vigorously between spoonfuls with a wooden spoon. (See my article on Soufflés to discover the importance of knowing exactly what materials are used in the spoon.) Don’t try and rush this stage, and watch what is happening in the bowl.
You will observe the mixture becomes stringy as it is stirred. This is meant to happen. You are developing the gluten, whatever that means. Keep adding the flour until the dough (dough is a flour/liquid mixture) forms a ball round the spoon. If you don’t know what I mean when I say the dough forms a ball round the spoon, go back to the preceding paragraph and follow the bloody instuctions. When the stuff in the bowl becomes a sticky lump attached to the end of the spoon, yes you’ve got it, the dough has formed a ball round the spoon. (If you have read Pasta already you will know this.) Scrape the ball off the spoon onto a well-floured worksurface and knead it.
Whatever political correctness may say on the subject, kneading bread is undoubtedly women’s work. While a Lord is a loaf-ward, a Lady is a loaf-kneader. This doesn’t mean men can’t do it, it just proves that kneading calls for no special skills, intelligence or ability.
Kneading, for those who haven’t read Pasta, is the process of folding and squodging the dough until it becomes homogeneous, springy and smooth. I fold the lump over on itself then lean the heel of my hand on the dough, pushing down and away, and repeat this procedure until the dough feels right. It can be thirty seconds, it can be ten minutes.
I can describe this process till the cows come home, I can produce photographs of famous people kneading dough and I can even provide pictures of girls with big knockers. Unfortunately, the only way you will actually learn anything about kneading dough is to do it. One benefit, not mentioned by most cookbooks, of kneading dough is that nothing gets your fingers cleaner. It gets out even the most ingrained crud from under your fingernails.
Now you have got nice springy dough, what next? It needs a rest even if you don’t. Smear it with oil to stop it drying out. (Fats and oils have a multitude of uses as preservatives. They even working as emergency wine corks and freezer bags.) Leave it for twenty minutes. Actually I’m not sure it does need a rest, but if you are going to make bread the next stage is much easier if the dough has been rested.
Now take a testicle sized lump of dough and roll it out. Don’t tell me you haven’t got a rolling pin, any empty bottle does the job. So do most full ones, just soak the label off first. To show off I can roll the dough out so I can read newsprint through it, a stunningly useless ability since this is too thin for bread (Though it’s quite handy should you wish to create mussel and hot smoked salmon tortellini – and who doesn’t?)
Anyway roll out the dough till it’s pretty thin, admire it, and chuck it straight onto the hot coals of the fire. When it puffs up turn it over and, a couple of seconds later, whip it off the fire and eat it. Now that’s what I call fresh bread.
You can call it chappatti, you can call it tortilla or fajita, but basically forget the crap, this is bread. Wrap it around a bit of freshly roasted meat and get stuck in. Of course you don’t need an open fire to make this bread. You can stick it under the grill, stick it on a dry frying pan – it will cook and you will have learned the simplest way to convert grass seed into food.
Remember, back at the beginning of this piece I said ‘We must make a serious study of all the complex techniques required to produce bread’. Where are the complex techniques? This is the centrepiece of a global civilisation and it’s a piece of piss.
So why all the mystique? Partly of course to sell books. Treading in the hallowed footsteps of Mrs Beeton we must somehow convince ourselves that our civilisation is not based on a technique developed by an ignorant, dirty, illiterate low life who wouldn’t understand a recipe if it was delivered by the Archangel Gabriel. Unfortunately that is exactly what civilisation is based on. The ability to grind up grass seed, mix it with water and fat and put it on a fire.
But don’t worry, you can always retire to Islington and discuss Ciabatta as if it was the product of genius, rather than the bastard child of hype, marketing and bad taste. But my bread, fresh from the coals, tastes better.
[Ed’s note: The following extract is taken from The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway. It describes another simple way of cooking a kind of bread with the minimum of equipment and ingredients. Nick has set up camp by a river. In the morning he lights a fire, then goes to collect bait for fishing. When he returns the fire is ready…
Rapidly he mixed some buckwheat flour with water and stirred it smooth, one cup of flour, one cup of water. He dipped a lump of grease out of a can and slid it sputtering across the hot skillet. On the smoking skillet he poured smoothly the buckwheat batter. It spread like lava, the grease spitting sharply. Around the edges the buckwheat cake began to firm, then brown, then crisp. The surface was bubbling slowly to porousness. Nick pushed under the browned under surface with a fresh pine chip. He shook the skillet sideways and the cake was loose on the surface. I won’t try and flop it, he thought. He slid the chip of clean wood all the way under the cake, and flopped it over onto its face. It sputtered in the pan.]
Lesson Fifteen: Fat
© Simon Mulholland
“Stuff the vegetables”. It’s a sound survival dictum and one used, according to government statistics, by 20% of all teenagers. Apparently one in five of our supposedly health obsessed, eco friendly and vegetarian teenagers eat no greens at all. No fruit, no veg – except of course for the source of more oil than the Persian Gulf, the chipped potato.
OK, modern youth may look pretty unattractive, but to be honest modern middle age and old age aren’t much to write home about either. But we’re thinking survival here, and the important point is that modern youth is not keeling over in swathes through vitamin C deficiency. Thick and spotty, yes. Dead, no.
In survival terms, not being dead is a positive result – which shows that a steady diet of hamburgers and french fries is a survival diet. Unfortunately, in a tactical situation, popping along to some overpriced purveyor of pseudo-American pseudo-food isn’t an option.
Never mind. We can still say stuff the vegetables.
One of the reasons modern youth, or a sizeable percentage, are avoiding vegetables, is the ghastly influence of food fads and food fascists. Spinach is absolutely delicious, but only if it’s served with loads and loads of melted butter. Carrots are absolutely great with plenty of melted butter, ditto broad beans, asparagus and mushrooms – though I will accept olive oil and garlic. In fact, it’s hard to think of any vegetable that isn’t better with a little butter.
Now try getting a bunch of impressionable teenagers to eat vegetables after the health fascists have persuaded them that butter is evil. They don’t eat butter but they don’t eat vegetables either – unless they are potato chips steeped in blended subsidy oil.
If you have been following my frequently rambling dissertations on survival, you will remember that fat, in survival terms, is good. Smithfield, the home of great meat, holds an annual show to award prizes to the best meat animals. It is called the Fatstock show. People live off “the fat of the land”, never the lean.
When the great lies of the 20th century are listed, “Low Fat” should take top place. What they actually mean is “Added Water”. You may think the privatised water companies rip you off. Look what the processed food industry does. I actually saw a frozen turkey in a supermarket which had a label saying “with added water for extra flavour”.
Honesty is vital to survival. In fashionable foody Britain, talking absolute crap about food is a fast route to worldly wealth, a TV show and a restaurant where you can insult celebrities. Out in the field, lies can be fatal.
Tony Smith, one of my madder friends, always cheers me up by describing the product which marketing gurus labelled “I can’t believe it’s not butter!” as “Well fuck me it’s marge!” Tony may not be as rich as the marketing gurus but he’s a lot more likely to survive.
So let’s look at vegetables realistically, the way the heavyweight food industry does. Potatoes are the only vegetables that sell at a real premium, but only when basted, soaked, injected with and cooked in fat. Funny isn’t it. The potato is the lowest fat vegetable in existence. Believe it or not, a tomato has more fat than a potato, but this principle is reversed once it is turned into a chip, crisp, snackette or any other way of selling the only fat-free vegetable on the market.
Inevitably the cookery writers of the world have turned cooking the humble chip into an art form requiring diplomas in Home Economics or whatever scrubbers call themselves in these politically correct days. Some university even produced a so-called serious study of the best way to cook a chip.
Apparently the ideal chip is 1cm x 1cm x 4cm and cooked in sunflower oil. Never trust research that gives answers in exact numbers. I can accept that the cross section is relevant when cooking chips, but the length isn’t. In other words this crap was produced to persuade you that cooking chips is a science.
My wife is occasionally pressurised into cooking chips for the kids and has an interesting technique. She cuts the potato into chip shapes with a knife, puts them in a pan full of cold oil and turns on the gas. When they are brownish she turns the gas off. Clive, a good mate of mine who claims he taught me all he knows (it’s true, but it didn’t take very long) went into shock when told about Kate’s chip technique. But he had to admit they tasted fine. Try it one day.
But back to the vegetables. Consider the Inuit, otherwise known as Eskimos, sitting in their igloos or caribou hide tents. With permafrost only a few inches down, the vegetable patch has problems and while they could sprout mustard and cress in their damp furs, they tend not to bother. Despite this serious salad shortage they developed one of the friendliest and most civilised cultures in history. OK they didn’t produce Damien Hirst, but there is more to civilisation than great art.
Yet again we have failed to get to the vegetables, but then the essence of my argument is that vegetables just aren’t very important. If it’s green, and it’s edible, and it will soak up melted butter, olive oil or slightly rancid rabbit fat, then it is relevant to survival. Otherwise forget it.
Use your reserves of energy getting somewhere with real food rather then emulating a rabbit but without the sex life, and without their charming habit of eating their own turds. This gives the digestive system a second go at the same food, but I have never worked out how a rabbit can identify a turd on its first as opposed to second trip.
In a subsequent article I will go further into the virtues of fats and sneer rather more at vegetables and at vegetarians and vegans. Yes folks, the topic is shit…