Graeme is a friend I began to follow on twitter because I could sense his passion and honesty – not just for food, but for his homeland, people, culture, history and his identity. This was something that stuck a cord with me as those are the reasons I blog today. He is open to every cuisine with interest, excitement and appreciation but knows his homeland Scotland like no other – respects her land, produce and is committed to speaking about it and his experiences as he maps his culinary journey of discovery. His keen interest in spice I believe, has been our bond. His blog A Scot’s Larder is a treasure of eclectic recipes, wine suggestions, foodie experiences with an underlining love for his country’s produce. Knowing him now he is not just another food lover, but a person I consider a close friend and more importantly someone whose opinion I respect. I’ve invited him to blog about his experiences of spices and how he has incorporated some of the Pakistani spices I have introduced to him.
A Journey through Spice – Graeme Taylor
New flavours and experiences are something that have been with me my whole life. It’s maybe only now that I’m really beginning to recall these memories, to put them into a semblance of order and complete the link as to the part they have played in my life.
Growing up in the west of Scotland in the 1980s life was inevitably filled with mince and tatties, macaroni cheese and custard plus sweet and sour chicken as an occasional treat from the local Chinese restaurant. However if I push these comforting flavours to one side I can recall camping holidays where wild raspberries and brambles would be picked or trout caught (occasionally) and cooked on the barbecue. I can remember mangoes and melons being grown in the greenhouse alongside chillies while rocket was grown in the vegetable patch. Flavours that everyone in this country takes for granted now, but in 1985 this was about as unheard of as the internet. The eclectic mix of cultures in Glasgow was explored with pakora and kebabs from Goodies on Great Western Road. Oyster, soy and plum sauces were purchased from Chung Ying in Cowcaddens along with lychees and guava. Looking back I was introduced to some amazing flavours as a youngster. I don’t think I ever said thank you but I am now.
Fast forward 25 years or so and I’m still learning. Ever since I picked up a book by Marcella Hazan as a student I’ve been looking for new flavours, new food experiences, and hungry for knowledge. But the idea of provenance of food, of picking your own, of cooking with the seasons has never left me. As a child it was simple, you went to the local butcher and greengrocer therefore everything was local and seasonal. Now I go to the local farmers market because they are people I like to buy, to talk to, learn from and support because of the quality of their produce and the way they care for their animals.
The native flavours of Scotland are those of the mountain, the forest, the sea and the glen. Juniper berries, thyme, heather, gorse, seaweeds, peat, rowan and pine all impart their flavour in many ways. Whether into the game animals that graze on them and live amongst them, the bees who source their pollen and produce honey, the fish and shellfish that feed amongst them or through their smoke when they are set alight they all add their sweet, earthy, aromatic and briny characteristics. And I love cooking with them, bringing the smells and flavours of this beautiful land of history and romance to life. Whether it be seared venison steak served blue with rowan jelly, a haunch roasted with thyme, juniper and wild mushrooms or smoked haddock poached in milk the flavours can be both intense and delicate. I could cook food like this every day and be happy.
However I now realise that a love of spice wove its way into the fabric of my being all those years ago. It is now coming out in a heady array of intoxicating smells and tastes that I never knew existed; from so many countries with their own individual cuisines and traditions. All of which complement the wonderful local meat, fish and seasonal vegetables which Scotland has to offer. In this country there is a well known love of curry, particularly in Glasgow, but they are generally generically called ‘Indian’. I had no idea about Pakistani flavours until I started reading this blog, I knew that a lot of the meat curries I knew were probably from Pakistan as the culture was more meat centric than its vegetable centric neighbour but knew next to nothing about the spicing. The discovery of the blood red Kashmiri chilli that gives Nihari its amazing hue was such a highlight, to pound that bloated pepper I’d soaked overnight to release the aroma and colour was a joy. To understand that star anise is not just used in Chinese cooking but also prevalent in Pakistan, and to learn about rose petals and the sweet fragrance they impart within a masala or as a garnish was wonderful. It has sent my mind into overdrive on how to combine these flavours with finesse, how to match the earth, the fragrance, the heat of the day into something that sings with flavour has been such fun.
So when a wonderful parcel of spices arrived from Sumayya I had to find a way to use them, to try and put forward my ideas of what makes a Pakistani dish whilst combining with the Scottish produce I love. I have done this with what I believe may be a modicum of success, there were good things and bad things but that’s all part of the adventure, of the journey through flavour.
To maximise the richness I used a chicken from St.Brides Poultry. They are slow grown, free range birds which are able to wander in the fresh Scottish air eating grass and generally living a happy life. They are also full of marrow so impart a lovely meaty stock to the cooking liquor that becomes the soup. Along with this I used seasonal autumn vegetables, squash and rainbow chard. I would suggesting using butternut squash as it gives a sweet flavour and delicate texture. I used kabbocha which doesn’t. So here is my first attempt at cooking with Scottish produce and Pakistani flavours.
Scottish/Pakistani inspired One pot aromatic roast chicken
Serves: Will serve soup and curry for two plus leftover meat
1 chicken (around 1-1.5kg)
2tsp rose petals
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 tbsp coriander seed
1 large butternut squash chopped into 2cm chunks
1 small bunch rainbow sliced into 1cm strips across the stalk
1tsp fennel seeds
1tbsp cumin seeds
3 cloves garlic crushed
2 Kashmiri chillies rehydrated and pounded to a paste
1/2 red chilli or tsp chilli powder
1 star anise
Knob softened butter
1 tbsp oil
- Set the over to 180C. Toast the coriander seed and grind with the cinnamon stick, when quite fine add in the rose petals and grind to a fine powder.
- Rub half the spice mix to the butter and place under the skin covering as much of the breast as possible. Rub the rest of the mix with a little oil on top of the skin including the legs and wings giving a good massage. Leave to marinate as long as possible but for at least 30 minutes.
- In a heavy bottomed casserole dish heat the oil and then cook the garlic with the fennel seeds, cumin seeds, star anise and red chilli.
- When they start to give up their aroma reduce the heat right down, place the chicken in the dish breast facing up then place the squash and half the chard around it. Pour over the water, it should half cover the bird and add the Kashmiri chilli on top.
- Cover and bring the water to a gentle simmer on the stove and then place in the oven for 40 minutes. After this time make sure none of the vegetables are drying out by pushing into the slightly oily juices.
- Baste the chicken lightly with these juices and then place back in the oven, uncovered, for 25-35 minutes until tender and golden brown.
- Remove the chicken from the dish, cover with foil and leave to rest, breast down to let the flavours soak back in. Remove half to two thirds of the vegetables and keep warm with a little of the liquor.
- Add the remaining chard and cook over a high heat for a couple of minutes, stirring regularly and deglazing the side of the dish. Liquidise the vegetables and serve as a soup.
- When ready carve the chicken and serve with the vegetables you saved and the sauce poured over with rice or naan.
Thanks Graeme, this is wonderful!
I made this today and it was perfect x