Neil Forbes of Cafe St Honoré is inspired by organic meat for his menu
So there I was on the train to London feeling very privileged and excited – I had been invited to judge at the Soil Association’s Organic Food Awards. My jaw almost hit the floor when reading my notes, when I saw the names of my fellow judges in the meat and poultry category – some very well-known people in the food business, and no, I’m not going to name-drop.
When I arrived at the venue I was greeted with countless tables of meat groaning under the weight of everything from whole ribs of beef and roasted birds, to legs of mutton and vast varieties of sausages. But, in true chef fashion, I still managed to scoff a piece of everything on show.
What stood out was the overall excellence of the meat and poultry I tasted. It’s great to think of the fantastic array of organic products now available at butchers’ shops and farmers’ markets, including the many cheap cuts being revived for those of us on a budget. (Some might say these cuts hold the best flavours).
The Soil Association is one of a few governing bodies of the organic movement and it goes to great lengths – visiting farms, auditing and going through documents with a fine-tooth comb – to ensure only top-quality organic food reaches your plate.
I’ve supported the organic food industry for years now and take great pride in buying from small-scale producers, breeders and farmers. At the restaurant we obtain whole carcasses, which allows us to teach the next generation of chefs to cook using every part of an animal. I feel this is the best way to show respect for the animal’s life. So let’s choose best-quality, locally-produced meat whenever we can.
As my train departed King’s Cross heading north, I nodded off, replete after my feast, dreaming of my next meat-inspired menu...
4 lambs’ kidneys (or 8 if you want main-sized portions)
salt and pepper
drizzle of rape seed oil
4 slices of good bread, sourdough is excellent
1 shallot, finely diced
100g of unsalted butter, softened
1 dash of Tabasco
1 dash of Worcestershire sauce
pinch of curly parsley and chives, chopped
tablespoon of left over gravy, optional
4 organic free-range chicken legs
50ml rapeseed oil
150g piece of bacon, cut into cubes
a handful of mushrooms
8 small shallots, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
½ bottle good red wine
a few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 litre beef or chicken stock reduced to 500ml
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pre-lined bottomless cake or tart tin, lined with sweet pastry, shop bought would do
icing sugar for dusting
1 handful of stoned British cherries
250g unsalted butter
250g icing sugar, sifted
250g ground almonds
100g plain flour, sifted
5 eggs, beaten
sweet cicely sprigs
KIDNEYS ON TOAST
This dish is incredibly simple and a real classic at my restaurant. It’s also a bit of a blast from the past, but give it a try. It’s a good starter, but also makes a nutritious supper dish on its own.
1 Peel off the kidneys’ outer membrane, cut in half and remove the little white muscle. Season with salt and pepper.
2 Place a good, solid frying pan on the hob to warm, then add the oil and let it get quite hot before adding the kidneys cut-side down. Allow to colour and reduce the heat.
3 Meanwhile, toast the sourdough under the grill with plenty of butter on both sides (sorry, you can’t do this in the toaster).
4 Next, add the shallots to the pan and add a little butter. Give the kidneys a turn, then add a splash of Tabasco, the Worcestershire and the herbs. Finally, add the gravy and season to taste. You can also add a splash of cream or a dash of brandy if you like. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.
5 Place the buttered toast on the centre of your warmed plates, spoon the kidneys on top and trickle the sauce around. Serve at once.
COQ AU VIN
This dish perfectly sums up the food I cook – simple, yet oozing a rich depth of flavour. The “auld alliance” lives on at Cafe St Honoré, and despite our Parisian-inspired interior, the ingredients are all “home-grown”. We use Scottish chicken from Grierson Organic, shallots from the allotment, bacon made ourselves using Peelham Farm’s Tamworth pork bellies, and OK, perhaps a bottle of French burgundy sneaks in for a spot of delicious unctuousness.
1 In a thick-bottomed casserole dish with a lid, heat the oil and fry the chicken legs until just coloured. Set to one side.
2 Next, fry the bacon and mushrooms. Set to one side.
3 Fry the shallots and garlic until golden, then add the red wine, thyme and bay leaf.
4 Return the chicken to the dish and add the stock.
5 Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.
6 Add the mushrooms and bacon. Season.
7 Serve with buttery mash.
For pudding let’s celebrate the UK cherry season. Once-upon-a-time there were cherry orchards everywhere in Britain, but sadly most of those have gone. So buy British to keep these remaining ones alive! An excellent use for cherries is a frangipane tart, served with either crème fraîche or ice-cream. This recipe will make one large cake about 10ins across and 2-3ins deep.
MAKES ONE LARGE CAKE
1 Line your tin with sweet pastry and allow to rest. Meanwhile, stone the cherries.
2 Whizz the butter, icing sugar and ground almonds together in a food processor. Add the sifted flour and eggs (one at a time).
3 Spread a little of this mix on to the bottom of the lined tart then scatter the cherries over and cover with the remaining mix. Smooth the top with a wet palette knife and bake at 180°C for about an hour to an hour and a half until firm and golden on the top. When a cocktail stick comes out clean, you know it’s ready. Allow to rest for half an hour.
4 Dust with icing sugar and serve with cherry compote, a dollop of crème fraîche and sprigs of sweet cicely. A perfect summery pudding.