Late April, 2019
Off the Sauce
Lagavulin Distillery
Oyster Sauce

My pilotage book describes Loch Tarbert on Jura as The wildest and most remote loch south of Ardnamurchan and the Inner Loch is currently providing me with a welcome respite from some fiersome Atlantic storms, and from the heavy whisky lunches of the distilleries of Islay. Though sadly not from this bottle of oyster sauce so far out-of-date as to demand being used up now, now, now!

Port Ellen on Islay, in whose small marina I was previously berthed, sits at the head of a 4-mile whisky trail linking three of the island's current impressive total of eight whisky distilleries - Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg.
I recommend the whisky tasting tour at the Lagavulin distillery, though I doubt you'll get the treatment I did. True story:

Usually their tours are booked up, especially over Easter it seems, but when I turned up for an introduction to whisky making at Lagavulin and the promise of three drams at the end (for a three-dram price) the day after booking it I was still the only guest. So after a very informative stroll around the factory, my guide and I repaired to their tasting room and she brought out the three tasting bottles, poured me three measures, one in the glass I was to be allowed to keep, bored herself dry telling me all about their various ages and characters and left me to finish them off alone with the invitation to take my time.
Left me with the drams.
And left me with the tasting bottles.
So I tasted all three, then poured myself another. Looked round, poured myself another. And I kept on pouring myself taster measures until I physically couldn't drink any more whisky without being sick, staggered outside back to the whisky trail and found a bench to relax on for a couple of hours. Much to the amusement of passing fellow enthusiasts.
Best. Tour. Ever.

Pinned down here in Loch Tarbert I'm now rapidly running out of palatable alcohol, and since you really shouldn't give up the drink all at once, I've invented a new cocktail to keep me going - Tequila (well, Mezcal) and Bitter Lemon. It ain't half bad, though I say so myself.

Pork and Cabbage in Oyster Sauce
meat main oriental
So I've had this bottle of Gold Plum Premium Oyster Sauce in my boat locker since I set sail, and since it expired in 2014 I figured it was time to use it. I wonder if it always used to be this thick?

A couple of glugs of Vermouth goes surprisingly well too. Feel free to thicken the sauce with some cornflour mixed into cold water, if it seems a little thin.

Serves 8

Remove skin (and bone if necessary) from the pork, cut into hefty 1" cubes. Heat lard or olive oil in a large casserole. Brown the pork in batches as necessary to avoid overfilling the pan. Set aside and season with a little salt and generous grinding of mixed peppercorns.

Cut the onions into wedges, keeping the wedges joined at the root. Add more lard to the pot if necessary. Fry the onions over high heat until caramelised at the edges. Add to the meat.

Peel a head of garlic, halving any large cloves, fry until beginning to brown, add to the meat. You can do this by adding them towards the end of the cooking time of the meat or onion.

Add a little more lard to the pot of necessary. Scrub the potatoes, quarter and fry a little in the casserole, then add a cup or two of Chinese rice wine or sherry. Allow to bubble up and scrape the bottom to dissolve all the browned crusts.

Add back the reserved meat, garlic and onions to the casserole on top of the potato (don't stir). Pour in 1 or 2 cups of oyster sauce, a few tablespoons of soy sauce, the juice of a lemon or lime, a couple of tablespoons of mild hot sauce (to taste) I used some Frank's Hot Sauce, but any chilli sauce such as Sriracha would work, or chilli bean paste even better. Add a little water or stock or Vermouth! to come two-thirds of the way up the pan, cover and simmer for 45 minutes until the meat is tender.

Halve a savoy cabbage, wash the outer leaves and remove any thick stalks. Slice the half cabbage not too thinly - about 1cm thick. Lay on top of the meat in the casserole, re-cover, simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the cabbage is just cooked.

Serve with rice or couscous.
I recommend a decently matured Oyster Sauce.

Potatoes Boulangere Orientale
fish staple
The last dish in my quest to use up my out-of-date oyster sauce. It turned out rather delicious, but very strongly flavoured. I have no idea what to recommend you eat it with.

Serves 6

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Press, puré or thinly slice the garlic.
Peel the potatoes or not, as you like. Slice the potatoes evenly and thickly - about ¼". Simmer 5-10 minutes until just cooked and changing colour, but still firm. Drain, set aside.
Slice the onions very thinly and fry slowly in a generous amount of butter until evenly caramalized. Deglaze the pot with Vermouth.

Pour a puddle of hazelnut oil into a casserole dish, and line with a third of the potatoes. Drizzle over more hazelnut oil. Season with ground mixed peppercorns and a little salt. Smush half the onions on top and spread over half the garlic.

Repeat with another layer of potato, then onion and garlic, then a final layer of seasoned potato.
Loosen the oyster sauce with Vermouth and pour over to almost cover the potato. Drizzle with hazelnut oil.

Bake for 1-1½ hours until crisped on top and easily penetrated with knife. Cover if the top begins to burn before the potato is tender.
Rather nice. The flavour is pretty intense though. Almost a meal in itself!

Savoy Cabbage with Apple and Cider
meat side
Applying a cooking technique more typical of red cabbage, it's reasonably acceptable for green too.

Serves 4

Heat a generous amount of butter in a heavy pot and add the chopped bacon and crushed juniper berries. Fry until the bacon is beginning to render, then add the onion and fry until glassy.
Peel, core and roughly chop the apple and add to the pot. Stir until well coated in butter and beginning to soften.
Add reasonably thinly sliced savoy cabbage and stir through to coat with the butter, season, and pour in enough cider to moisten but not drown the cabbage.
Cover tightly and allow to gently steam for 15-30 minutes until the cabbage is tender. Add more cider if required.
Not bad.

Pork with Olives
meat main
My Local Fucking Supermarket™ had a surprisingly good deal on rolled pork leg - £3/kg. Somebody there must have screwed up badly! Good for me though - I bought a 900g chunk and this is what I did with it.

I took some ideas from the BBC's Good Food, which also adds a can of chickpeas.

Use whole, pitted, mostly green olives. You can have a few black ones in there too though. Olives with herbs, or stuffed with lemon peel are good.

Don't drown the dish in tinned tomatoes - I thought ⅔ can was about right. If you wanted to do without, you might consider adding red wine instead.

Serves 6

Remove any skin or bones from the pork, then cut into generous 1" cubes. Dust with flour seasoned with salt & pepper and 1 tsp paprika you can shake them up in a plastic bag for this. Heat a generous amount of olive oil or lard in a large frying pan and fry the pork, in batches as necessary to avoid overloading the pan, until lightly browned. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and set aside in a large pot or casserole.

Fry the wedges of onion over a high heat until they begin to caramelise around the edges, scoop out with a slotted spoon and add to the meat pot.
Fry fat slices of fennel over high heat until it begins to colour around the edges, scoop out and add to the meat pot.
Fry the diced chorizo and the crushed garlic cloves until they colour a little without burning. Add the tomato purée and fry until the oil separates and the harsh smell has gone. Stir in a tablespoon of ground smoked paprika, fry briefly, then add a generous glass of port and allow to bubble down a little.

Add some chicken or pork stock, two-thirds of a can of chopped tomatoes, scrape up all the bits and pour everything into the meat pot. Add more stock to just cover the meat.

Bring the meat pot to a simmer, season, add the oregano or thyme, cover, then put in a low oven (150°C/300°F/Gas 2) or simmer on the stove top for an hour.
Add the grated lemon peel and the olives and continue cooking for another 30 minutes or 1 hour until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened.

Remove from the heat, stir through the parsley and the lemon juice.
Great stew, compelling and rich :)
Goes quite well with Savoy Cabbage with Apple and Cider.

Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Olives
main fowl
A chicken tagine made in a non-tagine - using a combination of more-or-less authentic recipes.
Green olives are traditional, but you can use purple ones, like Kalamatas or any combination you fancy.

Serves 6

Joint the chicken into 4 or 6 pieces.
Crush the saffron and add to the stock.
Quarter the preserved lemons, scrape out the flesh (discarding seeds), and thinly slice the peel.
Halve then slice the onions thinly.
Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a pan and add the onions, stir, cover and sweat for 15 minutes until they are soft. If you like a more acidic flavour, then mince up the preserved lemon flesh and add to the sweating onion. Uncover, add the garlic slices and continue to cook until they all begin to slightly caramalise, then stir through the ground spices and salt.
Scrape out to cover the bottom of a tagine or wide, shallow, lidded pan.
Heat fresh oil in the original pan and lightly brown the chicken pieces in batches, laying them on top of the onion mixture when done.
Pour off the oil and keep for another day, then heat the saffroned stock in the pan scraping in all the tasty bits left in the pan.
You could do all this in the one pan or tagine - adding the chicken to brown after sweating the onion, but you'll probably find it difficult to avoid burning something.
If you only use the one pan it's probably better to remove the chicken skin, in which case browning is less necessary.
Scatter the thyme over the chicken, pour over the stock with the saffron, cover tightly and simmer on a low heat for about an hour until the chicken is falling from the bone.

Stir in the olives and the slices of preserved lemon peel. Cook for another ten minutes (uncovered unless you are running out of sauce). Before serving stir through chopped parsley, coriander or both - as you like.

Eat with bread, buttered couscous, rice or potatoes. And a nice green salad.

Bitter Lemon Cabbage
side veg vegan
Cabbage with a hint of bitter lemon pith is rather nice. As long as you don't overdo the pith.
The aniseed is random. Other seeds are also available.
Goes well with a tagine, or other vaguely Mediterranean dish.

Serves 4

Finely grate the zest from 1½ lemons, and juice them both. Take the un-grated lemon half and thinly slice the flesh - zest and pith both.
Thinly slice the half cabbage leaves and stalks, keeping the stalks mostly separate. Heat olive oil in a pan and fry the aniseeds until they fizz and release their aroma. Add the slices of cabbage stalk and the pithy lemon slices or some of them - to taste and fry until the cabbage begins to colour. Add the rest of the cabbage and the grated lemon zest.
Stir. Season.
Add the lemon juice and a splash of water, cover and steam for 10 minutes until the cabbage is tender.
Mmmm, bitter.

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