Do you have an opinion of British food? Has your opinion changed in recent years? Lately, British cuisine seems to be surging forward with England, Scotland, and Wales receiving 181 Michelin stars in 2015 and several restaurants and chefs gaining popularity internationally. In Colman Andrews latest book, The British Table: A New Look at the Traditional Cooking of England, Scotland, and Wales of which I received a review copy, he examines the changes in British food and its perception over the centuries. He writes: “The mystery isn’t so much why British food is so good today, but why it ever wasn’t.” The coastline, the soils, the microclimates have always been there for producing great ingredients, and the region was known for superior meals until sometime in the 19th century. Heston Blumenthal is quoted for suggesting that the Victorian “abstemious moral code” had something to do with people turning away from the pleasures of dining well. Later, French cuisine became more fashionable than traditional, British fare. A food revival began in the mid-20th century with influence from immigrants at the same time as a new look at heritage foods was starting. The book covers traditional foods and more current inventions from across Great Britain. It’s an interesting combination of history and current events in the British food scene, and it’s full of beautiful photos by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton. Among the lovely soups, there’s Cullen Skink which is a smoked fish soup, and now I need to get my hands on some finnan haddie to make it. In the Fish and Shellfish chapter, Poached Salmon Steaks with Whisky Sauce and Fillet of Cod with Parsley Sauce both caught my eye. There are poultry and meat dishes in addition to wild game and offal. It was interesting to learn that “Game Chips” that are served with Roast Grouse are what the British usually call “crisps,” but regardless of the name, they look delicious. Expected names like Yorkshire Pudding and Cornish Pasties appear in the Savory Pies chapter, but I was surprised to find Vegetarian Haggis among the vegetable dishes. It’s made with lentils and has been served at The Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow since the 1970s. The book also includes snacks, sweet, and a chapter for Whisky, Cider, Beer, and Wine. I wanted to try something vegetarian and was very curious about that version of haggis but decided on Glamorgan Sausages instead.
Obviously, there is no sausage in vegetarian Glamorgan sausages. The name of these Welsh croquettes came about because of their sausage-like shape and the use of cheese made from the milk of Glamorgan cows. The recipe calls for Caerphilly or another Welsh cheddar, but the best I could do was to find Montgomery Cheddar from Neals Yard Dairy. First, finely chopped leek and scallion were sauteed in butter, and since it is kale season, I had to add some chopped kale. I seem to add it to everything when I can. Next, the cooled leek and scallion mixture was combined with bread crumbs, grated cheese, thyme, parsley, and dry mustard. It was seasoned with salt and pepper, and egg yolks were added and mixed to combine. Rather than chilling the mixture at this point, I shaped the croquettes and chilled them before proceeding with the breading and frying. The mixture was shaped into “sausages” about four inches long. After chilling, each croquette was rolled in flour, dunked in egg whites, and dredged in bread crumbs before being cooked until golden all around.
These are hearty and savory, little croquettes. I was surprised at how filling they are and decided they are certainly as substantial as regular sausages. The aromatic leek and scallion give them a lot of flavor along with the rich cheese. I realized this was the first time I had cooked anything Welsh, but it definitely won’t be the last.
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from The British Table: A New Look at the Traditional Cooking of England, Scotland, and Wales.
SERVES 2 TO 4
The earliest reference anyone has been able to find to these Welsh vegetable croquettes is apparently a line by the nineteenth-century English author, translator, and traveler George Borrow in his book Wild Wales: Its People, Language and Scenery, vintage 1862. After spending the night at a raucous inn at “Gutter Vawr” (the Welsh mining town formerly called Y Gwter Fawr and since renamed Brynamman), he descends from his room for a morning meal. “The breakfast was delicious,” he reports, “consisting of excellent tea, buttered toast, and Glamorgan sausages, which I really think are not a whit inferior to those of Epping.” Interestingly, he doesn’t mention that they contain no meat (Epping sausages are pork sausages flavored with assorted herbs, often cooked without casings). Glamorgan, in far southern Wales, is one of the thirteen original Welsh counties, and was once a small kingdom of its own. These sausages—which were originally a farm family’s meat substitute—are said to have been named not for the county but for the cheese made from the milk of Glamorgan cattle, an old Welsh breed now almost extinct.
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick / 55 g) butter
1 medium leek, white part only, very thoroughly washed and very finely chopped
1 scallion, trimmed and very finely chopped
2 cups coarse bread crumbs
8 ounces (225 g) Caerphilly or Welsh cheddar, grated
Leaves from 2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon whole milk
1/4 cup (55 g) clarified butter
1/2 cup (65 g) all-purpose flour
Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat, then add the leek and scallion. Cook, stirring frequently, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are beginning to soften. Let cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl, combine the leek and scallion mixture, about three-quarters of the bread crumbs, the cheese, the thyme, the parsley, and the mustard. Season generously with salt and pepper, then stir in the egg yolks and the milk and mix the ingredients together thoroughly.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for about 1 hour.
Shape the mixture into 8 to 12 sausage shapes, about 2 inches (5 cm) thick and 4 inches (10 cm) long.
Heat the clarified butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Sift the flour onto a plate and spread the remaining bread crumbs out on another plate. Roll each sausage in flour, dip it in the egg whites, then roll it in bread crumbs.
Fry the sausages for 8 to 10 minutes, turning them occasionally, until they are golden-brown on all sides. The sausages may be served hot or at room temperature.
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