Monday, 27 February 2012

Just don't call it sushi!

It was a balmy 19ºC, last Tuesday, yes that would be Tuesday, February 21st 2012, a full 10ºC above average and my mind, oh well I'll be honest my stomach, began to wander to thoughts of light, summery type foods not the unending menu of comforting winter warmers that have made up my diet for the last few months.

One such dish (or whole school of cuisine to be more accurate) came to mind as the zeitgeist put the word ceviche into my frontal lobe. 

It's pronounced "say-bee-chay" and if you were unkind, you'd describe it as South American sushi. I'm not a naturally unkind person so I shan't demean this wonderful style of food even though the principle ingredient(s) are raw fish.

Apparently ceviche dates back to Inca times, when fish was preserved in salt, fruit juice and chile peppers, which has to make it just as ancient as the Japanese variant. Whilst the citric acid in limes, which is a popular marinate in countries such as Peru, will alter fish proteins to turn the flesh opaque and give it the appearance of being cooked, it will remain raw so using the freshest and cleanest of fish is paramount.

Although sea bass is a favourite in Chile with grapefruit juice and cilantro (coriander to you and me) and in Ecuador shrimps and ketchup are favoured any quality white fish or shellfish will suffice. Ceviche is often served with sweet potato and corn on the cob.

Ceviche is becoming very trendy outside of South America so this may be a perfect addition to your spring menu as a starter or as a sharing platter:

Classic Peruvian Ceviche.

Preparation Time:  about 3½  hours (½ hour for the prep and 3 hours for the marinating) 


  • 2 kg white saltwater fish (sole, snapper, halibut for example)
  • 125ml each of freshly squeezed lime juice, lemon juice and orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (freshly ground sea or rock salt for preference)
  • 1 rocoto chile (*see below)
  • 1 medium onion, sliced very thinly into half-moons
  • 4 teaspoons of fresh chopped coriander leaves
*A brilliant resource is UK Chile Head's excellent website on all things "8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide" and for supplier details.


Cut the fish into small pieces: You can dice it or leave it in pieces up to 1 inch square, but remember that the larger the pieces the longer it will take to marinate.

Salt the fish, then cover with the citrus juice in a non-reactive (glass or plastic) container with a lid. Add the sliced onions and the chiles.

Chill this in the fridge for at least 3 hours, you should note that the larger the pieces of fish the longer the marinating takes.  To check if it is ready for eating take the largest piece and see if the centre is still raw looking and the outer layer opaque.

To serve, make a bed of the onions and chiles and top with the fish, garnishing with chopped coriander.

Ceviche is so sharp and acidic it cries out for beer and tortilla chips as an accompaniment, even though you won't find tortilla chips in Peru, and as a total offering why not make a meal deal of it with a gold tequila?

This recipe will make approximately 12 servings … the costings I will leave to you.

For the brave amongst you, and to make the most out of the ingredients, you should reserve the marinade which is known in South America as "leche de tigre" or tiger's milk. Served in a shot glass, brightly coloured from the spicy chile peppers, and sometimes mixed with vodka, tiger’s milk is considered a great cure for hangovers - although I won’t personally vouch for that!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Heritage Food - "Noshtalgia ain't what it used to be ... "

How often do you pass by a pub that advertises "traditional pub grub" or how often do you use that slogan in your own marketing? For many this sobriquet will conjure up dishes such as Cottage Pie or Sausage and Mash or Fish and Chips (and even Chicken Tikka Masala) but I am sure you won't be surprised to learn that these islands have an ancient, rich and varied culinary tradition beyond these examples.

With the Diamond Jubilee of HM The Queen and the inevitable celebration of all that is British that will open the London Olympic Games this summer, pubs have a unique opportunity to be part of the zeitgeist.

As well as being an opportunity to use local produce and seasonal ingredients you could add to your pub's USP by adding truly authentic traditional British dishes to your menu … and don’t forget wine. ale, cider and mead play an important part in the story too so plenty of opportunities for food matching. You could even go the full hog, so to speak, and dress up for the occasion too!

In this guide I will provide some recipes, food and drink ideas and point you in the direction of some really useful information on what is "Best of British". It really could be as simple as ABC - "Authentic British Cuisine". You'll even find deals from local food producers and suppliers.

I have in mind three ways to exploit what will undoubtedly be a huge resurgence in interest in our island's rich cultural heritage, but I am sure you will have your own ideas:

Concept One - "British Food Through The Ages"


 Whether you were to feature a menu reflecting British cuisine from Anglo-Saxon to Tudor and Regency to Victorian as a series of theme nights or add an ABC section to your standing menu you will find a fabulous heritage of cooking in this country.

Concept Two - "Lost British Food Rediscovered"
Another way to present ABC would be to look at obscure, but toothsome dishes from the past 1,000 years and as for the majority of that time many foods we take for granted nowadays were prohibitively expensive for most of the population you'll find plenty of inexpensive and delicious ideas on the web. For instance what about Pease Pudding, Angels on Horseback or Stargazy Pie?

Concept Three - "Elizabethan Food for the New Elizabethan Era"
To tie in with the Golden Jubilee celebrations forget Coronation Chicken (unless you have a brilliant new twist on it) and bring a little ABC to your customers in the form of an Elizabethan banquet. How about turning your traditional Sunday Roasts menu over to a Tudor feast on the Sunday of Jubilee weekend?

As the Anglo Saxon era is probably the earliest recorded time in the history of food in Britain, I guess the most authentic of British cuisine would come from that period.

Not all the foodstuffs will be familiar to you or your customers, and modern tastes might preclude using some of them, but with the minimum of substitutions you can still give your customers a flavour of the past.

Later periods such as the Regency and Victorian era are much closer to us and apart from the lavish decorations and sheer quantity of food consumed in one sitting that is a characteristic of these culinary epochs much more will be accessible to your customers.

Anglo-Saxon Staples

Fruit – figs and grapes, small apples (crab apples), plums, cherries and sloes

Vegetables & Grains - wheat, rye, oats and barley, carrots, 'Welsh carrots'; or parsnips, cabbages, burdock and rape, onions and leeks, wild garlic

Legumes - peas and beans

Herbs and Spices - ginger, cinnamon, fennel, celeriac, cloves mace and pepper


Wine & Mead 'apple-wine' (probably a form of cider) fruit juices including apple, pear and plum, herbal 'teas' and infusions, beer and ale

Nuts hazelnuts, acorns, almonds, walnuts

Fish - herring, salmon and eel, pike, perch and roach, flounder, whiting, plaice, cod and brown trout, oysters, mussels and cockles

Meat – pork, chicken, duck and goose, ducks, pigeon, plover, grouse, herons, goose, hare and rabbit, venison, wild boar, beef and veal, mutton and lamb, goat and kid

Anglo-Saxon Dishes

Small Bird and Bacon Stew with Walnuts or Hazelnuts; Pan Roasted Venison with Cherries; Lamb and Apricot Stew; 'Fenkel in Soppes' (Braised Fennel with Ginger); Nut and Leek Stew; Lozenges or Curd Cheese Pastries … to name but a few.  
Useful Websites:

For finding local food and drink suppliers near to your pub why not try Big Barn - simply type in your post code and you'll find a list of local producers in your area, use the code BB1 and receive a 10% discount on selected purchases from their retailers.

The Tudors is a mine of information on all things relating to the Tudor period including such recipes as Almond Jumballs, Taffatty Tart and Poor Knight's Pudding. For your Elizabethan Banquet and a vast list of dishes. Crow Pie has a great collection of recipes, a glossary of British cuisine and food, calendars detailing farmers markets throughout the UK

You'll even find the World Carrot Museum that will introduce you to the wonderful world of all things of Daucus Carota (Latin for carrot). Ivan Day's Historic Food - another great site with lots of information and he even runs cookery courses.recipes4us - has some more palatable recipes for the less adventurous amongst you. Rediscover Devilled Kidneys, Kedgeree, Beef Cobbler, Apple Charlotte and much more at Good British Food

For me the definitive history of  English food and a great source for recipes is …

… although currently out of print you can find second hand copies online. Author Maxime McKendry, Published 21/01/1994Publisher  Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press, ISBN 9780802132963

"This Royal throne of Kings, this sceptre'd isle, this earthly majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden, demi-paradise, this fortress nature built, for herself, Against infection and the hand of war..."

William Shakespeare, "King Richard II", Act 2 scene 1


p.s. if you like this blog piece then visit the How To Run A Pub website and buy me a pint !

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Reality TV ...

Father Jack about to let loose ...

It's a guilty pleasure for a non-driver, watching the BBC's flagship motoring show and for the life of me I really don’t know why I do it. But as I sat there glued to the latest pointless comparison of cars I could never afford let alone drive I had a bizarre thought - what about Top Beer?.

It could still go out on Sunday evenings, it could be set in a huge keg and cask store, feature three presenters, one a fusty old cask ale drinker complete with sandals and beard, one a feisty youngster with all the bounciness of a puppy on steroids and finally a rude old git who'd not really contribute to the show except for random outbursts of profanity and bile (I'm thinking the demented Father Jack from Father Ted here, "feck, girls, beer!").

Just as the motoring show has its nemesis in the form of the caravan, so could Top Beer and it could lampoon lout (I understand this is the vernacular for lager), it could feature a Star in a Reasonably Priced Bar, where a celebrity goes for a pint in a regular community pub and tries to last a whole evening without getting into grief with the locals (I'm thinking Alastair Campbell for the first show, after all he's already done the car thing); the Power Laps would be a different craft or real Yard of Ale and watching a Stig try to consume one with thick driving gloves and through a gap in the full face helmet would be a hoot.

And how about those whacky races the petrol-heads compete in? I know … a Wild Mild Trail where the old git tries to beat the other two from one side of Belgium to another - I can just see the old git abusing Trappist monks as the pupster and beardy sip away at the finest Flemish reds. Of course the old git would always win the race but only by a whisker. It would be real "car-crash" TV!

Beer (and other alcohol) is being demonised on a daily basis so in the spirit of balanced journalism I call on the BBC to commission my idea for Top Beer immediately … it would be as relevant to the world of the average British pub-goer as Top Gear is to the average British driver … I mean if you're going to stick to such a tired old format … or I could take it to Five … Fifth Beer … oh no, we'll be accused of binge drinking!

and on that bombshell …

Monday, 13 February 2012

No taxation without representsation ... true in 1776 ... still true now ...

Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776
How much attention do you think your average MP pays to the plight of the average British pub and the hundreds of thousands of people that rely on them for employment and their respective social lives? 

Not a lot I would venture ... otherwise this wouldn't be such a frightening statistic:

"In the last five years the headline rate of beer duty has risen by more than 35%"

Nor would this:

"Despite falling beer consumption in the UK, we contribute 40% of the total beer excise revenue raised by 27 EU nations, whilst accounting for only 13% of total EU beer volumes"

Both of these alarming figures come from the SIBA submission to Mad King George ahead of  his latest budget, so will he remember this from the blurb on his own website: "I will never forget that my first duty is to those who elected me ..." or will it be these words he remembers “What this country needs is a Chancellor with his mind on the job not on inheriting the Prime Minister's crown.” ?

George III prophesied this: "Once vigorous measures appear to be the only means left of bringing the Americans to a due submission to the mother country, the colonies will submit."

So how did that work out for you Georgie Boy? Oh yeah, George Washington "opened a can of woopass on him at Yorktown!"
If only we had a forum for airing our grievances ... and someone to speak on our behalf ... if only we had an elected legislative body ... if only we had a slogan as good as that in 1776 ... might be something like:


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Craft Beer vs Cask Ale ... who cares as long as it sells by the shed-load!

(Many thanks to Cooking Lager for pointing out on Pub Curmudgeon's blog that the above headline might give the impression that I condone irresponsible retailing ... I would just like to point out that this is not the intention of the header, the piece below or my stance on responsible retailing ... 22:20hrs 9/2/12)

For a long time there has been (at times) a quite visceral argument waged by the proponents of Craft Beer and the old guard at CAMRA over the relative merits of craft beer and cask ale.

It seems to me that the figures speak for themselves, this article in the Huffington Post is proof enough and if you don't believe all you read in the press then here is the information direct from the horse's  brewer's mouth.

(courtesy and with the permission of the Brewers'Association  - thank you kindly peeps)

 If cask ale has been the saviour of the British brewing industry and by dint of association the British pub trade (or at least help keeping it afloat) then craft beer is the next "big thing" that will help struggling pubs win new customers and keep existing customers using their businesses.

If the growth in the US market (right) can be achieved then we as a trade can keep ahead of the trend if we stop the squabbling and start promoting these varied and exciting beers.

The "talking points" that apply to the US market should be just as valid here:
  • Craft seasonal & variety packages are in the top 5 in total U.S. scan data. Your shopper wants a better beer experience!
  • Cross merchandising opportunities—there are almost too many to count! Cheese, meat, fish, deli, chocolate, & even bakery departments present great opportunities.
  • A point of differentiation—a craft tasting offers you the opportunity to communicate directly with your shopper AND your shopper wants to speak to you!
So stop the squabbling and get behind British pubs and let's all support British craft brewers and traditional British cask brewers and celebrate the wealth and diversity of brewing history this country has to offer ... whether it's in a cask, a keg or a bottle!

Roony, Ted, Roger ... come on lend us a hand ...

Bank of England
I was interested to read of an initiative in the motor manufacturing industry by Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) to assist its component suppliers secure vital bank lending to gear up for its expected £400 million expansion of its Solihull and Wolverhampton plants.

JLR are giving 22 bankers detailed briefings of its financial plans regarding its growth plans, which, will see downstream purchasing contracts for its suppliers worth £2 billion. By taking the unusual step of disclosing this usually confidential information not only is JLR reassuring lenders that its suppliers will be able to service any debt associated with gearing up but also reassuring the wider market place of what steps it is taking to secure JLR's future.

From what I read, in the trade press and varius forums, publicans, especially those who are tenants or lessees of the pubcos and brewers find it very difficult to get lenders to support their businesses. Perhaps pubcos and brewers with tenanted estates could take a leaf out of JLR's book.

Securing short to medium term finance for Small and Medium Enterprises (and none more so than pubs) has always been problematic as lenders  view these businesses in vacuo and not part of a larger concern. It's time for industry "leaders" to start leading and add value to their customers' businesses and thankfully for these cash-strapped behemoths it shouldn’t cost them too much.

The knock on effect for those in the free trade who really are on their own would be increased confidence in the pub industry and a clearer understanding of our complex and varied industry by bankers.

The boost for our much benighted, but vitally important, sector of the wider economy has the potential to deliver an exponential return for all stakeholders and allow the pub trade to be one of the engines of economic recovery … so come on Rooney, Ted, Roger how about co-operating to present a united front to support your thousands of tenant customers?

Saturday, 4 February 2012

From Russia With Love ...

Once again the redoubtable Mark Hix (restrauteur and contributor to the Indpendent newspaper) has come up trumps with a fantastic set of recipes for duck.

The one that really catches my eye for the average pub menu are the Duck Bitok, a version of traditional Russian meat balls, served with sour cream. 

I have, for a long time been a fan of Russian cuisine, blini, bortsch, pashka, koulebiaka, stroganoff and, of course, good vodka to wash it all down.

With sub-zero winds rushing in from the steppes and a cold snap across most of Europe I can't think of a better way to cram in some comfort food and liquid central heating ... get yourself over to this site for authentic Russian recipes.

The great thing about most of the Russian food I've ever cooked is that a lot of it is peasant food and is accordingly inexpensive to source and thus of interest due to its potential for good GP%.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Water, water, everywhere ...

So yet another utility company falls short on its responsibilities to get its billing right a Stoke on Trent Licensee discovers his water bill is wrong

As business customers we are all subject to the dreaded standing charges on our utility bills but seldom do the utility companies tell us how we might reduce these liabilities.

Here is a useful leaflet from OfWat, the water industry's regulator that shows how you might reduce your standing charges for the rainwater that discharges from your pub into the public sewers.

Worth a look especially if you have a significant external and roof area.

For more information and advice on how to save money on your utilities look at How To Run A Pub website in The Buildings section.