Tag Archives: chicken

why can’t my chicken be British?

british_chickenI’m a British citizen who buys British milk, bread made from British wheat and eggs from British hens. So why can’t all the chicken I buy be British?

It’s a promise that the general director of Tesco, Philip Clarke, made within the last couple of days: to bring meat production closer to home and to work more closely with British farmers. Sainsburys too, has agreed to double the amount of British food sold in stores by 2020. Even before this, in early February, UK poultry suppliers voiced concerns over higher-welfare policies and inflating food prices. In the midst of the “horsegate” scandal our food is coming under more testing and it’s sourcing under closer scrutiny. Could you really tell the difference between a British chicken and a Lithuanian chicken? And why does it matter? Why should we be supporting British chickens?

The latter two questions are easy to answer. The positive testing of horsemeat in beefburgers has clearly shown the problems of not onl poorly-tracked importations but also a supply chain that is under pressure from demand for low prices and a lack of accountability. British farmers need supporting as they are increasingly squeezed by retailers manipulation of the supply chain in order to satisfy our calls for ever-lower prices. As for the chickens, well, many countries don’t meet with the level of welfare that the UK  insists upon and neither it is always sustainable farming. That is not to say that all British farming is without problems, but it is certainly picked up on a lot more.

Clarke’s announcement that Tesco will only sell British chicken by July 2013 was welcomed by the Scottish National Union of Famers’ President, Nigel Miller, but the poultry chairman, Duncan Priestner, called for Clarke to commit to pay producers a fair price, just as Clarke promised he would ensure prices for consumers would not rise. 43% of 1,000 people polled would like to buy more products traced from British farms but the idealistic is not always practical.

Why has it taken so long?

  1. Cost – Clarke is right when he says that it is unfair to raise consumer prices when households are already being squeezed in every direction. Farmers produce chicken in the UK at a density of 39kg/m2 whereas European farmers often produce at 42kg/m2. While this may not seem like such a big difference it can be the decider between profit and loss. The cost of chicken feed, especially in relation to the controversial GM feed, is also rising with inflation and detrimental to farmers.
  2. Reproduction – there’s a concern that Britain cannot sustain its chicken consumption – the most popular meat in the UK. It’s predicted that there will be 9 billion people to feed by 2050 and with increasing urbanisation, agriculture is seriously under threat.

Why should we do it?

  1. Health – If cost is a problem, we should simply focus on quality and not quantity. If it means eating a little less meat and instead, more cheaper vegetables to bulk out meals, what’s the problem? This idea is supported by campaigns such as Meat Free Mondays and a tastier cut of meat is far more enjoyable than slabs of grimy chicken.
  2. Morally better – locally grown chicken is not transported or subject to welfare standards that may be below the UK’s level.
  3. Environmental – think of all those air-miles, oil for ferries and lorries polluting the air. Think of the billions of pounds of damage foreign lorries do to our roads which don’t pay tax to repair it. By eating better, we’re also combatting climate change and thinking more about future generations.
  4. Traceable – a simpler supply chain, fewer middle-men and people held responsible. A supply chain that is transparent and safe and fair for all involved. It sounds idealistic doesn’t it? But where do you think butchers, bakers and greengrocers got, (and some still do!) all their products?

Of course, the question that comes to mind is, but how do we know it’s British? Well, there’ve been moves there too. Tesco committed to shorter supply chains that are more traceable and farmers also called for the complex system to be overhauled.

I’m not suggesting that we hark back to traisping up and down the high-street to four different shops for our weekly groceries, though I do suggest you try it because it’s actually quite fun, cheap and certainly an eye-opener when you get home with hardly any plastics, cellophane and lists of ingredients you’ve never heard of. The food is often fresher, more colourful (in the appropiate way that an orange is orange, not a smartie is blue) and the meat, well, a lot of it’s British.

So, would you choose British over global? Or is our meat market permanently established on the international stage?

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i’ve never loved Chipotle and Wahaca so much

Bandidos: 31-33 Kingsbury, Aylesbury, Bucks, HP20 2JA

Bandidos is an independent Mexican restaurant in the heart of Aylesbury. Stairs lead straight down from the cheap, unattractive outside front to a leafy and warm interior. So far, so good.

The menu compromises a mix of Mexican and American-Mexican dishes from chicken wings to enchiladas, lamb shank to nachos and everything in between. It took an extraordinarily long time to order our drinks, so long in fact that we were ready to order our food as well. The waitress confessed she didn’t know most of the wines and, when she did bring the house wine (a Sauvignon Blanc apparently) she told us it wasn’t that but she didn’t know what it was. We didn’t like it. Exploring the wine list, the waitress mentioned we could have something not on the menu. As we cracked the joke of running to the nearest off-license she nodded, seriously.

The starters arrived fairly soon. Bandidos Nachos appeared in a small bowl, more akin to cat sick than layer after layer of Montery jack cheese and jalapenos. The accompanying sour cream, guacamole and salsa never materialised. It didn’t taste great either. Grilled tiger prawns on a bed of roast red peppers actually compromised 4 prawns on a bed of lettuce with a scattering of shrivelled red peppers. The chicken wings were small, though tasty, but the chilli mayo dip was far too hot, even for spice-fantics. By now we were feeling rather misled by the appetising menu.

But it was too late to back out now. The mains were on their way. While waiting, we ordered more drinks and I’ve never been served by someone so apathetic about their work. I asked for a second lime and soda, a pint this time. A half accordingly arrived and the waitress asked “did you ask me for something else there?” It was becoming painful.

My two dining partners chose the Mexican Grill: what looked on the menu like a meaty feast of lamb, chicken, steak, sausage along with rice, chips and salad. The chicken was suitably spicy and juicy; the minced lamb kebab was unappetising and equally disappointing. The beef tasted like it was out of a packet: dry, luke-warm and chewy. The rice was scattered with cubes of onion and pepper though lacked seasoning, while the chips, well, let’s just say the Aunt Bessie had done a good job! Chicken tacos were served with three rectangular baskets, about the length of your wrist to halfway up your forefinger. They were dry, greasy and tasted stale. The chicken was served in a bowl with heaps of bland fried onions and peppers, the rice similarly bland and lacking in any kind of texture. Again, it came without the promised salsa, guacamole, sour cream and cheese. The second waitress was more attentive and apologetic, rushing to get the condiments. Unfortunately, the sour cream was thick, like a sticky meringue, the guacamole rather more successful though not fresh and the grated cheese was rather useless to melt over the now cold food.

Side orders of garlic mushrooms and coleslaw were average. The mushrooms, coated in overcooked breadcrumbs were greasy and oily but had a wonderful garlic flavour. The coleslaw was, well go down to Sainsbury’s or Tesco and try it yourself.

The service was abysmal throughout, and not to just to our table. The couple next to us complained at how long their drinks were taking, the staff seemed more interested in lolling behind the bar and we saw one waitress discuss a problem with a customer as she lounged over the back of a nearby chair. Yes it’s a casual, fun and friendly restaurant but there should be a difference between who’s relaxing and who’s working. The bill came to £67 for three, including one bottle of wine. We weren’t satisfied, didn’t enjoy the food and weren’t placated by the service. If, as the waitress told us, they do plan to open a second restaurant in wealthy Chiltern town of Beaconsfield, they’re going to need to do better than this.

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Chimichanga: a spot of sunshine for a chilli, cheesy Christmas

Chimichanga: Unit 4 Xscape MK, 602 Marlborough Gate, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, MK9 3XA
Nothing like Mexican food on pre-Christmas Eve in chav-central, is there? Fortunately, Chimichanga in Xscape makes you forget all that. The staff at Chimichanga’s are from everywhere but Mexico but are friendly, pleasant and efficient in seating and providing you with menus. Our waitress also very kindly turned down the air conditioning unit so we didn’t freeze. The menu is wide ranging, though fairly stereotypical British-Mexican, including calamari, chicken wings and potato skins for starters, along with the more special chilli foccacia or pastry stuffed with chorizo and cheese. Mains include the classic burritos, fajitas, toastadas and tacos but also salads, paella, steaks and grilled fish, burgers and wraps.
To start, we shared the nachos with salsa and guacamole. While supposedly for one person, it was a generous portion and we fought our way through the little mountains of nachos. The salsa was spicy and chunky, the guacamole cool and creamy, though both came in less than adequate portions for the number of nachos.
The main course of chicken fajitas are some of the best chain Mexican food I’ve had. Served on a fiery slate skillet, tender strips of chargrilled chicken are accompanied with peppers and onions, all cooked perfectly. A stack of pillowy tortillas sat in the middle of the table, along with palm-size pots of salsa, guacamole and sour cream. All were delicious, especially together!
The dessert was less impressive. Coconut cream pie actually turned out to be a rather synthetic-looking coconut cheesecake, not the “silky coconut cream set in a biscuit crunchy shell” as the menu had promised. The biscuit base was chewy as opposed to crunchy and the only coconut we could taste was from the coconut shards on top. Not worth trying and certainly not worth £5.25.
Chimichanga’s main courses are value for money but by the time you’ve added starters, dessert (well, maybe) and drinks, you might find yourself questioning whether it was worth the price staring up at you from your bill. For the mains, I’d say it was. It doesn’t match up to some of the higher end Mexican or street food that you can fin (Chimichanga’s is blander and more predictable) but it’s a wonderfully casual, fresh and friendly place to enjoy and generous plate of food.
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Noodle Nation or is it oil orbit?

Noodle Nation: 1-3 Bourbon Street, Aylesbury, Bucks

Noodle Nation is a fast-paced Chinese restaurant specialising in rice and noodles. In fact, that’s pretty much all you can have. The restaurant is light and, thankfully, much warmer than the wintry weather outside. Service is friendly and efficient, if a little confused between staff at times as they all try and seat, serve and talk to you.

If you don’t like to cuddle up to other diners then this may not be the place for you. A couple may be squeezed in between two groups of four or the group of four may be squashed, with embarassed smiles, against the single couple by the window. It can be annoying but the staff do their best to seat you comfortably and, as it’s a fast-turnover, you won’t be getting to know your dining neighbours well anyway.

So on to the food. Garlic and chilli chicken with yo min noodles (wheat and egg) was a vast portion. I mean huge. For roughly £7 it’s not bad but for your stomach it might be painful. The noodles were separated from the chicken which lay in thick chunks – not so great for scooping up between chopsticks with your noodles and beansprouts. The food was cooked well but soaked in oil, even the sauce glinting with the stuff as it began to separate upon cooling down. Hunks of garlic gave great flavour but all in one go instead of being spread out through the dish, and the same went for the chilli. A side of satay sauce was strong but a little gloopy.

Despite the name, I was rather disappointed at the variety of food on offer, the noodle-bar section seeming particularly sparse though you can have noodles from the rice-bar section if you wish.

It’s great value here and for a quick meal or causal get-together it’s a lovely choice. However, be prepared to cosy up with both oil and fellow noodle-lovers.

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Starbucks 4 : Costa 2

Oh yeah, it’s getting fierce now! We have the combination of food and drink.

On test is Starbucks’ salted caramel mocha latte and the chicken and roasted tomato panini.

I was excited for this salted mocha, I won’t lie. Salted caramel is a huge flavour at the moment and the combination of sweet and salty is a risky but wonderfully complimentary one should you pull it off. Incorporating chocolate is, again, dangerous but definitely doable. Starbucks didn’t do it. The drink was overly sweet with barely a flake of salt. The drink was too thin and runny, as if the milk hadn’t been frothed enough, the name latte devoid of meaning. Better with cream? I doubt it, though apparently it’s salted. I don’t want to imagine what that’s like. To Costa!

Hold up though, if you’re hungry anyway. Remember that ham and cheese panini from Costa? Starbucks’ panini was, in general size, bigger I believe and had more filling. Classic combination of chicken and tomato worked well with a hint of cajun spice but nothing overpowering or even dominating. The rocket was a fresh addition adding colour and balance. The panini was well-toasted; a bit too floury but thick and foccaccia in style though definitely still a panini – don’t worry, nothing too fancy.

Yep, this panini held its own so a point each.

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Sowieso: Value in Vienna

Sowieso: Das Wienen Restaurant, Fleischmarkt, Vienna, Austria

Set in a quiet street just outside central Vienna, Sowieso is laid-back, friendly and fantastic value for money. They serve a mix of traditional Austrian dishes including cream soups, veal goulash, schnitzel and apricot dumplings.

We sat outside, the Summer heat wave still inciting scores of residents and tourists to take to the streets in search of food, drink and in general, a good time. Sowieso was busy but the service, conducted by a friendly couple who spoke competent English, was fast and not at all intrusive. They made every effort to enable us to enjoy our experience, including offering advice on the menu and taking the hint that we needed more time to choose. And boy was it hard to.

Aside from the nine set menus that deliver three courses for anywhere between €15 and €20, there is a monthly menu and also an a la carte. To start, we opted for Austrian Tapas to share. A delightful platter arrived with taster versions of the restaurant’s most prized main dishes. Veal goulash was mouth-wateringly tender in a steamy tomato sauce; cream of parsnip soup had just a hint of nutmeg and spice to add that touch of warmth while crispy croutons floated near the top; a cold beef salad topped with slivers of red onion was shredded beef offset by the sharpness of balsamic vinegar and the nuttiness of the truffle oil, delicious! Finally breaded chicken and potato salad fell apart between your teeth, the choice of dark meat a good one to add that extra meaty flavour. Dainty pieces of baguette were useful for mopping up the juices.

A main of chanterelle mushrooms in cream sauce with potato dumplings from the August menu was a sure hit. The sauce was rich but not overpowering, the mushrooms with a full and nutty taste – even meat-lovers would be satisfied. The dryness of the potato dumplings was perfect to compliment to sauce – a real traditional treat we were told. I can’t disagree. Also from the August menu was fried Styrian chicken – Styrian being an area of Austria – the chicken was actually deep fried in a crispy dark breadcrumb batter served beside a potato salad with pumpkin oil. The batter held to the chicken well, though the breast was a little tasteless. The thigh and wing meat was tastier, as expected, though nothing outstanding here. The salad was better; the pumpkin oil delivering just a hint of the vegetable’s sweetness though the amount made it all a bit greasy and tart.

Finally came a minute steak with crispy onions and fried potatoes. The steak was cooked to be tender and the onions, rings so thin and delicate they were like ribbons of dew, were wonderfully light and crunchy. The potatoes were a bit too salty though and could have had less time cooking. The gravy serving was rather generous but, as we quickly saw here, portion size means nothing.

For dessert there was a typical creme brulee for those who can’t go without their caramel and cream. For the more culture-lovers, be sure to sample the warm apricot dumpling; made from semolina and topped with a sprinkling of icing sugar, this chewy, doughy dumpling has nothing of the doughnut texture that you might assume. Far from being rubbery or overly sweet, it has a great bite to it and inside hides a full apricot. Finished off by a dollop of apricot compote and crumbs of crystallised sugar, this dessert was the star of the show. It’s also available as two smaller dumplings stuffed with Austrian ice cream – apparently just as popular!

Sowieso is not fine dining but that’s not what you’re paying for; what you are paying for is attentive and relaxed service, generous helpings of good quality Austrian cuisine and an altogether pleasant evening. And here, you get what you pay for too.

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way to jerk!: Mama’s Jerk Station, Camden

We’re back in Camden Market, this time scouring the West Yard of the Lock Market for something tasty for lunch.

Enter: Mama’s Jerk Station. This family run company specialises in Carribean street food and does it damn well. The short but spicy menu consists of dumpling soup, jerk salad boxes or wraps, all of which are available in a vegetarian variety using jerk bean cakes. Fried plantain is a great side addition and if you’re a real meat-eater then try the sumptuous jerk pork sausage too!

Typical of the Carribean-style jerk spice, Mama’s make fantastic use of hot peppers (scotch bonnet variety), both in the spice-rub on their chicken but also in a fiery hot pepper sauce. If the jerk spices are enough then you can always opt for a dollop of the tropical mayo; an exotic and refreshing drizzle is just what you need to put the fire in your belly out. The chicken is also grilled traditionally, with the added smoky flavour that Carribean jerk food is known for compared to the Jamaican variety, by using charcoal in the grilling drum. The marinade itself is primarily pimento (or allspice) and Scotch Bonnet Peppers but also includes garlic, thyme, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, scallions and salt.

I opted for a jerk chicken salad box. Crisp iceberg lettuce was piled into my polystyrene box, followed by hearty scoops of diced tomato and cucumber; this was surprisingly fresh and with a great bite. Next came grated carrot in Mama’s own coleslaw; light, laid-back on the mayonnaise/cream and with a really defined texture. Finally, the star of the show. Slabs of chicken were pulled off the grill for me and hacked up with a cleaver’s knife. Chunks were then tossed into my box with a drizzle of the hot pepper sauce. The chicken was juicy, mouth-wateringly so, and the spices caught in the back of my throat before raging down my insides. Delicious! The whole box had a freshness and vibrancy that is so often missing from street food. My servers were both friendly, determined to get passers-by to try their food, and wonderfully efficient.

Imagine all the above mentioned stuffed into a pillowy tortilla and you have a fat, saucy wrap bursting with a dose of the Carribean.

Mama’s jerk recipe has passed through the generations, first created in Jamaica as an offshoot of the country’s classic marinade. You can find Mama’s Jerk Station at:

  • West Yard, Camden Lock Market, Camden
  • Vibe Bar, Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane
  • Portobello Road Market, Portobello Road (Saturdays only)

Get jerkin!

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Hotel Akrabello – A Tourist’s Hotel

We kicked off with dinner at the Hotel Akrabello in Agrigento in the south of Sicily. In a rose-clad dining room, suited waiters glided around large round tables. Baskets of small, seeded rolls were crunchy but soft and almost sweet on the inside and bottled water was readily provided.

To start, came macaroni pasta in a tomato and aubergine sauce. The pasta was a little tough and chewy in places but mostly tender. The aubergines were wonderfully fresh, if a little overdone, and the whole dish was seasoned well, bringing out the more positive elements.

The main was more disappointing. Butter-flied chicken breasts were served up beside scoops of greasy, slightly soggy chips. The chicken was golden-brown and tender, surprisingly nice, while the chips were those awful representatives of the name; the twice removed cousin of the skinny frie and the fat, fluffy chip-shop chip, these were the cardboard type served up in fast-food chicken shops that barely qualify as chips.

Dessert came along in a more authentic style. It was a kind of frozen nougat, sprinkled all the way through with crushed almonds which combined well with the cool vanilla. A creamy dessert with a rather strange taste but definitely an enjoyable alternative to ice cream.

From a typical tourist hotel, I suppose dinner was passable, though something rather more native and fresh would have been appreciated.

Moving not too swiftly onto breakfast. Selection was limited but included the expected sugared croissants and bread rolls along with the variety of jams, honey and chocolate spread. The juice was more akin to the British style though thicker and with a slightly appealing bitter tang. A passable meal but lunch out was something to look forward too.

Dinner the second night began with penne pasta in a tomato sauce, worringly similar to the Heinz canned type. Seasoning was lacking and the sauce baby-puree smooth. Main course came as a pork escalope; thinly sliced, lean and very tender with the skin bordering on too hard but it was better than being soft. Accompanying the pork was peas and bacon though the bacon was dark in colour and hardly flavoursome but the peas were appetising and just firm to bite.

Finally to finish came the Italian version of mille feuille, or millefoglie in Italian. A light sponge, similar to madeira cake, atop which sat layers of cream and flaky pastry. It wasn’t as rich as the French delicacy but no worse because of it. It was light and fluffy, the wafer crumbling inside the cream. Very filling but certainly satisfying.

So, would I dine or stay here again? Dine, probably not, though one must remember they were cooking for a group of 37 and may have altered their menu; still, fresher cuisine and more interesting flavours or ingredients would definitely have lifted the meal. One for the tourists who love a good hotel pool and a tasty dessert.

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