I’d been curious for a little while about one of the products I’d spotted in the farm shop I like to use when I visit Suffolk and then a couple of weeks back two things conspired to make me get on with trying it out.
First I was reading Hugh F-W’s weekly slot in The Guardian (‘Trickle treat’ on 7 March) and then I went out for dinner at ‘The Lighthouse’ in Aldeburgh and when they brought the bread with oil and balsamic they explained that the oil was a local product made from rapeseed (in fact just theone I’d been eyeing up).
Now I know most of us probably think the following about rapeseed:
- Oh that terrible stuff that blights the English countryside in May covering all the fields in a yellow haze of flowers.
- Grrrr that’s the stuff that gives me major hayfever as soon as I step anywhere outside of a town centre and nearer to the countryside.
- Isn’t that grown for them to feed to cattle or something like that?
- Isn’t that just horrible industrial extracted oil used in ready meals and other stuff that’s bad for us?
- Don’t they use that in bio-diesel?
But maybe we haven’t got all this quite right.
Firstly not all rapeseed flowers are yellow – you sometimes see purple ones, but they are mainly yellow and they are a bit of a blot on the landscape when in flower. We should however remember that the English landscape (as any other) is a changing thing, after all it used to be mostly woodland before it was rolling hills with wheat waving in the gentle breeze. But we are also right to there be concerned that a crop takes over an area and we get a monoculture.
I’m not a doctor so the link to hayfever and asthma is not my specialist subject. A quick search via Google (see for example Wikipedia and also The Independent as examples) however suggests that the link is not definitive, as rapeseed does not have wind born pollen. I imagine there’s plenty out there would testify that it triggers some kind of reaction for them.
Yes they do use it in cattle feed, yes some of it is extracted using industrial means but some is now produced like virgin pressings of olive oil; and yes they do use it in biodiesel.
But does that matter and does it taste any good?
I decided to do a comparative tasting of three
oils: olive, rapeseed and hemp, all cold pressings. The tasting was not conducted blind. The actual oils I used were (all available in my local Waitrose store and all a similar price):
Colour wise the differences were pretty marked; the hemp was a dark green and slightly cloudy, the rapeseed a soft yellow and the olive a mid green. The viscosity seemed pretty much the same when I looked at how they coated the back of a spoon. Smelling them started to hint at the taste differences to come and this was confirmed by tasting directly from a teaspoon and with bread (Village Bakery Organic Campagne – a sourdough loaf).
So to the tasting results:
Hemp: this is very unusual and a bit of an acquired taste – this actual tasting is the third time I’ve tried it since buying the bottle and it is growing on me slowly but I’m not quite convinced just yet. It has a strong flavour, which comes across as earthy and almost woody. The finish is quite long. It was better on the bread that it was ‘pure’ and contrasted the sourdough quite well. It makes a good change from olive but I doubt some people will ever be convinced that it’s a good substitute.
Olive: this was fairly fruity with a slight tang and peppery endnote. Its not a very strong oil but its nicely mild with the classic Italian notes. It was good with and without the bread but lets remember that this is the oil I have been using for a couple of years now as my basic olive oil so I’m used to its flavours.
Rapeseed: this has a mild and mellow taste. There’s a slightly nutty fruity seeds flavour that I couldn’t quite identify (I’m not sure its grassy like HFW says but then I was tasting a different brand). It was good on its own, but stood up to the bread test less well. The loaf though has a very distinctive sourdough flavour so this oil might work better with a milder flavoured loaf – it was certainly good when we had it at ‘The Lighthouse’ with balsamic. It’s also a good cooking oil – less distinctive than olive oil so better in some dishes and also with a nice high flame point making it better for sautéing.
Overall? I’ll stick with olive for a lot of things but the rapeseed is a definite permanent addition to the kitchen and I’ll keep trying the hemp but I’m not sure I’m ever going to be a big convert. Hugh FW suggests it more sophisticated than the rapeseed but actually I just think it’s stronger and more unusual but unusual does not always tally with sophistication and in this case I’d say it’s quite hard to get to know and love.
Up on the Suffolk coast for brisk walks and tasty food this weekend. Love it up here and there is plenty to keep a food addict happy – from great farm shops to favourite restaurants, good beer and excellent fish and chips. Too much to fit into one weekend so we are pretty regular visitors.
This weekend we have picked up a lot of goodies at the Friday Street Farm Shop – some to eat now, some to take back home.
We always get something by Purely Pesto (who don’t just make pesto) – this time it was some soups for lunches – beetroot and also curried parsnip. They taste great – freshly made, no additives, smooth and creamy but not overbearingly so – plus the beetroot is just a beautiful colour! The portions are a little small for 2 for lunch, more a starter size portion – but still recommended.
We also picked up organic eggs from Maple Farm which are currently priced at £1.50 per half dozen – great value and makes you wince at supermarket prices….as well as some shin of beef from Cratfield. We have had various of their cuts before and its always very tender and well flavoured, really demonstrates the difference you get from well reared and properly hung meat. That’s just a few of the highlights from this weekends haul.
After a bracing walk along the seafront to Thorpeness and back to the Martello Tower we decided to brave the cold again and have a couple of Adnams beers (and a quick blast of 12 bar blues from the Smokin‘ Hogs) at The White Hart before going to eat at Regatta – one our ‘regular’ choices when we visit Aldeburgh. They seem to have the ability to fit you in for dinner no matter how busy they are – you might have to be prepared to eat quite late (9pm) but they will almost certainly find you a slot. The place is always lively, the service very friendly and the food consistently good. There is always a strong specials board which, as you might expect on the coast, has a particular focus on local fish and seafood.
I went for the French style country pate with prune and onion chutney followed by the quartet of smoked and cured seafood – both from the regular menu. Both portions were generous and with bread, salad and new potatoes alongside I failed at the final hurdle on the fishy platter and had to leave a few smoked prawns – perhaps next time I’ll opt for the smaller portion size. The pate had just the right coarse chunky texture you want from a country type pate with the prune and onion chutney complementing it well, rich yet tangy and good enough to make we want to look out a recipe for something similar.
I should confess here that oniony chutneys and marmalades are a particular weakness of mine and I regularly spend days bubbling up batches of onion delights with which to win friends and influence people so it was pretty inevitable that I was going to like this dish.
The smokey and cured platter consisted of gravadlax, smoked salmon, brandon rost (hot smoked salmon) and smoked prawns – each with their own appropriate garnish/sauce. All were of a very high standard and all are cured or smoked at the restaurant – you will also find you can source similar local delights at various farm shops and delis in this part of Suffolk (the village of Orford being particularly well known for smoked products). Last night the gravadlax was on especially top form, nice thick slices, lightly cured but with a refreshing amount of dill and a spot on mustard sauce to accompany it (sharp but not overpowering). I was rather sad not to be able to finish the prawns as their rich smokiness was going very well with the Californian red wine we were trying for the first time (J Lohr Wildflower Valdiguie 2007) – a pairing to remember for another visit.
My other half had the gravadlax to start (and was similarly impressed) with braised lamb shank on a bed of swede puree to follow (from the specials board). Again portions were generous and although a man of few words when eating he was suitably impressed leaving not a scrap on his plate. Overall another very enjoyable meal at Regatta.
Right time to go and search for onion and prune chutney recipes.