A British seaside summer…

“Ahhhhh…” came the voice from beyond the fence, “it isn’t a proper British summer without crab sandwiches, it really isn’t….I do declare that crab sandwiches are the epitome of the British seaside”. We sniggered quietly, picturing the lady next door lying on her sun lounger eating crab sandwiches and extolling their virtues loudly to no one in particular.

And although amusing she had a point, proper sandwiches made with good brown bread, some lemony mayonnaise and fresh fresh crab really are rather lovely, and very British. Of course there is nothing to beat the British coastline in August for variety and fun and food. From wide open huge sky sandy beaches, pebbly beaches, vertiginous cliffs, coves, rock pools, salt marshes to faded Victorian promenades, piers, arcades, fish and chips, greasy spoon cafes, beach chalets, fresh fish, and cockles; there is something for everyone whether its a day trip or a proper holiday. Best of all though, lots of the smaller seaside towns seem to have wonderful food on offer, you don’t have to go to Padstow these days, all along the coast you can find great food.

Regardless of whether you are at the seaside you can bring something of the salty freshness of British seaside air to you table with two of the best coastal produce that are in season right now…yes those brown crabs and samphire. As ever the fresher the better, if you are happy to cook crab yourself then buy live and follow the RSPCA advice on humanely dealing with the crab before cooking in salted water for 12 mins for the first 500g and 5 mins for every extra 500g. Pick out the meat and use in a simple salad or sandwich, with good brown bread of course, I use this recipe from my blog but with 50-70% wholemeal flour, the rest white flour and all water for the liquid (though part milk will work well too).

There are lots of fancy recipes for crab but I find because the meat is very rich simpler is better and preferably with something to counterpoint the richness. Things that work well are green vegetables such as broad beans or peas and curiously eggs and perhaps a little chilli. And of course samphire, the saltiness cutting through the richness perfectly.

Samphire has been having quite a renaissance in British cooking and is now rather sought after. It can be hard to find as it usually sells out quickly but persevere and you will be rewarded with something that can be eaten simply steamed and dressed with butter a bit like asparagus, on salads, or as a side vegetable particularly with fish or lamb. You can try foraging for some if you are near an estuary (flat wide muddy ones are best, but be certain you know what you are collecting, don’t pull up the roots, don’t over collect and be sure you have permission to collect it). It keeps reasonably well with the ends wrapped in damp newspaper. When you are ready to eat it trim off the thicker ends, depending on how you are going to use it you may want only the top few inches of the tips as the thicker parts have an inner stem. Its easy to suck the juicy flesh off the stem when you are eating it as a side dish but in a tart or omelette or other dishes its better to have only the tender tips. I usually steam it for around 5 minutes (don’t add any salt), any longer and its less flavoursome. If you happen upon an abundance then you can freeze it (blanch for 2 minutes first) or pickle it, though in my kitchen it doesn’t last long enough for either of those two things to happen.

But what of combining crab and samphire into a perfect seaside influenced dish. Two wonderful possibilities spring to mind: a tart and a pasta dish. I found this tart recipe blogged recently by Ailbhe of Simply Splendiferous so rather than create my own version take a look at hers. And for those of you who fancy a pasta dish try this:

Crab and samphire pasta (4 people)

75g dried linguine or spaghetti per person

1 medium brown crab

75-100g samphire (if you can’t get samphire then spinach or green beans would work well)

1 fresh chilli chopped finely or a pinch of chilli flakes


  1. Cook the crab and pick out the meat, or buy a ready picked crab from somewhere you know its super fresh
  2. Trim the samphire and use only the tender tips (top 5-8cm), steam for 5 minutes until cooked
  3. Cook the pasta as per the packet instructions and drain
  4. Toss the pasta, crab meat, samphire and chilli together
  5. Serve
  6. Sigh gently at the very British summery-ness of the dish as you eat

This article was first posted in Francoise Murat’s newsletter.

Coming together

I love it when things just seem to come together in the right way and its one of the things that I’m starting to love about blogging and tweeting. You swirl around the blogosphere, you play about on Twitter and suddenly a whole bunch of influences collide to make you spot a new dish that resonates for you or triggers fond memories of something you haven’t had in simply too long.


And so it was earlier this week that the influences of Browners’ National British Sandwich fun, Fran39’s watercress post and the #livelocal challenge came together to make me think of a lunch I hadn’t had in probably 10 years (yes really)  – chicken and watercress with mayo on really good bread.

So I plotted a treat, my husband is not a fan of watercress he pulls a face at the very word, the ideal opportunity was to have said sandwich on a day when I was working from home. Mmmmm. I made fresh bread rolls yesterday to have with burgers and I’d found some red watercress in the supermarket and at 11am I was roasting 2 chicken legs with a dousing of lemon and olive oil.

At the appointed lunch hour I moseyed to the kitchen, sliced open a couple of rolls, slathered them with my favourite mayo, piled in freshly roast chicken and topped with watercress, squidged on the top.

And tucked in. Heaven in a bun.

National British Sandwich Week

Apparently, according to Jonathan (aka @Browners) who writes a Sandwichist slot, its National British Sandwich Week this week. Right. Yes. You already knew that didn’t you?

Anyway Mr Browners is fed up with pre-packed sandwiches and I’m fed-up with look-a-like Pret’s all over the place. Pret was good once (honestly) back in the days when it was just starting and only had a few stores, it was a revelation as well as independent. Like many good things they expanded and expanded then they needed big corporate money. I guess there might a place for that kind of thing when you visit a town you know nothing about and are desperate to eat and have no time to find real recommendations – it makes acceptable food on such occasions, but day to day it get a little dull.

But there are LOADS of independent sandwich shops out there (some good, some bad) plus you could always try your hand at making something yourself. Browners asked for people to go in search of great sandwiches – so we did.

I decided to do not just one but two sandwiches. One from a shop, one homemade.

First up the shop one. Its from Caradell in Red Lion Street, WC2. Caradell is a nice little deli close by where I used to work so I’ve been there often but having moved on job wise I’d not been in nearly a year – time to try it again. What I always liked about the place is that its busy, service is fast, the sandwiches are made to order and, most of all, pretty much everything is a variation on the classic ham and cheese. Well that might not be quite right but in my view you can’t easily beat ham (or salami, or chorizo, or jamon etc etc) and cheese so maybe I just home in on those choices. On this occasion I went for proper British cooked ham off the bone with Emmenthal (no British cheeses in sight boooooo) with Cumberland Sauce – on bloomer of course. 

As you can see its pretty chunky and not for the delicate – its quite hard to eat (all their sandwiches are packed full of filling). It was a great combo but I’d prefer there to be some British cheese as an option. The Cumberland Sauce was nice and tangy, so good stuff all round. At £4.60 its pricey (but it is big and its quality ingredients) and in my view worth it.  I can also vouch that their other ham/cheese variations are also excellent.

And on to today when I decided to rustle up a quick sandwich myself. I went for all English using Village Bakery Pain de Campagne (sourdough), Hawkston cheese from Suffolk (a bit like mild Lancashire), glass grown tomatoes from the Isle of Wight (via Waitrose) and some Stokes Lemon Mayonnaise. Yum – and probably not £4.60!

A good bacon butty

For those of you unfamiliar with the term ‘butty’ the OED defines it as follows:

butty (also buttie) noun (pl. butties) informal, chiefly N. English a filled or open sandwich: a bacon butty. – ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from BUTTER+-Y.

Or perhaps think about Ken Dodd for a moment and the jam butty mines – or maybe don’t. Also, of course, there are chip butties and cheese butties. In essence any kind of sandwich can be called a butty although I’m not sure you’d apply the term to something filled with chicken and avocado or crayfish and rocket or cucumber…..now there’s a thought a cucumber butty – a new slant on afternoon tea.

Anyway back on the bacon butty trail – this morning I had a great example rustled up for breakfast from some beer cured back bacon, some sautéed portobello mushrooms, a good dollop of ketchup (my favourite Stokes Real Ketchup – yum) and 2 slices of properly chewy wholemeal

It was great.


But then I’m probably biased as I made it.

Mmmmm mushrooms

I’ve been thinking about my favourite foods recently, listing, considering, adding, subtracting, juggling, testing…….although I’ve not quite got to my top 5 just yet I’m getting close.

But one thing that has just got to be on there is MUSHROOMS.

I love them in all their different guises. From elegant looking oysters to hearty portobellos and every stop in between, they are a (very) regular feature of my cooking.  Stews, stir fries, omelette, risotto, pasta and fry ups.

But I’d stake a lot on the two best ways being:

1. Sauteed in butter and eaten on toast (rye or sourdough for preference)
2. The thing that makes a bacon sandwich truly great (oh joy)

And here are some big fat organic field mushrooms cut into generous sized chunks being sauteed in butter – wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. 

Try some yourself soon.