Thursday, 28 May 2009

'In The Bag' Broccoli and Blue Cheese Bombs

This is my first entry in the foodie blog-up ‘In The Bag’. It’s like ‘The Session’ for beer bloggers just with a bag of ingredients instead of a topic. Scott at Real Epicurean is hosting this month. It’s a super idea, plus it gives me a chance to try and infiltrate some beery words into the wine-dominated food spheres!

Now sometimes, as you’ll know, recipes just don’t turn out right first time. This is one of them. Luckily, getting things wrong lets us get it right the next time.

The idea: broccoli and stilton wrapped in parma ham and deep fried in a beer batter. Simple. It’s one of those perfect little pub snacks that’s warm and salty and rich and the ideal size for a couple of bites between big gulps of beer. And that was exactly what I wanted from this ‘In The Bag’: a beer-friendly treat.

Why didn’t it work? The little bombs start off great as you bite through light batter, through salty-sweet ham and into soft broccoli, then you chew and it’s good and then all of a sudden the fuse burns down and BOOM the stilton explodes, wiping out everything else with a wall of cheesy saltiness.

This BOOM was an issue.

But you know what? It gave me the chance to make it better. The cheese was the first change. I started with Colston Basset (the king of cheeses in my opinion!) but I replaced this with some much lighter choices and both Cambozola and Cornish Blue were excellent. I also had a counter-attack in the shape of a cherry beer. It was just a bottle of Liefman’s Kriek, the one you get from the supermarket that’s wrapped in red paper. The cherry beer was a triple attack: in the batter, in a chutney and in a glass to serve with it. This was a good move. The sharp-sweet, peppery-fruity beer swirls around with the creamy-mouldy-salty cheese and cuts perfectly through it, swaying between the salty and sweet. The chutney does the same thing – it balances the wallop of the cheese with some sweetness. And the batter was tweaked slightly too (first up it was pretty thick – it started too runny and then I over-corrected, so I found the perfect balance the next time). The beer also gives a great pinky-caramelised colour and a hint of extra sweetness (I also tried this with little fish fingers and it was gorgeous!).

To be honest this doesn’t require a proper recipe, it’s more of a compilation thing, just putting it together in the right order and then deep-frying. Make the beer batter by mixing plain flour, salt and beer (any beer is okay, preferably something with plenty of sweetness) until thick and creamy. Leave it in the fridge for a while, the usual routine, and get some oil on for deep frying (look here if you need more guidance on batter and deep-frying). Par-boil small florets of broccoli in water and allow to cool. Put a small piece of blue cheese with the broccoli and then wrap up in a thin strip of parma ham. Pop these parcels into the batter and then deep fry for a few minutes, until golden and crispy. That’s it, pretty easy.

The Onion and Cherry Beer Chutney was one of those throw-it-in-the-pan-and-mix-it-together jobs. I didn’t measure anything; it’s the simplest and laziest of condiments. But it was roughly the following (and it makes a jam jar full: four medium red onions, 50ml cherry beer, 50ml red wine/balsamic vinegar, 50g of sugar and a pinch of salt and pepper. Sweat the onions until super-soft and sweet, add the sugar, then the vinegar and then the beer and slowly warm it up (do it slowly or the hop bitterness will come through). Taste it after 15 minutes or so and then tweak according to taste. You know what chutney should taste like so make it like that.

So there we are. Broccoli and Blue Cheese Bombs. They were proper in-your-face first time around, but the improvements made these fun little things to eat, especially when lavished with that wicked Onion and Cherry Beer Chutney. And they don’t just work with the cherry beer, oh no. Cheese and beer belong together, the inherent malt sweetness and gentle carbonation lifts the fatty richness of the cheese. These Bombs are perfect for so many different brews: Wychwood’s Hobgoblin, Theakston’s Old Peculiar, Bath Ales’ Gem or Barnstormer, Fuller’s ESB, Worthington Whiteshield IPA, Meantime’s London Porter… A cider (not one that you serve over ice, for goodness sake) would also be a great choice.


  1. Liam, I'm rather impressed with a certain aspect of your blog. Yeah you're writing is good, but are you doing the photography? The pictures look like they could be from a magazine. I've often wondered why people think using a camera phone is acceptable in taking pictures for their blog.

  2. Wurst, I use my cameraphone, only as i'm saving up for a digi SLR. I'm a poor student you see!

    Mark, Broccoli and blue cheese is a classic combination, i'll give these a go soon. As you say beer was invented for cheese! Have you tried pairing blue cheese with a decent porter or stout? I think it works really well.

  3. Wurst, yes I take my own pics. I just use a little point-and-shoot, usually set on to macro for the close-up (I also use this for the videos). When I was at the wine tasting last weekend all the other bloggers had these monster SLRs-thingys but I think I do okay for now with my little one. The only thing I would want is a decent lens for close ups but that'd mean a new camera and a lot of money and I'd rather spend that on a holiday or on loads of beer!!

    Pete, as I read that comment on my blackberry I was drinking a porter so I tried a piece of Colston Basset with it and it worked a treat! Decent porter actually - Lovibonds' Henley Dark.

  4. oh my god what a genius idea with the cherry beer! I'm going to experiment myself with it. I love the intensity of the fruit in that beer.

  5. Ahh, good work. I recently got the new BlackBerry Curve, bloody brilliant phone!