T’other night I had an impromptu gathering, and needed to pull something yummy and filling out of the bag, on a pre-Christmas budget. Inspired by a dish cooked for me once by my good friend and fellow Brixtonite Liz Marvin, I came up with a sort of sausage casserole-cum-fabada – my take on the lovely unctuous Spanish pork and bean stew. I made it with some delicious sausages that my butcher Dombeys makes in house, and enriched the stew with some fantastic morcilla: spiced Spanish blood sausage from the Portuguese deli (not Continental, the one further down Atlantic road near to Argos, which I think is better value). I wanted something I could cook in my Le Creuset, in one fell swoop, and this was just the ticket. To liven it up and add a bit of perky crunch, I added an panko breadcrumb topping with thyme and lemon zest for freshness and texture. You can find bags of panko in most good Asian supermarkets – I got mine from the brilliant Thai shop on Electric Avenue.
Brixton market fabada Takes about an hour including prep and cooking, though you could cook for longer if time is on your side
Six of Dombey’s homemade pork sausages or some other good quality sausage
1 450g tin of butter beans or cannellini beans, drained but with about a quarter of the brine left in
3 banana shallots, finely sliced 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped 1 200-250g morcilla blood sausage, sliced into 2cm thick slices 1 large glass of red wine, preferably something like a rioja or Malbec Extra virgin olive oil The zest of half a lemon
Two handfuls of panko breacrumbs
A handful of thyme leaves, removed from the stalks
Heat a good splash of olive oil in you Le Creuset or a deep casserole dish over a medium heat, and add in the chopped shallots and sausages. Turn the sausages over to brown them – for about five minutes – giving them a prick with a knife point. Then add in the garlic and chopped morcilla and coat with the oil. Cook it until the garlic goldens and the morcilla goes a deeper colour – about three minutes, and then add in the beans and red wine and simmer on a low-ish heat for at least 20-25 minutes. If you want to leave it simmering for longer, add in a splash of water every now and then so it doesn’t dry out.
In a small frying pan, heat a tablespooon of the olive oil over a low heat. Add in the panko, lemon zest and thyme and coat the ingredients together, frying until the panko breadcrumbs turn golden, at which point you should remove the pan from the heat immediately to avoid them burning.
Serve the fabada topped with the breadcrumbs and accompanied by a kale or rocket salad.
Anyone who’s seen my Twitter feed lately will know that since April I’ve been working on a project called @LondonFrenchDip with my friend Andrew. Since moving to Brixton in December I’ve been bowled over by the food culture here – not just Brixton Village and Market Row, which are obviously both great – but the street trading that goes on on Electric Avenue, and the wonderful Brixton Station Road. I walk down this road a few times a week to go to the gym, and every time I’m amazed by the food and drink offerings – from the delicious Ethiopian coffee at Shawl Cafe, to the incredible marinated rotisserie chicken at the Halal Butchers and the brilliant curried goat rotis from the Guyanese roti van. There’s also plenty of jerk being barbecued on this road (check out ‘Jeff the chef’), great cous cous and hummus from the Moroccan cafe and, from Friday on through the weekends, rotating markets with various food traders, retro, vintage and craft stalls. Even since December I’ve noticed that the market has been picking up, and what started with a couple of food stalls has escalated to a nice little selection, so I’ve been chomping at the bit to get involved. As someone who spends a lot of time writing about other people doing things, I wanted to get stuck in and try my hand at making and selling food in my community.
Coming up with the idea for a food stall that might bring something different to that road, with its already vibrant array was tricky, but I already had something in the back of my mind. At the tail-end of last year I visited LA and tasted something for the first time – the French Dip sandwich at the legendary Philippe’s restaurant downtown. Philippe’s, with its sawdust-strewn floors, long serving counters and queues of hungry customers is a massive institution, and, it claims, the originator of the ‘French Dip’ – a roasted meat sandwich that’s been dipped in the roasted juices. French Dip is now something that you can find across the US, in various formats – many restaurants give the juices, or ‘au jus’ as it’s known in the States, on the side of the sandwich in a little cup. But Philippe’s, which makes all of its au jus by simmering meat juices with the mirepoix the meats have been roasted on for 48 hours, just dunks the light bread subs to preserve the precious liquor.
Philippe’s is one of those fantastic American food institutions that’s worn-in and historic, in that it’s looked the same, and has been serving the same abundant plates of well-made, simple, tasty fare since 1918. It’s similar in that sense to places like the Loveless Cafe, which I visited in Nashville or Prime Burger in New York. I was talking to Mark Ogus from @MontysDeli – who serves wonderful home-smoked pastrami at Maltby Street and we were agreeing that these American places are so special precisely because they’re a part of the country’s relatively recent history and as such, have been preserved in their original form.
The sandwiches at Philippe’s are simple but utterly delicious, comforting and satisfying – served with an obligatory gherkin and scorching hot house mustard. I had never even heard of French Dip before going to LA – it’s one of those American sandwiches, like the PO Boy that just doesn’t seem to have been done very much here. Hawksmoor is the only place I’ve heard about doing it, so I thought it would be cool to set up the UK’s first French Dip stall – serving sandwiches made with freshly roasted meats and bread, dipped to order in the roasting juices. The folks at Brixton Market have been really helpful and supportive, and went for the idea with zeal – so we managed to get the whole thing set up really fast. Andrew, an accountant by day but passionate food enthusiast at heart, was a natural choice for a business partner, with his flair for number crunching, instincts with food and creative ideas.
Finding suppliers was really the first step in getting set up. Luckily a friend recommended the brilliant Kindred – a craft bakery in nearby Herne Hill, who we met with and came up for a spec for the baguettes, which needed to be crunchy on top but light and easily chewable. The baker was amazingly helpful and accommodating and after a couple of test runs we came up with a model we’re really happy with – fluffy, crusty and perfectly dippable. For meat we turned to the excellent Moen’s in Clapham Common, which has supplied us with prime Scotch Beef topside and excellent meat stock for the gravy for both stalls so far. The topside comes coated in some fabulous fat which keeps the meat moist and tender and flavours the jus beautifully.
I wanted to keep the sandwich recipe as close to what I’d experienced at Philippe’s as possible, because I loved its simplicity, but also because I believe it’s the best French Dip out there. We spent a few weeks prior to our first stall messing around with roasting times and perfecting the au jus, which is made with just the roasting juices, stock and a bit of thickening and seasoning.
We’ve now done two stalls in and are absolutely loving it. Both times we’ve been positioned at the mouth of the market, next to the man who sells records and plays great reggae and soul tracks all day, giving that special Brixton atmosphere. Bunting is strung up at the start of the day and people start arriving from 10.30 onwards, perusing the stalls, hanging out and drinking coffee and tasting as they go. Initially lots of people needed us to explain what a French Dip was, but we have had a surprising number of people who have found us through Twitter or googling French Dip. Weirdly we’ve had two people walking past and spotting us who have been to Philippe’s. It was amazing when one of them said it was as good as the sandwich there!
We’re taking a hiatus for June because Andrew is going off around Italy, but we’ll be back in July and have some ideas bubbling under the surface about our next sandwich, which will be a summer special of pulled pork and barbecue au jus, and the beginning of a number of experiments with different meats and dips. Do follow us on Twitter @londonfrenchdip for updates and thanks to everyone who’s come down and supported us so far.