Is it just me, or does every Australian cookery programme revolve around barbecuing 2-foot long shrimps and an octopus in front of Sydney Harbour?
I’m watching the cookery channel and they’ve got an Australian Day. Every bloody programme it’s the giant shrimps and cephalopods. And Sydney Harbour.
If you want even one shrimp that size over here you need to re-mortgage your house.
Well, well, well. I just did a bit of delving to find out why someone had found the blog on the search term “why is UK productivity so low”, which had thrown up an article I’d pretty much forgotten I’d written. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I mentioned Asda in that.
Then, browsing the BBC website, I found this article which says Asda is considering cutting up to 2,500 jobs.
Asda has two problems: 1) too many chiefs, and 2) most of them are incompetent.
I shop in Asda regularly, though I am increasingly having to complete my shop elsewhere because of the stock levels. My branch is open 24 hours, but its shelf stock does not match that detail in any way, shape, or form. Asda stocks up in the middle of the night and early morning, then that’s pretty much it until the next night. On top of that, they keep running “Rollback” offers on things, and haven’t cottoned on to the fact that this encourages the owners of corner shops to come in and buy everything up so they can resell it at the RRP in their own store. By 10am, the shelves are empty of those items. I’m also pretty sure some people buy some things on Rollback to sell on Ebay at the normal price.
That’s the thing about large retailers. They can buy at much better prices than smaller sellers can, and even their normal retail prices are better than you can find in the cash & carries. Beer is a prime example – Asda’s normal prices for a case of 12 bottles are £3 – £4 cheaper than the cash & carry offers, but when they put it on Rollback, it can be as much as £10 cheaper! When that happens, even pub owners go in and buy up stock. This Rollback discount problem also applies to many items in grocery, snacks, and confectionery.
Asda also has a problem with stock control. The amount of shelf space it gives to various products is fixed for long periods of time. So it doesn’t matter if they repeatedly sell out of one particular item (even a chimp would realise that’s because people want it), they will still maintain row after row of slower selling items, and maintain the 2 sq. ft. they allow for the item that is selling. Then, when they run out of warehouse stock, they will make no attempt to get anymore of that product until the next scheduled delivery – often weeks later. Management cannot see that if they held stock of things that sell, they would sell more of it.
Then there’s the Dairy items. I don’t piss about with low-fat stuff – if it’s got 50% less fat, it’s also got 50% less taste – yet they have shelf after shelf of that, whilst the normal-fat stuff sells out completely every day, and the shelves stay empty until the next midnight re-stock.
It’s no wonder that they’re struggling. And they’ll keep struggling until they start taking on managers who have a clue.
Every year, like all big corporations, Heinz will take on a bunch of new graduates and let them loose with flipcharts, Lego bricks, Play-doh, finger paints, and all the other things that pass for good Team Meeting props these days (I’ve worked for a big company, so I know that’s what happens). Also like all big corporations, every 5 years or so, Heinz decides that it needs to do Something Big – whether it needs doing or not – and duly assigns the current crop of graduates to come up with something (I know THAT happens, too). In Heinz’s case, this typically seems to boil down to removing the flavour from one of its existing successful products, changing the texture of one so that instead of being able to stick to vertical surfaces, it’ll run even on a flat one, or renaming one so that it appeals to people who listen to rap music and watch the Teletubbies. Sometimes, Heinz will do all three of these things at the same time to just one product.
Unlike the company that I used to work for, where the products were medicines, and so pissing about with the formulations and presentations was a no-no, Heinz makes food products, and these have no such protection. Consequently, if he or she is lucky and arrives at just the right time, the average new graduate can really carve out their future career by having a field day changing things using such tried and tested methods as removing salt, sugar, fat (and therefore any taste or familiar texture), and putting less of it in a pack and selling it at a higher price.
The current flavour of the month is Salad Cream, which Heinz owns, and which appears to be on some sort of hit list. To anyone who doesn’t know, salad cream is a thinned down mayonnaise-like dressing with a tangy flavour. It goes great with salads, whether they’re on a plate or between two slice of bread. It also works with plain ham, tuna, even cheese sandwiches – with or without salad items included. A drizzle before adding the top slice of bread brings the sandwich alive. But the thing is, it’s called “salad cream” because it’s always been called that.
Heinz has tried to rename it at least once in the recent past, and I also seem to recall some historical issues over recipe tweaking. They’re on the case again, and the upshot seems to have been that someone somewhere decided that since not everyone who uses Salad Cream pours a nice round dollop (see the photo above) on a plate alongside two lettuce leaves, two spring onions, and half a tomato, the name “salad cream” is grossly misleading and must be changed forthwith. As an aside, you’d have a job putting a “dollop” of Salad Cream on a plate these days thanks to the aforementioned recipe tweaks. It’d be more of a “squirt”. But that’s a different story.
I’m pretty sure that students – who, after all, are the immediate precursor to graduates – might be involved here, since they’re likely to put it on anything from Mars Bars to crisps (potato chips, for American readers). If they’re short of money, they’d probably eat it neat, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that they also used it as a lubricant when they’re having sex. As a result of all that – and, I mean, it’s obvious when you think about it – it should immediately be rebranded as “sandwich cream” (and I just realised there’s a double entendre there, which is purely accidental).
Fortunately, Heinz has seen sense (until the next time) and bowed to public pressure to leave it alone. Bearing in mind that Heinz had decided to go ahead with the change until the public found out, and had probably had the label artwork at least partly produced, they could have saved themselves a lot of money by just asking me first.
Digressing slightly, I remember an episode years ago at a squash club I was a member of. The young (17 year old) son of one of the members was in the bar one night, and he ordered a pint of orange juice and Coca Cola, mixed. It was apparently the “in drink” at University. It looked like diarrhoea, and to make matters worse, he had just crunched his way through a whole pack of Polo Mints – and we all know what anything tastes like after you’ve eaten mints. I just thought he was a berk, and that orange juice and Coca Cola would happily survive as separate drinks into the future (and I was right). The kind of people who run companies like Heinz would immediately see it as an opportunity to get rid of both orange juice and Coca Cola because they “don’t appeal to younger drinkers”.
I’ve mentioned many times that I like cooking when I have the time. If I see something on TV I like, I’ll look it up and make it for myself, or sometimes just look things up to get some ideas for myself.
Something I find really amusing is the reviews people leave for recipes, though. Last night I was after simple breaded chicken ideas, so I looked through several to get the gist of what I ought/ought not to try. Breaded chicken is extremely simple. It’s basically chicken dipped in flour, beaten eggs, and then seasoned breadcrumbs. After I’d got what I was after – ideas for seasonings – I thought I’d have a laugh at some of the reviews for the last recipe I’d scanned through.
It doesn’t matter what the recipe is, the people who review them seem dumber than my neighbour’s cat. Even a recipe for pouring a glass of water would be too difficult for some of them, and the review would typically go something along the lines of:
Brilliant recipe. I tried it last night, but I didn’t have any water, so I substituted some liquid I had under the sink in a bottle labelled “drain cleaner” that looked a bit like water, and I added some cabbage which I had lying around, and a piece of tree bark. It was lovely.
How the f&%k is it the same recipe if you change it?
This last chicken recipe – which I was not going to try in a million years, because it was so wrong – was no exception. It amounted to dipping a chicken breast into a garlic/oil mixture (bad idea), then into seasoned breadcrumbs (Basil and Parmesan), then baking it in the oven for 30 minutes. I knew what I’d find, but even I was surprised both by how quickly and how many reviewers had left Earth. The very first review went:
FANTASTIC! This was a great baked chicken. I changed some things to make it even more flavorful for us. For the breadcrumb mixture I substituted “pepperidge farm herb stuffing” instead of plain bread crumbs and also added 1 tsp oregano along with the basil. I used 4 large chicken breasts and used 4 tbsp olive oil and 2 cloves garlic. I also sprinkled a little salt and pepper on the chicken breasts before dipping them into the oil/garlic mixture…. I did have a little bit of each leftover (oil and breadcrumb), so I first drizzled what was left of the oil on the prepared chicken breasts in the pan, and then sprinkled what was left of the breadcrumb mixture over this. Then I sprinkled all of this with some garlic powder. It took about 40 minutes for the chicken to be done.
That is NOT the same recipe. Using stuffing instead of breadcrumbs is a good idea (I’ve done it before), but that would change the flavour completely. And seasoning the chicken alone is enough to turn an abject failure into a major success. So you have not reviewed the recipe at all – just your own.
The next review goes:
With my modifications, it came out perfect..! Was out of italian breadcrumbs so used chicken flavored stove top stuffing crushed well…
Another one who has changed the recipe completely, then reviewed it in the name of the original. Then the next one:
This is a great recipe. Here’s what I did with it…
Another change to a completely different recipe. Nearly all of them said something along similar lines. Only one reviewer I noted was still on Planet Earth:
I thought this was mediocre despite all the superlative reviews. I wish people would actually review the recipe as written, not their revisions. It makes the ratings very misleading. In any case, when actually following the recipe as written, the bread crumb coating was soggy and bland and there was not enough olive to dip six breasts in. I would not recommend this.
My thoughts exactly.
There was one more review that almost choked me when I read it. Bear in mind that this recipe is chicken dipped in oil and then coated in breadcrumbs mixed with Parmesan Cheese. The calorie count would be off the scale compared with what it could (and perhaps should) be:
Really great, pretty healthy, chicken dish…
As an aside, all I wanted was some cooked chicken I could slice up and put in a tortilla wrap with some vegetables, then eat in the car without grease dripping out of it. Plain chicken used like this is bland, and I wanted something along the lines of what you get in a McDonalds wrap but minus the calories.
Back to the bottom line: don’t trust online reviews.
Well, I’m on a voyage of discovery, just lately. It might have something to do with getting older and worrying more about my health. On the other hand, it might just be that I simply have too much time on my hands, sometimes.
I recently wrote about how cashew nuts can turn your poop almost white if you do what I did and eat a bucket of them all in one go. That post has been remarkably popular.
My latest discovery concerns black grapes, and how they can turn your poop green.
If you want to research it yourself, start out like I did, and proceed on the assumption that you’re not suffering from cancer, failing organs, scrofula, rickets, mange, abduction by aliens, and so on. Instead, assume that it might be due to something you ate – especially if you ate about half a kilo of it just before you went to bed.
Eating a lot of anything which is purple, blue, or green can give your poop a green tinge, just like a whole punnet of Sable black grapes last night did to me this morning. Blueberries can do it, too.
Incidentally, you can also get green poop if you have diarrhoea and stuff passes through you too quickly. You can also have it if you have an underlying illness that needs treating, so if it persists for more than a day, see your GP just to be on the safe side.
Also incidentally, if you suffer from hypochondria, don’t look at your poop if you ate a lot of beetroot.
Every year now, I make a concerted effort to fill my diary up to the rafters in the weeks running up to and during Christmas. I do this because I know from past experience that – without fail – as soon as Christmas starts to bite, people are going to start cancelling due to “illness”.
I don’t mind so much if they’re honest with me, but in the vast majority of cases any “illness” is simply a front for wanting to go Christmas shopping, do overtime, get pissed, recover from being pissed the night before, or to save money at this expensive time of year. Over-filling my diary means I still have a relatively decent amount of work remaining. This year has been better than most so far, but in the last two weeks I’ve had at least half a dozen last-minute cancellations and two no-shows (followed by profuse apologies, and claims of mortal illness).
Unfortunately, it is a sign of the times. With every year that passes, the trend is for people to get lazier and more dishonest. Which is probably why companies like Wagamama have strict working policies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally against zero-hours contracts (they cost me a small fortune over a typical year if I have teenage pupils who work at McDonalds), and Wagamama’s apparent rule that you have to get someone to cover for you if you can’t get in stinks to high heaven. But I guess it is one way of managing lazy, lying scumbags you’re unfortunate enough to have working for you.
But it is this message to staff at one London branch which has upset the union. The Christmas week rota has the following attached:
No calling in sick! may I remind you that if you are unable to come for your shift it is your responsibility to find somebody to cover your shift (as per contract and handbook). Calling in sick during the next 2 weeks will result in disciplinary action being
Naturally. Wagamama’s head office as distanced itself from the message. The Unite Hospitality union, of course, has more to say:
To threaten workers with disciplinary action for being sick is not just morally reprehensible, it may be unlawful under the Health and Safety Act and Equality Act as it discriminates against those with long-term physical or mental health conditions.
The irony in the fact that the message targets lazy liars, whereas the union supports them, is lost on Unite Hospitality.
The raw (and probably some of the in-store cooked) chicken sold at stores like Marks & Spencer, Aldi, Lidl, The Co-op, Tesco, and Sainsbury’s is supplied by a company called 2 Sisters Food Group, based in Birmingham. It was founded in 1993 and has an annual revenue of over £3 billion. It has numerous subsidiaries, including Fox’s Biscuits.
Following an undercover operation involving ITV and The Guardian, it was revealed this week that workers at the West Bromwich plant had been changing the slaughter dates of chicken processed there. The company was also taking food back from supermarkets and repackaging and redistributing it. They are currently being investigated by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) as a result.
Back in 2013, 2 Sisters was fined £100,000 by FSA for shelf life date offences. In 2014, chicken which had been dropped on the factory floor at the Scunthorpe site was seen to be put back on the production line during an investigation into high levels of campylobacter in the UK food chain. 2 Sisters admitted to breaches of the rules, but was not fined.
In an update to the current issue, 2 Sisters has “suspended operations”. It isn’t explicitly stated that this suspension applies to just the West Bromwich plant, but I assume that’s what it means. But this is the part that sends shivers up my spine:
The 2 Sisters Food Group said staff at its site in the West Midlands will need to be “appropriately retrained” before it starts resupplying customers…
…the company said an internal investigation had shown “some isolated instances of non-compliance” at its plant in West Bromwich.
“We have therefore decided to temporarily suspend operations at the site to allow us the time to retrain all colleagues, including management, in all food safety and quality management systems.”
All staff will remain on full pay and take part in training on site, it added.
The thing that is clear is that someone somewhere was openly committing a crime – quite probably documented on film, one would assume, if ITV was involved. Even if those people were acting independently, they were still guilty, but it is more realistic to suppose that they were following orders, which widens the net both outwards and upwards.
So it makes you wonder how “retraining” of “colleagues” addresses this fairly obvious conclusion, and how being paid a full salary in the meantime goes anywhere near dealing with it appropriately.
This is an Australian story, but it reports that McDonald’s over there is about to take “one of the biggest risks in the company’s history” by introducing fresh beef patties to its menu. Apparently, ordering one adds about a minute to your waiting time, since the fresh beef patties are prepared to order, whereas the normal type are made ahead of time and kept warm until required.
I had to do a bit of a double-take when I read that, because in the UK it seems to be standard practice for McDonald’s restaurants not to prepare anything ahead of time, and to cook everything to order. At the drive-thru, a simple order of a cheeseburger can get you a ten-minute wait in one of the bays. I have gone inside to demand my money back on more than one occasion, and I’ve complained to head office at least twice. To be fair, most branches have improved, but I absolutely refuse to say anything positive about motorway branches, because late at night they have to cook everything. There is nothing ready. But I digress: a whole minute is nothing in the UK compared to what is “normal” over here.
They already do these fresh beef patties in America:
A customer in Dallas named Tracy Moore told Reuters that she’s going to stop patronizing the fast-food chain, which she currently visits every day, if the wait time doesn’t improve.
“If it’s going to be that long every time, I won’t order it. I’d go elsewhere,” she said, after ordering the new fresh-beef Quarter Pounder at a McDonald’s drive thru and being told to pull into a parking spot to wait several minutes until it was ready.
She doesn’t know she’s born! Oh, what I wouldn’t give to only have to wait “several minutes”. Sorry, digressing again.
The article adds:
Improving service has been a primary goal of McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook over the last couple years. He has cut dozens of items from the fast-food chain’s menu to try and simplify and speed up kitchen operations.
I think he’s barking up the wrong tree, though he may be doing it deliberately, and attacking a secondary issue to protect the primary one.
In the UK, absolutely the only reason there is a delay to service is that there is nothing ready and they have to prepare it. They might have a few bits ready, but the days when the rack behind the counter would be stacked with carton after carton of Big Macs and other burgers are long gone. If it’s busy, they run out and you have to wait, and if it’s quiet there’s nothing ready anyway and you have to wait. The franchise holder – McDonald’s restaurants are all franchised – does it to reduce waste. No wait, let me rephrase that – he does it to save money.
Three key words in McDonald’s business are: SERVICE, WASTE, COST.
Once upon a time, service was far and away the most important aspect at McDonalds. As time has gone by it has passed through waste, and now sits firmly entrenched in cost. But what Steve Easterbrook seems to have forgotten (I know he hasn’t, really, even if it looks like he has) is that fast food is low margin. You make money by shifting tonnes of the stuff, not by glamming it up, and you can’t shift any of it if there isn’t any to shift.
It’s funny when you consider that for each Big Mac costing £2.99, about £0.75 of that is gross profit to the restaurant, about £0.80 covers the materials, and the rest is down to labour costs. It’s even funnier when you consider that if a McDonald’s branch pisses me off, I won’t go in again for months (in the case of Clifton, years) just on principle. The manager’s decision not to risk having to throw away just over £2 guarantees he will lose £2.99 from me, and that woman in Dallas suggests I may not be the only one.
On a slightly different topic, a couple of the Facebook posts below the article made me smile.
This character is a vegan and he makes the assertion that eating meat and dairy gives you cancer. Someone challenges him, and he then goes on to declare that vegans do not need to take supplements as a result of not eating meat and dairy.
Actually, Mr Phillips, most vegan-friendly nutritionists and doctors – many of whom are vegans themselves – point out that Vitamin B12 supplements are pretty much essential for vegans, since this cannot be obtained reliably outside meat and dairy.
Organisations like The Vegan Society don’t make such a big deal out of things if they’re not important or significant.
This dietitian at Vegan R.D. goes further and suggests that as well as B12 supplements being important for all vegans, most should also take Vitamin D and Iodine supplements, and some should also consider Calcium and Iron.
I’m getting a lot of hits on this article, so before I go into my spiel, let me just say this: I am not a doctor, and this is not a medical assessment in any way, but I can state absolutely categorically that yes, eating too many cashews CAN send your poop white! In fact, eating too much of almost anything – and especially nuts (any type) – is likely to affect your poop.
I found this out after I had a shock one day. I won’t go into graphic detail, but let’s just say after I’d been to take a dump, I almost had another unscheduled one when I saw what colour my poop was! And I almost had a third when I Googled it.
The internet is a great thing, but it must be a nightmare if you’re a hypochondriac. I mean, you get a pimple, you look it up… and it could be cancer. You get a toothache and you look that up… cancer again. A headache? Yep, cancer – or possibly a stroke, a heart attack, cirrhosis of the liver, or mange. And so it goes on. Fortunately, I’m not a hypochondriac, although I could easily become one if I was to believe everything I read through Google.
You see, the way the internet works for most people is this. You have a headache and you Google it. Some online doctor says it means you have a brain tumour, even though you were hit over the head with a baseball bat that afternoon – which prompted you to look it up in the first place. Evidently, the baseball bat did more damage than is immediately apparent, because you now believe the online medic and are subsequently convinced you have a tumour. But you don’t.
I’m not like that. The secret to good Googling is to know what to believe and what not to. Or rather, to sift out the crap and dig into the facts. Sometimes, though, you have to go in the other direction and sift through the utter crap and siphon off the lesser crap.
That’s what I had to do here. My starting point was that I had done something sufficiently different from normal – namely, I made some salted, roasted cashews and ate some. Well, when I say “some”, it was actually more like 500g of them over a period of about 24 hours (and about two thirds of that in one go). As you can probably tell, I like cashews, and since I hadn’t had any for about a year, I suddenly got a hankering for some. They were nice, and I didn’t give it much thought until my stomach started rumbling an hour or two later.
When I Googled the subject of “stool colour and cashew nuts” I was surprised at how many results came up. There was no bona fide medical stuff (other than dire warnings about cancer and scrofula), but lots of cases of people questioning poop colour after eating cashews. So many, in fact, that there was absolutely no way that there couldn’t be a connection.
So, to anyone out there who almost faints when they look in the bowl and see pure white number twos, the answer is most definitely yes: eating too many cashew nuts can do that to your poop. And it would appear that there are other nuts and pulses which can do the same.
Incidentally, I have also discovered that eating a lot of black grapes can give your poop a green tinge.
Can eating a lot of cashews affect a child’s poop/stool colour?
Yes. And it wouldn’t need anywhere near as many nuts as it would for it to affect an adult.
Can eating a lot of walnuts affect your poop/stool colour?
Yes. From what I have been able to find out, eating a lot of any nut, pulse, and some dark-coloured fruits and vegetables can make your poop change colour. Green, very pale, even reddish/orange have been mentioned in the various sources I checked.
You need to be careful with red (and black) just in case it is due to blood in your poop rather than merely a pigmentation effect. If you see blood, get checked out by your GP.
Do blueberries affect your poop colour?
Yes, they can make your poop green, red, or black depending on how many you eat (and whatever else you’ve eaten). Be careful if your poop is black as this can sometimes mean there is blood present, which is potentially a serious issue and nothing to do with what you ate. If it persists, see your GP.
I ate nuts and there are bits in my poop
It’s normal. Things like peanuts and sweetcorn – things high in fibre or with tough skins – might not get broken down completely and may make it all the way through, ready to scare the living daylights out of you when you see it. Watch out especially for beansprouts – and promise to post a video of your reaction somewhere if you find one.
Do cashews give you diarrhoea?
Not directly – unless you are allergic to them. However, eating too much of any nut can lead to diarrhoea, and that includes cashews. It’s because of the fats and fibre in them.
As with any problem, if it lasts for more than a day, see your GP. And if you get diarrhoea every time you eat a few nuts, you might want to get that checked out, too, because you could have an allergy – and nut allergies are potentially quite serious.
Do cashews make you go to the toilet more?
Probably. They contain a lot of fibre, and eating that does loosen your stools, so going to the loo will be necessary. It’s why people who are constipated are advised to eat more fibre. There’s a difference between loose stools and diarrhoea, though.
[Disclaimer: this article does not constitute medical advice, and should not be taken as such. If any problem lasts more than a day, go and see your GP. The cashew-related problem goes away once you’ve got rid of everything (it can be even scarier when you see poop with light and dark stripes in it as the cashews make their way out and the normal stuff follows up behind it), but pale stools could be a sign of something else needing medical attention].
I like cooking, and I especially like to be able to reproduce food that I would normally end up paying an arm and a leg for if I went out and bought it from a restaurant or fast food joint. I can make curry that tastes almost identical to those you get from an Indian Takeaway, and I can make pizzas which are also identical to takeaway ones. Another long-time quest has been to be able to make my own doner kebabs from scratch.
I’ve tried making doner meat in the past, and it wasn’t successful. Membership of the local cash & carry outlets means that I have access to the kinds of things you wouldn’t find on supermarket shelves, and on more than one occasion I have been tempted to buy a whole doner leg (that’s one of those big things that slowly turn around in front of the grill at the kebab shop). If I’d have been stupid enough to do it, God only knows how I’d have cooked it (and yes, the option of buying a doner grill did occur to me), or what I’d have done with 10kg of cooked doner meat. Buying it would have been cheating, anyway. Satisfaction could only come from being able to make doner meat from scratch.
The few goes I had a couple of years ago were a hell of a palaver. It was all about mincing lamb breast twice, forming patties, pushing them inside an empty tin can, cooking it, then using a blow torch whilst turning the mini-doner leg on a fork and slicing layers off. Even the pictures that accompanied one of the recipes I tried (and note that the flavour of this was very good, if you’re wanting to make your own seasoning mix) showed that the final slices of meat were coarser-textured and nothing like a proper slice of doner meat. That’s how it turned out for me – the taste was pretty much spot-on, but the cooked meat was crumbly and had no “bite” to it. The worded version of that same recipe mentioned that commercial preparations “probably” use transglutaminase – or meat glue – to hold the texture. I’d been planning on trying that, when out of the blue the answer came from… bacon.
Why bacon, you ask? Well, yet another of my culinary quests was recently completed when I started curing my own bacon (I’ll have to do a write-up of that). I needed some curing salt, and I found Surfy’s Home Curing website as a source of it. While browsing Surfy’s site I noticed that they also sold Doner Kebab Seasoning, and with my previous failed attempts in mind, I asked Surfy a few questions about the texture problem I’d experienced. That’s where the key piece of information came from: temperature.
In a nutshell, the most critical part to getting the texture right when making doner kebab meat is the temperature you do the mixing at. It has to be very cold, almost freezing.
Making Doner Kebab Meat
Surfy’s Kebab Seasoning, comes with a handy recipe for doner meat. The recipe is so simple that I couldn’t believe it was going to work, but I decided to give it a go exactly as it was written to see what happened.
I bought two 500g packs of lamb mince from Asda and stuck them in the freezer along with a bowl of water. When the water had just started to freeze (therefore acting as a crude thermometer), I threw the mince into my Kenwood Chef fitted with the K blade, added 50g of the kebab seasoning, and mixed on a medium-high speed until it became sticky and of a uniform texture (just like pink bread dough, in fact). Then I added 50g of the ice-water and mixed for a minute more, also on medium-high speed. Apart from the hour or so in the freezer beforehand, it took less than 10 minutes to produce the meat mixture in accordance with Surfy’s Recipe.
Cooking was based on my previous experiments. The first time I made this recipe, I packed the meat mixture firmly into a non-stick loaf tin by hand, placed this in a baking tray half-filled with boiling water (making a bain-marie), then put the bain-marie into a pre-heated oven at Gas Mark 4. I let it cook until the inside temperature reached above 75°C. Once removed from the oven, I let it cool a little.
Then came the moment of truth. I cut a slice off the end using a knife and immediately saw that the texture was identical to shop-bought kebabs. The slice was firm and even-textured, and it had just the right “bite”. The smell and taste were also identical to that of commercial meat. Once completely cool, I used my bacon slicer to slice it up into strips. The cooked loaf was about 220mm x 110mm x 65mm (i.e. slices were about 2½ inches wide).
On my second try, I made it in exactly the same way, but this time packed it into a square, non-stick cake tin. The cooked loaf was about 220mm x 220mm x 35mm (i.e. the slices were just over 1 inch wide, and much more like shop-bought meat). I’ve frozen this batch by rolling it up, two slices at a time, in cling-film, so all I have to do when I want some is unroll what I need, then put the roll back in the freezer (I use this technique for Pancetta, which I buy in slabs, slice up, then freeze for when I need it).
Re-heating can be done either under the grill or in the microwave. Personally, I prefer the second cut of meat when I buy a kebab from a shop. The first cut is the highly-browned and often crispy layer right next to the grill flame, and it is sometimes so brown that the meat is very dry. The second cut is much more moist. Grilling simulates the first cut, microwaving simulates the second.
Making a kebab is simple enough. Just re-heat some meat as described, and heat a pitta or naan under a grill (or in a pan or the oven). Thinly slice a little cabbage and some Iceberg lettuce. Slice up a red onion, a tomato, and some cucumber. Place the hot meat on the naan or in the split pitta and add some of your favourite chili (and/or other) sauce, then layer on the vegetables. And that’s it.
I estimate that 1kg of lamb mince produces enough doner meat for up to ten kebabs – admittedly, perhaps not ones the same size as those you can get in takeaways, but that’s probably a good thing because eating one of those is sometimes a challenge, and even if you manage it you feel like your stomach is going to explode if you make any sudden movements. At £8 per kg of mince, plus £0.60 for the seasoning, each serving of meat comes to about 85p. Add another 50p for the naan or pitta and salad and you have a total cost of around £1.35 per kebab. The average takeaway price is £5.50-£6.00 (though when I researched that, I discovered my local takeaway has been overcharging me if their online price is anything to go by).
No one is ever quite sure what goes into commercial kebab meat. At the very least, the majority of meats aren’t 100% lamb, some have no lamb in them at all, and you can be certain that they don’t use the best cuts of whatever meat they do use. Indeed, there is the recurring suggestion that various body parts (and occasionally, if you read The Sun, non-food meats) end up in the kebab mix, and given that the meat is ground to a fine paste, none of that would be beyond the realm of possibility. Furthermore, commercial kebab meat is very high in fat (up to 22%), and in some cases, trans fats are so high that they must have been added to the meat during manufacture. And since we’re looking at commercial production, chemical additives (sodium phosphate, in particular) are used, and I wouldn’t be surprised if synthetic flavourings are also added by some manufacturers. In short, you simply don’t know what you’re eating – just that you’re eating a lot of it (and you know you shouldn’t).
The only fat in this homemade meat comes from the lamb. The Asda lamb I bought contains less than 20% fat in the first place, and a lot of that is rendered out during cooking. It contains no synthetic fats, and no chemicals for emulsification or preservation. Unless Asda is pulling the mother of all scams, when it says “lamb” on the packet it means “lamb” (in any case, you could mince your own if you are a tinfoil hat wearer and really wanted to be certain).
I estimate that each homemade kebab weighs in at no more than 800 calories, even on a large naan. On a pitta it’s closer to 500 calories. Indeed, the majority of the calories come from the bread and not the meat. It’s no more than a typical meal, and probably healthier since it contains quite a lot of vegetables and not much fat.
If you were on a 2,000 calorie diet, you could have one (or even two or three) of these as your main meal without any worries. A shop-bought kebab, on the other hand, could contain the full 2,000 calories in one go.
Could you cook it over a grill like they do in the shops?
Yes, of course. As long as you made sure it was properly cooked as you sliced it, the raw mixture could be formed on a spit, and rotated over or in front of an open flame to cook it. I haven’t tried it, but if you packed it tightly and then chilled it I’m sure it would be firm enough to put on a spit. Come to think of it, that’s how a takeaway I used to use many years ago did it – I watched him one day taking handfuls of meat mix out of a bowl, forming them into discs, and then throwing them on to the skewer of the large spit as he formed the “elephant leg” a layer at a time.
Can you freeze cooked doner meat?
Well, the recipe given above is cooked from fresh ingredients, and then frozen quickly afterwards. It’s then re-heated quickly when needed. There’s no problem with that, as long as you don’t let the cooked meat hang about at room temperature, where bacteria can start growing.
Thawing it and re-freezing it would be a complete no-no. The risk of bacterial contamination would be too high. You might get away with it, but it goes against all professional advice.
Freezing doner meat you bought in a kebab from a shop would be an even worse idea, since the meat on the spit was almost certainly frozen to begin with. You’d be re-freezing it. You would also be gambling on the cleanliness of the shop you bought it from, and you don’t need me to tell you what many kebab shops and their employees look like. A few dodgy practices might not hurt you if you ate freshly-cooked meat, but allowing any contamination to multiply during any extra cooling and thawing processes you had introduced would be asking for trouble.
A simpler solution, if you don’t want to make your own, would be to buy some frozen, ready-cooked doner meat. You can get it from most cash & carry outlets, and even some large supermarkets (I’ve bought it myself in the past, before I came upon this DIY recipe, and it is very good stuff).
What gives doner kebab meat its texture?
It’s all in the preparation. The meat has to have about 20-25% fat and it has to be very cold – almost freezing – when you do the mixing so that it can emulsify (i.e. the meat and fat are no longer separate). When you press it down into a mould or tray and cook it as described above, the texture is just right – not at all crumbly, but firm with a definite bite to it.