Three recipes that celebrate charred food, by Ducksoup | Residency

Cook residency: European cookery culture tends to frown on burnt food. But charring fresh make intentionally as they do in the Middle East can be a revelation, especially with yoghurt and spice, says Clare Lattin

For some of us, the word burnt is a no-no. In our culture weve learnt to understand that it means spoiled; burnt flavors are the exact opposite of what weve been brought up to expect from cooked food.

These days, burning or though, charring food is a fashionable thing to do. Its as though were unlearning all weve come to know. Some cooks go as far as turning certain ingredients to ash to give them a very bitter savour, which is said to pair well with fattier foods. For cook in the Middle East, however, burnt and charred ingredients are simply part of their repertoire; paired with a cooling yoghurt and some uplifting spice or herbs, its simply the style things are done. Lucky for them, because there is something magical about the transition flavors build when exposed to fire in this way; a charred bean offers so much more intensity than a bean this is only, well, cooked to perfection.

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Cook’s tip

Sheeps milk yoghurt has a higher fat content than the cows milk equivalent, which adds greater depth of flavour. It also has a tangier character, which pairs particularly brilliantly with this dish, but if you cant find it, cows milk yoghurt will work as well..


During my early days in London, I was introduced to mangal ocakbasi , a Turkish grill that graces every street and corner in Stoke Newington. I wasnt familiar with this type of cook charring food ingredients over hot coals other than at barbecues, which were mostly dominated by meat. Until trying baba ganoush, Id shunned aubergines, supposing them submarines of tasteless mush. But there I was, experiencing how the prolonged heat first blistered and then burnt the skin of this ancient purple torpedo, imparting a revelatory smokiness to its humble flesh. I fell in love.

Tom is a great fan of cooking in this way. His inspiration often comes from his travellings through countries where cook over flame is the norm. He takes any opportunity to get outside and start cook over hot coals, experimenting with delicate, less obvious ingredients, such as onions, leeks, radicchio, fennel, beans, peas and even fruit lemons, limes and rhubarb So, at Ducksoup, youll often find something burnt or charred on the menu we use this method of cooking to add a depth to a dish, be it gentle caramelisation to release sweetness, or a more intense process to create a subtle smokiness.

Taken still further, charring can create bitterness, which is where it gets interesting. Its at this juncture that yoghurt and spice can come into their own if introduced. The yoghurt mellows the burnt or charred flavour so that it becomes more rounded, and the spice( or fresh herbs) ramps things up in an aromatic direction. We often gently toast cumin, fry curry leaves or use sesame seeds, spice and dried herbs, such as zaatar, to a charred base with yoghurt, creating a space where all these flavour dimensions come together.

Claire Lattin: Charring adds depth to a dish, be it gentle caramelisation to release sweetness, or a more intense process to create a subtle smokiness. Photograph: Elena Heatherwick for the Guardian

Burnt courgettes, sheeps milk yoghurt and zaatar( main scene)

Sometimes courgettes can go soggy so its important to keep the heat intense and get them well-coloured here.

Serves 4
4 courgettes, approximately chopped
250g sheeps milk yoghurt
Juice of a lemon
Extra virgin olive oil

For the zaatar
1 tbsp sumac
1 tbsp dried oregano or dried thyme
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

1 Oil and season the courgettes then cook, cut-side down, in a hot frying pan over a medium-high hot. You want them to nearly burn, but not quite. Flip them over and cook for the same length of day on the other side. They should be nicely coloured, but not overcooked: they need to retain a little bit of bite.

2 Once cooked, scatter around your plate or platter, pour the yoghurt over and around the courgettes, ensuring good distribution. Then, utilizing your fingers, build the zaatar by mixing together the sumac, oregano or thyme, sesame seeds and salt in a small bowl.

3 Squeeze over the lemon, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with the zaatar.

Chargrilled quail, curry-spiced tahini and burnt lime

Sweetly aromatic curry leaves complement the meat perfectly here with the mellowed acidity of burnt lime.

This quail recipe working for you with chicken and poussin, too. Photograph: Elena Heatherwick for the Guardian

Serves 4
120g tahini paste
1 tsp curry powder
250ml water
3 limes, cut in half
4 quails
A pinch of salt
A handful of fresh curry leaves
Vegetable petroleum, for cooking

1 Whisk together the tahini, curry powder, water and juice of 1 lime, plus a pinch of salt. Warm the sauce over a low hot. It will thicken, so may need a bit more water as it heats: you want the consistency of double cream.

2 Next, spatchcock the quails. Cut out the backbone of each bird, then gently push the breast bone to flatten it out.

3 Heat a griddle pan until it is hot and smoking, petroleum and season the quail with salt and pepper. Cook the quails skin-side down for 3 minutes, turning the hot down to medium so as not to colour them too much. Turn the birds over after 3 minutes, then cook for a further 5 minutes. Flip them back over and cook for another 2 minutes. The quails should still be a little pink. Transfer them on to a plate and let the meat rest for five minutes.

4 Meanwhile, in the same pan, cook the remaining limes cut-side down so that they burn and caramelise. This will take about a minute. Remove and place on the same plate as the quails.

5 By this time, the sauce will have warmed though, so give it a good whisk and pour it over the quails.

6 In a separate frying pan, hot a little petroleum until hot and then add the curry leaves they will start to crackle and fry. Pour the petroleum and leaves over the quails and serve.

Charred broad beans, garlic yoghurt, sumac and mint

Here we char the entire broad bean, pod and all. The high hot renders the pod soft enough to eat in its entirety.

Serves 4
250g whole Greek yoghurt
1 big garlic clove
Juice of lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
500g new-season broad beans in their pods
A handful of mint

1 Crush the garlic into the yoghurt. Add the lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a glug of petroleum. Whisk, then set aside.

2 Heat a griddle pan until hot and smoking, petroleum and season the bean pods and char for 90 seconds a side. It should be long enough in order to be allowed to blacken and to cook the bean inside.

3 Scatter the pods on to a plate and pour over the garlic yoghurt, inducing sure you dont altogether encompass the beans( you want to see that lovely charred green colour arriving though ). Tear up the mint and scatter on top, sprinkle generously with the sumac, season with a bit more salt and dress with extra virgin olive oil.

  • Ducksoup, a seasonally-led eatery in Londons Soho, is delivered by Clare Lattin, Tom Hill and Rory McCoy. Ducksoup Cookbook: The Wisdom of Simple Cooking is out on 28 April( Square Peg )

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