Ham Rolls in Clingfilm

There’s a lot wrapped up – pun intended – in the ham rolls you see on the back bar of a certain type of pub.

Roll. noun. A round indi­vid­u­al­ly por­tioned bread prod­uct usu­al­ly split before eat­ing. Syn­onyms: bap, cob, batch.

They are not in any sense ‘arti­sanal’. The bread is usu­al­ly of the soft, gum­my white and processed vari­ety – eight for a pound. The ham is from a pack­et, pre-sliced, rub­bery and pink. If there is but­ter, it isn’t but­ter, though you may not believe it. Instead of waxed paper they’re bun­dled up in cling­film (US: Saran Wrap) – con­ve­nient, cer­tain­ly, but prone to sweat­ing and squash­ing the rolls into faint­ly obscene shapes. And, most impor­tant­ly, they don’t cost £5 but more like £1, or per­haps £1.50 if they’re espe­cial­ly sub­stan­tial.

Some vari­ants: the roll might be crusty; there is some­times mus­tard, or raw sliced onion; and there might be cheese rolls too – mild ched­dar, prob­a­bly pre-sliced.

This is how we remem­ber pub food when we were kids – piles of rolls like this, kept under plas­tic cov­ers, and slung across the counter with pack­ets of peanuts, the inten­tion being to soak up beer in the bel­ly, and keep bums on ban­quettes, pound­ing pints.

And that’s the point: they are func­tion­al acces­sories to beer, sat­is­fy­ing in their own way but with­out being a culi­nary expe­ri­ence.

No-one plans to eat these rolls. They’re a side effect of being in the pub and not want­i­ng to leave for what­ev­er rea­son, and of the munchies that strike after a round or two. You see them and you just fan­cy one, just as in the ter­mi­nal phase of the same evening you might fan­cy a kebab you would­n’t touch with a broom-han­dle while sober.

Fictional book cover: The Ham Roll Pub Guide.
Not a real book from 1975.

In the 21st Cen­tu­ry they’re a way for a pub to sig­nal that it is unpre­ten­tious but not uncivilised; old-fash­ioned rather than rough. If you’re going to drink ten pints here, mate, which you’re very wel­come to do, then make sure you don’t do it on an emp­ty stom­ach.

But they’re becom­ing rare these days as pubs become ever more polarised between haves and have-nots and as envi­ron­men­tal health reg­u­la­tions make it hard­er for a pub­li­can to knock up some­thing even this sim­ple with­out a ded­i­cat­ed food prepa­ra­tion area.

Which is a shame because we’re begin­ning to think that Ham Roll Pubs™ might be the best pubs.

Snacks to Beer: the kebab!


Yes, this is the big one.

Kebabs are intrin­si­cal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with beer in many Euro­pean coun­tries. We don’t know about Ger­many where the ver­ti­cal­ly-grilled don­er orig­i­nat­ed, but in Britain, they’re more-or-less only eat­en by drunk peo­ple.

They’re dif­fer­ent all over the con­ti­nent, of course. In Ger­many, they favour a fluffi­er, lighter ‘fladen­brot’. In Britain, it’s usu­al­ly a bor­ing old pit­ta bread. Our local is run by Mau­ri­tians, though, who (weird­ly) do the best naan breads in Lon­don, which is what they use as the base for their kebabs. That’s cov­ered in grilled meat, stacks of veg, yoghurt and lethal chilli sauce.

When it’s done, you’re left with a poly­styrene box full of bright red grease.

We know kebabs are bad for us, but that does­n’t stop us crav­ing them from time to time. For the sake of our hearts, though, we’ve learned to make a slight­ly health­i­er ver­sion at home.

Here’s the recipe.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Snacks to Beer: the kebab!”

Pretzels – the definitive recipe

I’ve been try­ing to work out how to make prop­er Ger­man-style pret­zels for a cou­ple of years now. They’re just per­fect with a pint – fill­ing, salty and, well, Ger­man.

Today, I final­ly nailed it.

There are lots of recipes around and I tried most of them, but none quite seemed to do the trick. The tex­ture was nev­er quite right – it should be chewy on the out­side and fluffy in the mid­dle. Our recent trip to Ger­many only made me more deter­mined to crack the prob­lem – I could­n’t bear the thought of wait­ing until our next hol­i­day to have anoth­er pret­zel!

Boak did man­age to find authen­tic pret­zels in a Ger­man bak­ery on the Bromp­ton Road and it was inspect­ing one of those that helped me per­fect my recipe.

Almost any fluffy white dough will do. The tricks are all in the fin­ish­ing. Specif­i­cal­ly, the shape you roll the dough into before you make the famous pret­zel shape; the fact that you boil it before bak­ing; coat­ing it with a solu­tion of bicar­bon­ate of soda [UPDATE: use about one lev­el tea­spoon of bicarb]; and slash­ing the top with a knife.

Recipe after the jump.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Pret­zels – the defin­i­tive recipe”