The Only Way is Norfolk!


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2nd March 2015

Many of us will have had the joy of trying to keep our children entertained during half-term, so I decided to decamp for a few days up to North Norfolk, quite sure that a British beach in February would be perfectly fine for my two to run off some energy. I think I am guilty of deluding myself about what my children like to do on holiday. I imagine they still like to visit castles and museums and buy a pencil case in the gift shop afterwards, or write their names in sand on the beach and skim stones in the sea. But they sort of tease me about these trips now and all they really want to know is the password for the hotel wifi. We are definitely in a transitional phase!

But I had an ulterior motive for this trip. I wanted to revisit a fabulous boutique hotel called the Hoste Arms in Burnham Market; the small town dubbed by some as Chelsea-on-Sea. I’d been lucky enough to stay there a year ago for a friend’s ‘significant’ birthday celebrations but the family couldn’t join me on that occasion. It’s one of those places full of cosy corners and overstuffed sofas, a proper pub and an amazing restaurant, and has a strong tradition of using the best of local Norfolk produce on its menus.

As you’d expect, the lure of Norfolk’s fine food was also a significant factor in my choice of half-term destination. There is a distinct fishy theme to the first two delights of Norfolk produce with the small and sweet Cromer crabs and big, juicy Brancaster mussels being probably the most famous. Only slightly less well-known is the bootiful Norfolk black turkey (sorry I just couldn’t resist!) and the most excellent Colman’s English mustard. I recently saw cricketing pundit and all-round dear old chap Henry Blofeld bemoaning the rarity of this Norfolk condiment nowadays and I must agree that it is a vastly underrated ingredient.

Maybe less obvious but did you know that more mint is grown in Norfolk than any other county in the UK and they have more breweries too! And a really delightful surprise was Mrs Temple’s Cheese; hand-made in Wighton from two herds of Holstein Friesians and Swiss Brown cows. The cheeses were developed specifically to offer a Norfolk cheeseboard to local restaurants and the selection we had at our hotel was possibly the best cheeseboard I’ve ever had.

Much to my children’s delight we managed to visit lots of different Norfolk towns on our mini-break to see exactly where these delightful foodstuffs came from. I particularly loved going back to Cromer. My friend Karen’s family had a static caravan in Cromer when we were at school together, so I have brilliant memories of going there with her family several times. We spent a lovely hour or so wandering around the narrow streets, eating ice-cream even though with the wind-chill factor the ambient temperature must have been close to freezing. We had a quick look at the church, with its clock tower which I remember climbing up as a teenager, and I remember Karen’s sister Helen getting stuck halfway up: too scared to continue up or go down! We also found a lovely fishmonger who offered to wrap up a couple of dressed Cromer crabs in icepacks so we could get them home and enjoy a bit of Norfolk cuisine even after our trip was over.

There are many ways to enjoy a bit of fresh crab: on crunchy toast with lots of butter or in a salad with home-made Marie Rose sauce. But if you wanted to take a slightly more exotic approach you might want to try your hand at my South Indian spiced crabcakes, which make a great lunch or a smart fish course for any dinner party.

Hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoyed our gourmet trip to the beautiful county of Norfolk.

The recipe – South Indian spiced crabcakes

  1. Boil 250 gms potatoes in their skins until just cooked through. Drain, peel and then grate into a large bowl.
  2. Use the same amount of fresh crab meat and add to the bowl. Cromer crab is exceptionally good, but any fresh or tinned crabmeat works in this recipe.
  3. Heat a small frying pan on the hob and add a tablespoon of cold-pressed rapeseed oil. When the oil is hot, add in a tablespoon of mustard seeds and some finely chopped curry leaves if you can get them (fresh or dried). When the seeds start to crackle, pour the whole lot over the crab mix.
  4. Then add in ½ tsp ground turmeric, a pinch of cayenne or chilli powder and the some finely chopped coriander and de-seeded finely chopped red chillies if you like. Season well with sea salt and then mix everything thoroughly until the spices are evenly distributed.
  5. With clean hands, form the crab mix into walnut sized balls and press down to make small cakes. Refrigerate for 30 mins.
  6. Now to pané or crumb the crab cakes. Prepare 3 shallow bowls with plain flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs. Roll the balls first in the flour until they are lightly coated, then in the beaten egg and finally roll in the breadcrumbs until completely covered.
  7. Heat a good glug of oil in a shallow frying pan. Fry the crab cakes for 2-3 mins on each side until they are evenly golden. Drain on kitchen paper and serve as soon as possible.
  8. My favourite accompaniment for this is a salad with thinly sliced raw fennel and pink grapefruit dressed with sea salt, cold-pressed rapeseed oil and a wedge of lemon.