Marmalade 2014

This collection of notes already contains four posts on the weighty matter of marmalade. Four conflicting posts enumerating my frustrations and joys. This year, having made three batches in a row, I think I’ve arrived at a method that is  satisfactory, and keeps the work and mess to a minimum. No muslin, and the marmalade contains everything but the pips.

Here is The New Improved Method. You will need:

  • 8 “one pound” jam jars (they’re called “one pound” but are roughly 300mL in capacity)
  • 1kg Seville oranges (round up, if they’re loose then beware of imitations dropped in by ignorant or malevolent shoppers, the real ones have thick squidgy skin)
  • 2 lemons (aiming for 100mL of juice)
  • 1.5kg caster sugar (you could go for up to 2kg, and adulterate with 50g of Muscovado)

Twist off the little buttons on the base of the oranges and give them a good wash and scrub, as the skins are good at collecting dirt, especially the bits around the buttons. Slice the oranges in half through their equators; not top to bottom. Balance a sieve on top of a large bowl and squeeze the juice of the orange halves into the bowl, so the pips land in the sieve. Most of the pips will come out, but you’ll need to tease out the remainder with a metal teaspoon.

Finely slice up the peel, picking out the remaining seeds as you go. I find the easiest way to do this is to fold each squeezed half down the middle. Slice all the way through, including the connective tissue and any remaining flesh. You don’t need to discard this as it will dissolve during cooking. Add the peel to the juice, and top up with 1.5L of water, and cover the bowl. Put the pips into a small bowl (or large teacup) and cover with water. Leave both for at least 24 hours, and 48 won’t hurt. Refrigeration not necessary.

The following day, tip the peel, juice and water into a large pot. Stainless steel and internal gradations are both good qualities for this pot. (There is a specialised utensil called a Maslin Pan, should you find this becoming an obsession.) Use a pot that can take at least six litres, as it can get frisky and you don’t want it to boil over. Safety first: this stuff is hot (hotter than boiling water) and will stick to your skin.

Grab the teacup where you’ve soaked the pips. They will have exuded most of their pectin, and the water will have turned to jelly. Upend this onto a sieve over the pot, and give it a good shake to get the jelly into the pot. A splash of water from a freshly boiled kettle will help dislodge. You can then chuck the pips away: no need for that piece of muslin. (If you’re putting on a show you can tie the pips into a square of muslin and plonk them in.)

Top the pot up with cold water to two litres, bring it to the boil, and then reduce to a very gently bubbling simmer. After an hour, fish out a piece of peel, cool under cold water, and check that it can be easily crushed between your fingers. In the unlikely event it won’t, then just keep going, checking every half an hour. It will be translucent by this stage. (Remove the muslin bag of pips if you’ve left them in.)

Add the lemon juice, and then top up with cold water to three litres.

We’re now ready for the sugar. I find that if I add it in one go, it tends to clump, so I stir and pour slowly. Stir gently, leaving the heat low, until the sugar has dissolved.

Turn up the heat as high as you dare, and get the stuff going, uncovered, at a rolling boil. You don’t want it to escape, but it can be as frisky as you like. Any stray pips will surface at this point, as may some scum. Skim both. Do not leave it unattended: perch on a stool with a cup of tea and a good book. It will need to be stirred every few minutes, to make sure it doesn’t stick on the bottom. It will froth viciously when you do this, so be prepared.

Now would be a good time to put your washed jars and lids into the oven (gas 2, 120°C) to sterilise. If you have a particularly brutal dishwasher, then make the necessary arrangements. Also, put half a dozen saucers into the freezer.

After half an hour of boiling you can start testing for “a set”. Precisely when this happens is dependent on how much pectin is in the oranges. Take a saucer out of the freezer, place a teaspoon of mixture (no peel) on it, pop it in the fridge and wait for two minutes. Take it out and run your fingernail over the surface: if the skin wrinkles, you’re ready. If not, keep repeating the test every ten minutes. A sugar thermometer will be useful, and will tell you it’s ready when it hits 105C. Also, the contents of the pot will shows signs of becoming shiny and gluey. Don’t forget to stir every so often. If it burns on the bottom you’ve got a right mess to clean up and nothing to show for your labours.

Once you have a set, turn the heat off, and leave it for 15 minutes. Then, give it a stir to distribute the peel, and maybe add a tablespoon or three of whiskey. Ladle it carefully into your hot jars. This is more easily said than done. Putting the pot in the sink, and having the jars lined up on one side is helps, and investing a few quid in a jam funnel will save an awful lot of wastage.

Finally, using a teatowel or something similar to protect your hands, put the lids on the jars. These now need to be parked somewhere at room temperature. The lids will sometimes loosen, so after an hour, gently tighten them. It should now be left undisturbed for 24 hours; do not refrigerate.

The following day, give a jar the gentlest of shakes, to see if it has set. If it’s sloshing around, see my notes on marmalade rescue. If it’s almost set, then leave it for another 48 hours and check again. Sometimes the lids loosen, so gently tighten them up again if necessary.

It can now be stored in a cool dark place for twelve months. It won’t go off after that, since there’s too much sugar, but it will certainly become less interesting. It’s never happened to me, but sometimes the sterilisation will go wrong, and it will go mouldy, so use your common sense if it looks or smells wrong.


Weeknight Dhal

Supper for two, or starter for four.

Wash 200g of split red lentils, and pop into a small saucepan with 500mL water, and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice a small onion, and place in another slightly larger saucepan with 10mL vegetable oil, on a medium heat. Stir regularly until the onion has gone translucent and soft, and then reduce the heat as low as you can, so it’s barely sizzling. The onion needs to be browned, but not burnt, which will take about half an hour.

Coincidentally, after half an hour, the lentils will have gone a pleasing shade of yellow, and all but collapsed. You may need to add a splash of water from time to time if they threaten to solidify. The cooking liquid will become creamy as the starch oozes out.

Into the other saucepan, add a pinch of chilli flakes, a teaspoon of cumin seeds, a teaspoon of mustard seeds, and two whole cloves, roughly crushed. Stir these as they fry for a minute, and then add the entire contents of the other saucepan, stirring to combine.  Add a teaspoon of turmeric, and allow the whole lot to simmer for a few more minutes before dishing up.


Marmalade Rescue

Sometimes, despite one’s best efforts, marmalade will not behave, and will be there, the next morning, sloshing around in its jars, like syrupy orange juice. All your boiling and squeezing, not to mention that sordid business with the chilled saucers, was for nought.

All is not lost. Here is the distillation of conversations with wise mothers, a gentleman whose marmalade regularly wins prizes, and desperate searches on Google.

To get a proper set, you need the following conditions:

  • pectin – Seville oranges are loaded with it, but you can’t tell how much – according to Sally Wise the levels drop as the oranges ripen and the longer they’re left on the shelf
  • acid – don’t forget the lemon juice – Dan Lepard recommends 50mL per 500g original weight of oranges
  • temperature – the liquid needs to hit 105°C
  • liquid – the pectin can gel only so much liquid – Dan Lepard recommends double the original weight of the oranges

Here’s what I do to rescue:

  1. buy some pectin from the supermarket – it comes powdered, in sachets
  2. decant the jars back into the pot (this is particularly humiliating, especially if you triumphantly labelled it)
  3. add the juice of another lemon
  4. stir in the pectin powder (easier said than done as it clumps and you may need to thrash the mix with a whisk)
  5. bring to the boil and either test for a set in the traditional manner, or use a thermometer to ensure it hits 105°C

There’s a good argument to just keep your sloppy marmalade: boiling it again means you lose more of that orange flavour, and you risk ending up with something that’s perfectly set, but doesn’t really taste of very much at all. The sloppy stuff may run off your toast, but is excellent in puddings, cakes, muffins, and as topping for crepes.


Happy Sprouts

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My childhood memories of sprouts are not happy ones. My family’s traditional approach meant Christmas sprouts went on the boil in late November, and were little flaccid bags of sour farty nastiness. They have since been rescued from my hate list by pancetta, which improves just about everything, except perhaps ice cream.

This is based on something that Him What Knows dishes up on a regular basis, although I confess I don’t have the original recipe. Even devout sprout haters like me will be happy after a few mouthfuls of this.

Start by getting a large frying pan going at a low heat, and gently frying 75g of pancetta, stirring occasionally. Nowt of that foreign muck? Just some sweet cured belly bacon will do.

Wash 600g of Brussels Sprouts and slice off the stalks and any icky bits. If you slice off too much stalk, the sprout will come to pieces.

By now the pancetta should be well on its way to being golden, crispy and oozing out most of its fat, so boil the sprouts in a small saucepan of water until you can pierce one with a skewer. Expect a reasonable amount of resistance: they’ll keep cooking in their own heat and they’re due for more in the frying pan.

Drain them and add to the frying pan, along with 200g cooked chestnuts (you can purchase these in handy vacuum sealed bags), 25g butter, a generous grind of pepper and a pinch of salt. Raise the heat slightly, and fry for five minutes, stirring from time to time. Quite a lot of gunk will build up on the bottom of the pan, so deglaze with around 30mL of Vermouth, which will be absorbed quite rapidly, before transferring to a warmed dish to serve.


Root Veg

Here’s what goes with the slow roast lamb shoulder. In terms of timing, it’s quite forgiving.

  • 600g parnsnips
  • 600g carrots
  • salt, pepper
  • 2tbsp honey

Wash and scrub the veg thoroughly, but I wouldn’t bother peeling them. Quarter them lengthways: you want pieces of roughly equal thickness, so slimmer roots can just be halved or trisected if your knife skillz are up to it. Some parsnips have very thin spindly ends, which will burn, so chop them off.

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, and add the carrots. After five minutes add the parsnips. After another five minutes try piercing a piece of carrot with a metal skewer. If you can, albeit with a little resistance, then they’re done.

Drain the veg and then tip them into small baking dish (one or two layers) and add 25g fat: duck fat or butter is preferable; lard or vegetable oil in an emergency. Toss them around with a spoon to get them coated, and season lightly. You can now set aside, at room temperature, for as long as you need.

If, like me, you’re doing lamb at Gas 2, then pop them in an hour before the lamb is done. When I remove the lamb, I then crank the oven up to max, and also remove this dish, so I can pour over the honey, toss again to coat, and then return to the oven for another fifteen minutes. That way they’re done at the same time the lamb has finished resting. Do keep an eye on them, as the honey glaze can burn quite rapidly.

Otherwise about half an hour on Gas 5 (190°C, less in a fan oven) basting with the honey after fifteen minutes.


Slow Lamb III

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There are variants of this published elsewhere, but with timings, temperatures and instructions that simply don’t work for me. I blame publishers’ timetables and the lack of decent testing and copy editing, rather than the authors.

Anyway, this is a handy dish as you get the meat and spuds out of the way up front, giving you a chance to get on with everything else. The layer of skin, fat and connective tissue on top, combined with the steam from the stock below, will keep the meat moist for the long cooking period.

To feed six you will need:

  • a whole shoulder of lamb, bone in: this will be around two kilos
  • a kilo of potatoes: the floury sort, e.g. King Edward, work the best
  • one large or two medium brown onions
  • a whole head of garlic (or more if you want)
  • a fistful of herbs (fresh thyme is best, however, if you use rosemary, then just half a dozen stalks, as it’s a bit of a bully)
  • around 800mL stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • salt, pepper, bay leaves

Start with the spuds. You’ll need to peel them and slice them to around an eighth of an inch in thickness. I use a mandoline for this. Ditto the onion. Put a layer of potatoes at the bottom of a large roasting tin, then the onion in a single layer, a couple of bay leaves, and a grind of pepper, and just a touch of salt. Continue to layer the potatoes on top: it needs to be even but not pretty. The combined potato and onion layer should be around an inch deep in total. Pour over the stock, it should almost, but not quite, cover the potato. (Just top up with water if you don’t have enough stock.) Spread the herbs in a layer on top of the potato.

Pre heat the oven as high as it will go.

Use a sharp knife to score the very outside of the joint in five or six long cuts, about two inches apart. (That’s the convex side, with membrane or possibly skin depending on how real your butcher keeps it.) Rub some salt into the cuts. Dismember and peel the garlic, and using a sharp knife, make holes in the underside (that’s the concave side) of the joint, and insert the garlic cloves. Or, if you’re feeling lazy, just spread the cloves on top of the herbs.

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Put the whole lot in the oven, leaving it at maximum for five minutes before reducing to gas mark 2, which is around 150°C in my oven. Fan ovens probably need to be around 135°C.

It will need five hours. Check every hour or so, and don’t be afraid to top up the liquid if it seems to be drying out. It is almost impossible to overcook this, the risk is undercooking. After about two hours the stock should be glooping gently, and the joint softly hissing at the fat runs out from under the skin and gently bastes the meat. At the end of the fourth hour, slide a skewer into the thickest part of the joint. If you’re met with a lot of resistance, you may need to turn the oven up a notch.

(If you just happen to have about a kilo of parboiled carrots and parsnips tossed in a couple of tablespoons of duck fat or butter, and lightly seasoned, slide them into the oven on the shelf beneath the meat at this point.)

By the end of hour five, a skewer inserted into the thickest part of the joint should meet with no resistance at all, and the job is done. Remove the tray from the oven, cover with foil, and leave to rest for twenty minutes.

(The theoretical carrots and parsnips should be removed, doused with two tablespoons of honey, tossed, and returned to the oven, set again to maximum, whilst the meat rests. Sprouts with pancetta and chestnuts would complete the picture.)

Dish up. You should be able to carve the lamb with a spoon. Try not to fight over the potatoes.


Pollo Sospetto

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Vaguely inspired by Felicity Cloake’s cacciatore recipe, I’ve dug out this perennial favourite, which has arrived by way of a stained and crumpled scrap of paper, tucked into my copy of The Encyclopaedia of Italian Cooking.

It’s neither one thing nor the other, but quite tasty and quite easy. To serve four you’ll need a larg frying pan, and into it chuck:

  • 75g pancetta, cubed, frying gently until the fat has rendered and the bacon has gone crunchy
  • 500g boned skinned chicken thighs, halved down the middle – do these on a high heat, until they’re lightly coloured on the outside, rescue with a slotted spoon and set aside (the middles of the chicken pieces will be raw but don’t worry, we’ll fix that shortly)
  • 500g total diced celery, carrot and onion (or whatever aromatics you have to hand) plus four smashed cloves garlic, reduce heat, fry until soft and colouring, you might need a splodge of vegetable oil if there wasn’t enough in the bacon and chicken
  • add 125mL white wine, and stir like mad, to incorporate any of the built up yumminess on the bottom of the pan, and then return everything else
  • add enough boiled water to cover, plus one 450g tin chopped toms, drained of their juice
  • on top of that, four sprigs of rosemary, around two dozen kalamata olives (stones in), and a generous grind of pepper
  • bring to the boil, lower heat and simmer for 30 mins (45 if you’re using whole thighs with bones in)
  • remove the chicken pieces with a slotted spoon
  • turn up the heat and reduce by half (you could stir in a tablespoon of crème fraîche at this point)
  • serve with polenta or rice
  • this will be improved by an overnight stay in the fridge

Slow Lamb 2

Let’s take slow lamb over to the other side of the Mediterranean. This isn’t quite perfected, but it’s jolly good nonetheless. Line a roasting tin with a piece of foil large enough to wrap up over and seal, and into it place the following:

  • 1kg lamb neck fillet, chopped up into one inch lengths, try and get this into a single layer
  • the juice of 2 lemons
  • a whole head of garlic, peeled and bashed up a bit, but no need to separate
  • 1 tbsp of dried chilli flakes
  • 6 whole dried chillies
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 12 cardamom pods
  • 1 tsp of sea salt (sea salt crystals are quite large, so much less if you’re using table salt)
  • 20 whole black peppercorns
  • a cinnamon stick broken into 2 or 3 pieces

Pack the head of garlic in with the lamb, tuck in the cinnamon sticks, and just sprinkle everything else over the top evenly. Wrap up foil, and crimp, so it’s properly sealed.

Three hours in the oven at 150°C should do. Serve with couscous.

Despite the relatively heavy use of spices, it’s mild and aromatic, rather than viciously hot, as the whole spices seem to preserve more aroma. If you need to use ground spices, then halve the quantities. You could also add a pinch of ground spices if you want to add kick. Don’t bully your guests with too much chilli, instead, just serve with harissa on the side.

(Serves six.)


Couscous

The Major detests couscous and declares it to be fluffed cardboard. He has a point: unadorned, without the juices of a nice lamb stew seeping through, it’s about as exciting as pasta without sauce. (Which is exactly what it is.)

Here’s one way to enliven it. You will need:

  • 500g couscous
  • two large onions
  • 1/2 tsp each of cumin, turmeric, ground cinnamon, plus four cloves and six (shelled) cardamom pods
  • a generous pinch of salt
  • one 450g tin chopped tomatoes
  • one 450g tin cooked chickpeas (no need to drain)
  • 150g plain (a.k.a. “Greek”) yoghurt

Finely slice and fry the onions in a large pot with a generous splash of vegetable oil. They need to get light brown and crunchy, as though you were making pilao rice, so expect this to take around 10 minutes.

Add the salt and spices, fry for around a minute, before dumping in the tomatoes, chickpeas and yoghurt. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer.

In the meantime, boil the kettle, put the couscous in a bowl, and pour over enough boiled water to cover, which is probably less than would be recommended on the packet. Give it a good stir until the grains start to swell and absorb all the water, then hoik it into the pot with everything else. Turn off the heat, cover, and leave for ten minutes.

The Major ate all the couscous I set before him.


Cucumber Raita

There are zillions of variations – this particular one is what I serve alongside a vigorous curry.

  • a small cucumber, or half a large one – about 200g
  • 150g of plain (a.k.a. “Greek”) yoghurt
  • a pinch of dried mint
  • a pinch of salt
  • a pinch of mustard seeds – not essential

Cut the cucumber lengthways into four, and trim off the inner section with the seeds, as this will exude too much water. No need to peel the cucumber. Dice this flesh finely, and add to the yoghurt, mint and salt.

If you have some mustard seeds on the premises, lightly crush a pinch of these and add.

Serves four.