Monthly Archives: February 2010

Slow Lamb

This is so easy. Just chuck it in…

…wrap it up…

…and after three hours at 150ºC, le voilà:

An adaptation from St Delia, who in turn adapts if from Kleftiko, this would be a no-brainer except for the fact that you need to get things going three hours in advance of eating. This is one of the recipes in her How to Cheat book, and it slightly misses the point, by adding unnecessary faffage. (The observant will also notice that Delia says, “wrap it in foil”, but her photo shows a more cunning two layer arrangement of baking parchment and then foil. Hmmm. Not sure it makes a difference.)

Here’s what I used to feed four.

  • 800g lamb neck fillets (this is a cheapish cut, and suited to slow cooking)
  • the juice of two lemons
  • a sprinkle of salt and pepper
  • a bunch of thyme (branches and all)
  • a whole head of garlic, the cloves separated and peeled – or more

Some key differences.

  1. Spread the branches of thyme across the bottom of the dish.
  2. Don’t bother slicing the garlic into slivers and inserting into the meat; it’ll take ages. Just peel them and chuck in with everything else. I pack the meat into a single layer, and pack the garlic cloves in between each piece.
  3. Once everything is in the dish and wrapped, you can leave it for a couple of hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge without it coming to too much harm — unless your local “room temperature” is 35°C
  4. Don’t bother with the lemon zest and parsley faff. Foodies call this gremolata – I call it unneccesary.

Serve with couscous, I think.

You may want to spent some time out of the house whilst this is cooking, as the smell may drive you mad.

Adult Hot Chocolate

Something to occupy the time if you’re plagued by biphasic sleep and don’t fancy being an author.

The trick here is knowing how much chilli to use, if in doubt, less is more, as it’s only there to add a certain zing to the proceedings. The dried chillis in my cupboard at the moment are medium sized, but very mild.

  1. In a small saucepan, heat 200mL milk (full cream is better than semi skimmed in this case) per person, plus 4 cardamom pods, a quarter of a cinnamon stick and a small dried chilli or a pinch chilli flakes.
  2. When the milk is shuddering, almost at the boil, turn off the heat, stir, and leave to stand.
  3. Meanwhile, break up 80g of dark chocolate per person, and place in a glass jug atop a pan of simmering water, and allow to melt.
  4. When the chocolate has almost melted (after about five minutes) turn the heat back on under the milk, but don’t let it boil.
  5. Once the chocolate has melted, turn the heat up underneath. Pour a splash of the hot milk in, less than the volume of chocolate, and stir until it blends in. The chocolate will become very thick.
  6. Keep adding the milk, in increasing amounts, stirring all the time, until you’ve added about half of it. You’ll need to pour it through a sieve to catch the spices.
  7. You can add the final half in one go, but keep stirring. The water underneath may have come to the boil by this point, but don’t worry. Once it’s all blended, turn the heat off, and serve in warmed cups.

The Omelette

The French omelette has to be the ultimate fast food, it’s a slightly terrifying process for the uninitiated, but so good when you get it right.

First, catch your omelette pan. It should be non stick (whether that’s by dint of it being shiny stainless steel, Teflon coated, or seasoned cast iron, I don’t mind) about 20cm in diameter with 3-4cm high sides, and have a reasonably solid base. (For the record, the one shown above is a black iron Longlife pan, purchased from Jaeggi’s on Shaftsbury Avenue. There’s a story attached to this one, but I’ll save that for another day.)

Some commandments:

  • have everything ready to go
  • make sure the plate on which it will be served is warm
  • don’t even think of making more than two omelettes
  • more than three eggs is inviting disaster
  • make sure the eggs are at room temperature, eggs from the fridge won’t co-operate

Put the pan on a medium heat, and let it warm up.

Crack two or three eggs into a bowl. A two egg omelette is easier to tame. Nigel Slater and Julia Child both recommend adding a teaspoon (5mL) of water, and this seems to make it slightly more malleable. Mix with a fork. You’re not trying to beat it to a fluff, just combine everything.

Now, grind over some pepper and salt. If you do this before mixing, the pepper seems to form a clump, which can come as a bit of a surprise when the omelette is being eaten.

The pan should now be hot, so add a generous knob of butter; a tablespoon or around 20g. Turn the heat up as far as it goes. The butter should sizzle, and once it’s melted and foaming, but before it starts to burn, pour in the beaten eggs, and then do nothing for a slow count of ten.

Saint Julia (as demonstrated here on youtube) merely swirls the pan, starting with circular movements, and then changing to horizontal movements to fold it, and then flips it straight onto the plate. I have never quite managed this, and suspect it requires some special culinary Black Belt.

Saint Delia, on the other hand, is terribly proscriptive about repeatedly tilting and drawing the edge in.

Neither of these works for me, so what I end up doing is this.

  1. waiting for a slow count of ten, having poured the eggs into the pan – this lets enough of a skin form on the bottom so you can manipulate it
  2. swirling the pan gently, enough to make the omelette move around a little, and to make sure the it doesn’t stick to the bottom, and using a spoon to draw the edges in from time to time
  3. after about 30 seconds (this is why the heat is high) it’s cooked most of the way through, but still runny on top
  4. folding it using my pink girly silicone spatula, and
  5. flipping it onto the plate

It doesn’t matter if the omelette is very slightly gooey in the middle at this point, as it will carry on cooking on the plate.

Fillings

I normally add fillings at the end of step 3.

Some good things to add:

  • a few thin slices of cheese – some savage Cheddar is good
  • as much fresh parsley as you can hold between your thumb and forefinger
  • a slice or two of smoked salmon – the salmon will be just cooked when you finish

Chunky Pasta

A useful weeknight no-brainer, if your local supermarket is grand enough to sell bags of pre-prepped sofritto.

  • a 400g bag sofritto
  • 50g pancetta (I normally have a stash in the freezer of those useful little plastic boxes they have in supermarkets)
  • a 450g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • four cloves of garlic (or however much you like)

I know everything comes out of a packet or a tin, but that’s the beauty of it. Anyway, here goes.

  1. Fry the pancetta gently, ’til it’s dark brown and all the fat has rendered.
  2. Whilst that’s happening, peel and slice the garlic, and then add it to the pan, frying until translucent and a slightly coloured.
  3. Dump in the sofritto. There should be enough fat from the pancetta, but if not, add a splash of olive oil.
  4. A sneaky half teaspoon of sugar sprinkled over and stirred in will help the edges go brown and sticky.
  5. Fry ‘til soft – take your time – if there’s a bit of brown around the edges and a hint of stuff sticking to the bottom of pan – all the better.
  6. Dump in the tinned tomatoes, plus a teaspoon of dried oregano and half a teaspoon dried basil – if you like pepper now would be the time to add a grind, there should be enough salt in the pancetta so you shouldn’t need any more.
  7. Simmer gently for about as long as it takes to cook the pasta, which should be conchiglie, because once it’s done you’re going to vigorously stir it and the sauce together so the bits of veg and pancetta get caught up inside the shells.
  8. Pass the parmesan.

Variations

Instead of using pancetta, you could add some anchovy fillets towards the end.

A glass of red wine won’t hurt: you may even care to put a splash in the sauce.

Maybe some chopped up mushrooms just before simmering?

Crusty Cod

There was a huge lump of cod in the supermarket this evening.

And some leftover pesto, so I did this.

And it ended up like this.

Mmmm. (Although the crust could have gone a bit browner.)

This is a recipe that will appeal to those of you who fancy a bit of engineering as you need to make a crust, and get it onto the fish, without mangling the fish. The crust is there to stop the fish from drying out, and to become gratifyingly brown and crunchy.

Here’s what I used:

  • a 300g piece of cod fillet, without any skin (serves two)
  • 90g of leftover pesto (because that was how much I had)
  • 70g of breadcrumbs (as it looked about right)
  • 25g of Parmesan (or any kind of Grana)

…and this is what I do…

  1. Place the fish in a small baking dish, with a dab of olive oil or butter to stop it sticking.
  2. Combine the breadcrumbs, pesto and Parmesan in a bowl. At this point it will be a bit fluffy, and impossible to put over the fish, so what I do is push the mixture against the side of the bowl with a spoon (and then my fingers) until it’s quite thin and quite solid. (I had goop all over my hands at this point, so no photo, sorry.) You could probably also do this with a rolling pin, but that would make for more washing up.
  3. I then use a butter knife to lever off the crust from the side of the bowl and lay it on the fish – it should cover not only the top, but the sides – nothing worse than a piece of fish with a crust the size of a small biscuit. (This means the restaurant has made the crust separately and earlier, and has simply popped it on your steamed/microwaved fish.)
  4. I plonk the dish into a pre heated oven at 180ºC – regular readers will know that mine is a fan forced – so you might want to set your gas oven to about 200ºC.
  5. After 15 minutes, it should be done. I stick a palette knife through the centre part of the fish (where I’m going to divide it into two portions) to see if the flesh comes apart easily and it doesn’t. As this piece is about an inch thick, I’m not too bothered, so pop it in for another five minutes.

A squirt of lemon, some new potatoes, and a cold beer are all that are needed to complete the picture.

That’s right. Beer. You’re probably used to being intimidated by the waiter into buying a thirty quid bottle of Chablis, but what white fish needs is some good beer.

Variations

You could…

  • use salmon instead of cod
  • add a splash of lemon juice to the crust mixture
  • use salsa verde instead of pesto

Come to think of it, you could (and I haven’t tried this) make a crust based on some kind of spice/curry paste, and maybe couscous instead of breadcrumbs. That might be interesting.

Pastéis de Nata

Ever since they started to appear in cafés about 20 years ago, I’ve loved these things. Crunchy pastry on the outside, gooey custard on the inside, and an exotic whiff of burnt caramel and spice. On top of that, they’re the perfect size to go with a coffee: not minuscule like a macaron, nor overly hard work like chocolate mud cake. (Although there are times when a slab of cake is The Solution.)

So, they shouldn’t be too hard to make? Just pastry and custard, innit? Bung it in the oven and Bob’s yer uncle? Alas, no. I won’t even describe the first few attempts, but I am stunned at the number of recipes out there that simply don’t work, or quite possibly, can’t work.  The more I read, the more attempts I made, the more obsessed I became.

Here’s the problem. We have two seemingly irreconcilable requirements, viz. cooking the pastry but not curdling the custard. If you set the oven at 150ºC, then you get a lovely baked custard, encased in raw pastry, but set the oven at 200ºC, and you get Scrambled Egg Tarts. My very experienced friends recommended blind baking, but this seemed excessive.

So, after a lot of reading and experimentation, here’s what needs to be done.

  • The custard needs to be stabilised by the addition of corn flour.
  • The pastry cases need to be very thin, and rested, and cold.
  • The custard needs to be cold before the cases are filled.
  • The oven needs to be very hot, so the thin pastry cases cook before the custard gets hot enough to curdle.
  • Oh, and rolling the pastry out and cutting circles? Don’t even think about it.

This may look detailed and complex, but it’s much easier than it sounds. I use…

  • 500mL milk (just ordinary semi-skimmed)
  • 125g sugar (you may want more)
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons cornflour (this was enough to stabilise without any gelatinous overtones)
  • 375g ready rolled puff pastry (see below for quantity)
  • half a cinnamon stick
  • half a vanilla pod
  • the outermost peel of half a lemon (unwaxed, so it won’t taste of paraffin)

The Custard

Let’s start with the custard.

  1. Put the milk and sugar in a small saucepan, together with the vanilla, cinnamon, and lemon peel. Gently heat, stirring from time to time.
  2. In a bowl, combine the egg yolks and cornflour with a whisk until smooth. This will initially be a struggle.
  3. When the milk is almost at the boil, fish out the cinnamon etc, and pour a couple of tablespoons of the hot milk into the yolk/cornflour mix and whisk like crazy. Slowly add the rest of the milk, whisking all the time.
  4. Return the combined mixture to the saucepan, and heat gently, stirring all the time – I use a flat ended spoon, so I can work the bottom of the saucepan, making sure nothing sticks.
  5. The mixture will come to the boil, and thicken quite abruptly. Remove from heat at this point, but keep on stirring for another half a minute. This helps reduces the temperature.
  6. Decant into a bowl and allow to cool. I pour it through a coarse sieve to catch any remaining bits of peel, cinnamon, and stray lumps.
  7. Remember, for this to work, the custard needs to be cold: not tepid, not lukewarm, but cold. Put it in the fridge, if your fridge doesn’t mind having hot things shoved in it.

The Pastry Cases

The moulds in my muffin tin are quite deep, and around 100mL in capacity. For this, a 375g sheet of ready rolled puff pastry was about right. If your muffin tin has smaller moulds, then you may want to reduce the amount of pastry.

Now, you can make your own puff pastry if you want. I don’t want to know.  Either way, you’ll have a single sheet in front of you, about the size of a piece of A4.

  1. So, roll it up, fairly tightly. Some people suggest rolling along the short axis, and others on the long axis. I think that the roll should be along the long axis, so when you chop up the rolled tube, your segments are longer than they’re wide. You end up with a cylinder of pastry, a little like a jam roly-poly.
  2. Slice this into twelve little discs of pastry.
  3. Take each disc, and squeeze the middle between your thumb and forefinger, until they’re almost touching. Now, gently squeeze the pastry between your thumb on one side, and your index and middle finger on the other, gradually turning the pastry, as though you were making a tiny pizza. The pastry disc becomes concave. When it looks like it’s about the size of the muffin mould, lower it in and keep gently pressing until the pastry comes up the sides. As is usual with pastry, push it, rather than pull it.
  4. Now, into the fridge for half an hour to rest.

Putting it all Together

Finally, you have cold custard and rested pastry cases. It seems like a long time since you started this, but actually you’ve only put in about 20 minutes’ work.

  1. I get my fan forced oven going at 250ºC – if you have a gas oven then you may need to get it hotter than that.
  2. Spoon the cold custard into the pastry cases, filling them about three quarters of the way to the top.
  3. Pop them in the oven for ten minutes – watch them like a hawk!
  4. Once the pastry edges are golden and puffed they’re done, so retrieve them, and let them cool. I turn them out onto a cooling rack.

Joy.

Where Next?

Well, I’m not about to join the nuns of Belém, but the taste test got fairly positive results.

I think some serious creativity could be unleashed with different combinations of ingredients for infusion.

Acknowledgements

A good alternate recipe can be found here, based on an unseen recipe by the ineffably smug Bill Granger. An excellent, but more laborious recipe by Duncan Markham can be found here, in The Age, complete with some background history.