Monthly Archives: January 2012

Poached Pears

A ridiculously easy procedure that defies the standard approach for recipe writing, as it all depends on the size and consistency of your pears.

First, catch your pears. They may be big ones, in which case you want one per person, or tiddlers, in which case, two per person is better. Peel them, but leave the stalk intact if you’re being fancy. You needn’t worry about them discolouring for reasons that will become obvious.

Put them in a pot so they fit in one layer, and then pour over enough red wine to cover them. Ideally the wine should be something soft, like a Merlot. Six average sized pears will probably need an entire bottle of red; maybe more. You can always drink the rest. Now, for each 750mL of wine you’ve used, add 250g of caster sugar to the pot.

Add some spices. I’d go for a vanilla pod, split down the middle, plus half a bashed up cinnamon stick. You could go the whole hog and use ginger, cloves and nutmeg, but that might be over-egging your pudding.

Bring the pot to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and then reduce to a mere simmer. The pears are done when they’re done, and not before. In practical terms, this means waiting for about half an hour, and then sliding a metal skewer through the thickest part of a test pear. Repeat every five minutes until you’re met with no resistance. Small, really ripe pears will probably be done in half an hour or less, artillery grade fruit may require the best part of an hour.

Remove the pears with a slotted spoon, and then turn up the heat, reducing the liquid as much as you dare, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn on the bottom. After a while the liquid will thicken, and a spoon drawn through it will leave an obvious furrow, that hesitates before closing up. Don’t leave it unattended at this stage.

Pour the hot syrup over the barely warm pears and serve. Vanilla ice cream or custard is not out of the question. You can also let them go cold and serve later, but do pour the syrup over the pears first, so it doesn’t solidify in the pot!


Lamb and Spuds

I dare not call this “hot pot” as it would offend the pride of a number of regions who claim hot pot as their own.

  • 500g of lamb neck fillet or shoulder, chopped into one inch pieces
  • a handful of diced streaky bacon (roughly 50g if measurements like “a handful” bother you)
  • an equal volume of carrots and onions or leeks
  • 750g of potatoes
  • stock (Marigold boullion powder is fine)
  • some fresh or dried thyme
  • Worcester sauce (this is the secret ingredient)
  • flour, butter, oil, salt, pepper

To avoid unnecessary washing up, pick a large pot that can go on the stove top and in the oven. I use a big cast iron pot for this: not a Le Creuset, but an el cheapo French thing from Robert Dyas; it was twenty quid and does the same job.

Pop the pot on a gas ring, gently warm it, and add the bacon. You want a low intensity sizzling sound, so the bacon darkens and oozes all its fat. Whilst that’s happening, slice the potatoes about as thick as a pound coin. Don’t bother peeling them unless the skins are particularly horrid or you’re having very posh guests.

Get the oven going at 140°C. (That temp works in my fan-forced, you may need to go a little higher in a gas oven.)

Hack up the lamb, turn up the temperature, and fry it in the bacon fat, in batches if necessary. We want to get it nice and brown on the outside, partially for appearance, and also for flavour. No need to cook it through, though, as that’s what the next stage is for. Once done, set lamb and bacon to one side, but leave any fat in the pot. Add the veg and fry, adding some butter or groundnut oil if there’s not enough fat from the bacon. (Avoid olive oil, as this would make it a little too Mediterranean. Mind you, add some whole cloves of garlic, oregano, olives and anchovies, and you could take this dish a long way south.)

Once the veg have softened a bit, return the meat, and add a splash of the stock. The stock needs to be hot if you’re using a cast iron pot, so the temperature change doesn’t cause the iron to crack. Give it a good scrape and stir, to release all the dark brown sticky gooey stuff from the bottom of the pot into the stock. Add a teaspoon of Worcester sauce, plus salt and pepper. A spot of dried thyme is good as well, if handy. Have a taste and adjust quantities.

Level out the meat/veg layer, and then layer the sliced spuds on top, and add the remainder of the stock, plus enough hot water to come almost level with the top layer of potatoes. (Having a freshly boiled kettle on hand is somewhere between useful and mandatory.) It’s a bit like pommes boulangères: we want the very top layer of potato to get crunchy, and the lower layers to get gooey.

Into the oven for about two hours, no lid necessary. Keep an eye on the liquid levels and top up if necessary. The idea is to achieve a gentle universal bubbling effect. Some people can do this on the stovetop, I think the oven works best. Towards the end, lever up the spuds and fish out a piece of meat. It should be tender, verging on the point collapse. If not, another half an hour won’t hurt.


With all those leftovers floating around, it’s only right to write a few notes about making a frittata.

  • you won’t be able to fry everything at once, so have a holding bowl at one side
  • it’s difficult to tell how many eggs you’ll need, so always have a few spare
  • beat the eggs only enough to combine, the final product will be fluffier as a result
  • if you’re using potatoes, they’ll need to be cooked first (waxy ones like Charlottes are the best as they’ll hold their shape when sliced up)
  • if you’re using mushrooms, fry them until they’ve exuded loads of liquid, then pop them into your holding bowl, and reduce the liquid as far as you dare
  • cheese is mandatory, Comté doubly so
  • once under the grill, it will puff up alarmingly, so don’t have the oven shelf too high, or tragedy will ensue

Good things to include:

  • onions or leeks
  • potatoes (cooked, cooled and thinly sliced)
  • pancetta or bacon
  • stuffing (this is awesome if crumbled into the mix)
  • cold roast meat, shredded
  • a splodge of cream never hurt