Category Archives: Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

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.


Unexpected Vegetable Pasta

Ugh.

The mince from the supermarket was off. Looked perfectly respectable on the outside, even smelt OK. Almost. And then, as I broke it up into pieces before hurling into the pan, the entire inside was a greyish brown mush: to say it stank would be like saying Mount Everest is tall. (At least I hadn’t just chucked the mince in whole, only then to discover it was rotten.)

So the ragù very quickly became vegetable sauce instead.

Today’s learning experience however is to with the sofritto. Once it’s done, deglaze the pan with madeira. Yum.

Choux Pastry

I know English, I learn him from a book.

– Manuel, Fawlty Towers

It’s all very well reading about how to do something, but some things just need to be experienced. Today’s attempt at choux pastry proved that. (My parents used to get terribly stressed about making this stuff, and I was banished from the kitchen, so never got to witness the process. And nobody else’s parents ever made choux pastry, or if they did, they kept very quiet about it.)

Docteur de Pomiane’s recipe sounds charming enough, so I decided to use it, although the measurements were in Imperial and as usual, not entirely clear whether things were by weight or volume. A quick cross reference with the usual sources suggested that all was in order.

It started off encouragingly enough, the butter/water/sugar being brought to the boil. (Chop the butter into chunks, so it melts about the same time as the water boils.)

Removed from heat, flour added, vigorous stirring et cetera. Pomiane does warn that it will look like an unappetising mess at this stage.

As predicted, the pastry detaches from the saucepan and comes together in a ball.

And then, it’s time for the eggs. I crack the first one over the pastry and – whoops! – my faithful heavy bottomed saucepan is still hot enough to instantly cook it. So essentially I have a giant ball of roux mixed with a poached egg. FAIL.

On the next attempt, the glistening ball of paste was deposited into a mixing bowl, and repeatedly tested with the little finger (Pomiane’s favourite cooking implement) until it had reached a bearable temperature. The eggs get incorporated after that. I follow his advice about four eggs possibly being too many, so beat the final egg, and add about half, by which time the pastry has gone from the sticking-on-the-spoon state to the reluctantly-falling-off-the-spoon state, without having turned into liquid.

On the baking tray, they do spread out a little too wide, but puff encouragingly. Perhaps I need to stop at three and a quarter eggs next time.

They’re turned onto the cooling rack and a little hole bored in the bottom of each to let the steam out. Looks like the larger ones didn’t cook and puff as well as the smallers ones, so that’s another lesson for next time.

Quantities

Here are the metric amounts that I translated from Pomiane. I’d approach these amounts with caution, ’til I double check in the cold harsh light of day.

  • 250mL water (3/8 of a pint)
  • 100g butter (3oz)
  • 25g caster sugar (1/2 oz)
  • pinch salt
  • 125g plain flour (4 oz)
  • 4 eggs (Pomiane reckons add the first three whole, and only beat the last one, I think I’d be inclined to beat all of ’em)

Here’s what Delia reckons:

  • 150mL water
  • 60g strong (i.e. bread making) flour (this will have more gluten, so should result in a stickier pastry, I guess)
  • 50g butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 level teaspoon sugar

She makes a great deal of “shooting” the flour into the butter/water mix, whereas Pomiane just says add gradually whilst stirring. (Rapid addition of flour also appears in Je sais cuisiner.) She also has the oven at 200 for the first ten minutes and 220 for the next 15. She fails to mention the risk of the eggs cooking upon being added.

Rillettes de Porc

This is somewhat of a cautionary tale, where victory has been snatched from the jaws of defeat. I’ve decided to make rillettes, using pork belly, since, with the exception of leg that’s been turned into Parma ham, it is the tastiest bit of the pig, and bloody cheap, too.

Today I’m using…

  • pork belly (I’m using an 800g piece from the posh supermarket, which was just under a fiver)
  • a bunch of fresh woody herbs – I’m using thyme, sage might be nice, but rosemary or tarragon probably a little overpowering – check with your guests
  • bay leaves
  • salt, pepper
  • as many peeled and squished garlic cloves as you like (I’m using four)

Get the butcher to bone and skin the meat, as you will not enjoy trying to do it at home. Remember, he has better knives than you will ever have, and you’re paying him to risk his fingers. Rub it down with plenty of salt, about a tablespoon, and maybe some pepper as well if you fancy.

Now, I’ve put the herbs, garlic, bay leaves, etc on the bottom of a roasting dish…

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…and laid the meat on top…

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…so you can probably anticipate what’s about to go wrong.

For each 100g of meat, you’ll need to add 25mL of water. Cover the dish with foil, or if you’re using a casserole (probably more sensible) just pop the lid on.

Three hours in the oven on about 150C should have reduced it to a quivering mush of piggy, garlicky goodness. But not in this case. There was enough thyme to keep the pork well clear of the bottom of the dish, and the dish was too wide, so the pork drained its fat, and started to dry out. In fact, it would have made excellent roast pork, had I been doing that instead. So, with a bit of cursing, everything was transferred to a smaller dish, with the meat on the bottom, a little bit more water, and left for another two hours. Piggy mush ensued.

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Once you’ve gotten this far, you need to shred the meat. Do this with a pair of forks, using one fork to hold each large lump, and the other to stroke the meat off. Since the meat has collapsed by this point, it’s very easy. There will be a few tougher bits of meat, usually from the edges, where they’ve become sticky and caramelised. These can be set aside for sandwiches, or just go straight into the cook without any further comment.

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Finally, squish, squeeze and shove this meat into the terrine, ramekins etc. You want to pack it down as tightly as you can. Use a small tumbler or something to tamp it in. Finally, pour enough of the juices from the pan into the terrines, to cover the meat, and refrigerate or freeze, depending upon when you’re going to use it.

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Crusty bread and cornichons all round.


June 2011 addendum. I forgot to mention that you can also salt the meat first: hack the meat up into large chunks, add about a tablespoon of salt, and seal in a plastic bag at the bottom of the fridge overnight. Discard the liquid and rinse the meat before proceeding as above. You can get fancy and add any of the following to the cure: pepper, crushed juniper berries, hacked up thyme, sugar, honey, and so on.

Oh, and you can use pork shoulder as well. Or a mix of shoulder and belly.