8 posts categorized "Ingredients"

15 April 2015

So, the chef can use a tamis

It's been 527 days since I last felt moved to write. Time, but most of all inclination, have meant I basically stopped writing this blog. A poached egg and an avocado have made me return.

I happened upon The Jar Kitchen. The menu looked straightforward, the staff friendly and the room was light and airy.  The promise of poached eggs, avocado on sourdough with a side of smoked salmon was exactly what I needed. I was hoping for something solid but straightforward, front of house and the kitchen looked like they meant business, so I took a punt.

I suppose I should disclose at this point that I have a fetish about avocado on toast and in particular the one served at Prufrock. The avocados are always creamy and plump and served generously over pumpernickel bread or similar. It's doused with olive oil and confidently sprinkled with salt and chili flakes. It is my utopian ideal of Avocado on Toast.

Back to breakfast at Jar. When my food arrived, my heart sank. Instead of chunks of creamy Hass avocado, there was a green puree and the poached eggs were suspiciously translucent. Yes, some smart arse wanted to show he could use a sous vide machine. Simply poaching the eggs was not good enough, what these eggs needed was to be held at blah blah degrees for forty five minutes and then reheated in water. I was told this would make them perfect.

Inevitably it made the yolk gluey and they were cold. I don't know anyone who believes a gluey, cold yolk is a perfect yolk.

The exceptionally nice staff were quick to remove the dish and apologise. I could see that even the kitchen staff were frustrated. Soon enough round two arrived.

It was fine.  The yolks were still gluey because they had been sous-vided again, but at least they were warm. I was starving so I ate rather than moaned.

But my hunger didn't prevent me getting increasingly miffed by my lovely looking plate of food. Unfortunately, I wanted to eat it (see above re starving) rather than frame it. What I wondered, did the kitchen think the original avocado lacked that their pureeing techniques added? It turns they really pushed the culinary envelope by combining avocado, lemon, salt and pepper.  In other words, it was a puree for the sake of a puree. It was not about ingredients. It was about showing that the chef could use a tamis. 

Off the back of that breakfast I've pulled my finger out and backed Jonathan Meades' new book The Plagiarist In the Kitchen.  If you can't be arsed clicking the link, at least watch the video below. It is a bit worthy, but his point is simple and should be remembered by all. There is nothing new in the kitchen, there are tweaks here and there, but rarely is there meaningful innovation.

Last night I bought my first batch of asparagus of the season. It's hackneyed I know for people to venerate the humble sparrows grass (as hackneyed as calling it by another name). But simply steaming those stalks, dressing them with a bit of vinaigrette was utterly delicious. 

Leave the avocado alone, leave the egg alone. They're fine by themselves.  If you don't know how to leave them alone, nick someone else's recipe.

03 October 2011

The kosher sausage collective

Do you want to buy some kosher sausage casings with me?

I ask because I do again and the quantities I need to buy them in are enormous, much more than I can use.

The hardest part it seems of making kosher sausages is sourcing the cases.  Until earlier this year, Devro manufactured the only kosher sausage casings that I've ever been able to get hold of.  However, they no longer make them because they cannot source the hides they need to make the collagen casings.

I've been able to track down a caddy of these casings and rather than see three quarters going to waste, I'd like to split them with other like minded cooks, who want to make sausages.  

If you are interested, then reply in the comments below or email or tweet me.

A final thought, what on earth are butchers going to do when the casings finally run out?  I rang four suppliers that, according to a helpful gentleman at Devro, might still have some stock.  Only two still had any casings in and both of those pointed out there wasn't much stock left. 

With a sausage shortage looming, the winter surely only days away, the only answer must be for us to make our own.  Away to your mincers.

31 August 2010

Rosh Hashanah 2010

That nip in the air this morning means only one thing: Rosh Hashanah is around the corner and that means time to think of large quantities of food to feed the masses.

Actually, this year the masses are a bit depleted, so I reckon bollito misto is a bit too full on.  Perhaps time to reprise salt beef or pot au feu?  Certainly an opportunity for chopped liver and chicken soup is a given.  I'm not sure I'm in the mood for kreplach (which I now see I've never written about, something else to add to the to do list), but they are very good, so they might make the cut.

I think I will delve into one of the Ottolenghi books for some salad inspiration.  With the lunar calendar dictating that Rosh Hashanah falls relatively early this year, I might just still be able to take advantage of some late summer bounty.  It also means that I'm late in the game thinking about my menus a week and a half in advance.

I always get a bit stumped on desserts although my apple and pepper sorbet tends to be quite popular and family can always be trusted to bring cake, fruit and other delights.  Maybe I should make a second sorbet, something berry related might work well.

Time to get thinking and ordering.

10 December 2009

Crowd saucing salt beef

UPDATE: At long last I've got a recipe I'm happy with. Please use the new recipe, rather than the method below.

What with hailing from the shtetl (a century or so ago), perhaps my love of salt beef can be attributed to genes, or Proust.  Maybe it's just that it's very tasty when done well.  Whatever, it is one of my favourite comfort foods.  The simple thought of it makes me happy. 

It is easiest, and therefore, best cooked in large hunks, it therefore rewards the greedy or generous.  It has to be cooked for a long period, so no item of clothing or furniture lacks the telling whiff of bay, pepper and meat. 

When you finally get to eat it, your taste buds have spent the last three hours limbering up as the smell of the dish permeates the house.  As the lid is lifted off the pot you're hit with an intense waft of meaty steam.  Then out comes a glistening hunk of fatty meat.  And then the real anticipation begins.  Not just of taste, but of the cut.  Has it cooked for the right amount of time?  Are you about to get a stringy mass of meat, or lithe slices? 

And what of the taste?  Umami and a hint of salt are all you need to worry about. 

It should be self evident why I decided I really needed to turn my hand to brining and cooking the dish for myself. 

Which brings me neatly on to my first experiment and my recipe below.  Let's start at the end.  I was deeply disappointed with what I made.  It was overly salty and pretty darn tough.

The best I can say is that before carving or tasting it, I had immense satisfaction lifting it out of the pot and knowing I pickled the bugger.  It's just what came next that deflated my smugness.

Before we progress, a word about the beef.  Mine was from the blade end.  It was quite fatty and I didn't trim it.  I wonder if this is the source of error.  I'd thought that by leaving it on it would make it even more moist.  I wonder if in fact it made the meat tougher by contracting rather than relaxing the meat.  Is this bollocks?  Is it possible to have too much fat when boiling meat?

I should add for the assumption-jumpers reading this that of course I removed the fat before eating it.

So, I post this recipe here as a starting point.  It is an aide memoire for me.  I'm going to make this again and want to remember what I did first time round.  More importantly, I'm posting it here because I'd like to get your thoughts on where I went wrong.

The recipe I used was largely based on Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's in the excellent Meat.  Unfortunately, many of my cookbooks are still in storage and I was unable to dig out Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited, I'm certain there must be a recipe in there.  I triangulated HFW's recipe with others I found on the internet and by scouring recipes in as many books as I could get my hands on.  The tweaks are minor - I didn't use juniper berries, he recommends them and the like.

So, in this instance more than any other I'd be delighted to get your thoughts on where I went wrong and how to ensure the salt beef of my dreams.

For the salting/brining

  • 3kg brisket
  • 5L water
  • 500g demerera sugar
  • 1.5kg salt
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 5 cloves
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 30g saltpetre

You will also need a large non-metallic container to hold the beef whilst it's brining.

Cooking the beef

  • 2 bay leaves
  • Bunch of thyme
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stick, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic

To salt the beef

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Day 1: 3kg of brisket

Put all the ingredients for the brine in a pan and bring to the boil.  The salt and sugar will dissolve.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.  And remember that means completely.  Unless you want to get on first name terms with your local A&E team, you don't want your beef cooked in tepid water for the thick end of a week.  So let it cool down.

Once the brine is cool (got it, cool) put the beef into your container and cover with the brine.  You may need to weigh down the meat to stop it floating in the brine.  I used a couple of small Le Creuset dishes as you can see in my Bailey-esque photos.

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Day 1: The meat just after it has gone in the brine

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Day 1: The meat in brine

My 3kg of meat spent 5 days in the brine. 

As per HFW's instructions I left the brining meat in a cool room.  However, I have to admit that three days in I got cold feet and, as this was due to feed a large proportion of my nearest and dearest, I did put it in the fridge.  I knew this would slow the brining process - perhaps that was why it was so tough?  But then again, would it have been even saltier if I'd let it brine at room temperature?

Throughout the brining I checked on it regularly and over the days the beef clearly changed colour and throughout it smelt very good - spicy and of cloves.

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Day 5: The meat shortly before it comes out of the brine (the weird circular indent is the mark left by something that was weighing it down)

I removed it from the brine five days after putting it in.  I had expected the meat to be quite soft, instead it was much firmer than I expected.  In my notes I wrote that it was very firm.  I did get slightly concerned at this point.  I've cooked pre-brined salt beef numerous times and that had attuned my expectations, I don't remember it being quite so stiff.  Again, my unscientific mind wondered whether the copious fat had played a part, perhaps too much of it resulted in the whole brisket toughening up in the salty brine?

The meat was also browner than I had expected. I wonder if I didn't use enough saltpetre. 

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Day 5: The meat out of the brine

Nonetheless I was hopeful as I rinsed it under the tap - it was very slippery so hold tight - and then soaked it in fresh cold water for 24 hours.  I think over that period I changed the water three times.  The meat shouldn't float in this water - it's no longer chilling in the Dead Sea.

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Day 5: The meat in clean, fresh water

Now comes the cooking.  Put the beef in a pot with herbs and vegetables and cover with fresh water.  As I always do, I cooked it on a low heat on the hob for approximately 3 hours.  You want it to be a rolling boil and by that I mean: the water's gently bubbling rather than furiously splashing.

And that's it.  The cooking bit I've done before and never had a problem.  This was a disaster and I'd love to know the reasons.  Did I simply not cook it long enough?  Was the brine mix wrong? Was there too much fat? Was it a mistake wimping out and putting it in the fridge?

I want to crack this, so am hoping to give it another go shortly.  Any further thoughts before then are gratefully received.

11 September 2009

Apple & black pepper sorbet

This sorbet is a very good foil to a rich Rosh Hashanah lunch - or any time you've eaten far too much rich dense food.  At the end of such a large meal you want something refreshing.  The spiciness of the pepper helps remind your tongue to wake-up.

Makes just under 1L of sorbet.

  • 1L medium / dry apple juice (I quite like Duskin Farm's Bramley apple juice)
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1 lemon - juiced
  • 200 ml water
  • 5 peppercorns crushed - I find ground peppercorns just disappear

As with all sorbets it's pretty darn easy.

Combine all the ingredients in a pan and heat for about 20mins.  It will come to a boil, but try to keep it at a simmer rather than rolling boil - you don't want too much to evaporate.

Place it in the fridge to cool thoroughly.

Then if you're using an ice-cream machine, follow its instructions for making sorbet.  With my machine, that basically means turning the freezer unit on to get it cold, then putting the syrup in the bowl to churn for around 30-40 minutes.

If you don't have an ice-cream machine, put the cooled syrup in a container that can go in the freezer and keep an eye on it - every hour or so - and scrape the surface with a fork to break-up the ice-crystals.  Eventually the whole lot will freeze, but not into a solid block, which will happen if you don't scrape. 

I find this method ends up more like granita than sorbet, that is, larger chunks of ice.  My preference is for a smoother sorbet, but each to their own.

15 July 2009

Banana & sour-cherry ice-cream

I first made this recipe from a combination of necessity and desire.  Necessity to use up some sour-cherries that I'd had to buy in bulk from Bea, and desire because banana and sour-cherry ice-creams are two of my favourite flavours. 

I think it was at Persicco that I was introduced to great banana ice-cream that tasted of bananas rather than nasty sweets and Matteo at Scoop got me hooked on the wonders of amarena - a fior di latte based sour cherry ice-cream. 

One change you might want to make - and I think I will next time I make it - is to roast the bananas first.  David Lebovitz does this in his book and although I wasn't keen on the consistency of his roasted-banana ice-cream, the flavour was delicious: sweet, caramel, banana gorgeousness.

Makes about 1L

  • 3 bananas
  • 250g pitted sour-cherries
  • 70g brown sugar
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1tbp butter
  • 300ml full fat milk
  • 300ml double cream
  • 4 large egg yolks

First you need to make the sour-cherry compote.  I like to keep the compote as sour as possible, so I follow a very simple method of heating the cherries with 50g of caster sugar and a splash of water.  The cherries will gradually release juice and lose their structure.  You may want to add more sugar to taste, but remember the overall ice-cream will be relatively sweet.  Puree the compote and leave to cool thoroughly in the fridge.  You won't want it melting the ice-cream later on.

Slice the bananas, sprinkle with the brown sugar and roast them in the butter until they're brown and glistening, this can take up to 20 minutes. Mash the bananas and set aside.

Whisk together the egg yolks and 100g of caster sugar.  You want them to be light in colour, quite thick but not frothy.

Heat the milk - don't let it boil - and pour over the eggs, but be sure to keep stirring so the eggs don't curdle.

Rinse the pan you've heated the cream in. Put the custard (egg, sugar and milk) into the pan and reheat. Keep stirring it.  It's ready once it coats the back of a wooden spoon.

Let the custard cool completely.  It could take up to an hour.

Stir in the cream to the cooled mixture.

Combine the mashed bananas with the cream mixture and place in your ice-cream machine and follow your machine's instructions.

Add the cherries as you decant the ice-cream from the machine into the tub you'll be freezing it in. Layer the ice-cream with the very cold compote.  I tend to add enough compote each time so that it covers the surface of the tub, then add another layer of ice-cream and so on.

15 June 2009

Hot sauce

For a while I've been trying to get to the bottom of hot sauce.  Not bottom as in ring of fire bottom, although that is an issue.  But bottom as in, which is the best?

I haven't really been all that interested in flavour, I wanted blow your socks off heat.  I know some people can wax lyrical about the nuances brought by different chillis cooked in different ways, I just wanted lustful heat.

Tabasco has been a stalwart for years but I figured there must be something more out there.  The more I read, the more I saw references to the mind-blowing properties of Frank's RedHot. Mind-blowing?  It's pathetic, hardly any taste at all, let alone spice.  So I reverted to Tabasco.

Resigned to the perfectly good Tabasco for live, I forgot about my mission until yesterday when I came across Rummanco's Hot Chilli Sauce. This stuff was revelatory and it twigged that this is the type of thing worth getting excited about.  It's got that nuance - and I understand why it's important - and it's got flavour.  Hot, but also zesty thanks to dollops of lime and lemon.

As for the ring of fire, well that's an inevitable opportunity cost.