Tuesday, 18 October 2016
For many, buying a blowtorch to use in a domestic kitchen might seem like a gimmicky item to show off, or something destined to gather dust in the back of a shelf after many months of no use. I certainly don’t drag it out for most things that I cook, especially not quick, simple midweek meals. Yet I find it so genuinely useful in many circumstances, able to create a different element of flavour that is difficult to achieve with any other appliance. For a long time I have found myself semi-obsessed with charred or borderline burnt food; not great when totally dominating dishes, but a tiny bit of bitter smokiness can really make a decent dish special. From toasting delicate tips of an Italian meringue to blackening sweetcorn and charring winter leaves, there are endless uses. Some recipes call for a hot grill, but the control of vicious heat that you get from a blowtorch is far superior.
It is undoubtedly still a faff though. Especially in this case, where my recipe calls for you to melt 300g of butter purely for the poaching of a few langoustine tails. Then to drag them out and blowtorch them seems like a lot of work. But I totally guarantee that it is worth it. Wild local langoustines are bloody expensive, and as such should be treated with delicate respect to maximise their beautiful sweet flavour. Although I have previously grilled and traditionally poached langoustines with enjoyable results, the gentle poaching in butter yields the ultimate soft texture. With the speedy exposure to a high flame afterwards, the tails take on a wonderful subtle caramelisation, without further internal cooking.
To accompany the langoustines I only required a few subtle sidekicks. As is often the way, ingredients that share the same seasons also sit happily on the same plate. Autumn is all about wild mushrooms for me, and I was lucky enough to find girolles, trompettes and fresh porcini mushrooms in my brilliant local fruit and veg shop in Stoke Newington. They also had a pile of beautiful Italian violet artichokes, and I couldn’t resist popping a couple into my basket.
Although a lot of butter is used to cook the langoustines, save the leftovers for frying potatoes, or to melt through pasta with plenty of sage and garlic…
For the langoustines:
6 large live langoustines, killed humanely and tails shelled. Heads and claws reserved.
300g salted butter
For the artichokes:
6 small violet artichokes, peeled, trimmed and halved
The heads and claws from the langoustines
1 smoked garlic clove, crushed
1 shallot, quartered
1 bay leaf
1 large glass of white wine
1 knob of butter
For the wild mushrooms:
1 handful of small girolle mushrooms, trimmed and cleaned
1 handful of trompette mushrooms, cleaned
1 or 2 fresh porcini mushrooms, cleaned
For the smoked garlic mayonnaise:
1 clove of smoked garlic
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 lemon, juice and zest
250ml light olive oil
½ a lemon, juice only
Bring a large saucepan or high-sided frying pan to a medium heat. Pour in a generous glug of olive oil and add the claws and heads from the langoustines. Fry for 3-4 minutes, until lightly caramelised on all sides. Add the trimmed artichokes, shallot, garlic and bay leaf and continue to cook for a further couple of minutes. Pour in the wine and bring to the boil, then cover the pan and reduce the heat. Gently simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the artichokes are tender. Add the knob of butter and adjust the seasoning if needed.
To make the mayonnaise, grate the smoked garlic into a small food processor and add the mustard, lemon zest and juice, egg yolks and a good pinch of seasoning. Blend well to combine. With the engine still running, slowly pour in the oil, until fully emulsified into a mayonnaise. Thin down with a little water if necessary, and taste and add more seasoning. Spoon into a plastic bottle.
Heat a pan to a high heat and add a good glug of oil. When hot, sauté the girolle and trompette mushrooms for a couple of minutes, until tender and caramelised. Keep warm.
Halve the fresh raw porcini mushrooms and slice thinly.
Melt the butter for the langoustines in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and carefully drop in the langoustine tails. Poach gently for 3 minutes, then transfer onto a metal tray. Use a blowtorch to quickly caramelise the outsides.
To plate up, dot the mayonnaise onto each plate and arrange the langoustines and artichokes around. Top with the cooked wild mushrooms and raw porcini slices, and finish with a little of the buttery artichoke cooking liquid.
Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Chicken livers used to really weird me out. As a child, I would pull a squeamish face if I accidentally peeled open the wrong tub in the back of the fridge, revealing grey and pungent pate. Yuk! This liver phobia stretched out for a large chunk of my young adult life. Even when working in a kitchen just after finishing university, making huge vats of delicately set chicken liver parfait was my most hated job. There’s nothing worse than the sight of a mountain of uncleaned livers whilst nursing a dangerous hangover.
Then something changed. One evening out at a restaurant, a plate emerged as part of a set menu. To avoid any social awkwardness I got stuck in, and suddenly became aware than I quite liked the smooth, rich and earthy morsels that had for so long been my nemesis. I guess there’s no real explanation for this shift in taste, other than just growing up and liking different foods. Around that time I also re-embraced mushrooms, discovered that bitter greens weren’t best shoved to one side of the plate, and that a good pinch of salt makes a world of difference to pretty much everything.
With anything as strong and distinctive in flavour as chicken livers, the key is creating a balance with the other ingredients on the plate. Sweetcorn season is in full swing right now, and creates a wonderful sweet contrast. Add a few chicken wings to create a binding sauce and some irresistible crispy skin, and some peppery nasturtiums picked from my front garden, and everything is tied together.
For the chicken livers:
300g chicken livers, halved and trimmed of any sinew
1 good knob of butter
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 sprig of thyme
For the baby leeks:
6 baby leeks
For the sweetcorn puree:
2 sweetcorn, kernels cut free from the cobs
2 shallots, finely sliced
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 knobs of butter
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
For the charred sweetcorn:
1 sweetcorn, kernels cut free from the cob
For the chicken sauce:
4 chicken wings, skin removed and retained
2 shallots, quartered
1 carrot, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
3 sprigs of thyme
1 large glass of white wine
500ml good chicken stock
For the crispy chicken skin:
The skin from the chicken wings
½ a lemon, juice only
Start by making the chicken sauce. Heat a large saucepan to high temperature, and add a good glug of olive oil. Season the wings and brown well on all sides in the hot pan, then transfer to a side plate. Slide the shallots into the pan and fry for a minute or two on each side, until caramelised. Add the carrot, garlic and thyme and continue to cook for a further minute, stirring frequently. Return the chicken wings to the pan and pour in the wine. Allow the liquid to boil and reduce by half. Pour in the stock, then return to the boil before reducing again, until only a small amount of thickened sauce remains. Strain the sauce through a sieve into a small saucepan and set aside to reheat later.
Fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Sprinkle in a generous amount of salt. When the water is hot, blanch the baby leeks for 2 minutes, then drain and set aside until later.
Bring a saucepan to a medium heat and add half the butter for the sweetcorn puree. When melted, add the shallots, garlic and thyme leaves, and cook gently for 3-4 minutes, until softened. Tip in the sweetcorn kernels and season well. Stir everything together, then cover the saucepan and cook for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spoon the contents of the pan into a food processor and add the mustard and remaining butter. Blend really well, until a smooth puree is formed. Loosen with a little water if necessary. Taste and season if needed. Pass the puree through a sieve into a bowl, then spoon into a plastic bottle.
Preheat the oven to 190⁰C.
Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper and rub with a little oil. Stretch the chicken skin onto the tray and season with salt and pepper. Cover with another oiled sheet of greaseproof and top with a second baking sheet. Slide into the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, or until the skin is golden and crispy. Drain on kitchen paper and set aside.
Cut the kernels from the remaining sweetcorn cob, trying to keep the kernels together in clusters if possible. Using a blowtorch, quickly char the outsides.
Put the butter for the chicken livers into a non-stick frying pan along with a splash of olive oil. Bring to a high heat. When the pan is hot, season the chicken livers and add to the pan, along with the thyme and the garlic clove. Cook the livers for 1-2 minutes on each side, until still bouncy and pink in the middle. Transfer to a warm plate to rest quickly. Add the blanched leeks to the now empty liver pan and heat through for a minute.
While the livers and leeks are cooking, reheat the sauce.
Dress the nasturtium leaves in a little lemon juice and olive oil.
To plate up, squeeze a decent blob of the sweetcorn puree onto each plate. Arrange the leeks to one side along with the livers and charred sweetcorn. Top with the chicken skin and nasturtium leaves, then finish with a small amount of the chicken sauce.
Monday, 3 October 2016
Ragu is without doubt one of my favourite things to eat. A saucepan of meat that has been patiently cooked until falling apart and tender, swimming in thick, rich reduced sauce offers a level of comfort and satisfaction that is hard to find in any other food. Add to that soft, buttery strands of pasta or melting wet polenta for and you’ve got a winner on your hands. Just don’t expect to be very active for some time afterwards!
I’ve made ragu with a range of different meats over the years; beef shin and bone marrow is the classic, and lamb, anchovy and mint is a firm favourite in our household. I’ve even lightened it up in the summer by combining rabbit and peas. Once you’ve mastered one, the principle is very similar with others, and it’s great to experiment with different produce across the seasons. Now that game is well and truly back on the menu, I really wanted to have a go with grouse. This almost livery-flavoured meat is not to everybody’s taste, but I love the metallic intensity. Some would say that using such prime birds for a slow-cooked ragu is a waste, but I was really happy with the results. In my mind cooking the grouse in this way is a match for anything served pink and fast, as the flavours are allowed time to properly marry together.
Autumn also sees the start of the mushroom season proper. For this recipe I’ve stuck with reliable favourites girolles, but I really can’t wait to cook with wonderful fresh porcini, and perhaps if I’m lucky, a little truffle. All bound together with some scrambled duck eggs, or carefully folded into a risotto. Now there’s something that will have to be cooked in the next few weeks…
For the ragu:
2 grouse, livers and hearts removed and retained
4 rashers of smoked, streaky bacon, sliced
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
A good few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 large glass of red wine
1 litre of chicken stock
1 large knob of butter
½ a lemon, juice only
For the pappardelle:
200g Italian ‘00’ grade flour
2 medium eggs
1 tbsp olive oil
For the mushrooms:
Two handfuls of girolle mushrooms, trimmed and brushed clean
1 large knob of butter
A few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
Preheat the oven to 160⁰C.
Pour a generous glug of olive oil into a large, heavy saucepan and bring to a high heat. Season the grouse all over with salt and pepper. When the pan is hot, brown the birds all over for a couple of minutes on each side. Transfer the grouse to a side plate and add the bacon to the empty pan. Fry for a couple of minutes until slightly caramelised, then add the onion, carrot, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Continue to cook for a further 3-4 minutes. Pour in the red wine, bring to the boil and allow to reduce by half. Return the grouse to the pan and cover with the chicken stock. Bring back to the boil, then tuck a sheet of greaseproof paper over the top, and cover the pan with a lid. Carefully slide the pan into the oven cook for 45 minutes, or until the flesh on the grouse is very tender.
When the grouse are cooked, remove them from the pan and allow to cool slightly. Using your hands, strip all of the meat from the crowns and legs, making sure to avoid all bones and shot. Shred finely. Strain the cooking liquid through a sieve into a large frying pan and discard all of the solids. Set the pan onto a high heat and reduce the liquid by two-thirds, until slightly thickened and intensified in flavour. Stir the grouse meat back into the sauce. Set aside until needed later.
While the grouse is cooking, make the pasta. Pour the flour into a mixing bowl and use a wooden spoon to make a well in the middle. Crack in the eggs, pour in the olive oil and add a generous pinch of salt. Mix the liquid into the flour until a dough is formed, then use your hands to knead for 8-10 minutes, until springy and smooth in texture. Wrap with cling film and put in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.
When the pasta dough has rested, use a pasta machine or rolling pin to roll into thin sheets. Cut the pasta into thick pappardelle with a sharp knife.
Bring a large frying pan to a high heat and add the butter for the mushrooms. Scatter in the mushrooms, along with a good pinch of seasoning. Fry for 3-4 minutes, tossing frequently, until golden brown on all sides. Set aside.
Fill up a large saucepan with water and add plenty of salt. Bring to the boil.
Gently reheat the grouse ragu in the frying pan. Very finely chop the grouse livers and hearts and stir through the sauce.
When the water is hot, add the fresh pasta and boil for 2 minutes. Use tongs to transfer the pappardelle into the grouse pan, along with the girolle mushrooms, the remaining butter, thyme leaves, a good grating of parmesan cheese and the lemon juice. Toss everything together really well, and continue to cook together for a further minute or two. If the sauce needs loosening slightly, add a small amount of the pasta cooking water.
To serve, pile the pappardelle onto plates and finish with more grated parmesan and a good crack of black pepper.
Monday, 5 September 2016
This dish represents exactly the type of food that I love to eat as we slide into Autumn with a chilly wind and grey cloud of rain. Slow, easy cooking that is all about the development of flavour over a little patient simmering. Food that can be sliced and eaten with a spoon. Now we’re in September, the shellfish will start to get slightly stronger, and soon we’ll see Shetland mussels back in their prime. Samphire is slowly heading the other way, and I’m finding any excuse to introduce a handful into my meals. Before long that vibrant green will be replaced by the burnished oranges and reds of squashes, apples and corn. I can’t wait.
Serves 2 for a main, or 4 for a lunch or starter
2-3 small cuttlefish, cleaned, with the tentacles and ink sacs reserved
1 onion, finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 glass of white wine
500ml chicken stock
2 sachets of cuttlefish ink
¾ of a mug of firm lentils, such as Puy
1 lemon, juice and zest
1 small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
A handful of samphire
The tentacles from the cuttlefish, cut into 3 or 4 pieces
Slice the cleaned and skinned body and wings of the cuttlefish into chunky centimetre-thick strips. Pour a generous glug of olive oil into a large saucepan and bring up to a medium-high temperature. Fry the cuttlefish for 3-4 minutes, turning occasionally, until they start to turn golden. Season well. Turn the heat down slightly and add the onion, garlic, fennel seeds, dried chilli and oregano. Continue to fry everything together for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften slightly. Turn the head back up and pour in the wine. Allow the liquid to bubble away and reduce by half. Stir in the ink from the sachets, and carefully squeeze in the ink collected from the cuttlefish sacs (use an extra two sachets if you can’t collect them). Stir well, then top up with the chicken stock. Bring back to the boil, then turn down to a very gently simmer. Cover the saucepan with a lid and cook for 30 minutes.
Bring a frying pan to a high heat and pour in a good glug of olive oil. When the pan is very hot, add the cuttlefish tentacles and a good pinch of seasoning. Fry for 2-3 minutes, turning once, until golden and slightly crispy. Remove from the pan onto a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain. Keep warm.
Bring a saucepan to a high heat. Add the clams and a small splash of water. Seal the pan tightly with a lid, and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the clams all open. Turn the heat down and stir in the samphire. Cook for a further minute, then remove from the heat.
To serve, spoon the lentils and cuttlefish into shallow bowls and top with the samphire, clams and crispy tentacles. Finish with a scattering of the lemon zest and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Tuesday, 30 August 2016
The octopus had been in the freezer for a long time. A spring purchase, I had taken it home with big intentions; a light green broth perhaps, or fried in chilli to top a pea risotto. But somewhere along the line I was distracted, and the eight-legged beast had a little more time to acquaint itself with the lost myriad of ice-burnt fish fingers, three-quarter used packets of peas and random chunks of meat jostling for a way out of the cold. But as the summer came on, the octopus was the over-familiar leftover at the party and was more than starting to outstay its welcome. It’s shear bulk in such a tiny icebox meant that competition was tight, and with this heatwave, when a decision needed to be made between having room for an octopus or a box of Soleros, there was only one winner.
But the octopus was not alone, and was joined by many of my culinary outcasts in this recipe. Enter the humble bell pepper, which has rarely (if every) appeared on this blog. Sometimes too sweet, sometimes just the wrong texture, I have no malicious feeling towards peppers. But they are just something that I never seem to crave. Until now that is. The combination of smoky, salty octopus and soft charred peppers seemed to get a big thumbs up in my head.
Of course, the smoking side of this recipe isn’t essential. It would be perfectly acceptable (delicious, even) to grill the tentacles after the initial braising process. But I do like a bit of DIY food experimentation, and I’m always surprised with the amount of flavour that comes out of a bit of hay and a deep roasting dish. As with anything that releases your inner pyromaniac, it’s always best performed in an open, outdoor space, with a fire-quenching aid to hand.
Serves 4 as a starter or light lunch
1 x 2kg octopus (double sucker variety), previously frozen and thawed out
A few good handfuls of hay, to smoke
For the charred peppers:
2-3 red and/or yellow peppers
1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
A pinch of dried chilli flakes
2 preserved lemons, centres scooped out and discarded
A few sprigs of fresh oregano, leaves picked
For the almond puree:
300g blanched almonds
1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
2 sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped
A few more oregano leaves
Pop the octopus into a large saucepan and add 250ml of water. Bring to the boil, then lower to a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour, or until the tentacles are very tender. Allow to cool slightly, then remove from the liquid and slice off each tentacle. Discard the head.
Set a heavy griddle pan over a high heat. Rub the peppers with a little olive and sear for about 5 minutes on each side, until blackened and blistered. Remove to a deep bowl and cover with cling film. Allow to cool down, then slice into thin strips. Pour a good glug of oil into a small saucepan and add the garlic and the chilli flakes, along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Fry for a couple of minutes until softened, then remove from the heat. Finely chop the preserved lemon and add to the pan along with the oregano leaves, lemon juice and 2 tbsp olive oil. Stir well, then pour all over the sliced, cooked peppers.
Bring a large frying pan to a medium heat and add the almonds. Toast for a few minutes, until lightly browned, then pour over a good glug of olive oil. Stir in the garlic and chopped rosemary along with some seasoning, and fry gently for a further 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and blend well. Squeeze in the lemon juice and slowly add 3 tbsp of olive oil. With the motor still running, slowly pour in a little cold water to loosen the puree, until it is soft and smooth. Taste and season, and pass through a sieve if necessary.
To smoke the octopus, scatter the hay onto the bottom of a heavy baking tray and top with a wire rack. Arrange the tentacles onto the rack, and use a large sheet of foil to seal. Carefully light the hay with a long match and allow to smoke for a couple of minutes. Place the smoked octopus onto a metal tray and use a blowtorch to crisp up the edges.
To serve, spoon the puree onto each plate and top with the octopus, pepper slices and a good drizzle of the flavoured oil. Finish with a scattering of fresh oregano leaves.