Thursday, 21 March 2019

Beer Pickled Roscoff Onions

Mention Roscoff Onions to people of advanced age in the UK, such as myself, and there's a good chance that they will start to tell you nostalgic tales of the Onion Johnnies selling their onions door to door throughout England and Wales while dressed in hooped shirts and riding bicycles. This isn't a complete fantasy, there were Onion Johnnies and they did ride bikes and very possibly wore Breton hooped shirts now and then. (In fact, I'm told that there's an Onion Johnny Museum in Roscoff). But the truth is that the heyday of the Onion Johnny was before World War Two and by the 1960s and 70s there were very few about. When I was a young thing in the early 1960s, there was a Breton onion seller who visited our area of London but I'm pretty sure he had an old battered van and not a bike. (I'm not too certain if he wore a striped shirt, but I doubt it). My family didn't buy any onions from him because they considered onions to be too exotic and posh for the likes of us.

Times have changed and, following a long career of onion eating, I recently came across a man from Brittany selling Roscoff onions at a market stall. He was keen to sell off some of the smallest onions cheaply and so that's how this story begins.
Roscoff Onions
Now I'm about as up-to-date and trendy as a hansom cab driver wearing a tattered tweed jacket while singing madrigals but I've noticed that a couple of local, stylish restaurants have added beer pickled onions to some of the dishes on their menus. So I decided to make my own version. Pickled onions in corrosive, dark vinegar and the even more abhorrent pickled egg were very popular in my youth, but not with me. Rest assured that these pickled onions are very different. You don't have to use Roscoff onions and any good, small onions will do but, if you do come across Roscoff onions, then I'd recommend making the most of them.

The beer in the pickling liquid adds colour and a distinct savoury depth without overwhelming the flavour of the onions. Of course, it's not just any old beer: the restaurants use designer craft ales from whichever local microbrewery they favour. Well, why not? I used a wheat beer from Suffolk because I like wheat beer and I think it complements the other flavours. You could use any beer you like, but I'd avoid any very bitter or rich styles of beer in case their flavour becomes too dominant.
Beer Pickled Onions
The pickled onions will sit happily alongside cold meats, smoked fish and cheeses but recently I've seen them used to accompany venison and to add an additional flavour to winter salads made with veg such as carrot and celeriac. They can also be chopped finely and added to your favoured ketchup or chilli sauce to supercharge burgers or sausages.

400 g small onions (Roscoff, ideally), trimmed and peeled
300 ml wheat beer (or whatever beer you fancy - see above)
150 ml cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar if you prefer)
40 g soft, dark brown sugar
20 g granulated sugar
4 tsp runny honey
2 tsp black peppercorns, lightly crushed
6 or 7 juniper berries, very lightly crushed
1 tsp sea salt

You'll need a jar with a vinegar-proof lid that will hold all the onions and the pickling liquid. Sterilise the jar before use. Peeling small onions is a bit of a pain but the old trick of immersing them in boiling water for a minute or so before cooling and peeling works very well.

Really small onions can be kept whole but I prefer to slice most of the onions in half from top to bottom. This will mean that some of them will start to fall apart during the cooking process, which is how I like them. If you prefer crunchier onions, then leave all of them whole.

Put all the ingredients except the onions into a saucepan (not too small because you'll be adding the onions later). Stir thoroughly and bring to the boil. Add the onions and bring back to the boil. Lower the heat and allow the onions to simmer gently in the pickling liquid until they seem as tender as you'd like them to be. Personally I prefer them not too crunchy and simmer them for at least 10 to 15 minutes but, if you like crunch, then cook for less time. Remove from the heat.

Allow the onions and liquid to cool a little, then pour into the sterilised jar. Seal the jar and place in a cool, dark place. Leave the jar alone for at least a week, although two weeks or longer would be better. This will allow the flavours to develop. Although this pickle should keep pretty well, once opened it's advisable to keep the jar in the fridge and use within about 3 months.
Beer Pickled Onions

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Rosé Veal with Pears and Apricots

These days Surrey is probably better known for commuting than farming but there's actually some very fine produce available locally. One product that's become increasingly common over the last few years is rosé veal. (I know that some people say rose veal and others say rosé veal but since I've no idea which it should be, I've chosen rosé at random). It's a very adaptable meat but, for me, it really comes into its own in this lighter type of casserole. The veal I used came from an excellent local producer, Hunts Hill Farm, who have a farm shop open several days a week as well as being a familiar fixture at several of the local farmers' markets.

This recipe is based loosely (very loosely) on a Spanish dish but the way I make it isn't in the least authentic. On the other hand, since it was born in Spain, I couldn't resist adding a little Pedro Ximenez sherry to finish the dish - that's optional, but very nice. You could also use a PX vinegar instead of common or garden sherry vinegar in this recipe, but you might find you need a healthy bank account for that particular product.

I prefer to serve this simply with plain rice but potatoes will work fine as well. This should serve 2 people fairly generously.
Rose Veal with Pears and Apricots
2 firm but ripe pears (I used comice, but other varieties will work too)
8 or so dried apricots, cut in two
4 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp Calvados or Poire William
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
400 g rosé veal, cut into chunks (not too large)
4 tbsp plain flour, seasoned with salt pepper and ½ tsp paprika
200 ml dry white wine
100 ml chicken stock, plus a little extra just in case
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of rosemary
2 – 3 tsp Pedro Ximenez sherry (optional)

Peel, core and quarter the pears and put in a non-reactive bowl with the halved apricots. Pour over 2 tablespoons of the sherry vinegar, the lemon juice and the Calvados or Poire William. Toss the pears and apricots in the liquid and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 140°C. Soften the onion slowly in a little oil without letting it take on any colour. Once softened, add the garlic and continue frying gently for around two minutes. Transfer the onion and garlic mixture to an ovenproof casserole. Place the veal in a bowl, add the seasoned flour and toss the veal in the flour until it's thoroughly coated. Brown the veal in the frying pan in batches until lightly brown all over, adding more oil as necessary. Transfer the veal to the casserole, stirring it into the onions.

Deglaze the frying pan with the two remaining tablespoons of sherry vinegar, than add the white wine, making sure that you scrape up any nice browned bits from the base of the pan. Bring to the boil and let it bubble for about 1 minute, then pour into the casserole together with the 100 ml of chicken stock. The meat should be just covered with liquid, so add a little more stock or water if it needs it. Tuck in the bay leaf and the rosemary. Cover the contents of the pan with a cartouche, which is just a fancy way of saying a close-fitting piece of greaseproof paper laid directly on the liquid. Put the lid on the casserole and place in the oven for 1 hour.

At the end of that time, drain any remaining liquid from the pears and apricots and add them to the casserole. If there doesn't seem enough liquid left in the casserole, then add a little more stock or water. Cover the casserole again with the cartouche and the lid and return to the oven for another 50 minutes.

After this time, check that both the veal and the pears are tender and add a little more seasoning, if it needs it. Although the fruit will have added a fair amount of sweetness to the dish, it will probably benefit from a little boost at this stage. You could just add a little sugar or honey but, if you have any lying around, stir in a few teaspoonfuls of Pedro Ximenez sherry, which will add both sweetness and extra flavour. Return the casserole to the oven for a final 10 minutes.

Remove and discard the bay leaf and rosemary, assuming that you can find them, and garnish with a little sprinkle of chervil or parsley.


As usual, I bought the ingredients with real, folding money and the recipe is sponsorship as well as authenticity free.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Sweet Wine and Olive Oil Cake

There are plenty of recipes for cakes made with olive oil knocking about but not too many that use a dessert wine as well. Well here's one that I found under a bush in the Languedoc. It produces a moist cake with a fruity flavour that's a little bit different to the norm. Since it's a bit different, I'm not sure that it's the typical British afternoon tea cake, unless your chosen beverage is a fruit tea or maybe a fragrant Earl Grey. Admittedly, others who have tried the cake disagree and like the fact that it adds variety, so what do I know? On the other hand, I do know that it works really well as a dessert cake alongside some fruit and maybe a little crème anglaise or cream. I paired it with a poached pear this time, which is lovely but isn't particularly Languedoc. Poached apricots or peaches would probably be more of a southern French choice.
Sweet Wine and Olive Oil Cake
This is a very straightforward cake to make but it's important to choose the wine and oil carefully. Don't choose a rich and toffee-like dessert wine (save that for drinking or send it to me and I'll drink it for you). This cake needs a fruitier and less sticky style: a Muscat de Beaumes de Venise would be a good choice but a Muscat de Rivesaltes, a Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh or a Monbazillac would all be fine. As for the oil, choose one that's fruity rather than peppery.
Sweet Wine and Olive Oil Cake
Because I serve this mainly as part of a dessert, I keep the size of the slices small and I can get something like 14 portions out of one cake, but you really don't have to be that stingy. The cake keeps pretty well in an airtight tin and freezes well too.

3 eggs
150 g golden caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
80 ml sweet wine
100 ml olive oil (plus extra for the tin)
180 g plain flour, sifted (plus a tablespoon for sprinkling in the tin)
1 heaped tsp baking powder
Icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 160⁰C (or a bit higher if it's not a fan oven). Line the base of a 20 cm tin with baking parchment, rub the interior with a little olive oil and sprinkle evenly with a tablespoon of flour.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together thoroughly until they're very pale. Keep whisking gently while you add the wine, the olive oil and the lemon zest. Stop whisking, add the flour and baking powder to the bowl and sir in gently but thoroughly. Pour into the prepared tin.

Bake in the preheated oven for around 45 minutes. Test the cake with a knife or cake tester. The knife should come out clean but the cake may seem a little more moist than you expect. Don't worry, that's as it should be.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin for about ten minutes before turning out to cool completely on a rack. Before serving, you could sprinkle with some icing sugar or even top with a little thin icing made with more sweet wine or lemon or maybe both. Personally, I don't think either finish is really needed if this cake is to be part of a dessert but it's possible that I'm just being a bit lazy.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

New Year Blatherskite

I know I should be telling you about all the fine things that I've cooked lately, but I've been diseased and dilapidated lately and I haven't cooked anything at all. So I thought for once I'd tell you about something else instead.

I could tell you about the packet of  Pudding Rice that I bought a while ago which helpfully told me on the said packet that it was “Ideal for Rice Pudding”. But, on reflection, I think I'll pass on a few items that I've spotted on menus over the years instead. (I swear these are genuine although not from the same restaurant).
Today's Menu
I also feel it's my duty to present a reproduction of a specials board that I spotted a while back.
Special Today
Finally, as the following photograph taken in the lab shows, I'm happy to say that my investigation into how all the flavour is removed from supermarket cheese continues apace.
The Great Supermarket Cheese Experiment
Normal, haphazard service should be resumed shortly, but in the meantime
Happy New Year