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

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Le Frésinat

Le frésinat is a simple country dish from the Tarn region of France that consists mostly of pork and potatoes. That doesn't sound too promising but the combination of ingredients produces an intensely savoury and satisfying dish that's just perfect for winter. It's said to be the meal that was traditionally cooked as a thank you to the friends and neighbours who helped out when the farm pig was slaughtered. I don't have a pig or a farm and so I can't vouch for that. I just use pork shoulder from a friendly, local butcher. You could use other cuts, but it's best to avoid any that are too lean. (It's also best to avoid unfriendly butchers, funnily enough).

I'm not usually bothered too much about authenticity in my recipes and I often substitute ingredients. This dish, however, relies on the balance of simple flavours and I've learnt the hard way that it's probably best to not play around with the ingredients too much. For instance, if you swap the duck fat for butter or oil it turns into a much less pleasing dish in my opinion. (I should probably admit that I do add less fat than you might find in the Tarn). On the other hand, if you don't have any armagnac lying around, then you could use brandy or eau de vie or, if you really have to, leave it out altogether.  Should you be lucky enough to lay your hands on any rose (or pink, if you prefer) garlic of Lautrec, then that would be the ideal, local choice for this dish but, whatever garlic you choose, don't be shy with it. The four large cloves here is a minimum.
Le Frésinat
I can't claim that I learnt this dish in a Tarn farmhouse and it may not be entirely authentic but it's probably not that far away from the original and it works for me. I reckon this makes 4 portions but  it seems that traditional portions are often more generous than I'm being in these more restrained days.

700 g pork shoulder (or another cut that's not too lean), cut roughly into cubes
700 g potatoes (a fairly waxy variety is best), peeled and roughly cubed
2 onions, sliced
4 large garlic cloves, chopped  (or, if in doubt, add an extra clove or two)
A small glass of armagnac (or other spirit – see above)
Leaves from a large sprig of thyme
A small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
4 - 5 tbsp duck fat

Preheat the oven to 180⁰C.

Season the pork and brown it in a couple of tablespoons of duck fat (it's best to do this is in several small batches), then set aside. Add a little more duck fat to the pan if it's dry and fry the onions slowly until soft - 20 minutes or more would be good. Add the garlic and fry for 2 or 3 minutes. Pour in the armagnac and stir around until the liquid has all but disappeared. Return the pork to the pan together with any juices and add a cup of water and the thyme. Increase the heat until the liquid is simmering. Partly cover the pan and allow the mixture to simmer for an hour, stirring now and then. Make sure that the pan doesn't dry out completely before the hour is up, but you should end up with quite a dry result - the pork should be coated with a sauce rather than sitting in liquid.

While that's going on, pat the potato cubes dry and lightly season them. Preheat an oven tray with a tablespoon or two of duck fat and then add the potatoes. Roast in the oven until cooked through and golden (about 30 minutes, although that'll depend on the size of your cubes, of course). Turn them once or twice while roasting.

To finish the dish, stir the potatoes into the pork and check the seasoning. Chop the leaves of the parsley and add to the dish just before serving. (There should be plenty of parsley, so don't hold back). You could treat this as a meal in itself but some simple green veg definitely wouldn't go amiss.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Speculoos – The Domesticated And Eggless Version

For years I thought of speculoos as the little, wrapped biscuits that often accompanied a bad cup of coffee at conferences and business meetings where people said "going forward" a lot. Then I discovered the almost fanatical devotion to this biscuit in Belgium and northern France and I realised that speculoos must have hidden depths. These days I've long since given up the conferences and the "going forward" people but I've learned to love one or two speculoos alongside good coffee (or tea if you're making it). There's no shortage of the mass-produced, commercial product (whatever they choose to call them these days) but a lot of bakers in northern France, both professional and amateur, make their own. Many of these are more substantial than the usual commercial biscuit and a little different in texture too.

Most of the recipes I've come across add egg to the mixture but I've been told that egg isn't truly authentic (although I admit that it does make the dough easier to handle). As usual, there's a very good chance that what I've been told isn't true but I really wanted to try an eggless version in order to recreate some of the northern French variants of this little treat. So, after a bit of faffing about with different mixtures, this is my eggless recipe. The resulting biscuit is firmer and denser than most commercial offerings but is much closer to the ones served with coffee in some of the secretive speculoos dens of northern France. (I could say more but the first rule of speculoos club is "shut up and eat your biscuit").

This is a very simple recipe that can be adapted to suit pretty much any size, shape or flavouring you fancy. Some bakers use a much more complex spice mix than mine, but, on the other hand, there are some who stick to cinnamon and regard even the use of a little cardamom as a modern aberration.
Speculoos
This will make quite a few biscuits. You can create pretty much any size or shape as the mood takes you, but as a guide I used a 5 cm round cutter and got 36 biscuits with a thickness of roughly 5 mm out of this amount of dough. You can also make domed, macaroon or amaretti shaped biscuits that are excellent for sitting on a saucer beside your espresso by simply pulling off small pieces of dough and shaping them roughly into balls before baking. The biscuits keep well in an airtight container.

175 g brown sugar (I generally use a mixture of light muscovado and soft brown sugar)
140 g unsalted butter, softened
250 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1½ tsp cinnamon (or more if you feel like it)
A pinch or two of freshly grated nutmeg
A pinch or two of ground ginger
Seeds of 3 or 4 cardamom pods, crushed

Cream the butter and sugar together thoroughly. Add the flour, baking powder and spices and beat together well. The dough will be stiff, but that's the way it should be. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for about an hour. If you leave it to chill for longer, then it's best to let it warm up just a little before using.

Preheat the oven to 170°C. The dough won't roll out easily, so I think it's easiest to pull chunks of the dough off the ball and simply flatten them on a board to a thickness of around 5 mm. You can then use a pastry cutter to cut out any size or shape you like or roll into balls (see above). Place the shaped biscuits on lined baking sheets and bake in the preheated oven. The 5 cm biscuits will take around 10 minutes. To be honest, it's not that easy to judge when they're ready. Normally, I'd look for a change of colour in a biscuit as it bakes, but these are brown before they go into the oven. It's safest to do a quick trial bake of one or two biscuits to be sure.

Allow the biscuits to cool for a few minutes on their baking trays before sliding onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Speculoos

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Normandy Lamb With Mint

I've been rereading 'Flaubert’s Parrot' by Julian Barnes, which is a funny, sad, literary novel from the 1980s and in my lightweight view is one of the finest written during my lifetime. Mr Barnes refers to the Normandy travels of the Reverend George Musgrave Musgrave (that's his name, not an accidental duplicate word) and, in particular, a conversation he reports in his 1855 book 'A Ramble Through Normandy'. The Reverend Musgrave amuses himself by questioning  'a thriving merchant of Rouen' who, despite being 'upwards of sixty years old', had never heard of mint sauce! Of course, the Reverend 'advised him to take up a new set of notions on English cookery'. It isn't what the Reverend intended but I was reminded of this dish from Normandy.

Some French people (well, Parisians, at least) can still be very dismissive of British food. In my experience, if you try to defend British cooking to them, then you might well get the response, ‘But you serve lamb with a sauce made from mint.’ (The word ‘mint’ should be accompanied by a truly disgusted but slightly pitying look.)

I've never really understood this because the French are not entirely averse to serving lamb with mint themselves, as in this dish. You can find some excellent lamb in Normandy, especially the lamb raised on the salt marshes. Most Normandy salt-marsh lamb, it seems, never leaves Normandy but Welsh salt-marsh lamb is also excellent if you can find it. The local crème fraîche d'Isigny is justifiably famous too if you can get some but another crème fraîche would be fine as a stand-in. This is old-school Normandy cooking and I must admit that the aromas drifting from a classic Normandy kitchen are pretty much guaranteed to transport me to a very happy place. Presumably that was also true for the Reverend Musgrave not to mention Flaubert; although I can't say the same for his parrot since it appears that it was stuffed.

Normandy Lamb With Mint
I'm a bit of a fan of lamb neck fillet – it's an adaptable cut that's generally not too expensive. It's excellent for slower cooking, but good quality neck fillet responds well to more rapid cooking too. You do need to take a bit of care to ensure that the sinews are trimmed off, though. I used 2 small fillets weighing just over 200 g each, which should comfortably serve 2 people. If the fillets are larger, you may need to adjust the cooking times a little.

1 large shallot, peeled and finely chopped
A little butter for frying and finishing the sauce
300 ml cider, preferably dry but not too dry
2 or 3 sprigs of mint, plus a few extra leaves
2 lamb neck fillets
A generous dash of calvados (or a little more cider if you don't have any to hand)
3 – 4 tbsp thick crème fraîche

Melt a little butter in an ovenproof frying pan. Soften the shallot in the butter over a gentle heat without allowing it to colour. If you're really gentle, then this will probably take around 15 minutes. Add the cider to the pan, bring to the boil and continue boiling until the cider is reduced by about half. Lower the heat and add the sprigs of mint to the pan (keep the few extra leaves aside for later). Simmer for another minute, then pour the contents of the pan into a jug and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Give the pan a quick wipe, put it back on the heat and melt a little more butter. Season the lamb, place in the pan and fry until it's lightly brown on all sides. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 5 or 6 minutes. This will be fine for small fillets, but if they're larger or you just like well-done lamb, then leave them in the oven for 2 or 3 minutes longer.

Put the lamb fillets aside somewhere warm to rest while you finish the sauce. Pour off any excess fat from the pan (remember the pan will be hot from the oven – I've been known to forget). Put the pan back on the heat and deglaze with the calvados. Remove the mint sprigs from the cider mixture and pour it back into the pan. Bring up to simmering point and stir in the crème fraîche. Adjust the seasoning, stir in a small knob of butter and keep the sauce warm while you slice the lamb and chop the remaining mint leaves. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve and stir in the chopped mint. Arrange the lamb slices on warmed plates and pour over the sauce. Serve immediately.

I think some simple new potatoes and green beans sit nicely alongside this dish but something like a potato rösti would work pretty well too.
Normandy Salt Marsh
I'm submitting this to the latest Novel Food event hosted by Simona Carini at briciole with apologies that the connection between the novel and this dish is just about as obtuse as is usual for me. I'd recommend ‘Flaubert’s Parrot’ to anyone who wants to read an excellent, literary novel but if you're ever inclined to read ‘A Ramble Through Normandy’ then I feel I should warn you that the Reverend Musgrave could never be accused of breviloquence and it might be quicker to go for a ramble through Normandy for yourself.

While I'm on the subject of Julian Barnes I would also strongly recommend his collection of essays ‘The Pedant In The Kitchen’, especially if you've ever tried to write down a recipe for others to read.