Thursday, April 28, 2011

Melt in the mouth slow braised pressed lamb

Slow braising lamb is not exactly rocket science. Even so, I can hardly claim it’s my own invention. I pinched the idea off a cooking show. Definitely Rupert Rowley’s idea.*

I saw through his fancy-pants cheffery at once. Past the la-di-da herb crust and caramelised onion mousse and sous vide tender loin and poached baby vegetables and aligot (cheesy mash).

A shoulder of lamb, very simply braised on the stove top and then pressed under a weight overnight. Dense, meltingly tender, rich and sticky, reheated in the strained and reduced braising liquid.

Not rocket science. Not even Michelin Starred Science. Just a perfect idea.

After placating Little Chocolate Flavoured P- with the promise of apricot frangipane pie, I commandeered her wood panelled country kitchen. Stripped of complications, glass of wine in hand, I did absolutely nothing for six hours.**

Braising is nothing new. Just time consuming.

Squishing things after they’re cooked is probably not new either. But this technique I despise in commercially produced chicken nuggets and processed hams results in a moist gelatinous and impossibly dense slab of lamb, infused with the braising stock flavours and melt in the mouth succulent.

I craved, no, coveted, this lamb ever since I witnessed it via the magic of television. Worth the wait? Oh G-d yes.

* Hairy Bikers Tour of Britain, Derbyshire Episode. The recipe for the braised and pressed shoulder is unfortunately not included on the BBC website.

** Not, strictly speaking, true. For a little while I surfed the net looking at chocolate art, and I whipped up two frangipane pies, helped Bird with the pomme de terre au gratin AKA potato bake, roasted a leg of lamb, baked some sweet potatoes, made gravy and generally made a mess

Rosemary infused braised, pressed lamb with lamb jus

Boned shoulder of lamb, approximately 1 kg (although size doesn’t matter)
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut in half
1 large brown onion, peeled and cut into eighths
1 medium leek, cut into four pieces
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs rosemary
½ bottle dry red wine*
3 cups good quality beef stock (or a couple of beef bones, roasted in the oven for about an hour)
Kitchen string
Parchment paper (greaseproof paper), cut into a circle just a little larger than the saucepan, and with a 1 cm hole pinched in the centre
Fry pan and medium sized saucepan (just large enough to snuggle fit the piece of lamb)

Using kitchen string, tie the lamb up like a parcel. There is a neat way to do this that is a little like a blanket stitch and a little like a mobius strip (see this Epicurious video). Or, you could just tie it up any old way. This works too. Or ask your butcher to do it.

In a small fry pan, heat a small amount of olive oil. Add the tied lamb shoulder, turning occasionally to brown on all side.

At the same time, heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the saucepan and add the vegetables and herbs. Cook on a medium to high heat, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked and starting to stick to the pan (but not burning).

When the vegetables are stating to stick, toss in half the wine and scrap around the pan to deglaze all the sticky vegetable sugars. Add the meat into the saucepans and deglaze the frying pan in the same way with the remaining wine, then tip that into the saucepan too. Add the beef stock (or bones) and add water (or wine or stock) to just the top of the meat.

Press the parchment paper onto the surface of the liquid and meat (like a second lid) and then place the lid on the saucepan. Turn the heat the lowest setting, and set to very gentle bubble away for about 5 to 6 hours. Check on it from time to time – make sure it does not dry out or burn onto the bottom of the saucepan, and gentle turn the meat over after about three hours.

When the meat is finished cooking, allow to cool slightly and then remove from the braising liquids and strain over the saucepan. Place onto clean parchment , cut the strings and discard, then wrap up like a Christmas present in the greaseproof paper. Tightly wrap this package in plastic wrap (I went several times around it all).

Place in a bake dish, then cover with another baking dish and then weight the top baking dish (I used a concrete statue of a cockerspaniel. You could use a brick). Leave overnight (food safety would probably dictate in the fridge, but I left it out on the kitchen bench).

Meanwhile, strain the braising liquid and discard the solids. Keep the liquid. That stuff is gold.

To serve: cut the lamb into neat portions. It is very dense and rich, so make them smaller than you think you might want.

In a small frying pan or shallow saucepan, heat a little olive oil and add the lamb portions. Add a few spoonfuls of braising liquid (which by now should have a lovely jelly like consistency), turn and add more liquid as it bubbles and thickens, until all sides of the lamb pieces are richly glazed. Remove the lamb ready to serve. Add addition liquid to make a sauce, heat through until thick enough.

Place lamb onto a bed of pumpkin puree, spoon over some sauce and enjoy.

* For goodness sake, only cook with wine you will drink. It doesn’t need to be great wine, but it does have to be palatable

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fire and ice: Thai beef salad

Iceberg lettuce is seriously underrated. Eclipsed by fancypants rivals, bitter raddicio and spicy rocquette and sweet mache, iceberg, to paraphrase Dame Edna, is C-O-M-M-O-N. Cheap and ordinary.

It is the lettuce of my childhood, sweet and crisp and watery.

Whilst the cuisine of the West may currently not be on speaking terms with iceberg lettuce, having swapped our childhood salads of cubed cheese and grated carrot for frissee and witlof, Asian cuisine from China to Thailand has no such prejudices.

The crunchy bowl of an iceberg lettuce leaf is irreplaceable in Chinese san choi bao. Vietnamese chả giò are dangerously moreish, crisp deep fried pastries wrapped with mint and basil in iceberg leaves.

And torn chunks of iceberg hearts, tossed with sweet ripe tomatoes and thick slices of cucumber is the perfect cooling counterpoint to the volcanic combination of raw onion and chilli in Thai beef salad.

Thai beef salad

Serves 2

300 gm of the best steak you can get.
½ iceberg lettuce
1 small Lebanese cucumber
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved (or 3 medium sized field tomatoes, cut into thin wedges)
½ red onion, thinly sliced
½ cup coriander leaves, torn
½ cup mint leaves, torn (English mint is fine, use Vietnamese mint if available)
½ cup Thai basil (or sweet Italian basil)
1 or 2 hot chillies
1 crushed bulb garlic
1 tsp sesame oil
Juice and rind of 2 limes
1 tbsp palm sugar (or raw sugar)
4 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce

Cook the steak to medium rare on a grill pan or barbeque (Make sure your steak is at room temperature when you cook it. For a thickish steak, an inch and half or so thick, cook for 4 minutes on each side).

Set aside to rest for about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the chillies, garlic, oil, sugar, rind, half the lime juice, half the fish sauce and the soy sauce. Taste. Gradually add fish sauce and lime until the flavours balance (you want something that has ‘zing’ and a nice salty finish, without being mouth puckeringly sour or drinking sea-water salty).

Slice the steak into very thin strips. Toss through the dressing to coat and remove.

Add the lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes , onion and herbs to the dressing, toss to coat.

Pile the salad vegetables onto a plate, scatter the beef over the top, and drizzle with the dressing.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rustic baked beans

I still have ham left over from Christmas.

In a characteristically excessive move, I procured a 9.7 kilo leg of beautifully cured ham for our very small Christmas gathering*, which I glazed with quince paste and cardamom and green ginger wine and lovingly studded with approximately twelve million cloves. We ate ham everyday for two weeks. And then I carved up the remaining five kilos, and packaged the slices and chunks and bones away in the freezer, dreaming of mid-winter pea-and-ham soups and ham and leek soufflés.

I don’t like waste. I ferret away kitchen scapes and old bones for stock. My freezer contains little zip lock bags of everything from stale bread crumbs to off cuts of potato and kohlrabi to a chicken carcass to prawn heads. You never know what you might need. Of course it’s frugal: throwing away food is the same as throwing away money. It’s also partly a political stance: when we waste food we are saying that the time and effort put into growing and rearing our food is disposable**. And it is so satisfying to make something delicious out of food that would otherwise be assigned to the trash.

Think of it as 3D Tetris for your tastebuds.

Ham. Diced carrot off-cuts. The first of this year’s tomato passata. Half an onion in the fridge. Celery. Celery powder. Half a bulb of fennel. Stolen rosemary. Tinned cannellini beans. Now I love baked beans. Not the sticky sweet navy-beans-in-tomato-sauce you can buy in a tin (although, to be fair, those bad boys are pretty healthy, providing you buy the low salt/low sugar brands). The old-school home-made kind, chunky and spicy and packed full of vegetables. It is my measure of a good breakfast cafe, the calibre of their ‘house-made beans’. And baked beans are precisely what the contents of my freezer suggests. All it needs it a little time to braise.

Best Christmas present ever.

* In addition to a two kilo turkey buff, and two chickens. Not to mention potato salad and zucchini and green bean salad with pangratto, and steamed carrots and four loaves of bread and roasted baby beatroots. For eight people. I have issues.

** You could argue that rather than saving money by not wasting food, we should just buy more food so that farmers are better recompensed. I say, let’s pay more money for food, thus better remunerating farmers and incentivising us consumers not to waste it. Food is way too cheap.

Rustic baked beans

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced 2 red chillies, minced (optional)
2 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp coriander seeds
¼ ground all spice
3 cloves
2 tsp sweet paprika
6 very ripe tomatoes, diced (or 2 cups passata or 2 tins crushed tomatoes)
Sprig rosemary. Or thyme. Or oregano. Whatever you grow/can steal.
300 gm thick chunks ham (or a bit of ham bone or smoked pork hock or similar. Or leave out, just as good).
2 tins cannellini beans (or your favourite beans, butter beans are good. So are kidney beans.)

Saute the onions, garlic and vegetables (except tomatoes) in a large heavy based saucepan until soft, this will take about ten minutes. Add the spices, toast for about 1 minute, then add the tomatoes, fresh herbs and ham.

Bring to a simmer (add as little water if a bit dry) and cook for about half an hour to an hour, until thick and all the flavours are infused. Taste, and add salt if necessary.

Gently stir through the drained tinned beans (feel free to soak dried ones over night, I just love the convenience of tinned ones) and heat through.

Finish off with masses of fresh chopped parsley and a teaspoon of powdered celery leaves.

Serve over grilled polenta or thick sourdough toast. Soft yolked organic poached egg makes this transcendent.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Golden, crunchy chicken nuggets. Nutrition and sedition in the nanny-less state

Some children will eat anything. The Pintos (my two nephews) will eat chicken, in nugget, ‘tuckey’ (that is, Kentucky Fried Chicken) and grilled form. That’s about it. And frozen vegetable mix with rehydrated mash potato. And ice berg lettuce. And ice-cream, chocolate, cake, ice-cream, cheese, chips (crisps and fries), pancakes with honey and bananas. Ok, so there are probably fussier children.

Home made chicken nuggets, crumbed with the crumbs of stale bread, baked and not deep fried, served with salad and vegetables manages to satisfy their limited appetites without destroying my principles.

Although I swear they can tell the difference. And to them, homemade is simply not as good. It lacks the salt and oil of pre-prepared chicken nuggets. The bread from which I make crumbs is multigrain, sourdough, denser and not as sweet or salty as a commercial crumb mix or batter. The vegetables are not as soft. The mash potatoes never as weirdly smooth as rehydrated powder (which I have never tasted and therefore cannot know how on earth I would emulate it).

And it’s hard work. Crumbing chicken (dip in milk, dip in flour, dip in egg, dip in crumbs ...), boiling potatoes then mashing them, dicing and blanching vegetables. I do this once in a blue moon. I get why countless parents don’t. It’s because they have something else to do with those several hours. Every day.

But what I don’t get is how chicken nuggets, of all things, became the food that children eat (also frozen fish fingers, a culinary abomination I cannot fathom). There are lots of things we could serve to children that take no time and do not come highly processed and swimming is sugar, salt and fat. And yet we, as a general culture, collectively facilitate frozen nuggets and frozen vegetables (which are actually not significantly processed, being snap frozen with little added to them) and pizza and packets of chips and muesli bars and cookies.

I’ll admit I don’t know the first thing about raising children. But the “food” we, as a society, now feed and make available to children, is also the food that we are collectively consuming as adults. Pre-prepared and packaged and frozen and take away foods. Foods low in nutrients and high in calories. Foods which don’t feature adequate vegetables and fruits. Foods with added fats and sugars and salts, well beyond what we need.

Our children may well recover from the food we feed them (although the stats are not encouraging. More children are more overweight than ever before recorded. Similarly, more adults. We will die fat but not alone). But we adults (on the whole) have not really demonstrated that we know any better. That we are able or willing to eat any differently.

Governments do little to intervene. Heaven forbid ‘they’ tell ‘us’ what to eat. But when say we don’t believe in the nanny state we are effectively saying ‘let us choose to make ourselves and our children sick’. When we compound this idiocy by further criticising ‘big taxes’ – which pay for schools and education programs and public health campaigns and hospitals – we are saying ‘please also make it impossible for us to treat the consequent illnesses’. No one is to blame, we are all to blame.

We buy convenient food because it is convenient. The price we pay – in dollars and in time – is simply not commensurate to the sugar-fat payload. Of course, there are healthy, cheap, quick alternatives. Salads. Lentils. Steamed vegetables. Brown rice. Fresh fruit. Porridge. Chickpeas. But they don’t taste nearly so sweet-salty-tasty (just like heroin is so much more effective than paracetamol).

Make it from scratch. Not every time, but once or twice. Know the effort that goes into making good food. Understand the ingredients. Read the labels. Read the nutritional information. If governments and business refuse to take responsibility for our health and wellbeing, and we refuse to let them, then let’s grow up and take responsibility for ourselves.

Crunchy baked chicken nuggets with sourdough crumbs

Serves 6

1 kg chicken meat, trimmed of skin, sinew and fat. Cut into bite sized peices
½ loaf stale sourdough bread
3 cloves garlic
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 ½ cups cornmeal (ie, semolina or polenta)

Preheat oven to 190ºc. Line two baking trays with baking paper and lightly brush with olive oil.

Cut the bread into chunks and blitz in a food processor with the garlic until finely crumbed. Season with salt and pepper and a little paprika (optional). Emply into a large bowl or plate.

Beat the eggs together in a dessert bowl, add about 2 tsbp water or milk. Set aside.

Pour the milk into a separate dessert bowl, set aside.

Place the cornmeal into a large bowl or plate.

From left to right, arrange the milk, cornmeal, egg and breadcrumbs.

Dip a chicken piece into the milk, then coat in cornmeal, then dip into the egg and then press into the bread crumbs. Place on the baking tray, and repeat.

Cook in the oven for approximately twelve minutes, turn each nugget over and cook for a further three to five minutes. They should be golden and crunchy (to test if cooked, cut one in half. It’s not rocket science).

Serve with blanched vegetables and homemade tomato sauce.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Peaches and cream (and chilli and cheese) AKA salsa and saganaki

Peaches are late summer. The tangy sweet-sour of yellow peaches and the fragrant sugariness of white peaches, fuzzy-furry skin and juices dripping down my chin: bliss (albeit sticky bliss).

I grew up on the remnants of a peach farm. I am never short of ideas about what to do with them*. Cut in half, drizzled with honey and scattered with flaked almonds, roasted in the oven for half an hour. Poached in sugar syrup for 30 minutes, then peeled to reveal the transferred pink tinge on the beautifully sweet and yielding fruit. Pureed and turned into sorbet (or better yet, into a Bellini). Sliced and tossed with jamon and buffalo mozzarella and rocquette. Cooked down into jam, like my mum used to make, with walnuts, served with cheddar. Atop a frangipane tart. In tea cake. The classic combination: peaches and cream.

So many temptations. Such a short season.

Cheese is just grown up cream. And peaches are peaches. Classic combination.

* I mean, after you tire of eating them fresh and ripe in the sun. As if you ever would. I bought a kilo and half this evening and ate one on the way home. Even though I knew I was using them for dinner.
Peaches in chilli syrup with fried haloumi*

Serves two for dinner or four as an starter

Drawing inspiration from Australian-Greek chef George Colambaris, who tops saganaki with figs in pepper and honey.

1 ripe yellow peach (score the bottom with a cross)
1 ripe white peach (score the bottom with a cross)
1 very hot red chilli, finely minced, seeds retained
3 tbsp sherry vinegar (or white vinegar)
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp whole basil leaves
1 tbsp shredded basil leaves
1 small bulb fennel, finely diced
½ small red onion, finely diced
1 roasted red pepper, peeled and cut into small dice (about ¼ inch)
Eight spears asparagus
250 gm haloumi cheese, cut into 1 cm thick slices
2 handfuls rocquette
Olive oil

To poach the peaches: bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Carefully place peaches into the boiling water, simmer for about ten minutes. remove with a slotted spoon. When cool enough to handle, peel off the skin. Dice into small dice (about ¼ inch)

To grill asparagus: heat a grill pan to very hot. Brush asparagus spears with olive oil, grill until tender and char marked (about 5 minutes). Set aside (they don’t need to be hot when you serve the salad).

To make the chilli syrup: in a small saucepan bring the vinegar, honey and chilli to a simmer. Reduce by half. Taste. Add extra dried chilli flakes if not hot enough. Or substitue sweet chilli sauce. It's up to you.

To make the salsa: toss together peaches, basil, fennel, onion, red pepper. Season with a little black pepper and stir through two to three tablespoons of the chilli syrup. Taste. If too sweet, add a little lemon juice.

To fry haloumi. Heat a tbsp oil in a non-stick fry pan (or saganaki, the pan for which the named). When hot, add haloumi slices. Leave to cook until the slices are deeply browned (or until your smoke alarm goes off), then turn over and cook the other side. When cooked, squeeze over some lemon juice.

To serve: place a handful of rocquette on a place. Arrange haloumi slices and asparagus spears, top with peach salsa. Drizzle with a little chilli syrup if at all pretentious.

* Type of cheese. Texture kind of like rubber, but in really, really good, salty way. See In a pinch you could substitute fetta, if you dusted it with flour before frying (I have done this) – but be very careful as fetta melts much more quickly.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Something light. And healthy. Crunchy Lime and Chilli Chicken Salad

Kitchen Helper, who I love*, has a well-honed and perversely indiscriminate palate. That is, an appreciation, certainly, of extremely tasty and fancy food, but also a willingness to eat just about anything. This makes experimentation, travel to weird and exotic places and my very occasional lack of effort** pretty much risk free, culinary speaking. On the other hand, Kitchen Helper is a rubbish muse. Primary contribution to meal planning? “Something light. And healthy”. Every. Single. Time.

We eat a lot of salad.

In between summer storms the weather is muggy. Of course, talking about the weather is so passé, so ordinary, so boring (a little like my muse's efforts). And yet with flash-floods and cyclones and violent and damaging storms it is impossible not to be hyperaware of the moisture in the air, the colour of the sky, the direction of the wind, flashes of lightening.

And Kitchen Helper is moping because of the weather, like a chocolate Labrador melting in the sun. It is, apparently, too hot today.

On days like this there is no need to consult (okay, on no days ever is it ever necessary to consult, given the uniformity of response). Because a salad is perfect.

But not just any salad. Oh sure, I love a good Caesar salad or salade Lyonnais or Greek salad, salty with olives and fetta. But tropical conditions call for tropical salads, sour and salty and spicy and so very, very fresh with ginger and lime zest. Bright and colourful and refreshing, just about any crisp vegetables (or fruit) that can be eaten raw can be shredded and tossed in. Snow peas. Green papaya or mango. Carrots. Celery. Just get the dressing perfectly balanced and go to town. The resulting pile is crisp and tangy and hot and pungent with stinky fish sauce and so absolutely right in 90% humidity. And light. And healthy.

* Deeply, passionately, always
** Yes, there are days when I really cannot be bothered. On those days we eat paella. I have no idea how paella became the standby dish of appathetic cookery, but it works out well, because routine as it is for me to cook now, it always tastes amazing.

Vietnamese(ish) chicken salad

Serves four

1 whole chicken, butterflied (with a sharp knife, cut chicken along backbone and open out flat)
Olive oil
Sea salt

2 medium Lebanese cucumbers, seeds removed and cut into julienne (or your nearest approximation)
2 carrots, peeled and cut into julienne
1 medium red capsicum, cut into julienne
1 small to medium kohlrabi, peeled and cut into julienne
200 gm bean shoots (about two handfuls)
5 long spring onions, cut into 7cm lengths and then strips
¼ cup unsalted roasted peanuts

3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp fish sauce
Juice and zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar (or white vinegar, if you must)
1 ½ tbsp castor sugar
2 bulbs garlic, minced
1 inch ginger, crushed
1 hot red chilli, finely sliced
2 tbsp sesame oil

Preheat oven to 200ºc. Rub chicken with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt. Place into the oven on a tray, cook for 30-40 minutes (until juices run clear from a knife inserted into the thigh bone joint). Remove from oven and rest for 20 minutes (or do the day before, and have cold instead of just warm). If you like, you can glaze the chicken in equal parts honey and soy sauce before cooking.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the carcase and shred with your fingers into smallish strips. Remove the skin if you prefer (this makes it even lighter and healthier).

To make the dressing, whisk together all ingredients. Taste. Does it have a good flavour balance? Adjust – if too salty, add a little extra oil and vinegar, if too sweet, more vinegar and lime. Too oily? More fish sauce (go easy though). Way too spicy? A bit more sugar. The longer you leave the dressing to sit, the more the flavours will infuse and develop.

Toss chicken and all salad ingredients except peanuts through the dressing until coated.

To serve, pile portions onto a plate and scatter with roasted peanuts.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Vanilla and rose tea smoked duck

If Delhi was lacking in clean water and fresh vegetables, it was also lacking in another equally taken-for-granted commodity: clean, fresh air. It is possible my lungs will never forgive me for breathing in the dirty smog, a mixture of burning coal and exhaust fumes and kerosene and wood fires servicing the needs of a city of 14 million people in 1500 square kilometres*.

Breathing in air that felt dirty, oily, tainted: it did not make for much of an appetite.

There is no doubt that there is a link between taste and smell**. We eat with all our senses. Ferran Adria, the mad genius behind El Bulli, is reported to on occasion serve dishes that are accompanied by recordings, (for example, of the sound of the sea) and to spray diners with specially concocted fragrances (like pine wood or autumn earth or sea spray) to enhance their dining experience. But nothing tastes as sweet as clean air.

It’s no wonder that every crowded Delhi corner hosts a chai wallah, dispensing milk-rich and sweetened spiced tea, a steamy aromatic remedy against the encroaching smog.

And no wonder too, that my usually endless craving for smoked and smoky food was also on holiday while I was in Delhi. The smoky, peaty notes in a good single malt whiskey are to be treasured only when the air is crisp and clear and cold. So too the flavour of wok tossed tofu, the incredible heat in combination with sweet soy sauce sending delicate curls of burning sugars around everything. The taste of barbequed spare -ribs, sticky with sweet-hot-sour sauce and infused with smouldering hickory wood chips. Smoked salmon and kippers and bacon and ham and muscles and chipotle chillies and paprika. Bonfires and toasting marshmallows and billy tea and damper and open fireplaces in winter and hot chocolates.

While cold smoking a ham is a) my dream, and b) beyond me in my current location (including our overly sensitive smoke alarm which is deeply committed to the saying that where there’s smoke there’s a fire); hot smoking small portions of this and that is as easy as steaming. In fact, the method is nearly exactly the same.

* At the end of the nineteenth century London was famous for her yellow smog, that gentle pollution which turned the great city golden and allowed her visitors to view her as if through a Vaseline smeared lens. Delhi, taking her turn at industrialisation on a truly epic scale, imitates – and I believe exceeds – the capital of her former colonial occupiers. India has its own path to follow, but I do hope it involves some version of the Clean Air Act.

** This is probably why, whenever I have a head cold, and therefore cannot smell, I attempt to exist on nothing but olives and chillies. Chilli marinated olives for preference, because the salt and heat at least registers on my tastebuds.

Vanilla and rose tea smoked duck

Serves two

1 large wok, with lid
Lots of tin foil
2 duck breasts, skin on
1 cup long grain rice
1 cup rose tea (black tea with rose petals)
1 vanilla pod, cut into 3 pieces
1 cup course sugar
Vanilla salt, optional

Gently score the skin of the duck breast fillets, taking care not to slice all the way through the fat. Rub a little of the vanilla salt if using. Place the duck fillets skin side up on a piece of foil.

Line the wok with four to five layers of tin foil. This is very important, otherwise you will destroy your wok.

Place the tea, rice, sugar and vanilla pod into the wok and stir to combine. Lightly place another piece of foil over the mixture. Cover the wok with the lid and place over a high heat. After about 5 minutes, the wok will be filled with smoke.

Remove lid and place the foil with the duck into the wok, directly on top of the rice and tea mixture. Replace the lid and smoke for about ten minutes (no more).

Heat a grill pan to very hot.

Remove duck from wok, and place skin side down in the grill pan. Cook for 4-6 minutes, until the skin is very crispy.

Remove from pan and rest for 5-10 minutes before serving and rest.

Toss through a salad of citrus and rose petals and shaved fennel, or serve with char-grilled broccoli and mashed parsnips.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fresh vegetables poached in clean water

Guide books for western tourists in India have two key and related pieces of advice: drink bottled water. And only eat well-cooked food. Preferably boiled or deep fried. Preferably in front of you. Preferably no meat.

Water is treated in major Indian cities, just not necessarily in the ways that Australian or Americans or the French are used to. So chances are tourists will react a bit adversely. And this links back to the cooking methods – sufficient heat will kill off those minor bugs, so better safe than sorry. And because electricity can be a bit hit and miss (and hence so can refrigeration) meat is best avoided.

Delhi in the middle of winter is pretty cold. Look at it on a map – it’s a long way north of the equator. The Himalayas aren’t that far away. It’s not exactly Birmingham in January, but even if you could safely eat the salad, chances are there wouldn’t be much of it around. It’s not in season.

What you do have on tap is dahl. Lots and lots of dahl. Which I happen to love. Thin soup like consistency, fire-hot on the spicy scale with idlies (streamed rice dumplings) floating in a bowl for breakfast. Thick dark lentils enriched with ghee and cream with whole wheat rotis. Parathas (a whole wheat unleavened bread) stuffed with thick paste- like dahl. All good. Breakfast, lunch and dinner.*

But the butter and oil and carbohydrates and general stodge takes its toll. Lightly steamed vegetables and salad and fruit and a really good steak** starts to have an appeal after a week or so.

* I need a break before I can recreate these in all their glory.

** I know, cows are sacrosanct in India. But when a girl craves steak she craves steak. Good, medium rare, organic heritage-breed eye fillet steak. With little criss-crossed charred marks and a melt-in-you- mouth texture.

Vegetables poached in beurre monte

Serves two people desperate for fresh vegetables

1 litre water
60 gm butter
4 baby carrots, peeled and cut in half length ways
4 brocollini stalks
1 fennel bulb, sliced into thin wedges
2 small yellow button squash, cut into thin wedges
10 cm piece leek, sliced lengthways into thin strips
1 small zucchini, sliced into batons
100 gm green beans, top and tailed

In a large deep fry pan, bring 1 litre of water to a rapid boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, whisk in butter, half a teaspoon at a time until emulsified (this make a very thin beurre monte). Add a teaspoon of sea salt flakes.

Bring back to the boil. Add brocollini and carrots. Simmer for about 3 minutes. Add remaining vegetables and simmer for another 3 minutes. Remove vegetables to a warm plate. Scatter with chopped herbs, sea salt and cracked pepper to taste. Serve with char-grilled steak.

For a simple sauce for steak, reduce remaining poaching liquid by half, and then whisk in approximately 1 tablespoon butter, half a teaspoon at time and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. This should result in a thickish silky sauce, to be spooned over a perfectly cooked eye fillet.