Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cabbage, sweated not stir-fried

Many recipes, Chinese-influenced ones especially, tell you simply to fry cabbage rather than to boil or steam it first. I find that the flavour of fried cabbage can be a bit assertive. But stir-frying in a wok over a fierce heat is not the only way. For a simple lunch, you can simply cook it over a modest flame, part frying it and part sweating it.

For two people, slice an onion and cook it gently in a tbsp or more of sunflower (or groundnut) oil, with a chopped clove of garlic, until it softens and starts to turn golden. Meanwhile, take half a Savoy (or other green) cabbage, cut that in half, remove the core, slice it, and halve the slices. Place the cabbage in a bowl of water.

Throw the cabbage, drained but still wet, into the pan with the onion. Add a little minced ginger too, if you like. Cook, stirring, for five to 10 minutes, until the water has evaporated and the cabbage is wilted and softened. Add a few splashes of soy sauce, and some toasted sesame oil.

Serve with rice or noodles.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Rice - one further refinement

I shall post this entry, and then I shall shut up on the subject for a while. Since writing last Thursday, I have discovered that you need use only twice the volume of water to rice if you cover the pan. So:

Wash rice (75g a person is a generous quantity) in a sieve, or by giving it a quick bath in a bowl and draining it. Do you need to wash it? I am not sure; but it can be a bit dusty.

(If you do believe that you should wash it, then surely you should wash the rice you use in a risotto as well? Experts tell you not to, in order to avoid losing any starch and in order to ensure that the grains are properly coated in fat before you add the liquid. I doubt whether damp grains would affect the consistency or flavour of the finished dish at all.)

I have a measuring cup which holds the right amount of rice for one person. So, cooking just for myself, I pour two cups of water into a pan, bring it to the boil, tip in the rice, and cover. I start counting 10 minutes from that point. When the contents of the pan are simmering again (steam starts puffing from the lid), I turn down that flame to its lowest.

After 10 minutes, there is usually just a little water left in the pan. Drain the rice in a sieve. You can return it to the pan to stay hot: put a paper towel over the top, and the lid on top of that.

This technique works perfectly with most of the widely available Basmati brands.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rice again

Since blogging compulsively (see this post, and previous ones) about ways of cooking rice, I have continued to experiment. I have discovered that a lot of what I have written before, particularly in my book, is wrong. Well, not wrong exactly - it won't lead anyone to make disastrous mistakes; but not based on entirely correct premises.

The key point about rice - obvious, really - is not to overcook it. So when I wrote that soaking rice always caused it to go sticky on me, I should have realised that it was not the soaking that was at fault: the problem was that soaking softened the rice, reducing its absorbent qualities and its cooking time. If I then cooked it by the absorption method, I ended up with a sticky mass of overcooked grains that had been sitting together in a covered pan.

Nevertheless, it remains preferable to cook rice in the smallest volume of water possible, to reduce the dispersion of nutrients. So you need to know, with each variety you use, the optimum cooking time, as well as the amount of water it will absorb.

Ten minutes is about right for most commercially available types of Basmati; and I find that three times its volume of water works well. I bring the water to boil in a saucepan, and give the rice a rinse, either by putting it in a sieve and running water through it, or by putting it in a bowl and giving it a quick bath. When the water is boiling, I tip in the rice, bring the pan back to a simmer, and simmer it for 10 minutes (counting from the moment when the rice hits the water - even when there is a large quantity that takes longer to come back to the boil). When or if the water reduces to the level of the top of the rice, I cover the pan and turn down the heat. At the 10-minute mark, I drain away whatever water is left.

You can hold the rice, once drained, in the pan, with a paper towel on top and the lid clamped on top of that. It might clump together a little, though. The steam will continue to cook it for a while - another reason why you need to be careful not to simmer it for too long.

A friend recently brought me some organic rice from Indonesia. It takes about 12 to 13 minutes to cook, and turns the surrounding water very starchy. I find that the only way to prevent this rice from becoming sticky is to cook it in at least five times its volume of water. But, with most other brands I have tried, this ratio is not necessary.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Gluten-free rhubarb crumble

I have mentioned that I now need to cook gluten-free. Yesterday, I tried a crumble with Doves gluten-free flour. It was fine - though softer, less crumbly, than a wheat flour version. I thought I detected a faint, soapy (but not unpleasant) aftertaste. But I'll try it again.

The sticks of rhubarb I cooked a couple of weeks ago were quite thick. This batch was thin, as forced rhubarb usually is. That is one reason why the cooking time is shorter; also, I felt that it needed only to be tender, rather than cooked down to compote consistency.

Serves 2

4 sticks rhubarb, cut into short lengths and washed
2dstsp muscovado sugar
1/2 cinnamon stick
1tsp vanilla essence

80g Doves gluten-free flour
40g unsalted butter, cut into slivers
1dstsp muscovado sugar

Turn the oven up to full heat. Place the rhubarb, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla essence in an oven dish, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the rhubarb is tender to the sharp point of a knife. You may want to give the mixture a stir.

It occurred to me that a way to get butter into manageable portions to rub into flour (for crumble or pastry) would be to cut it off the block in slivers. Measure the 80g of flour, and then shave thin pieces of butter to drop on to it until the scales move up to 120g. Rub in with your fingertips - you do not have to be absolutely thorough. Stir through the sugar.

Scatter the crumble on to the rhubarb, and bake for 30 minutes at gas mark 6/200C, or until the top is golden.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bacon hock

My butcher sells bacon hocks for about £2.50 each. There is enough meat on one to feed three to four people - and it is delicious.

Some smoked hocks are very salty, and require soaking for 12 hours or longer. The ones I get do not. I put a hock into a stockpot (or pasta pan), cover it with water, bring it to a simmer, skim off the froth, and turn down the heat to its lowest. My pot has a heavy base; a low flame causes the liquid (with the pot uncovered) merely to show a few bubbles rising to the surface, rather than to simmer. Gentle heat tenderises the meat without drying it out. (Recipes that imply that meat will remain moist if surrounded by liquid or vapour - from the effect of a foil wrapping, say - are misleading. Indeed the liquid, because it is so effective at cooking, will dry out the meat faster.) I give it two hours.

It seems unadventurous to poach the hock in plain water - though it is hard to believe that a few surrounding vegetables will have much effect. However, you can keep the liquid and use it as a stock; for that reason, I usually throw in an onion or two, a couple of carrots, celery if I have it, and peppercorns.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Lighter batter

Farah, who blogs at Confessions of a Novice Baker, kindly credits as the source (adapted) for her recipe for Yorkshire pudding. I would not put anyone off making a batter in this way; but I am rather inclined nowadays to use half milk (semi-skimmed, too) and half water, for a lighter, less gooey result. Many recipes suggest you use two eggs, or even three, with these quantities of flour and milk. Perhaps egginess is desirable in pancakes; but not in baked batters, in my view.

Another common suggestion is that you should let batters stand, for at least half an hour and preferably longer. When I made a batter some three hours in advance of cooking it, I found it heavy and sticky when cooked, as if the resting period had caused it to become more glutenous. Perhaps I was just unfortunate.

Here is a recipe for toad in the hole.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Baked rhubarb

To retain rhubarb chunks rather than turning them to mush, try baking them. You need a high heat to get them going, though; and you may find that they take 30 to 45 minutes to braise, even on maximum. Keep checking, and stirring. If you cover the dish, you may end up with too much liquid.

These quantities served 2 of us, being greedy; they might do for 3, or even 4.

3 big sticks rhubarb, washed and cut into chunks
Juice of 1 orange
2tbsp muscovado sugar (or more, to taste - check at the end)
1/2 cinnamon stick
Grating of nutmeg
1tsp vanilla essence

Throw everything into an oven dish and bake (uncovered) at a high heat, stirring from time to time.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Cochin coconut curry

Emma Bradford kindly sent me some spice packages from Season & Spice. Each package comes with a recipe card, and consists of just the right quantity of spice to make the dish.

The curry recipe is for 4. I made it for 2, using the same quantity of spice and coconut milk, but cutting back the other ingredients (and leaving out the two tomatoes specified).

1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Sunflower or groundnut oil, knob of butter
1/2tsp grated ginger
1tbsp keralan curry powder (it consists of coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper, chilli flakes, star anise, cardamom, and cloves)
400ml tin coconut milk
150ml chicken stock (the recipes gives 200ml water)
Leftover chicken, diced, for 2 (if you use fresh chicken, you probably need to simmer it in the sauce for 20 to 30 minutes)
1tsp mustard seeds
Handful curry leaves
1 lime

Gently fry the onion and the garlic in the butter and enough oil to prevent them from catching, until they are golden. Add the ginger and the curry powder, and cook gently for a further 10 minutes. (You want the powder to lose its powdery taste, but you have to be careful that it does not burn.)

Add the coconut milk and the stock, with salt to taste, and simmer gently, uncovered, for 30 minutes. (You want the sauce to concentrate a little.)

Stir in the chicken, and let it warm through. Meanwhile, cook the mustard seeds and curry leaves in a tbsp of oil until the seeds pop and the leaves wilt. Stir them into the curry, with a squeeze or two of lime juice.

Serve with boiled rice, in bowls.