Monday, November 30, 2009

Conger stew

4 conger eel steaks
2 onions, sliced
Butter and a little oil for frying
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 bulb fennel, tough or discoloured outer parts removed, sliced
2 leeks, sliced and washed
4 red peppers, sliced
Waxy potatoes for 4
150ml water
Salt, pepper
Saffron (I bought a small, transparent box of threads, and used them all)

Conger may seem an exotic, even alarming ingredient; but that's what I picked at my local fishmonger. It turned out to be a good choice, because it has a monkfish-like, firm consistency.

In a heavy stockpot or casserole, soften the onions and garlic in the butter and oil (vegetables are inclined to catch in butter alone, unless you use a lot of it). Throw in the rest of the vegetables with the water, and bring to a simmer. Put in the fish, with salt and lots of pepper (or cayenne). (Ground pepper can turn bitter if cooked in a stock or stew; but the cooking time here is brief. This dish needs an ingredient that will give it a kick.)

Cover the pot, cooking at a low to medium simmer. Check progress from time to time. You'll find that the vegetables give off a lot of liquid, possibly enough to submerge everything.

The potatoes and the fish should be ready at roughly the same time. If the fish is ready first, transfer it to a dish and keep it warm in a low oven.

Turn off the heat. Last, stir in the saffron.

Serve the stew in bowls.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lemon posset

If you have children, you may not find the word "posset" very appetising. But I assure you that this pudding, conjured out of three ingredients, is magically delicious. Serves 4-5.

350ml double cream
80g caster sugar
2 lemons, juice and zest

Gently, bring the cream and the sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan. Allow to simmer for three minutes. (I suppose that the simmering thickens and stabilises the cream, to counterbalance the curdling effect of the lemon.)

Stir in the lemon juice and zest. Divide the mixture between four (or five) bowls, cover with cling film, and refrigerate for about three hours. The posset should thicken into a blancmange-like consistency.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Omelette souffle

Slow-cooked omelettes such as frittatas or tortillas can sometimes be tough. The proteins in eggs, like those in meat, become leathery if overcooked. One way of creating a lighter-textured omelette is to souffle it.

6 eggs, separated
100g hard cheese, such as Gruyere or Cheddar, grated
A little salt, if you like (the cheese is salty)
Large knob of butter

Beat the egg yolks lightly, and fold in the grated cheese. Whip the whites. I do this with a hand whisk, until I get soft peaks when I lift the whisk from the egg. A little vinegar helps the process, apparently.

Fold the whites into the yolk/cheese mixture, turning it over repeatedly with a spoon until roughly amalgamated. (You do this gently, in order to retain the air bubbles in the egg.)

Melt the butter over a gentle heat in a heavy, non-stick, 28cm frying pan. Pour in the omelette mix, and cook until it sets on the bottom. Cook the top under the grill, at its lowest flame.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Pot-roasted lamb shoulder

I took on board Elwyn's comment (below my oxtail stew entry) when I pot-roasted a whole shoulder of lamb for our fireworks party. (Rain washed out the fireworks, so we simply ate and drank). I browned the onions in oil in my casserole dish first, but after that followed the principle behind the oxtail stew, throwing the rest of the ingredients into the pot: lamb, 2 bay leaves, sprig of rosemary, 1 head of garlic separated into cloves, salt. I had only about 50mls of chicken stock, which I poured in along with half a chicken stock cube. You may frown - but I think the cube added richness to the sauce, of which there was plenty for eight people.

You're supposed to cook meat gently. But shoulder of lamb is very forgiving. Because I was using my heaviest pot, I started cooking the dish at gas mark 6/200C, turning it down after an hour and half - and turning over the meat - once it was bubbling. The lamb, like the oxtail, browned inside the pot.

After another 45 minutes, I put the pot on the bottom of the oven, turned up the dial to 6 again, and roasted some potatoes on the top shelf.

At the end of all that, I was able to carve the meat with a spoon and fork. I strained the sauce (squeezing the garlic into it), and returned meat and sauce to the pot, to serve as a kind of stew. It was meltingly tender.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Oxtail stew made simple

I have got lazier since I wrote my previous recipe for oxtail stew. I am less fussy about submerging meet that is stewing entirely in liquid, because I have not observed that the higher temperature of a steam-filled, covered casserole causes it to toughen. However, it does brown - and that has led me to doubt whether it is necessary to brown the meat first. Simply turning it, so that each surface is exposed above the liquid, does the trick. So I rubbed my oxtails in just a little oil, which on the exposed surfaces offers some protection to the meat.

Softening onions in oil before stewing is another procedure that may not make much difference to the finished dish.

I have also grown reluctant to throw away flavoursome ingredients. The onions, having imparted their flavour to the sauce, are expendable; but it is a shame to waste the fat. The home cook has an advantage over the restaurant chef, who, largely for aesthetic reasons, must skim sauces.

Oxtail is particularly fatty. Oxtail stew with mashed potato may be a wintry treat, but, with unskimmed sauce, is too rich. Plain, boiled potatoes are fine; or rice.

4 oxtails
A little sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, unpeeled
1 ladleful beef (or chicken) stock
Sprig of thyme
Bay leaf
1tbsp tomato ketchup
Splash of Worcester sauce
1/2 star anise (since writing the previous recipe, I've decided that a whole star anise is too assertive)

Anoint the oxtails with a little oil, and arrange them in a casserole. Surround with the onions, garlic, star anise, and herbs; pour the stock around, and add the tomato and Worcester sauces. Add salt to taste.

Cook in a low oven for three to four hours. My Le Creuset casserole will simmer very gently on a gas mark S/130C heat (but may take a good hour to get to simmering point); your oven and dish may behave differently. Turn the oxtails from time to time.

Remove the oxtails, and sieve the sauce into a saucepan. Return the oxtails to the casserole, and cover. Taste the sauce, and reduce it if you like. Serve the oxtails with the sauce poured over.