Monday, March 30, 2009

Gravy with roast chicken

Roasting a chicken, I usually simmer the giblets (excluding the liver) with a few vegetables in a small saucepan, and add this stock to the juices in the roasting tin.

This weekend, I put the giblets and the vegetables (an onion and a carrot, both sliced, along with some garlic cloves) in the tin with the bird, roasting them alongside it for 30 minutes at gas mark 6/200C. Then I poured in half a glass of white wine, stirring giblets and vegetables into the liquid, and turned down the oven to gas mark 2/150C for a further 90 minutes (it was a 2kg bird). Every so often, as the liquid evaporated, I added a little water. I doubt whether I used more than 150ml liquid in total; the chicken contributed its own juices.

What was left at the end of the two hours was, strained, our gravy - nothing else added.

My reservation about this technique is that a steamy atmosphere in the oven might cook the chicken too efficiently, drying out the breast. But that was not a problem in this instance.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fishcakes in breadcrumbs

One can never match at home the perfect breadcrumb coating that restaurants achieve. But one can get closer to it than the messy process of applying the crumbs suggests is possible.

For fishcakes, use a similar volume of fish and potato. After boiling the potatoes and draining them, allow them to cool for a while before mashing them. They seem to become starchier - a quality you don't want in ordinary mash but that helps the cakes to cohere.

To cook the fish, I usually put it into a warm gratin dish, pour over a half pint or so of milk (flavoured with bay, salt and peppercorns), cover with foil, and bake at gas mark 6/200C for about 15 minutes. I use the milk to make a bechamel, perhaps with parsley.

Flake the fish into the mash, stir, and form into cakes. Have to hand a plate of flour, a dish of beaten egg, and a plate of breadcrumbs. Coat the fishcakes in flour, dip them in the egg, and turn them in the crumbs. This last process is messy, and sticky; you'll be lucky to be able to achieve a consistent coating.

Heat a generous quantity of sunflower oil, with butter if you like (perhaps to a depth of 0.5cms), in a frying pan, until a breadcrumb sizzles in it. Fry the fishcakes over a low to medium heat until brown on each side and warmed through. You'll find that the cooked coating looks more impressive than the raw one did.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


If you have eaten aligot (cheesy mash) in its native region, the Auvergne, you may have found it somewhat gluey. This quality comes from the beating it has received in the pan, as the cook has combined the mashed potato and the cheese, over heat. The process releases a good deal of starch.

It is not unpleasant, and can be comforting. But if you want to avoid it, you can warm through the mixture in the oven.

The quantity of cheese may seem high. I often use more than this. For 2.

4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 garlic clove
50g butter
200g Cantal or similar cheese (Cheddar is fine)
Salt, pepper

Put the potatoes and garlic into lightly salted, cold water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer until soft. Drain, and allow to steam for a minute or two.

Heat the oven to gas mark 7/220C. Warm a gratin dish in it.

Put the butter into the hot saucepan. Pass the potato and garlic through a mouli-legumes into the pan (or slip the garlic from its skin, and mash it and the potato with a masher). Stir in the butter until melted. Stir in the cheese.

Tip the mixture into the gratin dish, cover with foil, and give it 10 minutes in the oven to warm through.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Red cabbage salad

I have come to admit to myself, rather late in life, that I am not especially fond of cooked red cabbage. Perhaps my problem is the assertiveness of the acid content, which is essential to preserve its colour. I like it raw, though.

Quarter red cabbage, shredded (this may be a job best done by a mandolin) and washed
2tbsp balsamic vinegar
5tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt, pepper
3tbsp raisins, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
3tbsp pine kernels, toasted in a saucepan over a very gentle heat

Grind salt to taste into the vinegar in a salad bowl, stir to dissolve, and whisk in the oil. Throw in the cabbage, raisins, and pine nuts, grind over pepper to taste, and toss.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Chicken with balsamic vinegar

In my most recent chicken saute recipes (here, for example), I have suggested covering the pot for a while, before uncovering it to allow the sauce to reduce. This one has vinegar, albeit of a mild kind, and requires reduction right from the start - hence the uncovered pan throughout. The disadvantage was that the cloves of garlic did not soften thoroughly. Nevertheless, I squeezed them from their skins about 10 minutes before the end of cooking, and mashed them into the sauce.

4 chicken thighs
4 drumsticks
1dstsp sunflower oil
150ml balsamic vinegar
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
Chicken stock
Sprig of rosemary

In a heavy casserole or saute pan large enough to contain the chicken pieces in a single layer, fry the thighs and drumsticks, salted, gently, until brown. You should not need more oil, because the chicken pieces will exude their own fat. Pour in the vinegar, throw in the garlic cloves and rosemary and simmer gently, uncovered, for an hour to an hour and a half. (I like my chicken well-cooked; and this method will not tenderise it as efficiently as would a covered pan.)

When the vinegar turns syrupy and threatens to catch, thin it with a little stock; and keep adding more liquid as necessary. When you are nearly ready to serve, fish out the garlic cloves, slip the garlic from the skins, and mash it into the sauce.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Rhubarb fool

This would be the easiest dish in the world were it not for the slight difficulty of judging the consistency of the rhubarb. It should be sludgy, not runny; and that usually means that you have to reduce the liquid it throws off.

The quantities below served 4 people. The rhubarb sticks were thick, and the volume of cream was about a third of that of the rhubarb.

6 sticks rhubarb
1 1/2tbsp caster sugar (or more, or less, according to taste)
284ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla essence

Wash the rhubarb, cut it into short lengths, and throw it into the pan with 50ml water. You need the water to stop it catching, even though you'll find that you have an abundance of liquid later. Cover the pan, and cook over a medium heat. Add the sugar after a few minutes. (If you put the sugar in right away, it might catch on the pan and caramelise.) Turn down the heat once the contents of the pan are cooking properly. Allow the rhubarb to soften - about 10 to 15 minutes.

Drain the rhubarb in a sieve over another pan. Don't throw away the liquid it sheds: boil and reduce it, until you have a liquid with a syrupy consistency. Recombine with the rhubarb, mix it up into a mush, and cool. Add more sugar, if you like.

Whisk the cream, with a balloon whisk, for a minute or so, until it stands in peaks. Be careful: if you go on too long, the cream will get very stiff. Fold the cream into the rhubarb, with the vanilla.

Divide the fool between four glass bowls, cover with cling film, and chill.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Lamb shoulder, potatoes boulangeres

One of the principal ways in which the experience of the home cook differs from the one promised in recipes is that we constantly have to check and adjust our oven temperatures. Even when we're confident about our ovens and utensils, we cannot be sure that a dish put in an oven at gas mark 4/180C for an hour, say, will behave as it is supposed to. This is what I found when I cooked a shoulder of lamb yesterday.

I had studded the joint with garlic and rosemary, anointed it with oil, seasoned it, and left it overnight in a roasting tin in the fridge, with a foil covering. At 8.30 in the morning, I placed it in a gas mark S/130C oven, still with its foil - the theory being that the foil would keep the temperature of the tin below the oven temperature, and so help to cook the meat gently. After a few hours, all was going well.

I peeled and sliced potatoes, and put them into cold water, giving them a good rinse. I then changed the water. I did this because I had decided not to parboil the potatoes, and because I wanted to get rid of as much of their surface starch as possible. Surface starch can cause them to stick, and also forms a tough, rather than crunchy, crust.

At 11.30am I removed the roasting tin from the oven, lifted the joint on to a board, and tipped in the drained potatoes, mixing them with a ladleful of chicken stock and some splashes of olive oil. I seasoned them with salt. I put the joint back on top, covered the tin again, and returned it to the oven. I turned up the temperature to gas mark 3/160C. I wanted the potatoes to steam, before I uncovered the dish and browned them.

After 45 minutes, there was very little activity inside the foil. Eventually, to get things going, I turned the dial right up to 7/220C. I took out the joint at 1.05pm, lifted the tin to a higher shelf, and gave the potatoes 20 minutes to brown, uncovered, while the meat rested.

I have noticed before that a roasting tin, particularly a crowded one, does not heat up very efficiently when covered. Still, the lamb, being a forgiving cut, showed no ill effects from the blasting heat.