Sunday, May 31, 2009

Baked sausages, revised

My objections to baking sausages have been that the heat required to brown them may cause them to dry up, and that the skins often get tough. Being dense, I didn't twig until I read a Jamie Oliver recipe that the obvious solution to the latter problem was to roll the sausages in the oil or fat (I use olive oil, mostly, and rub it over them with my hands) first.

My theory had been that frying sausages on the lowest possible heat was the best way to retain their tenderness and juiciness. But practice has not borne it out. Baking them at what would appear to be the dangerously high heat of gas mark 6/200C for 30 minutes, turning them once, works fine.

For previous - and possibly misleading - entries, start here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cucumber soup; cucumber salad

Salting appears to concentrate the sweetness in cucumbers. It tempers the sharpness of vinegar, producing a zingy, sweet-and-sour flavour. It also has the benefit of sweating out the water that might otherwise dilute the soup as you cool it.

For 2 to 3
1 cucumber
150g Greek yoghurt
1tbsp white wine vinegar
1tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed with a little salt
Handful mint leaves, chopped
Jellied chicken stock

Peel the cucumber, cut it into dice, arrange in a colander, and sprinkle over salt, stirring the dice to distribute it. Leave for half an hour. Rinse, and dry with paper towels.

Mix the yoghurt with the vinegar, oil, garlic, and mint. Stir in the cucumber. Stir in stock until you have a consistency that suits - I used two serving spoons-worth. Check the seasoning - you may not need any more salt. Chill for at least an hour.

For 2
1/2 cucumber
1dstsp white wine vinegar
1/2tsp sugar
1tbsp herbs - mint, or dill, or a mixture

Peel the cucumber, and slice thinly. Arrange the slices in a colander, sprinkling over salt as you go. Leave for half an hour. Rinse, and dry with paper towels.

In a salad bowl, dissolve the sugar in the vinegar. Stir in the cucumber, with the herbs.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tomato sauce, blended

I use my stick blender a lot. It saves me the effort of transferring soup to a regular blender, or of pushing it through a mouli-legumes; and, because it is less efficient than those other devices, it leaves behind a rougher, more interesting texture.

I also use the stick blender when I make a tomato sauce with onions - I like to incorporate them in the sauce.

1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2tbsp olive oil
400g tin tomatoes (I use Cirio)
1/2tsp sugar
Bay leaf

In a heavy pan, and over a gentle heat, sweat the onions and garlic in the oil with a few grindings of salt (as recommended by Lisa in her comment on this entry) until golden - 10 to 15 minutes. Add more oil if the vegetables threaten to catch. Tip in the tomatoes. Add a little water to the tin, swirl it around to dissolve the tomato adhering to the sides, and pour this mixture into the pan too. Bring the contents to a simmer, and break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Now get to work with the blender - it will work less efficiently if you allow the sauce to reduce and thicken. (If I sweated carrot and celery with the onion and garlic, I am not sure that my blender would be able to break them down.)

Return the pan to the heat, add the sugar (tinned tomatoes usually benefit from a little sweetening) and bay leaf, and simmer until thickened. Check the seasoning.

We ate this sauce with meatballs. (A recipe for which, with a slightly different version of the sauce, is here.)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Potato salad

Jersey Royal potatoes are at their best now, and as a weekend treat are worth, in my view, the £1-plus a pound they cost.

I am puzzled that so few potato salad recipes include mayonnaise. Liking potatoes is fine, and liking mayonnaise (home made) is fine; but mixing them appears to be infra dig. Is it because there is mayonnaise in ready-prepared potato salads?

Well, I like potato salad with mayonnaise. Scrape the potatoes, and if necessary cut the larger ones to correspond in size to the smaller ones; put in lightly salted, cold water, bring to a simmer and cook gently until a prod with a sharp knife tells you that they are cooked.

Meanwhile, make the mayonnaise.

Drain the potatoes, and let them cool - hot potatoes thin the mayonnaise and can split it. Cut them into smaller pieces if you like. Mix with the quantity of mayonnaise that suits you, along with salt and pepper if desired. Chives, snipped in with scissors, are a very good addition. Or spring onions - if they are likely to be harsh in flavour, soak them in boiling water first.

Monday, May 11, 2009


I do not have a recipe for hamburgers. I buy steak mince from the butcher, and I form it into flattish patties of about 150g each. That's it. No seasoning, and no egg for binding - the mince is usually moist enough to hold together.

The cooking is quite hard to judge, though. In line with Matthew Fort's advice on cooking steaks in the Guardian, I heat a heavy, cast-iron pan for 10 minutes (but over a medium rather than a high flame), and I rub a little sunflower oil over the burgers. (Oil put into the pan is likely to burn.) Now I salt them, and I fry them for about 10 minutes; I turn them over after three to four minutes, and then more regularly.

I always have to cut into the burgers to see whether the insides are cooked, and I think that I am often too timid to remove the burgers from the pan at the right moment, when the rare parts are just about to cook and will do so away from the heat.

Louis' Lunch, which claims to be the home of the hamburger, serves the burgers in slices of toast rather than in rolls. It is a good idea. I find a roll too much to digest, particularly if I am eating potatoes as well. I put each burger on a slice of toast, which absorbs the juices that come out as the meat relaxes.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Crackling, cracked

Well, possibly. Such a claim is asking for punishment - like asserting that you've perfected your golf swing, or tennis serve. But I may be on to something.

Various recipes tell you to rub vinegar, as well as salt, into your pork rind. At the weekend, I tried it. First, I rubbed table salt into the rind, left it for 15 minutes, and patted dry the rind with paper towels. Then I rubbed in about a tbsp of white wine vinegar, grinded over sea salt, and - as I did last time - put my 1kg joint of belly pork into an oven pre-heated to the highest temperature.

After 40 minutes, I knew it was going to work. The crackling was dry, crunchy and golden. We could have eaten it then; but I cooked the pork for a further 2 hours, 45 minutes at the bottom of the oven at gas mark S/130C.

Why it works, or why lemon juice helps to crisp the skin of roast chicken, I am not sure. Something to do with the fats dissolving in the acid, I suppose.