Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jasmine rice

As I mentioned in the fried rice entry, jasmine rice is sticky. Don't bother hoping that you will get separate grains; indeed, stickiness is useful, enabling you to pick up a clump of rice with chopsticks.

I was a little sceptical about the instructions on my packet of Biona jasmine rice: put the rice in a pan, cover it with twice its volume of water, bring to a simmer, cover, and leave on a low heat for 20 minutes. After that length of time, I suspected, a good deal of rice would be stuck. However, I tried it, turning down the flame as soon as bubbles reached the surface of the water, and inserting a heat disperser between pan and hob. It worked. Yes, I had to work loose some of the rice, but not with a chisel.

Basmati rice takes 10 minutes to soften, in my experience. Jasmine rice takes longer.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Egg fried rice

The dish above does not look much like egg fried rice, and it did not taste much like it, either. It was good in its way, just not the authentic article.

I was inspired - prompted would be a better word - to make it by Felicity Cloake's article this week in the Guardian. I agree with Cloake's reservations about pouring the egg first into the very hot wok, and I was intrigued by her suggestion that you stir the egg and rice vigorously, so that the egg coats and is to a certain extent absorbed by the rice. This dish is not analogous to spaghetti carbonara, which has a sauce of creamy curds.

I did not want to use Cloake's recommended 500g of rice, even for three people. But I did think we should have an egg each. That may have been my first mistake. The second was not owning a wok, and making the dish in a big Le Creuset casserole. Cloake fries her rice until she has separate, slightly caramelised grains. It is not possible to achieve this result in the Le Creuset: as you cook, more and more of the egg and sticky rice adhere to the pan. I stopped at the stage you see above.

My one disagreement with her concerns her instruction about waiting until the oil smokes. Why cook with burned oil?

For the record, I used 250g of jasmine rice, cooked in the afternoon and allowed to cool - it becomes a rice cake. I heated my pan over a medium to high heat, poured in about 3tbsp of sunflower oil, and immediately tipped in the rice, stirring and breaking it up. Then I tipped in my three beaten eggs, stirring vigorously all the time. As I say above, I stopped when I felt there was a risk of getting a stodgy, stuck, burned clump. I stirred in chopped spring onions away from the heat.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Spiced chicken with rice and lentils

This is a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe from the Guardian, with a few adaptations. I used dried apricots rather than dates (not because I prefer them, but because I had some in the cupboard), and scaled down the quantities slightly. But I deviated most in my timings and quantities.

First, I made my dish with chicken drumsticks, which I allowed to cook in the spiced stock for 30 minutes before adding the lentils and rice. I like the meat to be very tender. I don't think I used as much as 4tbsp of oil, because the chicken exudes its own fat when frying.

The dish shown in the Guardian appears to be dry, but the quantity of stock specified, 700ml, is a lot more than 150g of rice and 80g of lentils will absorb. I decided to use just enough stock to cover the ingredients. I had to be sure that they would soften under these conditions, so I pre-soaked them (separately) for a couple of hours.

I used green lentils, which - pace Fearnley-Whittingstall - take longer to cook than does rice. I cooked them for 30 minutes, just covered with stock, and checking the liquid level regularly. Then I added the rice, pouring over just enough extra liquid to submerge it. Fearing that the ingredients would stick to the bottom of the casserole if left on the hob, I put the dish in the oven at this point, for a further 20 minutes at gas mark 4/180C.

The rice and lentils absorb all the fat, so be prepared to taste it as you eat them. It's not unpleasant. I'd have liked a little heat in the dish, perhaps from some cayenne pepper.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Don't steep the coffee

There is a widely held view that you should leave coffee in a cafetière to steep for a while before pushing the plunger. Four minutes seems to be the most widely recommended period. I am not so sure. I find that coffee prepared in this way can be bitter. Instead, I use a high concentration of coffee (2 heaped tbsp of ground coffee for each mugful of about 300ml), give it a stir, and push the plunger almost immediately.* For breakfast, I pour about 150ml of warm milk into this strong brew.

I apply the same principle to tea. Making a (smaller) mug of tea for myself, I put 2tsp of leaves into a small jug, pour in hot water (as with coffee, the water should be just below boiling point, I believe), give it a stir, and again pour it (this time through a strainer) right away.

*This idea is not mine, I admit. I got it from Victoria Moore, who explains it in a video here. I also follow her tip about warming the pot and rinsing the plunger.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Lamb with yoghurt, cardamom, and ginger

This is a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey's Curry Easy. I've given her version, with my comments in italics; my version included three pieces of neck of lamb rather than lamb shanks, with the other quantities scaled down accordingly.

In spite of my reservations about the recipe as it stands, I'd like to give it another go. The sauce has an appealing zing and fragrance, thanks to the large quantities of ginger, cardamom, and coriander.

4 medium lamb shanks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
350ml Greek or other thick yoghurt
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
7.5cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3tbsp ground coriander
2tsp ground cumin
1/2tsp cayenne pepper
4tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
10 cardomom pods
1/2tsp black peppercorns
2 x 7.5cm cinnamon sticks
1/2tsp cloves
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced into fine half-rings

Pat the lamb shanks dry with kitchen paper. Sprinkle all over with 1/2tsp salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. I seasoned my lamb with a little salt only; ground pepper, stewed, can become bitter.

Preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3. I baked my curry at this setting for 30 minutes, by which time it was simmering. At that point, I turned down the oven to gas mark S/130C.

Put 120ml of the yoghurt, the garlic and ginger into a blender, and blend until smooth. Add the coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper, one and a half tsp of salt, and the rest of the yoghurt. Blend to mix. I used whole coriander and cumin, lightly toasted in a dry saucepan and ground with a pestle and mortar.

Put the oil [this is a lot, given the fattiness of the meat; I used only a tbsp, of sunflower oil] in a casserole large enough to hold the meat, and place over a medium heat. When hot, put in the cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, and the shanks, and brown them on one side. Turn them over, dropping the onion slices in the spaces between them. Brown both meat and onions, moving them around the pan as you need to.

This is a tricky way to brown the meat and onion. You are likely to find, no matter how carefully you stir, that bits of onion and spice catch on the casserole and burn. I'd be inclined to coat the meat with a little oil and brown it on a grill pan, quickly, while frying the onions and spices separately in the casserole. Or, if the liquid is not going to cover the meat, to allow the browning process to take place inside the covered casserole.

Add the paste from the blender and 250ml water. I'd prefer to use stock, or even, dare I say it, a diluted, halved stock cube. Bring to a simmer. Cover the casserole, and place it in the oven for three hours, turning the shanks every 30 minutes.

The yoghurt split, of course. One way of trying to prevent the separation - but not one I can guarantee, having not tried it for a while - is to add a dstp of flour (gram or cornflour, preferably) to the yoghurt mix. Another is to add the garlic, ginger and spices to the casserole with the water or stock, while holding back the yoghurt to the end. Take the cooked dish out of the oven, let the simmering subside, add a little sauce to the yoghurt, then add some more, and then pour this yoghurt and sauce mixture into the casserole. If you want to warm the dish again, make sure you do not allow the sauce to bubble.