7 posts tagged nick
7 posts tagged nick
A post from me? It must be New Year.
We had a couple of friends over for New Year’s eve, and I wanted to do some cooking that would allow us to sit in the kitchen and eat things as they came off the stove, so I decided to put together a selection of things that were a bit more than a mouthful, but not something that needed us to sit down with a knife and fork.
With that in mind, I put together the selection shown in the picture. Clockwise from top left:
I was thoroughly pleased with everything cooked there, and as such have a New Year’s resolution - cook more little things!
Happy new year, everyone. —Nick
Typically, the cheese course in a restaurant will come in two forms. First is the traditional, French-style cheese trolley, groaning under an obscene weight of cheese of all types and nationalities, usually accompanied by a waiter who, one hopes, will guide you towards an interesting selection that most suits whatever cheesy mood you may be in at the time. I love the spectacle of it and usually the results, and I do find that I’m much more likely to opt for a cheese course if I’ve encountered the pungent aroma earlier in the meal as the trolley makes its way to diners at another table. I’ve had particularly fine selections at London’s Le Gavroche and The Greenhouse (warning, Flash and music).
The second form is pretty much lip service - a plate with a pre-selected four or five cheeses (usually in paltry amounts) with some grapes and a few biscuits. You get a plate like this come out, and you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll wish you’d never bothered.
Recently, however, I’ve noticed a third type of cheese course appear, and that is chefs attempting to actually do something interesting with their cheese. If you’re particularly in the mood to choose your own then this might not be for you, but I applaud the idea of creating a proper dinner course that is using a cheese as its main ingredient. At The Square in London, I had a wonderful glass of apple granita with blue cheese that was a perfect combined cheese dish and palette cleanser. At Eden in Banff, Canada, I had a plate that had three tasty cheeses along with three canapé-sized creations made from those cheeses. A goat’s cheese was paired with a cheese and onion tartlet, a gouda came with a small crôque monsieur, and a gruyère had a lovely light cheesy gougère.
OK, admittedly maybe none of those three are ground-breakingly inventive ways to use those cheeses, but the dish as a whole was inventive, and a really clever way to present a cheese course that stood proud in its place in a thoroughly excellent menu, whilst allowing the kitchen to avoid the cost involved in maintaining a fully-stocked cheeseboard.
So, restaurants - think about your cheeses as ingredients that deserve to be showcased, not just as an excuse to make an extra tenner out of your customers.
It’s my wedding anniversary, so I wanted to do something a little special for dinner. I’ve been thinking my way though this for a while, and figured I was ready to make it - an alternative take on Tuna Nicoise.
This is sous-vide confit tuna, egg yolk purée, baked potato foam, crispy pork fat, and olive powder.
It came out pretty much as I’d hoped. The tuna was cooked at 60C/140F for 2 hours in olive oil after being rubbed with salt, pepper, and a few chilli flakes. The pork fat was cut from a piece of pork belly, salted, and cooked until crispy in a very hot oven. The olives were dehydrated for 5 hours at 55C/130F before being ground to a powder in a spice grinder.
The baked potato foam was more of a challenge. I used roasting potatoes from the garden, boiled half of them and shallow-fried the rest in butter before blitzing it all up with cream, seasoning it, and transferring it to a cream whipper. It didn’t aerate as much as I’d like, but I’m not really used to using this whipper yet - I’m just glad it didn’t spray all over the kitchen.
Overall, I’m pleased with it.
When I look back over the years I’ve been cooking and try and think of those formative moments that really stand out, one that continually comes to mind was the first time I cooked with chorizo. Gently frying chunks in a pan so that pork fat renders out with the gorgeous colouring of fragrant paprika, then sweating onions and garlic in that lovely lovely porky smoky oil - brilliant. Since that day I was pretty much of the opinion that a good fresh chorizo was the absolute pinnacle of pork charcuterie products.
I was wrong.
Towards the end of last year a chance encounter with an italian deli supplier at a food fair introduced me to something new - a spicy, soft salami from the region of Calabria in southern Italy made from pork fat, pork offal, and various minced peppers and spices called n’duja. It’s no shy beast - the peppers are really very fiery, and that’s what makes it stand out. The one-two punch of the strongly rich pork flavour and the searing fire of the spicy peppers really hits all my buttons, and even just plainly spread on a slice of bread it’s one of the most delicious deli items I’ve ever eaten. It’s a real shame that it isn’t all that easy to get hold of - a number of online deli retailers sell it, but I haven’t not seen it once in a store.
It’s a pretty versatile beast, too. Eating it as it comes is great, but I’ve put it to any number of cooking uses and the flavour and heat shine through every time. Here are a few of the things I’ve done with it to great effect:
1) Blitz up with breadcrumbs, scatter on top of portobello (flat) mushrooms, top with a little grated cheese, and grill.
2) Fry up to start off a ragu or chilli, giving you that lovely spicy meaty oil to simmer your onions in.
3) Mix with minced beef and/or pork to form burgers or meatballs.
If you can find it, give it a try. You won’t regret it.
Rich adds: Nick has glossed over that I was with him at that food festival, there was only one n’duja left, and he was in the queue before me. I shall never forgive this betrayal.
There was something in Rich’s last post that I don’t think I could let slip by without passing comment:
British cuisine is (deservedly!) the butt of many jokes across the world.
It’s weird that this is the case. The UK has some of the most astonishing produce, seafood, and meat in the world — whether it’s apples from Kent, crab from Orkney, Scottish beef, Welsh lamb, Suffolk samphire, or Irish oysters. We’ve got it all on this little set of islands, and the best of it is of unbelievable quality.
So maybe we don’t know what to do with it?
Well, we used to. The food heritage of Britain and Northern Ireland is rich. The food it represents is typically heavy and hearty, as befits a land with a less-than-tropical weather pattern. It’s all about making full use of your meat, the fine cuts and the rough cuts. It’s all about braising and roasting, meat pies and stews, and when done well it takes the breath away purely by extraction of the very best flavours and textures. The vegetables, yes they’re important, but at its heart great British (and Irish) cuisine is historically centred around the meat you can get hold of it and how to treat it well. (Puddings are a topic for another day!)
It seems the heart of the problem is that we wilfully forgot how to do it. Two things happened. First, World War 2, and the associated rationing that lasted until 1954 and did much to curtail the options open to the home chef. Second, coming out of that wartime period of austerity, the nation’s cooks no longer had to be quite so thoughtful and careful about the food they cooked because of a sense of relief - it didn’t matter about carefully stretching a fixed supply of meat out to last a week any more, so you didn’t need to put so much effort into getting flavour out of food that wasn’t naturally flavourful (without careful preparation). Through the ’50s and ’60s the big food manufacturing chains started a great chant of “Fast, Convenient, Easy” and we had a nation of people that were all too happy to go along with it, especially when working hours started rising and more and more families had two working parents.
The kids born in the late ’60s through to the ’80s really never learned how to cook those magnificent dishes of old — for most folks, being able to get the dinner on the table quickly was all that mattered, and the food manufacturing industry and burgeoning supermarkets were all too happy to go along with that. By the 1980s, the food of the UK was indeed a joke. People were scared of food that didn’t look like the stuff they picked up from the supermarket and fed their family with. There were only about six different cuts of meat that people would eat, and if they didn’t come with a potato dish and a couple of bits of boiled veg on the side, people wouldn’t trust it. And who wants to spend a few days preparation time to cook an evening meal?
In the last 10-15 years, things have started to turn around. People are starting to broaden their eating horizons as they have become more aware of the shocking amount of wastage that comes from only eating the “easy-cook” parts of an animal. This led to the “nose-to-tail” concept of eating less common meat cuts in order to minimise waste and make the most of the animals we eat. Dining out has also surged in popularity, and the range and scope of dining opportunities is light years from what it was in the mid-1980s
We’re getting better, as a nation, but we can do better still. Folks from the UK reading this: have a think next time you go out to shop for food. Instead of picking up a bit of supermarket “stewing steak” (non-specific beef scraps for slow cooking), why not head to the butcher’s counter (or, even better, a local independent butcher who can tell you where the meat comes from!) and pick up some oxtail, or a couple of lamb shanks, some rabbit maybe. Learn about how to cook them — the internet is your friend, because someone else will have always done it somewhere. And when you’ve done it, and it’s fantastic, tell other people about how great it was.
Let’s have people come to the UK because they’ve heard great things about the food of this country.
Growing up as a child, I really didn’t ever like tinned baked beans. Given that they are trundled out all the time as a staple part of children’s meals, this was something of a nuisance, but I never could understand how people could enjoy that over-sweet, anaemic sauce that served no real purpose except for making the rest of the food on the plate soggy and equally unpleasant. As a result, baked beans and I drifted apart, and once I left home and started cooking for myself, they pretty much left my life forever.
Fifteen years later, I found myself using a lot of beans while cooking, particularly in casseroles, and they’ve fast become a staple ingredient. As a result, my mind turned back to baked beans, and I was determined to produce something that was conceptually recognisable as baked beans, but as far taste wise from that weak unpleasant mush as possible. After some experimentation, this is what I came up with. It’s the same basic idea, beans cooked in a tomato sauce, but I’ve turned that sauce up as much as possible to make it a smoky, tangy, barbecue concoction with some punchy heat in the background.
The smell of these cooking is intoxicating, a real smoky, heady mix that if I could, I would bottle and use as aftershave.
Barbecue baked beans - serves 2 as a side
200g smoked bacon lardons
400g tinned cannelini beans
500ml chicken stock
3 regular shallots, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 tbsp capers, finely diced
1 anchovy fillet, finely diced
1 tbsp tomato puree
1/2 tbsp english mustard
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1/2 tbsp worcester sauce
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
Preheat oven to 160C/320F
Fry off the lardons over a medium heat in a saucepan with a small drop of oil until they start to colour and any water in the meat has been released and boiled off. You can use cubed pancetta for this if you want, but I prefer the more chunky lardons because they retain some texture in the final dish. Add in the diced shallots, garlic, capers, and anchovy, and fry for about 2 minutes, keeping it moving to prevent sticking and burning. Add in the paprika, mustard, worcester sauce, ketchup and tomato puree, and stir to coat well - you’ll have a pretty thick paste with chunks of bacon in that smells incredible.
Drain the can of beans and tip them into the saucepan, then add in the stock and bring to a boil. Keep at a low boil for 10-12 minutes, then spoon the beans into ovenproof individual serving dishes, adding just about enough of the sauce to cover. Transfer to the oven and cook for around 25 minutes, depending on how thickened you like the sauce, and serve straight from the oven.
The recipe I’ve given above is heavy on the spices and flavourings, because that’s what I wanted. You can feel free to experiment with the levels of spicing to get the result you prefer, of course, as with any dish.