These are my plans for the next week or so. It does, as always – sorry to have to keep repeating this but I don’t want anyone running away with the idea I spend most of my time in the kitchen** – depend on how well, or otherwise, I am.
**Often, when I write about food, it’s from memory – I’ve been cooking since I was 12, there’s a lot of material to draw on. Or, like now, it’s plans which might or might not come to fruition. Take the beef stew, below. I’m hoping to make that when I’ve finished typing this but, even now (it’s 10.30), I have no idea if I’ll be able to. Standing in the kitchen is a world away from sitting here.
I’ve written here before about my effort to make a chorizo-style sausage which suits my personal tastes in terms of texture and flavour – I find traditional chorizo leathery and unpleasant, even the so-called fresh versions, and I dislike the traditional Spanish smoked paprika (it’s an extremely dominant flavour), so what I want is a coarse, Cumberland-style, texture with the intensity of traditional chorizo flavouring, but using unsmoked sweet paprika with, perhaps, just the tiniest hint of smoked – a little really does go a long way.
Last time, the texture was OK – slightly coarser than a traditional English sausage, but the flavouring was way below par, even though cribbed from a traditional recipe.
I did notice, in some traditional chorizo, that they contained a noticeable amount of red, paprika-impregnated, oil, which made me wonder if this was used as a marinating vehicle for getting the flavours into the meat – recipes make no mention of marinating, nor was there when I saw them made on a TV programme, but the way the colour and flavour penetrates the traditional chunky-cut pork, I think marination must take place at some point.**
**I know traditionally that chorizo are cured, hence the leathery texture, and this would allow ample time for the paprika to penetrate the meat, but unless “fresh” chorizo are also cured for while – and I suspect they are – then the meat just has to be marinated. Whatever the truth of the matter, mine will be.
So next time – which should be later this week, health permitting, I intend to coarsely mince pork shoulder, along with, instead of the usual belly pork for the fat content, some finely-minced Serrano panceta, which is about 95% pure fat, with a little meat, cured in salt and paprika, and extremely tasty.
Then I’m going to mix the spices – a Hungarian paprika which is rather more intense that the Spanish version I used last time, and has just a little prickle of heat, along with garlic granules and a little ground cumin, plus a smidgen of tomato powder to boost the colour, and salt and black pepper – with olive oil. That will be mixed uniformly with the minced meat (gently, so it’s not reduced to mush, while wearing disposable vinyl gloves, both for hygiene and to stop my hands being dyed red), which will be left to marinate for 24-48 hours before stuffing into casings. And trust me, they’ll be nothing like supermarket Chorizo Style Pork Sausages!
Now then, yesterday, I had the idea of making an omelette (tortilla in Spanish), using chopped morcilla, heated through (it’s already cooked), in a little home-rendered lard, through which I’d stir a couple of seasoned beaten eggs, clap on a lid and cook, stirring once or twice, until the egg was set and the bottom browned (I normally like my omelettes a pale gold, but browning, in this instance, felt right, and was). An idea I was quite proud of until I found out that it was a traditional tapas recipe. Oh well, great minds and all that!
Still, I went ahead and made it anyway (my morcilla, by the way, is in the de Burgos style, made with cooked paella rice and soft, sweetly-fried onions). It was made exactly as above, slid onto a plate, seasoned and, resisting the temptation to slather it in HP sauce or ketchup, eaten just as it was. And it was excellent. It could have been improved a little with a third egg, Tesco’s “large” eggs verging on the Lilliputian, otherwise it was perfect, the eggs seeming to enhance the flavours of the morcilla in a way that just doesn’t happen when simply served with fried eggs (sunny-side up and very runny – anything else is sacrilege).
So I’m a happy bunny. I like my morcilla (I’ve bought an imported, Spanish, version for comparison and, in all honesty, mine’s better), but as I have a small appetite most days, I’ve struggled to find a way to serve it that does both it, and me, justice, as it somehow doesn’t work as part of a fry-up with sausages and eggs – too filling (the rice, of course, is much more filling than the traditional back fat in British black pudding).
Spoonie-cooked brisket, plus beef stew
What else? Well, the brisket I cooked in my new pressure cooker was perfect, nice and tender (though not so tender it fell apart, which could happen with the slow cooker), as I found out yesterday when I sliced it prior to portioning it, and dousing it in gravy ready for freezing.
As this was the first time I’d used a pressure cooker since the 80s, I opted to steam the meat as that was simplest. It was OK, and took just 67 minutes compared to 5 or 6 hours in the slow cooker and, of course, needed zero input from me during that time. Though I did rather obsessively keep an eye on the pressure as I was also working out what the minimum heat setting was that would maintain the pressure. Having established that, next time I can just set it, and the timer, and walk away – perfect for the spoonie in me.
Next time, however, I might cook the meat in flavoured, seasoned, stock, as I do in the slow cooker, as I think the results are a little better. Right now, the sliced meat, in individual foil trays full of gravy, is marinating in the fridge for a day or two before freezing. And I have a pint or so of gravy left over, which is going into my next dish.
That’s either braised steak or a beef stew (the difference being in how the meat is cut up). I had intended to do that yesterday, but it wasn’t to be (spoonie), but it has to be done today as the meat is 2 days past its use-by date. It would probably be good for another couple of days, but why risk it – I feel well enough today, I might feel worse tomorrow or Thursday.
Anyway, braised steak or beef stew, it’ll give me more freezer stock, especially as it’s going to be a one-pot meal, with spuds, peas, and greens in it. Not sure how I’m going to freeze it. I really should keep and re-use ready-meal trays – lined with clingfilm they’d be perfect for freezing portions of one-pot meals like this, though I’ve just ordered some more foil trays from Lakeland, including some larger ones which I hope will suffice (I use the individual size for stuff like beef in gravy), and hopefully they’ll arrive in time.
Pickled eggs and other treats. And diamonds.
And one thing that is absolutely on the menu for this week, given that it needs very little effort, is a jar of pickled eggs, pickled in cider vinegar with a dash of balsamic and a teaspoon of mustard seed.
I cannot, where I live (which effectively means online), buy potted shrimps, not at a sensible price anyway. I did once, from Ocado and, despite ordering the traditional Morecambe Bay shrimps, I got some North Sea crap which, as far as I could tell, was heavily-salted shreds of pink rubber hot-water bottle in cheap and nasty butter.
So I thought I’d make my own. I can buy – or could when I drove – buy fresh brown shrimps locally, but they’re shell on and a pain in the neck to peel. So what I’ve done is bought a can of cooked and peeled shrimps,** which I’m going to drain, dry on kitchen towel, and pot them myself in mace-infused clarified butter**, to be served at room temperature (never fridge-cold), with home-made rye bread.
**Sainsbury’s, nationally, sell brown shrimps, but not locally – useless buggers – but you can also pot prawns – buy the smallest you can.
Potted cheese is very good, too – the first thing I ever made, aged about 10, long before I’d ever heard of potted anything – and potted crab. Technique is always the same – mix with enough spiced butter to bind, press down in a ramekin (use another ramekin), to exclude air, then cover with a “lid” of melted butter to seal.
**You’ll see some lunatic and complicated methods for clarifying butter – I’ve just read a completely absurd one in the Guardian – this is all you need to do. And if you’re going to do it, make plenty and store in a jar in the fridge, it’s very useful stuff.
I made some Sauce Tartare a couple of weeks ago. If you’ve eaten commercial versions (like this horror show), then you’re probably wondering “Why bother?” Simple – as with most things, homemade is better. You don’t even need a recipe. You need plenty of cornichons (I buy whatever’s available, drain off the usually horrible pickling liquid and replace it with sherry vinegar – leave a couple of weeks before using), about half the amount, by volume, of capers (well rinsed if in brine), and a little finely-chopped parsley, plus white pepper and some good mayo. That’s all (some recipes have lemon juice, which will completely overwhelm the taste of the cornichons and capers).
Chop the parsley, cornichons and capers finely (I use a mini processor), season with the pepper and mix with enough may to give a slack consistency – i.e. just enough mayo to bind the mix, plus about 25% more, and store in a clean jar in the fridge. In most commercial versions what you mostly get is mayo with anonymous bits in it – this version is vastly better, and if not having lemon in it will keep you awake at night, add a little zest, not juice. And don’t be tempted to use larger gherkins, they’re too wet and fleshy.
If you want it a little more acidic, add just a touch of sherry vinegar and wait a few days for the vinegar to leach out of the cornichons – it’ll be plenty acidic. It’ll keep for s couple of weeks in the fridge.
NB: Because you haven’t stinted on the ingredients, the taste will be much more pronounced than shop-bought versions, and a universe away from those dismal little sachets it so often comes in.
Finally, a few months ago I bought a diamond knife-sharpening “steel”. It did a superb job of putting an edge on my knives, but very quickly worse smooth. It’ll still sharpen knives that are already sharp and just need a bit more of an edge, but that’s about all now. So I’ve ordered a new one.
The first was made by Vogue, cost me about £12 and I got what I paid for. The new one if from higher up the catering equipment totem pole, from Victorinox, and was listed at £32.99 plus VAT (£39.59). For reasons which elude me I’ve been billed at £22.99 plus VAT ( £27.59). I’ve checked the online catalogue in case I lucked into a sale, but no. Ah well…
It did actually come on a box which has no mention of Victorinox, and I thought for an annoyed minute they’d sent me something different, but no, the steel itself is stamped “Victorinox” on the blade.
Interesting that the price difference is the same as I paid for the crappy steel. Karma?
And that’s it for now, boys and girls. As soon as my lunchtime pain meds kick in I’ll be hitting the kitchen, but first I have to sharpen my knives…