Red and Green Slaw

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Far from the anonymous, bland mess that is your average coleslaw, this slaw tastes as bright and vibrant as it looks. The recipe is based on one by the good people at Pitt Cue, who started out cooking from a smoker in a trailer and now run what’s probably my favourite restaurant in London.

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There’s a lot of different ingredients in this slaw and it’s very easy to leave something out, either through forgetfulness or having run out of supplies. And it’s not going to make it a bad dish, but there’s a big difference between a slaw being genuinely impressive in it’s own right and it being just a nice side order. The capers and the cornichons, for example, give little pops of salty, briney flavour whenever you find one. The coriander seeds crunch explosively with a burst of floral perfume. The orange of the carrots and the green of the coriander leaves set off the colour of the purple cabbage.

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The beating heart of this dish though is the red cabbage, apple and ginger combination. This slaw lives to go with pork, especially the pulled pork from my last blog post (another Pitt Cue inspired recipe).

Continue reading “Red and Green Slaw”

Pickles

Pickles both JarsI’ve missed a couple of posts in the last few weeks, and I want to apologise for that. Truth is, the season’s been getting me down. Short, dark, cold, wet days stretching endlessly before me have bummed me out and put me off even cooking, let alone writing about it.

It was in this state of mind that my thoughts turned to alchemy. By which I mean pickling. Which are one and the same thing, as I will explain.

It’s not merely that both the shared paraphernalia of bottles, jars, flames, potions, acids, powders and so on. The two most sought-after goals of the alchemists were to transform base metals into gold, and to create an elixir of everlasting life. On both counts they were legendarily fruitless. But picklers can create a liquor that will preserve a vegetable for long after it’s lifetime should have expired.

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Saving food through the bleak winter times used to be an important and challenging endeavour. For months and months, what little that grew was insufficient to maintain life. Food had to be diligently dried, cured, confited, smoked, fermented, frozen, potted or pickled as a matter of survival. In modern times the imperative for this kind of preservation have largely passed. But the sweetened sharpness of the vinegary pickling liqueur doesn’t merely preserve – it improves and enhances as well.

And so the second goal of the alchemists is achieved, when we turn a humble cucumber (a gourd of base and common flavour) into a repository of gustatory sunlight merely shaped like a vegetable. The difference between picking and alchemy? Success.

Pickles plated closeup

It’s these simple delights that keep you going through a depressing season. Pickling used to be a life-or-death matter for surviving winter. But this winter, it’s been preserving me as well.

Pickled Cucumber and Radishes

  • ~300g of cucumbers and radishes (or onions, celeriac, cauliflower, cabbage etc).
  • 300g Vinegar
  • 200g Water
  • 100g Sugar
  • 3g (1/2 tsp) Salt
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • A few sprigs of dill

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Slice vegetables as per your preference and reserve in sealable containers.
Combine vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and spices in a small non-reactive saucepan. Bring to the boil and immediately remove from the heat and allow to cool, whisking briefly to ensure all the sugar has dissolved. Once cool, pour over vegetables, add herbs and keep in the fridge. The pickles will get better as they steep for several days, and should last months in the fridge.

Serve with chicken liver pate, with cheese and crusty bread, or with meaty sandwich.

Ploughman's lunch

Tips for Geeks

Will be going up in a separate post tomorrow – I’m playing around with the format of these posts just a little.

Ratatouille

Ratatouille cooked dishThe most powerful thing a dish can do is to take you back in time.

The ratatouille in the Pixar film of the same name transports a jaded restaurant critic back to his mother’s kitchen when he was a boy. Like Proust’s madelaines, this simple peasant dish turns out to have its hooks in a very personal past.

The version of the ratatouille in the movie was developed by Thomas Keller, chef of The French Laundry. In turn, his dish is based on the ratatouille confit byaldi created by Michel Guérard, one of the founders of nouvelle cuisine, which broke with the old traditions and has been broken from again since. The name comes from an old Turkish dish of stuffed aubergine called “Imam bayaldi” – because when he tasted the dish “the Imam fainted”.

The history this dish has in both haute cuisine and peasant fare, in great and unknown chefs, and in movie-makers, restaurant critics and holy men – all of whom have found something special in the dish or in something like it – leads me to feel a really special connection to its past when I make it.

But the first time I tasted confit byaldi, I had the opposite of a Proustian reaction. It did not stir up old memories, because this was like no ratatouille I had ever tasted before. So for me, this dish isn’t just a time machine; it’s also a rocket ship – it takes me to a place that’s out of this world.

Ratatouille plated above

Ratatouille Confit Byaldi

(converted from The French Laundry cookbook)

  • ~ 45ml neutral oil (eg: sunflower or vegetable)
  • 2 medium sized onions, finely sliced
  • 1 red or yellow bell pepper (or a mix of both), cored, seeded and finely sliced
  • Bouquet garni (2 sprigs thyme, 2 sprigs parsley and a bay leaf, tied in a bundle)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 2tsp (10ml) olive oil
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, very finely chopped

Also: sliced (ideally on a mandolin) into rounds ~2mm thick:

  • 1 whole courgette
  • 1 whole aubergine
  • 3 medium/large tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 135C/ Gas mark 1

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onions, peppers and bouquet garni, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened but not browned. Remove the bouquet garni and spread the mixture in an even layer in a 12″ round ovenproof dish with a tight-fitting lid.

Arrange the sliced vegetables over the onions and peppers, beginning at the outside of the pan and working towards the centre, alternating and overlapping them (as in the photo)

Ratatouille raw window

Mix the garlic, oil, thyme and some salt and pepper to taste and drizzle over the vegetables. Cover with a lid and bake for 2 1/2 hours.

Remove the lid and check the vegetables (the aubergine will take the longest to cook). They should have softened and be cooked or almost cooked. Return to the oven without the lid for 30 minutes more.

Ratatouille plated 30deg

Tips for Geeks

I haven’t made many changes from the recipe given in The French Laundry Cookbook – just converted the quantities to what worked for me. The only major change is that, as well as the aubergine, courgette and tomato, Thomas Keller’s recipe also has sliced yellow squash, which adds another contrasting colour to the sliced vegetables. I wasn’t able to find any yellow squash. If you can, include it. If not, it will still be delicious.

The presentation of this ratatouille is markedly improved if the slices of vegetables are all around the same size. Usually, this will mean buying the slenderest aubergines and the thickest courgettes available. If there is still too much difference in size, you can cut rounds out of the larger slices with a cookie cutter.

Ratatouille raw top

Tomatoes are hard to cut thinly, even on the mandolin. It helps if they’re firm fleshed, and if your blade is sharp and you slice confidently. You’ll still probably end up with a lot of irregular offcuts.

Fiddly, meticulous preparation like arranging loads of overlapping slices is exactly the kind of thing I love. If you’re not a fan, don’t be put off – it looks like it should take forever, but it’s really not that bad.

Like most braises, it will improve in the fridge overnight, so you can make it the day before anyway.

My recommendation for serving this ratatouille: either with gnocchi or crusty bread. It’s also a great to accompany roast chicken.

Ratatouille cooked corner

Leek and Wild Mushroom Fricassee

Leek and wild mushroom fricassee

Folklore says that stepping inside a fairy ring, a ring of wild mushrooms, leaves one in thrall to the illusions of the the fairies who built it. Now I might not be superstitious, and I certainly don’t think that the fantastic flavour of this dish is just an illusion, but if garnishing my plate with a ring of wild mushrooms might give me a helping hand from the supernatural, I’m not about to pass up the chance.

This is a dish that, appropriately enough, has mushroomed into my life – coming out of nowhere and rapidly expanding in size and scope until I ended up cooking it for thirty two people on Thursday, in two separate gigs. In this great but slightly busy past week that I’ve had, I’ve cooked and tweaked this fricassee at least eight times, so I reckon I’ve got it down.

“Fricassee” isn’t the most familiar of culinary terms, but it’s an elemental preparation in classic French cuisine. In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child describes it as midway between a sauté and a stew. A stew starts with liquid from the beginning, a sauté cooks “dry” – with fat or oil only. A fricassee starts off pan frying in the same way as a sauté, but then adds a liquid to continue cooking as a stew does.

As I mentioned in my previous post, leeks are in season right now, and this is probably my favourite way to prepare them. Leeks can be a stringy mass if underdone, or a sulky mush if they’re overcooked, but fricasseeing allows for a lot of control and a wide margin for error.

Because it’s creamy, delicate and saucy (yet substantial), when I’m not just eating it on its own I like to pair leek fricassee with white meats and white wines. It goes exceptionally well with slow roast pork belly, and at my pop-up we served it with a stuffed chicken ballotine. It also makes an exquisite pasta sauce, especially if you add a fried handful of lardons and use the rendered bacon fat to sauté the mushrooms.

Fricassee close up

Leek and Wild Mushroom Fricassee

Serves 3-4 Continue reading “Leek and Wild Mushroom Fricassee”

Crispy Leek and Celeriac fritters (and tips for deep frying)

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Quick message: I’m looking for some volunteers to try next week’s dishes. Get in touch if you’re free in Oxford on Saturday November 2nd.

I love this dish because it’s a simple preparation can be deployed against almost anything lurking in the veg drawer. Previously, this was a courgette and onion fritter dish. And that was adapted from a spring onion bhaji recipe. I’ve done it with carrots, with parsnips, I’ve used the batter to coat slices of aubergine, and to bind little balls of cauliflower and sweetcorn. This time of year, leeks and celeriac are at their best, and they go really nicely together.

The vegetables are pretty interchangeable though – its the batter which is the key. It takes all of about five minutes to make, binds the vegetables together, protects them against the heat of the deep fryer and turns golden brown and crispy in the process.

Deep frying gets a bad rep for being unhealthy, inconvenient, or even dangerous to do. Because of this, its a method that most people don’t do that often, so they don’t feel confident that they know what they’re doing, they don’t get right every time, and therefore tend not to bother with. But deep frying is not to be ignored as a technique – its just too damn tasty. So I’m going to take some time in the Tips for Geeks section to talk about how to do it right.

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Crispy Leek and Celeriac Fritters

Serves 4-8

It almost seems absurd to give quantities for this recipe, as I always just make it by eye. However… Continue reading “Crispy Leek and Celeriac fritters (and tips for deep frying)”

Baba Ganoush and Roasted Red Peppers

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The Genie of the Dish

It had me right from the name. Baba ganoush. There’s something impossibly magical about it. “Baba” conjures to mind Ali Baba – “ganoush” sounds like “whoosh” – its name is like a genie – a mystical and wondrous thing emerging from the smoke. Its taste is too.

It’s the smoky flavour, caused by blackening the skin of the aubergene, that for me is the enchantment of this dish. The alchemy of combining the tastes of grassy aubergine, smoke, nutty tahini and the acid of the lemon juice creates an elixir that in France is called, without exaggeration, “caviar d’aubergene”.

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The spiritual connection with caviar has lead me in the past to serve this dish on blinis, with great sucess. And because I already having a barbecue going to blacken the aubergine, I like to roast some peppers as well and serve them with the baba ganoush. Mischiveously, the peppers do a bit of a disappearing act when you char them, so do three times as many as you think you’re going to need. They keep well anyway, in the fridge, under a slick of olive oil.

Serve with flatbread to dip or on blinis. You can also use as a side dish for grilled chicken or lamb. Or, do what I do; keep a big bowl of baba ganoush in the fridge, and dip into it anything that’s less runny than it is. Including fingers.

Baba Ganoush with Roasted Red Peppers

For the Roasted Red Peppers:

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