I’ve nothing very complicated to cook this evening; Christmas has reduced me to a withered husk. Those wanting to see what Christmas lunch looked like will have to wait until after the New Year, when I next see my Dad, who currently has custody of the memory card with all the photos from Christmas on it. (Stay tuned. The main course was, if I do say so myself, fantastic as only £100 of ingredients can be.)
So tonight, rather than rolling whole sirloins of beef up in herbs, making complicated things with pastry or setting fire to the fumes coming off hot Cointreau-soaked Christmas puddings, I’m just doing some steak with some chips out of the freezer. I want something easy and tasty tonight, so I’ve made a cross-continental steak rub using Asian, European and American ingredients.
I’ve mixed two tablespoons of soft brown sugar, one tablespoon of a good five-spice powder (this is from Daily Bread in Cambridge, where they mix it themselves. Its ingredients include aniseed, fennel, cinnamon, cloves and pepper), an extra tablespoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon of Maldon salt and a teaspoon of ground chipotle chilis. (I get mine in America when possible, and take it home in that bulging suitcase of contraband, but fellow Brits can buy dried chipotles online in the UK at the Cool Chile Company and grind them up in a coffee grinder or Magimix. The Cool Chile Company also do excellent chipotles in adobo and a very nice chipotle ketchup.) I then added two tablespoons of liquid smoke (also from America – if you can’t get your hands on any, use a couple of tablespoons of cooking sherry, which will taste completely different, but fantastic). I rubbed the paste into the steaks, and left them to marinade for half an hour, then drained them and fried them with diced shallots in a knob of butter for four minutes each side until medium rare. Delicious.
Those shallots are where my new gadget comes in. Among a Santa’s sack of presents from Mr Weasel’s obscenely generous family was a little package containing an Alligator Onion Cutter. I’m not usually one for single-purpose gadgets, but this device is a thing of genius.
I’ve always had a problem with onions and shallots; I’m extremely susceptible to the vapours coming off them, and usually spend half an hour at least after chopping a particularly strong one looking like I’ve just been punched in the face. Tearstains and unusual swellings are not a good look for dinner. I’ve tried the business with the swimming goggles, the trick with the teaspoon between the teeth, and chopping them underwater. None of these ideas has worked very well; I steam up, lose bits of onion and weep, weep, weep the night away.
I also suffer from pretty mediocre knife skills; I may be fast, but I’m not very tidy, and my slicing and dicing is competent but uneven.
My new onion cutter eradicates both these problems, and reduced my shallots into perfect, tiny dice in three seconds flat. No fumes. Gorgeous little cubes which make me look like I know what I’m doing with a knife. And, best of all, it rinses clean or goes happily in the dishwasher. Keep one hand over the blades while slicing to keep the onion or shallot from popping all over the working surface, and you’re away. Hurrah! My next experiment will involve a potato, the Aligator and some hot, deep fat. And some of that chipotle ketchup.