I was tempted to title this post “F***ing fantastic garlic bread”, because when people taste it, they tend to say something along the lines of: “Cripes. This is f***ing fantastic garlic bread.” But my Mum reads this blog and has a habit of looking horrified and exclaiming: “Elizabeth!” if I so much as say “Damn” in her presence, so plain old “Garlic bread” it’ll have to be. Sorry, Mum.
I wooed a boyfriend with this stuff once (and swiftly thereafter wished I hadn’t, but that’s by the bye). It’s powerfully good; you won’t go back to shop-bought garlic bread once you’ve tried it. The trick here is to simmer the garlic in the butter to sweeten it up and release its aroma before you let it anywhere near the bread, alongside the judicious application of some herbs. Use whatever loaf you fancy here. Something reasonably open-textured to soak up all that butter is a good move. This recipe will make sufficient garlic butter to anoint a whole baguette, but you can make a smaller loaf and keep any leftover butter in the fridge for up to a week. There were just two of us eating when I made this, so I used a ciabatta and steeled myself for leftovers – if you put the remains back together into something that resembles a cut-down loaf, rewrap it in the tin foil and refrigerate, you can take the recipe from the point where you put it in the oven again the next day.
2 large, juicy heads garlic
15g fresh chives
15g fresh flat-leaf parsley
15g fresh oregano
½ teaspoon salt
Several turns of the peppermill
Peel the garlic, and use a knife to mince it until you have a heap of garlicky rubble in the middle of your chopping board.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a very low heat, and spoon the garlic into it. Allow the garlic to cook very gently in the butter for about ten minutes, until it is soft and fragrant. While the garlic is cooking, chop the herbs and put them with the salt and pepper in a bowl.
Pour the hot butter and garlic mixture over the herbs in the bowl, and stir well to combine everything. Leave at room temperature for ten minutes, then cover with cling film and move to the fridge. Refrigerate until solid. (The butter doesn’t need to be rock-hard – a couple of hours should be sufficient.)
When the butter is stiff enough to spread, warm the oven to 150ºC (300ºF).
Slice the bread and spread each side of each slice generously with the garlic butter. Reassemble the loaf, and wrap it tightly in tin foil. Bake on a metal tray for 20 minutes, and remove from the oven. Unwrap and serve piping hot. You will be unable to avoid getting garlic butter all over your chin as you eat, and possibly on your elbows, so have napkins standing by.
Pancake day is coming up on March 8. I’m all for a lovely dessert crepe, but this year, I feel like ringing the changes a bit and making pancakes a savoury course.
I’ve been obsessing a bit about Vietnamese food ever since tasting the best pho I’ve ever had in California last month. Conversations have been had on Twitter (which revealed that your best bet for a Vietnamese meal in London is probably Viet Grill in Shoreditch – I’ve not had a chance to go yet, but I’m assured by a huge number of London diners that it’s as good as you’ll find in the UK), and while mulling over just how well the Vietnamese work soup, sandwiches and other staples, it struck me that they also make a pretty damn fine savoury crepe, just right for Shrove Tuesday.
Banh xeo are a spectacularly tasty plateful, with a scattering of sweet prawns, tender onions and savoury pork – this is another use for any leftover roast belly pork you might not have got through in Monday’s stir fry – and a shatteringly crisp batter flavoured with coconut and turmeric. Rice flour is what glues the whole thing together and gives it its light crispness; despite the visual similarity to an omelette, there are no eggs in this particular pancake, which makes it a good choice if you’ve got someone who can’t eat them visiting at this time of year.
Chunks of banh xeo are traditionally eaten wrapped up in a lettuce leaf with some herbs, then dipped in a bowl of nuoc cham – a spicy, piquant, salty sauce made from fish sauce, limes, garlic and chillies. I’ve included a recipe for the sauce below. This is one of the few occasions on which an iceberg lettuce is a variety I’ll actually recommend – its texture is great here. Take the stem out with the tip of a knife and chop the lettuce in half . You can now separate the large leaves of the lettuce into cups just the right size and shape for wrapping things up in. I’ve suggested you use mint and coriander because they’re easily available in the UK, but if you can get your hands on any other Vietnamese culinary herbs, they’re wonderful here. Try Vietnamese Herbs for pictures and more information on herbs for growing and eating.
I used a 20cm non-stick frying pan to make these, and served two to each person. You’ll be working a bit of a production line, so you’re best off eating in the kitchen – serve each pancake as it comes ready, and be prepared to jump up and down a bit from the table to get the next one ready as you eat. To make eight pancakes, you’ll need:
375g rice flour
1 heaped teaspoon turmeric powder
400ml coconut milk (1 can)
400ml cold water
1 teaspoon salt
350g roast pork belly
350g raw peeled prawns
2 medium onions
Flavourless oil or (preferably) lard, especially if you can save some from roasting the pork, to fry.
1 iceberg lettuce
1 large handful fresh coriander
1 large handful fresh mint
2 heaped tablespoons soft brown sugar or palm sugar
75ml fish sauce
Juice of 4 limes
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 fresh birds eye chillies
4 cloves garlic
The pancake batter needs half an hour to rest, which gives you plenty of time to get all the pancake ingredients ready to go. Everything should be chopped and positioned to cook immediately; things move quite fast once your ingredients are in the pan.
Sieve the rice flour and turmeric into a large mixing bowl with the salt. Combine the coconut milk and water in a jug and beat it into the rice flour mixture bit by bit with a hand whisk until you have a smooth batter about the texture of double cream. Set aside at room temperature to rest.
While the batter is resting, slice the pork belly into about 32 thin slices, and halve and slice the onions. To make the nuoc cham dipping sauce, pour the water, straight from the kettle, over the sugar and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Leave to one side to cook a bit while you chop the chillies and garlic, then pound them in a mortar and pestle. Add the chillies and garlic to the sugar and water with all the other liquid ingredients and put to one side until you are ready to eat. Put the lettuce leaves and herbs in a serving dish in the middle of the table.
When the batter has rested for half an hour (you can leave it for up to four hours if you want), get your frying pan as hot as you can on top of the stove, and melt a tablespoon of lard in it. Throw in four slices of pork, four prawns and a small handful of onion pieces (about a quarter of an onion), and stir-fry for a minute or two until the prawns are pink and the onion is starting to soften off. Use a ladle to pour a thin layer of the batter over the ingredients in the bottom of the pan, and scatter a small handful of beansprouts over the surface of the pancake.
Allow the pancake to sizzle away for 5-7 minutes, until the bottom is golden-brown and very crisp, and the softer top cooked through. Fold in half around the beansprouts and slide onto a plate to serve immediately, to be wrapped in pieces in the lettuce with some herbs, and dipped in the nuoc cham.
Chinese crispy belly pork, or siew yoke, is fabulous stuff, but it only stays crispy for a day or so. The day-two-wangy-crackling is, of course, also a problem with belly pork you’ve cooked in a western style, and this stir fry works really well with any leftover roast belly. You don’t need to strip the crackling off, but sadly, it will not be resurrected by any cooking method; it still tastes good, but if you’ve plenty of leftovers you might choose to remove it as I did here. Save any fat that renders out of the pork as you roast it to push the flavour of the pork in the stir fry up a notch.
Don’t keep your pot of tom yum paste (my favourite brand is Mae Ploy, which comes in a 400g tub you can keep for months in the fridge) just for tom yum soup. It makes a fantastic quick marinade for seafood, and works really well as a sauce ingredient. In this dish, it provides the spice and piquancy to make a great base for a sweet/sour style sauce, rather nicer than the mouth-puckering sort you’ll get at the local takeout because the sourness in the paste comes from lime and tamarind rather than white vinegar.
Rich pork and sweet peas work really well together. I’ve cooked this pork with sugary mange touts and sweet sugarsnap peas. If you can only get one kind of pea, substitute the other with frozen petits pois.
To serve 2-3 people, you’ll need:
500g leftover roast pork belly
200g mange tout peas
200g sugar snap peas
3 cloves garlic
10 spring onions, chopped
1 or 2 red chillies, to taste
1 tablespoon soft brown sugar
2 tablespoons tom yum paste
100ml Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
Juice of a lime
1 tablespoon rendered fat from the pork or flavourless oil to fry
Chop the pork into bite-sized pieces, and set aside. Chop the garlic finely and slice the spring onions and chillies.
Bring the pork fat or oil up to a high temperature in your wok, and throw in the garlic, chillies and spring onion with the sugar. Stir fry for about ten seconds, then add the pork to the pan with the tom yum paste, rice wine and soy sauce. Continue to stir fry for two minutes, then add the peas, pop a lid on the wok and leave to steam in the sauce for a couple of minutes while you put some rice out, until the peas are bright green and barely cooked.
Remove the stir fry to a warm serving dish, and add lime juice to taste. Serve immediately.
So now you’ve got your hands on some really fine mayonnaise, you’ll be wanting to use it to make a really fine potato salad. The ingredients list here is a simple one. Use the best waxy little potatoes you can; I used Roseval, which have a sweet, yellow flesh sometimes tinged with red rings. Pink Fir Apple, all knobbly and smooth-skinned, are another favourite, but Jersey Royals are best of all, and this is a great way to showcase their delicate flavour during their short season (around May and June). Don’t peel your potatoes or scrub off their delicate skins when you clean them; much of the potato’s flavour is held just below the skin, and the tasty skins themselves are a good source of vitamin C.
You can boil or steam your potatoes. Many varieties of new potato are perfectly happy being boiled, but if you’re not familiar with the variety you’ve chosen, steam them – they’re less likely to crack or collapse this way.
The sweet red onions in this salad should be sliced as fine as you possibly can. They’re less harsh this way, and their flavour gently infuses the whole salad. If you have a mandoline (mine, which I love and fear in equal measure, was a present from my lovely in-laws – I am pretty sure they are not trying to kill me, but that rather, they imagine I’m actually competent around razor-sharp blades), set it to slice paper-thin. If you’re using a knife, sharpen it before you start on the onion to help you slice thinly.
To make enough potato salad for a side-dish for four, you’ll need:
500g new potatoes
3 spring onions
½ red onion
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
1 teaspoon nonpareil capers, drained of their vinegar
1 heaping teaspoon grainy Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped finely
Steam or boil the potatoes for 20 minutes, and allow to cool to a point where you can handle them. While the potatoes are cooling, slice the red onion into paper-thin half-moons, and chop the spring onions on the diagonal into 1cm pieces. Mix together the mayonnaise, crème fraîche, capers, mustard and parsley in a bowl.
Cut the warm potatoes into slices and toss them well with the onions in a serving bowl. Pour over the dressing, toss again and serve. You shouldn’t need any additional salt, but taste to check and season if you want to.
I’ve held off for couple of weeks post-Christmas on this, because I am assuming that today is approximately the day when most of you will be getting sick of your New Year’s resolution to avoid crispy skin, potatoes softened beautifully with goose drippings, and tender forkfuls of breast meat. Everybody else should herewith bookmark this page for Christmas 2011, by which time things festive will no longer cause your gorge to rise.
A goose this large will feed six or more, although you won’t have the great buckets of leftovers that turkeys generate. (All the better, to my mind.) And it turned out superbly; I’m not sure whether this goose or the obscenely juicy brined turkey from Christmas 2008 would win in a fight. Our goose was tender and moist, filled near unto bursting (you can see the straining of the gap where it was sewed shut in the picture) with one of the best stuffings I’ve ever made, all wrapped up in a golden, crispy skin. If you do end up cooking this for a family occasion, you’ll also find yourself the proud possessor of a massive tub of goose fat to pop in the fridge. My Mum suggested turning it into a fatball for the poor starving robins in the snow. I said pshaw, and chilled it in jam jars for future potatoes.
Geese were, of course, the upper-class Christmas comestible of choice in England until being supplanted by the filthy heathen turkey from America, which Dickens did a lot to popularise by putting one on the Cratchit’s table. Medieval swanks would spend a day’s wages on a fat goose (and they are fat, even if not raised for foie – be sure to remove the lumps of poultry fat from the body cavity before you begin cooking, and render them down in a pan over a low heat for the lovely drippings), which they would roast on a spit over a fire, the skin coloured with saffron in butter for a chi-chi golden tone. The goose tradition carried on until Dickens all but killed it with A Christmas Carol. These days, we all have ovens, and you can buy Heston’s gold leaf at Waitrose instead and poke at it gently all over the bird with a soft brush, if your family is the sort that really needs impressing, but I think the skin is perfectly golden enough if you cook it using the method below.
Potato stuffing is the perfect choice for a bird as fatty as a goose. Use a fluffy, floury potato; I chose King Edwards. The potato will soak up the bird’s delicious juices in a way that will astonish you, and takes on flavour from the sage, onion and pancetta it’s mixed with, which flavours also impregnate the flesh of the goose. A couple of sweet eating apples cut into small chunks and stirred into the mixture will collapse on cooking to give the whole stuffing a very gentle background sweetness which is glorious against the rich meat. Buy the best goose you can afford; the way your bird is raised, killed and butchered really does make a difference. We had a beautiful free-range goose, good-smelling even when raw, from Franklin’s Farm, which supplies my parents’ local farmers’ market.
To serve about six people you’ll need:
A goose weighing between 5 and 6kg
1 kg King Edward potatoes
2 Granny Smith apples
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
Leaves from 1 stalk fresh rosemary
1 large handful (about 25g) sage leaves, chopped finely
1 teaspoon salt
Your goose should start off at room temperature, so make sure it’s out of the fridge for long enough to lose any chill.
Peel the potatoes, chop them into pieces about 1 inch square, and simmer them until soft (about ten minutes from the time they come to the boil if you start them off in cold water). While the potatoes are cooking, peel and core the apples, and chop them into small pieces. Peel and dice the onion.
Melt the butter in a large, heavy frying pan, and saute the onion, apple and pancetta together with the thyme and bay until the onion is soft and sweet, but not coloured (about 8 minutes – see the picture for the sort of texture you’re aiming for). Remove from the heat to a very large mixing bowl with the buttery juices.
When the potatoes are soft, drain them and add them to the mixing bowl with the rosemary, sage and salt. Stir the stuffing mixture well to make sure all the ingredients are blended.
Remove any poultry fat from inside the bird’s cavity – if you’re lucky there should be at least a couple of fist-sized white chunks in there. You can use scissors to snip it into pieces and dry-fry it over a low heat to render it down for a jar of goose fat for the fridge if you like. It goes without saying that you should remove the packet of giblets too – if you want giblet stock, simmer them without the liver (which does not make good stock) in some water. You can use that liver – my Dad and I have a bit of a tradition of chopping it up and cooking it along with some good curry paste in a little bowl sat in some water, covered with some tin foil, then spreading it on toast for Boxing Day breakfast.
Heat the oven to 225ºC.
Spoon all of the stuffing into the bird, and use stout cotton and a thick needle to sew the gap shut. If you can’t face it, you can also use skewers to secure it, but this will be much less neat. Weigh the stuffed bird and put it on a rack in a large baking tray.
Cook the goose at 225ºC for half an hour, then bring the heat down to 180ºC, taking the opportunity to pour off the fat that will have rendered out of the bird in that first hour – save it for spuds. After the initial 30 minutes at 225ºC, cook the goose at 180ºC for 30 minutes per kg stuffed weight, pouring off the fat regularly.
Check that the juices run clear by poking a skewer behind the thigh. The juices should run clear. Rest the goose for ten minutes before carving.
That Béchamel from Tuesday’s post was made with this sandwich in mind. The Croque Madame (literally “Mrs Crunch”, but that sounds considerably less elegant than the French) is one of the world’s great sandwiches, up there with the banh mi, the burger and the pan bagna. The best I’ve ever eaten wasn’t actually in France, but at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Las Vegas, where it was made with brioche and served with french fries to mop up the dreamy clouds of Béchamel and egg yolk. This one’s a little different, and makes up for the lack of decent brioche in rural Cambridgeshire by dipping the sandwich in an egg and cheese mixture before frying. Dreadful for the arteries, fantastic in the mouth. Gilding the lily, I served this with sauteed potatoes dressed with truffle oil and Parmesan cheese, and a very sharply dressed salad.
There is more effort involved in this sandwich than there is in slapping together your lunchtime BLT, but it’s absolutely worth it. This is a dish best eaten as part of a lazy Sunday brunch with somebody you love. It’s extremely rich, so that salad’s well worth having on hand to cut through the buttery, cheesy density of flavour. This is, to put it mildly, a bloody marvellous sandwich. Do try making one yourself.
To serve two, you’ll need:
4 thick slices good white bread
4 large eggs
100g Parmesan cheese
200g Gruyere cheese
200g cooked ham, sliced thinly (I like a ham I’ve cooked myself, but a good deli ham is fine here)
2 teaspoons smooth Dijon mustard
2 large knobs butter
50ml (or more, if, like me, you’re greedy) Béchamel sauce
Preheat the oven to 170ºC (340ºF), with a metal pan ready for your sandwiches on a high shelf. Have a pan of warm Béchamel sauce standing by.
Build the sandwiches by spreading the bottom slice with Dijon mustard, layering on the ham, and topping with the grated Gruyere. Put the lid on and give the sandwich a firm squash with the flat of your hand to pack it down a bit.
In a flat dish large enough to take a sandwich, beat two of the eggs with the finely grated Parmesan. Heat one knob of butter in a frying pan big enough to take both sandwiches until it starts to bubble.
Dunk each sandwich in the egg mixture, making sure both sides soak up some of the egg. Slide the sandwiches into the butter and cook for a couple of minutes on each side, until golden. Use a stiff spatula to remove the sandwiches to the heated tray in the oven, and cook for ten minutes to ensure all the cheese is melted.
While the cheese is melting, melt more butter in the pan you fried the sandwiches in, and allow it to bubble away until it is a nutty brown colour (beurre noisette, if we’re being precise here). Fry two eggs in the nutty butter so the white is just set and the yolks runny. Remove the sandwiches to warmed plates, spoon over a few tablespoons of Béchamel, and top each one off with a fried egg.
Widdling around with a shallot stuck with cloves earlier today, it occurred to me that this blog could do with a few very basic recipes; the sort that can form the underpinnings of a million different dishes, but which tend to get overlooked in favour of more complicated recipes. I’m guilty of occasionally writing unhelpful things like “make some gravy according to your usual method”, or “make a white sauce” here, which sort of instructions are absolutely no use at all if you’re not already a confident cook. So here, as the start of what I hope will be a semi-regular series of fundamental recipes, is a recipe for white sauce, classically called Béchamel.
My education in food started at a girls’ boarding school of the sort where we were taught all the skills needed to be a good little wife and housewife (and none of the skills necessary to operate in an environment where things like physics or grammar were necessary; happily, I overcame that hump when the school went bankrupt just in time for me to go to a proper school to learn how to punctuate, titrate and calculate vectors). The teaching in home economics, however, was second to none. We were led from boiling eggs (which we then devilled and made into salads for which we learned to make mayonnaise) through the various doughs and batters for scones, breads and cakes, via the flour-based sauces and stocks, soups and stews, to roasting and finally that most exciting of lessons where we learned how to fillet a fish. All pretty fundamental stuff, the sort of foundations on which the rest of home cooking stands – although entirely without the use of any garlic or herbs, because this was the 1980s and apparently potential husbands back then didn’t go for pesto.
The white sauce we learned was, in retrospect, a bland and awful thing; I seem to remember that it may even have employed margarine, but it’s retained a very important place in my memory because it was the first of these multi-use sauces we were taught. We used it in lasagnes and as a base for cheese sauces and other sauces for fish and meats. I discovered in the school’s copy of Ambrose Heath’s Book of Sauces that the same (or a very similar) sauce was the basis for all kinds of wonderful stuff: Mornay (cheese) sauce; the parsley sauce for a ham; old-fashioned English caper sauce; mustard sauce; Portuguese cockle sauce; onion Soubise; and sauce Nantua, a lovely thing which is flavoured with crayfish and brandy. I have my own copy of Heath’s Book of Sauces (first published in 1943 and now out of print, but it’s a book I see quite regularly in second-hand bookshops), and opened it when I was writing this post to a page which said proudly that “the sauce-maker [is] at the very head of his profession; these sauces will improve the best food and make the dullest dish tempting.”
Béchamel is, according to my copy of Larousse, an ancient thing, named after the 17th century Marquis de Béchamel, but predating him in the form of a velouté (similar to a white sauce but made with stock rather than infused milk) by some considerable time; in the 19th century Carême called it one of the four “mother” sauces which form the foundations of French cuisine. It still, says Heath, contained veal alongside the milk well into the 20th century, at least until the early 40s when he was writing, and the standard recipe noted it although most chefs would already eschew the veal; but today the sauce is classically made with a roux or paste of butter and flour, which goes to thicken up a body of milk.
A Béchamel should always be made with milk which is infused with aromatics – otherwise, you’ll find yourself with an uninspiring sauce which reminds vaguely of glue. The herbs and spices here work well in almost any dish where a white sauce is called for; experiment depending on what you plan to do with your own. Chives, blades of mace and whole garlic cloves are good ingredients to play with. Infused milk freezes well, as does the finished Béchamel itself, so you can infuse extra milk and set some by for the next time you want to make something like bread sauce. Some extra infused milk in the freezer is also beyond useful for those days when you want to make a white sauce quickly but don’t have time to faff around with a shallot.
To make about half a litre of Béchamel, you’ll need:
A bunch of parsley, including the stalks
3 bay leaves
2 small shallots
50g plain flour
Start a few hours before you mean to make up the sauce by infusing the milk. Pour the milk into a saucepan and add the cleaned parsley; bay; peeled and halved shallots, studded with the cloves; and whole peppercorns to the pan. Bring the pan to a gentle simmer, turn the heat off, put the lid on and leave in a warm place for at least two hours.
When you are ready to make the sauce, strain the milk into a jug and discard the bits of herb and shallot. Melt the butter over a low heat in a clean, dry saucepan, and sprinkle over the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until the flour and melted butter are combined smoothly in a glossy paste – this is your roux. Be careful not to allow the butter or flour to colour.
Stirring all the time, add a small amount (about 25ml) of milk to the roux, continuing to stir until the milk is absorbed into the roux and you have a thick, uniform mixture. Add another small amount of milk, and repeat until about half the milk is incorporated. You might want to switch to stirring with a whisk at this point. Add the rest of the milk in larger amounts, whisking as you go, and continue to cook very gently until you have a thick and glossy sauce. When all the milk is incorporated, keep cooking for about five minutes to cook out any raw flour taste. Take a teaspoon of the sauce and taste it to adjust for the amount of salt you want.
If you need to keep the finished sauce warm, you can avoid the formation of a skin on top by melting a small amount of butter, floating it on top of the sauce and stirring it in when you come to serve, or by floating a piece of cling film on the sauce. And because you’re bound to want something to do with this sauce, I’ll post a recipe for a world-beating Croque Madame later in the week.
Congee is a Chinese breakfast dish – soothing, savoury, and aromatic with ginger and stock. (You may know it as choke, jook, bobo or cháo; it’s common all over Asia and its name varies as you’d expect with language and dialect.) I find it hard to separate the physiological effects of eating congee from the cultural ones. It’s a favourite dish when I’m ill, cold or miserable, but I couldn’t honestly tell you whether that’s because it makes me think of sharing a bowl in my pyjamas with my Dad; or because of the soothing magic that so many cultures assign to soupy, chickeny mixtures. It’s filling, easy to digest, and wonderfully satisfying. The Chinese say it’s good for an upset stomach, and it’s a standard sickbed dish used to perk up those with little appetite.
For Dad, it’s all about the texture. He’s even fond of plain congee, where water is used instead of stock. As a novice in congee, you’re likely to find the plain version too bland; my (English) mother and husband both say they would sooner eat papier-maché. At a conference in China earlier this year, I filled up happily every morning at the hotel buffet with a couple of small bowls of congee with century eggs, pickled bamboo shoots and catkins, while all my English colleagues looked on in horror over their Danish pastries. So I’ll happily admit that congee is not for everyone, though I can’t for the life of me work out why – you texture-phobes are eating more outlandish things every day. (Sausages, anybody?)
Congee is a base for you to add extra flavours to. There’s no ruleset to follow – top your porridge off with what you fancy. Here, I’ve used canned fried dace, a small oily fish, with black beans (available at all Chinese supermarkets). Try a dollop of Chinese chilli oil, some fresh ginger and spring onions, a splash of sesame oil. Experiment with your toppings, which are best when they’re salty and umami; I love Chinese pork floss (a kind of atomised jerky), Chinese wind-dried ham, century eggs or salted duck eggs, roasted meat, garlicky shitake mushrooms, and, for days when I’m feeling seriously brave, fermented tofu. Crispy dough crullers are a traditional addition, as are pickled mustard greens (zha cai), which you’ll find sold in vacuum-sealed plastic packs. This is a good time to explore the aisles of your local oriental supermarket; you’ll need to visit anyway to pick up the glutinous rice, so go mad and furtle in the darker corners of the shop to see if you can find any gingko nuts or dried scallops to accompany your porridge.
I like my congee relatively loose in texture. For a stiffer porridge, reduce the stock in the recipe by a couple of hundred millilitres. Some rice cookers have a congee setting – follow the instructions on yours if you’re lucky enough to have one. And as always, the stock you use should be as good as you can find; home-made is always best, and if it has a little fat floating on top, all the better.
For a congee base for 2-3 people, you’ll need:
150g glutinous rice
1.2 litres home-made chicken or pork stock
1-inch piece of ginger, cut into coins
1 teaspoon salt
Whatever you choose to top the congee with, you’ll find it much improved by:
Another 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into julienne strips
3-4 spring onions, cut into coins
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Soy sauce to taste
Rinse the rice in a sieve under the cold tap. Combine the stock and rice in a large saucepan with the salt and coins of ginger, and bring to the boil. Turn down to a bare simmer, and put the lid on. Continue to simmer for 1-1½ hours, until the congee has a creamy, porridgy texture. Stir the congee well. Spoon into bowls to serve, and sprinkle over the toppings.
I much prefer the flavour and texture you’ll get with glutinous rice, but if you really can’t find any, you can try the Cantonese style of congee, which is made with regular white rice and liquid in the same proportions as the recipe above, and boiled for about six hours until it breaks down into a mush. You’ll also find congee mixes including other grains, like barley and beans, for sale, particularly in the medicinal foods section.
I’m blogging from my new MacBook Pro, an anniversary present from the inestimable Dr W. I’m still getting used to it; there are all kinds of PC keyboard shortcuts hard-wired into my brain that I’m having to relearn, and I don’t have any photo-editing software on here yet. In short, if anything looks a bit funny in today’s post, please be gentle with me – things should be better next week when I’ve got to grips with the various things the command button does!
Is there anybody out there who doesn’t love a big chunk of well-aged, grass-fed roast beef? This joint was a present from my in-laws, who have amazing taste in gifts. It’s from Lishman’s butcher’s in Ilkley, and had been sitting in the freezer for a few months, waiting for the weather to turn in a roasty direction.
If you’re not into turkey at Christmas, a beef rib is a fantastic substitution; it’s traditional but rather special, and there are very, very few Brits of a certain age out there who don’t have happy childhood memories of family occasions centred around a pre-BSE joint. To my mind, it’s the best of the roasting joints; the meat is rich and savoury from its proximity to the bone, and there’s a perfect amount of fat for lubrication and flavour in there. As a rule of thumb, you can count on each rib in the joint being sufficient to serve two people, so it’s easy to work out how large a chunk of meat to buy. I like to cook a rib nice and rare; if your uncle Bert likes his meat cooked until there’s not a trace of pink, just give him a slice from one end of the joint.
The gravy I served with this is a bit special; it’s intensely dense and savoury, and rich with the flavour of red wine and caramelised onion. Don’t use one of those undrinkable £3 bottles marketed as cooking wine here; while I don’t want you raiding the cellar for the Burgundy your Dad laid down in the 1980s, you should make this gravy with something you’d be happy to drink. If you can get hold of some real beef or veal stock made with a roasted bone, that’ll be fantastic here. The gravy has so much other flavour supporting it, though, that you can happily use some decent chicken stock instead. (And your freezer is full of home-made chicken stock, right?)
I served this with a huge, rustling pile of roast potatoes and parsnips, and a shredded spring cabbage sauteed in a little butter with some peeled chestnuts; these are all great for soaking up the gorgeous gravy. To roast a rib of beef rare (add five minutes per 500g if you want it medium, and ten if, for some unaccountable reason, you want it well-done), you’ll need:
Beef A rib of beef
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon plain flour
1 red onion
250ml red wine
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
300ml good beef or chicken stock
2 tablespoons plain flour
Juices from the joint
Salt and pepper to taste
Take the beef out of the fridge in plenty of time, so it’s at room temperature when you come to cook it. Preheat the oven to a blistering 240ºC (460ºF). Pat the joint dry with kitchen paper. Mix the salt, flour and mustard in a small bowl, and use your fingers to rub the mixture all over the fatty surface of the joint.
Put the beef in a roasting dish and slide it into the oven for an initial 20 minutes, then bring the temperature down to 180ºC (360ºF) and cook the joint for 15 minutes per 500g. (See timings above for a medium or well-done roast.)
While the rib is cooking, start on the gravy. Slice the onion finely, and fry it in a little beef dripping (goose fat is good if you don’t have any) until it starts to brown. Tip the balsamic vinegar into the pan and cook, stirring, until the onions start caramelising and the mixture becomes sticky.
Pour the red wine over the onions and bring to a simmer. Add the stock, bring back up to a simmer and allow the whole thing to bubble away gently with the lid on for half an hour. Remove from the heat, and strain the contents of the pan through a sieve into a jug. Discard the onions, which will have given up all their flavour, and leave the jug to one side until the beef is finished.
When the beef is ready to come out of the oven, remove it from the roasting pan to a warmed dish in a warm place to rest for 20 minutes, covered loosely with a piece of tin foil. This will give you time to finish up the vegetables and finish the gravy while the muscle fibres in the meat relax and the juices start to flow. Finish the gravy by putting the roasting pan you cooked the meat in on the hob over a medium flame. Sprinkle the flour into the pan and use a whisk to blend it well with any flavour-carrying fat from the joint. Pour a ladle of the stock from the jug into the pan and whisk away until everything is well blended, scraping at the sticky bits on the bottom. Repeat, a ladle at a time, until everything is combined, then return to a saucepan and simmer away without a lid for five minutes, stirring as you go, before tasting to adjust for salt and pepper, and transferring to a gravy boat just in time to serve up the whole roast.
Where other children were visited by fairy godmothers bearing gifts of grace and beauty; the art of detecting peas beneath mattresses; the ability to walk in high heels for more than five yards without getting one stuck in the space between two pieces of pavement; and all that glamorous jazz, mine found that her bag was empty but for the gift of making really terrific crackling. (Seriously. It wins competitions and everything.)
I’m not complaining. It’s better than it could have been; I’ve one friend who swears her only skill is the tidy folding of a broadsheet newspaper once read.
This recipe is reliant on your getting your hands on a really good piece of pork belly, properly reared, and striped thickly with fat. It doesn’t matter whether your piece has attached bones or not, but do try not to use a supermarket slab of meat; the flavour will be much better with a butcher’s belly from a pig raised responsibly, and you’ll probably find the joint will be drier, crackling more effectively. Cooked slowly for several hours, the pork bastes itself from within, leaving you with a gorgeously dense, flavoursome and moist finish.
I’ve used the tomato sauce than I made in a few enormous batches and froze at the end of the summer here, with some additional cream and herbs. If you don’t have any sauce you’ve made and frozen yourself, substitute with a good sun-dried tomato sauce in a jar.
To serve four, you’ll need:
1.5kg pork belly
1 small handful thyme stalks (about 20g, if you’re counting)
1 small handful fresh rosemary
100g stupendous tomato sauce, or sun-dried tomato sauce in a jar
3 tablespoons double cream
1 medium celeriac (larger celeriacs can be woody)
1 large handful parsley
2 banana shallots
1 tablespoon butter
Plenty of salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 140ºC (290ºF). Make sure the skin of the pork is scored properly in regular lines penetrating into the fat but not into the meat, and that it is absolutely bone-dry. Rub the pork all over with a couple of teaspoons of salt, making sure that plenty gets into the scored lines on the skin. Season with pepper, and sit the belly in a roasting pan on top of the thyme, bay and rosemary, reserving a bayleaf and a stalk of the thyme and rosemary to use in the sauce later.
Put the roasting pan in the middle of the oven, close the door and ignore the pork for four hours. Towards the end of the cooking time, cut your celeriac in quarters, peel them with a knife (this is far easier than trying to peel a whole celeriac), and grate them on the coarse side of your box grater. Slice the shallots finely and mix them with the grated celeriac in a bowl.
When the pork has had four hours in the oven, the top will have softened but not crackled. Still in the roasting dish, put the pork about four inches beneath a hot grill. The skin will start to bubble and crackle. Keep an eye on things; once crackled, the skin can burn easily. If you find that one side of your joint is crackling and ready before the other, put a piece of tin foil over the area that has crackled to prevent it from burning. Once the crackling is even, remove the dish from the grill and leave it to rest in a warm place while you prepare the sauce and celeriac.
Sauté the celeriac and shallots in the butter for about eight minutes until soft and sweet. Stir through the parsley and season with salt and pepper. While the celeriac is cooking, bring the tomato sauce up to a gentle simmer with the herbs you reserved earlier, then stir through the cream with any juices from the pork.
Pop a pastry cutter onto each plate, and use it as a template for a serving of celeriac. Top off with some of the herby, velvety pork meat, and a generous slab of crackling. Spoon over some of the sauce and serve.