Sunday, 29 November 2009

prawn tangiers

this is the kind of recipe i'd read and think - whatever. prawns and spinach - big deal. but somehow, despite the very modest list of ingredients, this was so succulent and lovely that i'm sure it will become a staple. valentine warner, whose recipe it is, is rarely off the mark (apart from that sloe gin jelly which i will never forgive.)

one note: don't use baby spinach from supermarket bags. this is the job for the old, dark green leaves.

for two

100 raw prawns, peeled
2 large bunches of spinach, washed thoroughly and chopped into wide ribbons
2 vine tomatoes
1 garlic clove
1 level tsp of cumin seeds
3 tbs olive oil
juice of a 1/4 of lemon
sea salt and black pepper

dry fry the cumin seeds in a frying pan till you can smell them - they'll get darker but just make sure you don't burn them. when they're done, chuck in the olive oil, then the spinach. you'll have to do it in batches, turning the leaves in the pan as they wilt. then put in the garlic, the tomatoes, the lemon juice and the seasoning. cook quickly so you get the moisture to evaporate but the whole thing doesn't burn.

you can cook the prawns in some olive oil separately but i just cut each into half and added them to the pan at the end. they're ready when they've changed colour. that's it. taste for seasoning and tuck in.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

root vegetable daupinoise (sort of)

after the first excitement of the winter food, i get a bit despondent about the whole thing. i've spent ages at the greengrocer's this afternoon, looking around for something marginally more exciting than purple sprouting broccoli. abel and cole boxes come full of mud.

but this is it - from now until about april, it will be cabbages, squashes and root veg. all of which i like, of course, but they don't give me the same thrill as the first crop of asparagus, the green leaves of wild garlic or baby courgettes.

the fridge is full of roast veg and i am not using it fast enough. i keep making mash, mixing and matching parsnip, swede and celeriac. but i am bored of mash and it doesn't exactly go with everything.

so i had an idea instead, one that can only be executed if you're in possession of a mandolin or a sharp knife, and some double cream. everyone loves dauphinoise potatoes. i couldn't think of a good reason why it wouldn't work with other root vegetables. you slice the veg thinly, layer it with some thyme and chopped garlic, pour over the cream, and that's it. wonderfully creamy, earthy and sweet root veg, with crunchy, caramelised bits around the edges and on top. you could use a lot more cream, of course, and a proper dauphinoise does, but i didn't really fancy that kind of a dish.

in terms of your choice of veg, you need things that cook in about the same amount of time. i choose sweet potato, swede and jerusalem artichoke but you can do it with celeriac, which i think would be pretty amazing, and squash or pumpkin. lots of people don't like jerusalem artichokes so you might want to skip that. i think they're weirdly interesting - every bite is somehow a surprise.

for two

1 sweet potato
1/2 swede
2-3 jerusalem artichokes
100ml cream
a splash of water or stock
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked off
1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
20g butter

preheat the oven to 200C. grease a round 8in tin generously.

scrub the veg, then slice very thinly using a mandolin or a very sharp knife (the latter would be a pain). put overlapping layers of veg into the dish, until you've used about half of what you've sliced. scatter over half of garlic and half of thyme, season, then pour over half of the cream. repeat with the rest of the ingredients. when done, add just a splash of water if it doesn't look like there is enough cream. or use more cream.

put little knobs of butter evenly over the top and bake in the oven for some 40 minutes or until the veg are properly soft when you stick a knife in them and the top is caramelising nicely. check after 15 mins and if it's browning too quickly, cut a disc of greaseproof paper and put it over the top, pushing it down with your hands so it sticks.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

jellied ham, parsley and quail's eggs

so...this is the second of the ham recipes. the dish you end up with is pretty big - it would easily serve six as a starter, if not more. i gave half of it to a friend - hence the cut (though a wiser person might have taken a photo before cutting it but there we go), and there was still enough left for our lunch and for my breakfast the next morning. well, why not?

i have to confess a couple pf things about this recipe. it is a faff to make so you have to be the sort of person who enjoys spending time in the kitchen (having a dishwasher would also help), and it kind of falls apart when you cut into it. the first cannot be remedied - you're either willing to spend 10 minutes chopping up ham or you're not. which brings me to the second thing - cutting up the ham really finely, into chunks much smaller than i could be bothered with, is the way to ensure the ease of cutting. the falling apart thing doesn't really bother me but it's probably not something you would want to serve at a dinner party.

the dressing is a must - the mustard kick makes all the difference.


1kg or a bit less of leftover ham, cut finely into very small dice
reserved ham cooking liquid (you can throw away the veg or make a little soup with some of the remaining stock - you should have more than the 500ml needed here)
2 eggs
100ml nice white wine (possibly not as nice as the italian gavi i used)
5 sheets of gelatine
12 quail's eggs
a huge bunch of curly parsley, chopped very finely


2tbs white wine vinegar
2 tsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper
5tbs olive oil or more

put 500ml of the reserved cooking liquid into a pan and bring to a simmer. break the eggs, reserving the shells, then separate the yolks from the whites and beat the whites until they form stiff peaks. spoon the whites onto the stock. crush the egg shells with your hands and also pour over the stock. stir, then turn up the heat until it comes to boil. as soon as it does, turn the heat down completely and let the mix calm down. then repeat the process one more time. the point of the bizarre egg white business is to clarify the stock and, though it definitely works, i just don't think i'd bother next time. cloudy stock is not really one of my top concerns in life.

strain the stock through a fine sieve. stir in the wine.

in a separate bowl, soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for five minutes. lift them out with your hands, squeeze out the excess water and put into the pan with the stock and the wine. stir until the gelatine has dissolved.

now do the eggs. put them in a small pan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil and after exactly two minutes, take them off the heat. drain and rinse until cold water to cool down. to peel, roll each egg gently under your hand to break the shell. cut in half - wetting a knife will help not drag the yolk out of its nest.

in a large bowl, mix the ham and the parsley, and season generously.

take a loaf tin and line with clingfilm so it overlaps the sides. start putting layers of the ham and parsley mix, interspersed with some egg halves. you might want to start with a few eggs as that is the side that will be visible when you turn the whole thing out. if you see what i mean.

when you've used up the lot, pour the stock over. cover with clingfilm and leave to set in the fridge for at least eight hours or preferably overnight.

for the dressing, mix all the ingredients together and whisk. and to serve, cut into generous slabs and spoon over the dressing.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

roast ham with honey and mustard

i am such a sucker for the christmas food write-ups that invade every newspaper, blog and tv programme from about mid-november right up until christmas eve. i know it's ridiculous - there are only so many ways you can cook a turkey and use up its leftovers. and i don't even like turkey that much. but, for a greedy person, there's something quite seductive about a mountain of food featured, desired and consumed.

eating primal(ish) for christmas is actually remarkably easy - if you're at home. you can do snacks and starters of nuts, cold meats, pickles, smoked salmon, and then the roast bird with some veg for the main. you can either skip the pudding or have something diary-based and not very sweet: last year we had panna cotta, probably with some sort of a berry coulis. this year i might consider some version of a chestnut/chocolate moussey combo but we will see. you can then have a huge cheese board - i am leaning towards a whole vacherine baked till runny and eaten with rosemary skewers with apple chunks, but i guess there will be stilton and goat's cheese and dried figs and frozen grapes. (you don't really need biscuits with all that stuff.) yes, you'll eat more than you ever normally do but it's all good stuff and won't do you any harm.

anyway, the reason i'm rambling on about christmas (is it too early for decorations???) is because of the ham.

we’ve been talking about getting a ham to bake since last christmas. then it was prompted by the ginger prince’s triumph of luck over knowledge in getting a waitrose vacuum pack to roast perfectly in time for christmas dinner in the cottage we rented. the only thing that defeated us was the skin. there were calls for it to be roasted separately until it resembled proper crackling. despite my assurances that there was no way on god’s earth that was ever going to work, the boys went ahead and tried it, as boys would. needless to say, they ended up with a piece of soggy, disturbingly human-like skin swimming in a puddle of fat. not nice. the ham itself was gorgeous though – salty, meaty and with that pen, grainy texture that just gives when you bite into it, without any gristle or fat.

also, for the whole of last december, our butcher had hung dozens of ham on hooks in the ceiling and every time we went to the shop, in addition to salivating over mini melton mowbray pies on a weekly basis, i also had to content with the hammy goodness above my head.

a couple of weeks ago, we finally bought a ham. not the bone-in variety that you would do for christmas, but a hunk of boneless salted pig. the idea was to get two meals out of it - a baked ham like the one prepared by the ginger prince, and a ham-jelly thing i've been hankering after since seeing the recipe in valentine warner's book.

ham prep is a simple thing if you know how salty it is. many hams need to be soaked overnight to get rid of some salt but this one, according to the butcher, only needed bringing to the boil once (and throwing away the water) before the full cooking. how you cook it seems to be a matter of some disagreement - it was not easy to find a definitive recipe so everything was a bit of an improvisation.

for some reason (haste? greed?), i failed to take the picture of the ham as it came out of the oven so all you get are slices on my plate. i've concluded i loved ham and will definitely be baking one for christmas.


1 hm, 2kg approx
1 onion
2 celery sticks
2 carrots
6 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
a few sprigs fresh thyme
3tbs honey
3tbs dijon mustard
10 or so cloves

put the ham into a large pot of water, bring to the boil and, as soon as it has started bubbling, drain and throw away the water. repeat, if the ham is very salty - you do need to follow the instructions on the packet or ask your butcher.

next, put the ham into the same pot again, cover with cold water and add all the veg, the black pepper and the herbs. bring to the boil, and for the first 10 or so minutes, skim the grey horrible stuff that collects on the surface. cover and simmer gently for about 2 hours.

when it is done, turn the heat off and leave the ham to cool in the liquid for an hour or so - or until it is completely cold.

put the oven on to heat at 220C. drain the ham, reserving the liquid (for the next recipe, to follow) and put the ham on a chopping board. with a sharp knife, take off the skin leaving a thin layer of fat on the meat. you can throw the skin away - not sure it can be used for anything else. score the fat in a criss-cross patter and stud the rhomboids with cloves.

mix the honey and the mustard in a little bowl, then smear over the ham as well as you can. this is much easier done when the ham is cold - when hot, as mine was (impatience is my middle name), the honey just melts and slides off the ham.

stick it in the oven for about 20-25 minutes or until the skin has caramelised nicely and the ham is golden brown and sticky. yum.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

creamed chicory

very exciting news - we have been given a small grant from the council to start growing veg in our communal garden. kind of like a mini-allotment. the idea is not only to grow things to eat but also to bring neighbours together. which is nice, especially when you live on an inner city estate.

now, i haven't got the faintest idea of how to do this - grow stuff, i mean - but if i am not eating my own stuffed courgette flower next summer, i'll be damned.

in the meantime, eat some cream - i bet you've forgotten just how good it is.

for two

2 head of chicory, cut in half lengthways
a knob of butter
1/2 lemon, juice
150ml double cream (or more!)
salt and pepper

melt the butter in a frying pan and, when it's finished foaming and hot, put the chicory in cut side down and fry until it's beginning to soften and caramelise. it will take a few minutes. season, then pour over the lemon juice. let it bubble for a minute. pour in the double cream and let it bubble for another 5 minutes or so. you want the chicory to be soft so carry on cooking (and maybe add a bit more cream) if it's still hard.

Monday, 9 November 2009

mash - celeriac, parsnip and swede - but not potato

people always seem surprised when i tell them that i am not overly bothered about ditching potatoes. it's the truth - i am just not. rich and i never ate that many potatoes anyway and it's not something i would ever have bought regularly. so it's not been a great loss.

but there are days when all you want is something creamy and fluffy to mop up the meaty juices from a gravy or a stew. though i love using green leafy veg to soak up some of the liquid, sometimes only mash will do.

the good news is, it doesn't have to be potato. i have used three different kinds of root vegetables in the past week and i can vouch that they are all pretty amazing.

number one is celeriac. who would have thought it, eh? i think i am actually falling in love with this the ugliest of vegetables. its mash is perfectly textured, with a faint whiff of not so much celery as just something earthy and fresh. it is also amazing in soups, again because of the texture, and raw grated and mixed with mustard and mayonnaise.

to mash, just peel it and cut it into chunks, then boil until tender. drain well, then put in the food processor with a generous knob of butter and lots of salt and pepper. if you have some double cream or creme fraiche, put a little of that in too.

next up, parsnip. seems obvious, right? same cooking method, though you're better off steaming than boiling them - they end up less soggy. they also like a lot of dairy so don't skip the butter and the cream. i'd say the former is absolutely indispensable and the latter is nice to have.

finally, swede. which i suspect isn't called swede in the US. rutabaga? maybe, though i reckon that's a parsnip. which is too watery for a mash, in my opinion. don't eat swede too often but its yellowy buttery mash is actually lovely. again, same cooking method and same warning about steaming and letting them drain properly to avoid the mash being too watery.

you can also combine the three - with each other or with potatoes.

there you have it, mash without spuds. it is seriously good and hits the spot on a cold winter evening. so good i found myself going back to the kitchen to lick the cold parsnip mash off the food processor bowl.

maybe i shouldn't have mentioned that.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

butternut squash and walnut soup

it's squash season - there's barely been a day when i have not eaten it in some shape or form: in muffins, roasted with chilli, as a sweet in its own right (more of which later) and in soups like this one.

i have blogged about squash soups before but normally about ones made with chilli and possibly coconut milk. this one is a much simpler affair and would suit those not hugely keen on spicy food.

the addition of walnuts and toasted seeds works not only as a crunchy contrast but actually improves the taste. even rich, who is not normally a lover of walnuts, said it worked.

do try and use home made stock. i know it's a pain but it really does make a difference. i didn't have any and, though it was perfectly acceptable, the soup lacked that creamy mouthfeel that i guess comes from either fat or gelatine in the real thing.

the recipe is mark hix's.

1 onion, chopped
1 small leek, chopped
1kg butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
a knob of butter
1.2l of stock, preferably homemade
10-15 walnuts, shelled
1tbs or more of pumpkin seeds, dry toasted till crunchy

melt the butter in a saucepan and fry and onion and leek gently until soft. don't rush this bit and don't burn the vegetables. next, add the squash and the stock, bring to boil, season and let simmer for about half an hour, or until the squash is totally soft.

transfer to a blender, leaving a few squash chunks behind. cut those up into small cubes and blend the rest until smooth. be careful - hot liquids and blenders are dangerous so always wrap a tea towel around the lid to stop the hot liquid from exploding all over you and your kitchen (i speak from experience).

return the soup to the pan and reheat if necessary. check for seasoning, and plate. add the walnuts and the seeds to each bowl and stir some cream or creme fraiche if you like.

thai prawn omelette

my phone is playing up so, for some strange reason, i can't transfer pictures to the pc. no picture of the thai omelette - instead, that's me, aged not much, picking my nose.

we had this as a weekend brunch dish but i actually think it would make a nice, spicy supper to be enjoyed with a glass of beer. it's quite punchy and there is every chance you will stink of garlic. (i know it's ridiculous but somehow i can't help telling myself that all that chilli and garlic are somehow really good as a cold preventative.)

the original recipe uses sugar and i can see how that would work but there is no real need for it.

for two

for the spice mix:
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 stalks of lemongrass, soft inner leaves only, finely chopped
2 coriander roots, finely chopped - or use coriander stalks as i did, just make sure they're chopped finely
1 or more red chillies, finely chopped
10 large raw prawns, halves (though you could of course use cooked ones too)
3 sping onions, chopped, white and green parts, plus a bit more for garnish
1 tbs fish sauce

for the omelette:
4 eggs
2 tbs water
2 tsp fish sauce

small bunch of coriander, chopped, to garnish

first, make the spice paste. gently fry all the spices with the coriander root in oil - make sure it doesn't burn as burnt garlic and chilli is pretty horrendous. after a few minutes, add the prawns, the fish sauce, the spring onions, and season with some black pepper. cook until the prawns have changed colour to pink.

remove the mix from the frying pan into a bowl and wipe the pan clean. in a clean bowl, mix the eggs with the water and the fish sauce. heat some more oil in a frying pan and pour in the egg mixture. working quickly, lift the set edges and tilt the pan so that the egg mixture spreads to the sides. i tend to do it with a small knife though i guess a spatula would make more sense. once the egg is barely set - and by that i mean the middle is still slightly runny, tip the spice mixture on top and quickly fold the sides of the omelette so you get a square with a hole where you can see the spice mixture.

transfer to a warm plate and scatted over the shredded spring onions and the coriander to garnish.

Friday, 6 November 2009

roast duck and squash salad

amazingly, there were leftovers from the duck we roasted the other day. this is a rare occurrence in n1 kitchen. there are, occasionally, bits of chicken dutifully stripped from the carcass destined for the stock pot, saved in the fridge in some tin foil. but more often than not, they'll end up getting eaten as a snacklet, something to gnaw on while cooking or, most likely, the thing that rich will pick at after he's arrived home from work, before he's taken his shoes off or got changed. (which sounds very 1950's, come to think of it.)

it was a large duck. really, the duck i went out to buy was an imaginary one. i know full well that you either get a mallard, i.e. a small wild duck, or a proper, big christmas-for-six number. yet i though i would get some mythical creature that was a cross between the two.

of course, when i got to the butcher’s, the duck in the cabinet was a stonker of a bird, yours for £14.99. we  bought it at rich’s insistence.

this salad was a great way of using the leftovers. in fact, i think it was one of the dinners i've enjoyed most in a while. i think it would be very nice with other meat too, though chicken might be a bit too bland. some rare roast beef would work - it seems to go well with limey, spicy thing, as vietnamese beef salads demonstrate more than adequately.

i admit it's a bit of a faff to make but it really is worth it.

for two

leftover duck meat, stripped from about half of a roast duck
a small bunch of mint leaves, chopped roughly

for the roast squash:
1 dried chilli, crumbled
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
a pinch of ground cinnamon
1/2 butternut squash, cut into half and deeseded but keep the seeds

for the dressing:
1 lime, zest and juice
1/2 tsp of sesame oil
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 fresh red chilli, chopped finely (or less, to taste)
1/2 clove of garlic, finely chopped
2-3 spring onions, finely sliced (including the green bits)
a bunch of coriander, finely chopped
olive oil

first, roast the squash. preheat the oven to 180C. crush the coriander seeds and chilli together in a pestle and mortar, add the cinnamon and a good pinch of salt and pepper. cut the squash into large chunks, sprinkle over the spices and roast for around 45 minutes or until the flesh is soft when pierced with a knife and the edges are starting to caramelise.

for the last ten minutes of the cooking time, warm the stripped duck meat. i just put it all in a piece of foil, scrunch it up and put it directly onto an oven shelf.

while that's happening, wash the squash seeds you've saved and dry them on a cloth. now mix them with a little salt and some olive oil and then dry fry in a pan until they're nice and crunchy. they'll start popping so be careful or you'll have a kitchen full of exploding seeds. kinda dangerous.

put all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and mix it all through with enough olive oil to be dressing-like. taste - you'll probably need a little bit of something. i ended up putting in more sesame oil which seemed to balance the lime.

to assemble, mix the duck and the squash with the dressing and the crunchy seeds, and finally sprinkle over with some chopped mint.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Koffmann pop-up/Restaurant on the roof of the Selfridges

I am spoilt. No two ways about it. Spoilt and possibly a bit stingy though I’d prefer to call it prudent. Or, even better, keen to get value for money.

I was all excited about getting a table for the Koffmann pop-up on the roof of Selfridges, and on Saturday night, no less! (this thanks to obsessive checking of food-obsessed twitterers and emailing Selfridges practically before the ink had a chance to dry on Koffman’s contract).

The man was a culinary legend, his signature dish were pork trotters stuffed with sweetbreads and morels, and the preview reviews (my god, whatever next?) were great. What is there not to like?

Well…quite a lot, as it turns out.

Don’t get me wrong - there wasn’t anything wrong with it, as such. The food was better than good.  But I could think of other ways we could have spent that money. Quite a lot of money. We could have eaten at Tom Ilic’s place at least three times. Damn, I probably could have got Tom Ilic to come to my house and cook for me. (Tom, if you‘re interested, my door is always open. There must be pigs to be had in London.)

Basically, the issue is that I am over expensive French food. I am not entirely sure if I was ever IN it but I am definitely over it.

It all seems so pointless, somehow. The difference - in terms of my enjoyment -  between that and, say, any of the main courses at Ilic is not large enough for me to want to spend the extra cash.

We both had scallops with squid ink for a starter. I’m sure there is some serious technical mastery in getting the perfectly-cooked scallops to sit in a pool of perfectly-textured ink but it tasted no better and no worse than the scallops we rustle up at home.

I then had the trotters - I just had to, of course. Now that was lovely, the sweetbreads a particularly pleasing revelation, and the sauce that made you want to lick the plate clean: rich but cutting through the fatty, melting boned trotter (with a few little piggy bones that had t be spat out). But Rich’s duck was not, in my opinion, a product of a Michelin-starred hand - I’ve definitely seen its equivalents in a less grand restaurants in London.

I forgot which pudding I had but Rich’s apple pie was pretty hideous - cloyinging, teeth-rottingly, diabetes-inducingly sweet, the kind of thing I can imagine being served in a Pizza Express (where it would be appropriate and presumably appropriately priced). Nice pastry, I suppose, but reckon my granny’s was no worse. It came with a dollop of nice ice cream though I couldn’t tell you which flavour it was. The whole thing went back unfinished.

We also had some nice petit fours but by this time, we were both in a bit of a sugar coma, so most went uneaten. The ones I did eat were nice, to give credit where it’s due.

On the plus side, we had a good bottle of Italian wine, expertly poured - if there is one thing I hate in restaurants, it’s when waiters hover around your table wanting to top up your glass every 67 seconds, and to the brim. In this instance, her timing was immaculate, as was the quantity dispensed.

I had other issues with the pop-up. Whereas other reviews have raved about the d├ęcor, I thought it looked like it’d been done by a provincial art student let loose in a poncey London furniture shop for the first time. Likewise, whereas some had found the bouncing floors and fabric ‘walls’ charming, I thought they were a pain in the arse. The fake floor felt like the waiters were trampolining along and I kept threatening to fall through the beige, tent-like fabric that was masquerading as a wall on my left. The lighting was all wrong too - it was too bright and felt like eating in an institution of some sort, or a canteen, complete with the smell of new furniture and glue.

And the people…well, the majority looked like they’d been shipped in on a special bus from West London - all identikit blondes in Philip Lim dresses and expensive shoes, and men with double cuffed shirts (I like a cufflink but on a Saturday???) and blazers, sniffing at wine and examining labels like they were born in the Loire valley and not Kensington.

So there you have it. It was a moment of self-revelation in my culinary journey. Give me small, unpretentious, authentic, local, give me Mark Hix’s and St John’s of this world, give me proper portions and seasonal ingredients, give me good food by all means - but don’t bother with Michelin stars for roast duck breasts or apple pies. If I want to spank hundreds, I’ll go elsewhere.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

roast duck

can't believe i didn't take a picture of the whole duck when it came out of the oven. criminal. and what i did take is blurred - maybe my hands were shaking from hunger.

it's a marvellous thing, a roast duck. all that fat, and fighting over who gets which bit of the skin. it's what home life should be all about.

you'll end up with about a cupful of duck fat from pouring away during roasting - don't throw it away. you can use it to roast lovely things like parsnips or sweet potatoes - or anything else for that matter.

more or less verbatim from the channel 4 hugh fearnley-whittingstall recipe

1 large duck, with neck and giblets
salt and pepper

for the giblet stock/gravy:
The neck and giblets, and wing tips
1 small onion
1 celery stick
1 carrot
a little oil
1 bay leaf
1 small glass of red wine
½ teaspoon redcurrant jelly (optional)

preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7. if the duck is tied up, untruss it - i.e. cut the strings and gently pull the legs apart, away from the body. this will help the heat to get at them.

cut off the wing tips (the last bony segment) - there's no meat on them and they will boost the flavour of the giblet stock. make this first: roughly chop up the neck, heart, gizzard and wing tips, plus the onion, carrot and celery. fry these over a fair heat in a little oil until the meat is nicely browned and the vegetables slightly caramelised. transfer to a saucepan with the bay leaf, cover with water (about 600ml) and bring to a simmer. leave at a gentle simmer for about 1¾ hours - i.e. the time it takes to cook the duck.

now tackle the duck. remove any obvious spare fat from inside the cavity. you can, if you like, turn the duck breast-side down on a board and press hard on the middle of the backbone until you hear a crack, it means that when you turn the bird breast-side up again it sits flatter in the pan, which helps it to cook more evenly.4. now, using a needle, prick the skin all over the fatty parts at the breast and where the breast joins the leg. don't prick deeper than is necessary just to pierce the skin. you want the fat to run, but not the juices from the meat. season the skin lightly with salt and pepper.

put the bird in a roasting tin. place into oven for about 20 minutes, so the fat starts to run. then turn the oven down to 180°C/Gas Mark 4, baste the bird and return to the oven.

baste the duck every 20 minutes or so. check the bird for doneness after about 1½ hours' total cooking time. poke a skewer into the thickest part of the leg, close to the breast. when the juices runs clear, the bird is done. tip the bird to pour any fat or juices out of the cavity into the roasting tin and transfer it to a warmed plate or carving tray.

now fix the gravy. carefully pour off the fat from the roasting tin into a heatproof bowl or dish, leaving the brown juices in the tin. deglaze the tin with the red wine, scraping to release any tasty browned morsels. strain the giblet stock and the deglazed pan juices, into a clean pan and boil hard to reduce them to a rich, syrupy gravy. taste for seasoning, and add a little redcurrant jelly for sweetness, if you like.

Monday, 2 November 2009

beef topside with porcini mushrooms and proscuitto

I’ve cooked up a few disasters over the past couple of weeks. Pumpkin ‘custard’ made with coconut milk that ended up looking like grey scrambled eggs and tasting like...eeer...the unmentinable? The same pumpkin, this time mashed to go with some fat, mustardy sausages, leaking watery juice all over the plate? Roast chestnuts that ended up so hard, I could practically see my dentist rubbing his hands with glee...not good.

So, instead of writing about any of THAT, I thought I’d post a recipe f a dish we ate at least a month ago, and that was so bloody nice it might be time to make it again.

We’ve had a piece of beef topside in the freezer for months. I think we’ve both avoided taking it out because our previous attempt at cooking beef - a silverside, as it happens - was a disaster. I read somewhere that the best way to cook a joint like that is to braise it slowly so it goes meltingly tender. I’m afraid it just ended up grey and tough as old boots.

We weren’t’ going to make the same mistake this time. A decision was made to treat it as you would a piece of fillet, and roast it quickly until it’s about rare to medium rare. But as it’s a pretty fatless piece of meat, I knew it needed a little help with the flavour and juiciness. Enter porcini and ham. You can’t really go wrong with those ingredients, right?

It was gorgeous - meaty, salty and sweet, full of umami and nice things you only get from eating something that’s oozing blood all over your plate.

i think this is a jamie oliver recipe but wouldn't swear on it.

for four (i made risolles with leftovers - tasted okay but can't remember how i made them!)

1kg beef topside
10-12 slices of prosciutto
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 handful of dried porcini, soaked in 300ml water
3 knobs of butter
lemon juice
salt and pepper
some thyme and some rosemary, chopped finely (a sprig of each if about enough)
150ml red wine

preheat your oven to 230C and put a roasting tin in it to warm up.

drain your porcini mushrooms, reserving the water. make sure you sieve them as the mushrooms are usually a bit gritty. heat a knob of butter in a frying pan and fry one of the cloves of garlic (chopped) with the porcini for a minute or so. then add half of the mushroom soaking liquid and leave to simmer until it's reduced quite a bit. add a squeeze of lemon and stir in the other two knobs of butter. season.

lay the pieces of prosciutto on a large piece of greaseproof paper or clingfilm, overlapping slightly lengthwise. it's the way they usually come anyway if you buy them in a deli - the supermarket ones have the annoying bits of plastic in-between which makes this quite a painful job.

spread the mushroom mixture over one half of the laid out ham.

season your beef and roll it in the herbs laid out on a plate or a chopping board - they should stick. if some fall off, it doesn't matter much. now place the beef on the ham and roll it so it's wrapped in it. make the paper/clingfilm help you do it - though it's still a delicate operation. tie some string around the beef to keep the ham and mushrooms in place - about 3 pieces spread out evenly will do.

now put a drop of oil in a tin and place the beef in it with a couple of cloves of garlic. cook for about 30 minutes for rare or 35-40 for medium rare, adding the wine to the tin halfway through. don't even think about well done - you may as well be making something else for dinner.

while the beef is resting, reduce the red wine gravy if it needs it. you can add the beef juices to it once it's rested.