Monday 17 December 2012

‘Give Me Butter! Always Butter!’

A quote from the great chef Fernand Point. I read about him here. Couldn't agree more! Butter, lemons, onions and vanilla: life would be wizened without.

Little Lamby-kins. A Revelation.

Cooked lamb for the first time... ever. Eh? Yeah, I don't like lamb but I realise that lots of people do (especially my wife).

My aversion stems from the cuts I was served as a child. With hindsight, it was probably breast or scrag end. (Scrag end? Who named that cut? Not someone from meat marketing, that's for certain.) I remember childhood lamb as being both stringy and oleaginous - a neat trick - and clumped with flabby yellow fat. I would cut all the fat off, laving tiny postage stamp pieces of meat. My father would invariably reach over to hoof up the trimmings, while complaining that I was too fussy.

Anyway... I braised ten lamb shanks, individually tin foiled, and served them with a reduction of red wine, port and the roasting juices. It was an interesting process making the gravy, having to put aside my own dislike of the flavour and try and be cheffy about it. In the end it comes down to balance and seasoning and depth of flavour so I believe and hope the final product was great. Certainly our guests sent back clean-picked bones.
The shanks were wrapped in foil on a bed of carrot, onion and rosemary with a whack of seasoned and herbed butter shoved in a pocket between the bone and the body of the flesh. Cooked for two and a half hours at 200°C then rested for 30 mins - under foil and a blanket!

The lamb was plated with wilted winter greens, parsnip purée (that I passed through a sieve four times and it still wasn't as smooth as I'd like) and meltingly soft and onion-y Boulanger potatoes. A pleasing winter combo.

The good news is it's just possible that with all the supping and tasting I may have started an inoculation process. By the end of the evening, I could even enjoy the meatiness of the roasting juices. Lamb has a sweetness like no other meat that I maybe beginning to appreciate.

This is a really useful recipe; a bistro classic and one I'll return to again I'm sure. No photos I'm afraid. With a party of ten there's no time for cameras.

Sunday 9 December 2012

The busy weekend... including a man who broke into Buckingham Palace... and a secret to life.

A school fayre, Emma's birthday party of ten, Rachel's party (catering) of 60 and Leslie's group of eight.
That was intense. I feel like I've been standing and cooking for four days. A confluence of requests lead to our most busy period.
Sarah rang me to see if we could stage a special birthday dinner for her friend, the rather glamorous and fabulous woman-about-town Emma Rigby ( I'm really glad we agreed. It was an excellent, boisterous evening. On the menu was onion soup, chicken braised in sherry and cream and cheesecake (proving very popular that one) with blackberries, which is actually my favourite fruit pairing so far, both for flavours and visuals. One of the guests told us of the drunken night he climbed into Buck House, only to be arrested at gunpoint. Wild stuff.

Emma's birthday. Louder than they look here!

I'd also agreed to do the catering for a party of 70 in Hertford the same day so Thursday night was largely spent making little polenta cakes, anchovy palmiers, szechuan chicken and slow roasting a whole pork belly. The palmiers are a bit love/hate. Some of my friends adore them and can scoff bowlfuls but others back off in horror, pastry pieces being spluttered from the mouth with indignation!

Anchovy palmiers. Not for everyone.
TIP: once you've rolled the pastry and filling, put in the freezer for 20 mins.
It makes them much easier to cut neatly. 

The night before, I been up making MANY choux buns, honeycomb, chocolate meringues and blueberry friands for my sons' school fayre. 
Saturday was Leslie's party of eight, eating polenta and mushrooms, salmon and my new sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce and home made vanilla ice cream, just perfect for winter.
The secret behind a good onion soup is, ironically, a good beef stock. I have no idea what to do if vegetarians ask for it.

My best beef stock (so far). A round of applause please.
The secret to beef stock, and all stocks, is a pressure cooker. I urge you to invest in one. Also, clarifying stock is a doddle. Whisk in a couple of egg whites and their shells and slowly, slowly, slowly bring to the boil. It is immensely satisfying to push back the white crust after an hour or so to reveal the exquisite clear liquid, effortlessly de-murked. It seems to be one of those not-difficult-at-alls along with choux pastry, soufflés, mayonnaise and hollandaise sauce.
The other secret, to stock, to so many dishes, maybe to life itself (along with lemons, vanilla and good Italian butter) is slow roasted onions. Roasted to a singularity; like the primordial soup! Take the time to reduce a kilo of onions down to a sticky, chocolate-like mass in a heavily set pan and you will be rewarded with the ultimate umami base (Ooooh Mammy!) for so many dishes.

Was once a kilo of onions.