Saturday 22 December 2018

The New River Dining roast potato.

The kit
How good are these? One doesn't like to brag but guests have said they've not had better. I want crunchy exteriors, deep golden, friable edges and fluffy insides. Those meekly tanned, leathery efforts are an insult to their cooks. If I wanted jackets I'd have left the skins on.

The real trick is to flavour the oil. I like onions and thyme. And also don't be scared of salt. Use a crystal salt to give you crunch too.

Maris Piper with shallots, thyme and marrow bone. Ready for the oven

I have a few rules, most of which you'll probably be familiar with. We are a post-Delia nation after all. The basic sequence is: peel, parboil, fluff, baste, roast.
  • Use Maris Pipers. These are the least wet spuds available. It's all about the starch. Lots of dry matter gives you a fluffy finish, little dry matter and you have a soapy texture.
  • Make sure the potatoes are evenly sized. Again, it's just obvious: same size = same cooking time
  • Parboil the potatoes. Heston does it almost to destruction but that's a world of pain. I usually stick around 12 minutes.
  • Dry the potatoes after boiling. Space them out on a clean tea towel and allow them to steam themselves dry. You can rough up the surface by gently shuffling them about too.
  • Use the heaviest, thickest roasting pan you have. Sadly these are expensive. Thick pans spread the heat yes but more importantly they don't warp. If you hear your roasting pan/tray buckling in the oven, it means some potatoes now have a lot of fat and some have none. It doesn't even have to be a roasting tray. Use a few decent cake tins. M
  • Heat the roasting pan on the hob and make sure your oil is very hot. Roll the pots in the oil, covering all sides.
  • Use goose fat. I'm not as fascist about this I once was. I've used cheapy sunflower oil and expensive rape seed with decent results. Personally I think olive oil imparts the wrong flavour.
  • Flavour the oil. Fry up some onion or shallots first and then some thyme. leave the aromatics in. the onion can also be served up. On this occasion I had some chunks of bone marrow so I roasted that too.
  • Roasting is about hot air. Air means S P A C E. Don't crowd your pots in the pan. They will steam not roast.
  • Turn the potatoes half way through the cooking. 
  • Cook for at least an hour. Ignore recipes that pretend you can do it in less. I don't think the temperature matters as much as the time. I tend to go for 90 minutes at 180°C. Much above 200°C and things can char to bitterness. You can always take them out early. Roast pots will reheat without worry. That length of time means the onions will be almost black and your pots will have a savoury bake to them; a scarf of invisible umami (sorry).

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Hazelnut crackers

I was trying to work out a way to pretend this was a festive recipe. I didn't need to try hard. It's a Christmas cracker. Moreover, it's a nutcracker! Yay. Sadly there we wave goodbye to Santa (and to exclamation marks, this isn't Instagram); this has nothing to do with yuletide cheer, but it does work ridiculously well with cheese and beetroot. So... Boxing day buffet?

My current favourite starter. Again, the low light makes food look weird.
I made this because my new favourite winter starter is roasted beetroot served with a cheese mousse, a smoked beetroot gel (recipe coming) and a hazelnut and raspberry salad. It was crying out for some snap. Initially I thought of making elegant long thin things but that's a faff I don't need and I always end up breaking some just before service. Making one huge cracker is at least unusual (apparently not in Spain, a guest informs me) and I like the 'breaking bread' aspect of it as I hand it to a guest on a wooden platter and ask them to pass it round the table.

It's an unleavened affair, so a doddle to make. This would be ideal as a first recipe with a young child. So long as you can roll it fairly flat and get it into an oven it will be edible, probably delicious, and the heterogenous appearance will hide all manner of fluff and 'pickings' that inevitably find their way into the baked goods of the under fives.

The tricky business with nuts is finding the flavour. It sounds counterintuitive but nuts don't taste that nutty. Think of the almond cakes you've eaten - strong almond flavour? Nope. Two ways to address this: toast the nuts, it enhances the nuttiness; and use a nut oil. You can think of this almost as an essence. You do get what you pay for though. Worth splashing out. It will last for months.

Make four or five for a family party or buffet and expect some 'oooh'. These have a high impact to work ratio. They'd probably look great on Instagram, backlit and tied with a taupe bow with some nuts casually spilled on gingham. But sod that.

This recipe also works well with walnuts. Just be sure to find unsalted nuts and a decent walnut oil.

Hazelnut Cracker.
Makes two big ones, enough for 16.

Take 120g of blanched hazelnuts and toast in a 180°C oven for six to eight minutes. You want golden brown. Allow to cool. Set aside 20g of whole nuts. Blitz the remaining 100g in a blender, stick blender or little chopping thing (like I do) until they resemble breadcrumbs. If you can't find blanched use whole nuts but after toasting you'll have to roll them around a fair bit to remove their brown papery skins.

In a bowl, mix with a good pinch of salt (about 2g) and 200g of plain flour. Now add a good glug of hazelnut oil, maybe two tablespoons. OK, most people don't have hazelnut oil so toasted sesame would do at a push but the flavour will be a little... vulgar, so use less. Hazelnut oil is expensive but a larger supermarket will stock it. I buy it online. Don't be tempted to skip the oil, it's probably the most flavour giving element of the mix. It also gives crispness and shine to the finished cracker.

Add enough water to just bring the dough together into loose balls - around 75ml - dribble it in. Be cautious. Any more and the dough will be sticky and a pain to roll out. It should look like this. Scoop the dough together and roll it around a bit with your hands to bring it together into a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Once rested, split the dough into two balls. Each makes one cracker. Roll out the cracker onto lightly floured Silpat or baking paper as thin as you can/dare - about 30 x 20 cm but it doesn't have to be a straight sided oblong; I think the weirder the shape the better. Just remember that too thin and it may fall apart when baked. Now take the 20g of whole nuts you set aside and gently crack them into pleasing chunks. Sprinkle over the dough and press in with your hands. Roll once or twice more. The dough might tear but I like this. Gives a pleasant filigree effect.

Bake for about ten minutes in a 180°C oven, turning once to avoid an overbaked side. All ovens have hot spots. I say about ten minutes. You need to check. You might want a pale bake or a high one. I like to catch it in the middle when the edges look just past golden. Be aware that overbaked nuts are bitter and as unpleasant as a late night Nigel Farage. 

These are great with soft (Tunworth!) - or blue cheese. Forget the Stilton; get yourself a truckle of Mrs Bell's Blue for Christmas. That'll be something.