An unexpected success

The dish started out as a bit of an experiment in cooking using a method of cooking that is used in many restaurant kitchens. This technique is known as sous- vide (French for under vacuum) and involves two basic operations. Firstly, the ingredient/s are placed in a plastic bag, then the air is removed using a device called a vacuum sealer. Once the air is removed the device heat-seals the bag.

The second operation is to place the bag into a preheated water bath. This water bath is no ordinary piece of kitchen equipment. The water is heated and held to a precise temperature and does not vary outside of +/- 0.1 (or less in some cases). Ingredients are cooked at a much lower temperature (usually between 56.5 to 70°C) like this for many hours, even days. The fact that the water bath only reaches the set temperature means it is impossible to overcook the food. As the temperatures are lower than cooking in an oven or grill, the cells that make up the food do not burst thus retaining moisture and flavour. Tough connective tissue (collagen) within meat is broken down and converted to gelatin making even the toughest meat meltingly tender.

sousvide

Now to the main ingredient for my dish……lamb hearts!! Yuck you may say but this underrated piece of meat has an amazing flavour and texture which is exploited when cooked using the sous-vide technique.

First I trimmed the heart of any unwanted tissue. Then I made a marinade of chili powder, cumin, coriander and a glug of rapeseed oil and massaged it into the meat. Sealed in food quality bags and under vacuum the hearts were then placed into the water bath at 60 °C. for 24 hours.

After the lamb had been cooked I realised I had no idea how it was going to taste. I opened the bag, reserving any liquor, and sliced the meat revealing a light pinkish interior, and a texture that reminds me of duck. The taste was sublime! Smooth tender slithers of sweetness and an almost creamy texture.

lambheart

I started the dish with a simple sauce of onion, garlic and finely diced chili sweated in some butter until soft. Then I added the liquid from the bags that the hearts were cooked in. I reduced this down by about half and then added some double cream and a  tsp of smoked paprika. The final dish is, in essence, based on the Hungarian parikash.

The hearts (yes I ate two!) were sliced lengthwise and warmed through in the sauce and served with some buttered cous cous. A very cheap and easy to cook dish that is now one of my favorites.

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Fabulous food made easy!!

The other day I spent the day with my granddaughter, Josie-May, who just like my other grand children love to help me in the kitchen. The joy that I get as a grandparent showing them where their food comes from and how it is prepared and cooked is immeasurable. I can put up with the ‘yeuk’s when I butcher a whole chicken, but that soon changes when I show them what real chicken nuggets look and taste like! They also know where chips come from after they have seen the potatoes that we grew in our garden. Our children must be shown where their food comes from, how it’s prepared and how to enjoy it. They don’t have to be taught what vitamins or what type of trans-fat are in it (That is our job as parents!). Teaching them to enjoy cooking and eating good quality food also is not expensive.(Hint: Look out for bargains such as close use by dates (I once managed to get a shoulder of lamb for 90p!)).

Back to what Josie-May and myself had to eat that day. I managed to find, in a shop whose name sounds like “little”,some  ‘bacalhau’. This comes from Iberia in the main and is cod that is preserved by salt and/or air drying. This intensifies the flavour when the salt-cod is re-hydrated in water or milk. So we  had  ‘Bolinhos de Bacalhau  à portuguesa’ (fried fish balls was the translation I got!!). A super easy dish to make! You can try this with some naturally smoked haddock

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Bacalhau at a market

Bolinhos de Bacalhau à Portuguesa

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  • 500g Salt cod (Rehydrated in milk or water)
  • 750g Mashed potato
  • 4 Eggs
  • 2 Cloves of garlic (diced)
  • Finely diced onion
  • Chopped parsley
  • Cup of white wine
  • Salt and pepper

Heat a deep fat fryer to 170℃

In a bowl put the mashed potato and add the eggs on by one, mixing each in until a dough like texture is achieved.

Then add the onion, garlic and chopped parsley mixing well.

Shred the cod and add to the bowl combining well, if it is a little dry add a sprinkling of wine  and check and adjust the seasoning.The texture should be of a light dough.

With two dessert spoons form some of the mixture into quenelles (egg shape) and drop this carefully into the oil continue with more of the mix but don’t overcrowd the fryer. Cook, turning occasionally, until they are crisp and brown in colour. Drain on kitchen roll and serve with a a few salad leaves and a dipping sauce of your choice.

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Tonka Beans!!!??

The word tonka immediately brings back memories of my childhood playing with indestructible toy trucks in a muddy puddle. Zoom forwards a few decades and the tonka bean is truly making its mark in the culinary world. Firstly used in perfumery and, strangely enough, the tobacco industry.Also used in French haute cuisine .It is, however,heavily regulated in it use in the US of A (more of that later)

tonka beans .

Just what the hell is it?  A simple looking bean to start with, not the most attractive looking thing however. A wrinkled exterior and about an inch long with a slightly soft center. The simple presentation of the bean belies its potency, an amazingly complex mix of flavours which are all identifiable. Vanilla, a floral hint of magnolia, a feeling of freshly ground cloves and a woody notes of which I am led to believe is being sandalwood. It was originally used in tobacco and also for perfume.

 

Where is it from?  Venezuela and Nigeria are the main areas of cultivation as a crop. It is found throughout north-west South America. It is an important crop for the rural communities by way of financial reward.

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How to use it? The bean is grated to create a flavour packed powder. Its use is now like any other ground spice. Added to crème Anglaise takes it to a different level. Mix with cocoa powder and roll chocolate ganache for mind blowing truffles. Mix with mayonnaise and eat with charcuterie. As with a vanilla pod it produces a wonderfully flavoured castor sugar, just pop a bean into a jar of the sugar.

 

The USA has imposed regulations on the use of the tonka bean due to a derivative of a chemical found in the bean is used as an anticoagulant . The bean itself is not an anticoagulant.

Try it you will love it!!

Gas, electric or induction hobs

chefscook

When it comes to cooking choosing the right hob can be confusing but here I put my views on the four types available. Hope you find this useful!

Ceramic hobs. Ceramic hobs use electricity and have a smooth surface which makes them easy to clean. They heat up quickly but when you turn the hob down the heat is retained on the hob. So if, for instance the pan starts to boil over it is necessary to remove the pan from the hob, which can be dangerous.

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 Induction hobs Induction hobs are the relatively new kids on the block. I first came across induction hob when I took over a newly refurbished pub/restaurant that had a newly fitted kitchen that used induction units throughout. They are quite magical when you first use them as they create a magnetic field between the induction element in the hob and the pan. This means that only the pan heats up, rather than the cooking surface. Induction hobs are quicker to heat up than other types of hob but also do not retain any heat so are incredibly controllable. They are cheaper to run because they use only the precise amount of energy you need. You will need to check that your pots and pans work on an induction hob (if you have a magnet and it sticks to the pan it will work! If you are unsure about investing for a complete built in hob you can pick up an individual single pot unit for about £30. I personally have 2 induction hobs and a four burner gas hob which works well when there is just the two of us or even better when all the grand kids turn up!

 Electric plate hobs. Electric plate hobs use a metal plate which heats up using an electric element to heat pots and pans. Most come with only four ‘rings’. These are the cheapest to purchase but not to run. They retain heat long after it is turned off so I believe they are quite a hazard. (They don’t look that nice either!)mMbnK3QATFwkId-EhpE0Ptw

 Gas hobs Gas hobs are easy to control and give instant heat. The flame allows the heat to spread across the base of a pan. One you turn down the flame the heat reduces proportionately in the pan. The most common form in professional kitchens, though induction hobs are becoming more and more popular.

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