Monday, 30 April 2012

Quick chicken supreme

My abiding memory of chicken supreme as a child is of the tinned variety - an unappealing glop of unidentifiable bits of poultry slathered in a white sauce akin to a well-known brand of chicken soup. Bland, unattractive and definitely unappetising.

The full-on version, while not necessarily complicated, is time-consuming to make - at the very least it involves making a white sauce from a roux and some versions have you simmering carrots in white wine for an hour to create a stock and then poach the chicken in it.

I'm not convinced it needs to be so difficult, especially when it's a great way to use up leftover chicken. This is ready within 15 minutes, perfect for a quick Sunday supper to eat off your lap in front of the TV. 

What you need: 
1 leftover chicken breast
1 small onion, chopped
2 generously heaped dessertspoons half-fat crème fraiche
Small handful fresh parsley

What to do:
Using a heavy sauteuse, sauté the onion in a little butter over a low to medium heat until it turns translucent and just starts to colour. While it's cooking, skin the chicken breast and cut into bite-sized chunks. Chop the parsley very finely. When the onions are ready, add the chicken and stir through the crème fraiche. Make sure everything is well mixed then add the parsley, season to taste and stir through again. Let it cook for 5 minutes or so until the chicken is fully reheated then plate up!

Cook's tips: 
I find it really helps to take the chicken out of the fridge half an hour beforehand, so it has time to come to room temperature, because it will reheat a lot faster.

For some bizarre reason, chicken supreme is traditionally served on a bed of white rice. To my mind this simply adds to its reputation for blandness. And I associate white food with convalescence, precisely because it's usually bland and thus unlikely to upset the tummy. Here, I simply sautéed some leftover potato from the evening before's roast for the carbs, and steamed some green beans to go on the side. You could team the supreme with fried wedges of polenta or some sweet potato mash.

Seasoning is critical for chicken supreme. Starting with a decent chicken helps (my butcher sold me a a very tasty small corn-fed bird at the weekend). But packing flavour into the sauce is what makes it. Plenty of black pepper, plus salt to taste and then whatever grabs you - substitute tarragon or dill for the parsley, sauté some garlic in with the onion, finish it with a tiny squeeze of fresh lemon juice...

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Warm sugar-snap pea salad with pan-fried coley

What a relief that the hungry gap is well and truly behind us - my local market has more and more different fruits and veg appearing on the stalls every week, which is good as I feel like I spent most of March surviving on carrots, cabbage and potatoes, relieved only by bags of salad and packs of imported beans to get some much-needed variety onto my plate. Not all UK produce has been picked outside yet, but I was happy to find sugar-snap peas that had been grown under glass - tiny little pods, with the peas barely formed inside and deliciously sweet.

Sugar-snaps are a great ingredient for a warm salad. This one goes particularly well with fish. I've stopped buying cod because of the low stocks but coley is a really good alternative.

It's really important to get everything ready first because the fish and the vegetables will both quickly and be ready at the same time.

What you need: 
Coley fillet
Handful sugar-snap peas
Handful green beans
Small handful of rocket
1 and 1/2 tbsp walnut oil
1/2 tbsp raspberry vinegar
A little flour

What to do:
Make the salad dressing by whisking the walnut oil and raspberry vinegar together with a little salt and pepper. Tip some flour on a plate or chopping board and coat the fish with it. 

Top and tail the sugar-snaps and green beans. Bring them to the boil and cook for about 4-5 minutes until they are al dente. Drain, pop back in the pan to keep warn while the fish finishes cooking, stir through the rocket and dress.

While the peas and beans are cooking melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the coley fillet over a medium to high heat - it'll need about 3-4 minutes on each side, depending on thickness.

Cook's tips:
You can find walnut oil in most decent supermarkets. It's a bit pricey (a 250ml bottle costs around £2) but its strong flavour means you don't need much so it should last a while. If you don't have walnut oil use olive oil instead but the raspberry vinegar is essential as the fruity tones match the sweetness of the peas.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Larder larks no. 1

A combination of a foot fracture, a trip away for a dear departed friend's wake and a mountain of work - all in the past fortnight - have meant I've been surviving on a combination of dining out, ordering in takeaways and flinging together the quickest of quick meals in my tiny kitchen so as not to stand on my poor foot too long. Cooking's not very easy, anyway, when your dominant hand is more occupied with a walking stick...

However, I've not stopped thinking about food. Both the things I like to cook and eat and also the things I buy and store. The latter, particularly, have been on mind after I volunteered to take part in a food photography project.

I stumbled across @storecupboards some weeks ago on Twitter and was intrigued - this blog is a delicious combination of the owner's own culinary adventures and his nosiness. In short, he likes snooping in people's larders to see what they eat. I couldn't resist the challenge and promptly trotted off to photograph my own cupboards.

What's in my larder, then?

Lots, it would appear. Possibly too much. I must admit that listing almost everything I keep in my kitchen cupboards and fridge (but not the freezer) quite shocked me. It shocked others too - I had a lot of feedback on Twitter, mainly along the lines of "why do you have so much food? What are you going to do with it all?" In fairness, a lot of it is just ingredients - things you can cook with but not necessarily eat on their own. Plus, I'm a bit of an apocalypse hoarder - one of my parents grew up with wartime rationing and couldn't bear an empty pantry. That's clearly been passed on to me! Also, because I have a disability I have days when I'm simply too ill to cook, which is what the emergency soup tins are for. (And the fridge was over-crammed as I'd just done a shop.)

But it got me thinking and I resolved to use up much more of my larder contents. I've made a start on that already, finishing up two almost-empty jars of chutney and a packet or two of noodles.

I also decided I should write about some of the more exotic ingredients I've picked up on my travels. So here are a couple, in the first of an occasional series.

The pomegranate molasses came from a trip to Turkey a few years ago, when it was almost impossible to find outside London - I mainly use it to coat meat before roasting, but it also finds its way into dressings and dips occasionally. That's a half-litre bottle, by the way - a little goes a long way and I still have half a bottle left.

I found the citron confit on a shelf in a Parisian supermarket - oddly, because I'd never seen it during all the years I lived there. It's a thick paste made up of about 50% lemons and 25% ginger, the rest being oil, alcohol and salt, and it has a pleasingly sour and fiery taste. I use it to flavour chicken and fish or add to tagines. I love cooking with lemons - I get through several fresh ones a week, plus the north African preserved variety. When this jar (alas, almost empty now) is finished, I'm going to figure out how to make my own. Unless I can get back to Paris again soon, obviously.

The herb mix came from a shop in Bardolino, on the shore of Italy's Lake Garda. I forget all the ingredients as it came in a huge bag with a tag on it and had been made by a local producer. It contains parsley and chilli, and I think marjoram, and one other herb. I use it as intended - for stirring through pasta, with nothing else but olive oil to dress it.

Keen to discover more interesting things to eat, I signed up a couple of months ago to Larder Box, which for a modest fee posts a box of interesting British artisan foods to you every month. April's box (in the photo) contained a bottle of pontack, which I'd never heard of but is a deep, slightly spicy and quite sharp sort of vinegar made from elderberries. I've used it a fair bit already, mainly to marinate sticky ribs, and when it's gone I'll definitely be buying more. (The smoked cheese was consumed fairly quickly (!) with the chutney, the chipotle chillies are earning their keep and the parkin, incredibly, is almost untouched - stashed in a cake tin on top of the cupboards, for those days when only cake will do.) I'm now eagerly awaiting the next box, which promises to contain smoked sea salt and banana ketchup. See, I'm hooked already...

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Chorizo meatballs with roasted tomatoes and wild rice

What's not to like about meatballs? They are so versatile - they go brilliantly with pasta and sauce, are delicious with mash and gravy and add meaty goodness to a soup. If you make your own you can use whatever you like in them - beef, lamb and pork, even chicken (delicious in Asian soups or noodle-based dishes). They are also very easy to make, but because of the quantities you need it's hard to make a tiny batch - better to just go with the flow and freeze the excess for another day.

This makes enough for 12 meatballs - 2 portions.

What you need: 
250g minced pork
About 30g chorizo sausage, finely diced
Fresh breadcrumbs
5 cloves of garlic
1/4tsp each of smoked paprika, cumin, chilli powder (chipotle)
Tomato purée
A pinch of dried oregano
1 tsp each fresh chopped parsley, coriander
Pinch of salt
About 50g wild rice
Cherry tomatoes

What to do:
Put the pork mince in a mixing bowl and add the salt, chorizo, 1 clove of very finely crushed garlic, spices and herbs plus about a tablespoon of tomato purée. Mix everything well together then add enough fresh breadcrumbs to bind everything together. Shape into 12 small meatballs and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Bring a pan of unsalted water to the boil and add the wild rice. Once the water returns to the boil, turn it down to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes.

Put the tomatoes into an ovenproof dish with 4 unpeeled cloves of garlic. Drizzle well with olive and season with sea salt and a little freshly ground black pepper. Bake in the oven at 200C for 30 minutes.

To cook the meatballs, heat some oil in a heavy frying pan or sauteuse and fry gently for around 10-12 minutes, turning regularly so they brown all over. Alternatively you can put them on a baking tray or in a shallow roasting tin and bake them for about 25 minutes in the oven (180C), turning them once.

Put the meatballs and tomatoes on a bed of rice and  drizzle over the juices from the dish you cooked the tomatoes in.

Cook's tips:
Add the breadcrumbs gradually - too much too soon and the mixture will be too dry and won't form meatballs properly. If this happens, add a little cold water to the mix.

To freeze the spare meatballs, put them on a plate or small tray first so they don't stick together. When they have frozen pop them into a freezer bag. Defrost overnight in the fridge.

The meatballs go well with rice and some seasonal veg. Alternatively, heat them through in some tomato sauce and serve on a bed of tagliatelle.

Wild rice isn't actually a rice but wild grass seeds. It needs a lot of cooking, like brown rice, and has a deep nutty taste. You should be able to find it in most supermarkets as well as specialist shops.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Steak and chips for one

There's something about steak that frightens people a lot about cooking it at home. It's actually not that hard to get it right with only a little practice, but I'd bet many people are scared of potentially ruining what could be quite an expensive slab of meat and instead settle for enjoying it in a restaurant instead. 

In the absence of doing a roast for several people, or making a nifty substitute, a piece of quality of steak for your Sunday supper, with homemade chips, is a lovely treat. I think it's well worth handing a fiver over for it once in a while, and that's certainly cheaper than on a restaurant menu. You don't have to buy organic but it's a good idea to buy the best you can afford. Instead of chips, I make wedges as I don't have a deep fryer but you could always resort to frozen oven chips if you're feeling very lazy (as I do sometimes).

What you need: 
Potatoes - as many as you need for your hunger
Olive or vegetable oil

What to do: 
Make the wedges first. Heat the oven to 200C. Cut the unpeeled potatoes into wedges and put in a bowl. Pour in a glug of oil - enough to coat them liberally - and toss them well. Season with a little salt and pepper and spread them out in a roasting tin. Bake for about 35 minutes, turning them halfway through, until they are golden and crispy.

As soon as the potatoes are in the oven, take the steak out of the fridge and put it on a plate. Rub it with olive oil and set aside so it can come to room temperature. 10 minutes before the potatoes are ready, heat a ridged cast iron griddle pan on the hob. Get it as hot as you can - you should be able to feel the heat with your hand at least 6 inches above it. Put the steak on and grill it for 2-3 minutes. Turn it with a pair of tongs - the meat should lift up easily. If it doesn't it still needs sealing so give it another 30 seconds or so. Grill for another 2-3 minutes on the other side. Take the pan off the heat and let the steak rest for a couple of minutes before dishing up.

Cook's tips: 
How to tell when your steak is ready - after the steak has had 2 minutes on the other side, press your fingers onto the meat. A rare, bloody steak will feel very soft. For medium rare, the flesh should spring back up quickly. If the meat is well done, it will feel almost rigid. There's no hard and fast rule, as much depends on the cut of meat and its thickness. This is why the finger test matters - giving the steak a prod is more reliable than using a timer. (My 2-3 minutes a side above is about right for a piece about 2cm thick (a little less than inch) with some fat on the meat if you like it medium rare, as I do.)

Choosing a cut is down to preference. Rib eye, rump and sirloin all have fat on them, which adds plenty of flavour and stops the meat drying out. Fillet steak, the most tender cut, has no fat so oiling it in advance is even more essential.

When to season - I prefer not to season my steak until it's on the plate with the chips. If you're going to season it raw, do it just before you slap it on the griddle. Any sooner and the salt will draw all the juice out of the meat, leaving you with a piece of tough shoe leather for dinner.

On the side, I'll either make a mixed leaf salad with tomatoes or cook some seasonal vegetables. To accompany the steak I like a good dollop of horseradish sauce or a little Dijon mustard.