Sunday, August 29, 2010

My Perfect Roast Chicken

What is the perfect method to roast a perfect chicken?

Every once in awhile (ok, often) I like to pull out a bunch of recipe books and see how everyone handles a simple ingredient or process. I love the maxims that contradict, the "way my mother taught me"s, the traditions, the Way Things Ares,  the certainty that though there may be other ways, theirs is truly the best, most authentic, the most PERFECT way. On a cool Sunday I pulled out Nigella Lawson, Nigel Slater, Jamie Oliver, I know how to cook, Silver Spoon, Joy of Cooking and Les Halles, looking for inspiration for my roast chicken.

I mean, I know how to roast a chicken. Clearly. I love the simplicity of a roast chicken. It seems like it should be a lot of work, it's impressive on some level. But really you just massage it with some fat, season it with some tasty stuff and toss it in the oven until it's not pink. Hardly rocket science.

But the Les Halles book by Anthony Bourdain was a bit more involved and I decided to (mostly) follow his instructions. Herb butter massaged in underneath the skin, herbs and lemon tucked up inside. The way he cooks his chicken though is my new favourite way to cook my chicken.

The oven gets pre heated to 375F/190C and you place the chicken inside the oven with a half cup of white wine in the pan. Baste occasionally and move the chicken about in the oven. Then you CRANK the oven up to 450F/230F and cook for another 25 minutes.

Leave it to rest and then carve up. It was the juiciest, most fragrant roast chicken, with the crispiest best skin I have ever made. And I don't usually like the skin. So this will be my new go to method for roasting a chicken until my next bout of curiosity leads me to something new.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cream Corn of Love

Cream corn was one of my favourite foods growing up. I even remember my grandmother made her own and canned it. It is still an integral part of one of my all time favourite home comfy meals, which only really works when cooked by my mom. I love it. But I haven't eaten it in a really long time (at my house – I had it in June at my parents). Does it even exist in London? Have I grown out of it on some visceral level? When was the last time I ate it?

So tonight to accompany my new favourite roasted chicken, I made a recipe from Ottolenghi's Plenty – sweetcorn polenta with aubergine sauce. And, dear Reader, the memory, all the goodness, of cream corn, came flooding back to me. A taste. A memory. So incredibly evocative. It made a really big impact on me. I can't remember the last time I had such a strong food memory come and give me a hug and a kick at the same time.

It's not the same as canned or my Grandmother's, obviously. This one uses 6 cobs of fresh corn and 200g of feta cheese. But the sensation of being little, loved and loving cream corn? That was the same.

Sustainable Fish

How sustainable was your last meal of fish? If you don't know or didn't catch it yourself, chances are it wasn't. If you had salmon, tuna or shrimp recently (and who hasn't?) then you're probably guilty of plundering the seas for your own selfish appetite. I hope it was worthwhile and delicious. Please say you didn't overcook the salmon. That'd be disgraceful.

Here's a list of at-risk fish. This list tells you what to eat instead. Check it out and think about it next time you choose fish.

You know which fish isn't on the list? Grey mullet. We had that for dinner on Saturday night. Caught in the most sustainable way possible. A friend of our fishmonger's caught it. He went free diving and speared it. She showed us the spot on the fish's cheek. Yes, my Saturday night dinner was speared.

I love it. How caveman.

Anyways! It was delicious. I'm loving trying new fish that are guilt free.

I did the fish really simply, just pan fried with a bit of flour and paprika to dust it. I stole the accompanying salad from The Compass.

Fried Fish on Chorizo, Green Bean and Olive Salad

A big handful of green beans, tailed, blanched and refreshed
Two chorizos, sliced and fried to develop a lovely crust
Handful of left over roasted potatoes, warmed up with the chorizo
Small handful of pitted black olives

Toss together in the pan so all the ingredients are warmed through with chorizo oil and serve with your friend fish.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Best Tofu

Have I mentioned my deep, deep love of all things Ottolenghi? Oh. I have. Here's more gushing...

Last night I made the most delicious, spiciest and awesomest tofu we have ever eaten at home. Possibly eaten anywhere.

I'm not a huge tofu fan. Without adequate love and care it mostly tastes of slime, gray and nothing. Not appetising. And I know plenty of people who think it's gross, end point. If that's your starting point I dare you to make Ottolenghi's Black Pepper Tofu. It's so damn delicious. The tofu, dusted with corn flour and fried so it developes a lovely crust and great texture, then the sauce it gets coated in is a silly savory dream of flavour, with killer spice, chili and, you guessed it, black pepper. So so so delicious.

Yotam's recipe is on the Guardian website. You can start there, or you can work from my changes. Mine was killer hot. If you follow Yotam's it might be assasination in the dead of night hot. Just saying...

Black Pepper Tofu

Prep and Sauce

80g butter (this is half what Yotam uses but was fine, I rarely shy away from excessive amounts of butter but come on- you always realise how MUCH butter you actually use when you weigh, plus I needed some for cookies)
12 small shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
12 garlic cloves, crushed
3 red chillies, thinly sliced (Yotam called for 8 mild ones. How do you check how hot they are? Take a bite? I opted for less, just to be safe. Turns out that was wise. Eight of these babies and it would have been inedible.)
About two inches of ginger, chopped into tiny pieces

Melt the butter in your saute pan and add the flavours. Let them melt into each other until nice and soft, about 15 minutes.


Tofu Prep

600g firm, fresh tofu - because that's the size it came in
Cornflour for dusting, and playing with water in afterwards
Vegetable oil, for frying

Cut your tofu into small blocks and dust with cornflour, shaking off any excess. Heat up the oil, not too much, and fry your tofu into cubes of golden, crusty deliciousness. You'll probably need to do this in batches. This is dangerous and involves much spitting hot oil. Set aside to drain and continue on with your sauce.

Finishing the sauce

3 tbsp sweet soy sauce (called kecap manis, it's sometimes referred to as Indonesian ketchup. It was a bit tough to find, if you can't get it you could substitute soy sauce with some molasses or palm sugar in it...)
3 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tsp light soy sauce (yes there are two entries for light soy sauce. This one was supposed to be dark soy sauce but I got confused and bought another giant bottle of light soy sauce instead of dark. Oops. Anybody need to borrow some soy sauce?)

Let the soy sauce dissolve into the garlic and butter- it should get silky and shiny looking.

Now. Add your coarsely crushed peppercorns. Yotam called for FIVE tablespoons. I used three. Again, killer hot.

Once the sauce is combined add your crusty tofu and let it warm up and get enveloped in the shiny sauce. Add a bunch of green/spring onions, thinly sliced and serve with copious amounts of rice, to balance the heat.

Friday, August 06, 2010

T is for Tart Failure

For a Fail Tart, it's quite pretty.
Was it me? I'm not sure. I'm not sure what's worse – me screwing up the recipe or the recipe being crap. Either way. Failure.

There are a few recipe book authors who I trust implicitly. I have made enough of their recipes to trust that unless something goes drastically wrong (like the time I mixed up the baking powder and baking soda in the pancakes when I was seven – sorry dad, thanks for eating them anyways) the end result will likely be scrumptious and dependable.

So I am pretty disappointed with the tart I made last weekend. Not only did I actually follow the recipe to the letter, I also bought a bunch of ingredients especially for it, and it was sort of a kind of pricey endeavour. And it wasn't very good. It was slightly bitter. It didn't set properly. Yuck.

So I won't give you the recipe. Nor will I tell you where I got it from or who wrote it. It's their only spill up so far – I'll let the author get by scott free just this once.

However! The pasty bit of it was lovely-  a bit of texture with the addition of polenta and some parmesan- and I had a bit left over so tonight I pulled it out of the freezer and made a fridge tart. And it was delicious and lovely and well set and much better than the fancy one I tried last week. So there.

Fridge Tart

Two leeks, chopped and softened in butter
Two cloves of roasted garlic
A half a pot of creme fraiche (about a quarter cup?)
Four sundried tomatoes, chopped
A quarter of a round of sheep's cheese, chopped
A pinch of chili

Left  over pastry gets rolled out into a vaguely round shape. The fridge bits get mixed together, taste and season, then plopped in the middle, bring the sides up and bake until nicely browned.

Tada! MUCH better than the flouncy fussy one from last week. So there.