Sunday food links – 22 May 2016

I’ve had a lot of support this week. With my co-parent working away all week, my Mum and Dad helped out a lot, so I didn’t have to worry about dinner most nights this week – such a luxury! And for the other days, the leftovers came in very handy (as did the brownies made last weekend).

This week is also a busy one, and calls for more simple cooking. I’m going to try Yotam Ottolenghi’s butterbean stew from last weekend’s papers, but with beef shin instead of oxtail. I have chicken stock from last night’s roast chicken to make into risotto. And there are still quite a few leftovers too.

I ordered a copy of The Food Lab this week too, planning it as holiday reading (!) but I think it might be a bit too big to take away! It’s a doorstep-like tome covering every sort of food science question and experiment. But unlike other examples of this approach, Kenji Lopez-Alt, from the website Serious Eats, focuses on showing you the outcomes of his personal kitchen experiments, and only talks about the science when it’s a route to a better version of a dish you want to eat. This makes it very practical, whilst illuminating lots of kitchen puzzles. I’ve already learned about pre-salting eggs for scrambling (it makes them more tender), and using vinegar to keep boiled potatoes together, and the importance of properly emulsifying your vinaigrette to stop the salad from wilting. I’m looking forward to getting into some of the chapters in more detail soon.

Recipes:

Pretty much nothing cooked to a recipe this week, with Mum providing meals Sunday – Thursday.

Without a recipe:

  • Pasta bolognese
  • Roast chicken with garlic and thyme, roast potatoes
  • Salad with carrots, kohlrabi and croutons, and a yoghurt-mayonnaise-lemon dressing.
  • Slow-cooker chicken stock

Reading:

Not much spare time for reading this week (though I did managed to watch some David Attenborough and Mary Beard on TV).

Friday food links – 8 Jan 2016

Sunset, Boston Manor

This week has felt like proper winter for the first time this season – actual frost on the roofs some mornings, a chilly wind that forced me to do up my coat for just about the first time this year. Sunshine, and showers, and clouds so dark and grey there might have been an eclipse, and evening sun setting into a perfect blue sky, with a whisp of a crescent moon. I’ve been pointing the moon out to E some evenings when we come home from nursery in the dark, and now she sometimes demands to see it – a tricky request to fulfill when it is new and hardly there.

A week into the New Year, and I feel like it’s going, tentatively, fairly well. I have stuck to my resolution and written at least 750 words every day. (Many of those words are nonsense, and certainly not publishable, but that’s not the point). I have been reading Bee Wilson’s wonderful ‘First Bite’ when I get a moment, and think it’s an excellent book, carefully researched and well written. And there has just about been enough time for work, for play, for writing, for laughing, and for cooking. A good week.

Recipes:

Without a recipe:

  • Lasagne, using the last of the rib of beef ragu
  • Roast chicken, with roasted vegetables and broccoli
  • Chicken pie
  • Fish cakes/fish fingers and crinkle-cut chips
  • Fish curry with potatoes and peas
  • Slow-cooker chicken stock (that went into the chicken pie, the soup and some I’ve kept back to cook with beef shin this weekend).

Reading:

Stock that’s clear

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It’s very seldom that you achieve the platonic ideal of stock. There is an idea of a clear, golden liquid that conveys many layered savoury depths, and brings a touch of magic wherever you use it,

Reams of cookery writers have written hymns to the power of stock. Anyone trained in the traditions of French cooking, from Joel Robuchon to Michael Ruhlman, will have learnt all about stock as the absolute foundation of French cuisine, the essential component of all meat cookery at least. But even home cooks like Nigella Lawson are converts to this idea.

I fall somewhere in between. I hate food waste, so the idea of extracting every last drop of flavour and nourishment from a chicken carcass really appeals to me. I follow Nigella’s suggestion of freezing chicken bones, and when I have two or three chickens worth, I put them all in a large pot of cold water, bring it to the boil, simmer for about an hour and a half, then add chopped onions, carrots, a stick or two of celery, a few peppercorns and bits of thyme and parsley if I have them around, and simmer for a further hour.

What this produces is fairly flavourful and good for soups and risottos. But it’s not what you think of as beautiful stock – the clear, golden liquid you might see in a consomme or tortellini in brodo.

I know that you should keep stock bubbling very slowly, but the importance of how slow this should be didn’t really sink in until I made ham stock for Heston’s pea and ham soup, using the recipe in Heston Blumenthal at Home. The recipe suggests that you cover the ham with water, add onions, carrots and leeks, bring to a simmer, then place in an 85C oven for 5 hours. This very slow, long cooking produces a liquid that stays well below boiling for the entire duration but still extracts deep flavours.

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When I took the ham out of the oven after this 5 hour stint, the liquid was so clear I could see all the way to the bottom of the pot. It helped that, to ensure the gammon wasn’t too salty, I had brought it to the boil, poured the water away, and then cover it with fresh water to make the stock. This helped remove the scum and bits of floating protein that will always accumulate when you boil raw meat.

A few days later, I rescued the bones from two especially fat pheasants we ate pot-roasted for New Year’s Eve from the freezer, and made stock from them. After the ham experience, I took the lid off, and after bringing it to the boil, kept the heat as low as possible. You can see the cooking in the (rather noisy) video below. It was barely possible to see a single bubble over the course of a minute. The reward for this was a beautiful, clear golden stock. I think this calls for a risotto.

Using stock

To really show off your stock, make risotto – this really captures the flavour you’ve painstakingly brought in. It also makes great soups (although water will almost always do, especially for vegetable soups), provides liquid for curries, gravy, bolognese sauces. If you’re going to make stock regularly (and if you eat roast chicken, it’s not difficult), don’t be precious about it. Use it whenever you see the opportunity. It’s silly to wait for a perfect risotto to use your stock, when you could use it to improve things, even just a little, throughout the week.

Making good stock

  • You don’t need the very best ingredients, but neither should you use only compost materials. Make sure the vegetables are clean, and that most of the skin and fat have been removed from the bones.
  • Stock is all about long and slow. Doing this in the oven is easier, but requires you to have an ovenproof pot with a lid big enough to make this work. Chicken bones want at least two hours, preferably three.
  • Either keep the vegetables in large pieces, and add them at the start, or chop them into chunks and add to the pot with an hour to go.
  • Strain through a fine sieve, or layer of damp cheesecloth to remove any particles. This also means you can add herbs and peppercorns straight to the pot without tieing them into a bundle.
  • Don’t season your stock. You might want to reduce it, so only add salt when you use the stock, not when you make it.
  • Reducing the stock will concentrate the flavour and make it easier to store. After you have strained it, pour back into a clean pot and boil fast to drive off water.
  • Stock freezes really well – it’s the best way to store it. Use either strong freezer bags, or rigid takeaway soup containers. With freezer bags, you can easily get small holes once the bag is frozen, so be sure to defrost it in a container, in case the bag leaks.