12 November 2012

63 Degrees of Separation

Like Helen over at Food Stories, I too have become a little obsessed with the Sous Vide Supreme. It is, probably, an extravagance for most home cooks and, as some argued good-naturedly with me on Twitter, the Saltmarsh lamb shoulder I cooked last week would have tasted good whatever I'd done to it. 

They have a point but lamb shoulder is one of my fallback dishes, one of those Sunday lunch / dinner party favourites that will always work, so being able to play around with it was a good indicator of what this bit of kit can do. And what it can do is turn something that's already good into something that's borderline spectacular.

I'd typically stab the shoulder a little and stuff the holes with bits of garlic, sprigs of rosemary and, if I can face it / I'm not prepping it at 7am because of the long cooking time, bits of anchovy. It then goes in the oven, in a big dish, under foil, for about five, six hours at around 80 degrees or as close to it as you can get with our oven. This typically ends up with meat that slides off the bone - or possibly a bone that slides out of the meat - and that flops onto the plate in deliciously wanton style. 

The two main downsides - if they can be called downsides - are how hot the kitchen gets with the oven on for hours, even at a low temperature, and the vagaries of the temperature. You also have to wonder just how much power is used churning out that heat in that manner. The sous vide, on the other hand, just sits on the counter bubbling away at a very specific temperature (and, one assumes, using less power in the process). 

The sous vide also means that I get to play with the vacuum sealer which is brilliant fun. The temptation to vacuum seal everything you own in plastic is pretty great but I've (mostly) resisted so far, only reaching for the plastic bags when there's food to prepare. 

For the saltmarsh lamb, the prep involved a little stabbing, a lot of black garlic (slightly obsessed with the stuff), some rosemary from the allotment and a handful of tempranillo salt I picked up at Le Domaine the other week. This was sealed and placed in the water bath at 63 degrees, a slightly random temperature I picked from a couple of online recipes but mostly because I could. It was left in the water bath while I slipped off to Amsterdam for dinner (more on that in due course) and finally came out about 30 hours later, hitting the plate alongside some homegrown potatoes and cabbage, and a little steamed broccoli. Tender doesn't quite cover it, but beyond the texture, it was the flavour that really impressed. Saltmarsh lamb is good anyway, as the Twitterati argued, but this was sweet, rich and - really patting myself on the back with this one - as lamby as the lamb my grandmother used to serve. The remains also made a cracking shepherd's pie which has seen us through the week. 

There's a final run of travelling coming up so not much cooking for the next week or so but, come December, my focus is going to shift to one major project (more on that in due course as well) and a whole lot of cooking. One suspects the sous vide is going to get a bit of a hammering...  

9 November 2012

Green Credentials

There is nothing like planning. And this was nothing like well yeah you get the point. The final bit of recipe "testing" for San Daniele Prosciutto and Grana Padano Cheese (and - sob - the end of the stock of both I had in the fridge) is yet another Giancarlo Caldesi special. And once again, those best laid plans of mice, men and mine gang aft agley although agley is when you usually earn your chops in the kitchen and when you discover cunning alternatives. And hey, recipes are just guidelines, right? They're not set in stone... 

This particular recipe is for Foglie di verza ripiene con prosciutto di San Daniele e formaggio Grana Padano. Or, put another way, braised savoy cabbage leaves stuffed with exactly what you'd expect them to be stuffed with in this instance. We haven't grown Savoys this year so, in  a burst of organisation, I bought one specifically for this recipe... and promptly forgot about for three or four days. When I came to make this, the cabbage was a little whiffy and going brown in places that cabbages shouldn't go brown. After swearing to myself - and at myself for abject idiocy - I decided to make the stuffing anyway, refrigerate it and then I'd get a cabbage the following day and we'd be back on track. 

During that next 24 hours, I spotted a small flaw in this particular bit of recipe exploration. Well, not the recipe per se, more the fact that, actually, thinking about it, I'm not exactly the world's biggest Savoy cabbage fan. While I'm sure it's delicious - I don't think I've ever followed a Caldesi recipe without at least very decent results - I wouldn't be the best judge. That's why, with a bowlful of great stuffing chilling down, I needed to find another suitable vessel. In the spirit of domestic clearance - and following a highly and surprisingly successful crop from the allotment -  I went with another vegetable: the green pepper. 

Er, yeah, I know. Not exactly a close relative of the Savoy cabbage or, indeed, any of the brassicas as a whole. But: a) we had lots of them; b) they're not exactly unknown in the realms of Italian cooking; and c) they taste a whole lot better than Savoy cabbage. While green peppers can often have a slight bitterness, the homegrown ones have been deliciously sweet. They're also quite sturdy vessels when it comes to stuffing. 

Anyway, here's the official recipe from Mr Caldesi which serves four people... 

1 savoy cabbage (or other suitable stuffing holding vegetable)

400g tomato sauce (see recipe below)

For the stuffing
250g ricotta
50g Grana Padano Cheese, finely grated
100g Prosciutto di San Daniele 
Half a teaspoon of nutmeg
1 egg
Salt and pepper

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.  Cut the base off the cabbage and carefully separate the leaves discarding the first three tough dark green ones.  Drop in around ten leaves and boil for around five minutes until softened in the middle part of the stem.  Remove the leaves with tongs and put into iced water to stop the cooking.  This will help to keep the bright green colour too.  After a couple of minutes remove from the water and lay to drip-dry onto a tea towel. 

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Meanwhile mix the Prosciutto di San Daniele and other ingredients together for the stuffing. Cut a triangle out of the bottom of each cabbage leaf and make little slits with a sharp knife along the thickest part of the backbone of each leaf.  Put a tablespoonful of stuffing in each leaf and start by folding in the outside leaves in and then fold over the stem end.  Roll up with the thinnest part of the top of the leaf on the outside.  If any leaves break, double wrap them using another leaf.  Continue until the stuffing is used up. Or simply hollow out some green peppers and stuff those. Ahem. 

Pour a layer of tomato sauce onto the bottom of a lasagne dish.  Put the cabbage rolls in a single layer in a lasagne dish and pour over the rest of the tomato sauce.  Scatter over the remaining Grana Padano Cheese and bake for 30 minutes or until the cabbage leaves are cooked through and the cheese is golden brown.

For the tomato sauce
4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
800g (two standard tins) tinned tomatoes - or lots of fresh tomatoes which is what we had to hand... 

Soften the onion and garlic with a generous pinch of salt and a good twist of black pepper in the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat for around ten minutes. Add the tomatoes and wash the cans out with 100ml of water. Add this to the pan.  Simmer the tomatoes for around 20 minutes, mashing them with a potato masher (I went with a stick blender) to break them up. Adjust the seasoning as necessary and remove from the heat.

I have to say this was probably the best recipe of the lot and certainly the most flexible. Giancarlo himself suggests using up other leftovers in the stuffing - the risotto would work brilliantly as it happens. By the time the ricotta and Grana Padano melt into the tomato sauce, you're going to want to have some good crusty moppy-up bread to hand. Actually, this would work pretty well as a soup: that sauce, thickened with ricotta, Grana Padano cheese with little bits of San Daniele? Er, would you excuse me for a second? I have to go find a saucepan... 

2 November 2012

Grillstock Aspirations

So, by now, those interested will have spotted the fact that Grillstock is coming to London in 2013. In addition to the Bristol dates (May 11-12), Grillstock rolls into The Old Deer Park on June 15 and 16 - which is where, should all go to plan, you'll find me sweating, panicking and hopefully serving up some decent slabs of BBQ joy. 

I had a little reminder of just what I'm up against last week in Oakland, CA. It's perhaps an unlikely setting for some of the best BBQ I've had - Oakland isn't exactly mentioned in the same breath as Lockhart or the outskirts of Nashville - but Oakland is one of those places that seems to surprise on a lot of levels. After a fascinating (and all too brief) tour of Oakland's up-and-coming food scene thanks to Carlo Medina of Savor Oakland (I'll hopefully get to that in a future post), we settled in for lunch at B Side BBQ, the creation of Food Network star and soul food expert Tanya Holland and her partner (and "rib wrangler") Phil Surkis. Indeed, we settled in for lunch with Tanya and so left the ordering to her. And that's when these arrived. 

The ribs are "Dark and Stormy", with a marinade based on the classic cocktail. The brisket is just classic, old school, deeply smoked, soft, juicy, wibblesome, slow cooked beef. And while some of what we ate in Texas was excellent, this was the brisket I: a) had always imagined; and b) want to deliver at Grillstock. No pressure there then... 

There wasn't a duff note at B Side BBQ although some might argue that the jerk ribs, while delicious and fruity, weren't really jerk in that eye-popping, mouth-fanning way you might expect. Mind you, they still disappeared before I could get a photo so what do I know? As for the sliders, the wings, the hot links - not to mention the brilliantly punning beer - and if they hadn't dragged me from the place, I'd still be there attempting to finish every last morsel, be it piggy, beefy or the excellent okra bites and braised tofu.