Tuesday, May 29, 2012

When life gives you onions…

My parents generation have lead us to believe pressure cookers are time bombs of boiling hot lentil stew, ready to spray every wall of the kitchen and give all occupants 3rd degree burns. Nothing could be further from the truth, modern cookers have built in safety measures, and with correct use, are about as likely to explode as your kettle. They are an invaluable piece of equipment in the modern kitchen, and to make life even easier there are electric models available that don’t require constant attention, and won’t take up valuable stove space (although do a little research, you need a model that goes to 15psi, Russell Hobbs version does).

The idea started something like this... “What would happen if I put a whole lot of onions, a little wine, and splash of cognac into a pressure cooker”. It was about 1am, so not the ideal time to start cooking, but the idea was jotted down for the next night's meal. I know that when you pressure cook onion, it becomes mellow and sweet, and loses the harsh onion sting. Along with the pressure cooked onions, I decided to slowly caramelise sliced onion the traditional way, to really beef up the onion flavour. At least there was backup in the fridge if the whole thing turned pear shaped.

You don’t need to add a lot of liquid when pressure cooking, as it’s a closed system, so hardly anything will evaporate off, and all of the liquid from the onion will be pulled out, so only the bare minimum should be added, and added for flavour.

2kg Brown onions
30 ml Brandy
250 ml White wine

  1. Slice the head of the onions off, slice in half and peel.
  2. Thinly slice the onions, a mandoline makes quick work of this.

Pressure Cooker
  1. Melt a knob of butter in the pressure cooker, when sizzling add a handful of onions and sweat slightly.
  2. Add the brandy and let it cook off the harsh alcohol bite.
  3. Pour in the white wine, and add about two thirds of the remaining onions.
  4. Season with some salt and pepper.
  5. Cook on high pressure for 1 hour.

Frying Pan
  1. In a heavy based pan melt a little butter on the lowest heat and add the remaining onions.
  2. Season with a little salt.
  3. Let it cook on low heat, occasionally stirring, until the onions have caramelised. It will take about 40 minutes on the lowest heat, it’s a long time, but very much worth it.

Serving Up
  1. When the hour is up, use a quick release on the pressure cooker.
  2. Purée the pressure cooked onions, and pass through a sieve.
  3. Stir in the caramelised onion, saving a bit for garnish.
  4. Enrich the soup with a little butter, and adjust the seasoning.
  5. Ladle into warm bowl, garnish with some caramelised onion and sliced herb.
  6. Serve with some crusty bread.

The soup is rich, sweet, savoury and very very moreish. If you wish, you could loosen the soup with a good beef stock.

This recipe was originally posted by me on Localist

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Puff Pastry

Plans dreamed up during the day in the odd moment I have spare, rarely end up as that night's meal, either lack of ingredients or time. I had great plans of making a dashi-chicken broth, whipping up some of McGee’s alkaline noodles, and serving with a hamine egg and shredded chicken, but it just seemed a bit too much for a Monday night after work. So instead I whipping up a couple of oxtail pot pies, a thick rich stew topped with a pastry shell.

The stew was a pretty simple, chuck together of oxtail, red wine, swede, potato, carrot, onion, garlic, anchovy, brandy, caraway, bay leaf, thyme, mustard, salt and pepper. Just brown up the meat, then the onions, deglaze with the brandy and wine, then add the rest, put it in the cooker on high pressure and wait, or simmer away on a stove until the meat is tender and the cooking liquid reduced to a thick luscious gravy.

So while the meat was cooking, I got onto the pastry. I’ve never made my own puff pastry, I make shortcrust quite often, but I always thought puff must be hard, anyway I had the idea of pot pie, I wanted a pastry crust, and like heck I was going to buy it. After some research, I was pleasantly surprised just how easy it seemed, the main theme I read, was to make sure to keep the dough cool, so the layers of folded pastry don't meld into each other. Apart from that it seemed like any other pastry, just folded and rolled a bit more.

200 grams Flour
1 tsp Salt
200 grams Butter (unsalted)
120 ml Water (Cold)

  1. Sieve the salt and flour into a bowl.
  2. Work the butter into the flour with your fingers, you want a large bread crumb type texture but still have some large pieces of butter in there.
  3. Pour in about half of the water and work it into the butter/flour mixture, adding more water if needed, you want a firm dough that's not too sticky.
  4. Cover and put it in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Roll the dough out in one direction, keeping the edges straight, and trying to make it as rectangular as possible.

Fold the bottom third up, and then the top third down, and roll out again to the original size. Repeat two or three times more, on the last repetition stop before re-rolling, cover and place in the fridge for another 20 minutes. If the dough gets too soft during the rolling process pop it back in the fridge for a couple of minutes.

Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out to a couple of millimeters thick. Cut out the desired shape with a sharp knife, you don't want to pinch the edge together with a dull knife as it won't puff properly.

The amounts in the above recipe was more than enough for the two pies, and a healthy number of Palmiers.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Kai Kem Eggs

I’ve become a twitter addict, I have found so much inspiration from the tweets of others, chefs posting their latest menu ideas, or plates, fellow bloggers tweeting about their latest post, NPH bringing on the food-porn, or in this case @chezpim putting out a casual tweet about picking up some marvellous looking duck eggs at her local market—making me thoroughly jealous in the process—and her plans to make Kai Kem eggs. Having absolutely no idea what Kai Kem eggs were, I educated myself a little on Google, and shot a tweet back, asking her what one does with Kai Kem eggs.

Kai Kem eggs are traditionally made with duck eggs, taking advantage of their large rich yolks, but good free range organic chicken eggs will get the job done, and for a first try probably the cheaper easier option. But I will be keeping an eye out for some duck eggs for my second batch.

So, want something different for your next fiery hot green curry, or maybe something new to top off that congee? Well with a little preparation, and 3 weeks patience, you can have some lovely salted eggs (Kai Kem), a traditional Chinese dish adopted in Thailand as an accompaniment to spicy green curries, johk(similar to congee, a thick rice soup traditionally eaten at breakfast), or simply served as a side, sliced in half, scattered with sliced chilli and diced shallots, topped off with a good squeeze of lime juice.

The ingredients are pretty straightforward, eggs, coarse sea salt and water. The important thing is to completely saturate the water with salt—dissolve so much salt in the water that no more salt will dissolve (about 35 grams per 100 ml).

6 Large Chicken eggs (or duck eggs if you’re lucky enough to have them)
1 Litre Water
350 grams Coarse sea salt (not iodised)

There are two methods to dissolve the salt.
1. Bring the salt and water to a simmer until all of the salt has dissolved, and no more will dissolve (hot water can take more salt than cold), then let the water cool down to room temperature.
2. Or my preferred method, whisk the salt into the water in a bowl on the bench and keep whisking until no more salt dissolves. It’s a little more work, but you don’t have to wait for the water to cool down.

Carefully place the eggs in a large jar or container, and then cover with the cold salt-water, making sure all the eggs are submerged, I ended up cutting up a plastic plate that fit under the rim of the jar to keep them under water.

Seal or cover the jar, and leave it in a cool dark place for 3 weeks, make sure to label the jar with the date.

After the long wait, and possibly forgetting all about the eggy goodness tucked away in the back of the pantry, drain the eggs and carefully remove from the jar.

You can now either put them in a very well labelled egg carton in the fridge, and they’ll keep pretty much indefinitely (but I’ll say 3 months), or you can cook them and then keep them in the fridge.

When you are ready to eat the salty egg, simply fill a pot of water, place in however many eggs you need, bring it to the boil, and simmer for about 15 minutes, yep really 15 minutes, I tried to be a smart-arse on my first go and cooked it like a regular hard boiled egg, didn’t turn out so well. When cooked run the pot under a cold tap until the water is cool and let the eggs sit for a while.

My favourite way to have them (so far) is as a side to a hot green curry, sliced in half, scattered with sliced chilli and spring onions, topped off with a good squeeze of lime juice and maybe a few coriander leaves.

P.S. Yes those are some twin eggs, so were the other five in the carton of six, I must be due some crazy luck!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


With mother's day coming up this weekend, it’s the perfect time to bring out the big guns of breakfast/brunch, eggs benedict, warm crispy toasted english muffin, topped with slices of ham (or montreal if salmon is more your thing, and if you must florentine subbing in spinach), a perfect poached egg perched on top, and lashings of that ever indulgent sauce, hollandaise. To the uninitiated, the thought of making hollandaise can seem a little daunting, but I feel I have a method that greatly reduces the risks of failure and is a doddle to make. Just don’t forget the hollandaise is all that stands between a divine brunch and a short sharp trip to the bin, so pay attention when making it.

With only three ingredients, using the best you can find makes a world of difference. Free range eggs are a must, definitely unsalted butter, and nice ripe lemons that aren’t too acidic. The lemon juice plays an important part in the sauce, it not only cuts the richness of the butter, the acid also alters how the proteins in the yolk interact, giving it a little more tolerance to the heat.

30 ml (2 tablespoons) of Lemon Juice
2 egg yolks (freeze the whites, they’ll last about 3 months)
170 grams Unsalted butter

  1. Melt the butter over a low heat, making sure not to let it brown, the butter should be quite warm.
  2. Get a pot on the stove with a little water on to simmer.
  3. In a bowl whisk to together the egg yolks and lemon juice. They should increase in volume, thicken and turn pale.
  4. While still whisking, slowly, drop by drop to begin with, pour in the warm/hot melted butter, whisking constantly until all of the butter has been emulsified.
  5. If the sauce is not to the thickness you desire place the bowl over the simmering water and whisk until thick, be careful not to get too much heat into the sauce.
  6. Pass it through a fine mesh sieve.
  7. Finally taste and season it with salt and white pepper.
  • The eggs need to be at room temperature, as egg yolks are most effective as an emulsifier when they are warm1.
  • The average egg yolk is 17 grams, or approx 30% of the weight of the egg. If you’re a food geek like me, weigh your eggs and then multiply by five to get the amount of butter you need.
  • Infusing the butter with some tarragon while it melts, and adding some of the chopped herb at the end, makes a great sauce for poached salmon
1. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, Harold McGee, page 633.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Slow lamb roast

You can roast a pork belly for a few hours at 180ºC and you'll end up with some pretty good meat with great crackling, or you could cook it forever, as I have done in the past, or even follow David Chang's method of 6 hours or so uncovered basting now and then (Lucky Peach, Issue #2, page 121). You can confit your meat at 130ºC for 3 hours, and have pretty good results, you won’t be complaining about what you're eating, or you could confit it at 90ºC, or even 70ºC for 12 or 24 hours and have great results. There isn't really any extra effort involved, just a bit of extra time, or in some cases a lot of extra time, but it is passive, it doesn’t require you to be in the kitchen.

The idea of not having enough time to cook is being pushed on us more and more these days, Food in a Minute for example. While Food in a Minute is a shill hocking off what are essentially prepackaged meals, there are others out there making their living off meals under 30 minutes, or X number of ingredients or less, it just feels like they’re making the act of cooking a chore and something that you need to get done as fast as possible. It shouldn’t be that way, it should be a pleasure, something you don’t mind taking that extra bit of time to do well. But I don’t have kids, I cook for two usually, so maybe I don’t understand the pressures of cooking for the whole family. Maybe I’m just a nut, I like getting home and spending time in the kitchen cooking dinner, then after eating, and cleaning down, I may do a bit of prep work for the next nights meal.

My preferred method when it comes cooking a leg of lamb, roast it low and slow. Save the med-rare cooking for the cuts that show it off best, rack, backstraps, rump. Leg (and shoulder) should be unctuous, falling off the bone, rich with it’s meaty lamb flavour, nothing beats it.

Spice rub
1 Tablespoon Cumin seeds
1 Tablespoon Coriander seed
1 Tablespoon Dried Thyme
1 Tablespoon Fresh Thyme
1 Tablespoon Salt (kosher)
1 Teaspoon Sweet Paprika
2 Garlic cloves
Olive oil

Grind all the ingredients (apart from the olive oil) in a mortar and pestle. When everything has been thoroughly crushed and ground together, add enough olive oil to form a thick paste.

The Lamb
Preheat the oven to 140ºC. Slice up a few onions and layer on the bottom of a roasting pan. Remove the lamb from the fridge and coat with the spice rub, place it on the bed of sliced onion. Leave the lamb out for about half an hour, which should be plenty of time for the oven to preheat, and take the chill off the meat (never cook meat straight from the fridge).

Half an hour later, put the lamb in the oven (uncovered) for 30 minutes, giving the spice mix a bit of direct heat to release its flavour. Remove the roasting pan from the oven, pour in 250ml of red wine, cover tightly with foil and return it to the oven for four and a half hours, basting a couple of times throughout the cooking.

When the long wait is up take the pan out of the oven and set aside to rest. Turn the oven up to 200ºC. Carefully remove the leg from the pan to a cutting board, and cover. Strain the liquid from the pan into a saucepan. Again, carefully transfer the leg from the board to the pan and roast for 15 minutes in the hot oven, giving it a nice golden crust.

Meanwhile, reduce the cooking liquid, but not too much, just enough to have a good strong sauce. Thicken it with a little arrowroot dissolved in water, do not bring the liquid to a boil again as it will become loose. I like arrowroot as it thickens without adding flavour, and it doesn't make the liquid cloudy, but if you prefer you could go down the traditional flour gravy method.

The meat should have a good golden crust and be falling off the bone tender, but not falling apart. It's perfect for a cold night, served on a parsnip & potato mash made with lots and lots of cream.