Monday 29 July 2013

Char-grilled Japanese-style poussins

The sun is beating down relentlessly in the South West of France where we're on holiday, the BBQs are fired up all around - so it is only fitting that I give you one of my all-time favourite "smoky" poultry dishes:

This recipe is from the great Peter Gordon's "Cook at Home" book, and it is UTTERLY divine - and totally easy and fuss-free. It's also completely versatile: you can use quails (as per the original recipe), chicken parts or (my favourite) poussins, and you can cook them on the BBQ or in the oven - the result is always stunning: I've lost count over how many times I've served these as the "star" of one of my Japanese(-style) "banquets" (other recipes to follow another time)...

2 poussins (ca 450/500g each)* or: 4 chicken breast parts (bone-in, skin on), 4 thighs, 8-12 wings or 8 quails
1 small handful of basil, torn finely
1 small thumb of ginger, peeled and chopped very finely
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
20 ml Thai fish sauce
20 ml rice wine vinegar
20 ml mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
1 tbsp brown sugar
50 ml sesame oil
2 tsp of sesame seeds

Whisk together all the marinade ingredients. Put the poultry pieces into a large-enough container/ziplock bag and add the marinade. Combine well so all the meat is coated. Leave to marinade (ideally overnight). When ready to cook, remove from the marinade and roast in the oven at 200 degrees for ca 30 mins.

Serves 4.

* If using poussins, cut out the back bone with kitchen scissors, then cut in half.

Friday 12 July 2013

When things go pear-shaped in the kitchen...

Today I'd like to give you a masterclass in two recent epic recipe fails that happened to me (and yes, they DO happen): We were invited to a BBQ at our American friend Craig (himself a great cook) so I decided to make two new Middle Eastern mezze dishes by my great food hero Silvena Rowe. The first one was squash-stuffed vine leaves, and I'm still not quite sure what posessed me to attempt this, as there are at least 15 North African and Turkish shops in easy walking distance which ALL sell these stuffed delicacies - loose, tinned or vac-packed. But her recipe sounded so fresh - so original - so innovative! And how hard could it be? Well, let me tell you this: IT.WAS.A.DISASTER. The first fatal error I made was my "choice" of vine leaves: I confidently strolled into my Turkish Candan supermarket - which has a big vat of fresh vine leaves next to their vats of olives and feta cheeses (and the most experienced staff who, no doubt, would have guided me). But there was a (small) queue so I turned round smartly and just plonked a random pre-packed packet of leaves into my basket. It was the size of those small packets of tortillas (ca 20 cm) - perfect, massive leaves, I thought.

However, once back at home I was surprised to find out that they were actually layered higgely-piggely next to each other - and were only the size of a small child's hand... But undeterred, I set upon the laborious work of now soaking off their brine, then drying them on kitchen paper (as per Silvena's recipe). The next setback, however, was the actual filling - which was completely tasteless and bland (a fact I should REALLY have picked up on when reading the recipe: squash, rice (and not enough of it), water and a bit of onion, pine nuts, oregano and tarragon do NOT make a flavoursome mixture). And, as I had just rinsed off any briney goodness, the leaves were sure not to add any flavour either... Still completely undeterred though I then attempted the actual job of encasing my runny(ish) mixture in my dwarfish leaves - suffice to say I gave up after placing the first 10 or so "successes" in the pan (oh yes - they were supposed to be simmered in - water) - they looked beyond a joke: alternatively oozing, leaking or flapping open... At this point I admitted my resounding defeat on this project - but surely the stuffing was saveable? And yes it was: I just added a few more handfuls of rice, more water, a tbsp of Baharat (a Middle Eastern seven spice mix), 2 tbsp of Maggi seasoning, simmered it gently and turned it all into a very agreeable pilaf(fy) side dish/salad.

The second near-disaster was a big hit flavour-wise - but a complete failure in terms of texture:

Honey mashed broad beans with capers and dill

This mix was supposed to set like a stiff polenta mix, so I thought it would be nice cut into little squares and served on tooth picks. WRONG! SO VERY WRONG!! After "setting" overnight in the fridge (according to the recipe only six hours were enough), the mixture was still only a mushy puree... And again, I should have trusted my instincts when reading the recipe: I KNEW that mashing cooked beans with their cooking liquor - AND then adding the juice of half a lemon - would NEVER set! But the taste of this concoction was absolutely stunning and unusual - so I turned it into a dip instead:

It was so successful that I'made it again since then - so here it is:

250g dried broad beans (or a 400g tin)
3 shallots or 1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tbsps olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 tsp tumeric
1 l water
1/2 a bunch of spring onions, chopped
2 heaped tbsps capers
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp honey
ca 10 springs of dill, chopped

Either soak the beans in lots of water overnight - or follow Delia Smith's much quicker version: bring them to the boil with enough water and cook furiously for ten minutes. Then let cool.

Now remove the skins from the beans. This sounds fiddly but only takes a few minutes and ensures a silky and smooth texture.

In a large pan, gently fry the shallots/onions and garlic in the oil for a few minutes. Add the beans, tumeric, bay leaf and water. Simmer for ca 1 hour until the beans are very soft.

Put the cooked mixture into a food processor with the spring onions, lemon, honey and dill and blend until smooth. (Alternatively use a stick blender).  Check the seasoning and texture, adding more lemon juice, honey or water if necessary.

So here you go - my valuable lesson in learning that EVERYBODY makes mistakes in the kitchen - and that more often than not these mistakes can be salvaged, that it is important to NEVER follow a recipe blindly (even if it's by a chef you completely trust) - and that you should ALWAYS follow your (culinary) instincts...

And I'd really like to know: what culinary disasters have happened in YOUR kitchen?