Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Recipe LVIII - Peppersteak and English-Style Chips

It's the greatest vegetable in the history of the world: the potato. You can do everything to it: boil it, roast it, bake it in cheese, steam it, wrap it whole in tin foil and chuck it on the barbecue... the Elizabethans even smoked it. But nothing compares to the potato of the fried variety for succulence, crispiness and pleasurable texture. Except maybe the roast potato, but that's quite similar. The chip is a most maligned foodstuff, and suffers from an extremely bad reputation. Certain fast food outlets have added to its notoriety. But for me, they're not chips. I mean, not chip chips. They're matchstick-thin, chemical-ridden, factory-made monsters, and have no place being fed to kids. Why people even queue up for them in food dispensary outlets with all the charm and sophistication of a hospital's surgical department is beyond me.

600g frying steak
5 large, long potatoes**
A pestle & mortar, 20 peppercorns
A pinch of salt
One large onion
3-4 cloves of garlic
**Make sure your potatoes are suitable for frying when you go to the supermarket. It should be written on the packet. If you buy the wrong item, you could end up with fluffy, broken potatoes in a mess.

Peel and cut your potatoes lengthwise, not forgetting to make sure they are at least a centimetre thick in the middle. Put them in water until required. This stops them reacting with the air.

Cut off the excess fat from your steak (or ask the butcher to do it if you are unsure) and give it to a suitable and extremely grateful animal. In a suitable deep pan, heat up some vegetable oil until it is piping hot, but not at burning point. You can tell by breaking a very small piece of potato off and throwing it in the oil. If it is ready, it will truly sizzle. Putting the potatoes into very hot oil is important, otherwise they won't crisp up.

Having put your sliced potatoes in water until ready for use, you need to dry off the excess water with a towel. Get a lot of it off, or you may have an awful shock when you put the chips in the oil.

Properly salt your steaks. People are concerned by the amount of salt they eat. There is no need to worry if you aim the salt effectively. Too much salt is bad, but the steak doesn't have to be tasteless.

With your oil on, your steak sliced according to size and preference, and your raw chips ready in their deep-frying basket, put a knob of butter, no more, into a decent metallic frying pan.

Cover one side of the steak with pepper (the side you will put downwards in the pan) and when the butter is sizzling (also pipng hot or the steak will not cook properly), drop the steak into the pan. Now put the other half of the pepper on the raw side of the steaks. Halfway through cooking, cut up an onion and some garlic and put them in to soften.

Very important: the secret to not just nice chips, but great chips is the amount of times you fry them. Some say two. I say three. Or four. In the beginning, put them in for about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove them, shaking the excess oil back into the pan. Leave them for at least two minutes, at most half an hour. Put them back in, this time for a little longer. Take them out once more. Leave them for a while, then put them in once again. When they start getting brown edges like in the photo below, it is almost time. Leave it for as long as you dare, then move them into a bowl with two layers of kitchen towel in it.

Serve up the steak and onions, then let guests help themselves to chips. I like Mayonnaise with mine, and have done ever since I went to the Netherlands in 1990. But relish, chutney, mustard, even ketchup would go well.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Recipe LVII - Hollandaise Sauce with Asparagus

Asparagus is one of those very German vegetables. Grown in central and northern Europe and seasonal right now, it is sadly overlooked in many households for being too unexciting. The same goes for Hollandaise sauce. A bit caustic, it doesn't go with much, and yet when put with Asparagus, they set the gums alight. They were made for each other like chips and mayonnaise or fish and parsley. There are any varying ways to make this sauce depending on who you listen to, and varying proportions. But for a decent 4-way starter, these proportions should be about right.

About 15 pieces of asparagus
2 eggs (yolks only)
2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
The juice of 1 lemon
250g fresh butter (melted)
Ground pepper from 6 to 10 black peppercorns

Take the butter and heat it on a low flame. Put the egg yolks, the vinegar and the lemon juice in a bowl and whisk them together well. Some heat the vinegar first, some don't. I didn't. Then pour in the butter slowly whilst continuing to whisk. If you need a second pair of hands, ask someone.

Boil some salted water in a wide pan. Cut off the stringy, woody lower stalks then break the stalks in two at their natural breaking point. There are also ears on the stalks which may need removing, but generally there's no need to pee them. Thrust them into the boiling water for 4 to 7 minutes, depending how fat they are.

Put the asparagus into a bowl, then while the Hollandaise sauce is still warm, pour it over the vegetables. Eat immediately. This is a double-sized starter, enough for two:

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Recipe LVI - Dandelion Syrup

It's been raining all week here. I had a window of one day in which to cut the grass. That was a week ago, so the grass is once again overgrown and dandelions rule the land. Here's a recipe so simple and so immensely satisfying that you'll be picking up your bucket and heading to the garden to exact retribution on all those yellow vermin that keep springing up on your ruined lawn.

150 dandelion heads
1 bag of sugar
1 lemon
+/- 400ml of water

Go into your garden or to the local park and deadhead 150 dandelions, making quite sure you're doing it in an area where no dogs/cats could have left a message there.

Squeeze one lemon into a large saucepan, then add about 400ml of water. Put your dandelion heads into it, give it a good drowning with a kitchen implement and bring to the boil, keeping a lid on the saucepan for the whole time. Once boiling, reduce the flame and allow to simmer for between 60 and 90 minutes.

Take it off the heat and leave it overnight with the lid on (to stop insects flying into it). The next day, take a strainer and a large measuring jug and strain the dandelions out of the liquid. You will not get everything out. With a potato masher, crush the remaining liquid out of the dandelions. You will be surprised how much is still to come out. It is also important as this contains a lot of the flavour.

In the end, I got about 350ml-400ml of juice from it.

Put it into a clean (smaller) saucepan. It is important to measure how much liquid you have, because you need double the amount of sugar to add to it.
Sugar 2:1 Liquid

Bring the mixture to the boil once more, for between 20 and 40 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is clear. During this time, you could wash up three or four jars. I always keep a lot of mine in case they come in handy. This recipe is an ideal gift for a neighbour or friend.

TIP: Dandelion syrup is an ideal accompaniment for the following things:
Brie baguette/sandwich (with hazelnuts and watercress or rocket salad)
Drizzled over the skin of roast belly of pork
Added to your vinaigrette as a sweetener
A topping/filling for numerous tarts and cakes
In a cup of black tea as a sweetener
A soother for a cold or sore throat (with hot water)