Poached Chicken Breast with Beurre Blanc Sauce

There’s a reason for the great classic recipes to be among the great classics, and this is one of them: a poached chicken breast, served with a Beurre Blanc sauce alongside anything suitable: freshly baked bread or some egg tagliatelle are popular, potato or potato-and-parsnip mash also works. The photo shows a potato gratin with toasted Brussel Sprouts, also nice.

Following is the wholesome from-scratch method that takes a little preparation time. I can’t vouch for the express method that uses breast fillets and instant poaching liquor.

Here’s the full Monty, which rewards with quality results and a second meal.

For the poaching liqor:

Buy a whole free range chicken, preferably a corn fed one. Take off the breasts and chill. Meanwhile chop one medium-sized onion, 3 gloves of garlic, two thumbs worth or fresh ginger, and any other suitable vegetables you find: leaks, cabbage greens, carrots, and so on.

Put the bird with the vegetables into a pot. Add 4 or 5 star anise, a heaped teaspoon of salt and pepper each, a couple of chillies. Then add cold water to just cover the lot, typically 1 to 1.5 litres, bring to the boil then let simmer very gently for 2 hours. Let cool down in the pot.

Eventually, take all meat off the bone and put it in the fridge. This makes a great chicken salad or a Fricassee on the next day, almost an instant meal! Or combine it with the poaching liquor and a splash of double cream for a delicious creamy chicken soup lunch!

Take the breasts from the fridge when you start cleaning the chicken. It helps to start at room temperature.

Poaching the breasts:

Key to poaching anything is to remember that poaching is not to cook. So, bring the liquor up to 85 C, remove the skin from the breasts and let them rest in the hot liqor for 15 minutes, a few minutes more if the meat was still cold or if you bought one of those 2 kg monster birds with breasts to match.

For the Beurre Blanc:

Dice a shallot finely and cook with a ladle of the poaching liquor and a ladle of dry white wine until the volume is reduced to half. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper, optionally add a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard and, or, a tablespoon of small capers.

Take the pan off the heat and never return. It must not boil from here on!

Then take 125 g of cold butter. Dice it to little cubes, maybe 10 mm each side. Keep 5 or 6 of these behind and melt the others in the sauce, whisking fairly vigorously. Then add the remaining butter and stir in very gently, thus dissolving any foam that might have developed.

Dish out your chosen side dish, slice the breast, add the sauce and serve with a dry white wine.

Nothing wrong with that!

Baked Cod with Tartar Sauce

Simple, quick, classic and everybody loves it: baked cod with tartar sauce, served with steamed potatoes or fresh white bread.

First, take the fish out of the fridge and leave to get closer to room temperature.

Start with the tartar sauce: make a mayonnaise from one fresh free range egg yolk per portion. Olive oil is pretty acidic and not ideal; I prefer groundnut (peanut) or grape seed oil but a good vegetable oil will also work.

Finish the mayonnaise with a pinch of salt, two drops of lime juice per yolk and a spoon of wholegrain mustard. Mix and chill.

Meanwhile, hard-boil one fresh free range medium sized egg per person.

Chop a handful of flat leaf parsley, a coupe of spring onions. Drain and chop some capers, peel and chop the hard boiled eggs.

Mix with the mayonnaise and leave in the refrigerator.

Clean the cod but leave the skin on. Cut into portions of 150 to 180 g each. Place on a baking tray using balking parchment, skin side down. Put a half-walnut sized piece of butter or the equivalent amount of chilli oil on each piece of fish.

Put the fish into the preheated oven at 150 C, circulated heat. Give it 12..15 Minutes, more if the pieces are very chunky, more if they are still cold from the fridge, but no more than 20 Minutes.

Add freshly ground black pepper, serve with the tartar sauce, steamed potato or fresh white bread and a glass of a crisp dry white wine.

Mustard Pickled Cucumbers

If your cucumber plants are as prolific as ours then you might be looking just for this: mustard pickled cucumbers, or Senfgurken in German.

It will work best with pickling cucumbers, or Gewuerzgurken in German, in contrast to salad cucumbers. Them spiky ones, if you look out for them in the shops or in the market.

I take 5 large ones for 3 Kilner jars:

Peel and quarter the cucumbers lengthwise, remove the seeds. Trim to the inner height of the jars minus half an inch but keep the off-cuts. Toss with 75 g salt and leave in a bowl for 24 hours, then drain and dry with kitchen tissue or a clean tea towel.

Mix 500 ml white wine, fruit or cider vinegar with 500 ml water. Dissolve 200 g cane sugar, add a teaspoon of crushed mixed pepper corns, a few crushed allspice berries, a teaspoon of lightly crushed coriander seeds. A teaspoon of ground turmeric, 50 g slightly crushed yellow mustard seeds. Bring this to the boil.

Meanwhile, stack the cucumbers in the Kilner jars together with a sliced onion. Add a star anise, a cinnamon stick, a bay leaf or a few cloves if you are so inclined, then top up with the hot pickling liquor. Smaller off-cuts get the same treatment in a more chaotic order.

Seal the jar and put it away for four weeks, then enjoy the pickled cucumbers with cheese or cold meats.

Baked Custard Apple Cake

DSC_0551This simple apple cake, topped with a baked soured cream custard, is a household favourite and has won approval on very many occasions, least of all by myself because it is so very quickly made. It’s also the perfect way of using limp apples towards the end of their shelf life.

Butter a 24 cm wide deep two-part baking tray, one of those where the sides and bottom come apart one way or another. Set aside.

Whip 75 g soft butter with 100 g sugar and seed from half a Vanilla pod, or an equivalent amount of vanilla extract. Gradually add 2 whole medium sized free range room temperature eggs, 100 g regular white wheat flour, 50 g corn starch and a good teaspoon of baking powder. Mix this well until the mix is smooth and silky.

Spread into one even layer in the baking tray.

Peel some semi-sharp apples, cut into quarters, remove the core. We love Russets, but a sweeter apple may need a sprinkling with lime juice. Braeburn are normally perfect for the job.

You need enough apples to cover the surface of the baking tray. Press the apple pieces slightly into the batter.

Bake for 30 minutes at 180 C.

Mix 300 ml soured cream, two heaped tablespoons of sugar (40..50 g) and two eggs (medium sized, free range, room temperature), adding an additional egg yolk for extra luxury. Pour this over the cake and continue to bake for another 30 minutes or until the surface has just the right colour: deep golden with light brown patches.

Remove from the tray after cooling down a little, then let cool down completely. Finish with a good icing sugar dusting and enjoy with a nice cup of tea or coffee.

Gravlax

DSC_1221Gravlax, or Graved Lax, is a dish made from raw cured salmon. It is very easy to make, and very delicious to eat. I find it is best enjoyed with horseradish or mustard sauce on a slice of flavoursome bread and with a little green side salad, but whether you have it for breakfast, for elevenses, for lunch, as a starter or for your supper is up to you.

It can also be used in most dishes that call for smoked salmon, like a salmon and goats cheese quiche.

Preparation takes only 30 minutes, but you should allow four days for the curing.

Go and buy two pieces of salmon filet, with skin. You don’t need to buy a whole side, all you need is two pieces of the same size and shape.

For 1 kg of raw salmon, mix 2 tablespoons of sea salt and 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper, 2 teaspoons of crushed juniper berries, 2 teaspoons of crushed allspice and a large fresh bunch of Dill, very finely chopped.

Grate one raw beetroot into the mix for extra drama.

If you feel the urge to wash any of this, be sure to dry it well with a kitchen towel or a salad spinner.

Rub the spice and herb mix onto the meat side of the fillet pieces, then pile the remaining mix evenly on one of the fillets and place the second fillet on top.

If you have a vacuum sealing machine, that’s ideal as no juices seep out, but you must be careful that the two halves stay on top each other, herbs in the middle. You must also work very fast as salt and sugar draws liquid  out of the meat, which will very quickly prevent your vacuum machine from sealing the pouch.

Alternatively, wrap very firmly in cling film, then tin foil, then wrap one or two tea towels around firmly (to soak up what seeps out), then place into a reusable plastic container with a lid.

Put in the fridge and leave in peace for four days, except for one rotation each day.

When it is done, unwrap carefully, scrape off the loose herbs and spices, and cut into very thin slices.

Lamb Kebabs

DSC_0359Here’s another fantastic excuse for a bowl of saffron Basmati rice. 

I use lamb leg slices for the kebabs; one thick slice will be enough for two portions. Remove skin, bone and excess fat, dice the meat.

Finely dice two stalks of lemon grass and two gloves of garlic, add salt and pepper to taste, then mix with the meat.

Prepare the skewers with a piece of onion between each piece of meat, then grill gently on a griddle at moderate heat. Take your time, turn over occasionally and brush with chilly oil of necessary.

Serve with fragrant saffron Basmati rice, a piece of seared feta cheese and minted yogurt with cucumber or Tzatziki.

Oriental Occidental Lamb Ragout

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Here’s a lamb ragout, rich in the flavours of the Orient and Occident, and dead easy to make.

It is impossible to make this the right amount for one or two portions, so let’s make three portions. Left-overs reheat nicely for lunch on the following day.

Two lamb leg slices with skin, fat, meat and bone (~600 g).

3 medium-sized carrots, a bulb of garlic, two small red onions, 3 fresh tomatoes (or half a can of chopped ones). Star anise, Kassia bark (alt. cinnamon), red chillies, thyme. Salt, pepper, fresh herbs.

Preheat a frying pan to medium heat, melt some ghee or good cooking oil, then sear the leg slices until they begin to caramelise on both sides.

Meanwhile, clean and dice all the veg, crush the garlic. Leave the meat where it is, surround it with the onion and garlic, then add the remaining vegetables. Add five star anise, a good amount of Kassia bark (at least 20 cm worth), red chillies to taste. Add thyme, freshly ground black pepper and a teaspoon of salt.

Add 250 ml water, reduce the heat to a very low simmer, put the lid on and let it do its job for 3 hours.

When finished, remove skin, bones and excess fat, cutting the meat when necessary. Remove the chillies, anise and Kassia, then run the sauce through a blender.

Add some freshly chopped parsley, basil and perhaps a tough of mint.

Return the meat to the sauce, check the seasoning and you’re done.

I served it with grilled aubergines for a carb-free meal, but good quality egg fettuccine is certainly an option.

My Lazy Chicken

DSC_0370I am not sure if this is a concept or a recipe since it has seen so many variants over time, but it always comes out as a finger-lickin’ and lip-smackin’ success.

This dish was originally inspired by Nigel Slater. Allow me to step into his footsteps and try inspire you:

Lazy Chicken is a dish of chicken thighs roasted with rosemary, garlic and olive oil, then served with lemon juice and basil along a good helping of sage butter fettuccine. And, as the name of the dish suggests, it’s dead easy to make even for the lazy cook.

Find a roasting tin or an earthenware dish.

Measurements per portion:

Take 2 or 3 free-range organic chicken thighs, skin on. Trim where necessary but leave most skin, fat and bones with the meat. Put into the roasting dish.

Crush two cloves of garlic, with skin if you need to be rustic, otherwise without. Add to the dish. Add one small dried red chilly and a star anise.

Sprinkle with a generous amount of sea salt, then add a good helping of olive oil and juice from half a lime. Toss it all about to ensure an even mix and good coating, then re-adjust the thigh peaces to be skin-up with the skin exposed. Sprinkle some more salt onto the skin.

Put the dish into the oven at 210 C for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180 C for another 25 minutes.

Sprinkle a generous helping of Marsala across the dish and freshen up the flavour with another sprinkle of lime juice. (Marsala is an Italian fortified wine. Substitute with dry port wine if necessary.)

Give it another five minutes in the oven, then take out and add a handful of finely chopped fresh Basil.

Meanwhile, cook some good quality egg-rich Fettuccine. When these are ready, melt 50 g butter per diner in a saucepan until foamy, then fry a handful of finely diced fresh sage leaves.

Toss the pasta with the sage butter, serve with the chicken and a crisp white wine.

It won’t look like fine dining, but neither will the finger-licking diners. It’ll make for a fine dinner though.

Quick Pasta Alternative

second-quick-pasta-01Our private name for Spaghetti Aglio e Olio has always been quick pasta or Schnelle Nudeln to be precise, obviously in reference to the short preparation time and minimum effort required.

Here’s another lovely quick pasta dish, with the added bonus of increased capacity for using-up leftover vegetable:

Fettuccine with Sage Butter, Nuts and Stuff

I start with a small amount of vegetables. I happen to have half a bulb of fennel and half a small squash in the fridge, on another day some Swiss chard or cauliflower might do the trick or perhaps thin stripes of Savoy cabbage or Italian Cavolo Nego will join the party.

Bring a pot of pasta cooking water to the boil.

Meanwhile, toast a handful of nuts in a non-sticking frying pan. We had pistachio nuts and pumpkin seeds, but walnuts or Macadamia would also be great. Salt slightly and set the nuts aside but keep the pan.

Dice the veg and using the same pan to caramelise lightly in a little bit of butter except when using cauliflower.
When using cauliflower, cut into small chunks such that each has a flat side, and dry-roast in the same pan at moderate heat. When using cabbage greens such as stripes of Savoy cabbage or Cavolo Nero, stir-fry dry for two minutes, then for another 30 seconds with added butter.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, then set aside.

Add a teaspoon of salt and 250 g of good quality egg Fettuccine to the boiling pasta water, reduce the heat and stir gently once the dry pasta begins to soften up to avoid lumps.

Clean, dry and chop a large handful of fresh sage leaves into very fine bits. Melt 75 g of butter until it begins to foam, then add the sage and stir occasionally for a minute.

Drain the pasta and dress with the nuts, vegetables and sage butter.

I added little pieces of blue cheese but I suppose the addition of cheese is optional.

Quick and easy.

Party Bread Rolls

P20150926112635.JPGThese savoury bread rolls make for great finger food to take along to a party and share. They are easily adjusted to vegetarians or vegans and can be very delicious, especially when straight from the oven.

I make a basic bread dough and let it rise for half an hour, then roll it out. This needs to rise for another 30 to 45 minutes, preferably in a warm and damp environment. I usually put it into the oven, covering the inside of the door with a tea towel wet with hot water.

Meanwhile, collect an assortment of “toppings”. Semi-dried tomatoes work great, salami or Chorizo slices, goats cheese or Swiss Gruyere, chopped olives, rosemary, fresh thyme, basil. Whatever your garden has to offer, or that magic cupboard in the larder. Perhaps you could even use up one of those jars of relish, pickles or chutney?

Spread and sprinkle the toppings of your choice across the surface of the bread dough, then roll up into one large roll and cut into slices.

Now lay out the slices on a tray with baking parchment and let recover from the ordeal for another 30 to 45 minutes, again preferably in a warm and not dry environment, then dust lightly with flour and bake at 200 C until ready within approximately 15 minutes.