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gin sour

A jolly good stiff drink for pandemic times. Sour, sweet and icy.

quantities for 1 drink
1.5 oz (43 ml) good London dry gin e.g. Gordons or Bombay Sapphire

note: this is a single ‘shot’ in countries like the US
2 tsp caster sugar
2 egg whites
2 tbsp lemon juice

Put the ingredients with plenty of ice into a cocktail shaker and shake hard. Strain, rinse out the strainer, return to the shaker and shake hard again to get a fine foamy head. Strain evenly into a cocktail glass.

This is finest when everything is ice cold. Put your glasses in the freezer. Also brilliant with lime juice.

beef pesto

I know I know, how original: the most famous recipe of Peter Gordon’s Sugar Club restaurant. But it is intensely flavoured and delicious. Serves 6.

beef fillet, 1.2 – 1.5 kg
400 ml tamari
250 ml cider vinegar
1 red chilli
6 cloves of garlic, peeled

Put tamari, vinegar, chilli and garlic in a blender and puree. Marinate beef in this for 2 – 7 days, covered, in the fridge. Turn every 12 hours.

Take up, drain and dry with a cloth. Cut into 6 equal pieces. Cut the larger end lengthwise so it is of similar thickness to the others.  Put in a warm place to reach room temperature

Heat a cast iron griddle or grill until very hot, lightly oil the fillet on the cut sides and grill for no more than 2 minutes each side, longer if you like it well done. Remember the acid (vinegar) in the marinade has done a lot of the ‘cooking’ for you already. Rest for a few minutes.

This can come out cool and harsh flavoured, because time on the heat is so short, whereas you want warm, relaxed meat that feels soft in the mouth. I am going to try finishing it in a slow oven next time, followed by a long rest.

Serve with pesto on top.

tiramisu

In this classic Italian dessert layers of flavour combine in the mouth. The result should not be cloying. Make a day ahead for the sponge layer to develop fully.

5 eggs, separated
7 tb white sugar
500 g mascarpone
50 ml marsala wine
16-20 Savoiardi biscuits (lady fingers)
60 ml (2 shots) fresh espresso coffee
good quality cocoa powder

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar in a metal bowl until pale and thick, fold in the mascarpone. Whisk the egg whites in a metal bowl until soft peaks form and fold in.

Dip the biscuits in the marsala and lay in the bottom of a 20 x 30 cm serving dish. Drizzle the espresso over and cover with the mascarpone mixture. Chill in the fridge.

Before serving sprinkle generously with cocoa powder.

Source: Lotte H, from her footloose OE in Italy 20 years ago

Bibimbap

Literally ‘mixed rice’, is a popular and popularised Korean staple with countless variations. It is a bit elaborate to prepare, but could easily be scaled up to serve a banquet. Serves 4.

3 c short grain Japanese sticky rice, cook in a rice cooker with a little less water than usual

1 tb tamari
2 tsp honey
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tb rice wine
1 tb minced spring onion
1 clove garlic, minced
200 g beef rump or sirloin, cut into thin strips across the grain, no more than 50 mm long

4 tb gochujang (Koren red chilli paste)
2 tb miso paste
1 tb honey
1 tb sesame oil
1 tb rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
small knob ginger, minced
1 tb sake
water

garlic, minced
ginger, minced
oil
sesame oil
2 carrots, julienned
2 courgette, julienned
25g dried shittake mushrooms, soaked and thinly sliced

1 daikon radish, julienned
1 small cucumber, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 tb rice vinegar
kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage), if you have some

400 g bean sprouts
1 bunch spinach

4 eggs

spring onion, finely chopped
black sesame seeds
mayonnaise (optional)

 

Combine first 6 ingredients and marinate the beef in this for at least 20 minutes.

Mix the next 9 ingredients for the gochujang sauce. Add water to adjust the texture and fieriness to your taste and to the characteristics of the gochujang you start with. The sauce packs a wallop.

Separately saute the carrot, courgette, shittake each in the oil with a dash of sesame oil, 1 tsp of garlic 1/2 tsp of ginger. Season and set aside.

Quick-pickle the diakon. Add the vinegar and some salt to the cucumber,

Lightly blanch the bean sprouts and spinach separately. Squeeze the excess water out of the spinach. Lightly season and add a little sesame oil, set aside.

Stir fry the beef in some peanut oil over high heat until just done, shake off excess liquid and set aside. Fry the eggs in oil, sunny side up.

Assemble the bibimbap in hearty bowls, one per person:
make a bed of warm rice, put the egg on top in the middle and place portions of the beef and vegetables around it. The idea is to have a satisfying arrangement of 5 colours (red/orange, green, black/dark, yellow, white). Garnish with the spring onion and sesame seeds. Serve the gochujang sauce in a bowl for eaters to spoon over. Korean dishes, like their Japanese cousins, often add mayonnaise for a creamy counterpoint; you could try that too. To eat, give the whole bowl a good stir and pile in. The goal is a vivid ensemble of textures and flavours, with a common note of sesame. You can omit the meat for vegetarian if you like, or add fried tofu.

Spicy wings

Nothing fancy here, just finger lickin’ good. This works because being small, the wings have a lot of surface area (skin) for the spice rub to flavour.

1 kg chicken wings
2 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp coriander seeds, toasted in a pan and ground
2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted in a pan and ground
1 tsp fennel seeds, toasted in a pan and ground
chilli powder to taste (try 1/2 tsp)
1 tb finely chopped garlic
2 tb finely chopped ginger
2 lemons

Combine everything except the lemons and work into the wings with your hands. Leave in the fridge as long as you can, up to 3 days. Brush with oil and grill on the bbq or oven. Squeeze over the juice from the lemons and season if you need to.

Source: ‘Stoked’ by Al Brown

Vegetables and fruits

Post 4 of a series of digests from the magisterial ‘On food and cooking’ by Harold McGee. I may augment these posts as I come across nuggets of information from other sources.

Plants produce lignin, the major component of wood, in secondary growth away from the main shoot. We rarely encounter lignin in plants we eat, but where we do, say the base of mature asparagus, there is no alternative but to remove it.

The other important factor in plant texture is the inner water pressure, or turgor. of the individual cells. When the cells are fully hydrated we experience a crisp texture. If the tissue has lost water, the cell membranes draw away from the cell walls and the vegetable become limp. The vegetable compartment in your refrigerator is designed to maintain a higher humidity to preserve turgor.

Cut vegetables and fruit turn brown due to an enzyme that oxidises phenolic compounds in the tissue and causes them to condense into brown polymers. Browning can be arrested by cold or very hot temperature, immersing in water or better brine, and especially treating with lemon juice or ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

Flavours:

Bitter – astringency is caused by tannins and is the sensation caused by the ‘tanning’ of proteins in the saliva and mucous membranes of the mouth.
Sweet – sugars. In most fruit sugars supplied by photosynthesizing leaves are stored as starch, which is then converted back into sugar as ripening commences.
Sour – various acids.
Odor. The essential oil of a plant is the set of all the compounds that can be distilled from that plant and that contribute to its characteristic aroma. Only a few plant families have strongly accented oils – our spice rack is basically a collection of our favorite essential oils. The volatile oils in fruits are usually concentrated in the skin in specialised oil glans.

Vegetables generally have mild flavours when raw but develop stronger ones when cooked, cabbage being a famous example. The onion family is one example that goes the other way.

The darker the colour of a leafy vegetable, the more nutrients it contains. The inner leaves of a lettuce have 1/30th as much vitamin C as the outer leaves. The situation is similar with the skin of fruit.

Poisonous plants to avoid. Potatoes that started to sprout and turn green contain alkaloids that can only be removing by peeling the outer surface away.

Fruit are stimulated to ripen by ethylene gas, which they produce themselves. Nowadays many fruit are picked hard, shipped and gassed with ethylene to prepare them for the counter. This helps explain the anaemic flavour of much supermarket produce – it has been removed prematurely from its source of nourishment.

In many ways vegetables deteriorate more quickly than fruit after harvest and fresh vegetables are sweeter, more flavorful and better textured. Most fruits and vegetable take well to refrigeration as their biochemical activity is slowed. Fruits native to the tropics are an exception; bananas, avocados, citrus, pineapples, melons, eggplants, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, beans are best kept at 10’C.  Fruits and vegetables are still alive and respiring. If denied oxygen the plant cells switch to anaerobic respiration, which results in the accumulation of alcohol in the tissue and spoilage. Therefore do not store them in closed plastic bags.

Plant tissue suffers less in freezing than meat. However freezing does not eliminate enzymic activity and it is preferable to blanch vegetables before freezing, to inactivate the enzymes. Frozen vegetables are best cooked straight from the freezer and not thawed as this will given microbes more of a chance to degrade the food.

Preserves are the technique of boosting the sugar content of fruits and some vegetables in order to kill micro-organisms responsible for spoilage. Sugar also helps fruit retain its shape and texture by interacting with the cell wall hemicelluloses and pectin. Preserves get their smooth consistency from pectin, present either in the fruit itself or added in powder form. Coaxing a pectin to gel requires a delicate balance of acid, sugar and pectin and this explains why we refer to the ‘art’ of making jam.

There are two basic types of pickles: adding acid, usually in the form of vinegar, and fermentation where acid-producing bacteria are encouraged to grow. In the first the vegetable is cooked to the desired consistency or put in a brine for a short time to draw out moisture that would dilute the vinegar. Then it is immersed in the vinegar, often with spices. Bacteria are inactive in this environment, although the surface must be covered. With fermentation the vegetable is put in a brine solution strong enough to prevent the growth of undesirable bacteria but weak enough to allow several species that produce lactic acid.

Meat

Post 3 of a series of digests from the magisterial ‘On food and cooking’ by Harold McGee. I may augment these posts as I come across nuggets of information from other sources.

Meats’ nutritional composition varies considerably. Pork is on average 12% protein and 45% fat while chicken is 30% and 5% respectfully. With regard to fat, the fat component of beef varies considerably with the cut and grade of animal. With pork and lamb the fat content is more consistent (and higher) so there is less differential with ‘lean’ meat.

Meat has three primary components – muscle fibre, connective tissue and fat. As a rule meat will be tough when the muscle fibres are coarse rather than fine, when there is a lot of connective tissue and when the meat is lean (low in fat).

Young animals have smaller diameter muscle fibres that have been little used. As the animal ages the fibres enlarge, with the muscles least used enlarging the least. This is why beef fillet is tenderer than shoulder, which is in constant use.

Fat contributes to tenderness in cooking by penetrating the muscle tissue and helping separate fibre from fibre.

Muscle fibres divide into ‘slow-twitch’ that burn fat with oxygen and are generally darker and ‘fast-twitch’ that burn the carbohydrate glycogen without oxygen, producing lactic acid as a by-product, and are whiter. The slow fibres characterise muscles in constant use and are more flavoursome.

Animals slaughtered when under stress produce meat that is less acidic and of lower quality. Carcasses are then hung, for two reasons:  they are bled to reduce the risk of spoilage and hanging extends the muscles to help relax them from rigor mortis, which occurs in the days following slaughter.

Beef is improved by aging for 10 days to several weeks, lamb for up to a week. In aging it appears that lactic acid breaks down the cell walls liberating enzymes that attack the meat proteins. This liberates amino acids that cause flavour changes. And the meat becomes more tender. However the connective tissue is not much effected. The meat loses water by evaporation, intensifying flavour.

Cooking meat

An inevitable consequence of cooking meat is the loss of some juice, more pronounced with longer or hotter cooking. B vitamins are carried away by the juices. Cooking meat creates the characteristic flavour in two ways. First the cell membrances are damaged allowing cell contents to mix and undergo chemical changes. A significant element here are fats, which are transformed to receptacles of flavour. This explains why lean meat can be a disappointment in the mouth. Second, intense heat favors the Maillard reactions, exceedingly complex chemical reactions mostly involving proteins and carbohydrates. It is easiest to obtain high temperatures on the surface of the meat so browning reactions concentrate in a crust where the meat is roasted, grilled or fried. Keep the surface of the meat dry to maximise Maillard. For example salt and refrigerate the day before, then take out, pat dry and allow to come to room temperature.

Tenderising

The most straightforward way is cutting, pounding or grinding the meat to break down the structure of the muscle bundles. Cutting and pounding are only useful for fairly thin cuts and grinding produces a new substance entirely.

Chemical tenderisers may be used. The enzyme papain found in papaya leaves and fruit, and enzymes in figs, pineapple and some fungi will digest proteins. However this only effects the surface of the meat and will also cause fluid loss, therefore drier meat, and the enzymes do not accomplish much below 60°C, and they are inactivated at boiling point. Foods with digestive enzymes will of course introduce these to the digestive tract, where they may directly aid in digestion of the masticated meat.

Acid marinades like wine, vinegar or citrus tenderise the surface of meat, again with drier meat the result.

Cooking

The muscle fibres shrink and shorten with heat, reaching their limit at about 77°C. Their proteins uncoil and coagulate. This causes the meat to look more and more opaque and to exude juice as the coagulating proteins squeeze out fluids. By 77°C the meat is well-done, smaller, denser and less moist.

On the other hand the collagen in connective tissue requires more intensive cooking to be converted into soft gelatin, which begins at 60°C but is more rapid approaching 100°C.

Cooking tender meat therefore requires compromise.

A fallacy: that ‘searing’ the outside of meat seals in the meat juices and nutrients. In fact a seared crust does nothing to inhibit moisture loss; its main benefit is the creation of ‘browning reaction’ flavors, and as such can be done at the beginning or the end of cooking.

Fish and shellfish have short muscle fibres, fragile connective tissue and little fat so must be cooked quite differently to other meats. As little as possible, only to the point that the muscle proteins coagulate.

Organ meats such as liver and kidneys contain little connective tissue so must be treated gently and cooked briefly. Hearts and other muscular variety meats on the other hand are lean well-exercised meat and require long slow cooking.

Grilling occurs with element temperatures in excess of 1000°C and is suited to thin tender cuts like chops and steaks. Connective tissue does not have the time to be broken down but the intense temperature produces strong browning reaction flavours.

Pan frying is limited to the smoking point of fat used – unclarified butter 121°C, vegetable oils 232°C. The meat surface is browned quickly in a minute or two and the heat is usually reduced to prevent the surface being toughened. If the pan is covered a process more like braising results.

Roasting relies on infrared radiation and convective heat transfer so is relatively slow and suited to large pieces of meat. If your main concern is juiciness do not bother to sear the meat. A relatively high temperature and shorter cooker time works well for cuts with little connective tissue, such as rib roast. Low temperature and prolonged cooking will be better for less tender cuts, like rump. Pork and lamb, coming from younger animals and with more fat, are less effected by changes in cooking temperature. Take the roast out when 5° below the desired temperature and it will continue cooking. Carve with a very sharp knife to cut through the tissues cleanly and minimise juice loss.

Braising, for example the pot roast, will bring the meat close to boiling temperature right through fairly quickly. Cuts with a lot of connective tissue respond well to braising but premium cuts will be made tougher. Small tender cuts like chops can be braised just to the point of done-ness. It is advisable to sear the meat before braising.

Internal meat temperatures ‘C
Beef / chicken / pork : 63 rare / 71 medium / 77 well-done.
Chicken : 63 just done / 68 done.