Friday, February 28

Duck Spring Rolls, Sweet Chilli Hoisin Dipping Sauce

Greasy spring rolls from the Chinese takeaway may become a thing of the past once you have tried my version. Now I'm not planning to send my dinner off to a lab for calorific analysis, but I'm pretty sure these spring rolls are quite healthy. I managed to get a whole bag of supermarket prepared stir-fry veg into just four spring rolls and according to the blurb on the bag, this is two of my five a day. If you use my technique of sealing the spring rolls with flour paste, very little oil gets inside and they were super crispy but not greasy at all. With this justification at the forefront of my mind, I scoffed the lot.  Really easy to prepare, it took me just 10 minutes to make up the spring rolls and a few minutes more to fry…it's got to be worth go right….?

6 Spring roll wrappers - you can get these frozen from Chinese stores
1 bag of ready prepared stir fry vegetables
A knob of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
A clove of garlic - peeled and chopped
1 tbsp of soy sauce
A handful of shredded duck, chicken, pork or whatever you fancy
Vegetable oil for frying
2 tbsp hoisin sauce from a jar
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp flour

Add a tbsp of oil to a frying pan and get on a really high heat - you need to cook away any water that comes out of the vegetables so make sure the pan is smoking hot. Quickly fry the ginger and garlic and when just starting to colour add the vegetables, stir frying until softened. Add the duck and soy sauce, and bubble away to nothing. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool. 

If your spring roll wrappers are frozen you can sometimes get a knife between the sheets and carefully ease off 5 or 6 in a lump. You can then put the rest back in the freezer for another day. I stated six spring roll wrappers on the ingredients list as sometimes when you separate the sheets, you tear a few - I only used four.

Make a thick paste (think wall paper paste) from the flour and a little water. Now take a spring roll wrapper. Place 1/4 of the duck mix along one edge leaving an inch or so clear each side. Tightly roll up half way. Rub a little flour paste along both side edges and along the edge furthest from you. Fold the sides in then continue to roll up completely using a little more flour paste to seal any open edges. I'm not sure I need to describe what the finished product should look like - a spring roll, clearly! Repeat for the other three spring rolls and set aside.

Heat your deep fat fryer to 180c or put about an inch of oil in a deep pan. If using a pan you can tell the oil is hot enough by dropping in a little bit of bread - it should cook to golden in about a minute. Fry off the spring rolls (in batches if necessary) until golden and crispy.  Drain on kitchen roll.

While frying, mix the hoisin with the chilli sauce and a little water. Have a taste. All shop bought sauces vary in flavour so try adding a little honey or lime juice to correct the dipping sauce to your taste. Tuck in.

Tuesday, February 25

Crisp Roast Gressingham Duck, Duck Fat Potatoes, Pedro Ximenez Jus

This is an absolute belter of a dish and could make for a simpler Sunday roast for those whom excessive veg prep is a chore. The duck is slow roasted to crispy perfection over a pan of potatoes flavoured with garlic and rosemary, the gently rendering duck fat providing the necessary lubricant to deliver crisp edged flavoursome spuds.  This cooking method will not deliver pink breast meat, it will be cooked through and falling from the bone - think Chinese shredded duck.

However the real star of the show is the Pedro Ximenez jus (or gravy in less poncey terms). Pedro Ximenez is a sticky sweet sultana scented sherry from Jerez in Spain. Temper this sweetness with vinegar and meat stock and you pretty much have the perfect duck sauce. I more or less devoured the whole duck alone, ripping crisp skin and butter soft fatty meat from bone, shoving it into the sauce and then my mouth like a mad man.

For 2 or maybe three people at a push:

1 Gressingham Duck
1 kg of potatoes (Maris Piper) peeled and cut into chunks
2 sprigs of rosemary
4 fat cloves of garlic, skin on

For the sauce:
250ml meat stock - beef, chicken or ham are all good, not lamb though
50ml Pedro Ximenez, maybe a little more to taste
100ml of good red wine
2 tbsp good red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 scant tsp arrowroot slaked in a little cold water

Heat you're oven to 220c. Spatchcock the duck by cutting out the backbone with a sturdy pair of scissors. Flatten the bird, season well and place straight on the bars of the oven rack with a suitable roasting tray placed below to catch the juices. The addition of a little water to the roasting tray stops the juices burning before the fat has properly rendered, the water will evaporate before you need to roast your spuds leaving only hot oil.

Roast the duck for 30 minutes then drop the oven temperature to 150c and cook for another hour and a half. Blanch the spuds, drain then chuff up the edges so they crisp well. Turn the oven back up to 200c and toss the spuds into the oven tray with the duck fat, the rosemary, the garlic and a good seasoning of Maldon salt. Roast for another 30 to 40 mins turning the spuds every so often until the edges are crisp.

While the spuds are roasting make the sauce. Boil the vinegar to almost nothing then chuck in the wine, stock and sugar and reduce by half. Add the sherry and simmer until the alcohol has burnt off - you will taste this as the harshness will disappear leaving only the flavour. You can add a little more sherry if you think it needs it. Add the arrow root and allow to thicken, pass through a sieve and keep warm.

Check your duck - the skin should be golden and crisp and the leg bones should feel loose, as if you could pull them from the bird leaving the meat behind. Serve up - the only accompaniment required is some good red wine and some steamed greens……..and maybe a bib.

Saturday, February 15

Wye Valley Smoked Salmon, Dill, Capers, Lemon & Crème Fraîche

You don't see smoked salmon on menus that much anymore. Sure it appears in bagels with cream cheese and alongside eggs as a affordably luxurious brunch, but not really as a stand alone dish. I guess it is seen as a bit 80's, a bit passé, a little naff in todays climate of molecular gastronomy and Nordic foraged bleeding edge cuisine. 

Well I'm nearly forty and my days of following fashion have long gone…..and like a comfortable pair of corduroy trousers, I'm quite partial to a bit of smoked salmon. Invest in a well made product, not the supermarket mass produced crap. Severn & Wye Smokery ( produce the some of the best I have tasted. Treated here with simplicity alongside some good bread, fresh from the oven……great tasting plates of food never go out of fashion. Serves 2 as a starter or light lunch.

Good smoked salmon - 200g
Dill - 1 small bunch, leaves separated from stems
Unwaxed Lemon - 1, zested
Quality Crème Fraîche - 1 small pot
A little of your best extra virgin to drizzle
Capers - try and get the small 'lilliput' ones
Some fresh brown bread and butter

Not really much to say here, I'm sure you can look at the photo and repeat. I piped the crème fraîche using a piping bag - give it a little whisk to loosen beforehand - but a few spoonfuls artfully drizzled would taste just the same.

Sunday, February 9

Melanzane in Carrozza

Just the most perfect little veggie lunch dish from Napoli. The Italian translation of 'in Carrozza' means 'in a carriage' - not sure this is relevant or even that interesting but there you go…

The addition of lentils to the tomato sauce is my idea and therefore in-authentic, but they do make the whole more substantial. For four:

1 large carrot, peeled
2 sticks of celery
1 small leek, washed and trimmed
1 small onion, peeled
Olive oil for frying
Italian brown or puy lentils - 200g
Vegetable stock - from a cube is fine
Extra virgin for frying
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 sprig of rosemary, thyme and a bay leaf
2 quality tins of chopped tomatoes
1 bunch of basil, leaves separated from stems
2 balls of buffalo mozzarella
1 beaten egg
2 large aubergines
Plain flour -  1 large handful
Grated parmesan -  1 large handful
Breadcrumbs -  1 large handful
Balsamic glaze to drizzle

Slice the aubergine lengthways into 4 long slices of equal thickness (1.5cm) trimming the skin off the end pieces. Lightly season and oil and grill gently on a griddle until very soft and lightly char-marked. Set aside on a tea towel to cool.

Finely dice the carrot, celery, leek and onion and gently fry in olive oil until soft. Add a little garlic, the rosemary, thyme, bay leaf and the lentils. Just cover with vegetable stock or water and simmer until soft topping up with a little water if it needs it.  You want the lentils to be dryish when cooked.

Next make a basic tomato sauce by adding 50ml of olive oil to a sauté pan and gently fry the remainder of the garlic until it starts to go golden. Toss in the tomatoes and gently simmer with a good pinch of salt, black pepper and sugar until the tomatoes start to break down. Add the lentils and adjust the seasoning. Keep warm.

Cut the mozzarella into slices, top one slice of aubergine with the cheese and a basil leaf or two. Sandwich with another slice of aubergine and press together well. Repeat until you have four aubergine sandwiches. Dip into the beaten egg and dredge in the breadcrumb mix. Gently fry in 1 cm of olive oil until golden and then flip over. You may have to fry off the aubergine in batches - keep warm on kitchen roll.

Warm the sauce and tear in the remainder of the basil. Spoon onto warmed plates and top with the aubergine slices. Finish with a drizzle of good extra virgin, some balsamic , basil and more parmesan if you wish. 

Saturday, February 1

Chopped Chicken Livers on Toast, Bacon & Sage Crumbs

I like to try and have something 'on toast' permanently on the menu at the pub. If you make your own bread (which we do) then it is a great way to use up yesterdays loaf and avoid waste. Soft; rich; buttery chicken livers on charred bread with crispy bacon and astringent mustardy leaves……it's a very rustic and very good toast topper. 

Oh and a little tip here: when you make a vinaigrette, whisk the salt and sugar into the vinegar mix before you add the oil. The salt/sugar grains will not dissolve easily once you add the oil leading to a grainy dressing……no-one ever tells you this on TV……you heard it here first folks. For two:

Organic chicken livers - 250g
Milk for soaking
Good bread - 2 slices about half an inch thick
Some interesting salad leaves - a large handful
Butter - 50g
Dry cure streaky bacon - 4 rashers
Sage - a small handful of leaves, stalks discarded
Red wine vinegar - 2 tsp
Sugar - 1 tsp
Olive or vegetable oil - maybe 100ml
Dijon - 2 tsp

Pick through the livers and pull out any white bits - these are the cores of the livers and can be a little bit stringy. Soak the livers in milk for and hour or two, then rinse and dry on kitchen roll. Roughly chop and set aside. In a roomy pan warm a half the butter and fry the bacon over a medium-low heat until really golden and crispy. Remove from the pan and allow to drain on kitchen roll and cool down. Toss the sage into the same pan and fry until crisp, remove and add to the bacon on the kitchen roll.  Keep the pan on the heat - we will use it again in a minute.  When the bacon is cool, roughly chop with the  sage to make a course crumb. 

Toast your bread. Make a mustardy vinaigrette with the dijon and red wine vinegar, a good pinch of sugar, pepper and salt. Whisk well until the grains have dissolved then beat in veg or mild olive oil a little at a time until the dressing thickens - set aside.

The pan should be quite hot now.  Toss in another knob of butter, crank up the gas and throw in the livers. Season well and add a tiny dash of red wine vinegar, stir fry to your liking - I cook mine to medium.  Dress the leaves, top the toasts with the livers spooning over any pan juices that remain. Sprinkle with the bacon and sage crumbs.