Friday, 26 October 2012

Convenience food – voluptuously

It’s Friday, it’s well gone 4.55pm (but it’s not Crackerjack) and the Voluptuous Manifesto is bloody knackered.

What happens then? I want to eat well – but I am seriously not feeling in the mood to spend an hour or more in the kitchen. Is there a solution?

Well yes – there is. And amazing as it may sound to readers of this blog, it comes in the shape of three cans and a jar.

I had thought about pottering off for fresh fodder, but by the time my shift was done, I was glazed of eye and dull of mind, and all I wanted to do was get home and slump.

We all feel like that on occasions. The question is, can you make a good meal – and I do mean a seriously, volutuously good one – from the store cupboard?

Well, it does rather depend on the cupboard, but here goes.

Set the oven to approximately 155˚C (fan).

From a jar, decant some sauerkraut into a pan, just cover it with water, and simmer for a good 20 minutes or so. If you want, add a clove or two, the odd peppercorn, a few juniper berries and a bay leaf.

Open a tin of duck confit. Lift up the legs gently and let most of the duck fat drip slowly off. Do not throw any of this fabulous stuff away: remember, this is the fat of the ‘French Paradox’.

Pop the duck legs in a dish and from there into the oven for around 15 minutes.

One of the things with this dish is that it is not going to spoil – you’re not easily going to ‘overcook’ it.

Go and have a sit down. Have a cup of tea or a glass of wine.

Then rinse and drain a tin of cannellini beans and a small tine of new potatoes.

Dry the potatoes gently with kitchen paper.

Then pop the potatoes, the sauerkraut and the beans either into the same roasting dish as the duck – or in another one that has had a little of the duck fat melting in it.

Give it 10 to 15 minutes and … voila!

There you are. That’s the easiest gourmet dinner you’ll cook.

The thing is, convenience food is not cheap. But on occasion, it can be perfectly good.

The tinned confit ingredients were simply duck, duck fat and salt. Exactly as it should be.

For the sauerkraut, just white cabbage and salt – again, exactly as it right.

Both are traditional preserved foods: sauerkraut, incidentally, is not pickled, but fermented – and in parts of Germany and eastern Europe, they swear by the liquid as a health drink.

I find myself drifting back to the post the other day about the noble porker: we have forgotten, it seems to me, about preserved foods – other than jams and chutneys.

And it's worth noting that such traditional foods as the confit and the sauerkraut do not come with instructions on the tin or jar: these are foods that it is assumed the cook will know how to use.

The potatoes and the beans may be a slight cheat, but in terms of what I used, the waters came in water only, with no added salt. The only thing, apart from beans and water in the cannellini, was salt, and you can easily rinse them.

If this seems to be a strange combination of national foods – a cross between France, Germany and Italy – well it’s not really. In a cassoulet, beans are as essential an ingredient as the duck legs, while choucroute garni, a traditional dish from the Alsace region, incorporates sauerkraut and assorted meats.

Sauerkraut is also to be found in the cuisine of northern Italy – it’s not just a specifically German speciality.

I would recommend that you get hold of German sauerkraut – Polish is available, but it is, generally speaking, rather rougher.

This is a dish that sates superbly. You could quite easily remove the potatoes altogether. One of the big things here is the mouth feel.

That may sound like a phrase that foodie snobs use – and it is – but it has an everyday meaning and significance.

How food feels in your mouth – how the very experience of eating feels – is one of the factors that influences how sated you feel.

And this is a dream.

Go on – seriously. Take your time and think about how it feels when you bite down, when you move it around in mouth. Relish it.

The mouth feel is a major reason why I like cooking tinned cannelloni in good fat – they become wonderfully unctuous.

Okay, it might not be something to do quite every day, but it is real, real food – and it is as easy as anything.

And by god, as the nights draw in, the leaves fall to the ground and the temperature plummets, it is like being snuggled in a gloriously soft cardi, and hugged by warm and adoring cats.

In a dish.

Now what on Earth more could you want than that?

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