Sunday, 17 March 2013

Time for a change

Just the thing to lift the tastebuds.
Mid-March, and a change of culinary tune was needed more than ever; something to provide a little zest as the gloom continues, with rain added in for good measure.

Early Saturday morning, pre-market, was invested in swotting both Mimi Sheraton’s The German Cookbook and Elisabeth Luard’s European Peasant Cuisine.

On the one hand, Germany is beckoning loud and clear now. After months of procrastination brought on by both a complex work schedule and underlying panic, the last week has seen bookings finally made. Lübeck, here I come!

My first solo trip outside the UK might have had to wait until my 51st year, but now it is looming, less than a month away.

Of which much more in due course.

In the meantime, back to yesterday morning’s culinary ruminations.

Sheraton’s is a remarkable book, thorough and packed with culinary history. But it's not particularly easy to actually cook from. So for instance, I’ve put off trying frikadellen for ages on the basis that her recipe contains so many ingredients.

I’ve had these little burgers ready-made from Lidl in the past, but really wanted to make my own. A spot of Googling served to reveal that they can be much simpler than something like 18 ingredients.

But that’s for another day.

In the meantime, before the onslaught of Germanophilia, a change was still required. And it came via Luard’s wonderful book.

Like Sheraton, Luard's scholarship is a joy – with the added bonus of a deliciously dry but light writing style. The answer to my need came in the shape of a French classic, chicken and 40 cloves of garlic.

Now if you don't like or aren't used to garlic, that's going to sound like a vast amount, but long, slow cooking makes it beautifully soft and sweet.

It's an easy dish.

Take your cloves of garlic – it's about three large bulbs – but don't peel them. Pop them in the bottom of a good, solid cooking pot and add about half a wine glass of olive oil.

Ready for the oven.
Take your bird and wipe it inside. Season and place on top of the garlic before adding more oil 7 the same amount again – on top of the bird. Just olive oil ordinaire, of course - not virgin.

Pop a lid on and, if it isn't a really good tight fit, Luard suggests sealing the pot with flour and water paste. I used my Le Creuset, with a sort of cartouche of foil over the top before the lid was placed on top.

And then it's into the oven at 170˚C (fan) for half an hour before the heat is turned down to 160˚C for around another 45 minutes.

Luard suggests serving it with toasted slices of bread, onto which you can then squeeze the garlic.

Unfortunately, I have a combination oven and grill, and there is no toaster in the place, but a sliced, decent-quality baguette is perfectly good.

And it was served with a salad of frisée lettuce, endive and watercress, with a dressing of white wine vinegar, olive oil, seasoning and grain mustard.

The chicken skin doesn't brown, but in this case, no matter: the meat is moist and wonderfully tender.

And given that there were just the two of us, there was plenty left over. My lunch tomorrow will involve some of the meat, plus a dressing made from the jelly that was left over, reduced and then whisked with the juice of half an orange.

For a jaded appetite in need of a lift, it was the perfect thing – not least the salad: how do I forget that salad is not just a summer thing?

Then today, I roasted a rolled and boned piece of pork shoulder.

The oven was set for 180˚C (fan). Sage leaves were pressed into the rolled meat and the scored skin rubbed well with coarse salt.

It had half an hour at that temperature, before the oven was turned down to 160˚C, a little boiling water added to the dish, and a peeled, cored, chunked Bramley apple tossed with liquid and fat, before the meat was put back on top.

It had another 90 minutes like that, with par-boiled spuds tossed in melted lard and popped in alongside after an hour.

On the side, tender stem broccoli.

Apart from sausages and mince and the very occasional gammon steak, I tend to avoid pork; fear, mostly: getting it too dry can be an issue after all.

But this worked well, was tasty and well cooked, not dry but with crispy skin – and like yesterday's chicken was a welcome change from a diet that seems to have been largely the same, week after week, as the second half of winter has dragged on.

And of course, could there be anything much more German than a bit of pig? Well, I'm going to start exploring that cuisine a little in the coming days.