Saturday, 20 July 2013

Salt talk II

Lamb chops – and the final English asparagus of the year
After twigging, at the beginning of the week, that salt was such an important factor in continued health in this weather, the days since have seen an upturn in how I’ve been feeling.

Spirits are improved, temper even seems better – and the only differences are the salt but with similar water intake, plus almost no complex carbs.

There may be a lesson there too.

Food continues to be simple. The most complex it’s been this was that Moroccan chicken with the lemon and olives previously mentioned.

Tuesday offered up grilled lamb chops with peas and what will almost certainly prove to be the final asparagus of the season.

Wednesday evening brought salad with smoked mackerel – but not the sort of stuff that comes in plastic vacuum packs from the supermarket, frequently looking a rather odd colour.

No, this was from Vicki on Broadway Market and was a lovely fish that had been smoked whole.

The fillets lifted away easily and all that was required was a small amount of attention with the pin-boning pliers.

Smoked fish of that quality is simply the business.

What could it possibly need with it apart from a light, basic dressing – oil, vinegar and salt whisked together – and the odd slice of lemon?

And Thursday saw the griddle pan emerge from the cupboard again, this time to cook steaks, which it did quite beautifully, before they too were served with watercress and lamb’s lettuce, a little vinaigrette, a sprinkle of banyuls-impregnated fleur de sel and, for me, some redcurrant jelly.

None of this was remotely complex. But food doesn’t have to be complex for it to be good. And it doesn’t have to be a fiddle, to take hours and to make you anxious for it to be good either.

Simple smoked mackerel salad
But returning to supermarkets, what is the BBC up to? The central premise of a new series, Britain’s Favourite Supermarket Foods, seems to involve presenter Cherry Healey examining big-selling foodstuffs for their health properties.

Presumably, producers surmised that this challenge could only be undertaken by making supermarkets central to the equation. Perhaps they decided that this should be the case because so many people use them, even though this is largely because they have such a dominant hold over the UK grocery retail market.

If you have to tie it into specific types of shops, why not use small local stores instead? Why not explore local markets? After all, the supermarkets all have massive advertising budgets already. They don’t need added publicity from Auntie.

(Thanks to Dave for letting me know about this piece of programming)

Greg Wallace was also on our TV screens this week, with Eat Well for Less?, which revealed, after taste tests, that the public can tell the difference between properly-cooked fish and chips and the ready-made variety that comes out of the oven.

Most, however, seem unable to spot the difference between fresh and frozen broccoli.

It was an odd programme in some ways. I found myself wondering how fresh the fresh broccoli was: was it supermarket ‘fresh’ – in other words, had it been sent halfway around the country via one of the supermarkets’ hugely centralised transport systems?

If so, it might not taste as good as the frozen, which had been processed into that state very quickly after harvesting.

Steak, lamb's lettuce and watercress – and salt
As an aside, I have no great aversion to frozen vegetables per se, although I’m not sure if or when I’ve eaten frozen broccoli.

Finally, on a TV note, the second episode of Raymond Blanc’s new series, How to Cook Well, was on this week, and the programme will remain a highlight of the TV scheduling for the remainining four weeks.

Unlike other cookery series, this doesn’t show a selection of recipes, but groups dishes together in order to help the viewer understand specific techniques.

So for instance, the first episode was centred on slow cooking – on probably the least likely week of the year when you’d be wanting to slow-cook anything very much!

As usual with Blanc, it wasn’t just entertaining in his inimitable way, but also really informative.

My attempts, in recent years, to really explore slow cooking have not been failures, but I’m not all the way there yet.

There are, as I might have mentioned once or twice, a shortage of recipe books out there that really give serious times and temperatures for cooking something long and slow – for the purposes of this, I’m perhaps most particularly talking about meat cooked in wine or beer.

In the days of microwaves and ready meals, 40 minutes sounds like slow cooking.

I have gone up to around five hours in the last year, usually on 150˚C (fan).

The news from that first episode is that while my timing may not be far off, my oven may not be quite hot enough. Blanc himself was cooking a shin of beef for four and a half hours at 150˚C – not a fan oven – and it was not simply falling off the bone and could be ‘cut’ with a spoon, the connective tissue had also simply melted into edible condition.

Michel Roux has a calculation, that if you don’t have a fan oven, you need to add 15˚C to the temperature, so on that basis, I’ll be trying 160˚C – for the same sort of time or more – come the autumn.

Incidentally, the butcher that he got the meat for suggested six hours for the cook.

The recipes for the series, incidentally, are all available on Blanc’s own website.

And with poaching as this week’s subject, and roasting next Tuesday, even if we don’t feel like eating a great deal at present, Blanc is offering plenty of food for thought.

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