Southern Angola, early nineties...

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Muamba da Galinha. A Peasant Dish and one of my favorites

How dare we kill an animal to eat its flesh and then throw half of it away?

I respect people who choose to be Vegetarians, Vegans or even Venusians (those who refuse to eat Cadbury's Eggs or pasta) but I feel sorry for their kids, who are just busting for a MacWhopper with Chips and a Milk Shake.

We raise our own animals here with the intention of killing and eating them.  Mainly chickens as none of us has had the guts to take a knife to Goosie's neck.  He's an ornery beast and will nip your ankles if you're not paying attention but he's part of the scenery now and keeps the dogs in line and unwelcome visitors from darkening my door.  As a recluse, I can thoroughly recommend a goose as a guard so I can't bring myself to eat him.  There are so many parallels between us.  He wanders the garden chewing everything and everyone in sight because he is on his own and I wander my lounge at night with a gutful of whisky suffused with the stark realisation I might as well be on my own.  Neither of us are getting our leg over.  At least I have TV.

So I kill chickens for food.

I have done a lot of hunting in my time and I have one hunting rule which I have passed on to my oldest boy and will, in due course, pass on to little Alex: 'Don't kill anything you aren't going to eat'.  Technically, by my simple rule and with a decent lawyer on your payroll, if you had the appetite and a big enough freezer, you could legally blow way an elephant and have enough ivory to carve a lifetime's supply of toothpicks but I think you all know where I am coming from.  As omnivores, we have to kill to survive but what we do kill, should be sustainable and we should use all of it.

I could say, 'They are only chickens'.  But I saw every one of them emerge into this world and every single one of them eats grain out of my hand.  They will sit on my shoulder or on my lap.  I don't have fleas but they will peck in my hair like female gorillas grooming an alpha male.  And then I select one and chop its head off.

If you are going to kill an animal, then be prepared to eat it.  From its arse to its lips.  Does Kentucky Fried Chicken offer packets of fried chicken lips?  I never died from eating a Big Mac or a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and by God I have enjoyed them.  We may question from where McDonald's get their ground beef and how Kentucky look after their chickens but there's no denying, if you are hungry enough to eat a horse (a non-endangered source of meat available in all good UK supermarkets), they're both finger lickin' good and although there might have been outbreaks of obesity and flatulence, I haven't seen any mass outbreaks of botulism.

So, here we go. If you have a few scrawny chickens running around, this is what you do.. 

First catch them, kill them, pluck them and draw them. 

(I spared you those images.  Unlike Cro, I was pretty bloody useless when it came to drawing fowl.  My art teacher always said my efforts were indistinguishable from Lowry paintings.  At the time, in the early Seventies, I took it as the insult it was intended to be.  I'd like to meet the bastard now and at least get my paintings back.)

Then chop them up and chuck them into a pan with a bit of water and stick them on the boil,


I could not find the chicken lips while dissecting the chickens but saved the breasts and thighs
for later and for this exercise in providing sustenance, just ran with the feet and wings,
plonking them in a pan with a bit of water, banging the lid on and boiling them up a bit.
In the meantime I collected a few simple ingredients.
A few garlic cloves beaten to a pulp with a bit of rock salt.
Roughly chopped tomatoes
an onion
and a couple of plastic sacks of beaten and pounded to hell peanuts.
Chop the onions up (you can see I took my time over this). Add the
tomatoes and garlic paste and fry it all up in a pan.
I squeezed out the peanut paste into a small pan of boiling water
and kept stirring it until it looked like milky breakfast tea.

I added the onion tomato mix to the chicken
and then added the peanut juice

Served with rice, and maybe a side dish of really hot local peppers and a cooling  cucumber salad
made with natural yoghurt and finely chopped mint, this is delicious.
Etiquette Tip:  Provide guests with crisp, clean, starched linen napkins, finger bowls and, as the host, dive in first so as to lead by example.  This really is finger lickin' good!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Quiteta

A Peasant collecting Clams, God Bless her. 
She deserves more than four bucks a bucket.

Yesterday I decided I would prepare a fine chicken curry with a smooth peanut and coconut cream sauce.  I like curries with a spiciness categorised as ‘Burning Bum By Morning’ but little Alex’s palate is refined enough to sense chilli in his food even if the last time I touched the local very fiery hot peppers was a week ago.  Maybe I should try washing my hands more often.  Anyway, there was no way I could put chilli into it so I went for smoothness, a rich, creamy sauce lathered around chunks of deboned chicken ladled over rice.  Creaminess of texture takes time, so I started early.

Marcia was in town and Alex was off with his friends so I was on my own in the house.  Sometimes I like being on my own.  I don’t know about you but every now and then I think I could have been perfectly happy living as a bachelor in converted stables in some mews in London.  Looking back, I know exactly where I went wrong.  Shagging my farming neighbour’s daughter and accepting the gracious offer of the light of his life’s hand in marriage rather than two Ely cartridges discharged at point blank range into my guts.  With hindsight, of course, I would have dared the outraged father to shoot me.

I just wanted to clean.  Women have no idea how to clean.  Oh sure, they can wash dishes, do a bit of dusting and can run an iron over dhobi but clean?  Not a chance.  For a start, any dirt above eyeball level is invisible.  To fry one single egg they need three litres of olive oil, four frying pans, a casserole, a pressure cooker and about ten plates.  I have never yet met a woman who can pour herself a bowl of cornflakes and eat them without destroying a whole kitchen.  And, I know I have banged on about this before, ANY flat surface is a repository for icky feminine things.  What woman would accept her husband rinsing his kecks out in the sink and hanging them out to dry on the shower taps?  Steaming socks on the radiator, would they go for that?  At least this is a hot country so I don’t have to fight my way through dangling stockings to get to the shower.  Who washes stockings or pantyhose anyway?  I thought they were disposable, like nappies, another disgusting consequence of productive co-habitation between the sexes.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love kids, but like puppies they are just so bloody messy until they are house trained.

So today I could clean.  And having cleaned I decided to cook.

I took five chicken legs, dropped them into a pan with a couple of chopped onions.  I added very roughly chopped stalks of fresh coriander, a few bashed to shit garlic cloves and a couple of ripe, slashed tomatoes and a dash of salt.  I poured in about a pint of water and set the pan on a high heat to boil the crap out of it for ten to fifteen minutes.  I then fished out the chicken legs, checking to see there was no blood oozing from them as I stabbed them with a fork, and laid them on a plate to cool.  I strained the liquid and set it aside.

I finely chopped onions, garlic and fresh coriander stalks and fried them off in a heavy cast iron pan.  Just as they were caramelising I added two heaped tablespoons of Garam Masala, gave it all a stir to sear the spices a bit before adding a tin of skinned tomatoes, bashing them with the wooden spoon to break them up and thicken the sauce before adding a squeeze of locally produced peanut paste (you could use two tablespoons of unsweetened smooth peanut butter), stirring that in before adding some of the stock and giving it all a good stir to combine.

I chopped into cubes a chunk of fresh pineapple and threw that into the mix along with a few roughly chopped coriander leaves.  Rather than swamp the mixture in the pan with all the chicken stock, I added it a bit at a time so as to keep the sauce thick as it reduced.

With the chicken legs cool enough to handle, I stripped the flesh off the bones.  I like the skin but neither Marcia nor Alex does (do? Help please YP) so the skin joined the bones in the bowl for the dogs.  I know that a lot of experts say one should not feed cooked chicken bones to dogs.  But they are not ‘dog’ experts, they are ‘soft fluffy pet’ experts.   Real dogs will eat the arse out of your pants as you are running and mine will happily gnaw on the skeleton of a bony fish as well as the bleeding bones of any intruder.  Cooked chicken and fish bones to them are just an appetizer and while I may have had a couple of them hack up spectacularly on my living room floor, none of them have ever choked to death and they look pretty damn healthy to anyone entering my property uninvited.

I finely sliced a couple of ripe but still firm red tomatoes and a couple of green sweet deseeded peppers, added them to the reduction giving it all a stir and then had a whisky and smoke break which allowed enough time to soften the peppers without them turning to mush, we want a bit of al Dente here.  I then chucked in the bite sized chicken pieces and added half a can of Coconut milk and half a handful of finely chopped coriander leaves, stirred it up again and left it on the heat until it started to bubble (not boil) before banging the lid on the pan and taking it off the heat.  This is why heavy cast iron pans beat everything else hands down.  There is enough latent heat in the iron to make sure everything warms through without the coconut milk curdling.  We’re going for creamy smoothness here and once again, free from distraction, I had not only achieved this, I had been able to accompany an episode of Midsomer Murders, choke down a few cigarettes and a couple of whiskeys.

I placed a pan of water, about a quart, on the burner to bring to the boil adding a good pinch of salt.

I very finely chopped a couple of Garlic cloves and half an onion and fried them off in a bit of olive oil in a heavy based pan.  I added two cups of rice and gave it all a good stir to make sure the rice was evenly coated with the oil before tipping in the boiling water (if it does not sizzle and scald your hand, you have chickened out and not roasted your rice) and banging the lid on the pan.  Like I said, my pans are heavy cast iron so it is hard to put their lids on quietly.  I turned the heat down to minimum and left it alone for the time it took me to smoke another fag and swig another glass of the amber nectar.

Lifting the lid off the pan, I could see no sign of liquid, just the steaming craters formed by water boiling through the rice so turned the heat off, banged the lid on again and left the rice to steam through gently.

My job was done.  The place was clean, the kitchen immaculate and the food was ready.

Half an hour later Marcia walked in carrying a bucket with Alex in tow.  A trip to town can be pretty unpredictable here so I was rather pleased with my timing.  My lovely family walk in, no doubt tired and hungry, and I can serve them immediately on the nicely laid out dining table.  I was pretty bloody chuffed.

‘Have you cooked?’ asked Marcia, sniffing the air, ‘Oh dear’

It's obviously a cultural thing, a sign of our vastly different backgrounds but most arguments Marcia and I have can be put down to a simple lack of mutual comprehension, things get lost in translation so, rather than take issue at her obvious dismay that her husband, housebound due to a rotting snake bitten foot, had cleaned the whole house and put food on the table, I asked her what she had in the bucket.

Quitetas’, she said.  Clams.  She had a whole bucket full of fresh clams.

‘We have to eat them now,’ I said, ‘I love Quitetas,’ I said, ‘It would be criminal to waste them.’

‘But what about your food?’ Márcia asked me.  I really hate her sometimes but she is such a love.

‘It’s a curry,’ I told her, ‘curries always taste better the next day.  I’ll stick it in the fridge and we’ll have it tomorrow.’

Márcia grabbed the last of the fresh coriander and tossed it into a very light, aluminium pan.  She chopped up an onion and added half a pint of white wine, threw in the rinsed clams and… carefully placed the wafer thin lid on so she didn't accidentally bend it.

So often, nowadays, people like to sit in splendid isolation and gorge their food in front of a TV.  I like to honour meal times by sitting at a table surrounded by family.  In what are sometimes arrogantly considered Third World cultures, food is served up in a communal pot, those choosing to absent themselves going hungry.

I delighted little Alex by showing him that to eat clams, he did not need to struggle with a knife and fork.  All he needed to do was suck the flesh from one shell and then use the original, pincer or tweezer like, to fetch the flesh out of the rest.  I crisped some fresh bread up in the newly rewired oven and made up a garlic butter dipping sauce.  We sat together around the table as a family for over an hour. 

The clams were delicious and a bucket full cost Márcia 400 Kwanzas.  That’s four dollars.  Talk about value for money.

My smooth chicken curry is, of course, outstanding.  But I’m glad we did not eat it last night and had communal clams instead.
 
 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Braised Marinaded Guinea Fowl, German Red Cabbage and Spaetzle

The writing of this post was interrupted by the fight at Fat Hippo's OK Corral so is a fraction out of date and too late now for Big Don 'Mad' Kev Alviti's Valentine's Day Dinner.  Still, I promised to give him the recipe for German Red Cabbage and then, as usual, I went overboard a bit.




A little while back Big Don ‘Mad’ Kev Alviti posted an excellent recipe for pheasant having landed a brace or two demonstrating that at heart he was more a family man than the ruthless underboss of a powerful family.  He also asked if any of his readers had other recipes for pheasant so I posted a comment detailing the way I cook Guinea Fowl which are, I suppose, Africa’s pheasants.  I suggested he served the dish with German style red cabbage, spaetzle and cucumber dill salad.
This is Sauerbraten (a marinaded roast beef) with Spaetzle and Red Cabbage.
The dish will look something like this but, delete the beef
and exchange it for the Guinea Fowl/Pheasant in the picture below:

 
He seemed pleased but wanted to know how to make German style red cabbage.  I think German cuisine is much maligned and definitely hovers in the shadow of its culinary powerful neighbor France in much the same way as good, honest English food does.  I would be hard pushed to state categorically which my favorite dish was but I can say categorically that it would not be French.  I have no desire to upset any of my French readers.  You are the world’s epicures.  Most of the lexicon of culinary terminology is derived from your language, a language also highly regarded for its power to seduce women, so I think the French cottoned on to the idea ages ago that most living creatures on Earth are motivated by instincts to survive and procreate so why not do it stylishly.  And so the French fashion industry was born, Citroen and Facel Vega made barking mad cars, Brigitte Bardot proved that God was having a really good day when he made Woman and every Chef the world over strives for a Michelin star.

If I had to choose one English dish, honey glazed roast pork with roast potatoes and parsnips, boiled cabbage and parsley sauce would be right up there.  The German dish would be any Wild Gericht, (wild boar, venison) in a creamy mushroom sauce served with red cabbage and spaetzle, the German pasta and it was the latter I suggested to Big Don Alviti since we were dealing with pheasant.

Naturally I wanted to reply and explain how one prepares red cabbage German style but then I realized that we are so close to Valentine’s Day, a significant anniversary for families like the Alvitis so, I thought, why not go the whole hog and do a St Valentine’s Day Massacre Menu?

As a result, this is a long post and since I have never photographed the dishes I describe in the past, all the photos you see have been culled from the interweb thingy but I will correct that when I prepare all this for Marcia in a few days time.

First, the recipe I suggested to Big Don Kev for pheasant a few days ago:

This is how I prepare Guinea Fowl so it will work well with pheasant. It works with chicken and duck too.

Portion the birds and place in a glass bowl. Add a couple of bay leaves, roughly chopped onion, carrots, pepper corns, juniper berries, a few whole cloves and cover with red wine. Cover and leave overnight in a cool place (we have to stick it in the fridge in Angola).

Next day, brown the portions of bird off on high heat in a bit of olive oil in a cast iron casserole. Add a couple of tablespoons of flour to the sizzling birds, give it a good stir around and then add the strained liquid from the marinade. Best to do it gradually while stirring gently so that the wine combines with the flour and juices.

Strain a jar of pickled pearl onions (the really small ones) and place them in another heavy based pan, add brown sugar, a tablespoon, and caramelize. Don’t burn it, keep it all moving, and then add that to the birds.

Add wild mushrooms, can be dry but the heavier the flavor the better (button mushrooms are a bit bland), and a chopped up big chunk of smoked bacon (not the water injected sliced stuff you get in vacuum sealed packets) and also a pinch of black pepper.

Let this simmer gently for an hour or two. Check every now and then to see it isn’t burning on the bottom of the pan but be careful not to knock the flesh apart. Add chicken stock to prevent the sauce over thickening and burning and, towards the end, check seasoning. They like lots of salt here but you may get enough out of the bacon for your taste. If not, add a pinch or so to taste. Then take it off the heat and let it settle. Before serving, add cream to the sauce which by now should be thick as gravy.

I have never used a ‘Crock Pot’ but I imagine such a device would be ideal once you have assembled all the ingredients into one pot. As I have already said, this works with chicken as well but you get the best flavor if you use the genuine free range ones that are tougher than the farmed varieties.

This dish is best served with red cabbage (cooked German style), German Spaetzle (to soak up the sauce) and a cucumber dill cream side salad.

That was the end of my original comment.  So now, just for Big Don Kev, here is the rest…

Red Cabbage, German style (well, my style anyway!)

Chop up one large onion, place in a big heavy pan with a bit of goose fat or beef or pork dripping (or olive oil) and fry them off until they are clear and slither about the pan.  You can caramelize them slightly but don’t let them burn!  Burning ingredients brings many forms of bitterness;  in your heart when you look inside the pan and say, ‘Shit! I’ve burnt them, now I have to start again’; for the flavor of the dish and finally, for your family who eat it and think to themselves, ‘I wish Mum had cooked tonight’.  So don’t burn anything!

Peel and thinly slice a couple of tart apples (coring them first obviously) and chuck them in.

Slice a red cabbage up into thin ribbons discarding the heavy white core and chuck them in.  Give it all a stir and then add a bloody good slosh of wine vinegar, about half a whisky glass full, give it another stir and bang the lid on the pan to let the lot steam for a couple of minutes.

Add a bay leaf, a few whole cloves, a few pinches of salt, a heaped teaspoon full of brown sugar and a loaded tablespoon full of thick plum or damson jam, the stuff that looks brown rather than artificially purple.  The Germans call that jam Pflaumenmus and instead of being gelatinous like ordinary jams, it resembles the slurry oozing out of a Russian industrial estate but believe me, it is fantastic.  I am sure you must be able to get it in UK by now.  If not, go for any fruit rich plum or damson jam.  If it is homemade, even if it is runny, so much the better.

Beef stock or wine?

Now you have a choice and I know my dear old Granny (yes, I am in my mid-fifties and my German Granny is, thankfully, still alive) would argue with me on this but, bear with me while I explain.  This stuff has to simmer for at least a couple of hours so the liquid we have added so far will not be enough.  There are those, curiously putting their health before culinary happiness, who say you should now add plain water.  What a load of tosh.  There are those, my dear Granny included, who say we should add white wine.  Granny, my darling Granny, matriarch of the Von Borken family, we have wine vinegar in there, why do we need to add only wine?  Naturally, when I am in Baden-Baden and in her kitchen, I do it her way but when I am beyond her stern gaze, I add beef stock and only a dash of wine.  This red cabbage is served as an accompaniment to rich game so we need to give it some legs so it can punch the diner’s tonsils on the way down.  So I would suggest keeping the mixture simmering in beef stock, adding maybe another dash of wine vinegar an hour into the process.    For the beef stock, the real stuff is of course best but an OXO cube dissolved into a litre of water is fine, you’ll probably only need half the stock anyway so you are not going to over flavor it.  Knorr is rubbish, by the way.

For the last half hour, you want the liquid to reduce so you need to keep an eye on the pan stirring it occasionally because IT MUST NOT BURN!

Once it is no longer sloppy and with a wooden spoon you can extract a real heaped spoonful , turn off the heat, bang the lid on again so it can rest and finish off the other dishes.

I realize that if you want to do your Pheasant/Guinea Fowl/Wild Chicken with Rotkohl and Spaetzle you will need to be around to rattle the pans for a couple of hours but believe me, with practice, you can do all that and in the meantime mow the lawn, install a new loft hatch and service the truck. Oh and wash the pans, of course.  All before the wife gets home.

It is nearly Valentine’s day so if you are up for the Pheasant dish and the red cabbage, just buy the Spaetzle, I am certain it’s available in any decent delicatessen and all you have to do is cook it like pasta.  It is, though, incredibly easy to make but you really need one of these, a spaetzle press:
A lot of people hate doing things manually, they want to see an On Off button but this is so easy

It is also good for ricing potatoes and squeezing the water out of soaked socks so they dry quicker on the radiator.  The socks, not the potatoes.

 
With one of these, all you have to do is follow the step-by-step instructions for making Spaetzle in less time than it has taken you to read this far on this excellent site:  http://step-by-step-cook.co.uk/sidedishes/spaetzle/

Dominic has been making himself spaetzle with my press since he was nine.  He has it for breakfast frying up chopped bacon and mushrooms in a pan with loads of butter and then adding the spaetzle.

Now you need an entrée.  Buy a bag of frozen King Prawns (like if you want to go crazy Big Don, buy lobster tails), let them thaw out and peel them.  Buy some really crispy lettuce, a few cherry tomatoes, some celery and some ripe Avocados.  Now you need some Heinz Salad Cream, Tomato Ketchup and some Tabasco Sauce.  Beat up in a bowl (sorry about all the washing up) a 50:50 mix of salad cream and tomato sauce.  Add a few drops of Tabasco (we don’t want ‘Burning Bum By Morning’ but we do need a little piquancy), salt and pepper, give it all a stir and place to one side.  I am surrounded by ravenous dogs so ‘placing to one side’ for me means higher than they can jump.  Shred the lettuce and make a bed of it on a large flat plate.  Don’t go mad, Mad Big Don, this is just a garnish, we’re not disguising a grave with vegetation here.  If the prawns/lobster tails are from a reputable source, such as Findus, then place them in a colander, boil up a kettle of water and blanche them to remove any trace of equine DNA before sticking them in the fridge to chill.  If they are from your local EU unlicensed fishmonger then they are likely to be raw and unlikely to be anything else other than prawns or lobster tails so just steam them in a colander over a pan of hot water with a bit of chopped garlic, onion and wine for a few minutes and then chill them in the fridge.

Don’t be tempted to slice into the avocados until moments before you assemble the dish unless you really hate your guests.  There are many ways of testing the quality of an avocado (poking the end, squeezing it) but I subscribe to the John Gray method.  I realize Scotch Eggs do not grow on trees but they are more or less the same shape and scoffing a couple on the way home is a sure fire guarantee of quality so remember to buy a couple extra.  I can go through Avocados at the rate of about one every ten miles, if I am driving, more if I am the passenger.

Slice a couple of the cherry tomatoes into as thin strips as you can.  Slice four inch sticks of celery into as thin strips as you can.

Shit, I forgot the Mangos.  Peel a ripe Mango and slice the flesh off.  It is always easier to peel just a bit of the skin off, slice the exposed flesh and then peel it a bit more and so on.  Peeling the whole thing and then trying to slice it makes the flesh mushy.

Bollocks, I forgot the fresh coriander leaves as well.  Seriously, I am rubbish at writing about cooking but stick me in front of the pans…

So nip back to the supermarket and buy a bunch of fresh coriander leaves.

When you get back, give everything a stir to make sure it isn’t BURNING and then chop some of the coriander up finely.

Peel the avocado.  This is dead easy.  Just attack it with a knife.  I usually kill them cleanly by quickly slicing them in half and giving them a twist so the big brain in the middle falls out.  Peel the skin off and then slice them lengthways but not quite to the end.  This way, pressing a hand down on top of them causes their earthly remains to spread out in a wonderful fan.  Slide a Chef’s knife or spatula underneath and lift this onto the restrained bed of crunchy lettuce.  Squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over the avocado.   On top of this lay a few slices, we are talking no more than two or three wafer thin segments here, of mango.  Now assemble the prawn/lobster tail on top.  Over this sprinkle just the tiniest hint of the chopped fresh coriander leaves.  Then as artistically as clumsy fingers allow, spread some of the salad cream/tomato sauce mixture over the pile.  A good dollup.  Don’t be shy but bear in mind, your guests are interested in what they are about to eat so while they are thanking God for what they are about to receive, they may also be grateful for a glimpse of steamed crustacean so they recognize what they are about to receive.

Toss the celery and tomato in a bowl to mix them up but not beat them into submission and then add a small multi-coloured bird’s nest of finely sliced celery with a hint, a mere smidgin of  the finely sliced tomato on top.  Crown this with the tiniest, thinnest slice of Mango and a few larger coriander leaves.

So we have sorted the Entrée out.  You know how to prepare your pheasant/chicken/Guinea Fowl, the German style red cabbage and you are going to buy ready-made Spaetzle (like most Germans do) so now we are just missing the side salad and a dessert.

I have maids which makes it easy for me.  I honestly hope you have a dishwasher because we need more bowls.

Peel and thinly slice a couple of cucumbers.  Lay the slices out in a bowl and finely sprinkle a bit of salt over each layer.  Do not go overboard Big Don Mad Alviti, just the very lightest dusting.  Think where the Boss says, ‘Give him a good kicking but don’t kill him’.  I know once you have a loaded packet of salt in your hand it is hard, but this time we need subtle. 

Stick the bowl in the fridge and forget about it for an hour or so. 

Where I live, Big Don A, I can only buy UHT cream which tends to come out of the packet as a stream of water followed by disgusting lumps which needs a good hiding with a whisk to get it looking half normal.  I am sure where you are, you can buy really nice fresh cream.  Buy some of that, give 250 mls or so a little stir in yet another bowl (you run out of bowls yet?) and mix in some finely chopped fresh dill, at least two tablespoons full.  If you have left the cucumber for a couple of hours you will find it is swamped in salty water.  Drain the salty water off and add the cream and dill, stir it up and stick it back in the fridge.  This will be your palate cleansing side salad.

Apart from the pheasants which you had to go out and shoot, everything I have mentioned in this Valentine’s menu is available in a supermarket so let’s keep up the momentum and talk about dessert.

Buy a big tin of peach halves in syrup and a normal sized can of pitted black cherries.  If you can't get tinned pitted black cherries, no matter, just warn everyone and provide a small plate for the spits, I mean pits.

Open the tins but only pour out the syrup into a heavy based pan (more washing and scrubbing I know).  If you have one, chuck in a sliced vanilla pod.  Also add a small piece of cinnamon bark and a clove and reduce the liquid to about a quarter of the volume.  Then remove the whole spices.  The juice should be quite syrupy. Add the peach halves and black cherries and fry them up.  You will need to gently flip the peach halves over a few times.  DON’T BURN THEM!

You could, and I urge you to try, flambé them at the table in front of a startled audience but I have found that while my sons are delighted by my theatrical extravagance, my wife is more concerned about our thatched roof.  If your wife feels the same way as mine, call the kids through to the kitchen on the pretext of collecting the plates and eating irons to lay the table, slosh in the Cointreau or Cognac and let rip.  It is a bonding experience when the kids rush back into the lounge shouting gleefully, ‘Mummy, Mummy! Dad’s just burnt his eyebrows off and had to put his head in the washing up bowl!  It was EVER so funny!’

Covered in Vanilla ice cream and the rest of the whipped fresh cream, this makes an excellent dessert.


Bon Appetit Monsieur Big Don 'Mad' Kev Alviti!


Go on, admit it.  How many of you having read my last post saw the title of this one and thought, shit, it's turned into a shoot out at Fat Hippo's?

 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Quick and Easy Lobster Curry


I have no idea how much lobster costs in UK but like everything there, I guess it is pretty expensive and not everyone has the opportunity save a few pennies by going out and catching a pot full every time they need some.  In Luanda, whole lobster sells for about $15 a kilo which strikes me as pretty bloody eye-watering if all you’re going to eat is the tail, which is all most people seem to want.  Our lobsters here are crayfish really, as they do not have claws but everyone calls them lobster.

I do like lobster; simply done in boiling water then chopped up into a salad or butterflied and then grilled with plenty of butter.  I especially like it, however, when made as a curry.

This curry is relatively quick and easy to make and uses easy to find ingredients, many of them (shock, horror!) in tins.

First, get yourself a few lobsters…

That should be enough to start with...
Fill a big pan up with very slightly salted water, add chopped fresh coriander stems and bring it up to the boil.

Some people are squeamish about giving lobster a final very hot bath so if you are one of them, buy frozen lobster and leave the guilt to someone else.  If you have live ones, you can always pop them in the freezer for a while which numbs them.  The trick is not to overload the pot, if you do the temperature of the water falls rapidly and this not only spoils the flesh, it could lead to the appetite busting sight of a lobster thrashing about screaming for Radox bath salts.

While you are busy dropping lobsters in a pot and fishing them out once they are pink (five minutes or so) finely chop up a few onions (one small one per lobster) and fry them off in some oil in a heavy based pan until they are translucent, not brown. 

Add a generous table spoon of Garam Masala and stir that in before adding a couple of tins of skinned tomatoes and mash them around to pulp them up a bit.  By now the lobsters should all have been boiled so take a couple of cups of the water and pour that into the onion/tomato mix and give it a stir.  Keep an eye on it so it does not burn adding a little more lobster water as required.  At this stage I usually add chopped fresh pineapple but this is entirely optional.  If you want your curry spicy though, this is the time to add fresh or dried chilli.  I have a four year old who shouldn’t really eat spicy food so even though I like my curries with a heat rating of ‘Burning Bum By Morning’, I have to make do with mild for the time being.

Cooking with Gas!  Steaming nicely.  Note the shitty little stove I survive with at the moment
This is what the sauce should look like with the addition of a little of the water in which the lobsters were boiled

Rip the tails off the lobsters and split them open straight down the back.  Peel out the flesh and remove the vein.  Throw the heads back into the boiling water.  Chop up the lobster tails into bite sized chunks and put them to one side.

Five lobster tails, a pot of Coconut milk, a wooden cutting board and a sharp knife.  What else can I say about this photo?


Lobster bodies thrown back into the water to make a lovely stock

At this stage I usually pause to choke down a cigarette and moisten my tonsils with amber nectar to give time for all the flavour from the lobster bodies to infuse.

Ladle out about a litre of the infused lobster water into the onion/tomato mix and give the mixture a stir to incorporate it.  This now needs to reduce which will allow further time for salad preparation, another quick shmoke and a slug of something nice.  Put a litre of fresh, very slightly salted water into a pan and set that on the heat.  This will be for the rice.
 
Little Alex just can't resist testing the reduction.  He is my finest critic (out of the mouths of babes and all that), and he is certainly not verbose limiting his reviews to just 'YUCK!' or, 'MMM. NICE DADDY!'.  Today I was a nice Daddy.
 
Very finely chop an onion and a couple of garlic cloves and sweat them off with a bay leaf in a few tablespoons of oil in a heavy based pan (one that has a lid).  When the onions are soft, add two mug fulls of rice and stir the rice around so it does not stick.  You want to coat all the rice grains with oil.  Then add the boiling water and give the rice one more gentle stir to ensure nothing is stuck to the bottom of the pan.  Allow the rice to come to the boil, turn the heat down low and put the lid on the pan.

By now the onion tomato mix should be reducing nicely.  It needs to reduce until you can draw a path through it with a wooden spoon so that the bottom of the pan is briefly exposed.  The mixture should be loose but not liquid. 

Doesn't take long to reduce so keep an eye on it.  If you burn it, you have to go straight to jail, not pass Go and not collect 200 Quid...

Add the chopped lobster, chopped fresh coriander leaves, stir it up and then add half a can of coconut cream.  Allow this to come to a simmer on a low heat, check seasoning.  You shouldn't really need salt as there was salt in the lobster water (unless you are cooking for Angolans who consume enough salt with every meal to preserve a ham) then bung the lid on and turn the heat off.



Note, we haven’t bothered to even check the rice, let alone stir it. Have a look at the pan, if there is still lots of steam escaping out from under the lid, there is still water in there.  When the steam output starts to reduce (about ten minutes after first pouring the boiling water in) lift the lid off the rice pan.  What we want to see is no water, instead little craters in the rice surface where the water has boiled through.  If the pan is still steaming slightly, it will not have burnt.  Turn the heat off, leave the lid on the pan and relax for ten minutes (or lay the table if the Maidling is already off duty).

Garnish the curry with a little more fresh coriander and serve.
 
Some decent sized (20-25 Kg) Kingfish we caught earlier.  I'll get round to doing some nice recipes with these later.  Honest!
 
While I was rattling the pans, the monkeys were hooting at each other in the jungle not 50 yards from the kitchen door.  Must have been the smell of the cooking. Sorry for the quality of the photo, it was taken with the camera on my phone which, apart from a ladle, was all I had to hand.  Do not expect any Monkey recipes from me by the way...

 
In the meantime I have kept myself, and a few willing helpers, busy laying 196 square metres of tiles in the restaurant area as well as surrounding the same with the double wall that will form the beds for my herbs and flowers.
STILL a bloody building site but there is progress
 

Looks bigger now that it has been tiled.  That and only having one table. Sorry about the uncleared mess on it, I had to feed the troops and the maidling was still foraging for scraps when I took this photo.  I shall bend her over the table and give her a stiff talking to in the morning.
 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fish and Potato Soup

I made Fish Head Soup yesterday. Doesn’t sound very appetising I know, but I refuse to waste food whenever it can be avoided.

Living on the coast we are lucky as fresh fish is always available. The larger ones are ideal for filleting but this always leaves the skeletons and heads, still with quite a lot of flesh on despite my skill with a filleting knife. I cannot bring myself to discard what many would consider waste so usually bag and freeze it.

Yesterday evening, none of my family seemed particularly hungry so after playing ‘Twenty Questions’, we all decided that soup accompanied by fresh bread enjoyed in front of the TV would be ideal so I dug out the mortal remains of the fish.

Usually my fish soup is very light, a subtly flavoured liquid, a suspension of tender flesh and Al Dente vegetables but this time I fancied something rather more substantial, the sort of comfort food that leaves a lingering, yet pleasant aftertaste and a warm glow of satisfaction, a meal in itself rather than just an appetizer.

Angola has pretty much shut down since the Independence Day celebrations of the 11th and I was reminded of this as I surveyed my largely denuded cache of potential ingredients. It had been a week since the last grocery shop so I was going to have to improvise.

My usually generously stocked larder yielded only half a dozen small potatoes, some onions and a few tomatoes. I knew I had coriander and gindungo, our local fiery hot pepper growing in the garden, some fresh ginger and various spices I collected the last time I went through Dubai but that was about it.

I placed the fish heads into a large pot, added enough water to half submerge them, a roughly chopped onion, a bunch of coriander stalks (saving the tender leaves for later), a couple of tomatoes, a couple of green peppers, a few cardamon pods, a hot pepper and set the lot to boil.

I diced the remaining onions and with a little oil in a heavy based pan, sweated them off until they passed through the glossy stage and started to caramelise slightly. I then added a teaspoon of Garam Masala and some very finely chopped ginger, gave it a good stir before adding a couple of cups of water and left it to simmer. I diced the remaining tomatoes bar one and the potatoes (peeled and chopped) and tossed them in as well, periodically adding a cup of water to keep the mixture loose.

After about 45 minutes, topping up with water as necessary, the fish heads and skeletons had released an unctuous mix of flavour and fish oils into my stock so I strained the liquid into a bowl and once the fish had cooled sufficiently, I picked off the surprising amount of flesh still clinging to the bones.

Using a hand held blender, I whizzed the onion/tomato/potato mixture into a smooth paste and added the fish stock, bringing it up to a gentle simmer over a low heat and seasoned to taste. I then added a finely diced tomato, finely chopped fresh coriander leaves and the recovered flesh from the fish.

Served with toasted white bread it went down a treat.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke. ~Rudyard Kipling, The Betrothed


Tobacco and alcohol, delicious fathers of abiding friendships and fertile reveries. ~Luis Buñuel
By all acounts, the 'informal' barbecue was a success, at the very least in so far as the extra security I employed to cover the visit of such an esteemed guest was not required to rush his writhing body down to the Sagrada Esperanca Hospital in the back of a pick up in order to have his stomach pumped out.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

His Lordship’s Barbecue

I am expecting a fairly high profile visit the day after tomorrow. The host will be Winston Churchill’s grandson (no less a formidable man in his own right) and he has invited a few other dignitaries, among them senior Angolan officials and the British Ambassador. I have had the honour to cook for the Honourable Rupert Soames on just one other occasion and I quickly learnt that his palate demands the same perfect standards he expects of the employees of his very successful company. Best be on my toes then.

To avoid disaster, therefore, I had a dummy run of the menu last night. Before his aristocratic seat settled itself into one of my chairs, I wanted to be sure that everything would be perfect. It was an unmitigated catastrophe. Oh the food was OK; it was just served at odd intervals and in a distressingly random order. Mr Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen is a kindergarten cookery lesson in comparison to my kitchen when I finally lose my rag. I can tell you that it is possible to stick a chef’s knife through the steel side of a 20-foot container if you are wound up enough. Still, the exercise proved a point, not least the quality of a good drop forged knife, and I am reasonably assured that all will go well on the night.

The proposed menu, for what is supposed to be an informal barbecue is:

Salad of varieties of crisp lettuce, water cress, cherry tomatoes, fresh coriander leaves, mint and parsley tossed in olive oil, light vinegar and seasoning and mixed with diced avocado and pieces of toasted sheep’s cheese.

King prawns, lobster tails and fresh vegetables braised in Coconut milk curry sauce.

Filet steak basted with home made barbecue pepper sauce and grilled over hot charcoal.

Dauphin Potatoes (potato slices braised in creamy milk and butter and well seasoned with salt and pepper before being gently baked under a light coating of grated cheeeeese Gromit).

Potato salad made with potatoes, boiled ham, sliced pickled gherkins, home made mayonnaise and fresh cream and seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh parsley.

Coleslaw made with finely grated cabbage, carrots, onions, sliced celery, home-made mayonnaise, fresh cream and pineapple.

Cucumber dill salad.

Dessert

Fruit salad of pineapple, banana, passion fruit, grapes, mango and papaya steeped in a light vanilla Cointreau sugar syrup over ice cream.

A light, Al Fresco snack then.

For those of you who are wondering at the relative lack of meat and the preponderance of salads and vegetable dishes I would ask you to consider this: if you went to a restaurant and were served three varieties of carbonised flesh, say beef, chicken and sausage and sod all else, you would quickly tire of chewing your way through the dry, tasteless protein and would, in all probability avoid repeating the experience. Why then, when the word ‘Barbecue’ is mentioned, do the majority of us assume that this simply means firing up half an endangered forest and roasting as much meat as could fit in that small remaining space in the back of our car not occupied by the seemingly mandatory vast quantiites of beer?

This barbecue menu is really quite simple, the guests will be delighted and your workload will be sufficiently well managed to allow you plenty of time to socialise (or drain the bar of whisky as is my wont).

So, each part explained below:

Salad of varieties of crisp lettuce, water cress, cherry tomatoes, fresh coriander leaves, mint and parsley tossed in olive oil, light vinegar and seasoning and mixed with diced avocado and pieces of toasted sheep’s cheese.

Pretty much self explanatory. Water cress is fantastic when mixed up with a variety of crisp lettuce. Its pepperiness adds a refreshing tang so there is no need to be shy. A handful of chopped parsley, coriander leaves and a bit of mint add to the bouquet of flavours and the avocado and diced cheese really makes it something special. Cheddar is a bit strong but it will work in extremis if you only use a bit and grate it so that it mixes in well. Best is a slab of Greek sheep’s cheese very lightly toasted under the grill before dicing and mixing in with the salad. Seasoning with salt pepper, oil and a light vinegar should be according to your taste. A dash of lemon juice invariably enhances the overall flavour.

King prawns, lobster tails and fresh vegetables braised in Coconut milk curry sauce.

Filet steaks take but a few moments on the barbecue so you need to prepare the sea food dish, or as the Angolan’s romantically refer to such dishes 'fruits of the sea' in advance but only finish it off by braising the prawns and lobster once the steak is on the barbecue (the usual last minute rush).

Finely chop an onion and a couple of garlic cloves. Thinly slice a carrot lengthways, a couple of green peppers, a couple of courgettes and chop up a couple of ripe red tomatoes. Chop off the stalks of a bunch of fresh coriander leaves and slice them up finely.

Add a splash of olive oil to a heavy based frying pan and when hot, add the vegetables and sweat them off. Add a teaspoon of chopped fresh chillies (we use a pepper here called Gindungo, which is pure dynamite but if used sparingly, tastes great), a teaspoon of dried coriander powder, a teaspoon or so of Turmeric, and a teaspoon of Cumin and stir the lot up.

At his point you could, if the meat was not ready, take the pan off the heat and wait until the steaks are just about done on the barbeque. When you are ready, warm the pan up again and add a can of coconut cream or milk and allow the mixture to warm through. Season with enough salt to taste. Add the prawns and lobster tails, stir into the mixture, add a handful of chopped fresh coriander leaves, put the lid on the pan and allow the meat to cook through. You will need to turn the lobster tails and prawns once to ensure even cooking. It is a nice touch, if your barbeque grill is big enough, to do the final cooking of the seafood on the barbeque, that way the guests can get a really mouth-watering introduction to the dish they are about to enjoy. The final cooking should only take about five minutes. It is important not to overcook the prawns and lobster as the meat will lose its texture and flavour. If it is pink on the outside and evenly white throughout, it is done. The easiest way to check is to keep pinching a bit out of the pan and testing it. It is ready when the meat is white all the way through but still has a bite to it. Pour the contents of the pan into a warmed serving dish and garnish with chopped coriander leaves.

A surprisingly delicate variation is to add a handful of chopped pineapples to the vegetables and sweat them off together. They soften up nicely during the cooking and provide a pleasant contrast to the spiciness of the dish and pineapple, in my opinion, goes well with seafood.

If you want to serve rice with it, see basics 1 below. I will have rice on hand on the night as I know, and am hoping, that a few of our Angolan colleagues, those that help us run the site, will gate crash the party and I will need extra to feed the temporarily enhanced security team.

Filet steak basted with home made barbecue pepper sauce and grilled over hot charcoal.

Grilling beef filet on a barbeque is not rocket science so I shan’t bother with the details. Obviously, every guest you are about to serve will have different ideas about the definition of ‘rare’, ‘medium’ or ‘well done’ and the odd one, with a stunning disregard for your status as host and the obligations you therefore have to each and every one of them, will expect you to personally supervise the cooking of ‘their’ steak to its perfect conclusion. I usually rack the steaks up when nicely browned on the outside and still pink in the middle and announce in a loud voice that the meat is ready and then let the guests pick and choose. There will be at least one who, beer in hand, decides to reduce their selection to little more than furnace fuel but that is all part of the fun. For the more irritatingly macho of them, those that feel it is their God given, altruistic duty to educate us mere mortals on the intricacies of searing meat, I have a specially prepared jar of Gindungo which I introduce to them as, ‘a mild tomato based sauce that you should try, here is a soup-spoon with which to serve it’. If you pick the right sort of individual (and they are usually pretty easy to recognise because they will have pissed you off at an early stage), rather than admit instant defeat with the first searing mouthful of volcanic magma, they will push on to everyone else’s amusement and, more or less instantly, their own very obvious excruciating discomfort. Rest contentedly at night once the remainder of your guests have gone home (sniggering), knowing as they do that the following morning will bring renewed anguish for the crass git. Round here, Gindungo is not referred to as requiring ‘toilet paper in the fridge’ without good reason.

While a decent filet has a delicate flavour and texture on its own, basting it with a home-made barbeque sauce is very much in keeping with the garden grill culture and seems to go down well. The sauce can be made in advance and refrigerated, keeps very well for at least a week. I have not been able to test it for longer as no batch has ever lasted beyond that evidently being consumed long before its 'sell by date'.

Take three or four good sized onions and a few garlic cloves, don’t bother to peel them, and place them on a baking tray and into a hot oven. Twenty or so minutes later, add four whole sweet peppers. After another 15 minutes or so, throw in half a dozen tomatoes. By 40-45 minutes total time, the onions should be soft and their inner parts squeezing out of their skins. The peppers should be brown and blistering in places and the tomatoes very soft, the skins also browning. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool sufficiently so that you can handle them. Strip the skins off, doesn't have to be perfect, and drop the peeled flesh into a blender. Add a dash of soy sauce, a tiny bit of chillie, salt, pepper, a couple of squirts of Worcestershire sauce, a teaspoonful of sugar, the juice of a lemon, a dash of olive oil and a few tablespoons of vinegar. Blend the lot into a puree. Cut the filet into 1 ½ - 2” thick slices, baste with the sauce and leave to one side until time to barbecue. Use the remainder of the sauce to baste during the grilling process.

Dauphin Potatoes (potato slices braised in creamy milk and butter and well seasoned with salt and pepper).

Peel the potatoes and slice them up into ¼ “ thick slices and arrange them into an oven proof dish. Season each layer well with a bit of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add a few small knobs of butter and then arrange the next layer. About halfway through, sprinkle in a handful of chopped fresh parsley. Build up the layers until about ¾” below the top of the dish. Pour in a carton of cream and top up with full cream milk until the top layer is just awash. Cover with tinfoil and bung the dish into a hot oven. Leave it for ¾ of an hour and then remove the tin foil add a sprinkling of grated mild cheese and give it 10-15 minutes just to brown the surface off a bit. If, like me, you cannot resist checking it about halfway through and it seems a little dry, add a bit more milk as necessary.

Potato salad made with potatoes, boiled ham, sliced pickled gherkins, home made mayonnaise and fresh cream and seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh parsley.

Boil the potatoes in their skins in slightly salted water until you can pierce them with a skewer but they are still firm enough to allow you to lift them out of the water on the skewer. If they just slide easily off the vertically held skewer, you have overcooked them. If the skewer sticks in but does not penetrate, like a blunt arrow in a pub dartboard, then they need a little more time. Once ready, drain the water and let them cool. The skins should be easy to gently squeeze off without mashing the flesh. Dice the potatoes and place in a bowl, add finely chopped parsley and a knob of butter. Add salt and ground black pepper.

Take a chunk of boiled ham and dice it finely. You can use tinned ham but trust me, supporting your local butcher will pay epicurial dividends. Do the same with the pickled gherkins and gently stir into the potatoes (we do not want mashed potatoes).
Add sufficient mayonnaise to moisten all the ingredients and then half a carton of cream, mix gently and set aside ready to serve.

Coleslaw made with finely grated cabbage, carrots, onions, sliced celery, home-made mayonnaise, fresh cream and pineapple.

Slice up the cabbage finely. I usualy like eating the core but that is desperately selfish. Slice it up as fine as you can and add it to the mixture. Chop up an onion as small as possible. Finely slice a couple of celery stalks lengthways and then chop them into 2” lengths. Using a coarse grater, grate up enough carrots to roughly equal the amount of cabbage. Grate it in such a way as to produce slices as long as possible. Cut two slices off a fresh pineapple, core them and then chop them up into small pieces. Mix it all together and add enough mayonnaise to bind the mixture together. Season with salt and pepper. Add ½ a carton of cream, mix and set aside to serve later.

Cucumber dill salad.

Peel the cucumber and slice as thin as possible. Arrange the slices in a wide bottom bowl, seasoning each layer with salt and a bit of pepper. Place the bowl in the fridge and leave for a few hours. After this time, the salt will have sweated the cucumber and there will be a lot of juice. Stir the now glassy cucumber slices around and then drain the juice off. Finely chop a generous bunch of fresh dill and mix in a carton of cream. I like sour cream, some people don’t so try it both ways and see which you prefer but, if the majority of your guests do not introduce themselves with names suggesting their point of origin, like Von (from) Borken for example, play it safe and use fresh cream. Set aside and serve later.

Dessert

Fruit salad of pineapple, banana, passion fruit, grapes, mango and papaya steeped in a light vanilla Cointreau sugar syrup over ice cream.

Chop up all the juicy fruits into small chunks collecting the juice as you go. This juice should go into a small, heavy based pan. Add the juice of a lemon and an orange or two. Place the chopped fruit into a serving bowl and add sliced banana and the grapes.

Add a vanilla pod and a clove or two to the fruit juice in the pan and boil it up to reduce it to about a half of its original volume. Add a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar and dissolve the sugar. Do not turn the mixture into a sticky syrup, or worse still, a toffee, we need about half a pint of liquid so if there isn’t enough, add more freshly squeezed orange juice. Remove the vanilla pod and cloves and reserve the liquid in a cool place. Once it is cold, add a shot of Cointreau, chop up some fresh mint, add that to the fruit and then pour the liquid over giving the whole lot a stir. Save in the fridge until ready to serve.

This tastes great over vanilla ice-cream and if you really are ambivalent about cardiac problems, a knob of whipped cream as well.

This fruit salad recipe is a refinement of the Frontline version which consisted of opening a tin of mixed fruit salad, adding a shot of local brandy or cane spirit and leaving it while the roadkill was grilled up over the fire.