Bulk egg poaching: success

Yesterday I asked about this bulk poaching method in McGee. No responses so I had to go with it anyway. Turns out I was cooking Eggs Benedict for eleven people. The bulk method worked beautifully, as did the Hollandaise. The tricky part is getting the ham on the muffins in time to grab the eggs as they bob to the surface.

That method, in case anyone's interested, is this. Use a tall stock pot, for every litre of water add 8g of vinegar and 15g salt. I used four litres to get enough liquid. Once it's on a gentle boil, you drop the eggs in. When they're done (about 3 minutes) they float to the surface and you scoop them out with a slotted spoon.

This technique works best with very fresh eggs, which have more thick egg white than thin. You'll still lose some thin white, which will end up floating around the water, but that's fine. You also end up with lovely, boobie-shaped eggs, as the outside of the white hardens slightly as the egg falls down through the boiling water.

McGee's bulk egg poaching method

I'm cooking breakfast for our little food co-op tomorrow. Once a fortnight, we send someone out to Flemington to buy fruit and veg for the 11 households. This means we get a staggering quantity of stuff for about $25. Bargain! Then we meet up at someone's house and have brekkie before divvying up the loot.

I was planning to do an ordinary fry-up on the BBQ, as that's an easy way to cater for the crowds. The weather looks like it's gonna be shite though, so I've changed my mind and I'll do Eggs Benedict. You might think this is a bit ambitious for a crowd, but I actually think it'd be easier to coordinate than most other dishes.

Hollandaise, despite its temperamental reputation, is actually dead easy to make, now that I have the tip given to me by the main dude at my favourite cafe, Martini. All the recipes you read talk about complicated strategies involving double-boilers and simmering over boiling water. Turns out that's the bloody hard way. Instead what you do is heat up your butter and dribble it into the mixture while madly whisking. The butter's heat cooks the mix enough for my tastes, and you still get the nice thick sauce (which is caused by emulsification just like mayonnaise, not protein coagulation). It's always worked perfectly for me. Probably not hot enough for the food hygiene nazis but fine for me.

Now the tricky part of my plan is getting that many poached eggs out without there being quite a delay between each person. I'm planning to try the method given in McGee that is supposedly how it's done in restaurants. You salt the water to a fairly precise ratio, bring it to the boil and then just drop your eggs in. When they're done, they float to the top and you scoop them out. I haven't got the book to hand so can't tell you the secret ratio.

Has anyone used this method? How'd it go?

In Search of Perfection

I've been working my way through Heston Blumenthal's book In Search of Perfection, which accompanies the TV show of the same name.

Blumenthal is something of a food obsessive, to put it lightly. His three-star restaurant, The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, England, is a palace of high-concept, creative and weird food. He uses new ingredients and techniques to inspire traditional and brand-new foods. He's most famous for his snail porridge and his bacon and egg ice cream, but there's more to his food than just flash and frizz.

Holly and I ate at the restaurant a couple of years ago and the only regret is that we opted for the cheaper lunch menu rather than the (£80 + wine + service) tasting menu. The food was just incredible, with a range of courses exploring different ideas and amuses bouche between courses. The most intriguing dish was a beetroot crumble served as a side. Only after you start eating do you realise it also has those pop-rock crystals which pop and crackle in your mouth. This gives you some idea of the playfulness of his food.

In Search of Perfection, Heston
Blumenthal

In Search of Perfection is somewhat more serious. Blumental has taken a eight classic dishes and attempts to find the perfect recipe for them, but using techniques that don't necessarily require a food laboratory or inaccessible ingredients.

He's often written in the Grauniad about brining and long, slow, low-temperature cooking as a technique for cooking meat without losing juices or tenderness. He takes this to a serious extreme in ISOP. His recipe for steak requires about thirty hours of cooking, including using an industrial blowtorch (a creme brulee type won't do) and cooking at 50° for eight hours! And this is one of the simpler, easier recipes in the book.

It's kind of daunting, seeing these kinds of recipes, but I'm also intrigued to know the results. Along the way he develops techniques that a home cook can actually do, such as the aerated chocolate layer (think aero bar) of his Black Forest Gateau. In his lab he'd use a special vacuum machine, but he demonstrates how to do it at home. Melt chocolate and butter, then quickly put it into a pre-warmed cream machine and charge with four bulbs. Squirt the chocolate into a plastic container with a hole in the top, place the whole thing into one of those vacuum storage bags and very quickly extract the air with a household vacuum cleaner. The dissolved gas from the cream machine expands as the pressure drops and you end up with a very light chocolate. Quite incredible!

I particularly appreciated his exploration of Napoli-style pizza. This is pretty much impossible to make in a standard oven, as the pros use pizza ovens that are at least 350° and you just can't get that in your domestic oven. When I finally own a home, I plan to build a pizza oven in the garden that also doubles as a grill and southern-style indirect-heat barbecue.

At some point, when I've got lots of time, I'm going to attempt some of these recipes. It should be fun. I only hope my oven can actually do temperatures that low!

Oh and if you're in the UK, make sure you get out to Bray and try The Fat Duck. Go for the tasting menu, yes it's expensive but you won't be disappointed. You can get to Bray by catching an overland train to Maidenhead and a taxi to the restaurant.

They're a weird mob

These Australians are a bit weird. Just got back from the supermarket and nearly all the sausages are beef sausages. That's just wrong! Especially when they say things like "traditional" on the packaging.

Sausages are made with pork goddammit! Would love a Porkinson about now.

1999 Peter Lehmann Grenache

Back in 1999, we were drinking the fantastic 1998 Peter Lehmann Grenache. It was in our price range ($12 at the time) and very tasty. We kept going back to the bottle shop and buying more until they ran out and didn't get any more stock.

In 2000 we spotted the 1999 vintage of the same wine and bought a case. It was ghastly. Really nasty flavour. So we stuck it in my parents' garage and moved to London

Six years have been kind to this wine! We cracked a bottle last night and it was lovely. Loads of sediment, but it seems the nasty flavours have gone out with the sediment. Smooth, rich and velvety. Yum!

So I guess time heals all eh?

Summer Lamb Couscous Salad

This is a quick and easy summer salad that I've been making for years. It's tasty, healthy and dead easy to make. I find it's particularly suited to those long, hot summer evenings when you don't want to be making anything too complicated. Quantities are pretty approximate, so I wouldn't bother measuring stuff.

British cooks be careful with the commonly-available sweet chilli sauce. It's way too spicy, so use less or get hold of the much milder Thai stuff available in oriental supermarkets.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 2 lamb fillet slices
  • 1/2 cup sweet chilli sauce
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 1.5 cups couscous
  • 1.5 cups boiling water
  • Juice of six lemons, or limes to the same volume
  • Salad vegetables, julienned for the carrots, cucumber, pepper (capsicum) types

Method:

Cut the lamb into 1.5cm-wide strips and mix through with the ground cumin, half the sweet chilli sauce, a liberal grinding of pepper and half the lemon juice. Leave to marinate an hour or more, covered in the fridge.

Mix the remaining sweet chilli and lemon juice into a sauce. This is easiest done in a sealed jar, but can be done with a teaspoon in a little jug if you want to be classy.

Heat a frying pan to very hot with a little oil. Fry the lamb strips until a nice golden charring is on each side. The sweet chilli will caramalize. Discard the remainder of the marinade.

Prepare couscous by placing an equal volume of couscous and boiling water in a bowl and covering. Leave for a few minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Serve in bowls. First the couscous, then the salad vegetables, finally the lamb strips. Allow diners to add the sauce to taste.

Quick and easy fish

Holly has recently discovered she likes smoked mackerel. I've been eating it for years because it has many advantages: cheap, not endangered, tasty and being an oily fish it's got lots of the good stuff in it. So anyway, she's been getting me to cook it a lot recently.

Here's a really quick and easy meal I whipped up last Friday night. Dead easy, tasty and interesting both for flavours and textures.

The sweet potato is a bit of new ingredient for the Brits, and I've had people confused about what they are. Our local market sells two very different varieties interchangeably, often in the same basket. What you want are the yellow/orange-fleshed "kumara" type (though nobody here will know it by that name) not the white-fleshed yam type. Externally they look identical, but pick one up and scrape a tiny section of skin off with your thumbnail. If it's white, put it back. You want a deep orange/yellow colour. This picture shows you what you're looking for.

The sweet potato in this recipe works very well with the fish, adding a little sweetness and bulk to the dish. I also felt it was a bit lacking in starch, so I added a couple of sliced of oven roasted toast to bulk it up and soak up the garlic butter. By toasting it inthe oven you get a nice crunchiness, kind of like fried bread but without all that extra oil.

Ingredients:

  • 4 smoked mackerel fillets
  • 2 sliced multigrain bread
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • a shake of dried thyme
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • a short glug of oil

Pre-heat the oven to about 180°C.

Peel the sweet potato and slice it along its length in about 1cm slices. Then slice those into long, 1cm by 1cm chips.

Put a tiny amount of oil on a baking sheet and spread it around. Put the sweet potato on, with plenty of space around each. Cook for 20 minutes, then turn and cook another 20 minutes. You want them to start going golden brown.

While this is cooking, finely dice the garlic and heat it up with the butter. Throw in ashort shake of dried thyme, which adds a little warmth to the garlic butter.

When the sweet potato is cooked, leaving it in but bunching it up on the baking tray a bit, place the mackerel fillets on the tray, skin-side-down.

Arrange the slices of bread somewhere in the oven where they get heat from all sides. You want it to get nice and crispy, but not completely desiccated. You could do it in the toaster but you probably want it a bit dryer than you can get from that.

After ten minutes, the mackerel will be hot enough and the toast done. Take it all out of the oven and arrange like this:
Toast, sweet potato chips, mackerel, garlic butter.

Serve with some lightly steamed curly kale, which also benefits from a little garlic butter. Delicious!

Slow cooked chicken

Yesterday we had Scott and Katie around for late lunch. I cooked up some chicken I had in the freezer. This was an old bird I'd bought for coq au vin, organic but old so it had used those muscles. Chucked in pancetta, onions, garlic, thyme and chicken stock, then simmered for about three hours. Served with roast veggies. Delicious!

I'm looking forward to leftovers!