Saturday, December 27, 2008

Rib roast

This was the centrepiece of our Christmas dinner this year (along with some slightly dry pheasants and some onion and goats' cheese tarts). I've never cooked a rib roast before, so I was a little unsure about the cooking times. The usual web searches produced some conflicting advice, and in the end for our 12-lb standing rib roast I rubbed it in plenty of salt and pepper and cooked it for 30 minutes at 220oC, then for another 2.5 hours at 170oC, then removed it from the oven and left it to stand, covered with foil, for half an hour before carving. The result was pretty good, but was a little less pink than I would ideally have liked, and convinced me that I should buy a meat thermometer for next year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Caramelised onion and goats' cheese tarts

After all my nasty comments about vegetarians, I made amends by doing this for my non-meat-eating niece, Hattie. This is the kind of thing which, if you're in the wrong mood, feels fiddly to make, but if you're in the right mood is very therapeutic: making the dough, rolling and cutting the pastry, filling the pie. It's all very Blue Peter-ish, and here are some I made earlier:

The pastry
75g butter
175g plain flour
50g finely grated mature cheddar
1/2 teaspoon English mustard
1/2 teaspoon paprika
cold water
1 egg

The filling
1kg red onions
50g butter
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
100g soft rind goats' cheese
handful of chopped sage leaves, plus 8 whole leaves
olive oil

8 fluted mini quiche tins, about 10 cm diameter


The pastry
  1. Bring the butter to room temperature, chop into small pieces, and rub into the flour until it has the texture of fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Add the cheese, mustard and paprika and enough water (probably no more than a couple of tablespoons) until you have a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic and leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour.
  3. Grease the tins, remove the dough from the fridge, roll out as thin as possible, and cut into rounds which are a few centimetres larger than the diameter of the tins, and line.
  4. Prick the bases of the tart cases, and bake for 15 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 160oC.
  5. Carefully remove the pastry from the tins, and cool on a wire rack.

The filling
  1. Peel the onions, slice them very finely, and cook them slowly in the butter, with the vinegar and chopped sage until the mixture has reduced down and is slightly 'sticky'. (At a minimum heat, this should take about an hour.) Allow to cool.

The tarts
  1. Brush each tart case with the beaten egg, and bake for 5 minutes.
  2. Fill each tart with plenty of onion mixture.
  3. Remove the rind from the goats' cheese, slice into rounds, and place one round on the top of each tart.
  4. Dip each of the sage leaves in olive oil and place on top of the tarts.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 160oC.
Food for friends
This is another Delia Smith recipe. I tend to be a bit lazy about using cookery books during the year, but at Christmas I like to acquire a few new recipes. This comes from Chapter Seven of her Vegetarian Collection, which is titled "Food for friends". What kind of food do you cook for people who aren't your friends?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mince pies

Now you've made your mincemeat, it's time to make your pies.

You will need:
  • a couple of trays of pattie tins (I don't think there's much point of making a batch of less than 24 - once cooked they keep quite well in an airtight container)
  • a large fluted cutter and a slightly smaller one (the exact size will depend on the size of your patty tins)
  • a good batch of shortcrust pastry.
A lot of people are a bit afraid of making pastry - there is a general belief that it is difficult and delicate, and requires a special touch (and maybe even the right hand temperature). Actually, making shortcrust pastry is very simple, and I suspect that most pastry failures can be traced back to simple problems such as too much water in the dough, not working with a properly floured surface, or allowing the dough to spend too much time in one place while working with it. As with the pies, the following recipe comes from Delia Smith's Christmas.

500g plain flour
110g lard
110g butter
a pinch of salt
200-220 ml cold water to mix

  1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Weigh out the lard and butter, cut it into small pieces, and rub into the flour until the mixture has the texture of fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Gradually add water, mixing it with a spoon at first then with your hands, until the dough forms a ball.
  3. Remove the dough from the bowl, knead gently for a minute until it is nice and smooth, then wrap in polythene and leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour.
  4. Lightly grease your patty tins. Take the pastry out of the fridge, divide into four balls, and return three of the balls to the fridge.
  5. Flatten one of the balls of pastry to form a fat disc then, working on a lightly floured surface, gradually roll it out as thin as possible. (The pastry should be quite resistant at this stage, but even so you need to move it a bit between rolls, otherwise it may stick.) Repeat with the other balls of dough.
  6. Cut out 24 large circles and 24 small circles of pastry. Use the large circles to line the patty tins with, fill with mincemeat (best done by hand), moisten the edges of the small circles with some water, and place on top, pressing the edges to seal.
  7. Glaze with a little milk, and bake at 200oC for 25 to 30 minutes.
  8. Eat hot or cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container, reheating before serving.
Shortcrust circles

Filled pies

Still life

Food photography dates very quickly. I'm intrigued by how we instinctively recognise this, without necessarily being able to explain what it is that makes one photo look dated and another contemporary. The photograph below comes from The Carved Angel Cookery Book, by Joycel Molyneux and Sophie Grigson, published in 1990, and the photographer is Martin Brigdale. (He said, feeling slightly guilty about the blatant copyright violation.) When I first looked at it, my initial reaction was 'how ugly'. And then I looked again and realised that I was leaping to conclusions. The photo below is a carefully composed still life, with every element in the picture in focus (or at least it was in the original).

Contemporary food photography tends to have less elements, and these are usually shown with only one area of the shot in focus (achieved by using a very wide aperture), as in the completed mince pie shot above. One advantage of the contemporary approach is that it allows kitchen clutter to disappear into a hazy background, and is also well suited to taking photos in poorly lit spaces, as the wide aperture lets in lots of light. As my kitchen in Cadiz is both messy and dark, this suits me perfectly.

Friday, December 19, 2008


I love mince pies but have never made them myself, until this year, always relying on shop-bought ones instead (some of which are great, and some of which are not). Before you make the pies, of course, you have to make the mincemeat, and the recipe here comes from Delia Smith's Christmas. It is a two-day affair: the first for preparing the mixture and leaving it to develop, and the second for slow cooking and cooling.

500g of cooking apples
250g of shredded suet
250g of sultanas
250g of currants
250g of whole, mixed candied peel, finely chopped
350g of soft, dark brown sugar
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
100g of blanched almond slivers
4 teaspoons of mixed ground spice
half teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of ground nutmet
6 tablespoons of brandy

  1. Core the apples and chop them into very small pieces - about the size of the raisins (no need to peel them).
  2. In a large, ovenproof bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the brandy, cover with foil, and leave overnight for the flavours to develop.
  3. Transfer the bowl to an oven preheated to 120 C, and cook for 3 hours.
  4. Remove the bowl from the oven, and stir it occasionally as it cools.
  5. Once the mincemeat is completely cool, add the brandy. The mincemeat will now keep for up to a year.

Mincemeat Mincemeat is so called because, back in the 16th century, it was a mixture of meat and dried fruit. Highly spiced dishes which confound our distinctions between sweet and savoury are now seen as being typically North African, and wherever they appear in western European cooking you can be sure that someone will start whittering on about Arab influences. However, such combinations were typical of English food before the modern period. I plan to do a properly meaty version of the mincemeat in the future, but in the meantime I have kept vegetarians at bay by using beef suet (what look like grains of rice in the picture of the uncooked mixture, above).

In praise of Delia
Over the years I have come to appreciate Delia Smith. Her recipes are generally pretty reliable, and I like the way she manages to be both prim and daring, presenting what in the 1980s were quite exotic recipes with a curiously repressed air. She reminds me of one of those Victorian lady travellers who made their way around the world without ever behaving in a way which was less than proper.

Honey and mustard salad dressing

One of the surprising things about eating out in Spain is how poor the salads are. (I was going to try to find a more upbeat way of putting this, but I can't.) They are usually dreadful, consisting of tasteless iceberg lettuce, large chunks of onion and, if you are lucky, some tomato and tinned tuna. The awfulness of the salads is matched by a truly unimaginative approach to 'dressing' them by dousing them in vinegar, trying to compensate with some oil, and then sprinkling a bit of salt on top.

The old saying which urges that the salad maker be a spendthrift with the oil, a miser with the vinegar, and a wise man with salt constitutes a good starting point for dressing the salad in the bowl. However, I am always struck by the fact that, when we have visitors over from the UK, they make the dressing separately and use a range of other ingredients. I always resolve to copy their effort and give up my sloppy Spanish practices.

The following is a basic dressing, emulsified using mustard, and with a bit of honey to offset the bitterness of the olive oil.

  • English mustard
  • wine or cider vinegar
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • honey

  1. Put about a teaspoon of mustard in a bowl (more if you are dressing a large salad), add a couple of teaspoons of vinegar and about half a teaspoon of salt, and mix very well.
  2. Gradually add plenty of olive oil, mixing well so that it forms an emulsion.
  3. Add half a teaspoon or so of honey, and mix well.
  4. Pour over the salad and toss just before you are about to serve.

Gingerbread biscuits

This ginger biscuit recipe comes from The Usborne Big Book of Christmas Things to Make and Do.

350g plain flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
100g of butter or margarine
175g soft light brown sugar
1 medium egg
4 tablespoons golden syrup

  1. Sift the flour, ground ginger and bicarbonate of soda together. Add the butter or margarine, cut into small chunks.
  2. Rub the butter into the flour until it is like fine breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar.
  3. Break the egg into a bowl, add the syrup, beat well and stir into the flour.
  4. Mix well until it comes together into a ball (add a little more syrup if necessary), then knead thoroughly on a floured surface until you have a smooth dough.
  5. Divide the dough into halves, roll out one half until about 5mm thick, cut into shapes with cookie cutters, and place on a baking sheet, lined with greaseproof paper.
  6. Bake at 190 C for 12 to 15 minutes, and cool on a wire rack.

If you want to paint them, then simply add some food colouring to a little egg yolk, and paint.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Barbecued meat

I don't hold with the idea of cooking pizzas on barbecues, and other such nonsense. In my book, barbecues are for cooking high-quality meat, which has been thinly cut and marinaded, and for cooking fresh, oily fish such as sardines and mackerel. As a sop to any vegetarians, I may even add the odd sliced, marinated courgette, but woe betide anyone who tries to cook one of those nasty vegetarian sausages on MY barbecue!

The barbecue below was one I did at Zahora. The meat comes from Antonio, our butcher in the market at Cadiz. I need to find a way of taking a photo of him holding a whole oxtail so I can post it with the caption "Nobody beats my meat!"

The steaks were just marinaded with a bit of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and plenty of fresh oregano.

The ribs were marinated in mojo picón, a spicy garlic, chilli and paprika sauce from the Canary Islands.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Beef in oyster sauce

This is inspired by a recipe in Ching-He Huang's Chinese Food Made Easy. The ingredients are basically the same, but I changed the method and created a sauce. I'm not 100% convinced by woks - even a good-sized one can only handle smallish quantities of food, and they tend to sweat the meat if you use too much of it. So I used my ridged griddle pan instead, and the results were really good. I think this is how I will be making Chinese food from now on.

12 oz of thin cut steak

for the marinade
1 teaspoon of light soy sauce
1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon of minced ginger
1 teaspoon of minced garlic

for the sauce
120 ml chicken stock
60 ml white wine
1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
2 teaspoons of dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons of cornflour (diluted in 2 teaspoons of water)
groundnut oil

  1. Flatten the steaks out with a meat tenderiser or rolling pin until they are about one-and-a-half times their original size (and correspondingly thinner), then cut them into inch-wide strips.
  2. Combine the marinade ingredients, add to the meat and mix thoroughly so that the meat is evenly covered. Set aside for 30 minutes.
  3. Oil the griddle with peanut oil (or any light vegetable oil), and heat until hot. Place the strips on the griddle, grill quickly, turn and cook on the othe side, then remove to a large, heated serving plate. (It will depend on how thin your meat is and how hot the griddle, but the meat should probably need no more than 30 seconds on each side.)
  4. Pour the stock and wine into the hot griddle pan, bring to a boil to evaporate the alcohol, add the oyster sauce, the dark soy sauce and the diluted cornflour, stir and heat for a few seconds to allow the sauce to thicken a little, then pour over the grilled meat.

Soy sauce: dark vs. light
Another thing I like about Ching-He Huang's book is that it's one of those cookery books that help you get beyond just following recipes and gives you the tools to then improvise your own dishes. I have to admit that although I've been cooking Chinese food on and off for years, I had never bothered to find out the difference between dark and light soy sauce. Well, the dark sauce is aged for longer and is therefore darker and less salty than the light one. I guess the nearest equivalent in western cuisine is balsamic versus ordinary wine vinegar.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Banana fritters

I did have a search on the web for other banana fritter recipes, but all I found were some rather disturbing reports of the practice of some streetfood sellers in Malaysia of adding a plastic bottle to the frying oil for added crispiness. Just goes to show that the innovative spirit of Hester Blumenthal and Ferran Adria is alive and well in south-east Asia.

The recipe below is based on the Cadiz speciality of shrimp pancakes, but made with bananas instead of shrimps.

100 g chickpea flour
100 g plain flour
1 teaspoon of finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
water (about 300 ml)
2 bananas
oil for frying

  1. Mix the flours. Mash the bananas and stir in the ginger and cinnamon. Add the water to the flour, and beat to make a loose batter, then add the banana, ginger and cinnamon.
  2. Heat plenty of oil in a non-stick frying pan, add large spoonfuls of batter to it, fry for about 30 seconds, turn over and fry for another 30 seconds or so before removing from the oil.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Spicy cauliflower and green bean salad

Cauliflower really benefits from some spice, otherwise it can be a bit bland. It was also quite satisfying to be able to use my homemade minced ginger, minced chilli and garlic puree for this. (Fresh ginger and chilli are hard to come by in Cadiz, so when I find them I tend to bulk buy and then preserve.)

Ingredients1 cauliflower
500g of green beans
vegetable oil
2 teaspoons of chopped ginger
2 teaspoons of chopped garlic
1teaspoon of minced red chilli
3 tablespoons of fish sauce

  1. Chop the cauliflower into small pieces, top and tail the beans and chop into shortish sections.
  2. In a large pan, heat a little oil with the ginger, garlic and chillies. Add the cauliflower and beans, mix well, add the fish sauce and a little water, bring to the boil, turn heat to minimum and cover. Cook slowly until the vegetables are tender. (About 15 minutes. I don't think this dish benefits from having 'crunchy' vegetables - they are better slightly overcooked.)

Ginger biscuits

This is adapted from a recipe from the web described as being "From Mrs Guthridge's kitchen". Who is Mrs Guthridge? We may never know.

170g self-raising flour
pinch of salt
70g margarine
¾ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
70g sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
115g honey

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C. Put flour and salt in a bowl and rub in margarine until it forms fine breadcrumbs. Add sugar, ginger and bicarbonate of soda and mix together.
  2. Add honey and stir all together, then knead until the dough holds together in a smooth ball, then chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  3. Lightly grease a baking tray. Make small balls with the mixture (they will spread a long way, so do not make balls too big), flatten them slightly, cut them into shapes if you want to, and space them well on tray.
  4. Bake in moderate oven, 160°C for about 15 minutes, or until they are nice and brown. They will puff up about halfway through the cooking time, but don't be alarmed - they flatten back down to a more normal shape by the end. Also, when they come out of the oven they will still be quite soft, but will crisp up quickly. Cool on wire rack.

Chocolate muffins

Gemma is usually the muffin mistress in our house. (I've always had a liking for alliteration.) However, in the re-run of Carmela's birthday I got the job. This recipe is adapted from Muffins: Fast and fantastic.

250g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
110g caster sugar
1 egg
225 ml milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
30 ml vegetable oil
100 g of dark chocolate

  1. Prepare your muffin cases, and heat the oven to 190oC. (This recipe makes 20 small muffins, and 12 larger ones.) In a large bowl, Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and sugar. Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in a bain mairie.
  2. Beat the egg, and add the milk, vanilla and oil. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture, mix well and add the melted chocolate.
  3. Fill the muffin cases about three-quarters full and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Leave to cool for a few minutes before removing from the cases.
The photo below has nothing to do with chocolate muffins (other than being taken from my balcony while waiting for the muffins to cool). However, it's not often that a Colombian man dressed as a parrot and wearing stilts skates down my street, and that seemed like a good enough reason to include him here. (Yes, stilts AND skates.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Thick, roasted sweet potato soup

Sweet potatoes are one of those things I buy then never know quite what to do with. This thick soup works very well, as they are mixed with other vegetables, and you can offset the sweetness with a bit of salt and vinegar.

Ingredients500g sweet potatoes
500g of potatoes
125 g of carrots
1 leeks
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1.2 teaspoon of oregano
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
freshly ground pepper
500 ml vegetable or chicken stock (or water)

  1. Peel the sweet potatoes, the potatoes and the carrots, and chop them into largeish chunks. Spread across a large baking tray, drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar and plenty of olive oil, and sprinkle with the salt and oregano. Roast in a medium oven (200 C) until they are cooked (about 45 minutes).
  2. Meanwhile, chop the leeks and saute in a large saucepan until they are nearly cooked, then add the garlic and fry for another minute or two.
  3. Add the roasted vegetables to the saucepan with the leeks and garlic, top up with the stock, and add the mustard. Blend the soup with a stick blender or in a liquidiser, add a little more stock if it is too thick, taste, adjust the seasonings and simmer gently for another 5 minutes.

Soup versus puree
This would be called a 'puree' in Spain, not a soup. (And the recipe above produces something which is thicker than anything that would be described as soup in the UK.) Soup, in Britain, is often intended as a light first course, and even the heartier soups tend to combine chunks with a lighter broth.

In Spain, a puree would tend be served either as a nourishing first course, to be followed by some more or less unaccompanied meat or fish, so the puree is doing the job of the 'two veg' in a typical British main course. An alternative to soup would be a plate of lentils. This approach reaches its logical conclusion in a cocido or stew, where the meat, veg and pulses are cooked together, but the veg and pulses are served as the first course, with the meat served separately as the second.

Bubelach: matzah meal pancakes

I remember my grandma making these for my grandpa, Sam, and for my brother, Mark, and me. I had a bit of trouble tracking down a recipe, as we always called them 'egg latkes'. As far as I can tell, the proper name is 'bubelah' (or the plural 'bubelach', as there are always several of them), which means 'darling' in Yiddish.

I can't easily get matzah meal in Spain, so I used breadcrumbs instead. It's sold in bags and comes in varying degrees of fineness, so makes a good substitute.

3 eggs
175 ml water
80g matzah meal
1/4 tsp salt

  1. Separate the eggs, and add the water to the egg yolks. Beat lightly, add the matzah meal and salt, and mix well. (This step can be done the night before and left in the fridge overnight.)
  2. Beat the whites to stiff peaks and fold into the yolk, water and matzah meal mixture.
  3. Heat some vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan. When it is hot add as many tablespoonfuls of the mixture as will easily fit into the pan, and fry until golden brown on each side. Avoid turning more than once.
These are really best if cooked in plenty of oil, as that way they puff up. However, I wasn't really up for frying this morning, so I just did them with a little oil to prevent them from sticking, which produces something which looks more like a light Scotch pancake than a little fritter.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Watermelon salad with orange juice and green tea syrup

I've never been that keen on watermelons. They look great, but are a bit bland. I make a point of trying them once or twice a year, just in case my opinion has changed, but it hasn't so far. However, I think this salad brings out the best in them. The watermelon is crunchy and refreshing, and its porous flesh soaks up the syrup, which is both bitter and sweet.

The watermelon here came from a stall at the turning off the Cadiz-Malaga coast road to the fantastic Roman ruins at Baelo Claudia. We spent a great day there with Richard and Ceri and their kids Sam and Anna.

Half a watermelon
1/2 litre of freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons of demerara sugar
1 teaspoon of green tea (or 1 teabag)

  1. Combine the orange juice and sugar in a saucepan, bring to the boil, and stir to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, and add the green tea.
  2. Cut the watermelon into smallish chunks, put in a large bowl or tupperware container, strain the orange syrup over it, cover and leave in the fridge for an hour or two. (Or overnight.)
You can also add other fruit to this - nectarines, peaches, plums or whatever.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tattie scones (potato scones)

These are a classic Scottish breakfast food, and often appear as part of a cooked breakfast, although they're also great on their own, with a little bit of butter. Now that I've got round to making them, I've realised that in many ways what they're most similar to is a chapati.

After a bit of trial and error, I realised that the key to this is to think of the potato and flour mixture as a dough, and to treat it accordingly. Also, you have to add plenty of flour during the shaping and rolling stage to prevent the scones from sticking.

500g of leftover mashed potato
100g of flour

  1. Gradually work the flour into the potato, gently kneading the dough until you have a good smooth dough. (The exact quantity of flour required will depend on how dry your mashed potato is, so best to add the flour gradually.)
  2. Flour a worksurface or board, put more flour on your hands, and take off a smallish ball of the mixture (somewhere between the size of a golfball and a satsuma).
  3. Press the ball so you have a fat disc, flour each side well then, using a well-floured rolling pin, gently roll it to a flat circle, about 1/2 cm thick, turning it between each roll and adding more flour to the worksurface or board if required.
  4. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan, grease with a little oil (but not too much), and then cook the scones on a low heat for about 3 minutes each side.

Salmorejo (thick, chilled tomato soup)

This is a bit like a more substantial version of gazpacho, thickened with bread. The recipe comes from the second Moro book, but I have adjusted the quantities a bit.

We've just started home schooling our kids, Sammy and Carmela, and part of our plan is that they help make lunch a few times a week. This was one of the first things Sammy helped to make.

white bread - 1/10th of the weight of the tomatoes (after removing crusts)
olive oil - a little bit less than 1/10th of the weight of the tomatoes
salt - 1/100th of the weight of the tomatoes
vinegar - 1/30th of the weight of the tomatoes
finely chopped garlic - about 1/2th a clove per 500g of tomatoes

Cut the tomatoes into quarters and break the bread into small pieces. Combine all the ingredients in a blender and whizz until smooth.

Ham, ham, ham
The habit of including some pork in almost everything, even to the length of sprinkling a little ham on some tomato soup, is almost certainly a throwback to the Inquisition and the need that many Spaniards obviously felt to prove that they were not secret Jews or Muslims. Indeed, the ostentatious public consumption of ham is a major feature of Spanish life. Oddly enough, another sure sign that someone might be kicking with the wrong foot in 16th century Spain was the use of olive oil. (Animal fat was the approved cooking medium for Christians.)

The tables, however, are beginning to turn, as can be seen from the photo below. If you look carefully at the red awning, you can just make out the words 'El Rincón del Jamón', Spanish for 'The Ham Corner'. The sign below advertises the new Moroccan restaurant which has replaced it, 'El Andalusi'.

Apparently El Andalusi was too exotic for Gaditano habits. It fairly quickly went out of business, to be replaced by a ghastly Argentinian restaurant. "Sobre los gustos, no hay nada escrito".

Tagliatelle with rabbit sauce

This is vaguely inspired by the classic Tuscan hare sauce, pappardelle con il sugo di lepre. I've never managed to buy hare, so I substituted it with rabbit. Also, whenever I've tried following a recipe for this dish I've never managed to produce the velvety texture I remember from the time I ate this in Lucca. so I decided to forget about the recipes and just make it my own way, and this is what I came up with. (The original version wouldn't have either tomatoes or paprika in it.)

1 rabbit, cut into joints
3 bay leaves
olive oil
1/2 an onion, very finely chopped
1 clove of garlic
2 teaspoons of paprika
2 finely chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons of flour

  1. Put the rabbit in a pot with the bay leaves, sprinkle over a little salt, and just cover with water. Bring to the boil, reduce to minimum, and simmer for one hour until the rabbit is very tender.
  2. Remove the rabbit from the pot (reserve the cooking broth as stock and for use later in this recipe) and allow to cool. Remove all the flesh from the bones. (Discard any flaps of meat, as these are sheet muscles which tend to be a bit fibrous, but keep the liver, kidneys and heart.)
  3. Fry the onion gently in plenty of olive oil, adding the garlic towards the end. Once the onion and garlic are cooked, add the paprika, stir and fry for another 30 seconds or so. Add the tomato and cook until the sauce is quite thick.
  4. Add a good slug of olive oil, and then sprinkle the flour into the sauce, stirring well. Cook for a couple more minutes, and then gradually add a couple of ladles of the rabbit broth. (The sauce should thicken at this stage, a bit like a bechamel.) Add the rabbit meat, check for seasoning and add salt if required. Serve with tagiatelle.

Rabbit has a bit of a bad reputation, which I guess is due in part to people's reluctance to eat little furry bunnies, in part to the fact that it can be a little dry if not cooked properly, and in part to its stigmatisation as a 'poverty' food. Last Christmas a minister in the Spanish government turned herself into a bit of a laughing stock by recommending that families struggling to make ends meet could eat rabbit instead, inadvertently putting cunnilingus on Spain's festive menu.

If Picasso cooked rabbit:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tortilla (Spanish omelette)

Spaniards are somewhat obsessed with tortilla, and rightly so. It's pretty simple - just a set omelette with potatoes and onions - but when done right it's really delicious. Cookery book explanations are never quite right.

The cooking times and proportions of egg to potato are often wrong, tending to produce a rather dry tortilla. And they often fudge the process of flipping the tortilla over (or even tell you to stick it under a grill). Another problem is that the Spanish concept of frying and the British one are a little different. When Spaniards fry, they use quite a lot of oil, whereas people in Britain tend to try to use as little oil as possible (which kind of defeats the purpose of frying).

The undisputed tortilla queen of Cadiz is Manolita, the mum of Gemma's friends Ana-Cristina and Alejandra, and the method below is hers. As you can see from the photos, she doesn't believe in fancy nonsense like chopping boards. (And I thought I was austere with my prejudice against garlic presses.)

Like many things, I wouldn't usually measure the ingredients when making a tortilla, as it's all about proportions rather than absolute volumes. All you have to do is make sure that you have a few more eggs than you think you need. However, the last time round I decided to measure everything and make a note of it - the quantities below make one good-sized tortilla.

It's also difficult to be precise with cooking times. The perfect tortilla should be a little runny in the middle. However, some people prefer theirs more well-done, and if you're taking it on a picnic you may also want it to be a little firmer.

Plenty of olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or very finely chopped
1 kg of potatoes, peeled and quite finely chopped
8 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon of salt

  1. Place the onions and plenty of oil in a medium-sized non-stick frying pan, heat gently, and fry until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic, and cook for another minute or so. Place a colander over a large bowl, strain the onions and garlic through it, and return the oil to the pan.
  2. Add the potatoes to the pan, and add more oil if required, so that the potatoes are just about covered. Heat gently, with the lid on, so that the potatoes are both frying and steaming at the same time. Once the potatoes are cooked, straing them in the colander containing the cooked onions. (The oil which gathers in the bowl below can be reused.)
  3. Allow the potato and onion mixture to cool for a few minutes, then add the beaten eggs and the salt, and mix well. If the mixture looks too 'potatoey', add another beaten egg.
  4. Return a little of the oil to the frying pan (just enough to form a very thin layer on the bottom), heat it gently (being careful not to let it get to hot), pour the omelette mixture into the pan, turn heat to minimum, cover and cook for about 10 minutes, until the bottom and sides of the omelette have set, but the top is still runny.
  5. Flip it over using one of the methods described below, and finish cooking for another 3 minutes on a low heat. Flip the tortilla out of the pan onto a serving plate (see below).

The flip
One of the scary bits of making a tortilla for the first time is how to flip it over when it is halfway through cooking. Here are three ways of doing this.
Method 1: Two Pans
This is my method. I have two identical pans. When the tortilla is cooked underneath, I put a little bit of oil in the second pan, place it face down on top of the first one, hold the two together (using oven gloves!) and flip them over. The tortilla thus ends up face down in the second pan, ready to continue cooking.
Method 2: One Pan - Two Plates
This is an adaptation of the traditional Spanish method, made a bit easier for guiris. When the tortilla is ready to flip, place a large dinner plate face down on top of it and flip it over (using oven gloves) so that your tortilla is now cooked side up on the plate. Now get another plate, place it face down on top of the raw tortilla, and flip again, so that the tortilla is raw side up on the second plate. Finally, put the frying pan face down over the tortilla, and flip so that the tortilla is raw side down in the pan, and carry on cooking.
Method 3: One Pan - One Lid
This is the authentic Spanish method. When the tortilla is cooked underneath, place a large frying pan lid face down on top of it and flip it over (using oven gloves) so that your tortilla is now cooked side up on the lid (As in Method 2.) Now slide it back into the frying pan so that it is raw side down, and carry on cooking.

As a child, I remember my mother making 'Spanish omelette', and it turning out as scrambled egg with some sauteed potatoes in it. (Still good, but not quite the real thing.) Since then, my mum has had a masterclass from Manolita and now produces top notch authentic tortillas.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Islay seafood

No recipes as such in this post, just a paean of praise to the fresh seafood on Islay.

This is the second year that we've gone across to Islay to spend some time with Angus and his son Joseph (pictured below fishing for crabs). We stayed at the house they have had built there, across the bay from Port Ellen. I was at school and then at university with Angus, and also at university with his partner (and Joseph's mum) Penny, who sadly died three years ago.

For me, there is something magical about the place. A mix, I guess, of the island, the house and its setting, and spending time with people I love.

And, of course, you can also get great seafood there. We bought some live lobsters from a fisherman, and he threw in a bag of crab claws and some velvet crabs for free. Earlier on we had bought some scallops from a little processing plant set up in what I think used to be Port Ellen's schoolhouse, and I also had some magnificent oysters at the Islay Fair.

The scallops were great (and about half the price of what I would normally pay), although the scene was a bit 21st-century Dickensian: a large worksurface surrounded by half a dozen eastern Europeans shucking away frantically. The sort of thing which makes me thankful to have landed myself the relatively cushy job of being a translator.

We took the meat out of the crab claws and Angus used it to make crab linguini. The lobsters were boiled then grilled and eaten with some homemade mayonnaise, the scallops were pan-fried with a bit of garlic, and the velvet crabs were just boiled and eaten plain.

There's not a lot of meat in the velvet crabs, but if you approach them as a large prawn rather than a small crab then you shouldn't be disappointed. (I searched the web for recipes, but mostly came across long and complicated procedures for making velvet crab bisque - crema de nécoras in Spanish - which involved moulis and muslin sieves.)

To dye for
In Britain there's a tendency to think of the work done retrieving meat from shellfish as an inconvenience which may or may not be justified by the prize at the end. In Spain, there are lots of snacky seafoods which involve quite a bit of cracking, biting, poking or sucking. These include crab claws (bocas), winkles (burgaillos) eaten with a pin, and cañaillas, a type of sea snail whose shell ends in a long spike, which provides a handly implement for removing the flesh. (An example of evolution backfiring, if ever there was one!) The scientific name is bolinus brandaris, but their common name in English is spiny dye murex, because their mucus was extracted and used by the Phoenicians to produce Tyrian purple. The dye was one of the ancient and medieval world's most expensive commodities and was used to dye the togas of triumphant generals and of emperors in Ancient Rome. Production eventually ceased with the fall of the Byzantine Empire (1453) and was replaced with vegetable and then modern chemical dyes.