Another year, another excuse to rustle up a garam masala. This year, a heavy lean on the aniseed flavours: star anise, cinnamon, chillis, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, bay leaves, a whole nutmeg all roasted in a low oven until aromatic. Blitz to dust.
Peppers (bell peppers to our American cousins, and capsicums to many areas of the world) are one of my absolute favourite things in food. Left beside the salad cart with a tray of sliced peppers and a creamy mayonnaise or ranch dressing I will soon be left holding an empty bowl. It’s the freshness, the sweetness and crunchy texture I love. Yet they are still delcious when cooked, juicy and vibrant, often adding the fleck of colour that the plate of brown mince needs.
Sometimes I want the flavours of the peppers to be really enhanced, I’ve adapted this recipe of Gordon Ramsay’s to pack a real flavour punch. Tangy vinegar gives you that beautiful sour edge, and the stock provides a luscious glaze that makes them irresistible. In this recipe I don’t bother picking the thyme leaves, but rather leave a healthy bundle strapped together and tossed with the frying peppers. This way some little bits fall off and the quick frying imparts their woody aroma and you can discard the garni afterwards. If you’re ambivalent about peppers, give this one a whirl alongside some grilled meat – they really sing.
Sweet and sour peppers:
2 peppers, sliced
Bunch of thyme, bound together with string
A few tablespoons of white wine vinegar
A few tablespoons of chicken stock
- Get a pan really hot and add a splash of olive oil. Chuck the peppers and thyme in and get stir-frying. I prefer the peppers to be unscorched for this one, but you can let them blacken if you like.
- Continue frying for a couple of minutes until they start to become tender. Drizzle over some white wine vinegar and toss thoroughly.
- Once the vinegar has started to disappear, chuck over some chicken stock (barely enough to cover them all) and toss to coat the peppers well. Keep everything moving until everything is covered in a sticky glaze.
- Taste a small chunk of pepper, checking for acidity (lots of this is good) and season as necessary.
It may be a touch early in the year for this dish but I got a real craving for this earthy yet refreshing combination. The citrussy crackle of coriander with the deep earthiness of cumin can’t be beat when matched with a full-on red meat like this rump steak. Couple it with a refreshing and zingy salad and you’ve got something I could eat every day. This is a steak that should definitely be on the rare side, for succulence and fresh flesh flavours. Try and match it with a herby and peppery leaf mix for a very satisfying combination.
Cumin and coriander steak salad:
300g rump steak
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
For the salad:
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Dash of soy sauce
- Heat a griddle pan to dead hot. Pound the seeds together with a couple of black peppercorns in a pestle and mortar until crumbly (but not dust). Sprinkle this mixture over both sides of the steak and press in with your fingers.
- Lay the steak on the pan and allow to cook, unmoved, for 2 – 3 mins. (At this point I like to turn 45 degrees ish for a criss-cross pattern). Turn over and cook for another 2 -3 mins, or until browned but with plenty of give when pressed with a finger.
- Remove the steak to a hot plate to rest while you make the salad dressing. Whisk all the liquid ingredients together and toss with mixed leaves.
- Sprinkle sea salt over the steak and lay on the salad leaves. Dribble any remaining dressing over the lot.
The irrepressible Ken Hom popped up on Saturday Kitchen this week to show off a dish for Chinese New Year. He made a platter of crispy noodles topped with velveteen chicken in a savoury sauce. Three of us saw it being made and we immediately decided that it was what we were having for Sunday lunch.
My only change was to add some red pepper; it seemed odd that it would be lacking a vegetable element (ignoring the spring onions). With that, it was a very satisfying dinner and went down extremely well. Beautifully soft chicken, fresh fruity peppers, a tangy and glutinous coating sauce, but the real revelation were the crispy noodles. After a quick parboiling I laid them flat in the frying pan and allowed them to crisp. A risky toss later and the other side was also browned. This gave a delicious contrast of crispy and chewy, and hoovered up the sauce perfectly.
The only slight downer was Ken served his perfect circle of noodles on one platter, allowing people to share. That wasn’t going to work for me so I had to carve them up in a hacking fashion! Tasted just as good though.
Gung hee fatt choi!
Chicken on crispy noodles:
300g chicken breast diced very small
1 egg white
2 teaspoons cornflour
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 red pepper, diced
4 egg noodle nests
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1½ tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
300ml chicken stock
1 tablespoon cornflour, mixed with 1½ tablespoon water
Spring onions, chopped
- Mix the egg white, cornflour, salt and pepper and toss in the chicken breast, coating thoroughly.
- Boil the noodles briefly, drain and add to a hot pan spreading them out evenly. After 5 minutes a crust should have formed; turn the noodles over.
- While the noodles cook, mix the stock, vinegar, and oyster sauce together.
- After another 5 minutes put the noodles on kitchen paper to drain off the excess oil.
- Over a high heat in a little oil fry the chicken and peppers, stirring quickly, until the chicken is white on all sides. Remove from the pan and leave to one side.
- Add the wet ingredients and bubble for a minute, add the cornflour and allow to thicken. Put the chicken and peppers back in the pan with the spring onion and stir fry to allow the sauce to coat the meat and veg. After a minute or two turn out on to the noodles and serve.
On those cold, snowy nights, the slow cooker must come into play. This was totally simple, but utterly delicious. Soft, flaky beef and sweet little chunks of carrot, in a thick oozy gravy. Total cost? About £3 for two big servings.
300g stewing steak, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
200g baby onions, peeled and halved
1 pint beef stock
1 teaspoon thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
- Coat the beef in half the flour and season liberally. Fry in batches in a large pan, allowing to brown. Set to one side and fry the vegetables in the same pan gently for five minutes.
- Place in a slow cooker on low and cover with the beef stock and herbs. Cook for 7 hours or until the beef is tender.
- Strain off all the goodies and pour the liquids into a saucepan and boil fast to reduce down. Mix the flour and butter together to make a beurre manié and whisk vigorously into the sauce to thicken. Add the veg / meat back into the pan and serve with parsley, scooping up the debris with plenty of bread.
This is a recipe from the Ramsay protege Clare Smyth. It’s an unpretentious and hearty french stew, yet takes only 10 – 15 minutes. Mine is a little toned down from her version, going with what I had in the cupboard. It’s usually made with fresh artichoke but I used a jar of good-quality chokes that I had knocking about. It’s very tasty and very simple – my only slight criticism is that I think this will taste much better in the Spring.
Artichokes a la barigoule:
200g baby onions, peeled and halved
1 carrot, sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced
4 mushrooms, quartered
200ml vegetable stock
500g jar of artichokes
- Fry the pancetta and onions in a pan until browned. Add the carrots and mushrooms and stir fry four a couple of minutes.
- Add the cider and bubble over a high heat. Add the stock and reduce to a simmer.
- When the vegetables are tender increase the heat to high and get the sauce reduced down to a thick glaze. Add the artichokes to warm through.
- Serve with parsley and bread for mopping up.