Monday, January 07, 2008

recipe intermission

After a virtually non-stop couple of weeks in the UK I'm back, safe and sound in Santiago, where it's already feeling like home. One of the many lessons I learnt from living in China was that I should make my house as personalised as possible as soon as I can. Two years didn't feel like long enough in China to invest in decorations for my flat and consequently it was always rather utilitarian - read bare and boring. After two years I realised that this had been a mistake and so I'm trying to make up for this in Santiago. I've now printed out some of my favourite photos from China which are up on the wall (as well as a few which are now in a cafe in the old town) and have found a second hand book shop which sells unusual movie posters (Chungking Express has a wonderful poster). I also never had a TV in China which again was perhaps a mistake as I now see it as a great tool to learn the language. So, TV and a selection of Spanish DVDs are on almost constant play while I'm pottering about.

I'm looking forward to getting back to work, too. One of the negative sides of being a physicist is that it's rather difficult to completely switch your mind off from research. I guess that just about 100% of us in this field are here because we enjoy what we do and therefore the problems in the office come home with us, not as a matter of diligence, but as a matter of it being such a large part of our lives. Somehow I put this in a different class from that of being a workaholic, though if people in non-academic fields worked the hours that most academics do I would put them firmly in the workaholic's category. Anyway, I've now been away from my papers for far too long and I'm looking forward to getting back to them tomorrow.

In the two days between getting back to Santiago and getting into the office I've spent my time equally between catching up with Spanish and Chinese and getting my kitchen into the state that I want. This consists mostly of making large batches of stocks and sauce bases which I'll be using over the next weeks. The nearby Carrefoure has also been a great sauce of jars to fill with grains, pulses and dried fruits.

I don't think it's simply because I was bought up in a Jewish household that I have a seemingly spiritual yearning for good chicken soup. The fact that one can buy a chicken carcas for less than a euro here suits me just fine and so Friday night was spent making enough stock to last a while. Boiling up the chicken with onions, leeks and carrots with a couple of bay leaves, salt, pepper and a few woody herbs for around 3 or 4 hours leaves a deep, rich stock which can be sieved, cooled and separated into the jelly (which goes in the freezer as stock for risotto amongst other things) and the fats which make a really tasty grease for future roasting and frying (also add a teaspoon of the clear fats when cooking couscous instead of using olive oil or butter - really tasty). The rest of the stock which doesn't go through the sieve is then picked apart by hand (making sure to remove all the little bones) and gives enough chicken for a few more meals.

Secondly I've found that one can buy pig's trotters in the shops here which have been salted and, when left to desalt in cold water for a few hours, can then be boiled up in a similar way to the chicken (though these need a good 5-7 hours to become really tender). The gluten in the bones and cartiledge makes an extremely thick jelly which is flavoured with a little star anise and sichuan pepper along with the vegetables. The fat is used just as the chicken fat and the meat, cartiladge and remaining fat from the feet makes another couple of meals - see good recipes here and here - My taste for fatty meats was nurtured in China. Try and mix some of the meat from the feet with some pork loin meat (reducing the percentage of very fatty meat) and a few slices of chorizo with a little Chinese chilli paste and vegetables, fried up for a few minutes together for a really simple and tasty dinner.

Finally for this weekend I prepared a base for curries which I've found is vital for making a really rich, authentic Indian meal. In contrast to Chinese food, I found that the food in Indian restaurants in England is actually pretty close to the food that I ate in India (perhaps not that surprising). The only cook book I've found which really captures these flavours is The Indian Restaurant Cookbook which gives not only the basic recipes but also a large number of techniques to use for getting the most flavour out of the spices used - The bhuna method I now used regularly. The puree recipe from this book takes sweat and tears, if not blood to make but is well worth it:

Chop up 10 onions, 20 cloves of garlic and 4 oz of ginger into thin slices. Heat half a pint of oil (Ghee is more authentic, and richer but I don't have this at the moment - ghee isn't too hard to make either) in a saucepan and then add the onions, garlic and ginger. Fry lightly for about 15 minutes (not browning, but softening the ingredients). After 15 minutes turn it off and let it cool a little. Then blend the whole lot together - it doesn't need to be perfectly smooth, try for the consistency of a well cooked porridge. Then heat another half a pint of oil in a pan and when it's hot, add the pureed mixture. It won't seem to mix very well at first but keep stirring and make sure it doesn't bubble all over the place. Keep cooking it for another 15 minutes, again, not browning but keeping it as a white, smoothish mixture. After 15 minutes let it cool. I then bag it up into sandwhich bags and put it in the freezer for future use. This should make enough curry for at least 20 servings. When you're making a curry, take this out, defrost it and fry it quickly to the point you want. The half an hour of cooking at the beginning brings out the sugars and reduces the harshness of the ingredients. The rich sauce really does add a great deal to a curry but can also be used for many other dishes.

Anyway, I hope those are actually of some use. I find they all add greatly to a kitchen store and although stock cubes are just as flavoursome, I like to be able to choose what goes into mine, for flavour, for piece of mind and simply because I enjoy the process.

Back to the Spanish vocab which has gone into deep freeze in my mind over the last couple of weeks and now needs reheating!


Anonymous said...

As one of your many devoted followers I feel it is incumbent on me to point out a rare and dangerous condition that you might be risking in your culinary endeavours.
This is called Schizogastrophrenia and is found in a very few hot spots in the world. However, its symptoms, ranging from dramatic nightmares in which the deranged sufferer is chased across continents by giant chickens and pigs singing in Chinese and Hebrew at a pitch known to drive even mere mortals over cliffs to a slightly milder version when the dream is of cauldrons of soup bubbling over and coagulating on the ceiling in a mush that will never wipe off. Beware!! Bon appetit.

Unknown said...

You knew very well before I started cooking the sacred with the profane that I suffered from this condition. I make no bones about it (apart from tasty ones for a hearty stock).

NB. The soup on the ceiling is no illusion.

ruhie duffin said...

May i remind you there are 24hours ,30days and 365days all together.But the imagination is great.The only fear is living in it.

ruhie duffin said...
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