Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lobster bisque

  • Get a friend or fishmonger to give you lobster leftovers. I had cooked shells and heads from two. Chop up the heads and break their legs. See tips.
  • Fry a finely diced carrot, celery stick and onion in butter. If you're feeling fancy, go ahead and call this a mirepoix. But do it in the privacy of your own home, in case you get the pronunciation wrong.
  • Once the veggies (as I will go ahead and call them) have softened, add a dollop of tomato purée (I'll trust you on the pronunciation of this one) and stir.
  • Get the lobsters in. Hoorah! Make sure the heat is highish.
  • Add some brandy and white wine and let it sizzle.
  • When you can bear to stand over the pot, inhaling without passing out from the alcohol, move on to the next step.
  • Insert bay leaf, parsley stalks, sliced garlic, a chopped tomato, dried thyme, salt, pepper and water til it's nearly covered, not submerged.
  • Yes, you guessed it, bring to thy boil.
  • Simmer gently for an hour or so adding cream halfway through.
  • Strain and bring back to a gentle bubble. Optionally whiz for aesthetic, cappuccino-style froth.

NB At this point I thought I was done, so I served and took photos. The soup was delicious. However, it was rather thin so I decided to go against a number of authorities on the matter and thicken it with a roux. This is what I did:
  • Place equal quantities of butter and flour (let's say 20g each) in a pan on a medium heat. Mix with a wooden spoon until they come together in a uniform paste. If it is dry and crumbly, add a little more butter. If it looks wet and does not amalgamate into a blob add a little more flour.
  • I used about a tablespoon of roux for the bisque above (I had to remove a little from the pan).
  • Now add a ladelful of your hot bisque into the roux and mix. You may feel more confident using a whisk at this point, but the spoon will do.
  • Your mixture will separate and look lumpy and unappealing. Don't worry. Continue mixing and make sure the heat is not too high. If so, just lift the pan off the hob for a moment as you continue to mix.
  • Once you have a uniform consistency, go ahead and add more bisque and repeat the mixing process.
  • Have faith.
  • At each stage, make sure all the lumps are incorporated before adding more bisque.
  • The more liquid the bisque becomes, the more bisque you can add at a time. 
  • You should end up with a slightly thicker, silkier consistency which coats the spoon rather than slipping straight off.
  • Congratulations, you have disobeyed some lobster bisque authorities, but at the same time made one of the most important and satisfying culinary basics ever created. (Béchamel is made in the same way but with milk as the liquid.)

Right. What did it taste like? Dee-lish! I was really happy with the rich, lobster flavour I got with my mere leftovers. I think the tomato and brandy were essential additions to the vegetable base. And I chose to use a sweet white wine because I really thought this would compliment the overall dish. I was right! But I do have a sweet tooth when it comes to savoury food.

  1. Use dry white wine if you want a more savoury flavour - simple.
  2. I used Armagnac. You can use Cognac if you like.
  3. I lifted the head-shell from the brain (?) from the neck end. It may need a little tug, but you can do it. Then I chopped the heads into small pieces and broke up and craked the rest of the shells and spindly legs to ensure maximum flavour extraction. I saved the head-shell for decoration but I don't see why you can't smash that up and get it in your soup too.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Wild mushroom + garlic and Madeira

  • First, eliminate all possible desire to make a pun using the word mushroom.
  • Fry a selection of mushrooms in butter. Season.
  • Once the water they have produced has been sucked back up/evaporated and they are starting to colour, add sliced garlic.
  • Add a good glug of Madeira and let it bubble.
  • Pour in some white wine and a little water, bring to the boil and then add parsley and cream :)
  • Let everything intermingle on a lively heat whilst sporadically dipping in the end of your baguette (this is not a euphemism).
  • Whiz.

What did it taste like? Richly earthy and satisfyingly creamy with a hint of sweetness from the booze.

  1. Fresh wild mushrooms will be grubby. Do not worry. Rinse them. You may have heard terrifying stories about combining funghi and H²O, but really, don't fret. You are going to add water anyway because it's a soup so let's use a little common sense shall we? Rinse, shake and just get on with it.
  2. You can use frozen mushrooms if you know a good quality supplier. This should be less expensive than fresh and will avoid you needing to clean them at all. They will however produce an abundance of water as they cook though, so I suggest draining it off, letting them fry then adding the mushroom water back in at wine stage.
  3. Try some regular mushrooms with a little porcini if a whole bag of wild ones is out of your budget this month. 
  4. You could replace the Madeira with Sherry or another fortified wine. My friend Linda says white port!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Butternut squash

  • Slice a squash in half longways and scoop out the seeds and mush from the centre.
  • Sprinkle with salt, pepper and olive oil.
  • Roast in a 220°C oven for an hour or so, depending on the size of your squash. When it's ready it will be easy to scoop out with a spoon.
  • Whiz with water, more salt and pepper and some nutmeg if you wish.
  • That's it! Unless you want to add chives, but I'll leave you to figure out how.

  • Rinse the seeds, then dry on a tea towel.
  • Put them in a bowl and coat in sea salt (and spices if you want - I used ground coriander and cumin).
  • Dry fry in a pan, shaking regularly, til starting to pop.
  • Add a little oil and continue frying til brown and crispy.
  • Sprinkle on top of your soup for a toasted, popcorny crunch.
  • (I should have fried mine longer, so yours should not be as pale as mine.)

What did it taste like? For a practically one-ingredient recipe, this is amazing.

  1. Cutting 101: When cutting a hard, raw squash in half, be careful not to slip and kill yourself. Death will significantly hinder the completion of this soup. You may need to make two longways incisions that meet in the middle. Use a big, heavy knife if possible, point the tip through the centre of the squash, then lean down on the back of the knife, slicing through the stalk. Remove severed fingertips, turn around (the squash, not you, silly), then do the same with the bottom half, so the cuts join up through the centre.
  2. It's a pretty sweet soup so depending on your palate, you might want to add a different vegetable to balance it up, and you'll definitely want to add a truckload of black pepper. Black pepper is highly complimentary to sweet veggies such as squash or sweetcorn.
  3. If you want to do the seed thing, then keep a close eye on them as they toast and beware of the popping. Have a lid handy for your pan to keep them under control. But don't forget them and let them burn; they will do so as soon as you look away, much the same as pinenuts.
  4. You could add cream, crème fraîche, cream cheese, or coconut milk at the end. I also heard that adding Roquefort is a wonderful contrast to the sweetness of this soup, so I am eager to try this out.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Red cabbage + apple

  • Sliced red onion and butter. You know what to do.
  • Add a spoon of carraway seeds and a bay leaf. Stir and sizzle.
  • Add half a shredded red cabbage and a peeled, diced apple. Stir and season. Easy on the salt. I have some delightful dried thyme from the south of France so I added a bit of that.
  • After five or ten, add some red wine, stock (I used a beef stock cube in fresh tomato juice that I had accidentally made the day before), a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon or so of soft brown sugar.
  • Bring to the boil, then simmer with the lid on until the cabbage is very soft. This may take an hour or so dependng on how stubborn your cabbage is.
  • As always, adjust seasoning during cooking. You are looking for a flavour that is, er, nice, and you like. 
PS I relied heavily on the recipe of the lovely Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall for this. Thank Hugh!

What did it taste like? Sweet and sour, hearty but not heavy. The apple was not visually discernable, but provided its sharpness and sweetness without being obvious.
  1. Add your apple later if you want it to keep some firmness. Mine was pretty mushy, but I liked that as it meant the flavours had time to blend better.
  2. You could go more wintry on the flavours adding a little cinnamon or clove.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


  • For two people, heat two bowls of dashi in a pot. Here is how you make dashi. It is the easiest of all stocks to make from scratch.
  • Add a tablespoon of mirin and a few drops of sesame oil, if you have.
  • Don't upset the stock. You are going to add miso paste, and miso paste does not like bubbles. Keep it below boiling, and ladle some of the stock into a bowl.
  • Whisk a tablespoon per person of miso paste into the bowl. You can get light paste, and dark paste, and everything in between. I went for a medium one.
  • Once combined, pour back into the pot.
  • Now add your garnishes. I put sliced shitake mushrooms, tofu and spring onion.
  • Serve immediately.

What did it taste like? This soup is deeply satisfying, complex but light. The umami moreishness creeps up on you gradually and unexpectedly. The silky soft tofu melts in the mouth, the mushrooms are earthy, and the onion adds freshness and bite. Half an hour after finishing my soup, I was smacking my lips for more.

  1. There are lots of different shortcuts to making dashi and miso, but really, this is so simple that it's worth trying if you have access to a Japenese supermarket.
  2. Try out different miso pastes, mix different ones and see what you like. I was totally happy with my medium paste, and will use it in other recipes for dressings and sauces. The lady in the shop told me it keeps for six months in the fridge. 
  3. There are also different types of tofu, I got a soft one, but you can get firmer ones too.