We’re only making wings from Nigel

Did you get the XTC reference? No? Sigh. I’m old. Then again, certain things are best left in the ’80s.

Not these chicken wings, though, from The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater. We loves us some Nigel: his simple, seasonal, delicious food; his homespun, pub-fireside British prose [hereafter presented in brackets]; and his autobiography, Toast (it’s an even better movie, if you can get hold of it).

This is an incredibly simple, tasty, addictive [moreish] recipe… you’ll make it again and again, guaranteed. We’ve fine tuned a couple of the steps, but the ingredients are the same: big, organic chicken or capon wings, lemons, bay leaves, flaky salt, very coarsely ground [nubbly] pepper, and olive oil.

Put a heavy roasting pan in the top 1/3 of your oven [hob] and preheat the oven to 400’F [Gas Mark 6]. In a large bowl, toss 12 large chicken wings (i.e., 24 pieces) with 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp flaky salt, and 2 tsp of [nubbly] pepper. Cut 2 lemons into quarters, and squeeze them over the wings (don’t worry about seeds).

Once the pan is good and hot, remove it from the oven and dump the wings and juices into it, spreading them out so they’ll brown. Scatter the juiced lemon chunks around the pan, and tuck about 10 fresh bay leaves (or 5 dried) in amongst the wings.

Return the pan to the oven, and roast for 25 minutes or so. Flip them over – a thin, sturdy fish spatula works well here, to scrape up the caramelizing juices – and roast for another 10 minutes or thereabouts, until they’re richly browned.

Try not to burn your fingers. These go nicely with a big caesar salad, to echo the lemony-rich flavours, and a cheap soave or pinot grigio.

 

Fresh almonds. Yes, you should try them!

Fresh almonds are  much fuzzier than peaches, and they look like they would be a lot of work   to clean. But they looked so beautiful this year we couldn’t say no.

We’re happy to report that fresh almonds are a quickly acquired taste, and require no preparation or condiments. While I didn’t like my first one at all, the crunch was so irresistible (half way between a macadamia nut and a nice, fresh apple) I had another, and another. They’re delicious and addictive. They taste like spring smells.

Tomatoes past and future

The tomatoes we planted  about a month ago were transplanted from tiny cells into larger pots today, and taken outside for some natural light.

Of 33 seeds sown, a number (mostly from older seed) failed to germinate. The 12 strongest that I chose for transplanting were: 2 beefsteak, 2 clear pink, 2 sungold, 2 black prince, 1 black cherry, 1 black krim, 1 Japanese black trifele, and one mystery one that I could’ve sworn was sungold, but looks a lot more like the Japanese black trifele and the clear pink.

Since those tomatoes aren’t quite ready for the kitchen yet, here’s our adaptation of a favourite tomato-centric recipe from Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook“: Santa Barbara Fish Stew.

The book itself is an interesting specimen: it’s an invaluable reference in many ways, with an odd blend of enduring classics, creaky old antiques (Celery Victor, anyone?) and late-80’s anomalies (Chinese Manicotti?!) One of the best things about the book is its method of providing a master recipe, followed by several variations. It’s a great way for beginning cooks to learn the fundamentals, and to get a sense of what elements of a recipe can and should be varied.

The recipe in question starts with Julia’s All-Purpose Mediterranean Soup Base, from which she derives a fish stew, a pureed Provençale fish soup, and a molded creation of fish in aspic.

Her Santa Barbara Fish Stew is a hybrid of the San Francisco / Italian-American cioppino, and a casual bouillabaisse. Here’s our adaptation. We make this year-round, probably about 10 times a year.

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 smallish Spanish onion, sliced
  • 1 small bulb fennel, sliced, with fronds reserved for garnish
  • 1 carrot, sliced into 1/4 inch coins
  • 5 cloves of domestically grown garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth
  • 1 cup bottled clam juice
  • 2 cups chicken stock or 1.5 cups water
  • 1 bay leaf (fresh if you can find it)
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 strips of orange zest, completely stripped of white pith, about 1/2 inch x 1.5 inches
  • 1/2 tsp piment d’Espelette (you can substitute good, full-flavoured mild paprika and a touch of cayenne – smoked paprika is nice, too)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp saffron threads
  • 1/2 tsp fennel pollen
  •  3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cans (28oz / 796 ml) San Marzano tomatoes, with their juice. (If you have good, fresh tomatoes, use half fresh and half canned)

In a thick, 6-quart or larger pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Sweat the onions until they lose their raw aspect. Add the fennel and carrots, and cook until for a few minutes longer; don’t let the onions brown. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute. Again, don’t let it brown.

Add the white wine, and boil for a minute. Add the clam juice, stock/water and all the seasonings, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Then add the tomatoes and their juice. You can crush them through your “impeccably clean fingers”, as Julia used to say, or smush them up with a spoon once they’re in the pot. Bring to a simmer as you prep your seafood.

Here’s where you can get creative. Julia suggests “2 to 2 and 1/2 lbs skinless and boneless lean fish cut into 2-inch chunks, such as cod, hake, halibut, sea bass, monkfish, catfish, snapper… a variety is preferable.”

We usually go for a slightly more high-end, shellfish-intensive version. This time, since it was an “occasion”, we went all-out:

  • 4 cooked stone crab claws
  • 6 super-jumbo white shrimp (stay away from farmed black tiger shrimp, please – look for U.S., wild-caught shrimp)
  • 8 diver scallops
  • 16 mussels

Usually, though, we use a mix of shrimp, mussels, clams, and halibut or monkfish. We actually missed the fish in the luxe version, so we encourage you to include it.

Back to the cooking: bring your soup base to a boil, remove it from the heat, add your fish and the uncooked seafood, ensure that it’s covered by the soup, then cover the pan and let it sit for 3 minutes.

Uncover, add any cooked seafood such as shredded crab meat,  ladle it into wide soup bowls, and scatter some fennel fronds and/or chopped parsley atop. Serve with olive-oil toasted baguette. If you have some tasty rouille to spread atop the bread and mix into the soup, so much the better.

There’s an app for this

Your Bluebarry has been making googly-eyes at the iPad more than usual these days, having downloaded the drool-worthy app, Great British Chefs. Many of the recipes are of the New Year’s Eve, over-the-top variety, but there are some that aren’t that daunting. The first to send me to the kitchen was Martin Wishart’s Champagne and Citrus Terrine.

Obviously not my photo – click to view it in its original context.

Nice, huh? The squiggles and dots are passion fruit, btw. Not sure what the green material is – judging by the recipe, it might be super-thin strands of mint.

Keen readers will remember my checkered past with gelatinized terrines. Let’s see how this one turned out.

The first oddity in the recipe: it calls for 10 sheets of gelatine. Why, why, why do chefs not provide weights in recipes using gelatine? With some online research, I determined that 10 sheets of new-size British gelatine equals about 17 grams. That translated to 8 sheets of the gelatine I had on hand.

I soaked the gelatine in ice water for 5 minutes as I brought a cheap-but-drinkable bottle of prosecco to a boil with 450g of caster sugar (why it must be caster sugar when it’s going to be liquified, I don’t really know) and added the juice of 1 orange and one lemon. Off the heat, I stirred in the hydrated gelatine leaves and left the mixture to cool to room temperature.

The second recipe anomaly is the fact that it calls for 11 oranges and 10 pink grapefruits to 1 bottle of bubbly. Obviously, that wouldn’t produce the results pictured above. Instead, I brought home from the market: 2 blood oranges, 2 minneolas, and 1 pink grapefruit. I proceeded to suprême the citrus by cutting off the blossom and stem ends, standing each fruit upright, carefully cutting down along the contour to cut away the peel without losing too much flesh, and finally (!) cutting and gently peeling each segment away from the membrane.

Ooohhhh…. jewel-like.

The “chef’s treat” from this prep was a divine cocktail of citrus juice, funnelled from the flexible cutting mat into a glass. Yum. The minneolas were a surprise – they had a wonderful, peppery note atop their dominant tangerine flavour.

Assembly was straightforward from then on out. I poured 1 cm of the prosecco mixture into a terrine mold lined with plastic wrap (pro-tip: moistening the sides of the terrine pan helps the plastic move into all the corners) and put it in the fridge for half an hour to set. This was followed by a layer of citrus segments, topped with more liquid gel. I repeated this x3.

Here’s what the terrine looked like before being sliced. A lot like Aunt Bea’s canned-mandarin-orange-and Jell-O salad, amirite?

And… drumroll… here it is on the plate.

Nowhere near as pretty as the Chef’s, but not bad. The gel was set just enough to allow most (lolz) of the slabs to be plated without falling completely apart. Another half-sheet of gelatine would have helped them hold their shape. I definitely should have left more gel-space between the layers of citrus: the close layering produced fault lines. And for reasons I’m not yet clear on, my terrine had none of the effervescence that’s evident in the pro version. Next time, I’ll try using only 1/3 of the prosecco to dissolve the sugar, and adding the rest of it in just before the assembly stage.

The recipe as presented in the app had enough inaccuracies and omissions (is there a passion fruit syrup along with the seeds? how do I prepare the little green strands?) that I will be very cautious with future recipes. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s just this chef’s recipes that suffer from these shortcomings, or whether this is an app-wide phenomenon.

Quibbles aside, though, this was a fantastic dish. Bright and crystalline, both in flavour and visually. The real genius is found in the contrast provided by the passion fruit: its super-crunchy seeds and searing tartness alongside the sweet gel and citrus… gustatory fireworks.