Thursday 16 May 2013

Rolled Shoulder of Venison, from Sydda Essop's book 'Karoo Kitchen'

I was sent a copy of this book because I'll be part of a panel discussion with the book's author, Sydda Essop, at the Franschhoek Literary Festival on Friday 17th May (along with Hilary Biller of the Sunday Times, and chaired by Abigail Donnelly).

Rolled Shoulder of Venison, from Sydda Essop's book Karoo Kitchen
Elsa Olivier's Rolled Shoulder of Venison. Photograph by © Craig Fraser, courtesy of Quivertree Publications.  

I have never met Sydda Essop, but I'm very much looking forward to shaking her  vigorously by the  hand; possibly flinging myself into her arms with cries of joy and appreciation. This is a remarkable book, and in my opinion one of the best to come out of South Africa for decades. I've no doubt it will become one of the classics of South African cookery writing, not least because it so skilfully records the complexities of this country's culinary heritage.

This is so much more than a cookbook: it's a piece of social history; a rich and nuanced weaving that has as its weft the resonant stories of South African families, and its warp the workaday recipes - several of them previously unrecorded in print, to my knowledge -  passed down through many generations.

Cover of Sydda Essop's book 'Karoo Kitchen'
Image courtesy of Quivertree Publications.
Linking these stories of hardship, deprivation, resilience, courage and triumph is the harsh and inexpressibly beautiful Karoo landscape. Essop could lazily have based her book on the simple farm fare of the Afrikaner land-owners and their workers, but she's cleverly cast her net much wider than that to include a fascinating assortment of people who've washed up in Noupoort or Beaufort West or Loxton or Hopetown for one reason or another, each one of them with a host of traditional recipes tucked into their knapsacks.

Their tales of derring-do and heartbreak are fascinating, sure, but it's the way the lives of ordinary people are expressed in recipes that really made me love this book.

You will find neither a speck of sumac nor a flurry of foam in this book. There is no big deal made about sourcing organic produce or foraging from the veld, because this is the way people have sustained themselves for generations. The recipes are utterly without pretension, and feel no shame in including those store-cupboard packets and powders that have to be relied upon when you live hundreds of kilometres from the nearest supermarket.

The venison recipe below, for example, by Elsa Olivier of Victoria West, unapologetically features a beef stock cube, a packet of oxtail soup powder and a seasoning of Aromat - ingredients much loved by South African cooks, although you'd be hard-pressed to find a food writer who'd admit ever to eating such packetstuff.

From Francina Nolsapho Blow of Beaufort West, we have a recipe for dombeling (dumplings) cooked, like ujeqe (steam bread), in a plastic supermarket bag submerged in water. Horiya Mohamed arrived in the same town in 1997 as a young bride fleeing the civil war in Somalia; she's contributed four recipes, including anjera (traditional pancakes) and shaah, a spiced Somalian tea.

A pellucid bowl of Chicken Soup with Kneidlach is a recipe from the collection of Dr Debbie Anstey of Courlandskloof, the granddaughter of Lithuanian and Polish Jews. Her father-in-law Isaac Antezorsky and his brother arrived in Biesiespoort in 1920 to set up as traders, eventually owning 100 000 hectares of farmland. We have slow-roasted Greek lamb from Elpida Iakovidis, and Baked Porcupine Backbone from Lena Oktober, both of Beautfort West, while Anna Vermeurlen of Victoria West contributes a heavenly dish of baked orange pudding, and another for pomegranate syrup.

I don't want to spoil the book for you by listing each one of its recipes (did I mention the venison pie, quince atjar and Prize-Winning Springbok Tongues?) and I hope you derive as much pleasure as I did from discovering these treasures yourself.

The book has been beautifully photographed by Quivertree's Craig Fraser, and I particularly appreciate the honesty and simplicity of the food styling. Each of the dishes is lovingly laid out on a selection of old china and lace and embroidered linen, with no scatterings of microherbs or ghastly skidmarks of sauce.  There are many compelling historical photographs drawn from family archives, and at the back of the book a few pages of home remedies - one for chilblains, another for earache, plus Bettie Jaftha's treatments for a Baby Born with a Caul and Mothers Whose Afterbirth Will Not Come Out.

As I said, no ordinary cookbook.

Elsa Olivier's Rolled Shoulder of Venison

1 shoulder of venison, deboned
½ packet (125g) bacon
1 container (500ml) buttermilk
2 tbsp butter
2 onions, chopped
1 beef stock cube, dissolved in 1 cup water

For the sauce:

½ packet oxtail soup powder
2 tbsp dry white wine
salt and/or Aromat seasoning to taste
1 tsp black pepper
1 packet (250g) fruit-cake mix

Arrange the bacon strips to cover the inside of the shoulder,roll and secure with kitchen string. Marinate overnight in buttermilk and pat dry with a paper towel the next day.

Heat the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and fry the onions until golden brown. Remove, add more butter to the saucepan, if necessary, and brown the meat.

Add the beef stock and fried onions and simmer slowly for 2 hours until the meat is tender. Allow to cool slightly before carving the meat into slices.

To make the sauce, dissolve the oxtail soup powder in 2 cups of water and add the wine, salt and/or Aromat, pepper and fruit-cake mix. Simmer slowly until the sauce is thick and creamy. Layer the sliced meat and sauce, and bake at 180°C until golden brown. Serve hot.

Serves 2-4

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Monday 13 May 2013

Potted Pork Shoulder with Green Peppercorns, from the leftovers of a roast

Potted Pork Shoulder with Green Peppercorns, from the leftovers of a roast
A generous handful of green peppercorns adds bite.
Every now and then I slow-roast a hefty shoulder of pork, because this is a joint that's still relatively affordable, and because brittle golden crackling is such an old-fashioned treat.  Mostly, though, it's because I crave the toothsome stickiness of tender, fall-apart pork.

There are usually plenty of leftovers the next morning: my kids aren't enthusiastic about pork, although they will politely eat it if there are also roast potatoes and gravy on offer.  I slice up the cold wodges and slap them between slices of fluffy white bread, with plenty of mayonnaise, Dijon mustard and shredded iceberg lettuce, or I heat them up in the microwave with leftover roast potatoes to guzzle on my own when I need to grab a quick lunch.  But my favourite use for the remainders of a pork shoulder is this  indulgent dish of potted, shredded pork with green peppercorns.

The best potted pork, in my opinion, is made with good pork belly - here's my recipe - but this is also a fine way to use up the leftovers of a roast shoulder.  It keeps well in the fridge for up to a week, and is heavenly spread on hot toast or toasted ciabatta slices.

For instructions on how to slow-roast a shoulder of pork and make crackling, please see my Cook's Notes at the end of this blogpost.

It may seem laborious to make a stock for this dish, but I don't find it much of a hassle, as stocks tend to look after themselves once you've flung them together, and this flinging-together really need take no longer than the time it takes for the kettle to boil.

I can't give exact quantities here, because this will depend on how much left-over meat you have.  This is a recipe that involves a lot of tasting, and not much measuring.

Potted Pork Shoulder with Green Peppercorns, from the leftovers of a roast
Serve the potted pork with hot toast or ciabatta bread, and some capers, caperberries or gherkins.

Potted Pork Shoulder with Green Peppercorns, from the leftovers of a roast

leftover roast pork shoulder, still on the bone (see Cook's Notes, below)
4 Tbsp (60 ml) butter
a large sprig of fresh thyme
a few tablespoons of green peppercorns, drained, and to taste
a pinch or two of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and milled black pepper, to taste

For the stock: 
one large onion, skin on, quartered
2 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
1 cup (250 ml) dry white wine
2 cups (500 ml) water
2 bay leaves
a big sprig of thyme
10 peppercorns
a few stalks of parsley

Heat the oven to 200 ºC. Strip most of the meat off the joint, leaving behind the fatty bits and any pockets of meat close to the bone. Put the stripped-off bits on a plate, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate.

Place the bones in a roasting pan and add the onion and carrots, along with any left-over crackling.  Roast the bones and vegetables for 20 minutes, or until they have a nice golden colour. Put the roasting pan onto the hob, turn on the heat and add the wine, water, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns and parsley.  Bring to the boil, stirring well to dislodge any residue on the bottom of the pan. Now tip the contents of the roasting pan into a stock pot, place over a low heat and simmer, uncovered, at a gentle burble, for 2 hours, turning the bone over now and then. Strain the stock into a bowl and discard all the solid bits. Return the strained stock to the rinsed-out pot, cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight.

Lift off all the solidified fat from the surface of the stock - which with any luck will have jellied by now -  and place the pot back on the hob. Cook over a lively heat, uncovered, until the stock has reduced to about a cup of liquid.  Strain this through a fine sieve and set aside to cool slightly.

Tear the reserved stripped-off meat from the joint into shreds and place it in a bowl.  Strip the leaves off the thyme sprig and add these to the bowl along with the green peppercorns (again, I can't give you quantities here, but be generous, and reserve a few for scattering on top).  Season with nutmeg - just a whisper -  and with salt and plenty of black pepper.  Mix everything together and pack the meat into a pâté or terrine dish, or into several small ramekins.

Press down firmly on the surface of the meat to level the surface, but don't pack it in too tightly, or the stock will not seep between the shreds of pork. Trickle some of the still-warm stock over the meat so that it is well moistened, but not drowned in stock (the liquid should be just level with the surface of the meat).  Refrigerate until the stock has jellied.

To seal the potted meat - which will make it last longer in the fridge - melt the butter in a saucepan and skim all the white foam off the top. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for a few minutes, and then strain through cheesecloth or a fine sieve onto the top of the potted belly. Press a bay leaf or a sprig of thyme on top, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate.

Serve with hot toast.

Cook's Notes

To slow-roast a shoulder of pork: 

1. Ask your butcher for a whole, untrimmed pork shoulder, on the bone. This is important, because butchers sometimes 'neaten' the shoulder and remove some bones, but what you want is the Full Monty. Ask him to score the skin into 1-cm-wide strips, or do this yourself at home using an extremely sharp craft knife.

2. Heat the oven to 130 ºC.  Place a layer of thickly sliced carrots, onions, celery, lightly crushed unpeeled garlic cloves, and herbs of your choice on the bottom of a heavy roasting pan. Perch the pork, skin-side up, on top.  Pour 250 ml wine (or cider, or apple juice) into the roasting pan, cover it with two layers of heavy-duty tin foil, and bake undisturbed for 3-4 hours (depending on the size of the shoulder) or until the meat is so soft and tender can be pulled apart with a fork.  Alternatively, you can set the oven to a very low temperature - 100 ºC - and bake the pork overnight.

3. To make crackling: Take off the tin foil and turn the top grill on to its highest setting. Peel the skin off the shoulder in one piece and place it, fatty side down, on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the skin generously with salt.  When the grill is glowing red, put the baking sheet into the oven, 15-20 cm below the grill.  Leave for 8-10 minutes, or until the crackling is golden, crunchy and blistered.  Watch the crackling like a hawk: it burns in an instant. If it shows any signs of catching or charring, turn the grill down a little, or move the rack down a notch, but don’t remove the skin from the oven.

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Friday 3 May 2013

Low-Carb Seared Tuna with a Burnt Tomato & Caper Dressing

This is an easy and interesting dish starring just a few beautiful ingredients - spanking-fresh tuna, olive oil, capers, baby herb leaves and Rosa tomatoes at the peak of their ripeness.  I'm going to ask you deliberately to burn your tomatoes to make the dressing, and please do so with confidence, as it is the sweet charred flavour of the scorched tomatoes that gives the dish such a lovely flavour. Suitable for diabetics, and for anyone on a low-carb #LCHF regime.

Seared Tuna with a Burnt Tomato & Caper Dressing
Jewel-bright colours and just a few top-quality ingredients.
The idea for this dish came to me last weekend when I was cooking some tomatoes and tuna on the same griddle pan.  I tasted some of the sticky residue left by the tomatoes, along with a flake of tuna, and found the combination most agreeable.

The first time I made the dressing, however, I added too much balsamic vinegar, which overwhelmed the delicate taste of the fish.  The second batch, using just a teaspoon of vinegar, had the right balance.  The capers and rocket leaves are there to offset the natural sweetness of the tomatoes, and a squeeze of lemon juice at the end brings everything together.

I use pole-caught yellowfin tuna, which is presently green-listed on the SASSI databasealbacore is another green-listed species.

This is a dish that can mostly be prepared in advance: see Cook's Tips, at the end of the recipe.

Seared Tuna with a Burnt Tomato & Caper Dressing

1 x 400 g slab of fresh tuna
a little olive oil for frying
salt and milled black pepper
3 Tbsp (45 ml) capers, or more, to taste
a handful of baby wild rocket leaves (or the smallest leaves you can find in the packet)
a little fresh lemon juice

For the dressing:
8 Rosa tomatoes (or 12 cherry tomatoes)
1 tsp (5 ml) balsamic vinegar
5 tsp (25 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

Seared Tuna with a Burnt Tomato & Caper DressingHeat a griddle pan (ridged, if possible) until it is fiercely hot, almost - but not quite - on the point of smoking. Rub a film of olive oil over both sides of the tuna and season with salt and pepper. Sear the tuna for 45 to 60 seconds on both sides, or until the flesh is cooked to a depth of about 3 mm. Set on a plate to cool, then place in the fridge to chill while you make the dressing.

Sprinkle a tablespoon of olive oil onto the blazing hot griddle pan. Halve the tomatoes lengthways and place them cut side down on the pan. Leave them, undisturbed, for about two minutes, or until slightly charred on the underside.

Using a metal spatula or pallet knife (or similar: I use one of those flexible metal scrapers designed for filling cracks in walls), carefully loosen each tomato, making sure that the scorched surface doesn't stay behind on the pan surface. Flip them over and cook them for another minute or two, or until just soft, but not collapsed.

Put the hot tomatoes into a bowl (or a mortar) and lightly mash and squash them to release the juices.  Tear up the soft tomato halves into smaller pieces. Stir in the vinegar and olive oil and season to taste with salt.  Allow to cool.

Seared Tuna with a Burnt Tomato & Caper Dressing
Slice the tuna using an exceptionally sharp knife (this is easiest when it is cold) and arrange the strips on a platter.  Drizzle over the tomato dressing, and scatter the capers and rocket leaves on top.  Add a spritz of lemon juice - to taste - and a generous grinding of black pepper, and drizzle with a little more olive oil. Serve immediately with some fresh bread for juice-mopping.

Serves 4 as a starter.

Seared Tuna with a Burnt Tomato & Caper Dressing
I snipped some baby chives off a pot growing on my window and they added a delicate
oniony note to the dish.

Cook's Tips
  • You can make this dressing (and sear and chill the tuna), well in advance, but I suggest you put the two together just before you serve the dish, or the acid in the tomatoes and vinegar may 'cook' the fish.
  • If you're not a fan of rocket, use any small herb leaves of your choice: finely snipped chives, parsley tips, micro-herbs, and so on. 
  • Capers aren't everyone's cup of tea, and if you're not a fan, I suggest you scatter some finely-chopped baby gherkins over the tuna. 
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