Bitter with bits in: my ideal marmalade

IMG_2247When I was growing up marmalade meant one thing: a citrussy concoction with bits of peel in it, related to jam but somehow more complicated in flavour and less obviously sweet. It was also one of the only things my father ever cooked – it still is – and although he comes up with all sorts of variations on the theme, one or more members of the citrus family are always the star ingredients, and perfectly sliced peel an essential element. I think this is generally the case in the UK today, though the earliest origins of the name lie with a smooth Portuguese quince concoction and over centuries the word has applied itself to many different kinds of fruit jam in other European countries (for full marmalade history and lots of recipes see my friend Elizabeth Field’s wonderful work).

Of course I am so conditioned by citrus that oranges are always the first fruit that spring to mind when I read the word, and I’ve been reading it a lot recently as I continue my pursuit of Charles Fourier’s gastrosophic (or truly gastronomic) vision – and his sweet tooth. Fourier seems to love marmelades, and constantly suggests them as one of the ideal and economical foods of Harmony, especially for women and children. The Néo-Physiologie du Gout par Ordre Alphabétique (1839) confirms that in France in this period a marmelade was simply the type of jam that uses the whole of the fruit, as opposed to a jelly, made with only the juice. Its marmelade section discusses everything but citrus, and although there is a brief, all inclusive description of citrus marmelade under the citron entry, this requires passing the cooked peel through a sieve to produce a smooth preparation – sacrilege on my breakfast table!

Although I know some people chop their marmalade peel finely with a food processor, and Fourier himself was expecting an un-bitty preserve, I’m afraid I simply can’t bring myself to make you a puréed or strained marmalade, especially not while Seville oranges are in season. You can click here for a basic recipe for a very British orange marmalade, passing on as many tips from my father as I could glean. It might not be what Fourier had in mind for his Harmonians, but as far as I’m concerned it brings you as close as you can get to marmalade perfection.

Cured egg yolk: final chapter, first round

IMG_2313The experiment is at an end, and judged on looks alone it is a triumph – those grated golden curls couldn’t be more lovely.

But on flavour, we have a hung jury. The effect of these flecks of proteinous gorgeousness on pasta or in a salad is very good indeed, I just wish it was more umami, a lot less sweet. In my research I found that people who tweaked the traditional 50/50 advice tended to up the amount of sugar. Not me. Next time I’ll try it with no sugar at all and see how much better that is. And maybe a control specimen somewhere in between, say at 75/25.

So, perhaps the experiment isn’t at an end after all. There’s always a spare yolk around somewhere – and it has to be said there is something truly fabulous about being able to grate an ingredient I have always thought of as a liquid over my food, even if it is a tiny bit sweeter than I’d like. It’s definitely my new store cupboard staple.

For a full summary of the process, look at my recipe page for Cured Egg Yolk.

Cured egg yolk - finished - split

Whoever heard of a semi-dried pickle?

IMG_2129I’ve probably been living a sheltered life, but I’d never come across a semi-dried pickle – until I continued my investigation of Magnus Nilsson’s Fäviken cookbook. Never, it seems, a man to rush things, Nilsson recommends slightly drying out pickled vegetables until “they resemble vegetable raisins” to serve with a hot pork chop. I usually have a good dollop of acidic bramley apple sauce with my pork chops, but am a great lover of a vinegary chutney or pickled anything with cold cuts, so this happy medium between sweet, sour and sharp seemed like an idea worth pursuing.

Of course, it wasn’t completely straightforward. I had to pickle the vegetables before I could dry them. Luckily Swedish-style pickles, which seemed the right choice for a Nilsson recipe, only need 24 hours of steeping prior to use (according to the recipe I looked up on the Saveur site). Phew. With a handful each of radishes and carrots I was away. A few days later they were pickled, dried and ready to go with my luscious chop.

But before you rush to the kitchen the question that must be answered is, what did it taste like? I’d say – hmmm, not bad. The slightly chewy sweetness of the vegetables makes for a nice texture contrast with the pork; the addition of some of the pickling juice to the finished dish brings a little welcome sharpness to help cut through the fat. It was interesting and pretty tasty. But to be honest, although I had some more semi-dried vegetables sliced and at the ready, I ate the second half of the chop with some good old apple sauce. Old habits die hard. And maybe, when this much extra preparation is needed, the end result is more exciting when left to the experts.

Pork chop and semi-dried pickled root vegetables
adapted for 2 people from Magnus Nilsson’s recipe in Fäviken, p86

Ingredients
1 large pork chop on the bone
125g pickled vegetables
light garlic butter
salt

Method
IMG_21602-3 days before you want to eat your chop, lay out the pickled vegetables on a tray lined with grease-proof or parchment paper and put them in a dry place. Turn them occasionally over the next day or two, if you remember. They don’t seem to do much for the first day, but after you’ve turned them a few times they really do start to wrinkle at the edges and become slightly bendy. They will be dry to the touch and a bit chewy when you eat one.

On the day you’re going to eat, make sure the pork is at room temperature, and salt it at least 10 minutes before cooking so that the salt has a chance to dissolve into the meat.

IMG_2166Before starting to cook your pork, cut the vegetables into fine matchstick strips. Sharpen your knife first, as they are quite sticky, almost gummy, and you will have trouble controlling them if your knife is blunt. Arrange them a a beautiful little pile on the plates you’ll be serving the finished dish on.

IMG_2169

Melt the light garlic butter in a pan and fry the pork, using the method described in the Fäviken steak recipe until it is cooked to your liking.* Cut into slices across the chop and serve with the vegetables and a few spoonfuls of the pickle juice over.

* Although this method works well, if I do it again I will probably spread some garlic on the chop and grill it, as I usually do, rather than fry in butter. It was a bit too rich.

Cured egg yolk – day 17

Cured yolk - day 17The yolks have entered their final stage – out of the cure and into the muslin. I don’t have one of those cheffy meat cupboards (shocking omission, to be remedied in my next kitchen) so they are hanging at the back of the fridge. This is probably a little colder than the ideal, but I’m sure they will dry out nicely. They look so good hanging there it’s going to be very hard to keep my hands off them for the minimum of two weeks they seem to need…

Cured egg yolk – day 10

IMG_1581I’ve managed to resist disturbing my yolks for almost a week. It’s definitely time to see what they’ve been up to.

Left undisturbed for a respectable interval the salt and sugar mix has set much more firmly – as hard as a rock in some places. I dug the yolks out quite cautiously, with the help of a blunt-edged teaspoon. Of course, after more than a of week dry-curing the yolks are now so firm that they are almost hard – certainly tough enough to withstand some pressure, so I needn’t have worried.

The main point of interest (beyond the fact that they are nearly ready for the second stage) is that the flatter side has now become concave, and those edges are noticeably paler than the centre, which is still a strong orangey-yellow.

I’ve turned them once again and re-buried them for their final few days in the cure.

Cured egg yolk – day 2

Yesterday I started curing some egg yolks, in preparation for a recipe in Magnus Nilsson’s Fäviken cookbook. I can’t resist checking them to see how they are progressing, and today there is already a change! The yolks are visibly firmer, more intensely orange, and starting to hold a more solid shape. I ruffle up the dampened salt and sugar, turn them over, and add some more salt and sugar to surround them more completely. Back into the fridge they go.

                        

Capering around with nasturtium seeds

IMG_1504Nasturtiums are one of those fantastic plants that combine ease of growth with good looks. Their big tough seeds always come up and the plants seem to survive whatever you or the weather might throw at them. I plant trailing nasturtium seeds around the edges of the pots on my small London terrace every year, and they always produce a riot of healthy green leaves and dazzling colour that lasts right through to the start of winter. The fronds even continue to grow when I bring them indoors and put them in a vase!

The flowers are edible, and look lovely in a salad as well as adding a hint of pepperiness, though they produce so many blossoms it’s hard to eat them all. But these are not all lost to the kitchen! For almost every flower you leave to wither on the plant, you’ll get a seed. These start out green, and dry to a whitish yellow. There are always far more than I want to plant for next year, so I was intrigued to hear about the idea that they could make an imitation caper. I love capers, and I love the spicy flavour of nasturtium flowers. This had to be a winner.

You need to pick the seeds as young as possible, while they are green.

Recipe

I checked out a few versions of this process before I decided how to do it. Quite a few recipes suggest either using a hot brine, or heating a vinegar and sugar pickle to pour over the seeds. I don’t think sugar and capers should have anything to do with one another, and I prefer to keep everything as crisp as possible. So, I went for a cold process, very much like the one recommended for ‘nasturtium capers’ in Pat Corbin’s River Cottage Preserve Handbook.

IMG_1497Ingredients
150ml water
10g salt
50g green nasturtium seeds
up to 100ml white wine vinegar (depending on your jar)
Optional seasonings of your choice – try peppercorns and/chilli, plus a green herb like bay, dill or tarragon.

Method
Dissolve the salt in the water in a small bowl to make a brine. Add the nasturtium seeds, cover, and set aside for 24 hours.

Drain the seeds, discarding the brine, and dry them on a cloth. Put them into a sterilised jar* along with any seasonings you’ve chosen, leaving about 1cm of space at the top. Fill the jar with vinegar, seal, and set aside in a cool dark place for a month before using. Once opened, refrigerate and use as you would use capers.

*Remember that the vinegar will corrode a metal lid, so be sure to either use a well-lined lid or a glass jar with a rubber seal.