Friday, 21 March 2014

My night out (minus the kids).

Well what a lovely surprise, a birthday treat from my brother (and sis-in-law), a cookery course at Divertimenti. The type that many a candidate of Masterchef do in their spare time, after all they are self confessed foodies, "food is their passion" many times have you heard that? And..."I don't want to be barrister, food is my life!". 

As I flick through the programme like an excited child in a sweet shop a few of the courses catch my eye, some well known tv cooks are doing demos (being a celebrity chef stalker in my spare time this seemed attractive). But I want to get involved and cook. There's one called urban foraging (can't say I can be bothered to forage in an urban environment), Indian street food and Proven├žal cooking takes my fancy but I can do all this at home. So I choose Curing for the Modern Cook, hopefully I can pick up some techniques and get ideas for Xmas hamper gifts, everyone loves a potted shrimp! 

The day arrives, we get into town with plenty of time to spare. We take a stroll down Marylebone High St and arrive at Divertimenti. It'd be rude not to look around the shop. The same feeling comes over me, like whenever I'm in Lakeland or John Lewis basement cookware department (Oxford St flagship store of course), my heartbeat increases and palms go slightly sweaty, it's fair to say I'm excited. It's like I can't take it all in at once, all too much for my eyes to scan over. I make a beeline for the dainty white ceramic French wares - pie funnels, oval dishes with lids and fluted tart cases. Then I feast my eyes on the copper wares you can see your reflection in, the hammered finish ones remind me of a balti dish that'd be used in a curry house in suburbia. There's an array of fluted 'loose bottomed' flan tins, stacked up so high they almost topple over. Then there's the obscure object like a wooden butter mould...who uses these?? If you churn your own butter or want to impress a dinner guest I guess. Not necessarily the gadget for me as I don't make a habit of doing either. But I am seduced by an obscure kitchen gadget, so I must own one at some point in my life. I scan round to look for the Kitchenaid mixers, they're up high in a glass cabinet, so can't touch them. A small selection of metallic blue and raspberry/cranberry colour varieties, quite nice. As I've always wanted one for as long as I can remember I go through fazes of colour preference, when I eventually own one, who knows which colour I'll get? in each colour!!!! I stroke the Aga's, glancing at the hefty price tag. And then there's the 'hanging' gadgets/untensils - stainless steel ladles and every size, giant balloon whisks, spatulas galore, microplane's all too much. But stop, my time is arriving to go into my cookery class. 

Our lovely teacher/foodwriter/curer - Lindy Wildsmith ( makes us feel at home asking us where we've all travelled from. There were seven of us, a nice number, enough for one on one attention and getting to know each other a bit. So we scan the recipes to be prepared over the evening, Confit de Canard, Potted Crab, Salt Cod, Gravadlax, Tuna Tartare. This is all stuff I would never think to do at home, partly because I see the process of curing lengthy and complicated. Well it's neither. Lengthy, yes to a certain extent, time to cure/marinade/slow cook. I was surprised at how simple the recipes were with very few ingredients. Like most cooking, quality of ingredients is key and optimum freshness, especially for the raw/cured fish dishes. If you're going to serve tuna tartare you want to know where the tuna is from and how fresh it is. 

We start by doing some simple food prep, de-skinning and de-seeding tomatoes. Some to place in the oven for 'oven blushed' and concasse tomatoes (basically chopped into small dice). So we're simultaneously doing the dishes, at the different prep stages, any long curing/cooking processes have been done beforehand. The potted crab was very straightforward, just brown crab meat seasoned with salt and pepper, a little of the clarified butter seasoned with thyme and chilli flakes. Next it goes into a small kilner jar into a Bain Marie in the oven for 25 mins. Once done, more butter on top then lid on, so simple, will definitely do again. Might like to try with shrimps next.  

For the Gravadlax, it's simply a mix of course sea salt, black pepper, caster sugar, cinnamon and dill. As an alternative you could use grated root ginger, Chinese five spice, chilli or the juice and rind of oranges or more cinnamon to flavour the cure. It's literally as simple as this, as long you freeze the salmon for two days beforehand. Once the ingredients are rubbed into the flesh you just lay the salmon, skin side down inside a large thick plastic bag (we used a self seal freezer bag) and leave to stand for 24-48 hours, turning the bag from time to time and pour off any excess water that has leeched from the salmon. Before slicing, wipe away any excess cure and dust surface lightly with some more finely chopped dill. We had this with a dill sauce, which was wonderful. Again, so easy to make and will keep well in the fridge for up to a week. So the type of vinaigrette you'd make in a jam jar for a salad, it's -
5 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp caster sugar
175ml olive oil
50g dill finely chopped

This goes perfect with brown rye bread, amazing. Will be trying at home. 

For the confit I guess I was a bit put off at first, seen so many recipes with loads of fat added. Didn't like the idea of greasy duck meat swimming in fat. But now I can safely say now I'm a convert, having seen the simplicity of the dish and having tried the end product, amazing!!! In Lindy's recipe she uses half the duck/goose fat than most traditional French recipes suggest. This makes sense to me as duck has so much fat, which is rendered down in the slow cooking process. After removing it from the oven, we stripped the meat off the bone to be potted. It's like the silkiest softest texture, intense flavours from the stock and slow cooking process, my goodness it was good. And not at all greasy like I'd thought. The rillette (smaller texture) or ryan (not sure if that's the right spelling?...pronounced ri-yon) larger pieces, are two ways in which it's served or potted. I preferred to do mine chunkier. It's now sitting in my fridge ready to be cracked open. Would be lovely on a crusty baguette. 

The tuna tartare was a lovely summery dish, perfect for a starter. The lemon juice cures the fish, the capers, tomatoes and parsley compliment each other. Tasted wonderful on buttered sour dough bread. 

Quite liked the salt cod, we served it with olives, oven blushed tomatoes and good extra virgin olive oil. All very easy to prepare. 

So it was a wonderful evening of culinary delights. I learnt a few good techniques to be translated in my kitchen. Curing is all about simple, very few, fresh/good ingredients in combination with a bit of organisation and time. The result is truly outstanding. I'm very tempted to buy Lindy's book. All these dishes were sampled/enjoyed with chilled glass of white. 


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