Monthly Archives: May 2012

Rillettes

A brief hop over the English Channel to France for this post…

I have a great love of potted meats – not the awful ones you get in those little glass jars on the supermarket shelves, but the proper job. Making them is easy and satisfying, but you can’t go too long flicking through the cook books and history books without eventually having to give a huge nod to French cuisine. Pâtés are of course well known and popular, but don’t forget the classic rillettes. They’ve been around for at least six hundred years, yet of recent times they have fallen out of favour in Britain, though they were very popular in Victorian and Edwardian Britain – the heyday for savouries such as these:

Rillettes: A French savoury meat preparation, used for hors-d’oeuvres and savouries

Charles Herman, Culinary Encyclopaedia 1898

See? I told you.

Rillettes are a classic, similar to a pâté in that you spread them on toast and eat them with some nice cornichons, but it is made in rather a different way; long slow cooking with plenty of fat is needed and, rather than being pulverised, they are stripped and potted along with their juices. They are subtly flavoured – the glory comes from the slowly cooked meat and the mild herbs. If I were to be a ponce, then I would say they are sublime. However I am not, so I shan’t.

Any kind of meat, or even fish, can be used to make rillettes but the classics are pork, duck, rabbit and goose. The best rillettes come from Tours and Reins.

 Rillettes de Porc (Potted Pork)

Here’s the recipe I have tried out a couple of times now for rillettes de porc. I can’t wait to get back to England and try some rabbit rillettes (wild rabbits are a rarity in America). There is little variation in any recipe you see, whether found online today or in an eighteenth century cookbook.

Technically you can use any cut of meat as long as it has plenty of fat. I have been using pork belly, but neck would be okay, and for the less squeamish amongst you, the head.

Ingredients

2 lbs pork belly (weight after removal of rind and bones)

2 tbs salt

1 lb back fat

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

3 or 4 sprigs of thyme

2 bay leaves

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly ground nutmeg

Around 10 fl oz water

Cut the pork belly into strips around 1 ½ inches wide, place them in a bowl and rub in the salt. Cover and leave for around 8 hours. Cut the back fat into cubes and place it, along with the pork belly, in an ovenproof casserole or similar. Tuck the herbs and garlic under the meat in the centre and sprinkle over a good seasoning of pepper and a little nutmeg then pour over the water. Cover with a tight-fitting lid or foil and bake in a very low oven, 140⁰C (290⁰F), for 4 hours.

Remove the foil and take out the bay leaves, garlic and thyme – they have imparted their flavours. Place a sieve over a good-sized bowl and toss the contents of the pan into the sieve so it can drain.

rillettes before

Next – and this the good bit – grab two forks and start stripping the meat and fat into shreds.

rillettes after

If it is easier, do this in a separate bowl. Pot lightly into jars, ramekins or earthenware pots and cover with the salty-fatty juices. Keep covered in a cool place, failing that the fridge.

Serve with thin toast and pickles.

It is very important that the rillettes are spreadable, so if they are kept in the fridge, make sure you let them get to room temperature before eating them.

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Filed under food, French Cookery, General, Meat, Preserving, Recipes, Uncategorized

Treacle Tart

A classic British nursery pudding, the treacle tart is much-loved. It is probably the ultimate child’s dessert because it is so unbelievably sweet; it makes my teeth hurt just looking at one! That aside, I have never really lost my sweet tooth and I love treacle – meaning golden syrup of course in this case (see here for a post on treacle). Treacle tart was very popular with poorer families – the two main ingredients being bread and treacle – no expensive fruits and spices here.

The pudding itself as we know it has only been in existence since the late nineteenth century since golden syrup was invented in the 1880s. However, the earliest recipe I have found for a treacle tart actually dates to 1879 – before the invention of golden syrup! The recipe is by Mary Jewry and is a tart made up of alternating layers of pastry and treacle. The treacle here is black treacle, and this highlights the problem in researching the origins of this pudding; treacle meant any viscous syrup that was a byproduct of sugar refinery and specifics are not always pointed out, even after golden syrup became popular. The other problem is the recipe Mary Jewry gives is nothing like the beloved treacle tart from our childhood.

 The terrifying Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

coaxing the children with shouts of  “treacle tart! All free today!”

Shudder.

Prior to the 17th century, treacle was used as a medicine; it was considered very good for the blood and was therefore used in antidotes to poisons. It starts cropping up in recipes for gingerbread in the mid-18th century. Jane Grigson mentions a gingerbread recipe from 1420 in her book English Food where spices and breadcrumbs were mixed together with plenty of honey to make a gingerbread that seems pretty similar a modern treacle tart, but without the pastry. Heston Blumenthal in his book Total Perfection also mentions a 17th century ‘tart of bread’ where bread and treacle are mixed with bread, spices and dried fruit and baked in an open pastry shell. Then just to complicate things further, Jane Grigson mentions that the predecessor to the treacle tart is the sweetmeat cake – again a 17th century invention – that uses candied orange peel, sugar and butter as a filling and no treacle or bread whatsoever!

All this confusing history waffle is giving me a headache. Here’s the recipe that I use for a treacle tart. It is adapted from Nigel Slater’s. I like it (and I have tried several recently) because it has a lot more bread in it than most other recipes – treacle tart should be chewy with a hint of   and must hold its shape when cut, many recipes fail in this respect. I use brown bread crumbs – it gives a good flavour and increases the chewiness level a little further.

There’s a pound and a half of golden syrup in this tart so the sweetness really needs cutting with some lemon juice and zest, and if you like, a tablespoon or two of black treacle; it’s not just a nod to treacle tarts of the past, its bitterness really does tone down the sweetness. This tart makes enough for ten people I would say. Be warned – if you go for some seconds, you may fall into some kind of sugar-induced diabetic coma…

For the pastry

4 oz salted butter or 2 oz each butter and lard cut into cubes and chilled

8 oz plain flour

3 tbs chilled water

For the filling

1 ½ lbs golden syrup

2 tbs black treacle (optional)

juice and zest of a lemon

10 oz white or brown breadcrumbs

The pastry is a straight-forward shortcrust. Rub the fat into the flour with your fingertips, a pastry blender, the flat ‘K’ beater of a mixer or blitz in a food processor. Mix in two tablespoons of water with your hand and once incorporated, add the last tablespoon. The pastry should come together into a ball. Knead the dough very briefly so that it is soft and pliable. Cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge to have a little rest for 30 minutes or so.

Now roll out the pastry and use it to line a 9 inch tart tin. Put back into the fridge again – you don’t have to do this step, but sometimes the pastry can collapse a bit when it goes in the oven at room temperature.

Whilst the pastry is cooling, get on with the treacle filling. Treacle can be a tricky customer: weigh it out straight into a saucepan on tared scales and then pour the golden syrup straight in. Add the black treacle if using. Place the pan over a medium heat and stir until it becomes quite runny, then stir in the lemon juice and zest and the breadcrumbs.

Pour this mixture into the lined tart tin and bake in the oven at 200⁰C (400⁰F) for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180⁰C (350⁰F) for another 15 or 20 minutes.

Best served warm with cream, ice cream or custard.

treacle tart

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Filed under baking, bread, Britain, Desserts, food, General, history, Puddings, Recipes, Seventeenth Century, Teatime, Uncategorized

Fruit curd

I love fruit curds, they might be my favourite of all the preserves, sweet or savoury. In fact I’m not even sure if a curd is a true preserve or not; it isn’t chock-full of sugar like a fruit jam, plus there are eggs and butter in there too; the eggs technically make it a kind of custard. These ingredients mean that fruit curd doesn’t keep for very long, maybe two months in all. That said, they rarely last that long.

Looking in the recipe books, the earliest mention of the term lemon curd I have found goes back to 1844 in The Lady’s Own Cookery Book by the splendidly named Lady Charlotte Campbell Bury. The recipe is rather different though because the lemon curd is literally that; lemon acidulating cream to form curds which could then be separated from the whey through some cheesecloth.

You can go further back to find recipes for lemon curd, though it is called lemon cheese, and it seemed to generally be used for lemon cheese cakes which are what I would call nowadays lemon curd tarts. When you look in the books, the old recipes give the instruction to rasp the lemons’ skins “well with sugar” to extract the zest and aromatic oils. This seems rather a curious thing to do; perhaps the zester or fine-grater hadn’t been invented, or maybe it was terribly difficult to lay one’s hands upon such a thing. It all makes perfect sense in the end though because the sugar in the larder wasn’t granulated in a bag like we get it now, but was a solid, long, tapering palisade – a sugar loaf. You could simply crack a piece off and rub it against your lemons to get all the flavour out of that pesky zest. I have found these instructions for recipes as recent as 1974 (Jane Grigson, English Food), if you to attempt it buy those posh sugar lumps that are all irregularly shaped, normal ones will just crumble.

 A 19th century sugar loaf and tongs

Curds can be used for so many things: cakes, tarts, pies, steamed puddings, American muffins, as a pancake topping or filling, or at its best on hot toast. Though I have always thought lemon curd ripple ice cream would be good.

Curds don’t just come in lemon yellow of course, you can make one from any fruit that the juice can be easily squeezed from: orange, grapefruit, passion fruit and pineapple are all ones I have spotted at one time or another.

Here’s my recipe for lime curd. Have a go at making it; it’s very easy to make because it’s difficult to curdle the eggs as they are stabilised somewhat by the acid and egg whites. It is wonderfully tart and not too sweet. Honestly, you’ll never go back to the bought stuff.

Lime Curd

This recipe makes around 1 UK pint (that’s 20 fl oz for any non-Brits). If you think things might be too sharp, add an extra egg and a couple of ounces of butter.

Ingredients

the zest and juice of 5 limes

5 oz salted butter

8 oz sugar cut into small cubes

4 large eggs

Set a mixing bowl over a simmering saucepan of water and add the lime zest and juice, butter and sugar.

Let it warm up, the sugar dissolve and the butter melt. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and strain through sieve into the juice. Stir with a wooden spoon until the eggs have amalgamated and  thicken – this will take at least five minutes. When very thick, take off the heat but keep stirring for a minute or two as the eggs may carry on cooking if left in contact with the still hot bowl’s inner surface.

Pot into sterilised jars and allow to cool. Unless you have a nice cool larder, I would store them in the fridge, especially once opened.

Also see this other post with more curd recipes…

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Filed under baking, food, Fruit, General, history, Preserving, Recipes, Uncategorized